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"Scientific" Creationism Examined

An uninformed person might think that this recent surge in creationism is based on some new findings that support the theory or that point out some basic flaw in the theory of evolution. That, however, is not the case, as the renowned paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould said:

According to idealized principles of scientific discourse. the arousal of dormant issues should reflect fresh data that give renewed life to abandoned notions. Those outside the current debate may therefore be excused for suspecting that the creationists have generated some serious internal trouble. But nothing has changed; the creationists have presented not a single new fact or argument ... The rise of creationism is politics, pure and simple; it represents one issue (and by no means the major concern) of the resurgent evangelical right. [1]

We will be looking here at the standard creationist arguments:

    Creationism is not science for it base its fundamental beliefs not on empirical research but on a belief in biblical inerrancy.

    The creationist arguments for a young earth, one that is only a few thousand years old, fail upon closer examination.

    The creationist argument for that the rock strata were all laid at the same time, during the Noahchian flood, fails.

    The creationist have two pseudo-methods of trying to impress their readers:

      They use credential mongering, trying to impress their readers with PhD's that have no relevance to the issue at hand.

      They very often quote their opponents and scientists out of context which creates an opposite impression than what was originally intended.

Creationism is Non-Scientific

We have heard from a renowned scientist that creationism is not science. How do the creationists themselves measure up to the standards of being a scientists?

Let us look at Henry M. Morris, the founder and first director of the Institute of Creation Research. That he is eager to present himself as a scientist to the public is not doubted. He does have a PhD, and takes every chance to flaunt it; unfortunately his doctorate is in Hydraulics Engineering, a field totally unrelated to evolutionary biology. His belief system is anything but scientific. In his book The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth (1972), he theorized that the craters of the moon were caused, not by meteorites, but by a cosmic battle between the forces of Satan and the armies of the archangel Michael! In the same book and in another (The Troubled Waters of Evolution [1974]), he claimed that the theory of evolution was devised on top of the tower of Babel by the Babylonian king, Nimrod, and Satan! [2] It is difficult to see how such a person could reason scientifically. In fact, to Morris, science is recognizing that what the Bible says is true. [3] As he himself said in Scientific Creationism (1974), the textbook they intend to use for "equal time" schools:

It is precisely because Biblical revelation is absolutely authoritative that the scientific facts, rightly interpreted, will give the same testimony as that of scripture. There is not the slightest possibility that the facts of science can contradict the Bible. [4]

(It is interesting to note that for Morris it is the facts of science that must be "rightly interpreted" to suit the Bible.) Another prominent creationist is Duane Gish, the vice-president of the ICR. Gish reveals what he means by "creation science" in the following passage, taken from his book Evolution? The Fossils Say No! (1978):

By creation we mean bringing into being by a supernatural creator of the basic kinds of plants and animals by the process of sudden, or fiat, creation. We do not know how the Creator created, what processes He used, for He used processes which are now not operating anywhere in the natural universe. This is why we refer to creation as special creation. We cannot discover by scientific investigations anything about the creative processes used by the Creator. [5]

It is hard to understand, in the light of the last sentence quoted above, where the "science" is in "scientific creationism". [6] Furthermore, how does Gish know that the "Creator" used processes "not operating anywhere in the natural universe" when he had admitted earlier in the same sentence that he "did not know what processes the Creator used"? Such logical gaps are common in the writings of the "scientific creationists".

The main bulk of the creationists’ [a] arguments consist of knocking down the theory of evolution and the auxiliary sciences supporting it. Apart from being completely off the mark, this method is actually fallacious. The implicit and explicit assumption of their argument is that if evolution can be proven wrong then creationism, by default, is proven true. This is like saying that if today isn't the fourth of July then it must be Christmas; be damned the other 363 days! Creationism is not the only alternate "explanation" of life's origins to evolution. The Hindus, for instance, have the idea that the origins of the universe is one of endless cycles of birth and rebirth. Some pseudo scientists preached a "seeding" of the earth with extraterrestrial life-giving material. To give their arguments a semblance of rational argument the creationists must provide positive proofs of their pet theory. And in this, they have failed miserably. We will look at two of their attempts at this. [b]

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Creationist Arguments for a Young Earth

