More Free Goodies…

I stumbled across some more free stuff relevant to the Origins issue that I want to pass along. Back in February, the Royal Society held a symposium on The Chemical Origins of Life and its Early Evolution. They have made the presentations available for free on their website:

Organised by Professor David Lilley FRS and Professor John Sutherland
How did life begin on the planet, and how did metabolic and genetic processes evolve at an early stage? Did this generate an RNA-based form of life, and how did this evolve into the present protein-based life? Researchers from a wide variety of disciplines will discuss possible mechanisms whereby biology emerged from chemistry, and subsequently evolved.


Speakers and Chairs include:

Professor Sidney Altman, Professor Donna Blackmond, Professor Friz Eckstein, Dr Adrian Ferré-D’Amaré, Dr Martin Hanczyc, Professor David Lilley FRS, Dr Robert Pascal, Professor Joseph Piccirilli, Dr Marina Rodnina, Dr Venki Ramakrishnan FRS, Professor Paul Schimmel, Professor Norm Sleep, Professor Scott Strobel, Professor Hiroaki Suga, Professor John Sutherland, Professor Jack Szostak, Professor Mike Yarus, Professor Ada Yonath.  

You can read the abstracts here (link to pdf) and download the presentations here. So if you’re looking to get a taste of the latest and greatest theorizing on the origins of life issue from a materialist/naturalistic persepctive, you probably can’t do much better than this. (H/T Denyse O’Leary).

I’ve been a bit lazy about my follow up on the Science and the Supernatural issue, but it’s on the way.

Published in: on April 21, 2011 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Science & the Supernatural: Bonus

Apropos of my previous post, here is a clip of an old debate between Drs. William Lane Craig and Peter Atkins.

I almost feel sorry for Atkins. After making the surpassingly daft statement that  ‘…science is omnipotent…’ (0:53), he challenges Craig (beginning at 1:13; emphases added):

Atkins: Do you deny that science cannot account for everything?

Craig: Yes, I do deny that science…

Atkins: So, what can’t it account for?

Craig: […] I think there are a good number of things that cannot be scientifically proven but that we’re all rational to accept…

Atkins: Such as?

Craig: Let me list five:

  • logical and mathematical truths cannot be proven by science. Science presupposes logic and math, so that to ry to prove them by science would be arguing in a circle;
  • metaphysical truths. Like there are other minds other than my own, or that the external world is real or that the past was not created five minutes ago with an appearance of age are rational beliefs but cannot be scientifically proven
  • ethical beliefs about statements of value are not accessible by the scientific method. You can’t show by science whether the Nazi scientists in the camps did anything evil as opposed to the scientists in Western democracies
  • aesthetic judgements…cannot be accessed by the scientific method because the beautiful, like the good, cannot be scientifically proven;
  • and finally, most remarkably, would be science itself. Science cannot be justified by the scientific method. Science is permeated with unprovable assumptions. For example in the special theory of relativity; the whole theory hinges on the assumption that the speed of light is constant in a one-way direction between any two points A and B, but that strictly cannot be proven. We have to assume that in order to hold to the theory.


None of these beliefs can be scientifically proven, yet they are accepted by all of us and we’re rational in doing so.

Evolutionist Larry Moran dismisses Craig’s points:

I’d probably have the same look on my face as Peter Atkins. It’s not that these five things are devastating arguments against the power of science, it’s that each one would take at least an hour to explain. The audience isn’t going to wait that long so you know you’re going to have to pass and leave Craig (and Dembski) to smugly assume that he’s won.

It’s typical anti-science trickery and Atkins probably wasn’t expecting such a cheap shot in that environment.

Atkins does have that ‘deer in the headlights’ look for a bit there. Moran ascribes it to likely incredulity, as he regards Craig’s claims as not devastating, but just too time consuming to rebut in a debate format – and that Atkins would surely know that. Despite that, Moran doesn’t bother to refer his readers to any sources that can and do take the time to rebut Craig.

In any case, we can see how close Moran’s guess as to the nature of Atkins’ reaction is. Atkins’ response to Craig can be found in the following two portions of the debate. Starting at 8:45 in the first:

Atkins: But what you have to accept is that science is a network of – a reticulation – of ideas; that there’s an interaction of ideas that come from a wide variety of sources. That in order to understand the very large one has to, in fact, understand the very small. It’s a network of ideas which, where they flow together, do not annihilate each other, but support each other. Science is, in a sense, self-consistent way of looking at the world and in that sense, it gets its authority. I also disagree with [your point about aesthetics]. I see no reason why it can’t at least begin to show why we regard some sound, some chords, if you like, as attractive whereas dissonances are unattractive.

…and continuing through 2:13 in the second:

Atkins: I think it’s quite possible for us to anatomize a picture. You can see why the Golden Section is attractive, in a sense. We might not be able to look, at this stage in our understanding of aesthetics, and say that the Mona Lisa is the most beautiful thing on earth, but at least we can begin to analyze our perception of beauty. We’ll only get a full appreciation of aesthetic and religious belief and all that other stuff when one has a full understanding of consciousness, which is the most important, outstanding problem in current science.

Craig: Those are not, however, themselves aesthetic judgements that you’re talking about. Those are judgements about why we perceive something to be beautiful and ugly, but that is not itself an aesthetic judgement. It’s like an ethical…

Atkins: I think it’s quite possible to build a machine that decides whether a particular chord is pleasant or unpleasant

Buckley: But you’d have to trust the machine…

Atkins: No you wouldn’t, you would have to train it, just as we are trained, just as we live up in a world full of Western music and the Japanese grows up in world full of Eastern music. So you actually change that neural[?] network.

Buckley: We’re affected by conventional arrangements…

Atkins: But aesthetics largely comes from convention, just as ethics is largely convention..

Craig: Those are statements which are not scientific statements. Those are philosophical statements about these subjects which cannot be justified scientifically.

Atkins: But you can explore the origins of ethics. You can explore the origins, the evolutionary origins of ethics and see that they are conventions that have emerged under genetic control, in part, but also by the application of our massive brains.

Craig: At best, that would show how moral values are discovered, but it would not show that therefore moral values are invented or are mere conventions. That is…a philosophical statement .

Not only did Atkins fail to rebut Craig, his response actually proved Craig’s point. Whether or not there are cogent and valid responses to Craig here, it’s clear that Atkins didn’t have them at hand – or anywhere nearby. Atkins wasn’t incredulous at Craig’s ‘anti-science trickery’, he was blindsided. It’s painfully obvious that Atkins was fumbling around blindly for a coherent response only to come up empty-handed. He got caught flat-footed and made the best of it he could.

Moran’s characterization of Craig’s five points as ‘typical anti-science trickery’ is interesting. This interchange between Craig and Atkins can be boiled down to a very simple disagreement:

  • Atkins believes that science has no limits, that it can account for everything
  • Craig disagrees, insisting that science does indeed have limits

Moran takes Atkins’ part, claiming that to assert that science has limits is ‘typical anti-science trickery’. Incredible.

This is rank scientism. Merriam-Webster defines scientism as:

  1. methods and attitudes typical of or attributed to the natural scientist
  2. an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities)
Atkins and Moran clearly subscribe to definition 2. The Skeptic’s Dictionary offers:

Scientism, in the strong sense, is the self-annihilating view that only scientific claims are meaningful, which is not a scientific claim and hence, if true, not meaningful. Thus, scientism is either false or meaningless. This view seems to have been held by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (1922) when he said such things as “The totality of true propositions is the whole of natural science…” He later repudiated this view.In the weak sense, scientism is the view that the methods of the natural sciences should be applied to any subject matter. This view is summed up nicely by Michael Shermer:

Scientism is a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an Age of Science (Shermer 2002).

On the other hand, the dictionary definition of ‘scientism’ is the attitude and method of the typical natural scientist, whoever that might be.

There doesn’t seem be much more than a semantic difference between the strong and the weak definitions above as Shermer’s ‘weak’ definition presupposes the ‘strong’ – including the belief that all phenomena and their explanations are amenable to empirical investigation and the scientific method. But, as Craig pointed out to Atkins, that very presumption is not itself capable of empirical verification.

Scientism is as much a religious faith as is Christianity; the fact of its anti-supernatural persuasion changes that not one bit. The chief difference between the two, as regards science, is that Christianity has legitimate claim to a consistent, rational justification for science while Scientism does not.

Now, while there is anything wrong with being a Scientism-ist, there is something wrong with pretending that Scientism is something that it’s not – a purely rational, faith-free approach to systemitizing data from the natural world. In a nutshell:

 Scientism ≠ Science

In any case, Scientism does not deserve to be priveleged by our governing institutions with being the sole gatekeeper of the scientific enterprise, having the authority to cast out ‘heretics’ as they see fit.

Again, this is not to say that Scientism-ists ‘can’t do science’ – they can and do, often in superb fashion. It is to say that they cannot derive a consistent, rational justification for science from their own belief system. They have to filch that rationale, knowingly or not, from the Judeo-Christian worldview. 

The full debate can be viewed on YouTube:

part 0, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4a, part 4b, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10, part 11

(h/t William Dembski @ UncommonDescent)

Science & the Supernatural Part I – Ideas & Their Consequences

In my continuing debate with R P over at Why Things Are The Way They Are, his central criticism of creationism is that it simply does not qualify as science due to its appeal to a supernatural agent. R P sums it up this way in his recent post:

Finally, my criticism, which remains unanswered, was not that creationism (which is to say TRUE creationism, as Wombatty defines it) does or does not admit of certain kinds of evolutionary change. I appreciate the clarification, but the point of my “it sounds a lot like evolution” remark, which I inserted parenthetically, was simply to note the similarity. My criticism was that creationism ever could be a science (so defined), that allowing one class of supernatural appeals but not any others (like astrology) is at best arbitrary and at worst misleading, and therefore that referring to creationism and biology by the same label IS equivocating, and of the fallacious kind too.

