Letters to the Editor
The replies to Norman Geisler's "A Scientific Basis for Creation: The Principle of Uniformity" (Issue XIII) by Frederick Edwords and William Thwaites were long overdue. Geisler is ubiquitous as a defender of creationism; he often writes and speaks in public forums in defense of creationist legislation and he was a witness for the state at the Arkansas "Scopes II" trial. Yet he has been largely overlooked by scientists responding to "scientific" creationism.
As ably demonstrated by Edwords, Geisler's argument from the "principle of uniformity" is self-contradictory. Nevertheless, Geisler uses this argument as a two-edged sword to support creationism and to invalidate evolution. The uniformity principle argument permeates the theologian's advocacy of creationism and anti-evolutionism and it tells against him throughout.
For instance, on a program entitled "The Scientific Approach to Creation," from Geisler's radio series, Quest for Truth, the theologian offers the uniformity principle as he relates it to the origin of life and biogenesis. Geisler argues in this fashion: Louis Pasteur proved by experimentation that life does not arise from non-life. This fact is confirmed by common observation; we presently do not see life arising from non-life. In the present we see life always arising from life. If the present is the key to the past, Geisler argues, then "scientific reasoning leads us to conclude that in the past life did not arise except from a living Creator."
Geisler's argument is flawed throughout. It is true that Pasteur dealt a fatal blow to "spontaneous generation," but what does this have to do with creationism or evolution? Pasteur disproved the notion, derived from common observation, that complex organisms such as flies and maggots apparently arise from putrefying matter. This experimental demonstration by Pasteur really has nothing to do with the idea that life arose from non-life by a propitious series of small, incremental steps via chemical evolution. Pasteur's experiments cannot logically be used against an evolutionary scenario and in fact they give credence to evolution (if life arose naturally, it must have been by evolutionary mechanisms and not spontaneously). Since scientists are not arguing for the sudden arrival of complex organisms by spontaneous generation, Geisler is merely dropping a red-herring when he uses Pasteur to refute a natural origin of life.
Geisler's "scientific reasoning" concerning biogenesis is downright curious. Life always arises from life. The Creator is living; ergo, the Creator gave rise to life. This argument is a semantic trick that trades on the ambiguities of the words "life" (i.e., the organic) and "living" (i.e., in the context of the supernatural). This semantic game is exposed if we merely restate biogenesis as follows: (in the present) organisms always arise from organisms. Geisler is then forced to argue: organisms always arise from organisms; the Creator is living; therefore the Creator gave rise to organisms. His argument does not retain its logical coherence unless he acknowledges that the "living" Creator is an organism. If he does not, then his argument is a logical non sequitur (as well as empirically bankrupt) and is nothing more than a not-so-crafty play on words.
Geisler's use here of the uniformity principle is strangely naive and lacking in perception. He seems to believe that the principle of uniformity entails nothing more than common observation extrapolated to explain the past. Thus, if life does not arise from non-life, before our very eyes, it never has. However, the principle is broader than Geisler acknowledges. Its primary assumption is that physical and chemical laws observed today are invariant throughout time and do not allow true anomalies. Most scientists who have studied the issue of the origin of life believe that even though the early earth's composition was similar to the present, the combinations of the elements were sufficiently different. This negates Geisler's unstated yet crucial premise that early and contemporary conditions must be identical. We know from experimental evidence that certain chemical processes relevant to the origin of life are possible given certain conditions that are equally possible; processes and conditions that are not outside invariant natural law (and therefore do not violate the principle of uniformity).
It is Geisler, not the evolutionist, who is abrogating the principle of uniformity as he introduces supernatural creation that is by definition outside the boundaries of invariant law. The theologian pleads for the uniformity principle and then violates it, all in the same argument!
Last year I took a course in geophysics; during the class we read about particle bombardment effects on meteorites, on the lunar surface, and on lunar rocks. Being a former creationist, I wondered how one could explain the vast erosion that had taken place on the meteorites (as seen in the particle track densities—and this even after much surface has been burned off in atmospheric entry), on the lunar surface, and even on the rocks buried deep in the regolith in a time span of only several thousand years.
The only explanation (other than the "Adam's navel" argument) is that the erosion rate, the number of particles impacting over time, was higher in the past by a factor of about 0.75 million. That's an awful lot. As Frank Awbrey described it in Issue XIII, this would indeed be a "monumental cosmic sandblaster." But, anyway, it's a perfectly natural explanation. So, we could be scientific, set it up as a hypothesis, and attempt to test it.
But creationists do not do this, and this is why they are not scientific. Any idea, whether it can be tested or not, is acceptable as long as it supports the three central ideas of creationism: the recentness of the creation, the divine creation and thus non-evolutionary ancestry of humans, and the recent worldwide flood. (And, actually, it is the second idea listed here that creationists are really concerned about.) After all, a creationist (or any fundamentalist) is not looking for useful explanations of what we see in the world around us. The creationist is interested in the preservation of her or his faith in the infallibility of the Bible. Everything else is secondary. To say the Bible is incorrect in any way whatsoever is blasphemy and can put one in danger of not making it to heaven (and you know what that means!).
"What? You have found something that is inexplicable according to the Bible. No way. Somehow, some way, God has done it. Remember, God's ways are beyond mere human understanding. If we must resort to miracles (non-testable events) to reconcile what we see in nature with what the Bible says, then so be it. We cannot trust our senses, or even our minds, but we must put our faith in the Bible to be pleasing to God."
How droll! But this attitude is taken seriously by millions of people. Hopefully, we can continue to protect ourselves from such in the future. Journals such as yours are helpful. And thanks to Frank Awbrey for his instructive article.