One of the major claims of creationism is that the age of the earth and the universe is no more than a few thousand years old. Science had shown that the earth is around 4.5 billion years old, while the universe itself somewhere between 5 to 10 billion years older. How does the creationists come to a conclusion so vastly different from that of science? Did they discover some new evidence? Was there a serious flaw in the scientists arguments for an old earth? No. The creationists, who are all Christian fundamentalists, believe that the earth is only a few thousand years young because the Bible says so! As Henry Morris, in The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth (1972), proudly admits:

The only way [c] we can determine the true age of the earth is for God to tell us what it is. And since he has told us, very plainly in the Holy Scriptures that it is several thousand years of age, and no more, that ought to settle all questions of terrestrial chronology. [7]

Having determined the true age of the earth from the Bible, the creationists then, in the true spirit of irrationalism and pseudo-science, proceeded to find proofs of such an age. Certainly the most often referred to "proof" is the one forwarded by Thomas G. Barnes, another "creation scientist" from the ICR. His proof involve the strength of the earth's magnetic field. Citing a 1967 paper by two legitimate (as opposed to the creationists) geophysicists, Keith McDonald and Robert Gunst, An Analysis of the Earths Magnetic Field From 1835-1965, Barnes claimed that the magnetic field of the earth had been declining, with the energy dissipated through heat, in an exponential fashion since the beginning of the data collected by these two. He calculated the half-life of this exponential decline to be 1,400 years. He further claimed that it was only from 1835 onwards that we have reliable data on the earth's magnetic field. Thus extrapolating backwards from these results, he concluded that the earth's magnetic field more than 10,000 years ago would be unreasonably high. Which means, so says this creationist, that the age of the earth must be less than 10,000 years old: exactly what Morris concluded from reading the Scriptures!

Unfortunately for the creationists, this happy coincidence of "scientific" data and scriptural reading is based on Barnes bending his data completely out of shape.

In the first place, McDonald and Gunst, in the paper cited by Barnes, explicitly stated that the magnetic energy was not dissipated by heating. The energy is merely changed into another type of magnetic field (from the dipole to the quadrupole field). In other words the total magnetic energy of the earth has not changed much. Barnes had used only the dipole values and ignored the rest in order to make his argument work.

The most clear-cut proof of Barnes fallacious argument is his assertion that the exists no reliable data on the earth's magnetic field before 1835. This is just downright wrong. There are reliable and well documented data on the strengths of the earth's magnetic field dating back several thousand years. To show how this is possible, a little explanation would help here.

Archaeologists had long developed, and used, detailed and reliable chronologies based on pottery styles and types for various cultures. Pottery is also used to study Paleomagnetism, which is the study of ancient magnetic fields of the earth. This is possible because the process of making pottery includes the heating up and then cooling the down of the clay. When the pottery cools below a certain temperature, called the Curie Temperature, it becomes permanently magnetized by the earth's magnetic field. Thus, the strengths of the earth's magnetic field is "fossilized" in the baked clay. The magnetic moments of these can be accurately measured. Together with the dating of the various potteries based on the archaeologists' method, a history of the earth's magnetic field dating back several thousand years can be constructed.

Using this information, it can be seen that Barnes' "exponential decline" of the earth's magnetic field is nothing more than a figment of his imagination. For instance these results tell us that 4200 years, or three Barnes' "half-lives", ago - where according to his prediction the earth's magnetic field must have been eight times what it is today - the strength of the earth magnetic field was actually slightly weaker than what it is today! [8]

Thus, the "strongest" creationists argument for a young earth is based on twisting some scientific data and ignoring others. It speaks volume about both the credibility and the capability of these creation "scientists."

Before leaving the topic of the age of the earth and the universe, there is one further example of the creationist argument that must be presented. As was mentioned in chapter four, one of the proofs of the old age of the universe is the light from distant galaxies billions of light years away. As the speed of light is a constant, and a light-year is the distance traversed by light in a single year, the light we see from these galaxies must have left them billions of years ago. How does the creationists explain this (to them) difficulty? The creationists D.C.C. Watson shows how in his book The Great Brain Robbery (1976). According to him, the fundamental consideration here is not any scientific data, but the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine in Cana:

Just as Jesus at Cana compressed into one second the process of thirty years, so in one day He flung the stars billions of light years into space, at the same time# causing their light to fall upon the earth. How do we know? Because He says so! [9]

This then, is the fundamental method of creationism: when faced with an insurmountable difficulty, invoke a miracle! [10] The fundamental fact is this: all the available scientific evidence points to a very old earth; the "proofs" forwarded by the creationists is not only unconvincing but completely false, their certainty comes from the biblical references not empirical data.

