by David C. Wise
Written February 1990
Originally posted in the Science & Religion Library on CompuServe
Many Gish stories have come out of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). This is but one of them. This particular story started in July 1982 and finally came to a head in February 1985. It is woven out of numerous threads, some of which were threaded through the pages of _Creation/Evolution Newsletter_ in 1984 and 1985. I will present these threads in as close to chronological order as I can. Not only does this story explain the origin of the popular cat-call of "Bullfrog!", but it also demonstrates once more Milne's statement that "Creationism is more fun than science!" As biochemical research accumulates libraries of data describing protein structures and amino-acid sequences from different organisms, researchers are repeatedly amazed at how similar the proteins of related organisms are and how the proteins become more dissimilar as the organisms compared are more distantly related. Even Michael Denton, who expressed opposition to the idea of macro-evolution in his book, _Evolution: A Theory in Crisis_, expressed amazement at how good the numbers are. In a recent article in _Discover_ magazine, Dr. Russell Doolittle tells how his early research in protein comparisons had sparked his interest in evolution. In a 1982 PBS program ("Creation vs Evolution: Battle in the Classroom", KPBS-TV, aired 7 July 1982), he told this story: Doolittle: "Ever since the time of Darwin the chimpanzee has been regarded as man's nearest living relative. Naturally it was then of interest to biochemists to see what chimpanzee proteins would look like. Now the first protein to be looked at in a chimpanzee, and compared with a human, was the hemoglobin molecule -- hemoglobin one of the blood proteins -- and in fact, there were no differences found in the chimpanzee molecule when 141 amino acids were looked at in the hemoglobin alpha chain. In contrast, if you looked at a rhesus monkey, there were four differences; or if you looked at a rabbit, you found the differences got up into the 20s. If you got up to a chicken you'd find 59 differences; and if you looked at a fish you'd find there were more than a hundred differences. Now this is exactly what you expect from the point of view of evolution." Narrator: "Three more proteins were analyzed." Doolittle: "Once again, no differences compared -- chimpanzee compared with human. It was astonishing. In fact a rumor began to sweep around biochemists, that maybe all the differences between chimpanzee and human were really going to turn out to be cultural. Well, in fact, one more protein was quickly looked at -- this was a large one -- 259 amino acids -- and a difference was found. Whew!" "Creation scientists" try to counter this body of biochemical evidence by claiming that certain protein comparisons actually show humans to be more closely related to vastly different organisms (e.g. bullfrogs, chickens, rattlesnakes) than to chimpanzees. A classic example comes from early writings of former biologist Gary Parker, formerly of the ICR: Creation: The Facts of Life, Creation-Life Publishers, 1980; also Homology, Embryology, and Vestigial Organs: Common Ancestor or Common Plan?, Institute for Creation Research). In them, he names a number of molecules that purportedly show humans to be more closely related to quite different organisms than to apes. Frank T. Awbrey and William M. Thwaites listed Parker's molecules in their article, "A Closer Look at Some Biochemical Data that 'Support' Creation" (_Creation/Evolution_ Issue VII, 1982, pp 14-17): Molecule Nearest Relative to Humans -------- -------------------------- Fetal Hemoglobin Horse Tear Enzymes Chicken Albumin Bullfrog Blood Antigen A Butterbean Cholesterol Level Gartersnake Milk Chemistry Donkey [NOTE: The current edition of Parker's Creation: The Facts of Life is a revised edition published in 1994. In that revised edition, this claim for all the molecules listed above has been removed, except for the chicken tear enzyme, lysozyme. That claim is described in more detail later in this article.] Then Drs. Awbrey and Thwaites examined the literature and Parker's references and found (quoting freely) that for: Fetal Hemoglobin -- Hemoglobin has four globin molecules, each arranged around a central iron atom and a porphyrin ring. Human fetal hemoglobin has two alpha globins and two gamma globins, each with 146 amino acids. Horses don't have gamma globins. Chimpanzees do, and it is identical to that of humans. So creationists conclude that a molecule that doesn't exist is more similar to a human molecule than is an identical chimpanzee molecule. Tear Enzymes -- The enzyme referred to here is lysozyme, which is found in human milk, tears, leukocytes, etc. Variants exist in tissues of other species, for example, in chicken egg whites. Chicken lysozyme differs from human lysozyme by 51 out of 130 amino acids. Chimpanzee lysozyme is identical to human lysozyme. Either creationists have ignored the literature or they apparently believe that 51 is less than zero. Albumin -- Human and chimpanzee albumin differ by six out of 580 amino acids. Human and bullfrog albumins differ so much that they don't cross-react in immunological tests. Blood Antigen A -- This is one of the molecules that determine blood types. They are called glycoproteins because they have sugars attached to a protein. Butterbeans contain a