Letters to the Editor
In recent issues of Creation/Evolution, Stanley Freske and Robert Schadewald have listed three of the excuses creationists offer as to why starlight coming from millions of light-years away does not disprove their claim for a young universe. The three listed were: the creator placed the photons of light from the stars close enough to the earth so we could look up and admire his creation; light traveled at infinite speed at the time of creation, but has since slowed down; and material objects exist in Euclidian space, but light travels in Riemannian space with a radius of only five light-years.
However, there is one that they missed. Dr. Theodore Rybka, research associate in physics at ICR, addressed the San Diego State University creation-evolution class in April 1980 and offered a fourth explanation. His argument was for a smaller universe altogether. While scientists generally assume that the lower brightness of stars and galaxies means they are further away from us, Dr. Rybka proposed a model wherein this evidence applies only to stars and galaxies we can measure directly. Beyond that distance, decreasing brightness actually means the stars are comparatively decreased in size.
As a direct analogy to Dr. Rybka's model, we can imagine a row of telephone poles along a road. They appear smaller as they go into the distance. But are they really going into the distance? Not necessarily. A person walking down the road could discover, instead, that they are really shorter and shorter poles. This means a person could walk down a line of poles and find one of a size he'd like to use as a toothpick.
If Dr. Rybka is right, someday we may be able to go out and bring back galaxies to hang up in our living rooms. Not only does this model ignore a wealth of other evidence that galaxies don't shrink with distance, but it also implies a malicious creator who has set out to fool us.
Dr. Frank Awbrey
San Diego State University
I enjoyed Stan Freske's article in Creation/Evolution IV on R. G. Elmendorf and his $5000 challenge to evolutionists. Perhaps you're not aware that alternative scientists have a long history of making such challenges. Like Elmendorf, they never voluntarily pay off, since there's absolutely no way to convince them that they're wrong. Consider the case of John Hampden.
In January of 1870, British flatearther John Hampden placed an advertisement in Scientific Opinion offering �500 to anyone who could demonstrate the rotundity of the earth. Two things were unusual
about Hampden's challenge. First, it was in the form of a bet rather than an offer of a "reward"; second, Hampden was foolish enough to leave the decision up to an independent judge-an error which (to my knowledge) no subsequent alternative scientist has made. Evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace accepted Hampden's challenge. He won the battle (money), but he lost the war as Hampden persecuted him for the rest of his life. (Readers interested in details of this fiasco can see my article, "He Knew Earth is Round, But His Proof Fell Flat," in the April 1978 Smithsonian.)
As I pointed out in Creation/ Evolution IV, in my article on the Moon and Spencer paper, the Koreshans of turn-of-the-century Chicago taught that the earth is a hollow sphere and that we live on the inside of it. I didn't mention that Cyrus Reed Teed (Koresh) had a standing offer of $5000 to anyone who could disprove the "Koreshan Cosmogony." No one ever collected.
In the 1920s, Wilbur Glenn Voliva of Zion, Illinois, had a standing offer of $5000 for proof that the earth isn't flat. No one ever collected from him either.
Such offers have backfired. In the notes to the 1957 edition of Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, Martin Gardner told of a challenge issued by a German alternative scientist. Patent attorney Godfried Bueren offered 25,000 marks to anyone who could disprove his hollow sun theory. The German Astronomical Society accepted his challenge. When Bueren refused to pay off, they took him to court and won.
A similar and more pernicious case is pending as I write this. The Institute for Historical Review, an antisemitic group in California, claims that the Holocaust is a hoax. They offer $50,000 for proof to the contrary. Mel Mermelstein, a survivor of Auschwitz, accepted the challenge. When they didn't pay off, he took them to court.
If Mermelstein wins his case, it will set an important precedent. I hope that, on that very day, Stan Freske will file suit against Elmendorf. Forcing Elmendorf to pay off won't silence his braying, but it should muffle it a bit.
Robert J. Schadewald
Editor's note: Elmendorf's challenge may not be as winable as some of the others. This is because Elmendorf defines evolution in such a way that one would have to prove a "vital force" or perpetual motion in order to prove that evolution doesn't conflict with the second law. He might keep his money, because he is challenging a strawman instead of science.
