Letters to the Editor
Your comments are welcomed in this column, whether your thoughts relate to articles published in Creation/Evolution, the creation-evolution controversy as a whole, or letters published here.
I enjoyed Stephen G. Brush's article "Kelvin Was Not a Creationist" in the Spring 1982 Creation/Evolution. Having demolished Morris's claim (made in his January 1972 Impact article "Bible-Believing Scientists of the Past" and his subsequent book Men of Science, Men of God) that Kelvin was a creationist, Brush suggests that Morris's "entire list (with one exception [Agassiz]) be treated with some skepticism." He also raises questions about Morris's sources. I'll comment on these points, after discussing another.
Morris claimed (incorrectly) that all those listed in his Impact article were "strict creationists" and (incorrectly) that "none were theistic evolutionists." Indeed, Morris has often expressed his feelings about theistic evolutionists, as in this selection from an Acts & Facts "Director's Column" reprinted in Up with Creation!:
But can't we be Christian evolutionists, they say? Yes, no doubt it is possible to be a Christian evolutionist. Likewise, one can be a Christian thief, or a Christian adulterer, or a Christian liar! Christians can be inconsistent and illogical about many things, but that doesn't make them right.
Despite these and other insults he has heaped on theistic evolutionists, Morris included a few theistic evolutionists in Men of Science, Men of God!
Kelvin is not the only scientist whose views Morris misrepresented. Consider his treatment of geologist William Buckland. Morris insists that Buckland "did accept the geologic significance of the world-wide Flood." In fact, Buckland was once a leading "diluvialist," claiming that certain superficial geologic features were due to a recent world-wide flood. In the mid-1830s, however, Buckland abandoned diluvialism for the "tranquil flood theory," which asserts that the Noachian Deluge was geologically insignificant.
Finally, there are indications that Morris's research was not necessarily in primary sources. The first half of his entry for Charles Babbage reads as follows:
Charles Babbage (1792-1871) was a fascinating scientist, in many respects far ahead of his time. Primarily, he worked on what we now would denote "operations research." He developed the first actuarial tables, invented the first speedometer, and the first skeleton keys, as well as the first ophthalmoscope and the locomotive "cowcatcher."
In the revised edition of Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science & Technology, we find the following:
Babbage worked on what would now be called "operations research" . . . Babbage worked out the first reliable actuarial tables (the sort of thing which is now the insurance company's bread and butter), worked out the first speedometer, and invented skeleton keys and the locomotive "cowcatcher."
Babbage invented an ophthalmoscope in 1847, by means of which the retina of the eye could be examined. . . .
The only part of Morris's biography of Babbage which couldn't derive from Asimov is one sentence about Babbage's Bridgewater Treatise (a numerical analysis of Biblical miracles).
It may interest you to know that when I was in Australia this summer, I purchased a paperback: The Crumbling Theory of Evolution by J. W. C. Johnson, published by the Creation Science Foundation, P.O. Box 302, Sunnybank, Queensland, 4109. Sunnybank is a suburb of Brisbane, and although I was in Brisbane there was no time to visit the Australian creationists. The book costs $2.75 Australian. It relies very heavily on American creationist literature, almost a rewrite of the American books and papers. The most interesting thing about it is that the book carries a Nihil Obstat, and Imprimatur by the Archbishop of Brisbane! I can't recall any other instance of a creationist publication carrying an official endorsement by the Catholic Church.
Proponents of evolution commonly do their cause a disservice by confusing the terms "scientific principle" and "theory." Your own periodical is a case in pointit commonly refers to "the theory of evolution."
The basic concept of "organic evolution" ("evolution," for short) is simple: During the time there has been life on Earth, that life has undergone change.
The way to test the idea of evolution is to examine the evidence we have about life in the Earth's past. And just what evidence do we have? Fossils, of course.
In the last two centuries, literally thousands of people have studied the rocks of our planet and the fossils these rocks contain. These studies have confirmed time and again that the fossils in the oldest fossil bearing rocks are different from those in rocks somewhat younger, and those, in turn, are different from the remains in rocks even younger, and so on to the present.