This is the most common – and the most effective – objection to creationism raised by evolutionists. Creationism would just be the supernatural camel’s nose in the tent; before you know it, we would be overwhelmed with astrologers and all manner of hocus-pocus in the hallowed halls of science. The grand enterprise of modern science would be reduced to a heap of superstitious rubble. Science would be dead.

To begin with, R P’s concern about arbitrary appeals to super-natural explanations is valid – they can, and often are, ‘science-stoppers’. The history of modern science bears this out. But that same history also reveals the crucial, indispensable role that non-aribtrary – that is, justified – appeals to supernatural agency have played in the scientific enterprise. This will surely sound strange, if not heretical, to many, but it is the case nonetheless. How can one justify invoking that which is beyond nature to explain nature? History shows the way…

First, consider the cornerstones upon which the edifice of modern science is built:

  • The universe is real;
  • The universe is rational, logical and predictable;
  • The human mind is capable of logic and rationality;
  • Our senses (sight, hearing, etc.) give us a reliable and accurate ‘window’ into the universe.

These are the critical and necessary axioms – unproven and unprovable assumptions – without which modern science would wither into nothing. They are so fundamental, most people just take them for granted. But they are not to be taken for granted. These axioms were – and are – an organic outgrowth of a very specific belief system and it was only when and where that philosophy formed the dominant cultural zeitgeist that science could flourish. In his book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, Oxford mathematician and philosopher John Lennox writes:

At the heart of science lies the conviction that the universe is orderly. Without this deep conviction science would not be possible. So we are entitled to ask: Where does the conviction come from? Melvin Calvin, Nobel Prize-winner in biochemistry, seems in little doubt about its provenance:

‘As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2.000 or 3,000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science.’

~Chemical Evolution, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969, p. 258

This is very striking in view of the fact that it is common in the literature first to trace the roots of contemporary science back to the Greeks of the sixth century BC and then to point out that , for science to proceed, the Greek worldview had to emptied of its polytheistic content. We shall return to the latter point below. We simply wish to point out here that, although the Greeks certainly were in many ways the first to do science in anything like the way we understand it today, the implication of what Melvin Calvin is saying is that the actual view of the universe that was of the greatest help to science, namely the Hebrew view that the universe is created and upheld by God, is much older than the worldview of the Greeks.

~p. 19

The singular and indispensable role that Christian monotheism played in the birth and rise of modern science is a theme that many historians of science have uncovered in their research*. In his book For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts and the End of Slavery, Rodney Stark writes:

In this chapter, I argue not only that there is no inherent conflict between religion and science, but that Christian theology was essential for the rise of science. In demonstration of this thesis [I show that] not only did religion not cause the “Dark Ages”; nothing else did either—the story that after the “fall” of Rome a long dark night of ignorance and superstition settled over Europe is as fictional as the Columbus story. In fact this was an era of profound and rapid technological progress by the end o which Europe had surpassed the rest of the world. Moreover, the so-called Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth century was the normal result of Scholastic scholars starting in the eleventh century… Why did real science develop in Europe … and not anywhere else? I find answers to those questions in unique features of Christian theology.

~pp. 123

What are these ‘unique features of Christian theology?’ Stark elaborates:

My answer to [why science flourished in Western, Christian Europe] is as brief as it is unoriginal: Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as His personal creation, thus having a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting human comprehension.

As Nicole Oresme put it, God’s creation “is much like that of a man making a clock and letting it run and continue its own motion by itself.” Or, in the words of Psalm 119:89-90: “For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth.” Among the scriptural passages most frequently quoted by medieval scholars is the line from Wisdom of Solomon (11:20) “[T]hou has ordered all things in measure and number and weight.”

~p. 147

Like Lennox, Stark proceeds to set this in the context of competing worldviews. The section is worth quoting at length (emphasis in original):

In contrast with the dominant religious and philosophical doctrines in the non-Christian world, Christians developed science because they believed it could be done, and should be done. As Alfred North Whitehead..put it during one of his Lowell Lectures at Harvard in 1925, science arose in Europe because of the widespread “faith in the possibility of science…derivative from medieval theology.” Whitehead’s pronouncement shocked…his audience. How could this great philosopher and mathematician…make such an outlandish claim? Did he not know that religion is the mortal enemy of scientific inquiry?

Whitehead knew better. He had grasped that Christian theology was essential for the rise of science in the West, just as surely as non-Christian theologies had stifled the scientific quest everywhere else. As  he explained:

I do not think, however, that I have even yet brought out the greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of the scientific movement. I mean the inexpungable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles. Without this belief the incredible labors of scientists would be without hope. It is this instinctive conviction, vividly poised before the imagination, which is the motive power of research: – that there is a secret, a secret which can be unveiled. How has this conviction been so vividly implanted in the European mind?

When we compare this tone of thought in Europe with the attitude of other civilizations when left to themselves, there seems to be one source of its origin. It must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher. Every detail was supervised and ordered: the search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality. Remember that I am not talking of the explicit beliefs of a few individuals. What I mean is the impress on the European mind arising from the unquestioned faith of centuries. By this I mean the instinctive tone of thought and not a mere creed of words.

Whitehead ended with the remark that the images of God found in other religions, especially Asia, are too impersonal or too irrational to have sustained science. Any particular “occurrence might be due to the fiat of an irrational despot” God, or might be produced by “some impersonal, inscrutable origin of things. There is not the same confidence as in the intelligible rationality of a personal being.”

Indeed, most non-Christain religions do not posit a creation at all: the universe is eternal and, while it may pursue cycles, it is without beginning or purpose, and, most important of all, having never been created, it has no Creator. Consequently, the universe is thought to be a supreme mystery, inconsistent, unpredictable and arbitrary. For those holding these religious premises, the path to wisdom is through meditations and mystical insights, and there is no occasion to celebrate reason.

In contrast, many central aspects of Christian theology were produced by reasoning.

~pp. 147-148

John Lennox, cited above, in a 2o10 Daily Mail Online article, highlights the same theme in contrast to China’s failure to nourish science:

One of the fundamental themes of Christianity is that the universe was built according to a rational , intelligent design. Far from being at odds with science, the Christian faith actually makes perfect scientific sense.

Some years ago, the scientist Joseph Needham made an epic study of technological development in China. He wanted to find out why China, for all its early gifts of innovation, had fallen so far behind Europe in the advancement of science.

He reluctantly came to the conclusion that European science had been spurred on by the widespread belief in a rational creative force, known as God, which made all scientific laws comprehensible.

In his book, The Savior of Science, physicist and historian of science Stanley L. Jaki chronicles the many ‘stillbirths of science” throughout history. He writes:

Yet a special aspect of the paradoxical if not tragic perplexity of the present generation out not to be left unnoticed. That aspect is not so much a blind spot, as a plain unwillingness to look into the most distant scientific past and ask some searching questions about it. Startling should seem the scarcity of studies about a most curious feature of the evolutionary tree of science. The vista of dead branches (to say nothing of the innumerable dead twigs) in the evolutionary tree does not fail to provoke an ongoing debate. Not so in the case of the evolutionary tree of science, although it comprises several major dead branches. The ones with readily traceable records represent the history of science in China, India, and Egypt. They also for a class all the most instructive because there is little evidence that in their respective measure of scientific creativity  they were greatly influenced by one another. Therefore the fate and fortunes of science in those three cultures may be indicative of a pattern as plain as it is telling.


Jaki goes on to discuss the worldviews and belief systems of these cultures that, by their very nature, stifled scientific inquiry. Nor was it just China, India, and Egypt. Similar philosophical handicaps hobbled a nascent scientific enterprise in the Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian and Greek cultures all the way through the Muslim/Arabian world. The case of the Muslim world having failed to sustain science highlights an important point – it was the distinctly Christian ‘brand’ of monotheism that was necessary for science to gain a foothold. Jaki explains:

The “pure” monotheism promoted by [Muhammad & Islam] was purism incarnate, in that the Creator-God (Allah) of the Koran was to remain free of any consistency which a world created freely might “impose” on Him. Orthodox Muslim scholars did their utmost to undermine the notion of a universe operating along consistent laws, calling it a taint on Allah’s absolute freedom to do whatever He wanted. The Mutakallimum, or the orthodox Muslim party, were willing to recognize in the laws of nature only some habits similar to the customary riding of the king of a city through its streets. Just as the king could break his riding habit any day, so could Allah change at any moment the pattern of any or all parts of the universe.

The Savior of Science, pp. 77-78

Whereas the Christian God is bound by his nature, character and word, Muslims regard such ‘restrictions’ on God as blasphemous. Robert R. Reilly explores this aspect of Muslim theology and history in depth in his book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis.

The point of all this is that ideas have consequences. It takes ideas of a specific cast to undergird science and allow it to flourish. Christian theology is the primary, if not sole, repository of such ideas. Other philosophical systems simply do not provide the proper ‘soil’ in which science can grow.

  • Some religions, like Hinduism, teach that all of reality is illusion (Maya), that to believe in distinctions (between, for instance, your self and your object of study) is to be unenlightened and that there is no ‘graspable’ truth.
  • Pantheism/ panentheism deifies nature, discouraging efforts to probe its secrets.
  • Polytheism with its many Gods of often conflicting characters and purposes frustrates expectations of consistency and predictability
  • An ‘unbound’ Deity like Allah similarly undermines grounds for expecting a reliably predictable universe.