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Creationist Explanation of the Rock Strata

The other prominent claim of the creationists is that the rock strata were formed at the same time.

Scientists have enough evidence (from radiometric dating and other geological considerations) to show that the different rock strata were laid down at different times in the past, and that the fossils found in them reflected evolution in action. Thus we can find amphibians in strata that are older than those in which mammals and reptiles can be found. Similarly, we can find reptiles in older strata than those with mammals.

The creationist have a simple "scientific" answer to this: the Biblical Noahchian Flood. According to this theory, made popular by Henry Morris and J.C. Whitcomb in their book The Genesis Flood (1961), the various rock strata are simply different levels of the remains of the Noahcian Flood. Thus, the lower strata are lower because they were physically lower lands that were flooded first; while the higher strata were hills or mountains which were flooded last. Why are mammals only to be found in the highest strata and reptiles found in higher strata than the amphibians? The creationists claim to have found the solution in the mobility of these animals. Thus reptiles move faster than the amphibians and are thus able to reach relatively higher grounds before drowning in the flood. And mammals being more mobile than both reach the highest grounds and were the last to be drowned. Thus, they claimed, the fossils show mammals at the highest strata because they were faster runners not because they evolve later.

This creationist apologetic is simple minded in its construction and completely wrong in its conclusions. There are many things that are unsound about their argument; of which we will look at two.

Firstly, this mobility theory must surely allow for at least some mammals that were trapped in the lower regions while trying to escape the flood. Yet, there is not one single case of a mammal fossil found with, say, a Trilobite. [d]

Secondly, this theory does not consider plant evolution, a process equally revealed by the fossil record. Fossil evidence show that flowering plants or angiosperms are found, like mammals, only in the upper strata (from the Jurassic period and later). Furthermore we find that the shorelines are home to a tremendous variety of flowering plants. If there was a universal flood which resulted in the present strata we would find angiosperms among the lowest strata, since these plants, of course could not run for safety to higher regions. (Unless, of course, if plants before the Noahchian flood could move!) Yet, again, there is not one single case of an angiosperm found with a Trilobite! [11]

Having looked at the "smoothest" creationist attempts at sounding scientific we will now turn to the coarser ones.

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Creationist Pseudo Argument: Credential Mongering

One of the most popular is "credential mongering." The books and pamphlets of the creationists loudly proclaimed the supposed academic credentials of their authors. This is a none-too-subtle way of telling their readers to trust the "authority" of these people who pronounced evolution false and creation true.

Many times, however, the credentials presented are simply not relevant to the subject. One of the best examples is the creationist pamphlet, 21 Scientists Who Believe in Creation (1977). The PhD's of this 21 are proudly acknowledged and flaunted on the covers and in fliers. Yet most of these "scientists" have expertise in fields that are not in the bit related to evolution and the origin of life: three of them have PhD's in education, two have them in theology, five in engineering, one in physics, one in chemistry, one in hydrology (Henry Morris), one in entomology, one in psycholinguistics and even one in food science technology! Only five have expertise that are related, to a certain extent, to the topic at issue: two biochemists (including Duane Gish), one ecologist, one physiologist and one geophysicist. The following complaint of Philip Kitcher is justified:

While the last five may have some expertise in related areas, the credentials of the others are utterly irrelevant to many of the questions the creationist addresses. The "authority" of these men should not convince us that there is a scientifically reputable alternative to a major biological theory. The word of just any "scientist" is not enough. I am prepared that the creationists, like the rest of us, take care to consult the appropriate experts. I doubt that they take their children to a vet. [12]

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Creationist Pseudo-Argument: Quoting out of Context

Another favorite method of the creationists is to quote legitimate scientific works out of context and sometimes even to directly misquote them. This method, obviously dishonest, has a lot of mileage in it since most of the readers of the creationist literature would not normally have, or would not want to have, access to the works cited. Thus a misquote is not easily detected by the reader. We will give two examples below.

