CRSC Senior Fellow Takes Over Creation Week at Whitworth College
What follows is a report on "Creation Week," a round-table discussion on evolution and creation that took place November 1998 at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington. J. E. Hill sheds light on the recent developments within the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC), which has highly-organized plans to include "Intelligent Design" into public classrooms. ii
by J. Elbert Hill
f all of Creation Week presented at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington was like the public forum Wednesday (11/18/98), it should be renamed "The Steve Meyer and Phil Johnson Show". What was suppose to be a roundtable discussion with evolution scientist Kenneth Miller became a one-sided affair with the creationists doing all the talking.
Miller, it was explained, had travel difficulties and was unable to attend until Friday, so instead of finding another pro-evolution scientist to take his place Meyer simply invited other Whitworth staff members to fill the seats, some of whom seemed uncomfortable and not quite sure of why they were there. It seems odd, considering three major universities were at his immediate disposal, that Meyer could not find one scientist to sit on this panel to provide an objective point of view and a dissenting opinion to the Meyer and Johnson rhetoric. It was certainly not because he could not find an evolutionary scientist, but rather because Meyer didn't want to find one. Most of Creation Week went the same way.
Meyer maintains that Creation Week was "to expose the broader community to this movement within the scientific community". Unfortunately for Meyer there is no creationist "movement" within the mainstream scientific community, only among some conservative Christian scientists that are more apt in selling books than doing hard research. Yet this is typical of the propaganda Meyer uses to arouse the public. Advertised as featuring lectures and debates, there was certainly enough of the former and very little of the latter unless they meant creationist debating among themselves. The creationist side was well represented by Meyer, Johnson, (presenting almost every day) John Wiester, Paul Chein, Jonathan Wells, and Scott Minnich. On the evolution side was Miller, period, who we were told would lecture that Friday.
It is interesting to note that all of the aforementioned creationists, save Wiester, are members of the Discovery Institute's Center for Renewal of Science and Culture in which Meyer is a Senior Fellow and Johnson is an advisor. The institute is a conservative Christian thinktank of sorts located in Seattle. Its primary function is to support conservative causes, whether political, social, or religious, in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The Wednesday audience, made up mostly of disinterested students, numbered between 60 and 70. The worst part of it was sitting through an hour and a half of lecturing when ... oops! Out of time for discussion. The moderator only allowed five questions. The last gentleman to speak, a geology graduate student from Washington State University, challenged the panels position and Johnson's adversarial approach to evolution and was quickly cut off by both Meyer and Johnson saying he was talking about "them" (perhaps meaning young earth creationist) and not "us" the intelligent designers. As they interrupted and then dismissed, out of hand, the man's questions, Johnson clearly said, "There is no evidence for evolution anyway", drawing some raise eyebrows from the audience. The moderator quickly ended the public forum.
The entire purpose of the exercise was to create a stage to enlighten and engage the public in modern creationism polemics. A young earth, great flood, and spontaneous creation by God are out and an Intelligent Designer is in. Theirs was a soft shoe, seductive, high academic approach to sway the public perception that there is nothing to fear from the argument of placing God as a creator. Or is there? This is a grand deception of major proportions that uses evolutionary biology as the engine to effect social change and conscience in order to promote Christian theology as part a parcel of our existence. In other words, we have had enough of naturalism, we want to return to supernaturalism. Our morally corrupted society has gone awry from 150 years of materialism and the only way to correct this is accept the supernatural underpinnings of science and that science has breached theological territory; specifically, the Christian supernatural underpinnings and intelligent design is needed to now explain what science cannot seem to explain.
The problem here is obvious: the creationists are providing the definition of what constitutes science, religion, and philosophy. In order to accomplish this goal, the new creationist, like any good demagogue needs a scapegoat. In this case, as with the young earth creationist, the easiest and most visible target is Charles Darwin and evolution. Johnson, being both true to his book Darwin on Trial and the lawyer he is, was very succinct in his presentation that naturalism and materialism are to blame for where we are socially and that we must return to the adherence to Biblical principals. But Johnson's view of comparing social naturalism in criminal law to biological sciences is too simplistic to consider as an solution or explanation of complex social problems. According to Johnson, everything will be all right if we simply acknowledge (his) God's role in everything. Johnson's presentation is very deceptive. Even though he notes that he is an lawyer and professor of law at Berkeley, he has been associated with conservative creationists' causes for so long that most people take him for a scientist. This audience certainly did.