To reiterate, the concern over supernaturalism as a ‘science-stopper’ that R P and other evolutionists commonly express is valid. Many supernatural belief systems have, as seen above, stymied science. But one of them – Christian monothesim – in fact underwrote the scientific enterprise.

What, then, of atheism and anti-supernaturalism? Lennox, in the above linked article, points out that such a worldview doesn’t fare much better:

Despite this, Hawking, like so many other critics of religion, wants us to believe we are nothing but a random collection of molecules, the end product of a mindless process.

This, if true, would undermine the very rationality we need to study science. If the brain were really the result of an unguided process, then there is no reason to believe in its capacity to tell us the truth.

C.S. Lewis made much the same point in his book The Business of Heaven:

‘If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents—the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts—i.e. of materialism and astronomy—are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milkjug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.’

~p. 97

Darwin was himself haunted by similar doubts:

“You have expressed my inward conviction that the universe is not a result of chance . But the with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or are at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”

~  Charles Darwin in a letter to Mr. Graham

In short, the atheist/anti-supernaturalsit has no grounds for assuming the axioms that undergird science**. This is not to say that atheists cannot ‘do science’; many do and they do it very well. It is to say that atheists, like Hindus, Muslims and others must ‘borrow’ from the Christian worldview what their own framework lacks – a rationale for assuming a predictable, rational universe perceived with reliable human senses and minds. Thus, it is no accident of mere correlation that the giants of scientific history were overwhelmingly bible-believing Christian creationists – men like Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Linnaeus, Faraday, Joule, Maxwell, Mendel, Pasteur, Carver and Von Braun. Scott Locklin put it succinctly in his recent article When Man Invented Science:

Pope Benedict’s trip to Ole Blighty is over, and that sanctimonious gasbag Dawkins didn’t manage to arrest him in the name of secular humanism. While I’m not a believer myself, I often wonder at such professional atheists who cover themselves in the mantle of “science.” Don’t they know any history?

What we refer to today as “science” is something which was invented by humans, rather than springing forth from Jove’s forehead in some ancient time before time. There is a definite date before which there was no science and a date after which there was science. This isn’t controversial or mysterious: We know exactly when it happened, and some of the original manuscripts which invented science and modern thought still exist.


Modern atheists with no sense of history like to think of the Church and religious people as the forces of darkness, but in reality, the Catholic Church was the birth of the light of reason. Those religious people are the ultimate heroes of reason; without them, no science would have come into being.

In the next post, I’ll briefly address R P’s claim that ‘referring to creationism and biology by the same label IS equivocating, and of the fallacious kind too,’ and then I’ll make the case that atheists/anti-supernaturalists fail to measure up to their own vaunted standard of eschewing appeals to the supernatural in science.

*For further reading, see:

For a dissenting view, see:

**Alvin Plantinga has formulated an argument along similar lines- his Evolutionary Argument against Naturalsim:

For a good overview of the history of modern science and thumbnail biographies of pivotal figures in that history see:

Published in: on March 11, 2011 at 8:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Good Stuff for Free

I’m putting the finishing touches on the first installmentof my response to R P‘s assertion that creationism could never qualify as science (see last paragraph) due to its appeal to the supernatural. It’s taking a bit longer than I first thought it would. That, and I’ve been a bit lazy about it, but it’s almost done. In any case, I’ll be posting it within the next couple of days.

In the meantime, I’ve found some good free stuff I thought I’d pass along for anyone who’s interested. Apple’s iTunes U has two universtiy courses on evolution free for the downloading. The first, from Open Yale Coursesis Professor Stephen C. Sterns’ Evolution, Ecology and Behavior.


(EEB 122) This course presents the principles of evolution, ecology, and behavior for students beginning their study of biology and of the environment. It discusses major ideas and results in a manner accessible to all Yale College undergraduates. Recent advances have energized these fields with results that have implications well beyond their boundaries: ideas, mechanisms, and processes that should form part of the toolkit of all biologists and educated citizens. This course was recorded in Spring 2009.

The course is available in both video and audio formats. I’m on part 6 or 7 right now and I like it; Sterns is a good teacher. On some of the genetics stuff, he is referring to diagrams and charts he has on the board, so it probably helps to have the video, but otherwise the audio has been sufficient for me.

The second course is Biology Concepts: Cells to Evolution with Kelly Carrier courtesy of Michigan’s MI Learning.


These videos are introductions to the following biology concepts: Structure and Function of Cells, Reproduction of Cells, DNA, Proteins Synthesis, Ecology/Population Ecology and Evolution.

This one is available in video format only.


Published in: on March 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Redefining Yet Again

In response to my last post, R P writes:

For those who have been following, there is another reply in my debate with Wombatty, author of the Creationist Meditations blog. The short version is that he is still at pains to distinguish between macro- and micro-evolution, and he thinks it is fallacious not to make the distinction. I think he thinks I am arguing that there can’t be a distinction, which I’m not – I am arguing that is the whole debate – but judge for yourself.

How did I get the impression that R P is ‘arguing that there can’t be a distinction?’ In his previous post, R P repsonded to this statement of mine:

…while there is no conflict between the ‘minimal definition’ and macroevolution, the former does not necessarily entail the latter. You can have ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’ without macroevolution.

…by saying:

Agreed. There is no conflict. In fact, the argument from biology is that, not only is there no conflict, there is no distinction. In other words, the concepts are nested rather than distinct. (ephases added)

So which is it? Is there a distinction between microevolution and macroevolution or not? I interpret R P’s assertion that ‘the concepts are nested rather than distinct’ to mean that while they are not ‘exactly the same thing,’ they are necessarily related, one inevitably leading to or building on the other. If I’m right, what of his claim that he is not arguing that their can’t be a distinction?

Last, if micro and macro evolution are distinct, then I maintain that it is important to make that distinction clear in both public discourse and in the schoolroom. To gloss over that distinction would be to misrepresent – or, in Scott’s words, to disguise – macroevolution. Evolutionists claims of, for instance, pesticide resistance as ‘evolution in action’ – the clear implication being macroevolution in action- are inexcusable. There is no reason to suppose that  a simplified version of macroevolution would be any more difficult for students or citizens to understand than the notion of ‘changes in the distribution of alleles in a population over time.’ In fact, I would suggest that a 10-year old or a scientifically ignorant citizen would grasp the former much easier as it doesn’t require even a rudimentary understanding of inheritance, genes or alleles.

I was ‘at pains’ in my last post to demonstrate that [ed. – an increasing number of] evolutionists themselves acknowledge a qualitative distinction between micro and macro evolution and that the latter is not simply an accumulation over geological time of the former*. That is, they are two entirely different and separate modes of biological change. I would urge those interested to read Gilbert et al’s paper Resynthesizing Evolutionary and Developmental Biology as it provides a very informative historical and scientific overview of the subject.



*[ed. – Not all evolutionists agree. Gradualists, like Dawkins, continue to insist that macroevolution is precisely microevolution extrapolated over geoloigical time. The point is that many staunch evolutionists acknowledge serious problems with this hypothesis. Both views fall within current evolutionary orthodoxy.] 

Published in: on March 4, 2011 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Redefining All Over Again – Response

In his response to my post, Evolution & Equivocation, RP writes:

First, it’s important to note that not all creationists make such a concession. When Wombatty says “No one disputes ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’” he is not being fair to the diversity of creationist viewpoints. It is easy to lump everyone who self-labels a particular way into one big category – all Conservatives are stupid don’t you know. Even though that strategy is just plain wrong, most people engage in it nonetheless, and we need to make sure we don’t succumb to another logical fallacy, the “no true Scotsman” rule, which is a form of reverse equivocation.


Creationists, like their opponents, have a range of beliefs from the narrow (young earth creationism, atheism) to the broad (day-age creationism, Wiccans), and although I enjoy discussing that range at length, that is not the point of this post.

I take it that R P is including any belief system that denies random, directionless, purposeless macroevolution under the banner of creationism. I don’t necessarily think this is unwarranted and he is not the only one to do it. David Sedley titled his enlightening study of the design vs. non-design debate in ancient times Creationism and its Critics in Antiquity, explaining in the preface that by ‘creationism’ he simply means

…the thesis that the world’s structure and contents can be adequately explained only by postulating at least one intelligent designer, a creator god.

~p. xvii

Indeed, all of the ‘creationists’ in his book are greek pagans. Nevertheless, the label ‘creationism’ has a rather specific connotation in modern times, especially in the United States. It is overwhelmingly used to describe Christians who adhere to one of several interpretations of the Genesis account of origins. These include young-earth, old-earth, day-age, progressive, gap-theory and ‘framework hypothesis’ creationists. That being the case, I think it is confusing to include, for instance, Wiccans in the definition of the term. Further, R P’s definition would subsume someone like Ken Miller; a label I’m sure Miller would vociferously reject.

I should clarify that when I refer to ‘creationists’, I usually have in mind those of the young-earth variety unless otherwise indicated. That distinction, though, is irrelevant here. If we reasonably confine the label ‘creationist’ to ‘Genesis origins account’ adherents of whatever stripe, R P’s ‘no true Scotsman’ charge falls flat. While there might be distant outliers, I am unaware of a creationist of any stripe that would deny ‘‘changes in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’. In fact most creationists who aren’t in the young-earth camp are vocal supporters of evolution and some even of Darwinism (i.e. undirected evolution); their position being little more than standard evolutionary theory with a coat of theological paint. If any type of creationist would be suspected of not ‘making such a concession’, it would be a young-earther and, as I’ve pointed out, they do not at all deny ‘changes in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’. I would be interested in who exactly R P has in mind when he claims that ‘not all creationists make such a concession’.

