Hampsteadpete, I completely agree with every word you said. Did you happen to catch the debate on C-span yesterday between William Dembski, a leading proponent of Intelligent Design, and a scientist who defended evolution? Michael Shermer, the famous skeptic was also on the panel.
No, I did not catch the debate, but I am reading Shermer’s latest book. A few months ago, I wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper that was published. It was a brief anti-creationism piece, and generated some debate. I also received a letter from a local Christian taking issue with some of the things I said, and bringing forth “all the usual suspects” such people use to debate evolution. Below is my response to him. I post it here as an example of the kind of thing we all have to begin doing to fight this stuff. If we dont, who will? We cant depend on the scientists, they are busy pushing back the frontiers for all of us. Thank you for your kind words, by the way.
Dear Mr. Stephens:
You seem to be a gentleman, so I will endeavor to treat you as such. Interesting that you have “never done this before,” as you have responded to my first and only letter to the editor. My letter was prompted by a desire to share the organization’s web site with anyone who felt as I do. Of course, the paper edited that part out, and left me hanging there just ranting with seemingly no purpose. Nevertheless, I wrote the words they printed, and take full responsibility for them.
I try never to practice “contempt prior to investigation.” As a result, when I moved to this area from the northeast in the early 90’s and discovered the widespread belief in something I thought had been settled years ago, I set out to see what all the fuss was about. I am not a professional scientist, and don’t claim to be. However, I have made a lifelong study of geology, astronomy, and biology. In recent years, I have added genetics and yes, creation “science.”
I have read the books by Johnson, Milton, Wells (“Icons” is probably the most dishonest ID book of all), Denton, Behe, and others, all the way back to Paley. Dozens of them. I have thoroughly investigated web sites such as http://www.christiananswers.net, the discovery institute, ICR and others. I have read relevant papers produced by creationist and ID adherents. (They are hard to find as they aren’t in any of the mainstream publications as they don’t pass peer review). What I found during my careful examination was worse than I expected. I found many, many instances of everything from outright lies and manipulation to misrepresentation and fraud! Papers that reference other papers that either do not exist, or say something totally different than the paper implies. Twisted logic that leads nowhere. On and on. It is pseudoscience! I am not going to list examples. If you would like some, let me know, I can provide you with plenty.
Behe is, by far, the most talented of the ID proponents. He is probably no friend of yours, as he fully accepts the validity of the geological ages and the fossil record, he merely disputes the ability of natural selection to produce complex structures. Basically what you were getting at in your letter. His arguments, while well stated, contain a basic flaw: contrary to Behe’s claims, the evidence of evolution in the fossil record is not irrelevant to his argument. It has forced him, for the sake of consistency, to cobble his acceptance of the earth’s well-documented natural history together with the doctrine of intelligent design. The result is an absolutely hopeless genetic fantasy of “pre-formed” genes waiting for the organisms that might need them to gradually appear. This absurdity is the unavoidable result of trying to make “design” conform to that troublesome fossil record. The very same fossil record that provides the primary evidence for evolution.
You mentioned entropy in your letter. Duane Gish, a leading proponent of your point of view, claims that the Second Law of Thermodynamics makes evolution impossible. The argument is based on classical thermodynamics which only apply to closed systems which are near thermodynamic equilibrium. If you look at the entire system, energy goes from a form able to do work to low-temperature thermal energy unable to do work. This is very loosely associated with the idea that a closed system becomes more disorderly as time goes on. If this argument were true, life would be impossible! Consider an egg, which starts out as a simple mixture of liquid yolk and white, but which organizes itself into a chicken if kept at 100 degrees F for three weeks! The Second Law is obeyed throughout, and the chicken contains less useful (chemical) energy than did the yolk - the difference being the heat produced by the metabolism of the developing chick. The secret is that the egg is far from thermodynamic equilibrium, and only part of the system becomes organized—the part not converted to chick becomes very simple carbon dioxide gas and water vapor.
Similarly, open thermodynamic systems can be organized by importing energy. Your bedroom tends to get messy, but may become more organized if you import your energy and clean it up. The entropy in the room is decreased by your efforts, but by far less than the amount associated with the energy your body used during the cleanup. The Earth imports vast amounts of energy from the Sun, and a minuscule amount of this is used to produce biological order.
Ilya Prigogine received the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics for showing that a thermodynamic system that can import energy, or one that is far from equilibrium (i.e. with lots of available energy) not only can, but often must, form organized structures. Only the usual laws of chemistry and physics are needed. Consider a drop of salt water evaporating due to imported heat. The salt changes from a liquid to a more-orderly solid. The net result is increased entropy, but the salt part has nevertheless become more organized. This is a direct consequence of the Second Law (Prigogine et al., Physics Today, Nov. 1972, p. 23ff, Dec. 1972, p. 38ff). The Second Law of Thermodynamics thus appears to be an instrument of creation.