Thank you for your devotion to the integrity of science, and thank you especially for your devotion to pure undistorted Biblical teaching. I really appreciated the last two issues! As a committed Christian, I am deeply worried about the bad name that is being brought upon Jesus and His message by creationist activities. It is tremendously comforting to know that Christianity is not being identified with creationism everywhere yet.
Though Creation/Evolution is a scientific periodical, I would strongly recommend that you pursue further the incompatibility of creationism with proper biblical exegesis in future issues. I have many creationist friends in my Bible study and church groups, and as a result, I have had a great deal of contact with creationist thinking in the last several years or so. It cannot be overemphasized that creationists are not creationist because the scientific evidence seems to them to lean toward it. They are creationist because they feel the Bible teaches it. As long as the scriptures seem to them to cry creationism, no amount of scientific evidence will do, however overwhelming it may be. Until the Biblical side of this controversy is laid to rest once and for all, there will be a creationist movement battling (and often winning) for equal time in the classroom and public forum. The articles in issues XII and XIII were excellent and addressed many issues, but a great deal more needs to be dealt with, including for instance, the inerrancy doctrine that underlies much of creationist philosophy.
Thank you again for your time and effort, and for your excellent periodical.
Rabbi Greenspahn's report on recent biblical scholarship gives the impression that the main effort Jewish scholars are intent on is justifying their claims to eternal verities against those of Christian scholars and that at best they are seeking areas of common ground, but not necessarily objective, believable truth.
"The question," he says, "is not whether the Bible is true or false, but rather, what kind of truth it seeks to convey." I would like to suggest, rather, that the question is whether the Bible is of "divine" or fallible mortal origin, and what its inconsistencies, contradictions, errors, omissions and absurdities indicate about the author(s) and what kind of truth they were trying to convey.
Sophistical and talmudical efforts to explain away the untenable can, if extrapolated, have us take the Iliad and Odyssey as gospel. And, I ask, "Why not, indeed?"
The idea that his fellow scholars and he are now in a position to reiterate the main theses with which they began (whatever these were), and that new conclusions are in no way threatening their religious faith, makes it appear that, like Omar Khayam, "they went out the self-same door through which they came." True faith facing new facts and remaining untouched appears to be a feat of doggedness.
Nevertheless, some concession to reality is noted in his statement: ". . . its [the Bible's] descriptions of creation must be understood in light of the differing points of view which were prevalent in its own time." If we keep in mind that "its own time" was the Bronze Age, we can perhaps ask ourselves how long we ought to continue to be imposed upon by these quaint, pre-literate notions, very few of which are relevant to our own, evolved, society.
Mr. Sillman's letter in the last issue (no. XIII) regarding his discovery of a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur in an Australian creationist paperback is surprising but should not be alarming. The Catholic Church certainly does not endorse creationism. This is clearly attested by reference to the concluding statement of the historic conference of paleontologists, geneticists, and molecular biologists which met from May 24th to May 27th, 1982, at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican Gardens. After working together under the direction of Carlos Chagas, Brazilian neurophysiologist and scientific advisor to Pope John Paul II, the group concluded that:
"We freely acknowledge that there is room for differences of opinion on such problems as species formation and the mechanisms of evolutionary change. Nevertheless, we are convinced that masses of evidence render the application of the concept of evolution to man and other primates beyond serious dispute."
Also, see the article concerning this conference in the Sept./Oct., 1982 issue of Oceans (p. 72). Finally, at least since 1977, the Catholic Almanac, published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., has included statements within the glossary explanation of evolution which emphasize the confirmation of evolution through scientific evidence while maintaining the doctrine of special creation of the human soul. (p. 362, 1977 ed.)
The Nihil Obstat ("Nothing stands in the way") is issued by the church censor and merely states that nothing contained within the text is explicitly inimical or in violation of Catholic teaching. The Imprimatur ("Let it be printed") is issued by the bishop as an authorization. The unfortunate thing about these seals is that they are easily taken as an approval. They should in no way be interpreted as an endorsement whether in regards to the author's viewpoint or his manner of handling his subject.
The important thing to remember as far as the Catholic Church is concerned with evolution is the distinction between body and soul. Officially, the immediate creation of the human soul by God is a point of doctrine not open to question. The body, on the other hand. . . .
This is in response to Jonathan Young's letter in Issue XIII in which he argues that I redefine "catastrophist." I redefine nothing."Early in the 19th century, when the science of geology was in its infancy, the words "diluvialist," "catastrophist," and "uniformitarian" had reasonably well-defined meanings. As I pointed out in my article, the diluvialist school, whose most important members were Adam Sedgwick and William Buckland, quickly went the way of the dodo, abandoned even by its founders. In the strictest sense, so did 19th century uniformitarianism and catastrophism.
Science evolves. When we call modern geologists uniformitarians we do not mean that they hold the same views as their 19th century predecessors. We mean that they carry on the scientific tradition founded by 19th century uniformitarians. While the uniformitarian tradition has largely triumphed, there have always been geologists like Derek Ager who maintained that violent events played an important part in geologic history. Ager is a catastrophist in much the same sense that most modern geologists are uniformitarians.
But the 19th century diluvialists, catastrophists, and uniformitarians were subjected to vociferous and sometimes vitriolic criticism by another group, the "Scriptural" or "Mosaic" geologists. This latter tradition is yet alive, and as well as it ever was. Unlike modern uniformitarianism and catastrophism, the tradition of Scriptural Geology has hardly evolved at all. Modern scientific creationism is still based on a literal interpretation of the King James Bible.
Words, like scientific traditions, evolve. Today "catastrophism" is sometimes used in a broad, nonhistorical sense which might include Henry Morris's Flood Geology. But when creationists try to equate this modern usage with the historical meaning, it is a bit like arguing that orthodox geologists belong to the Greek Orthodox Church. I will let readers judge whether their equivocation proceeds from ignorance or guile.