R P goes on to accuse me of confusing the noun ‘equivocation’ with the logical fallacy of the same name. He quotes me:

…while there is no conflict between the ‘minimal definition’ and macroevolution, the former does not necessarily entail the latter. You can have ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’ without macroevolution.

and then asserts

Agreed. There is no conflict. In fact, the argument from biology is that, not only is there no conflict, there is no distinction. In other words, the concepts are nested rather than distinct.

This is simply wrong; Scott and Moran don’t make the distinction for nothing. The ‘minimal definition’ is sometimes referred to as ‘microevolution’ – as distinct from ‘macroevolution’. Scott and Moran aren’t the only ones to make this is distinction. Douglas Erwin, in his review of Gould’s magnum opus The Structure of Evolutionary Theory notes:

Iurii Filipchenko, a Russian geneticist and the mentor of Theodosius Dobzhansky, introduced the term macroevolution in 1927 because he believed that the origin of the characters associated with higher taxa (those beyond the species level) required a different process of evolution. Filipchenko believed macroevolution was driven by cytoplasmic inheritance, but his general argument was consistent with other saltationists and macro-mutationists of the time, including the paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborne and the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt. These evolutionary biologists shared the view that the appearance of higher taxa necessarily involved novel evolutionary processes, although they differed over their nature. Dobzhansky introduced the term macroevolution to English-speaking evolutionary biologists in (1937) but rejected his mentor’s distinction between macro- and micro- evolution. Osborne’s orthogenesis had become sufficiently pervasive that Dobzhansky evidently felt compelled, at the dawn of the Modern Synthesis, to reject both orthogenesis and saltational views. Dobzhansky wrote:

. . . there is no way toward an understanding of the mechanisms of macro- evolution, which require time on a geological scale, other than through a full comprehension of the microevolutionary processes. For this reason we are compelled at the present level of knowledge reluctantly to put a sign of equality between the mechanisms of macro-and micro-evolution. (Dobzhansky 1937: 12)

Gould’s final testament is an argument that our level of understanding of evolution has progressed to the point where Dobzhansky’s equality can be rejected in favor of a much-expanded view of evolution.

Dobzhansky’s mentor distinguished micro from macro evolution and while Dobzhansky himself rejected the distinction, he could only do so by way of unproven assumption. Erwin then notes that Gould rejects the notion of equality between the two processes.

Gilbert et al in their 1996 paper Resynthesizing Evolutionary and Developmental Biology deal with the distinction at length, writing:

A new and more robust evolutionary synthesis is emerging that attempts to explain macroevolution as well as microevolutionary events. This new synthesis emphasizes three morphological areas of biology that had been marginalized by the Modern Synthesis of genetics and evolution: embryology, macroevolution, and homology. The foundations for this new synthesis have been provided by new findings from developmental genetics and from the reinterpretation of the fossil record. In this nascent synthesis, macroevolutionary questions are not seen as being soluble by population genetics, and the developmental actions of genes involved with growth and cell specification are seen as being critical for the formation of higher taxa. In addition to discovering the remarkable homologies of homeobox genes and their domains of expression, developmental genetics has recently proposed homologies of process that supplement the older homologies of structure. Homologous developmental pathways, such those involving the wnt genes, are seen in numerous embryonic processes, and they are seen occurring in discrete regions, the morphogenetic fields. These fields (which exemplify the modular nature of developing embryos) are proposed to mediate between genotype and phenotype. Just as the cell (and not its genome) functions as the unit of organic structure and function, so the morphogenetic field (and not the genes or the cells) is seen as a major unit of ontogeny whose changes bring about changes in evolution.


The Modern Synthesis is a remarkable achievement. However, starting in the 1970s, many biologists began questioning its adequacy in explaining evolution. Genetics might be adequate for explaining microevolution, but microevolutionary changes in gene frequency were not seen as able to turn a reptile into a mammal or to convert a fish into an amphibian. Microevolution looks at adaptations that concern only the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest. As Goodwin (1995) points out, ‘‘the origin of species — Darwin’s problem — remains unsolved.’’ (all emphases added)

In a 2001 issue of Nature, Sean B. Carroll observed that the issue is one of long-standing:

A long-standing issue in evolutionary biology is whether the processes observable in extant populations and species (microevolution) are sufficient to account for the larger-scale changes evident over longer periods of life’s history (macroevolution).

~”The Big Picture,” Nature 409 (2001), 669.

In other words, we don’t have evidence for equating microevolution with macroevolution, else the issue would not still be ‘standing’.

More recently, in his paper Biological Big Bang Model for the Major Transitions in Evolution, Eugene Koonin writes:

I propose that most or all major evolutionary transitions that show the “explosive” pattern of emergence of new types of biological entities correspond to a boundary between two qualitatively distinct evolutionary phases. The first, inflationary phase is characterized by extremely rapid evolution driven by various processes of genetic information exchange, such as horizontal gene transfer, recombination, fusion, fission, and spread of mobile elements. These processes give rise to a vast diversity of forms from which the main classes of entities at the new level of complexity emerge independently, through a sampling process. In the second phase, evolution dramatically slows down, the respective process of genetic information exchange tapers off, and multiple lineages of the new type of entities emerge, each of them evolving in a tree-like fashion from that point on. (emphasis added)

Later, Koonin has an exchange with one of the reviewers of his paper:

In the first two paragraphs of “Background” we see that the tree concept is being contrasted to a rate concept (gradualism). That problem occurs throughout the paper. One cannot easily present rates plus mechanisms (Bangs) as alternatives to shapes (the tree). I don’t really have a suggestion as to how to fix this problem of the present paper except for major recouching of the issues. But I do think that it needs to be fixed.

Author’s response: This is an important point, and I attempted to make it explicit in several places in the revised manuscript. What I mean is not just a major difference in rate but a difference in mechanism. The underlying mechanism in tree phases of evolution is vertical inheritance resulting in cladogenesis. The underlying mechanism in inflationary stages is exchange, recombination etc such that organismal lineages do not exist. The paper is not just about the fallacy of gradualism (something that, indeed, has been emphasized by Gould- Eldredge, Cavalier-Smith and others). The distinction between the two phases of evolution is not one of quantity but one of kind. I agree that this was insufficiently stressed in the original manuscript, and I attempted to rectify this in the revision. (emphasis added)

Koonin doesn’t use the terms microevolution and macro-evolution, but he is clearly addressing the same or a closely related issue. He is compelled by the state of the evidence to postulate a qualitative difference between small and large scale modes evolution.

All of this is to say that evolutionists themselves acknowledge that this issue is at best unresolved and, at worst, resolved in favor of there being a qualitative distinction between micro and macro evolutionary processes. Those, like Dobzhansky, who insist on equating the two must assume that equality. Again, while macroevolution by definition includes ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’, the reverse is not true. By analogy, all bachelors are necessarily men but not all men are necessarily bachelors.

I maintain that to gloss over the distinction between micro and macro evolution is a logical equivocation and we ‘run into all kinds of problems’ (to quote Moran) when we do so. As if such equivocation weren’t bad enough, Ms. Scott goes even further when she writes:

It’s been my experience (and perhaps yours too) that most non-scientists think evolution means “man evolved from monkeys,” which is an exceedingly narrow definition. It is both scientifically accurate as well as strategically wise to embed evolution within the broadest scientific context possible. Evolution isn’t just about humans, or even about living things. Astronomers do, after all, study cosmic evolution. Geologists and geophysicists study the evolution of the planet earth, and evolution is the organizing concept of earth science just as it is for the life sciences. Biologists and biochemists study the change through time of living things. Rejection of evolution doesn’t mean merely rejection of “man evolved from monkeys,” but rejection of principles relevant (and in some cases crucial) to modern science. (emphasis added)

She is explicitly asserting that to reject, for instance, stellar evolution is to reject biological macroevolution. Why? Because ‘[e]volution isn’t just about humans, or even about living things.’ Her switching of definitions in mid-argument is easy to see. She is saying, with unspoken words in brackets:

If you reject that man evolved from monkeys [biological macroevolution], you are rejecting [stellar and geological] evolution.

This is about as bald an example of  logical equivocation as one can find.

R P continues:

Similarly, introducing a complex topic simply, and only later presenting more detail, is also equivocation of sorts, but it’s not fallacious. In fact, it’s the standard pedagogical paradigm for just about any subject! My nephew is learning to play the piano. The Beethoven he plays from his teacher’s sheet music is an over-simplified version of the ninth symphony. I can’t imagine a six-year-old tackling the real thing. More to the point, the parables from the Bible that my other nephew learns in Sunday school are hardly the originals, nor is Veggie Tales. That they are simplified doesn’t make them wrong.

I don’t think this analogy works. An over-simplified version of Beethoven’s ninth symphony can be thought of as the ‘core’ or ‘essence’ of the piece; it contains simplifications of those musical phrasings and progressions that are distinctive to that particular symphony. If one were to follow an analogous means of teaching macroevolution, one might teach a progression something like:


Very simplified, but it captures the essence of the theory.

Conversely, if we were to apply the method Scott (and R P) advocates for teaching evolution to teaching Beethoven’s ninth symphony, we would simply teach those general musical structures, scales & progressions (e.g. arpeggios, chromatic scales, etc.) that Beethoven employed distinctive ‘flavors’ and arrangements of in his ninth. While practicing those exercises will be helpful, they will not give the student a basic grasp of any particular piece of music, much less Beethoven’s ninth symphony. In short, those general musical structures are to Beethoven’s ninth as ‘changes in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’ are to biological macroevolution. The former simply do not ineluctably lead to the latter.