sugar configuration that is similar enough to the glycoprotein sugar that it can react with antibodies directed against the A blood type if the butterbean sugar is at a high concentration. Chimpanzees have blood antigens that are identical or nearly identical to those of humans. Having no blood, butterbeans obviously have no blood antigens. Cholesterol Level -- Cholesterol is a simple lipid (a wax) and its structure doesn't vary among species. Furthermore, its concentration can vary several hundredfold in an individual human depending upon diet and genetic background. Therefore, it is a useless molecule for determining genetic similarity. This datum isn't just wrong, it's nonexistent. Milk Chemistry -- No direct comparison of human and chimpanzee milk chemistry could be found. However, it was found that human milk proteins (whey and casein) are much more like macaque milk than donkey milk. Human and chimpanzee milk lysozymes are identical. Even this limited comparison disproves the creationist claim that the donkey is our nearest relative based on milk chemistry. The Bullfrog Affair itself starts with the KPBS production, "Creation vs Evolution: Battle in the Classroom", which aired 7 July 1982. After Dr. Doolittle related his story of the chimpanzee blood proteins (see above), Dr. Duane Gish responded: "If we look at certain proteins, yes man then, it can be assumed that man is more closely related to a chimpanzee than other things. But, on the other hand, if you look at certain proteins, you will find that man is more closely related to a bullfrog than he is to a chimpanzee. If you focus your attention on other proteins, you'll find that man is more closely related to a chicken than he is to a chimpanzee." This was immediately followed by Dr. Doolittle's response, "Oh bullfrog! I've heard that gibberish before, I have to tell you." This was the first recorded use of "Bullfrog" that I am aware of. Then Doolittle indicated a book full of amino acid sequences from thousands of proteins taken from many hundreds of species and offered Gish all his worldly belongings, a '63 VW and half a house, if Gish could find just one protein in chickens or bullfrogs that is more closely related to human proteins than chimpanzee proteins. Robert Schadewald, then Minnesota Committee of Correspondence liaison and presently editor of _NCSE Reports_ (formerly _Creation/Evolution Newsletter_) watched that show. Since Gish's claim sounded like nonsense, he checked it out with a few biochemists, who had never heard of such proteins. So Schadewald started a three-year-long quest for Gish's source. Doolittle responded to Schadewald's letter with extensive documentation for his statements about human and chimpanzee proteins. Requests for Gish to do likewise were met with evasion, obfuscation, and silence. Gish ignored Schadewald's first letter and answered the second letter with a reference for his claim: a JOKE he had overheard! At a conference in Austria, Berkeley geochronologist Garniss Curtis told of having heard an unconfirmed report of someone finding bullfrog blood proteins very similar to human blood proteins. Curtis predicted that those findings would never be confirmed (he was right) since the bullfrog sample had been taken from a rare enchanted prince (see text of Curtis' letter at the end of this file). Since a joke based on a secondhand report of unconfirmed research seemed rather weak, Schadewald wrote back asking for something more substantial. Gish did not reply. At the 1983 National Creation Conference, Schadewald confronted Gish in person and asked for his references. Gish insisted that the bullfrog and chicken proteins were real and promised to send documentation. He never delivered on that promise. In the Spring/Summer 1984 issue of _Origins Research_, a publication of the creationist organization, Students for Origins Research, Robert Schadewald and John Patterson wrote a joint letter relating the incident and suggesting that Gish had lied on national TV and that other creationists are well aware of Gish's many transgressions but are unwilling to expose him, engaging instead in a cover-up. They had sent Gish a copy of that letter six months prior so that he could prepare a response that would be published with the letter; he never responded. Instead, the letter was followed by a response from Dr. Jerry Bergman in which he denied that creationists engage in cover-ups and claimed that evolutionists are just as guilty and even more so of the transgressions that creationists are accused of. Schadewald and Patterson described Bergman's response as "a rambling, dissembling piece of obfuscation from the inevitable Jerry Bergman, whose 'reply' to us resolutely ignored our major point." Shortly afterwards, at the 1984 National Bible-Science Conference, Schadewald again confronted Gish. This time Gish responded by saying that because of that _Origins Research_ letter he was not responsible to provide any documentation (Schadewald had used "ungentlemanly language in print," i.e. the words "lie" and "charlatan"). When asked who is responsible for documenting those proteins, Gish said that it was up to Schadewald and Curtis (i.e. "You want to know the sources for my claims? YOU go look it up!"). Within the week, Schadewald and Patterson sent a letter to Gish's boss, Dr. Henry Morris, President of the ICR. In it, they brought Morris up-to-date on the affair, quoted Gish's statement on national television