The August 14 Dallas Morning News (headline below, click it to see the article) presents as “news” something that is neither new nor accurate:
This turns out to be just a report on the activities of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) in Dallas. If you’ve been around a while, you’ll remember the ICR as the outfit founded in 1970 in San Diego by Henry M. Morris, co-author of The Genesis Flood (1961), the book that marked the beginning of the “scientific creation” movement, devoted to showing that the very facts of science were in absolute agreement with a literalist reading of the Bible. This was an attempt to sneak religious views into public schools usuing the claim that those views really were scientific. The Genesis Flood argued that geological features like the Grand Canyon reflected not gradualistic processes, but sudden, catastrophic flooding, as, for example, might have occurred in the time of Noah. All of the ICR’s publications reflected young-Earth creationism, assuming that the Earth was less than 10,000 years old.
In 1974, Morris produced Scientific Creationism, designed as the textbook for his movement. Tellingly, it came in two versions, one for public-school classrooms and one, aimed at general readers and religious schools, that was glutted with references to scripture. If ever there was evidence for a religious motivation for creationism, that was it.
And, in fact, scientific creationism came a cropper in 1982 with the decision of McLean v. Arkansas, in which a federal judge, William Overton, ruled that an Arkansas law mandating “balanced treatment” for evolution and “scientific creationism” was illegal because the latter was really religion in disguise. (That “balanced treatment act” was in fact partly drafted by the ICR.) Judge Overton’s decision in that case is a classic, and I’m still stirred by the words of his conclusion:
The application and content of First Amendment principles are not determined by public opinion polls or by a majority vote. Whether the proponents of Act 590 constitute the majority or the minority is quite irrelevant under a constitutional system of government. No group, no matter how large or small, may use the organs of government, of which the public schools are the most conspicuous and influential, to foist its religious beliefs on others.
I wish the principal of Lebanon High School in Missouri, along with the members of his school board, would absorb that lesson!
At any rate, the ICR is still chugging along, as documented by the Dallas paper, which includes an interview with Henry Morris III, William’s misguided son. They’re still pushing creationism, and still using the same old arguments, supplemented with a few new ones about the supposed finding of soft tissue in dinosaur bones (that finding is contentious and there’s still no consensus view).
The paper’s report is okay, but I wonder why they saw fit to publish something an article that isn’t really news. It doesn’t mention McLean vs. Arkansas, and there’s one inaccuracy in the paragraph below. Can you spot it?
When Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, it generated spirited scientific debate, but it did not become a social and political wedge issue for more than 60 years. At the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1925, substitute science teacher John Scopes intentionally violated a new Tennessee law that made it a crime to teach any theory contradicting the Bible.
The paper starts its story with a tendentious video by ICR’s “director of research” Jason Lisle, who isn’t rebutted by any other talking heads. That’s a one-sided way to present news, especially since the news consists of lies. Here’s the “lab” where Lisle gives his spiel. Anybody who knows labs knows that there’s nothing going on in this place: the lab is completely devoid of activity. I suspect, as in other creationist videos, it isn’t even their lab; maybe a savvy reader can suss it out. A screenshot:
Further, the headline above isn’t accurate, for the ICR don’t really have “researchers” that do their own science. Rather, they comb the literature, as do many creationists, looking for things that could be twisted to disprove evolution. And anybody who sets out to “prove” something, rather than test it, isn’t really doing science. At least the newspaper poinsts that out. But first they report the wish-thinking and “research directions” of the ICR:
“Our attempt is to demonstrate that the Bible is accurate, not just religiously authoritative,” said Henry Morris III, CEO of the nonprofit with a 49-person payroll and an annual budget in the $7 million range.
. . . Jason Lisle, an astrophysicist and the research director at ICR, said he has no chance of winning a Nobel Prize, even if he makes a groundbreaking discovery. Secular scientists, he said, would never bestow the field’s highest honor on a creationist.
That’s simply not true. If the discovery didn’t involve creationism, or require invoking God, it would qualify. In fact, I’m pretty sure that at least a couple of Nobel laureates have been creationists, although I can’t name them. It’s just a matter of statistics. The article continues:
Many of ICR’s scientists, like Lisle, grew up in conservative Christian homes that promoted young-earth creationism, while others began questioning established scientific theories later in their academic careers.
