RNCSE 18 (5)

Articles available online are listed below.

Long-Term Solar Oscillations and the Age of the Sun


In the June 1996 edition of the Acts & Facts series published by the Institute for Creation Research, Keith Davies-former Administrator of Scarborough Christian Academy in Ontario, Canada, now retired-presents an essay which argues that the sun is homogeneous in structure and derives its energy from gravitational contraction, making it "an exceedingly young" star (Davies 1996). He describes three pieces of evidence to support his argument. The first is a long-term solar oscillation of two hours and forty minutes (160 minutes), the second is the solar neutrino problem and the third is the observed abundances of lithium and beryllium. If it were true that the sun is a young star, this would have profound implications for the age of the solar system, stellar evolution, and possibly even cosmology as a whole. Therefore, it is worth examining Davies' argument to see if his claims are supported by the facts.

Of the evidence Davies describes, the strongest is the long-term solar oscillation. The other two are minor, and they lose their strength if the oscillation evidence is false. Therefore, this essay will consist primarily of an examination of the 160 minute oscillation, and I will be critiquing his evidence rather than examining the validity of his argument. When he published his essay in 1996 this evidence was already twenty years old, so even if he had presented it properly, more up-to-date data could have superceded it by then. I will describe some of this new data at the end of my discussion, but I will also show that Davies in fact misused his sources by presenting distorted information to support his thesis.

Solar Oscillations

Prior to the 1970s, if anyone had suggested that the sun could vibrate like a sphere of gelatin, the vast majority of astrophysicists would have strenuously disagreed. The main reason was that no one could conceive of a force that could start such oscillations, much less keep them going. A few researchers had suggested they might exist and that they might be observable, but R. H. Dicke did not verify their existence until 1973 (Moore and Hunt 1983, p72). Since then it has been deduced that solar oscillations are caused by interactions between the plasma that makes up the sun on the one hand, and gravity and pressure changes on the other.

There are three types of oscillations. Pressure modes are sound waves trapped in the temperature gradient. A crude analogy would be an echo bouncing around inside a cavern. Fundamental modes are caused by gravitational interactions with the sun's surface and resemble ocean waves. One type of fundamental mode is called a mode, because it changes the observed radius of the sun. Gravity modes are not completely understood, but they are believed to be the result of buoyancy effects. All the known pressure and fundamental modes (some 10 million) have oscillation periods of less than 18 minutes, and most are around 5 minutes. The gravity modes are not known conclusively to exist, but they are predicted to have periods of 40 minutes or longer. [Readers who wish to learn more are encouraged to read a series of articles in Science 1996 May 31; 272.]

Davies claims that if the sun had a large and massive core as predicted by the standard models of solar structure and evolution, then this core "would have a substantial effect on any global oscillations." He explains that "such a large core would mean that the Sun's [sic] global oscillations would range up to a maximum fundamental radial mode of oscillation of around one hour." He then adds that fundamental "[o]scillations greater than one hour would involve such enormous amounts of energy that they would result in the complete disruption of any large core that might be present in the Sun." In contrast, however, he states that for "a very young homogeneous star that has not yet developed a large central core... its spectrum of global oscillations have been calculated" to be as high as 167 minutes. In fact, he claims that this is "a key distinguishing feature of a young homogeneous star."

He then cites two 20-year-old papers (Brookes and others 1976; Severny and others 1976) whose authors independently report detecting a 160-minute oscillation that both research groups believed was a fundamental radial mode oscillation. Both groups also concluded that, if this oscillation was real, it would be nearly consistent with a homogeneous model of the sun. In conclusion, Davies cited three other astronomers to deliver the coup de grace. He quotes Iain Nicholson (Moore and Hunt 1983, p72) as saying that if this oscillation "was a true fundamental period, then the 'standard model could not be correct.'" And he cites a paper by J. Christensen-Dalsgaard and D.O. Gough (Christensen-Dalsgaard and Gough 1976) that appears in the same journal which carries the reports of the 160-minute oscillation. He quotes them as saying that "in order to account for the 2 hour 40 minute observation it is 'evident that a very drastic change in the solar model would be necessary' and 'it is unlikely that any such model can be found.'"

To summarize Davies' argument, if the sun is homogeneous, it cannot have a dense core; if it cannot have a dense core, it cannot obtain its energy from nuclear reactions; if it cannot obtain its energy from nuclear reactions, it must obtain it from gravitational contraction. And astronomers generally believe that young stars that have not yet reached the main sequence are homogeneous and obtain their energy from gravitational contraction. For Davies, the conclusion was obvious: "The fundamental oscillation of the Sun matches the model for a young star."

The Evidence

The major problem with the evidence he describes is that it is over two decades old. In and of itself, this is not a fatal problem, because if nothing new has been learned since then, the data is still valid, even if it is old. However, as I hope to show later, it is in fact obsolete because much new information has been learned, especially in the last ten years. And obsolete data is always invalid, no matter how much it supports a favorite hypothesis.