concerning the chicken and bullfrog proteins, told of Gish's repeated failure to produce his repeatedly promised documentation for them, and finally related his reversal and subsequent refusal to produce that documentation or to accept any responsibility for producing it. They concluded the letter: "We have long been conscious of the numerous substantial differences between creationism and science, but this is new to us. Scientists (and science writers) take full responsibility for their public statements. Gish apparently rejects this responsibility. Was he speaking for himself in this matter, or is this doctrine of nonresponsibility an official ICR policy? If so, we suggest that ICR speakers should level with the public and preface their presentations with the following disclaimer: 'I am not responsible for the truth or accuracy of any statements I make.'" As of press time, there had been no reply to this letter. In the meantime, other creationist watchers were getting into the act. Two of them reported their experiences in _Creation/Evolution Newsletter_ (Vol.4 No.5, Sept/Oct 1984, pp 14-17). Frank Arduini encountered a similar protein claim by Walter T. Brown Jr of the Chicago area; his Center for Scientific Creation used to be ICR Midwest Center. Arduini had had many dealings with Brown, whose response to Arduini's many requests for documentation was that he didn't need to supply evidence supporting his claims, rather it was responsibility of the evolutionists to disprove them. One of Brown's claims that Arduini was especially interested in was that the rattlesnake's closest biochemical relative is humans. However, Brown demanded $70 from Arduini to provide that documentation. Robert Kenney of Chicago fared somewhat better. In February 1984, he and his wife visited the ICR in El Cajon, Calif. When he asked Gish directly for documentation supporting his claims concerning fetal horse hemoglobin, Gish became noticeably disturbed (that Kenney had Awbrey & Thwaites' article in front of him throughout the conversation probably did not help Gish's disposition much). Finally, Gish said that he had no documentation, but rather that Kenney should see Gary Parker. Kenney's attempts to catch Parker during his scheduled offices hours on two separate days failed. Before Kenney left, Dr. Cummings promised to get the documentation for him. After nine months, it still had not arrived. Then in the Summer of 1984, Kenney wrote to Walter Brown about the fetal horse hemoglobin. Brown responded with a telephone call. Kenney tried to get Brown to confirm or deny the ICR's claims, or at least to pressure the ICR to produce some kind of documentation. Brown refused, but instead offered another claim: rattlesnake proteins. Brown claimed that on the basis of data from a 1978 study by Margaret Dayhoff, comparisons of cytochrome c show that the rattlesnake is more closely related to humans that to any other organism. When Kenney asked Brown to provide the name of the scientific journal and the page number in which Dayhoff had reached this conclusion, Brown stated that he couldn't. Dayhoff had never reached such a conclusion, but rather Brown's son had used Dayhoff's data to reach that conclusion for a science fair project. It was Brown's son who had concluded that rattlesnakes are more closely related to humans by cytochrome c than to any other organism. For fifteen dollars, Brown sent Kenney photocopies of his son's project (apparently, Brown's price depends on who you are). Kenney wrote: "In the project I quickly found that the rattlesnake and humans differed by only fourteen amino acids. Humans and rhesus monkeys differed by one amino acid. Later, Brown called me again and then explained that of the forty-seven organisms in the study, the one closest to the RATTLESNAKE was the human, not that the one closest to the human was the rattlesnake. You see, among the forty-seven there were no other snakes." (CEN Vol.4 No.5 Sep/Oct 84, pg 16) Most of the other organisms in the study were as distantly related to the rattlesnake as were humans; it is coincidence that human cytochrome c was just barely less different than the others. Obviously, this is just semantic sleight-of-hand which can serve no other purpose than to mislead and it is so blatant that Brown had to know what he was doing. Later after a debate, Kenney found Brown telling a small group about rattlesnakes being more closely related to humans than to any other organism. When Kenney started explaining to the group how misleading that was, Brown quickly changed the subject. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Minnesota Committee of Correspondence (Schadewald's CC) learned in late 1984, that a local student group, Christians at the U, had scheduled Gish to speak at the University of Minnesota. Since they had expressed hope of finding someone with credentials in science to debate Gish, the Minn CC met to consider the matter. Now the question of whether or not to debate creationists generates some debate in itself. Critics point out that these debates are a creationist invention that are run on the creationists' terms. Rather than an examination of the facts, these debates are really publicity stunts to advance creationism's political goals of winning support and gaining legitimacy in the eyes of the public. An opponent would be very hard pressed to counter all the distortions that the creationist would present. Finally, the time and energy