In fact one might even wish to simply teach that ‘man evolved from monkeys’, a definition of evolution that Scott objects to as ‘exceedingly narrow’ despite it being at the very core of ‘The Big Idea’ she wants students to understand:

What do we want students to know about organic evolution? The “Big Idea” is that living things (species) are related to one another through common ancestry from earlier forms that differed from them.

That ‘exceedingly narrow’ definition is a lot closer to ‘The Big Idea’ than is stellar or geological evolution. That she prefers to start with the latter in teaching about biological macroevolution makes sense if she is, at that point, primarily concerned with ‘disguising it as change through time.’

In closing, R P writes:

Finally, my criticism, which remains unanswered, was not that creationism (which is to say TRUE creationism, as Wombatty defines it) does or does not admit of certain kinds of evolutionary change. I appreciate the clarification, but the point of my “it sounds a lot like evolution” remark, which I inserted parenthetically, was simply to note the similarity. My criticism was that creationism ever could be a science (so defined), that allowing one class of supernatural appeals but not any others (like astrology) is at best arbitrary and at worst misleading, and therefore that referring to creationism and biology by the same label IS equivocating, and of the fallacious kind too.

Needless to say, I disagree. My response is in the works. It might be a couple of weeks, but it’s coming.

Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 9:15 pm  Comments (2)  

Response to R P: Evolution & Equivocation

R P over at Why Things Are The Way They Are has a long post which is basically his ‘closing argument’ in an ongoing discussion we’ve been having on evolution, creation & science. I’ll be responding to his post in ‘chunks’ over the next week or so in what will amount to my own ‘closing argument. It’s not that we’ve resolved anything – we’re just getting weary of going ’round and round’.

First up is evolution and complexity. In our previous discussion, R P wrote (all emphases mine):

And bad design doesn’t disprove ID because bad design is still design, that there was “corruption” of an initial order leading to persistent and consistent inherited morphological change within a species (which frankly sounds alot like evolution).

To which I responded:

Good point, but there is a crucial difference: Evolution posits increasing order and complexity, requiring the generation of new biological information while the creation model hypothesizes the shuffling around of and degeneration of existing biological information. The two models’ ‘development paradigms’ are headed in diametrically opposite directions.

In his last post, R P replies:

First off, evolution does NOT posit increasing order and complexity. It posits change. I have no intention of throwing sticks and stones (truly), but I do prefer to be honest with you – I would really challenge anyone’s understanding of it if they miss something that basic. The definition is, change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time. Evolution is very different than abiogenesis or natural selection. They are not the same things and to lump them together is to get it wrong. For example, the theory says evolution can occur by genetic drift (rather than natural selection) in animals that were created artificially.

Some changes will likely be more complex, some less. Both kinds, if adaptive, will become stable, so the *range* of complexity tends to widen over time. But that is not a goal. To say, as you did, that ‘developmental paradigms’ (whatever those are) are going in opposite directions belies a fundamental misunderstanding. In fact we have been discussing one way that organisms get less complex – they lose parts. I actually wrote on this last week over in my neck of the woods. It’s a common misconception even among your opponents.

Acutally, R P and I have no disagreement here. I did not claim that evolution posits only increasing order and complexity; if I had R P would have a point. To clarify my statement, evolution posits, among other other changes, increasing order and complexity. This is nothing more than R P’s saying that ‘the *range* of complexity tends to widen over time.’ On the other hand, in the first quote above, R P shows a misunderstanding of creation theory that I believe goes straight to the heart of the creation-evolution debate. To my point that creation theory holds that the initial (perfect) design of all things has suffered progressive and permanent corruption and decay, R P responded that that  ‘…frankly sounds a lot like evolution’. This assertion makes sense given R P’s broad definition of evolution (a fairly common one among evolutionists) as ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time.’ But not even the stanchest creationist would dispute the reality of such ‘evolution’; if this is all there were to it, there would be no creation-evolution controversy.

The problem is that such a broad definition is a gross over-simplification that glosses over important distinctions. The concept of biological development/change is conceived of in the respective models differently (this is what I meant by ‘developmental paradigms’); the difference being the ‘quality’ of change that is possible. Evolutionary theory entails all three general types of change: increasing complexity, decreasing complexity and lateral (neither increasing or decreasing). Creation theory only allows for the last two: decreasing complexity and lateral change. Thus, on the subject of biological change, it is only in regard to changes of increasing complexity that creationists and evolutionists disagree. [ed. this is what I had in mind when I wrote that ‘the two models’ ‘development paradigms’ are headed in diametrically opposite directions’ – a misstatement by way of oversimplification] This being the case, it is at this point that the debate must be focused. R P’s broad definition obscures these distinctions and therefore muddles the debate precisely where clarity is needed.

So why the overly-broad definition of evolution? Anyone paying attention knows that the dispute between creationists and evolutionists isn’t over something as mundane as ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time.’ There are (at least) two pieces that I think shed light on this question. The first comes courtesy of evolutionist Larry Moran. Over at his blog, Moran has a helpful post entitled What Is Evolution? wherein he refers to a general definition very much like R P’s as the minimal definition. After a lengthy discussion on the subject, Moran makes a critical point any creationist would endorse (last paragraph at link, all emphases mine):

The amazing thing about the minimal definition of biological evolution is that it doesn’t carry any baggage concerning the history of life or its future. As soon as we try to define evolution in terms of the historical record, we run into all kinds of problems because we confuse evolution as a process with evolution as a history of life. The scientific definition attempts to describe the minimum thing that might be called evolution.

Here’s the rub: ‘evolution as a history of life’ is the very crux of the origins debate.

Moran concludes:

We know that the history of life is more complicated than this and we know that evolutionary theory encompasses other things such as the formation and extinction of populations. There is no conflict between the minimal definition of evolution as a change in the genetic composition of populations and macroevolution.

I agree wholeheartedly. However, while there is no conflict between the ‘minimal definition’ and macroevolution, the former does not necessarily entail the latter. You can have ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’ without macroevolution. As such, it is critical to acknowledge and abide by the distinction Moran makes if one wishes to have an honest and fruitful discussion. Strangely, Moran sees it differently; he writes earlier in the same post:

Anti-evolutionists often claim scientists are being dishonest when they talk about evolution. The anti-evolutionists believe that evolution is being misrepresented to the public. The real problem is that the public in general, and anti-evolutionists in particular, do not understand what evolution is all about. Their definition of evolution is very different from the common scientific definition and, as a consequence, they are unable to understand what evolutionary biology really means. Scientist are not trying to confuse the general public by using a rigorous definition of evolution. Quite the contrary, saying that evolution is simply “a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations” is a way of simplifying discussions about evolution.

This seems inconsistent. On the one hand, Moran warns that ‘we run into all kinds of problems’ when we gloss over the distinction. On the other, he insists that doing so is a valid way of ‘simplifying discussions about evolution.’

It doesn’t simplify, it confuses.

I suspect that what Moran has in mind is that such ‘simplification’ makes ‘evolution as a history of life’ easier to sell to the public.

Creationists often refer to ‘evolution as a history of life’ as ‘molecules-to-man evolution’ or ‘from goo-to-you-via-the-zoo’. While these phrases are somewhat whimsical, they are used for an important reason: to make the very distinction Moran makes – and for the very same reason. To ignore the distinction is to confuse the issue, intentionally or not. What typically happens is that creationists challenge evolutionists on ‘evolution as a history of life’ and evolutionists respond with an example of ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time.’ Examples of this abound: antibiotic and pesticide resistance, peppered moths, finch beaks, stickleback spines, etc., all of which are proclaimed by evolutionists as ‘evolution in action’. Of course, such evolution is that of the ‘minimal definition’ and is not in dispute; evolutionists are dodging the issue when they do this.

The second piece, Dealing With Anti-Evolutionism by Eugenie Scott of the NCSE, shows similar inconsistency (all emphases added). In several statements, she uses or refers approvingly the ‘minimal definition’:

Help your colleagues to understand that scientists do not debate whether evolution (change through time, descent with modification) took place, though they vigorously argue how it took place; the processes, mechanisms and details of evolution.


Similarly, the California Science Framework and the curricula of most other states require evolution to be presented. (Some disguise it as “change through time,” and confuse ontogeny with phylogeny by referring to evolution as “development”).


A colleague in physical anthropology teaching a small college in the Southeast told me she was teaching a class of freshmen college students and found that none of them had ever studied evolution or even knew what evolution was. When they found out, they found the concept exciting and intellectually challenging, and they clamored for a special course on the topic. Their response, in her words, was “Of course species change through time! You mean that’s evolution?!” Sometimes finding out what evolution actually is (or more precisely, replacing erroneous ideas about evolution) in itself reduces students’ reluctance to learn about it. A proper definition of evolution is important to helping students understand the concept.

Note that in the last paragraph above, she implicitly approves of her colleague having taught her students that evolution is simply ‘species changing through time’ and that this is a ‘proper definition’ of evolution, one that ‘replaces erroneous ideas’ about the same. This, despite the fact that in the previous quote, she acknowledges that such a definition is a ‘disguise.’ Scott continues:

The word “evolution” is defined and used in many different ways, some more useful and accurate than others. Embedding evolution in a wide range of sciences requires a broad definition. What unites astronomical, geological, and biological evolution is the concept of change through time. But “change through time” can also refer to phenomena like the water cycle, or the rotation of the earth around the sun, or the passage of energy through a food chain, or the metamorphosis of insects. Not all change is evolution, so we must distinguish evolution as being cumulative change through time. The evolution of a star from white dwarf to supernova is one such cumulative change.