Furthermore, Davies did not treat his sources fairly. He commits three indiscretions that no careful or experienced scholar should commit. The first is misinterpretation. Part of Davies' argument is that a star with a massive central core cannot support fundamental oscillations with periods greater than one hour, because such vibrational modes would disrupt the core. (Keep in mind that whenever Davies refers to global oscillations in general or the 160-minute oscillation in particular he is referring to fundamental mode oscillations.) The source for this information is Nicholson (Moore and Hunt 1983, p72), but Davies' claim is based on an incorrect interpretation of what Nicholson actually said. Nicholson's statement is as follows:
[I]t has been pointed out that if the [fundamental mode] oscillations arise in the deep interior, then-because of damping mechanisms-the oscillations seen at the surface should be weaker than those in the interior. Attempts to calculate the oscillation magnitudes required to match the [surface] observations appear to indicate that they would become of such great amplitude that they would disrupt the solar interior.
Nicholson is referring to observed oscillations, not theoretical ones, and if you will recall from an earlier discussion, all known oscillations have periods less than one hour. As such, Nicholson is saying that any of the observed fundamental oscillations would be powerful enough to disrupt the core. Why this does not happen he did not explain, but it should be obvious that, despite Davies' claim, oscillations longer than one hour could be tolerated by the standard model just as the short-term oscillations are.

The second indiscretion is selective quotation and, in at least one case, outright misquotation. For example in the same source that Davies quotes as evidence of Nicholson's admission that 160-minute oscillations cannot be explained by the standard model, Nicholson writes, "the observed results seem roughly consistent with the way the Sun's interior is believed to be constructed." (Moore and Hunt 1983, p72) In reference to the 160-minute oscillation, Nicholson adds: "It seems certain there is some periodic effect to explain, but whether the oscillation is a true global oscillation or a surface effect, or a 'gravity wave' like waves in the ocean, remains a matter of debate." He then concludes: "No-one [sic] seriously doubts that the Sun shines by means of thermonuclear reactions converting hydrogen to helium, but the precise mechanism is open to doubt" (Moore and Hunt 1983:73). In other words, while Nicholson agrees that a 160-minute fundamental oscillation would contradict the standard model, he states that the long-term oscillation may not be fundamental at all, especially if all the other known oscillations confirm the standard model. Since none of these statements can even remotely be considered an endorsement of Davies' thesis, there is perhaps no mystery as to why he fails to mention them. Even so, it is dishonest for a scholar to quote a source in support of his thesis while at the same time ignoring statements showing that the source in fact comes to the opposite conclusion.

The one case of misquotation involves the quote from Christensen-Dalsgaard and Gough. Davies' statement implies that the authors believed it was impossible for the standard model to explain the long-term oscillation under any circumstances. What they actually say, however, is this:
It is also evident that a very drastic change in the solar model would be necessary to enable the 2 h 40 min oscillation to be interpreted as the fundamental radial mode, as Severny et al.and Brookes et al. suggest. Indeed it is unlikely that any such model can be found that can generate the observed photon luminosity by thermonuclear reactions [emphasis added] (Christensen-Dalsgaard and Gough 1976, p90).
In other words, the authors are saying that drastic changes would be necessary only if the long-term oscillation is a fundamental mode oscillation, and that only under such circumstances would it be impossible to construct a model that relies on stellar fusion. As I hope to demonstrate later, Christensen-Dalsgaard and Gough did not believe it was a fundamental mode oscillation.

Davies' refusal to discuss alternative explanations is in fact his third indiscretion. Such explanations do exist if for no other reason than the fact that the very sources he cites mentions them. Though both of the twenty-year old papers clearly interpret their results based on a homogeneous model, both discuss other interpretations as well. In the conclusion of Severny and others, the authors "...investigated two possible solutions...." The first is that "nuclear... reactions are not responsible for energy generation in the Sun," which Davies seizes upon to support his claim that the sun is young. The second possible solution, however, allows them "...to adopt the current model of solar structure with [nuclear] reactions and assume that [they] really observe not pure radial pulsations but some gravity g mode of quadrapole oscillation." They go on to say that "g modes... can yield long period oscillations," and admit that one mode in particular, the g11 mode, is "in perfect agreement" with their observed period, though they do question the dominance of such a high harmonic. However, they also admit that their method of observation does not allow them to "distinguish pure radial pulsations from quadropole oscillations." As such, while they maintain that a homogeneous model is the "best" interpretation, they do allow for the possibility that other explanations are possible. Davies conveniently omits this caveat.

In Brookes and others(1976), the authors do not mention nuclear reactions, though Davies claims that they, too, reject the idea that the sun is powered by fusion reactions. However, they also admit that their observations could be explained by high-order gravity modes. They also cite another paper that describes observations they found "difficult to reconcile" with their own work, "unless the oscillations are of high order." (See Brookes and others 1976, p95, for citation.) This suggests that they are willing to accept the possibility of high-order oscillations, even though they found it difficult to do so. Once again, however, Davies ignores this alternative explanation.

Christensen-Dalsgaard and Gough also suggest an alternative to abandoning nuclear fusion. In fact, the entire section leading up to the statement Davies misquotes is an attempt to determine whether other modes could assume the standard model and still explain the observed long-term oscillation. They calculate periods for 38 pressure modes and 12 gravity modes using the standard model for values of spherical harmonic degree (l) equal to 0, 2 and 4, and values of initial heavy element abundance (Z) equal to 0.02 (the accepted value) and 0.04. Two gravity modes yielded oscillations nearly equal to those determined by the Soviet and British astronomers: g10 (l = 2, Z ( 0.02) with a period of 2 hours 34 minutes, and g11 (l = 2, Z = 0.04) with a period of 2 hours 39 minutes (Christensen-Dalsgaard and Gough 1976, p91). The authors caution that their calculations are not "sufficiently reliable"; nonetheless, they are reasonably confident that their results suggest that the 160-minute oscillation reported in the twenty-year old papers was due to a gravity wave (Christensen-Dalsgaard and Gough 1976, p90; Weiss 1976, p78).