“I think everyone here is doing it because we believe in the message and we ultimately want people to be saved,” he said. “We want people to realize the Bible is trustworthy in matters of history and when it touches science. And because you can trust it in those areas, you can trust it when it comes to how to inherit eternal life.”
Well, of course it you set out to prove something, rather than test it, and especially if your motivations are not understanding but buttressing religious beliefs that you won’t abandon, you’re about as far from being a scientist as you can get. You’re a theologian in a lab coat.
That bit is handily rebutted in the article:
The problem is, they’re not scientists,” said Ron Wetherington, who teaches human evolution and forensic anthropology at SMU [Southern Methodist University]. “They cherry-pick data in order to use it to justify the Genesis account of creation.”
Real science, he said, works the opposite way. Researchers don’t line up facts to support a hypothesis. Natural laws and theories like evolution are constantly pressure-tested by the scientific community, checking for flaws and leaks in the logic.
But, of course, the ICR claims that even nonreligious scientists have their agenda:
Scientists at ICR believe the Bible is the authoritative word of God, and are unapologetic about reviewing data with a Christian worldview.
“All scientists have a philosophy that guides their interpretation of the evidence,” said Lisle. “Most secular scientists are not even aware what their philosophy is — they tend to inherit it like the measles, from whatever their professors taught them. But we find that when we interpret the data through biblical lenses, it fits very well and makes sense.”
Surprise! But I wonder what my own philosophy is that makes me set out to “prove” something. In fact, I’ve never really had any pet theories, and so, fortunately, I’ve been able simply to explore the genetics of speciation, trying to find out if it shows regularities, and, if so, why.
I’ve thought long and hard about what “philosophy” could skew my own research, and I’ll be damned if I can detect anything other than pure curiosity. Of course there’s always a desire to gain renown among your fellow researchers, but that’s ambition, not philosophy. And anybody who fakes results to get famous, or prop up their pet ideas, is playing a very dangerous game. We do tend to fall in love with our own theories, and may be reluctant to abandon them, but that’s careerism and not philosophy. And if your theory gets sufficiently shot full of holes that it becomes untenable, hanging onto it doesn’t help your reputation.
Maybe I’m being a curmudgeonly evolutionist, but I wish the paper had also shown a video refuting the ICR’s arguments, said a bit more about the massive evidence for evolution, and mentioned Overton’s decision. nd I wish the piece hadn’t closed with a bit of accomodationism:
Wetherington carefully notes he is not criticizing or ridiculing people of faith. In fact, he says the vast majority of believers in the world have no problem reconciling Scripture with science.
“If you do not believe the text is literally true, but rather that it is metaphorically true, then in fact there is no conflict,” Wetherington said. “If you believe God created a world hundreds of billions of years ago that led to the evolutionary transitions that we see from the pre-Cambrian era all the way to today, that is at least as magnificent a testimony to creation as any words in the Bible.”
Well, I’m not sure that the vast majority of believers in the world really “have no problem reconciling Scripture with science.” Even in America, 42% of us accept a creationist account of human origins, agreeing that our species was created within the last 10,000 years. Another 31% accept a form of “theistic evolution” in which the process was somehow guided by God. So even in the U.S., 73% of adults do indeed see a conflict between scripture and science (evolutionary theory, of course, does not accept any intervention by God). Only 19% of Americans accept a truly scientific view of human evolution, with God having no part in guiding the process.
Some other countries, like those in northern Europe, show less adherence to creationism, but the problem is large in Islamic countries (the bulk of Muslims, as far as I can see, accept an instantaneous creation of humans by Allah); and many large countries, like India, simply haven’t been surveyed. So I think Wetherington is on shaky ground when claiming that most of the world’s believers have no problem reconciling evolution and science. It’s certainly not true in the U.S.
As for Wetherington’s claim that this reconciliation has been effected by most believers seeing scripture as “metaphorically true,” he’s just blowing smoke out of his nether parts. As my book will show, the vast bulk of Americans don’t read scripture that way, nor do many Brits. And of course it’s anathema to read the Qur’an as “metaphor.”
Really, does Wetherington think that most Christians see the divinity of Jesus, and his Resurrection, as “metaphorically true”? Regardless of how marvelous evolution is, and how it has the advantage of being—contra scripture—true, Wetherington’s well-intentioned accommodationism doesn’t hold water. In the end he’s simply saying what he wants to be true about believers, not what is true about them. In that sense he resembles the ICR’s creationists.