Stephen Meyer is the typical neocreationist: well educated, articulate, respected, and personable. This buttondown approach serves him well and appeals to audiences. However, Meyer is a Christian on a mission. His presentation consisted of a simplistic explanation of how evolutionists use terms describing that things "have to" fit evolution and that scientists use circular reasoning to reach conclusions because they will not acknowledge the supernatural. Meyer then proceeded to speak of the intelligent designer as a proven fact because it "has to" be!; there simply cannot be any other reasonable explanation for these complex natural systems because a designer has the ability to design. In a demonstration of the First Cause argument, Meyer first dropped his car keys saying that it was gravity at work; he then throws his car keys across the room and proclaims this is a first cause action with him acting as the cause. This type of nonsense might pass muster in his classes of non-science majors or to a very gullible public (again) in search of simplistic answers to complex questions but this approach is academically dishonest. Meyer should be dismissed for what he is: a creationist pitchman and book peddler selling intelligent design to an scientifically illiterate public.
Creation week had one purpose and one purpose only: to bring the case for intelligent design before the public and by association making it compatible with science. Meyer and his ilk know the futility and uselessness of these arguments in mainstream science and these questions have been asked and answered many times over. But that does not stop them from reiterating them time and time again. Using propaganda devices and fallacious argument, mainly the if people hear something enough, right or wrong, they will begin to believe it. Take, for example the three main points of contention Meyer cites* as the areas in which evolution fails:
First, "the primordial soup where evolutionists argue amino acids randomly arrange themselves to form the first cells. Intelligent design proponents argue that the arrangement of those amino acids couldn't possibly occur randomly; that there had to be some forcea mindbehind it." Just because creationist are personally incredulous and cannot accept this, does not mean it is not scientifically valid. Randomness is only one part of mechanical working of evolution. Creationist often, as in this case conveniently ignore the other parts. Meyer contradicts himself by insisting evolutionary scientists use the "had to be" explanation wrongly yet seems perfectly content with his assertion "there had to be some force" because he feels evolution cannot provide him with a reasonable explanation. However, the only explanation Meyer and his fellow creationist will accept is a intelligent force.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Second, "Another weak spot for Darwin is a period in geologic history called the Cambrian Explosion, where all the invertebrate animals groups appear suddenly without identifiable ancestors. Darwin himself acknowledged that fossil records of this period did not support his theory of evolution." This is a misrepresentation. Geology in Darwin's time was in its infancy and Darwin argued that while it appeared to his critics the fossil record did not support his theory, he continues to write, as geology grows the difficulties in this area will "greatly diminish, or even disappear" which they have. (C. Darwin, Origin of Species, 3rd Ed., Chapter 9). Using Darwin this way is clearly a strawman argument. It detracts from the fact that the geologic column and the Cambrian Explosion is what modern evolutionary science would expect. There is nothing mysterious or divine about this. Moreover, if we were to allow intelligent design as a basis of explanation of primordial soup, we would have to view the Cambrian Explosion which happened millions of years after "the soup" for what it is: a natural phenomena in earth history and evolution at work. God of the gaps comes to mind here. Also, consider that the Cambrian Explosion and an incomplete fossil record is, perhaps, an excellent argument against intelligent design. Meyer's contention here is nonsense and there is volumes of material concerning this subject that supports evolutionary theory. If Meyer wants to ignore it that's his business but to misrepresent the truth to the public is, academically dishonest. Additionally, Charles Darwin has been quite dead for 116 years. It is his theory of natural selection that has held up for 150 years, not all of his and his contemporaries observations. Darwin was a Naturalist not a geologist, microbiologist or paleontologist. If Charles Darwin had not published his theory, someone else certainly would have. It seems the creationist mind set wants to hold Darwin personally accountable for the modern interpretation of his theory and ignore the rest of the evidence. Yet we don't see creationists attacking Einstein's and Hawkings' theoretical physics which undermines the intelligent design argument to a greater magnitude that evolution ever could.