Even Nicholson suggests an alternative explanation (Moore and Hunt 1983, p73). He begins by stating that "[m]ore recent analyses [no reference given] of the 2 hr 40 min oscillation suggest that it could be accounted for by reducing the core temperature by about 10 percent." He notes that this cannot account for the current solar luminosity, but he gets around this problem by suggesting that "the output of energy from the core fluctuates over long periods of time." In this way, since photons take ten million years to reach the surface of the sun, he suggests that the current luminosity could be the result of a more energetic past. Though few astrophysicists are willing to entertain the idea of core variability, it remains a viable, if unlikely, explanation. [Just recently, however, new data acquired from the SOHO satellite suggests that the core may indeed be cooler than originally thought, so core variability may not be so fantastic after all (Cowen 1998, p279).] Besides, it is dishonest for a scholar to ignore alternative explanations discussed by his sources, even if he believes they are not valid.


Today, astronomers acknowledge that there are mysteries surrounding the sun that could have profound implications for our models of solar structure and activity (Lang 1996a, 1996b), and that among these are solar oscillations. However, these very same oscillations are being used to fine-tune the standard model by measuring how their speeds change as they pass through the sun's various layers (Lang 1996b). This powerful tool is known as helioseismology, and it is capable of directly probing nearly the entire volume of the solar interior in a way that no other observational method can. Davies himself admits that helioseismology can "provide important information on the structure of the Sun." It is in fact one of the great success stories of modern astronomy, because each of the thousands of known oscillations has been matched to the standard model with an accuracy of between four and five decimal places. This is an impressive feat for any complex model of stellar evolution (Scherrer 1996, 1997).

The point is that, despite Davies' claims to the contrary, helioseismology and associatied oscillations have all but confirmed the standard model for the structure of the sun (see especially Lang 1997). There is now no doubt that the sun possesses a large, dense central core capable of supporting fusion reactions. This in turn has also confirmed the standard model for solar evolution, because there are very few ways that a star with the sun's mass and elemental composition can evolve to its present state, even if it had been supernaturally created only a few thousand years ago (Graps 1997). It is rather ironic that the very phenomenon that Davies hopes will refute the ancient age of the sun has instead confirmed it.

However, the long-term solar oscillation problem is far from solved. Observations made in the 1980s had partially confirmed the observations made in the 1970s (Scherrer and others 1992; Kotov and others 1992), though it is interesting that Davies makes no mention of any of these other observations. These observations set an upper limit to the frequency of any long-term oscillations, which, perhaps not coincidentally, was 160 minutes. Even so, the astronomers making the observations were convinced that such long-term oscillations must be the result of gravity mode pulsations.

However, because these observations did not conclusively establish the existence of gravity mode oscillations, some researchers dismissed them as either atmospheric effects or an artifact of the earth's movement in solar orbit. If long-period oscillations do exist, then the ground-based GONG system (Global Oscillation Network Group) and the SOHO satellite (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) should be able to detect them. So far they have failed to do so, though this may be due to technical problems (Lang 1996c)]. Though some astronomers still believe they may exist, the GONG and SOHO observations (or lack thereof) have convinced others that gravity mode oscillations are impossible (Scherrer 1997). Yet believer and skeptic alike agree that long period oscillations pose no threat to the validity of the standard model.

Solar Neutrinos

Another issue Davies uses to show that the sun is young is the solar neutrino problem. Neutrinos are subatomic particles released during stellar fusion. A certain flux (number per unit of time per area) is expected to flow from the sun continuously, but current measurements indicate that only one-third of the expected flux is observed. Severny and others (1976, p89) claim that this flux agrees with one of their possible solutions-that nuclear reactions are not responsible for the sun's energy-a position Davies endorses.

Nicholson, however, notes that the same 10% decrease in core temperature which could account for the long-term oscillation would also account for the low neutrino flux (Moore and Hunt 1983, p71). And while the current luminosity indicates that the core was more energetic in the past, the measured neutrino flux could represent the currently lower level of core activity. It has just recently been verified that neutrinos do have mass (Anonymous 1998). In theory, if neutrinos have mass then they can interact with matter which could cause them to change from one type of neutrino to another. This is known as neutrino oscillation, and it can reduce the flux produced by the core.

The point that Davies missed, however, is that a neutrino flux of any amount is strong evidence that the sun is in fact being powered by nuclear fusion. Gravitational contraction would not be expected to produce any neutrinos at all, because energy is produced by the conversion of gravitational potential energy first into kinetic energy and then into heat energy. No nuclear reactions are involved, so no neutrinos would be produced. The flux currently measured is too high to be derived from radioactive decay (and in any event the sun is of the wrong spectral type and is not massive enough to contain that much radioactive material), so the only possible source must be fusion reactions. Moreover, considering that only a small decrease in core temperature is needed to explain the current flux measurement (contrary to Davies' claims), solar neutrinos should be seen as a verification of the standard model rather than a refutation.