needed to prepare for a debate would detract for more important scientific work. However, proponents of debating, like David Milne, point out that most of the reasons for not debating are moot since debates have already taken place; to stop debating now would imply that the creationists have won. Also, not having an opponent to debate would not stop the creationist from speaking unopposed; besides, he could make much of the fact that everybody refused to debate him. Creationism will not go away by itself and winning debates has proven effective in slowing it down in many communities. Besides, the public is entitled to feedback from the scientific community and actually learns something from the debates (Milne noted at his first debate that the audience was more attentive for three hours than any 50-minute college class he had taught). And with all the evidence supporting evolution, the scientist should have no excuse for losing the debate. Finally it was decided that while it would be good to avoid a debate, it would be better to put their own candidate up against Gish rather than let the creationists find an uninformed opponent for Gish to chew up. They chose science philosopher Phillip Kitcher, author of _Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism_. Kitcher immediately started preparing for the debate. The Minn CC also decided that the event needed proper publicity, so Schadewald wrote a guest editorial for the U of M student newspaper. Entitled "The Gospel of Creation: The Book of Misinformation," it appeared four days before the debate and was devoted primarily to Gish's claims of bullfrog and chicken proteins. Schadewald closed his editorial saying: "In the interests of truth in packaging, however, it is incumbent upon whoever introduces him to remind listeners that Gish is not necessarily responsible for the truth or accuracy of what he says." The editorial was accompanied by a cartoon of a creature with a chimpanzee head, chicken body and wings, and bullfrog legs and feet wearing Gishian eyeglasses. It focused attention on Gish's credibility and set the stage for the debate. On 18 Feb 1985, Gish came to the University of Minnesota to debate Philip Kitcher at noon and then that evening to speak to the local Creation-Science Association, Christians at the U, and the University Evangelical Coalition. Gish is formidable against an ill-prepared or inarticulate debate opponent; Kitcher was neither. Needless to say, Gish did not fare well at the debate. Gish spoke first, ostensibly for the affirmative, yet as usual he offered no creation model. Instead, his "affirmative" presentation consisted of his usual negative statements against evolution. On the other hand, Kitcher spoke both for evolution and against creationism. He countered Gish's denial of the existence of transitional forms by presenting those transitional forms, contrasted Flood Geology with conventional geology and demonstrated the former's inadequacies and absurdities, and talked about Gish's bullfrog and chicken proteins. Of course, Gish refused to defend Flood Geology (as he always does), launched into his usual description of the reptile-mammal transition requiring the jaw to unhinge and then much later hinge itself again so that the mammal-like reptiles couldn't "chew and hear at the same time" (which Kitcher countered by citing the many Jurassic mammals with "reptilian" jaws and the transitional forms with double jaw joints; this was obviously lost on Gish, but not on the audience), and ignored the references to his protein claims. Then at the end of the debate, things started to come to a head. From Schadewald's report of the debate: "In his final remarks, Kitcher demanded that Gish either produce references for the chicken and bullfrog proteins or admit that they do not exist. Gish ignored the challenge, which apparently disappointed many in the audience who had read my editorial, for Gish's final remarks were punctuated with sporadic cries of 'Bullfrog!'" NOTE: This then is the popular source of "Bullfrog!" Coupled with Dr. Doolittle's use of the exclamation on national TV in 1982, I think this answers yet another question of ultimate origins. That evening, Gish spoke to a much friendlier audience, except for the ten skeptics known to Schadewald. In the question period, Stan Weinberg noted that scientists sometimes make mistakes and when they do, they own up to it. He asked if Gish ever made any mistakes and, if so, then could the chicken and bullfrog proteins be such a mistake. Gish almost took the out offered to him, but not quite. He replied that he had made mistakes before and told of how another creationist (Kofahl) had mistranslated an article and so had misled him to claim that the chemicals used for defense by the bombardier beetle (AKA "Bomby") explode spontaneously when mixed together. He claimed to have corrected that mistake immediately (more on this below). As for the proteins, all he knew about the bullfrog proteins he got from Garniss Curtis, so if Curtis was wrong then he had misled Gish. Writes Schadewald: "It was magnanimous of him to imply that if he is wrong about something (be it beetles or bullfrogs) it is someone else's fault." However, Gish insisted that the chicken-protein claim was correct and went into a convoluted apologetic about lysozyme and another protein that nobody could follow (but boy was the audience impressed by it!). Afterwards, Gish promised emphatically to