When we discuss organic evolution, we must be especially precise. Here I part company with many of my colleagues: I do not find the traditional “evolution is changes in gene frequencies through time” to be a useful definition, even if it were modified to be “cumulative changes in gene frequencies through time.” Especially at the beginning of a course, who knows what a gene frequency is? The genetically-based definition of evolution is useful in understanding the major constituents of evolution (genetic variation, adaptation, reproductive isolation/speciation), but if a teacher waits until students understand all of the related concepts, it will be the end of the semester. If evolution is to be taught as the organizing principle of biology, we shouldn’t wait until the end of the semester to let them in on the secret! I find that even college students lose track of the relationship of evolution to biology using this genetically-based definition, and I am sure high-school students will, also.

What do we want students to know about organic evolution? The “Big Idea” is that living things (species) are related to one another through common ancestry from earlier forms that differed from them. Darwin called this “descent with modification,” and it is still the best definition of evolution we can use, especially with members of the general public and with young learners. Descent with modification makes biology make sense. We can study and understand the workings of evolution using genes, cells, fossils, ecology, taxonomy—you name the biological subfield, and evolution is there.

This all rather muddled. On the one hand, Scott approves of her colleague using the ‘minimal definition’ in teaching her students about evolution. On the other hand, she rejects the ‘minimal definition’ as not all that useful, insisting that ‘[w]hen we discuss organic evolution, we must be especially precise’ so as to make certain students understand that evolution is the organizing principal of biology. Scott then brings clarity to her seemingly inconsistent assertions:

It’s been my experience (and perhaps yours too) that most non-scientists think evolution means “man evolved from monkeys,” which is an exceedingly narrow definition. It is both scientifically accurate as well as strategically wise to embed evolution within the broadest scientific context possible. Evolution isn’t just about humans, or even about living things. Astronomers do, after all, study cosmic evolution. Geologists and geophysicists study the evolution of the planet earth, and evolution is the organizing concept of earth science just as it is for the life sciences. Biologists and biochemists study the change through time of living things. Rejection of evolution doesn’t mean merely rejection of “man evolved from monkeys,” but rejection of principles relevant (and in some cases crucial) to modern science.

Like Moran’s position, it all has to do with strategy: how best to sell macro-evoluiton to the public. Start with such a broad and expansive definition of evolution that no one, not even a creationist, would take issue with it. Then, after the reality of evolution – broadly defined – has been established in the student’s mind, shift the discussion to ‘The Big Idea’ of common descent, all the while implying that ‘it’s all the same thing; to reject common ancestry is to reject any and all conceptions of evolution. Not only is this a non-sequiter, it is a particularly stark example of equivocation – both logical fallacies.

In short, Scott advocates disguising ‘The Big Idea’ of common descent as simple ‘change through time’ in order to sneak it past unwitting students. As they say, a spoonful of ‘sugar’ helps the ‘medicine’ go down. Now I believe that most evolutionists – Moran and Scott included – probably do this with the best of intentions; they sincerely believe evolution to be the truth and seek to help students ‘see the light’. That said, this is a dishonest and disingenuous approach to education and public discourse and it should be rejected.

No one disputes ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time.’ The origins debate is over whether populations of organisms are capable of changes of increasing complexity such that, over time, a microbe can become a man. To confuse the two is to obfuscate and equivocate.

Next up, Vestigial Organs and Junk DNA.

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 9:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Discarded Science & The Genesis Flood – Wrap Up


R P from over at Why Things Are The Way They are made the following comment on my last post:

Hello. Perhaps I missed the point, but why of all possible books would you pick Grant? His interest is wide-ranging, so only one section of the book is related to Whitcomb and Morris. But more to the point, his intent is half-comical – his publisher is “Facts, Figures & Fun”! Whitcomb and Morris on the other hand is technical, lengthy, and highly specific. It’s like comparing a Bill O’Reilly book to a Doonesbury cartoon and claiming the cartoon loses because it doesn’t provide an in-depth critique. Well no kidding. Compare Whitcomb and Morris to actual scientists who are engaged in the same topic. Otherwise… I don’t know, like I said, maybe I missed the point. This is just confusing.

My reply, in short, was 1) why not; and 2) because Grant’s perspective (i.e. creationism is pseudoscience) is typical of the ‘public face’ of the evolutionary establishment and should be rebutted for that reason. However, as I acknowledged, R P does have an important point. I do disagree that Grant’s book is meant as ‘half-comical’ or cartoonish; Grant himself commented:

In my book I don’t go into detail because I’m merely summarizing the informed viewpoint of, not just innumerable readers who’ve found Whitcomb & Morris’s work as risible as I did, but also the vast body of scientists who’ve done the hands-on stuff and know that what Whitcomb & Morris are saying is tripe.

All of that aside, as R P said, it makes little sense to ‘provide an in-depth critique’ to what is little more than a summary; I should started and finished with Part I. For that reason, I’ll reserve further any ‘in-depth critiques’ of ‘anti flood-geology’ for those that deal with it substantively and at length.

Incidentally, a quick rejoinder to Grant’s above comment is in order. He borders on making an appeal to popularity argument – resting his characterization of the work of Whitcomb and Morris as ‘pure pseudoscience’, ‘wild guesses’ and ‘straight-forward fantasy’ on his agreement with the ‘informed viewpoint of, not just innumerable readers..but also the vast body of scientists [who] know that what Whitcomb & Morris are saying is tripe’. Grant should know better, for he writes at the beginning of his book:

There are growing signs at the moment of science being corrupted by the wholly spurious notion that somehow truth can be determined by a democratic vote: if polls show that 60% or 70% of the people don’t accept that humankind is the production of Darwinian evolution, for example, that’s accepted by some as ‘proof’ that Darwinian evolution must be false.


The same applies to both the ‘innumerable readers’ and ‘the vast body of scientists’ Grant refers to. To paraphrase him,

it is a corruption of science to assert that, if the vast body of scientists don’t accept that the geological record is the production of the Genesis Flood, that’s to be accepted as ‘proof’ that the Genesis Flood account must be tripe.

As his books attest, the vaunted ‘scientific consensus’ has often been wrong – and it will be again in the future. Grant is certainly entitled to his beliefs and points of view, but there is no room for ‘the wholly spurious notion that somehow truth can be determined by a democratic vote’ – even if it is scientists casting the votes.

There are a few more comments that Grant makes in his book regarding creation and/or Intelligent design that I plan on responding to, but this is it for Grant’s treatment of Whitcomb & Morris.

Thanks to R P for pointing out the obvious before I got too carried away and thanks to John Grant for taking the time to comment.

Published in: on February 9, 2011 at 8:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Genesis Flood & Bogus Science Part II


In this post, I’ll be comparing some examples of  Whitcomb and Morris’s analysis of the geologic data with John Grant’s caricature of it. Grant was apparently satisfied to focus on the substance of Price’s book, The New Geology, instead of  that in The Genesis Flood, because he regards the latter is simply a ‘rehash’ of the former. We shall see if this assertion stands the light of scrutiny. Having not read Price’s book, I will stipulate Grant’s characterization of it above and compare it with the words of Whitcomb and Morris. Grant’s list of Price’s assertions is as follows:
  1. The fossil-bearing rocks had almost all been deposited during the Flood
  2. The progression of fossilized organisms from primitive to more advanced forms being a matter of differential buoyancy: basically, some creatures could swim better than others.
  3. The geologists were all wrong about the ordering of the stratigraphical Column: was there not a site in Glacier National Park where Precambrian rock rested atop Cretaceous rock? The geologists attempted to explain such phenomena by invoking the concept to thrusting, but this was just special pleading: no one had ever seen thrusting at work.
  4. The notion of there having been multiple ice ages was just plain silly: there hadn’t been enough time for more than one.
  5. The early times of the Earth had seen a clement environment because a big water canopy in the skies had created a greenhouse effect while also blocking off the harmful rays of the Sun; it was the collapse of this canopy that caused the Flood.

We will consider each of these in turn, asking two questions: 1) does Grant accurately represent the work of Whitcomb and Morris?; and 2) are Grant’s charges of their work as ‘pure pseudoscience’, ‘wild guesses’ and ‘straight-forward fantasy’ justified?

The fossil-bearing rocks had almost all been deposited during the Flood

Whitcomb and Morris make their case in chapter 5, Modern Geology and the Deluge, under two headings: Phenomena of Sedimentation (pp. 144-154) and Fossil Graveyards (pp. 154-172). They begin by observing:

Sedimentary rocks have been formed through a process of erosion, transportation, deposition and lithification of sediments. The deposition, of course, occurs when the running water containing the sediments enters a quiescent of less rapidly moving body of water, the lowered velocity resulting in a dropping out of part or all of its load of moving sediment. If the sediment happens to contain organic remains, and these are buried by the sands or silts accompanying them, it may be possible over the years for the organic remains to become fossilized and to be preserved in form in the stratum. The remains of such plant and animal forms, as discovered in the present sedimentary rocks of the earth, have of course served as the basis of our modern divisions of the strata into units of geological time and have provided paleontology with the materials which the bulk of evidence for organic evolution rests today.

Here is where the principal of uniformity is applied most insistently. To be consistent with uniformitarianism, the various types of sedimentary rocks must all be interpreted in terms of so-called environments of deposition exactly equivalent to present-day situations where sediments are being laid down. Rocks are thus said to have been deposited in “deltaic” [river mouth], “lacrustine” [lake], “lagoonal”, or other environments.