Third, "[a] small number of molecular biologist studying the motors embedded within cells have concluded that those structures are 'irreducibly complex.' That complexity is best explained by concluding those motors were designed, rather that attributing their existence to evolution or chance." This is not a true statement. A very small number of biologist have indeed claimed this. Yet the vast majority of mainstream molecular biologist have not reached this conclusion and are attributing so-called irreducible complexity to the same criticism as the watchmaker argument: just because the motors embedded in cells have the appearance of design, this, in itself does not make it a fact. In addition, irreducible complexity is a concept, not a scientifically accepted principle and has been, for all intents and purposes, already discarded by the scientific community as a whole.
If the authors of irreducible complexity are so sure of their claims, why don't they simply submit their finding or hypothesis to be critically reviewed rather than writing books about it? Because it would fail to meet even the minimum of criteria for review. Indeed, the concept of irreducible complexity is nothing new. The idea has been around for many years. It has, like all arguments against evolution, just dusted off, repackaged, resold to a new generation of creationists? and a gullible public. Just because something is small and complex (a cell) or large and complex (the universe) is no reason to posit a intelligent designer when the direct and indirect evidence tells us differently.
Meyer and his colleagues are anxious to throw in the towel and give up when the scientific going get tough and just attribute these things, known and unknown to a intelligent designer. While these might seem like good places to place a god, creator, or intelligent designer, we should not give up so easily. History will bear this out also. Every time religion dogma has met scientific principles, religion has lost. The earth is no longer flat, nor does the sun go around the earth any longer. Imagine the consequences for example if Jonas Salk, while looking at Polio Virus cells decided it was "irreducibly complex" therefore intelligently designed and decided he could go no further. Polio stays an act of god, not nature and thus, incurable.
Meyer and his cohorts have a religious conflict in accepting mainstream scientific conclusions base upon empirical methodology. These new-age creationist have an intense desire to insert non materialistic, supernatural possibilities into science but do not want to go through the usual channels to accomplish their goal of religious superiority over the natural, material discipline of science. They want the case tried in the court of public opinion as if a public vote would change earth history.
He and his colleagues want, passionately, to have people to believe that science, especially evolution is a religion and faith is necessary to accept scientific conclusions. This is nonsense. Using faith in conjunction with science is a beggarly approach to sell the public a erroneous bill of goods. Meyer wants to present his case to directly to the public in the form of books, lectures, and appealing to the conservative Christian and avoiding the scientific community. He want to influence public thinking and policy by hammering home intellectually bankrupt ideas and popular dogmas to an unsuspecting, gullible and scientifically illiterate populus.
As stated in the mission statement for Meyer's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture: "The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built." (read: fundamentalism) "[We seek] nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and it's damning cultural legacies." (read: defeat science or anything else they disagree with) "[We will] reopen the case for the supernatural." (read: creationism). And, "...[The Institute's work] includes a belief in God-given reason and the permanency of human nature..." Their motivation is clear: to change science to support a narrow philosophic view of the world of science. It is unfortunate that the neocreationist resorts to name calling by referring to "atheistic Darwinism" and "anti-theistic materialism", without realizing that creationism is certainly no less materialistic, seeking not only explanations for earthly phenomena, but a materialistic demonstration of gods existence. Equating evolution with atheism and Darwinism with god is irresponsible and dishonest. It never seems to occur to the modern creationist that, using their own definitions, all other academic disciplines are just as materialistic and atheistic. Yet these subjects do no harm to people's beliefs nor do they challenge their religiousness or faith. Neither does evolution. Preaching to the general public that supernatural sources are the answers to complex questions robs them of exploring the rational explanations and that cripples critical thinking. We should never accept doctrinal material masquerading as science nor have science taught as religion.
Creation week was a forum to tell people it is just easier to believe than think. If they want to attack evolution, they should address the evidence not the self-serving, peripheral social issues generated by the religious right. If they want to have their intelligent design ideas considered, they should submit a theory to the scientific community for peer review. But this will never happen as long as intelligent design proponents think their agenda should be accepted by the public a priori and without question. Intelligent design is religious dogma not science. The scientific community and the public should strive to keep it that way.
* From the Spokane daily newspaper Spokesman Review, 11/14/98 pg. E3 article by Kelly McBride December 18, 1998.
Home Page | Further Reading | Site Map | Send Feedback