In his book, Evolution? The Fossils Say No! (1979), Gish tried to show that some legitimate scientists believed that the Australopithecines [e] were not bipedal. He quoted several passages from a paper by Charles Oxnard, The Place of Australopithecines in Human Evolution: Grounds For Doubts? (Nature-1975). After these quotations, Gish concluded that:

From these results Oxnard concluded that the Australopithecines did not walk upright in the human manner but probably had a sense of locomotion similar to that of the orang [utan] [13]

What Oxnard actually claimed in his paper was not that the australopithecines were not bipedal but that their bipedalism were different from the modern human one. As he himself wrote:

Their locomotion may not have been like that of modern man, and may, though including a form or forms of bipedality, have been different enough to have allowed marked abilities for climbing. Bipedality may have arisen more than once, the Australopithecines displaying one or more experiments in bipedality that failed. [14]

Note that Oxnard did not say that the Australopithecines were not bipeds. Gish had simply twisted his statement with the deceptive words "did not walk upright in the human manner." And while Oxnard did say that there were some similarities between the orangutan and the Australopithecines, he did not conclude that their mode of locomotion was similar. In fact, he said the opposite:

And because similarities with the orangutan are only in some anatomical regions and not in others, because the overall composition is mosaic in nature, it is clear that the overall mode of locomotion of the orangutan today is not the model for these creatures. [15]

Gish, by saying that Oxnard concluded that the Australopithecus walked like an orangutan, had expressly contradicted what the scientist himself said. [16]

Another masterpiece of deception was performed by Henry Morris in his book Scientific Creationism (1974). He quoted a passage from the book by G.G. Simpson, The Major Features of Evolution (1953):

In spite of these examples, it remains true, as every paleontologist knows, that most new species, genera and families, and nearly all categories above the level of families, appear in the record suddenly and are not led up by known, gradual and completely continuous transitional sequences. [17]

Based on the above quote, Morris concluded that scientists have "no evidence that there have ever been transitional forms between ... basic kinds." Any unbiased reader will note that the first five words in the quote from Graham would make Morris' conclusion suspect. In the paragraph before the one quoted by Morris, Graham had written:

Among the examples are many in which, beyond the slightest doubt, a species or genus has been gradually transformed into another. Such gradual transformation is also fairly well exemplified for subfamilies and occasionally for families, as the groups are commonly ranked. [18]

Simpson actually continued to present some of these examples in his book. [19] Thus, far from saying that there was no evidence of transitional forms, Simpson was presenting confirmation of their existence. Obviously, Morris had simply lifted one quotation out of context and then using that to falsely claim that scientists (or in the "lingo" of the creationists: "evolutionists") themselves admit of having no examples of transitional forms. [20]

Obviously, these pious fundamentalists have no qualms against dishonest methods like these to prove the truth of their Bible. In summary, "Scientific Creationism" is not science, but a modern manifestation of Christian fundamentalist irrationalism.

Postscript: Recently a new species of creationism has evolved. This new creature, called old earth creationism, believe, unlike the young earth creationism we looked at above, accepts that the world is as old as scientists say it is but that it still carries within it signs of being intelligently designed. Michael Behe has used the concept of irreducible complexity to argue for intelligent design of biochemical systems.

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Notes

a. I will now drop the adjective "scientific" from "scientific creationism" but for convenience and for a more accurate description of these fundamentalist group.
b. The creationist’s “entropy argument” against evolution is given in an earlier section.
c. Italics mine. It is remarkable how a self proclaimed scientists can make such a ludicrous statement. How does Morris know its "the only way"?
d. The Trilobite is a long extinct crab-like animal that are found only in strata older than 270 million years (Permian and older). Mammals are found only in strata that are younger than around 180 million years (Jurassic and younger)
e. The Australopithecines are a genus of hominids who walked on two legs (bipedal) which lived between four to two million years ago. The fossil evidence also suggests that one of these species, the Australopithecus Afarensis, may be a direct ancestor of modern man.

References

1. Gould, Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: p253
2. Frazier, Science Confronts the Paranormal: p306
3. Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism: p1
4. Morris, Scientific Creationsim: p15
5. Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Say No!: p42
6. Gould, Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: p257
7. Morris, The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth: p94
8. Frazier, Science Confronts the Paranormal: p313-314
Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism: p73-77
9. Watson, The Great Brain Robbery: p31
10. Kitcher, Abusing Science: p180-181
11. Frazier, Science Confronts the Paranormal: p310
12. Kitcher, Abusing Science: p179
13. Gish, Evolution? The Fossils Say No!: p79
14. Charles Oxnard, The Place of the Australopithecines in Human Evolution: Grounds For Doubts?, Nature 258 (1975) p389
15. Ibid: p394
16. Kitcher, Abusing Science: p182-183
17. Simpson, The Major Features of Evolution: p360 quoted in Morris, Scientific Creationism: p79-80
18. Simpson, The Major Features of Evolution: p360
19. Ibid: p360-376
20. Kitcher, Abusing Science: p183