Action & Reaction - April 1999

Re: Is Evolution Scientific?

We received the following e-mail at our web site. We responded by interspersing comments in the original letter.

Dear Mr. Pogge,

I have been surfing creationist web sites on and off for several years now, and I have generally been quite impressed by yours. The quality of the writing is very good, and it seems to be mostly original rather than a parrotting of ICR tracts as is often the case.

Dear John,

Thank you very much. We do try to be original. There isn't much point for us to repeat what ICR has already expressed to a much larger audience.

It is however the last newsletter which finally prompted me to write to you. I realize that so-called "scientific" creationism is inherently dishonest by its very nature, and that creationists are by no means bound to the same ethical standards as scientists, but I found your latest article to be unusually sleazy even by creationist standards.

We disagree with the premise of your personal attack on scientific creationists. We find creation scientists no less (and no more) honest than scientists in general. All scientists are human, and sometimes make mistakes. A mistake is not necessarily a sign of dishonesty.

We are surprised at your use of the word "sleazy" to describe our last newsletter.

You are, of course, entitled to your opinions.

You present a definition of evolution as being that of the Supreme Court, when in fact they were only quoting that of the Arkansas law. The Court goes on to describe that definition as "simply a hodgepodge of limited assertions, many of which are factually inaccurate."

We said, "The court used the following (flawed and biased) definition of true science." Then we quoted the definition that we got from an evolutionist's web site. We trusted that the evolutionist had correctly quoted the court's definition. We hope we did not err by assuming the evolutionist in question was honest and accurate.

We did not say that the court made the definition up. We didn't try to imply that either. We will accept your statement that the court was using the definition previously established by Arkansas law. We don't find it terribly relevant who actually came up with the definition, as long as it was the definition the court used.

We agree that it is a pretty bad definition of science. But it is our understanding that it was the definition the court actually used to decide that creation science was not scientific. If the court did not use this definition, then what definition did the court use?

Remember, the point of our article was that both creation and evolution should be held to the same standard. If one theory of origins can be excluded because it does not satisfy a bad definition of science, then the other theory of origins should be excluded too, if it does not satisfy that same bad definition. It would be unfair (even dishonest) to hold one origin theory to any definition and not hold the other one to the same definition.

Of course a creationist definition of evolution isn't scientific, since it's a strawman argument which is deliberately intended not to be.

The definition of evolution we used is not one that came from ICR or any other creationist organization. It is the definition that we honestly believe the court used. If we are mistaken in this belief, please send us the reference that tells the definition actually used by the court.

It is quite true that there are many definitions of evolution. Some of them are as simple as, "Evolution is change over time." That doesn't have anything to do with the origin of life. We believe that the definition of evolution quoted in our March newsletter is an excellent summary of the theory of evolution as taught in U.S. public schools. (Our newsletter is sent mostly to residents of Ridgecrest, California, so that is our primary audience. We realize, however, that the web page is accessible world-wide, and that might cause some misunderstanding for international readers like you.)

You then follow that up with an uncharacteristically high number of bald-faced lies. Was this just a bad month, or does it represent a shift in editorial policy?

We don't believe that lying is an effective way to win an argument, especially when the truth is on our side. As far as we know, all the statements we made are true. Specifically, what statements did we make that you feel are untrue?

I've noticed that out-of-context and/or misleading quoting is very common in the creationist literature. It occurs to me that many creationists may actually be trained to believe that this is a valid form of argument. When you think about it, many Sunday-morning sermons are actually supported by fragments of biblical text taken out of context from different books. It may be that rather than consciously trying to mislead people, creationists are simply repeating the style of argument they have grown up with, never having been exposed to scientific discourse. As someone who seems to be well-grounded in both types of environment, I'd be interested to know what you think about it.

I did not grow up in a Christian home, so I didn't hear many sermons when I was growing up. I got my electrical engineering degree before I became a Christian. In my adult life, however, I have heard sermons where the preacher took passages out of context and tried to "wrest the scriptures" to prove a point that is not Biblical. I know it happens in sermons. I also know it happens in scientific debates over non-theological subjects. (Cold fusion and global warming come immediately to mind.)

As I said before, people are human and make mistakes. Some people are dishonest and tell lies. I am not very good at distinguishing the self-deceived from the intentional deceivers. (As a Canadian, you probably know that in French, the expression for "I made a mistake" is, "Je me trompe"-- "I deceive myself.")

To a certain extent, it is necessary to take quotes out of context. One can't quote the whole Bible every time someone asks a question about a theological issue. One can only quote the relevant passage. There is a certain amount of skill required to select a few short passages that most accurately summarize the Biblical concept. Some ministers have more skill doing this than others. The less skillful ones unintentionally present an erroneous picture. This is an unfortunate human limitation.

Some ministers read the Bible looking for passages that support their own private, non-Biblical beliefs, and quote them. They do this to their own harm. Some scientists do the same thing, with the same results.

We could argue that most evolutionists avoid the real issues and attack character and credentials. We could say they tend to make vague, unsubstantiated charges. For example, our favorite critic says things like, "Duane Gish takes his quotes out of context." When asked to give a specific example, he responds, "Oh, come on! He does it all the time."

We COULD argue that most evolutionists make personal attacks, but we don't. The pursuit of that argument prevents discussion about whether or not the spontaneous generation of life has ever been observed in the laboratory, or what mechanism produces information from chaos, or how entirely new body plans arise.

It is important not to get sidetracked on the issue of Gish's character, or the characters of those people who attack him. Our point is that making personal attacks is not helpful in finding out what the truth really is. Nor is it helpful to ponder why evolutionists tend to make personal attacks. It isn't even useful to try to establish that evolutionists frequently make personal attacks.

Similarly, it isn't helpful to argue about how creationists came to be so dishonest. Are they born that way, or did they learn it in church? (Assuming, of course, that you actually give the hand-out to the person begging that question.) It isn't even useful to argue about whether or not creationists are dishonest or not.

So, let's not get sidetracked into arguments about how either side argues. It isn't productive.

What IS productive is to discuss whether or not there is a naturalistic process that caused the universe to emerge from disordered matter. It is productive to ask what natural process causes life to emerge from non-life. It is productive to debate whether or not mutation and natural selection are sufficient to bring about the development of the present living kinds from simple earlier kinds. It is productive to devote some time to a critical examination of the alleged evidence that man emerged from a common ancestor with apes. It is productive to discuss whether or not earth's geology is correctly explained by uniformitarianism; methods for determining the age of the Earth; and ways to determine how long life has existed on Earth.

If you think we have made factual errors when discussing these scientific issues, we would like to know specifically what you think those errors are.

Then we can search for the truth together.

Sincerely,

John.

Sincerely,

R. David Pogge

John replied to this letter.

Click here to see the rest of the correspondence on this subject.

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