~pp. 144-145

First, note that sedimentary strata (and the fossils they contain) are, by definition, water deposited. Thus, in broad terms, these phenomena are consistent with flooding. How consistent it is with a global flood model hinges on the scale and composition of the sedimentary deposits. This is essentially the same question as that I posed in the last post relative to the overall geological record:

Generally speaking, which scenario does the geologic field data more heavily favor:

  • exceedingly gradual deposition/formation at rates generally consistent with present-day processes (with allowances for occasional catastrophes) or ;
  • rapid, large-scale, relatively continuous and  concurrent deposition/ formation?

Whitcomb & Morris then discuss several significant geological formations, comparing observations with expectations of both the uniformitarian and the flood models. First up, they examine geosynclines:

Criticizing the [stratagraphic] classification scheme of Krumbein and Sloss, as well as others…, another leading geologist admits that:

Process is, again, something that apparently no worker in the field or geotectonism has ben able, up to the present, express with much clarity, or at least with pragmatic usefulness. The large number of structural publications dealing with the supposed details of the final operative mechanisms of local crustal deformation or conversely covering the more hypothetical aspects of the broad final causes of crustal deformation in general have not suggested as yet any simple and effective way of gaging (that is, comparing effectively) the actions of the processes responsible for the formation of geotectonic elements, such as geosynclines…Perhaps workers in this field have been too concerned with effects and have not given sufficient thought to causes in terms of dynamic processes.
[Paul D. Krynine” A Critique of Geotectonic Elements,” Transactions, American Geophysical Union, Vol. 32, October 1951, p. 743-44.]

This statement contains a perhaps unintended admission that the processes that formed the great sedimentary beds of the geosynclines are not yet understood and, thus, certainly have not been accounted for on the basis of uniformity and continuity with present processes. This is especially significant in light of the fact that the most spectacular and quantitatively significant sedimentary rock deposits of the world are found in these geosynclines, which are supposed to have been great troughs of continuing subsidence in shallow seas. The concept has been that large masses of sediments were being more or less continuously deposited at shallow depths as rivers entered the seas and that the region subsided at a rate just sufficient to balance the incoming sediments. The later, the entire geosyncline was somehow uplifted to form one of our present mountain ranges, thus supposedly accounting for the tremendous beds of sedimentary, stratified rock found in all the continents . This tremendous mass of sediments contained in the geosynclines is indicated by the following:

The original dimensions of a typical major geosyncline must have been of the order of magnitude of 100 to 200 km. wide, 1ooo to 2ooo km. long, and up to 4 to 12 km. deep.

[W.H. Bucher: “Fundamental Properties of Orogenic Belts,” Transactions, American Geophysical Union, Vol. 32, August 1951, p. 514.]

This means that 40,000 feet of sediments or more have accumulated in these great troughs. That great thicknesses of sediments have accumulated is unquestioned, but the problem of how to account for the origin of the geosyncline in the first place, then how to explain the continued subsidence (for which, incidentally, there is little or no direct evidence – only the fact that the sediments were all deposited in shallow waters and, therefore, there must have been subsidence or else gradually rising water levels), how to account for the source areas from which these great volumes of sediments must have been eroded, and lastly, how to account for the uplift and deformation of these geosynclines to form the present mountain ranges. None of these basic questions has yet been resolved on the basis of uniformity. Dr. L.H. Adams, only a decade ago, called this problem of the origin of geosynclines one of the major unsolved problems of geology*, and there has been nothing significant accomplished in the intervening period to solve it. Dr. George C. Kennedy, Professor of Geology at U.C.L.A., has said recently:

These deep troughs filled with sediments may contain 50,000 to 100,000 feet of sediments and may be 100 miles in width…The mystery, then, of the downsinking of the sedimentary troughs, in which low density sediments apparently displace higher density rocks, is heightened when we note that these narrow elongate zones in the Earth’s crust, downwarped the most, with the greatest accumulation of rock debris, shed by the higher portions of the continents, become in turn the mountain ranges and the highest portions of the continents.

[George C. Kennedy: “The Origin of the Continents, Mountain Ranges, and Ocean Basins,” American Scientist, Vol. 47, December 1959, p. 495.]

*L.H. Adams, “Some Unsolved Problems of Geophysics,” Transactions, American Geophysical Union, Vol. 28, October 1947, p. 673.

~pp. 146-148

Nor is it just geosynclines:

And what is true concerning the geosynclines is equally true with respect to most of the other important sedimentary features of the earth.


The authors proceed to analyze peneplains…

These were vast surfaces of erosion which had been worn down almost to flat, plain surfaces, as the word means.

~p. 148

…dry canyons and falls…

Particularly picturesque are the so-called “scabland” areas, of which the best known in this country is in the Columbia Plateau. Here, vast and intricate dry canyons or coulees, hanging valleys, dry waterfalls rock-rimmed basins and other bizarre features are found in profusion.

~p. 149

…neither of which, like geosynclines, can be accounted for by presently observed processes. Of the last, Whitcomb and Morris write:

The man who has made the most thorough study of the area is Harlan Bretz, whose theory envisaged a sudden, vast flood as being the only agency capable of creating these forms. Thornbury’s comment here is interesting:

(Bretz) has been unable to account for such a flood but maintained that the field evidence indicated its reality. This theory represents a return to catastrophism which many geologists have been reluctant to accept.

[W.D. Thornbury, “Principals of Geomorpholgy (New York, Wiley, 1954), p. 401. More studies in the area by Bretz and others have further confirmed the catastrophic diluvial origin of the scablands. See the article: “Channeled Scabland of Washington: New Data and Interpretations,” by J.H. Bretz, H.T.V. Smith, & G.E. Neff, Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, Vol. 67, August 1956, pp. 957-1049]

~ p. 149

The authors press on, reviewing field data regarding fluviatile plains,

The large central region of the United States, known as the Great Plains, stretching roughly from the Rockies to the Mississippi and from Canada to Mexico, consists largely of remnants of a single great fluviatile plain or alluvial slope.

~p. 149

Of this phenomena, they cite Fennaman:

The surface produced by this alluviation is as flat as any land surface in nature. Many thousands of square miles still retain this flatness. [N.M. Fenneman: Physiogeography of Western United States (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1931), p.11]


Whitcomb and Morris also examine ‘uplifted planes’:

Another major difficulty of the uniformitarian concept of sedimentary processes is found in those great areas of very thick deposits which have gone through one or more cycles of uplift and submergence and yet remain marvelously horizontal and continuous. A good example is found in the Colorado Plateaus…The region occupies some 250,000 square miles, including most of Utah and Arizona, with large segments of Colorado and New Mexico…The remarkable thing is that this entire region was somehow uplifted from far below sea level, since most of its sediments are of marine origin, to over a mile above sea level, without disturbing the horizontality of the strata or summit levels!

~p. 151

These major geological features of the earth’s surface are directly at odds with the principal of uniformitarianism precisely because of their immense scale. Conversely, it is exactly this characteristic – their colossal expanse – that renders them consistent with a global flood interpretation. Simply put, there are no processes in operation today producing sediment beds of such enormous scale, nor uplifting them into massive mountain ranges. The present is not the key to the past; uniformitarianism fails as an explanatory tool.

In this post, I have examined some of the many sedimentary rock layers that Whitcomb and Morris discuss at length in The Genesis Flood. The authors soberly interact with then-contemporary scholarship, citing the analysis of several respected geological authorities regarding the congruence, or lack thereof, of these phenomena with presently observed geological processes. They make a solid scientific case against a uniformitarian interpretation that cannot be lightly dismissed. To brush aside, as Grant does, the analysis offered by Whitcomb and Morris as ‘pure pseudoscience’, ‘wild guesses’ and ‘straight-forward fantasy’ is a stunning example of determined and willful ignorance.

This post has dealt primarily with the scale of the fossil-bearing sedimentary deposits. In the next post, I will see what Whitcomb and Morris have to say regarding the composition of these strata. As with the scale, we will see that the composition is also consistent with a global flood model.

Discarded Science & The Genesis Flood Part I


Author John Grant must fancy himself somewhat of a ‘Guardian of Science’, having authored three books on the subject of ‘That Which is Less Than Science’: Discarded Science: Ideas That Seemed Good At The Time, Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology and Politics in Science and Bogus Science: Or, Some People Really Believe These Things (Facts, Firgures & Fun).

I’ll be addressing the first of these books, Discarded Science, in the next few posts. As might be expected in a book of this genre, creationism takes its accustomed place in the pantheon of the Enemies of Science. In chapter 3 – Survival of the Brightest – Grant takes on creationism (pp. 176-182) and in doing so provides a window into the mind of the modern evolutionist. Grant begins the ritual smearing by mocking  the work of Drs. John Whitcomb Jr. and Henry Morris:
In the early 1970s US Creationists coined the term “Creation Science” – essentially they were still peddling the same old Bible-based Creationism but had removed most of the overt religious references and added in their place a smattering of psuedoscience. Several Factors contributed to this change.