In any case, the fact is that “scientific creationism” is not a genuine scientific theory. It is an attempt to use scientific-sounding arguments to uphold a religious belief, the belief that the creation story told in the Bible is literally true. The scientific method starts with a question, like, “Why are some fossil animals so different from the animals around us today?” and finds the answer through observation and experiment. The creationist method starts with an answer, then looks for evidence that seems to fit. Another important difference is that science uses natural explanations of natural events. Scientists study natural processes occurring in the world around them, find out how they work, and apply the principles they learn to new questions. They never use miracles as explanations. “Scientific creationism” depends on miracles; its explanations assume that there have been exceptions to the laws of nature. This means that “scientific creationism” is unscientific by definition!
You mentioned that evolution is not a fact but only a “theory”, it is only a guess, no better than any other. But in science, a theory is a statement of general principles that explain many facts by means of natural processes. The proposition that the planets revolve around the sun (Copernican theory) explains a great many astronomical facts and also is considered true beyond a reasonable doubt. In the same way, geological examination of rocks demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the earth is extremely old. The theory of evolution explains a tremendous number of biological and paleontological facts, and it, too, is true beyond a reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, all these theories could be altered or replaced if new observations yielded new scientific evidence that contradicted predictions of these theories. Creationism, on the other hand, is not even a theory because its proponents have decided in advance that no amount of evidence will change their beliefs.
This debate isn’t about science anyway, its about religion. You know it, I know it, and Dembski of Discovery even admitted it. The strategy is good old fashioned frog boiling. Use ID as a wedge to water things down a bit before dropping the main agenda. Unfortunately, the overwhelming scientific ignorance in this country is very favorable to you, and ID on the surface looks so innocuous. It is too easy for you to confuse the general public with your misrepresentations, junk science and outright lies. This is exactly what just happened in Ohio. The Santorum amendment was stripped from the education bill in 2001, but that’s not the story the Ohio board of Ed was told.
Of course, the real agenda is to eventually replace most if not all science teaching with superstition. Don’t you see that this contributes as much to the dumbing down of America MTV or the Simpsons? I have no problem with the Christian religion. I truly don’t understand why you fundamentalists need to adopt the old testament creation myth literally, when all of the other Christian sects seem to be OK with a more liberal interpretation. I also don’t appreciate the attempts to make your religion part of the public school curriculum!
If you want to teach your religion’s creation myth to your children as fact, that is none of my business. If you want to teach it in your Sunday schools, private schools, Bob Jones, whatever, you certainly have my blessing. If you wish to raise a couple of generations of scientifically illiterate children I really don’t care. But I will do whatever I can whenever I can to keep these ideas out of the public schools, for they don’t belong there. Fortunately, the US Supreme Court in the Edwards decision agrees with me.
You seem like a reasonable man, do some investigating on your own. But remember, the most important thing is to check the sources! In Evolution—the Fossils Say No! (1979, p. 171-72), Gish quotes Stephen J. Gould of Harvard: ” little later he [Gould] states: `The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change…´.” What Dr. Gould actually wrote was, “The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change, and the principle of natural selection does not require it—selection can operate rapidly.” (Natural History 86:22, 1977) This is but one example of the ICR’s routine use of out-of-context quotes to “support” their positions. Always check the original source! They also like to use outdated sources or papers later found to be in error.
In July of 1982, Dr. Gish debated Dr. Russell Doolittle on Public TV. Gish claimed that some blood proteins were more similar between bullfrogs and man than between chimpanzees and man. His source was a story told by Garniss Curtis (UC-Berkeley) at the July, 1971 Wenner-Gren conference in Austria. It seems there was a rumor of a study comparing blood proteins of humans and bullfrogs that gave the above result (perhaps from the Transylvanian Academy of Sciences?). Curtis predicted (correctly) that the result would not be published or repeated, because it was a dreadful tragedy—the frog was actually an enchanted prince!
Gish defends himself by saying he thought Curtis was serious! I, for one, believe Gish—he has made a career out of going around telling jokes and calling them science, and I find it easy to believe he can’t tell the difference. This is another example of why you should always require and check the original source for claims made by the Institute for Creation Research. The results are often very interesting! Please feel free to check any of my sources as well.
One final note. Does fairness demand that creationism should be taught alongside evolution? Creationists argue that, “You can´t prove that evolution is true (you weren´t there, it´s just a theory) and you can´t prove that creationism is false, so it´s only fair to teach both.” By this argument, astrology, which is based on supernatural forces, should be taught alongside astronomy. And witch doctors, who use supernatural forces to explain disease, should be taught in our medical schools. This is a mistaken notion of fairness.
The fact is, our students are taught science so they can learn to accurately observe facts and to understand how scientific theories are developed. Bringing in religious creeds and supernatural explanations can only impair their ability to understand how science works. Our children deserve to gain scientific literacy so they can solve the scientific and technological challenges of the 21st century.