Based on this discussion, I believe that Davies is both naive and premature to propose that long-term oscillations indicated that the sun must be homogeneous, that it must be getting its energy from gravitational contraction, and especially that it must therefore be young. For one thing, we have seen how other types of oscillations have confirmed the standard models of solar structure and evolution, thus completely refuting Davies' claims. For another, there is still no evidence that long-term oscillations are real.

Davies must know his sources are outdated, but uses them anyway because they support the conclusion he wants to make. Just as important, however, these claims are based on distorted and misinterpreted information. Especially egregious is his omission of alternative explanations, because even those scientists who suggest that the sun is homogeneous admit that there are viable alternative explanations that could explain these oscillations without abandoning the standard model. And none of the sources he cites suggest that their evidence shows the sun is young; this is obviously Davies' own conclusion, based more on his reliance on biblical literalism than on hard science.

An obvious question to ask at this point is why Davies uses arguments that are so obviously in error? That is a difficult question, and only Davies can answer it with any certainty. He seems intelligent and learned enough to recognize that both his sources and the vast majority of more recent data really do not support his conclusions. However, it is also clear that standard scholarship practices would require that Davies abandon his view that the sun is a young, homogeneous star and in violation of the standard model. Even some of those solar researchers whose work from the 1970s Davies cited have reached this conclusion in the face of new data.

Therefore, I believe it is safe to conclude that, despite his pretense to the contrary, Davies is not interested in thoughtfully exploring an interesting solar phenomenon, but simply in justifying a narrowly constructed and somewhat naive literalistic belief. And while the subject he chose to discuss is quite fascinating, it is really just a minor mystery that tells us more about the state of creation science than it does about the age of the universe.


I would like to thank Alan M. MacRobert of Sky & Telescope, Prof. Kenneth R. Lang of Tufts University, and Prof. Philip Scherrer, Deborah Scherrer and Amara Graps of Stanford University for their helpful insights into this issue.


Anonymous. Discovery of Neutrino Mass and Oscillations. 1998; Available from . Accessed 1998 July 17.

Brookes JR, Isaak GR and van der Raay HB. Observation of Free Oscillations of the Sun. Nature 1976; 259(1):92-95.

Christensen-Dalsgaard J and Gough DO. Towards a Heliological Inverse Problem. Nature 1976; 259(1):89-92.

Cowen R. Craft eyes solar storms, hints at cooler core. Science News 1998; 153(18):279.
,br> Davies, K. Evidences For a Young Sun (Impact No. 276). Acts & Facts 1996; 25(6):i-iv. Reprints can be obtained from the Institute for Creation Research, P.O. Box 2667, El Cajon, CA, 92021. Available online at and .

Graps, A. Personal communication, May 30 1997.

Kotov, VA, Scherrer PH and Hoeksema JT. The Search for 160-Minute Oscillations in the Stanford and Crimean Solar Velocity Observations, 1974-1991. In: Brown TM, ed. Gong 1992: Seismic Investigation of the Sun and Stars, ASP Conference Series 1993; 42:293-296.

Lang, KR. Unsolved Mysteries of the Sun-Part 1. Sky & Telescope 1996a; 92(2):38-42.

Lang, KR. Unsolved Mysteries of the Sun-Part 2. Sky & Telescope 1996b; 92(3):24-28.

Lang, KR. Personal communication, August 26, 1996c.

Lang, KR. SOHO Reveals the Secrets of the Sun. Scientific American 1997; 276(3):40-47.

Leutwyler, K. In Brief-Neutrinos Weigh In.1/4 Scientific American 1996; 275(1):26.

Moore, P and Hunt G. Atlas of the Solar System. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally & Company, 1983. This book reprinted three sections of a previous book authored by Iain Nicholson (The Sun. London, England: Mitchell Beazley International Ltd, 1982.). The Nicholson book is the source used by Davies, but since the sections are reproduced intact, it is from Moore and Hunt that I took my quotations.

Scherrer, PH, Hoeksema JT and Kotov VA. On the Upper Limit for Detecting G-Mode Oscillations of the Sun. In: Brown TM, ed. Gong 1992: Seismic Investigation of the Sun and Stars, ASP Conference Series 1993; 42:281-284.

Scherrer, PH. Personal communication, September 27, 1996.

Scherrer, PH. Personal communication, May 9, 1997.

Severny, AB, Kotov VA and Tsap TT. Observations of Solar Pulsations. Nature 1976; 259(1):87-89.

Weiss, N. Solar Seismology. Nature 1976; 259(1):78.