That fossil assemblages succeed one another in the same order has been observed time after time, all around our globe. This "biotal succession" or "faunal succession" of fossils is an observable fact. Every time it's been tested, the results have been the same!
Because fossils are the remains and traces of past life, the conclusion is inescapable: In the time that life has existed on planet Earth, that life has changed. Thus evolution is a scientific principlea fact-disciplined general truthnot just a theory.
Paleontologist and Curator of Collections
Cincinnati Museum of Natural History
Regrettably, two recent contributors to your publication have adopted a tactic previously exercised with substantial skill only by certain creationist authors in the creation-evolution controversy. Both J. B. Gough and Robert Schadewald (Issue XII, Spring 1983) have chosen to redefine, and therefore obscure, words in no need of redefinition and certainly in no need of obscuring. The abused words are, respectively, "scientist" and "catastrophist."
Gough (p. 31) claims that "to say a person is a scientist encompasses the fact that he or she is an evolutionist." Now, any of a number of acceptable definitions of "scientist" are in common use. One such is: an individual extensively trained in a scientific discipline whose work follows accepted standards of design, conduct, and peer review. The definition of a scientist need not be belabored, nor this particular one insisted upon; the point is that any reasonable definition cannot be made to include only evolutionists except by arbitrarily appending "and believes in evolution" to the definition. This is precisely what Gough has done, and having redefined "scientist" to mean "scientist who believes in evolution," he can conclude that all scientists are evolutionists. The conclusion and the premise being identical, the former follows logically, though not helpfully, from the latter. No logical objections arise to the possibility that all scientists could, even should, be evolutionists, but the reality is that not all are. Philip Kitcher (Abusing Science, 1982, p. 179) lists several who are not, and even a superficial acquaintance with creationist authors will indicate that whatever else we may say about them, we must acknowledge that some creationists are, by any objective, reasonable definition of the word, scientists.
Schadwald's abuse of the language is similar. His point is that diluvialists are not catastrophists because "true catastrophists" reject diluvialism (p. 22). And around and around we go. The term "catastrophism," as pointed out by Derek Ager (The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record, 1981, p. 44) is used in contrast with the idea of substantive uniformitarianism to denote the concept that violent geological processes (i.e., catastrophes) operating at rates exceeding those now being observed, are responsible for having produced portions, even most, of the geological record. "Catastrophist," then, has a clear and useful meaning, and Schadewald is not free to decide arbitrarily that it is limited to one particular school of catastrophists. Certainly, creationists' "catastrophist" (flood) geology is very different from Cuvier's catastrophist geology, but then so is Ager's, and no one wishes to deny him his right to call himself a catastrophist. Indeed, we must insist on it, for that is precisely what he is. The term is not sufficiently narrow to exclude flood geology, irrespective of our own opinions of the scientific merit of that particular school of catastrophism.
Creation/Evolution's objective of discussing creationist views on their merits is commendable. Insofar as Schadewald and Gough have contributed to this discussion, and, indeed, both have, their articles are also commendable. Their attacks on the plain meaning of two very useful words, however, are not. Please, spare the language.
I think Creation/Evolution is an excellent journal in its scientific refutation of creationism. However, as a libertarian, I must disagree with your position on public (state) schools.
Libertarians believe that individuals have the right to live in any way they please, as long as they do not interfere with the right of others to live in any way they please. This principle has many implications, one of which is that it is a denial of rights to force any person to support anything against his or her will. The state schools necessarily violate everybody's rights as all are forced to support them.
The only solution to this massive violation of the rights of every American is to get the government out of education so that a free market in education can develop. Evolutionists and creationists can each support and attend their own schools. Separation of education and state is no less a necessary component of freedom than is separation of church and state.
Creationism is wrong. But creationists violate no one's rights merely by believing in a falsehood. State schools, no matter who controls them (and someone must), are coercive institutions which violate everyone's rights.