One might be better off seeking the $1000 reward of Susan and Robert Sassone: "For proving the validity of any reason why population growth must be limited within the next century. " These people, along with a growing number in the -religious New Right, reject the notion of
a population problem. And, to show their confidence, the Sassones declare in their challenge that any lawsuits over the reward money are to be tried in a court closest to where they live. But if you think winning will be easy, you'd best order one of their clever "instant speaker kits" first-complete with slides, graphs, and cartoons. For details, write to them at 900 North Broadway, Suite 725, Santa Ana, CA 92701.
I want to commend you on your journal. As the pendulum of public opinion moves toward religious fundamentalism, it provides a sorely needed antidote. If we can weather the storm, I think the pendulum will eventually swing back the other way. However, the storm promises to be a long one.
As one who teaches physiological psychology, I already am feeling the impact of the current wave of rejection of well-established scientific facts in the attitudes of my students. Discussions of the similarity between ontogeny and philogeny, developments such as encephalization, interspecies generalizability of findings, and various between-species comparisons are beginning to be met with hostility. I have conveyed my concern to members of our biology department and have been met with the yawns and shrugs of indifference. Some of these colleagues have explicitly expressed their unwillingness to deal with the claims of the creationists.
Recently, John Clayton, a creationist high school biology teacher from Indiana, spoke unopposed on campus. The way in which terms such as proof were used with abandon in his promotional brochure renders his basic understanding of the principles of science suspect, despite the credentials he flaunts. Religionists such as this man continually attempt to instill the idea that belief in special creation is necessary for belief in God. Since most people find belief in a deity extremely appealing, the success of the association automatically guarantees the acceptance of creationism.
Locally, no biologist or geologist appeared in order to refute the claims of Mr.
Clayton. I am not so sure they would have been very successful if they had
tried. As you point out, most scientists are narrow specialists
and, therefore, ill-prepared to debate the general issues raised by the creationists. This became vividly apparent a few years ago, when I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. Gish and his group engaged in a debate with members of the biology department there. I seem to remember that a poll taken after the debate indicated that over 80 percent of the fifteen-hundred-member student audience thought that the creationists had won. In an apparent gesture of outrage and impotence, most members of the biology department signed the American Humanist Association's Statement Affirming Evolution as a Principle of Science.
Candidly, it seems to me that we - need refutations of creationism expressed
in a much more simple way than most of those in your new journal. Creationists oversimplify and, in doing so, distort the evidence; yet, can we not develop simple yet adequate answers to their claims? Until this is done, I am afraid they will have the upper hand with average listeners. Such listeners are taxpayers and voters, capable of influencing the content of instruction in science courses through the senior high school level (and, in certain instances, at the college level). I really believe that we must develop arguments that are comprehensible by the majority and, at the same time, leave their religious sensibilities intact.
Are there no persons who travel about presenting the evolutionist perspective? Given the seriousness of the challenge being posed by the creationists, it might be desirable to find people who are competent and willing to do this.
Obviously, I am experiencing a great deal of frustration in regard to this issue (as no doubt you are likewise experiencing). I am accordingly willing to provide any support that I can.
Garvin Chastain, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Boise State University
Dr. Sonleitner's article (Spring 1981) did a fine job of summarizing the recent debate over the creationist bill in Oklahoma. Let me add a little to this discussion. When another geologist and I (both working for major oil companies) heard about the proposed bill, we immediately wrote letters to several legislators and circulated a petition against the bill among geologists in our companies. In addition, I prepared to testify at the Education Committee's public hearing.
The point of our letters, petition, and testimony was not just to object to creationism on academic grounds but to emphasize that the principles of "evolutionary science" have very practical applications and that, in fact, the petroleum industry, from whose activities Oklahoma has greatly profited, owes its success to the daily application of these principles... .
My impression of the public hearing is that it was little more than a formality. Most of the legislators had their minds made up by then. However, some representatives seemed to have been influenced by the debate between committee members, which followed the public testimony. For this reason, I have come to believe that the best way to influence legislators who may be faced with a creationist bill is not to wait for public hearings but to send letters, petitions, essays or make personal contact as far in advance of any vote as possible. This will at least give them a chance to think things over, knowing that professionals and other concerned voters give no credence to the creationist view of the earth's natural history.