About the Author(s): 
Kevin L. O'Brien has a Master of Science in Biochemistry, specializes in protein chemistry, enzymology and mitochondria, and works as a research scientist in academia. He is an evolutionist, but he is also a Christian and a creationist, in that he sincerely believes that "In the Beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth." The rest is open for debate. He lives in Fort Collins with his two cats. He may be contacted by e-mail at klob@lamar.colostate.edu.
Long-Term Solar Oscillations and the Age of the Sun
Kevin L O'Brien
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Lucy and the ICR: Bearing False Witness Against Thy Neighbor

In November 1973, during his first major expedition to the Hadar region of Ethiopia, paleo-anthropologist Donald Johanson stumbled upon a single locking knee joint--a type found only in hominids. Inspired by this discovery, Johanson kept digging and the following year discovered the now famous "Lucy" skeleton that established the existence of Australopithecus afarensis. Although most scientists saw Lucy as excellent evidence for human evolution, creationists were of a much different opinion. On May 28, 1997, I attended an Institute for Creation Research (ICR) lecture series conducted by Richard LaHaye. The lectures were presented at a local church to an audience sympathetic to the ICR's version of Bible-based creation "science". LaHaye's talks were entitled "The Differences between Creationism and Evolution" and "Nature's Challenge to Evolution". Among the more interesting claims LaHaye made were:

  • If humans came into existence millions of years ago as scientists propose, simple arithmetic shows that all of the world's landmass couldn't support the number of graves required to accommodate all those corposes. In his words, "We'd be up to our necks in bodies."
  • Archaeopteryx was a simple bird, nothing more. In particular, LaHaye erroneously claimed that other birds have teeth like Archaeopteryx and that the claws on the specimen are not particularly interesting because "other birds, like bats, also have claws on their wings."

LaHaye's lecture continued with standard creationist arguments including, "What use is 1/5th of an eye?", "Horse evolution is simply the breeding of bigger horses," and "There are no transitional fossils." He also offered $200 000 to anyone who can prove to him that evolution is a fact.

The audience was sympathetic to LaHaye's testimony, punctuating his discourse with words of "amen" and nodding their heads in approval. Up to this point in the lecture, LaHaye's basic argument was that evolutionists were intelligent, but because of their bias, they had made serious mistakes in their interpretation of the available data.

LaHaye then started discussing Lucy. Instead of attacking the evolutionist interpretation of Lucy's skeleton, however, LaHaye described how Lucy clearly was an apelike creature from the waist up (anatomically speaking), but below the waist, had a locking knee joint, indicating that she walked upright. How to explain such a strange, transitional discovery to an audience of creationist believers? LaHaye's answer was to recount a lecture Donald Johanson delivered at the University of Missouri in 1987. LaHaye claimed that when Johanson was pressed with a question by a member of the audience, he admitted that the knee was found 2-3 kilometers away from Lucy, a stratigraph separation of nearly 70 meters.

As LaHaye made this startling revelation, a chorus of gasps emanated from the audience in the church. To their minds, LaHaye had established that evolutionists were not only wrong about the data, but that they lie and conceal information in order to promote the dogma of evolutionism. Unfortunately for LaHaye and his audience, however, his claim wasn't true.

Of course, Johanson had in fact discovered the locking knee joint prior to his discovery of Lucy (who has a knee joint of her own), but the two discoveries have always been treated as discrete specimens of the same species. All of the bones shown in photographs of Lucy were found at a single location during Johanson's subsequent expedition of 1974. And anyone who actually read Johanson's Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind would have come away with the same understanding. Other speciemsn of Australopithecus afarensis have been discovered and have occasionally been referred to as "Lucy" in the interest of brevity, but there is no mistake among members of the paleontological community regarding the details of Johanson's "Lucy" skeleton.

In the course of researching this controversy, I discovered that NCSE member Jim Lippard had already waged a long battle with creationists over this very issue (a full account is available at Lippard's web site <http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/knee-joint.html>. According to Lippard, ICR President John Morris, in a 1993 telephone interview, indicated that he was aware the claim was false, but didn't feel it warranted a retraction of his 1989 article, "Was 'Lucy' an Ape-man?"

I sent a letter to LaHaye on June 9, 1997, explaining what I had discovered, including what Morris had said during his interview with Lippard in 1993. In the letter, I asked LaHaye simply to retract his statement and have it noted on Lippard's talk.origins FAQ page on the knee joint controversy. I also included the latest edition of the FAQ which noted the creationist track record on the Lucy myth.

Since I received no response to my first letter, I wrote to the pastor of the church where I heard LaHaye's lectures. I remained bothered that all those attending the lecture did not know what had previously transpired in regard to his Lucy claims and might be continuing to perpetuate this erroneous claim. In the letter, I recounted my research, Morris's acknowledgment, and the apparent continuing willingness of the ICR, as I put it in my letter, "to bear false witness against thy neighbor." In conclusion, I expressed concern that "the ICR is not only corrupting science, but the good deeds of the Christian faith as well. Ultimately, their strategy may wind up chasing individuals away from Christ if they are not called to task." Then I sent 2 more letters--one to Morris and a second one to LaHaye. In each, I again noted that they were "bearing false witness" and that I had contacted the pastor ofthe local church where the lecture had been conducted.

Within two weeks, I received a letter from LaHaye informing me that "more pressing matters" had kept him from responding to me earlier. He also advised me that his letter was his personal stance on the subject and should not be considered the policy of the ICR. Basically, LaHaye refused to acknowledge that he was in error. He wrote, "I do not conisder the information you forwarded as evidence, of truth, that Johanson's statement was in fact not made." Of course, no one disputes that Johanson made the comment about the knee joint's discovery in a separation location from the Lucy skeleton. The issue in dispute, however, was whether Johanson implied that the knee joint was consolidated into Lucy's skeleton. Johanson never made this implication, and all of his published works prior to the 1987 speech at the University of Missouri are also quite clear that the first knee joint, AL 129, is a spearate fossil from Lucy. Furthermore, the ICR seems to be unaware that the very way the specimens were classified (AL 129 for the original knee joint and AL 288-1 for the Lucy skeleton) indicates that the two were found in different locations.