send Schadewald written details about this claim, in front of creationist witnesses, no less. Despite three written reminders, Gish has never honored that promise. The only ICR claim about lysozyme that Schadewald was familiar with had been Gary Parker's claim that chicken lysozyme is more similar to human lysozyme than is chimpanzee lysozyme. However, Awbrey and Thwaites have shown that this is not true, since human and chimpanzee lysozyme are identical and chicken lysozyme differs from both by 51 out of 130 amino acids. Their conclusion was that either Parker was totally ignorant of the facts or he thought that 51 is less than zero. I personally suspect that Gish may have been repeating Parker's claim about alpha-lactalbumin, a protein involved in the production of lactose in mammals which apparently had evolved from lysozyme: "By comparing lysozyme and lactalbumin, Dickerson was hoping to 'pin down with great precision' where human beings branched off the mammal line. The results are surprising. In this test, it turned out that humans are more closely related to the CHICKEN than to any living mammal tested!" (_What is Creation Science?_, Morris & Parker, Revised, 1987, pg 58) Here is what Dickerson had actually written: "A simple-minded application of the 'clocks' ideas of Chapter 3 [i.e. assuming constant rates of change for proteins to estimate when they had diverged] to these lysozymes and alpha-lactalbumin leads to an apparent contradiction. If alpha-lactalbumin evolved from a mammalian lysozyme during the course of the development of mammals, then it and human lysozyme should be more similar than either is to hen lysozyme. Conversely, the assumption that rates of change have been constant in all three proteins since divergence leads to the conclusion that the alpha-lactalbumins separated from the lysozymes long before the first appearance of terrestrial vertebrates. Where is the fallacy? "The fallacy, of course, is in the assumption of unchanging rates of accumulation of tolerable mutations. For one particular protein, performing much the same task in a wide spectrum of species, this may be a valid working hypothesis. But when circumstances arise in the environment such that a duplicated gene is being altered, the better to perform a NEW function, selection pressure is unusually severe and changes in sequence will be unusually rapid." (_The Structure and Action of Proteins_, Richard Dickerson and Irving Geis, 1969, page 78) So in comparing human alpha-lactalbumin and human lysozyme with chicken lysozyme, we can use Parker's reasoning to show that humans are more closely related to chickens than they are to humans! It's absurd little touches like this that makes creationism more fun than science! Dickerson clearly indicates that this was a simple-minded application of an idea that was meant to apply only for a protein whose function remained constant. The assumption that the rates at which all three proteins changed would remain constant is unwarranted and inconsistent with the ideas of evolution. Ironically, "creation scientists" traditionally attack any assumption of a constant rate, except of course for their own assumptions. And then there's Bomby. The bombardier beetle's defense mechanism involves shooting a hot mixture of hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone at its predators. The ICR claimed that those two chemicals exploded spontaneously when mixed together and so until Bomby could slowly and gradualistically evolve an enzyme to neutralize the explosion, its ancestors would have all blown themselves up; therefore Bomby could not have evolved. In 1978, Awbrey and Thwaites conducted a public experiment in which they demonstrated that the two chemicals do not explode. Gish, who had witnessed the experiment, publicly admitted that he was wrong. Nothing wrong with that, but then for the next few years, Gish continued to use this false claim with full knowledge of its falsehood and after having acknowledged that it was false. There's a good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon word for that and we all know what it is. Schadewald concludes: "Thus, I heartily agree with Gish that his treatment of the bombardier beetle speaks eloquently about his intellectual honesty. And his citation of the incident in this context nicely illustrates his legendary audacity." EPILOGUE: In the July/August 1986 issue of _Creation/Evolution Newsletter_ (Vol.6 No.4, page 21), Bill Meikle declared that issue to be the first annual BULLFROG issue. He wrote: "BULLFROG stands for Barbarians Uttering Loathsome Lying Falsehoods Reminiscent of Gish. This Back To College effort honors BaTraChians & all creatures needing a massive update in their knowledge of nature. The BULLFROG will grace many pages, which will contain articles exploring the consequences of BULLFROGging around the creationist scene. Reports on the Improvement Movement for science texts & teaching will also adorn the BULLFROG issue. If there is a groundswell of interest, C/E N will sell BULLFROG badges, stationery & bumper stickers. If not, they won't." Actually, I only saw the bullfrog on that one page (labelled "(MORE) ENTERTAINMENT") and I do not recall any further BULLFROG issues. As for what claims Gish continues to make about protein comparisons, we must listen for them wherever he speaks.
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First uploaded on 1997 July 02.
Updated on 2011 August 02.