One was the publication of the influential book The Genesis Flood (1961), by John C. Whitcomb Jr (bc 1925) and Henry Morris (1918-2006), who began their discourse with the statement (in the second printing) that ‘their basic argument of this volume is based upon the presupposition that the Scriptures are true”. It was primarily Morris’s job to cobble together some kind of scientific or pseudoscientific rationale to support this assertion. Re-introducing the favourite Creationist refrain that scientific conclusions are merely a matter of interpretation – similar to the “it’s only a theory” argument the ignorant and disingenuous use agains evolution – he then presented a rehash of the revised geological scheme first offered by George McReady Price (1870-1963) in The New Geology (1923). The fossil-bearing rocks had almost all been deposited during the Flood, with the progression of fossilized organisms from primitive to more advanced forms being a matter of differential buoyancy: basically, some creatures could swim better than others. Besides, the geologists were all wrong about the ordering of the stratigraphical Column: was there not a site in Glacier National Park where Precambrian rock rested atop Cretaceous rock? The geologists attempted to explain such phenomena by invoking the concept to thrusting, but this was just special pleading: no one had ever seen thrusting at work. The notion of there having been multiple ice ages was just plain silly: there hadn’t been enough time for more than one. The early times of the Earth had seen a clement environment because a big water canopy in the skies had created a greenhouse effect while also blocking off the harmful rays of the Sun; it was the collapse of this canopy that caused the Flood. And so on, and on, and on.


Returning to The Genesis Flood, the Paluxy River data were quietly removed from the third revised printing, after it had become evident that [Cliff] Burdick had been overexcited in the original report.

None of the arguments in The Genesis Flood are, of course, science: this is a book of pure pseudoscience, comprising a mixture of wild guesses and straight-forward fantasy. But to the uneducated reader it could look sufficiently scientific to disguise the fact that all Whitcomb and Morris were really doing was serving up the same old supper of God-created-the-world-in-six-days-about-6000-years-ago. The authors – and their countless supporters – were able to present this as a turning of the tables on science: where the trend had been to reinterpret the Scriptures in the light of each new wave of scientific discovery, now science was being reinterpreted in order to conform to the Scriptures. Whitcomb and Morris could portray themselves as twin Davids combating the Goliath of the monolithic scientific edifice…and everyone loves and underdog.
~pp. 176-179
I’ll address the details Grant’s allegations in a later post(s). For the time being, I want to get to the heart of his objections to The Genesis Flood, which consist of the following twin assertions:
  1. That the geologic record cannot be reasonably interpreted and understood within in a Biblical Flood framework;
  2. Attempting to do so is to engage in ‘pseudoscience’, ‘wild guesses’ and ‘straightforward fantasy’.

Thoughtful chap that he is, Grant even warns us that Morris’s ‘cobbled together’ rationale might be just scientific-looking enough to fool uneducated readers.

Having read the book in question, it seems that it is Grant himself engaging in ‘straightforward fantasy’. Whatever else one might conclude about the book, a fair reading makes one wonder if Grant even bothered to pick it up, much less read it. Throughout, Whitcomb and Morris seriously engage the substance of the then-current state of mainstream geology, exposing significant conflicts between theory and data. The authors then proceed to make the case that the geologic data in question can be understood just as well, often much better, within their proposed framework. This is not to say that they ‘proved’ Flood Geology; only that they demonstrated the reasonableness of that interpretation of the data. Nor do you need to take my word for it; consider the words of another reader:

This book is an exception to such conformist thinking [i.e. mainstream geology]. The Genesis Flood places before the reader in clear and comprehensive fashion the theological and scientific basis for a literal acceptance of the Biblical account. The authors have carefully considered and developed their arguments, supporting each of them with an abundance of recent and authoritative documentation.

The reader who desires to accept the Biblical account literally and without reservation will discover that the authors have shown such a position to be supported by excellent proof and sound interpretation. They have clearly shown that the Bible teaches a unique creation and subsequent worldwide Deluge, and that the major facts of geology and other sciences can be satisfactorily oriented within this framework. (emphasis added)

Are these the words of one Grant’s postulated ‘uneducated readers’? Hardly. They are, in fact, the words of Dr. John C. McCampbell, PH.D., then Professor & Head, Department of Geology at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He wrote those words in the forward to The Genesis Flood (pp. XVI-XVII), despite the fact that he did not at all agree with the authors, nor was he comfortable with their conclusions:

From the writers point of view, as a professional geologist, these explanations and contentions are difficult to accept. For the present at least, although quite ready to recognize the inadequacies of Lyellian uniformitarianism, I would prefer to hope that some other means of harmonization of religion and geology, which retains the essential structure of modern historical geology, could be found.

~The Genesis Flood: the Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications; pg. XVII

Here we have a rare gem: a mainstream uniformitarian geologist who was not only willing to give the young-earth creationist perspective a fair hearing; but to provide an honest – and positive – evaluation of that perspective. In public, no less!! Not only did he read the book, he was able and willing to recognize – despite his own bias – ‘that the major facts of geology and other sciences can be satisfactorily oriented within [a Biblical Flood] framework‘.

In contrast to McCampbell’s characterization, Grant conjures the image of Whitcomb and Morris as a couple of medieval alchemists all but detached from reality engaging in wild speculation and fantasy-mongering, but it takes no more than a moment of thought to dispel such a notion. In general terms, it boils down to a fairly simple empirical question:

Generally speaking, which scenario does the geologic field data more heavily favor:

  • exceedingly gradual deposition/formation at rates generally consistent with present-day processes (with allowances for occasional catastrophes) or ;
  • rapid, large-scale, relatively continuous and  concurrent deposition/ formation?

It really is that simple. Thus, it makes no sense to say that the Uniformatarian scenario is testable while the Biblical Flood model is not. Indeed, if one purports to weigh the evidence and finds in favor of the former, the latter necessarily has also been tested and found wanting. Which is to say that the Biblical Flood model is testable and therefore ‘scientific’. Even some non-creationists/evolutionists (in addition to McCampbell) recognize this. Of Judge Overton’s decision against creationism in the 1982 McLean case, philosopher of science Larry Lauden writes:

The heart of Judge Overton’s Opinion is a formulation of “the essential characteristics of science.” These characteristics serve as touchstones for contrasting evolutionary theory with creationism; they lead Judge Overton ultimately to the claim, specious in its own right, that since creationism is not “science”, it must be religion. The Opinion offers five essential properties that demarcate scientific knowledge from other things: “(1) It is guided by natural law; (2) it has to be explanatory by reference to natural law; (3) it is testable against the empirical world; (4) its conclusions are tentative, that is, are not necessarily the final word; and (5) it is falsifiable.”

These fall naturally into two families: properties (1) and (2) have to do with lawlikeness and explanatory ability; the other three properties have to do with the fallibility and testability of scientific claims. I shall deal with the second set of issues first, because it is there that the most egregious errors of fact and judgment are to be found.

At various key points in the Opinion, creationism is charged with being untestable, dogmatic (and thus nontentative), and unfalsifiable. All three charges are of dubious merit. For instance, to make the interlinked claims that creationism is neither falsifiable nor testable is to assert that creationism makes no empirical assertions whatever. That is surely false. Creationists make a wide range of testable assertions about empirical matters of fact. Thus, as Judge Overton himself grants (apparently without seeing its implications), the creationists say that the earth is of very recent orign (say, 6,000 to 20,000 years old); they argue that most of geological features of the earth’s surface are diluvial in character (i.e., products of the postulated Noachian deluge); they are committed to a large number of factual historical claims with which the Old Testament is replete; they assert the limited variability of species. They are committed to the view that, since animals and man were created at the same time, the human fossil record must be paleontologically coextensive with the record of lower animals. It is fair to say that no one has shown how to reconcile such claims with the available evidence – evidence that speaks persuasively to a long earth history, among other things.

In brief, these claims are testable, they have been tested, and they have failed those tests….

~But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy, Updated Edition; Science at the Bar – Causes for Concern, pp. 331-332

As far as concerns geology, Dr. McCampbell emphatically disagrees with Lauden’s assertion that ‘no one has shown how to reconcile [creationist] claims with the available evidence‘. As McCampbell points out, this is precisely what Whitcomb and Morris did in The Genesis Flood. Further, contra Lauden’s claim that creationist geological hypotheses have failed empirical tests, McCampbell found ‘that the major facts of geology and other sciences can be satisfactorily oriented within this framework.’

Lauden’s short essay, Science at the Bar – Causes for Concern, is a wholesale demolition of Judge Overton’s criteria for judging creationism as pseudoscience; a doubly powerful rejoinder as it comes from one who has no sympathy for creationism or its proponents. As Overton’s criteria are essentially those still employed by anti-creationists like the NSCE, ACLU and Judge Jones of Dover vs. Kitzmiller fame (and, no doubt, Grant himself), Lauden’s words serve as an effective rebuttal to them as well. That such erroneous claims persist to this day speaks volumes; that Grant makes such fatuous assertions when he should know better exposes his pose as a ‘Guardian of Science’ – at least insofar as it concerns the origins issue – as just that – a pose.

At best this is sloppy, lazy thinking; at worst, a dishonest power-play. The scientific establishment has become a secular priest-hood, having as its core doctrine a strict naturalistic, reductionist materialism. That it is a priesthood can be seen in that it regularly pronounces on those subjects that were once the province of traditional religion:
  • origins (evolution),
  • eschatology (e.g. global warming),
  • morality (e.g. adultery, rape, etc. is natural/not bad/good/a result of natural selection)
  • dietary restrictions (e.g. low-fat diet)
  • the validity, or lack thereof, of competing belief-systems (i.e. religions)
  • etc., etc., etc.
Furthermore, this priesthood, as those of times past, claims to be the sole authority on these subjects, asserting for all practical purposes that if something hasn’t been ‘scientifically’ demonstrated, it has no truth value and thus no rightful claim on either the public square or the minds of responsible citizens. And having claimed science as their exclusive prerogative, they will brook no challenge to their seat of power.

On the other hand, and to hoist him on his own petard, perhaps Grant is just being ‘ignorant and disingenuous‘.

In the next post, I’ll consider some examples of  the arguments made by Whitcomb and Morris in The Genesis Flood relative to Grant’s characterization of them.