LaHaye's letter continued, "Please furnish me with written evidence that ... Johanson did not say what has been stated that he did say [at the University of Missouri on November 20, 1987]."

Of course, I already had the evidence that LaHaye demanded--courtesy of Lippard's web site outlining his previous correspondence with Johanson on this very controversy.

Even though LaHaye wouldn't acknowledge his error, he nonetheless revealed, "For your information, ICR has directed me not to bring up the subject of 'Lucy's knee joint' in my lectures and I will abide by their request. But for me to retract my statement for you or Jim Lippard, I don't think so. If you think I am going to jump through some kind of hoop for the Skeptics Society or the FAQ (who or what ever they think they are), forget it."

Before I could respond, I received a letter from Morris in his capacity as President of the ICR. In it he noted, "I was unaware that Dick LaHaye was speaking on subjects that would include the details of Lucy's anatomy and have since discussed this with him. His lecture topics were to include biblical creationism and its societal relevance, not the scientific details. Not being a scientist, we had intended for him to point people to the ICR materials for scientific content." Unfortunately for his audience, that directive did not prevent LaHaye from making reference to research he conducted at the ICR's facilities with the aid of other creation "scientists".

What impressed me the most, however, was Morris's contention that, "While I am grateful that Lippert [sic] pointed out to me the details, correcting my misunderstanding, no scientist here at ICR uses the questionable knee in their scientific writings or lectures any more. It is regrettable that LaHaye picked up on something that was written years ago." What Morris didn't include in his letter, though, is that he noted Lucy's "questionable knee" (using that very term) in several published articles after speaking with Jim Lippard. But each time, he didn't clarify what was "questionable" about the knee joint.

Furthermore, 3 months after I received Morris's reply, ICR adjunct faculty member Donald Chittick lectured at North Seattle Christian Fellowship, repeating the knee joint allegation to an audience ofmore than 200. When I confronted Chittick after the lecture, he appeared completely unaware that Morris had retracted the bogus claim regarding Lucy. Even though I presented Chittick with a copy of Morris's letter, he refused to retract his claim and demanded to see the evidence that was already provided to him by Lippard 3 years earlier. I subsequently sent those materials to Chittick again and asked him to clarify his stance on Lucy. He did reply shortly after receiving my letter, but did not discuss Lucy at all. Instead, he claimed that he had very little to do with the ICR, even though he is listed as an adjunct faculty member of the organization, praises their work in his lectures, sells their literature, and encourages his audience to sign up for ICR monthly reports. Nevertheless, subsequent monitoring of his lectures indicates that he has dropped the claim regarding Lucy's knee joint.

Meanwhile, my follow-up letter to Morris requested a clarification on his own writings regarding Lucy's "questionable knee" and suggested a rigorous peer review of all ICR materials. I sent a second letter to John Morris immediately following Chittick's lecture and one more letter to LaHaye. I explained to LaHaye that he appeared to be even more confused about Lucy than I had originally thought. In an attempt to clarify the issues, I enclosed a personal letter from Johanson to Lippard that not only detailed Johanson's research regarding Australopithecus afarensis, but also discussed the lecture that led to the bogus accusation.

As yet, I have received no further responses from either LaHaye or Morris. Why they decided to respond to me at all and institute some form of damage control is still a mystery. It is possible that my attempt to contact the pastor may have gotten their attention. It is also possible that my specific use of wording, such as "bearing false witness against thy neighbor", may have struck a chord that they found impossible to ignore. It could have been a combination of both. In any event, creationism watchers should be on the lookout for any future attempts by creationists to propagate this fallacious accusation.


On September 5, 1998, the official ICR website updated its content with the full archive of "Dr. John's Q&As" which also appears as a section of the monthly ICR publication, "Back to Genesis". Despite Morris's assurances that the ICR would no longer propagate the bogus knee joint myth, his November 1989 article "Was Lucy an Ape-man?" now appears on the ICR website without a disclaimer or retraction.

References Cited:

Chittick D. The Puzzle of Ancient Man, public lecture at North Seattle Christian Fellowship. 1997.

Johanson DC. Letter to Jim Lippard, August 8, 1989.

Johanson DC. Letter to Jim Lippard, May 30, 1990.

Johanson DC, Edey MA. Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind. NY: Simon and Schuster. 1981.

LaHaye R. Presentation at an Institute for Creation Research public lecture in Redmond, Washington, May 28, 1997.

LaHaye R. Letter to Pierre Stromberg, July 30, 1997.

Lippard J. Lucy's Knee Joint: A Case Study in Creationists' Willingness to Admit their Errors, <http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/knee-joint.html>. Last accessed Jan 1999.

Morris JM. Letter to Pierre Stromberg, August 1, 1997.

Morris JM. What distinguishes man from ape? Back to Genesis. In Acts & Facts, Nov 1995; d.

Morris JM. Who or what was Australopithecus ananemsis? Back to Genesis. In Acts & Facts, Dec 1995; d.

Weaver KE. The Search for Our Ancestors, National Geographic 1985 Nov; 168(5): 560-623.

Willis T. Lucy Remains at College. Revised reprint of "'Lucy' Goes to College". Bible Science Newsletter 1987 Oct; 1-3.

About the Author(s): 

Pierre Stromberg has been a longtime member of the skeptic community, but has only recently developed an active interest in the creationism controversy and other pseudo-science promulgated by religious groups. Image scans of the related letters in this article as well as any updates can be found on Pierre Stromberg's Paranormal Northwest website (<http//www.eskimo.com/~pierres/>.

Lucy and the ICR: Bearing False Witness Against Thy Neighbor

Pierre Stromberg

This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

"Equal Time" In School Libaries?

Most evolution/creation controversies in public schools involve questions of whether "creation science" will be presented to students in the classroom or at assemblies. However, libraries are also a target of creationist efforts. For example the Idaho School Boards Association recently voted down a resolution that called for including "creation science" materials in school libraries (RNCSE 18(4):7), and some state party platforms have included planks like this one:

3.38 We support the stocking of CREATIONIST produced resources in ALL TAX funded public and school libraries. We OPPOSE the current censorship of CREATIONIST resources. (Iowa Republican Party, 1998)

NCSE has assisted school districts that were being pressed to add "creation science" books to their libraries. In 1998, we evaluated books that had been suggested for use as library "resources offering [theories] considered contrary to evolution" in a Michigan school district (RNCSE 18(3):5), and advised a New Mexico parent whose local schools were being pressed to purchase creationist books because supposedly "libraries must have materials on all controversies."

What are the facts? Is your school or public library required to purchase or accept donations of books presenting "creation science" or "arguments against evolution"? How can the appropriateness of such books be evaluated?

The Role of Libraries

Public libraries: No public library is currently required to accept donated materials, though they should use consistent policies to assess donations. A good illustration is the case of the Athens Regional Library in Oconee County, Georgia. When the library refused the donation of a subscription to the Answers in Genesis publication Creation Ex Nihilo in 1996, there was considerable public controversy, and the would-be donor announced that he was considering a lawsuit. However, the library's decision prevailed because it had been made fairly: the library staff was not attempting censorship, but had applied the same standards to the donation as they did to possible purchases. They judged that the magazine's content was too specialized for their limited shelf space. They had consulted the American Library Association (ALA), and had been advised that such decisions are generally legal when they follow policies applied to all library materials (NCSE Reports, 16(3):18-19).

School libraries: Like public libraries, school libraries have space and budget constraints, and must carefully evaluate materials whether they are purchased or donated. A school library also differs from public libraries in two important respects: it serves a less diverse community — a specific age group — and it must further the school's educational mission. According to the American Library Association:
School library media professionals cooperate with other individuals in building collections of resources appropriate to the developmental and maturity levels of students. These collections provide resources which support curriculum and are consistent with the philosophy, goals, and objectives of the school district. (ALA, 1990)
While the library should have some materials that satisfy the general reading and learning interests of students, a large proportion of material must support classroom curricula — for example, if students in the school study early American history, the library should have biographies of leading figures of the time, historical novels set in that time, and material covering various topics in greater depth than do textbooks — both to provide supplementary readings and to support research assignments. The number of such books related to any given topic is limited by the need to provide similar selections supporting other courses and teaching units.

Both civil liberties organizations and many individual school districts emphasize the importance of providing students with diverse collections that prepare them to debate social issues responsibly. However, these concerns must be understood in the context of a district's legal responsibilities and educational goals, and the school librarian's responsibility to provide materials of high quality. The ALA puts it this way:
Members of the school community involved in the collection development process employ educational criteria to select resources unfettered by their personal, political, social, or religious views. Students and educators served by the school library media program have access to resources and services free of constraints resulting from personal, partisan, or doctrinal disapproval. (ALA, 1990)
Proposed "creation science" or "evolution/creation" materials must be evaluated within this context. Even citizens who support putting such materials in the school library will not want to change district policies in a manner that would lead to filling school libraries' shelves with third-rate novels and tabloids that report UFO sightings. They can also see why it is untrue that "All controversies must be heard." "All controversies" could include everything from disagreements in neurology journals over whether pallidotomy or hypothalamic stimulation is the better treatment for Parkinson's disease, to disagreements within militias over the best way to "resist" the federal government.

Again, considerations of age appropriateness and educational value apply. To take American history as our example again: There was a controversy about adopting this country's constitution, but a book containing the Federalist Papers is at the wrong reading level for an elementary school library. It might be appropriate for the high school library — but teachers and the librarian might have good reasons to choose other controversies.

The fact is, scientific controversy over evolution died in the closing decades of the nineteenth century; it is now a political and religious controversy. Even people who believe that there is still a scientific controversy about evolution cannot deny that many "creation science" books discuss long-dead "controversies" — like the Piltdown hoax that scientists uncovered decades ago — which are too dated for library use. Books presenting religious arguments against evolution should not be brought in as part of the science curriculum; they might be considered to support critical thinking curricula in other classes, depending on the advice of teachers who may have found that other topics or materials fit better into the curriculum.

Evaluating proposed books — lessons from experience

School administrators and elected officials face many decisions and balance many legal, financial and curricular concerns while trying to satisfy a varied constituency. Some districts try to compromise by suggesting that the library obtain "nonreligious", purely "scientific" critiques of evolution. What then?

Then comes the hard work! Neither librarians nor advisory committees can evaluate proposals unless they have copies of the books in question, or substantial book excerpts and reviews from reliable sources such as scientific publications or library journals. Such information can be very difficult to obtain, and the information that is most easily available may be confusing (see sidebar, "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Number").

NCSE has published a book containing scientists' reviews of forty-two "creation science" books that are frequently suggested for school use. (See sidebar for a list of books reviewed.) In addition, we can provide reviews of other books, from our own periodicals and from other journals. Also, in some cases we can provide information about "creation science" children's books that are in the NCSE library.

Even when such information is unavailable, evaluators can use criteria and procedures based on NCSE's experience advising school districts: * Is the book genuinely scientific, or primarily religious? How can this be determined?
In some instances, the religious emphasis of a book is obvious: It is explicitly stated on the cover, in the fly leaf or introduction, in a publisher's catalog or on the website of the publisher or another organization promoting the book. Often, however, it is necessary to review the text itself. For example, the cover of one book in NCSE's collection makes no mention of religious views; it says: "...a new approach to biology in plain language.... spectacular breakthroughs in molecular biology can be combined with the widely used laws of probability reasoning.... Topics include... How DNA Duplicates Itself." The text, though, contains numerous examples of religious advocacy, such as: "The materialist must never have stood at dawn and watched the pink light begin to tinge the sky.... 'If you can see a sight like that and not worship God, you don't deserve to be called a person!" (Coppedge, 1973: 279)

When evaluators lack time to read an entire book, using the index can be a big help. Reading pages cited with these key words can help determine whether the book advocates religious views: abrupt appearance, creator, design, God, intelligence, intelligent design, purpose, teleology, teleonomy. Do not assume that finding such words in the index means the book is primarily religious! A page indexed by the word "intelligence" might discuss the evolution of intelligence, or it might argue that DNA is proof of an "intelligence" that "designed" living cells.

* Is scientific content of the book accurate and current?
Any library book about science needs to be up-to-date, unless it was specifically chosen for its value in the history of scientific thought — for example a book of readings from pioneers in their fields such as Mendel (genetics), Copernicus (astronomy), and so on. NCSE has found that many books critical of evolution do not discuss current scientific views; one book we evaluated this year had not been revised since 1982, and contained no citations more recent than the early 1960s! Checking a book's bibliography and footnotes is very helpful in assessing whether it is up-to-date. You may also find that, while a book lacks religious rhetoric, ostensibly "scientific" arguments in the book — such as claims that human tracks have been found alongside dinosaur tracks — are standard, inaccurate creationist claims for which NCSE can provide scientific refutations.

* Is the book age-appropriate and suited to students' educational level?
Ask science teachers whether students have the knowledge they need to understand and evaluate statements in a book. For example, a book requiring high school reading skills might be donated to a middle school, or a book criticizing methods for determining the age of the earth might be suggested for use by students who have not yet studied earth science.

* Does the book meet general selection criteria such as sturdy construction and reasonable availability?
NCSE has found that some books suggested for adoption are no longer in print. Evaluators can check on the book's availability by consulting Books In Print or on-line book services such as "amazon.com". Some "creation science" books in NCSE's collection — especially those that are self-published — are so poorly bound that they literally fall apart in a reader's hands.


It's no news that evolution/creation controversies can become heated and emotional. In the heat of controversy, "creation science" proponents may complain in all sincerity that their views are being "censored". They may also ask rhetorically, "What are you afraid of?" The answer rests on common grounds that all parents can share, "I'm afraid the library will spend its limited budget on low quality books. If we aren't careful about library policies, the good books our kids need will be crowded out by junk!" Your school library can select books in a way that avoids censorship without sacrificing quality, and common-sense application of the criteria suggested here helps assure that your school's students will have access to the best science books available.


American Library Association Council (ALA), Access to resources and services in the school library media program: An interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (as amended January 10, 1990). , accessed December 3, 1998. (Note: This document appears under the auspices of the American Association of School Librarians. It can also be obtained by calling 1-800-545-2433, ext. 4, and requesting ISBN 8389-7053-2)

Benton, Michael J, On the trail of the dinosaurs. (NewYork: Crescent Books, 1989)

Coppedge, James F, Evolution: Possible or Impossible? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973)

Gish, Duane T, Dinosaurs Those Terrible Lizards. (El Cajon: Master Books, 1977)

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publications Division, Information sheet on "Preassigned Library of Congress card number or cataloging in publication data?" (Washington, DC: Library of Congress from 607-2a [rev 10/94])

Library of Congress Catalogs (Note: from this page a user can choose various options for searching the Library's catalog. Information in this article was obtained using the "derived key" search in December, 1998.)

Parker, Gary E, DRY BONES... and other fossils. (El Cajon: Master Books, 1987)

Republican Party of Iowa, State Platform (Adopted June 15, 1996) (click on "Our Platform"). Accessed December, 1998
"Equal Time" In School Libaries?
Molleen Matsumura
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.