Why I Oppose Creation Science
(or, How I got to Here from There)

by David C. Wise
Written February 1990
Originally posted in the Science & Religion Library on CompuServe

I wrote this essay over 25 years ago in order to explain in an on-line discussion on CompuServe how I had formed my opinion of "creation science" (CS).

The following text is slightly edited from its most recent transmission, mostly for the sake of later readers to clean up some possible ambiguities.

[NOTE: In your E-Mail message to me (18 Feb 1990), you said:
> You have stated that you have invain, for the last 10 years, found
> no proof that there is a Creator.(unless I miss understood you) The
> information that I have sent you dealt with the subject. [EGW]
You had indeed misunderstood what I had said. I got involved in CS in the first place to find out just what the CSists' evidence for creation was. Like the rest of the public, I had heard "creation scientists" claim repeatedly that they have scientific evidence supporting creation. I wanted to see what their "evidence" is.

All I have found so far has been anti-evolutionary claims based on distorted or misrepresented evidence and false and misleading arguments. If there truly is a creation model, then there must at least exist the evidence used to develop that model. So the apparently total lack of evidence FOR a creation model not only brings into question the validity of the "creation model," but its very existence as well.

In order to offer some testimony and explanation as to why I am so opposed creationism, I hereby write this essay.

In my late high school and early college days (1968 to 1973), I was very much exposed to fundamentalism and so have already been proselytized to repeatedly. I remain unconverted and disdainful of the proselytizing attempts I see, which include the attempts to Christianize our government in order to use it to spread the faith and to impose it on everybody.

Although I first heard about creation science from the fundamentalists associated with Calvary at Sunflower and Fairview (Chuck Smith's church in Costa Mesa, Calif -- later moved one block away to become a large complex on Fairview) and from Chick Publication's "Big Daddy," I didn't pay them much attention. What I remember are vague claims of there being scientific evidence for a young earth and Noah's Flood, of which I only heard two specific claims. First was the story of the living mussel carbon-dated to be thousands of years old. I was immediately skeptical of it, but did not have any other basis to reject it at the time. Since then, I finally found a reference to the scientific article that claim was based on and looked it up. The creationists had misrepresented that article, so I was correct to have rejected it.

Also, there was the infamous story of the NASA computer program that ran calculations of lunar positions back through time, only to stop abruptly at 4004 BC with the error message, "There was nothing before this date." Then when they restarted the program from there and ran it back to the present, they found a day to be missing. The only explanation for the missing day was the passage in Joshua (?), in which the sun was commanded to stand still. Even then, I knew that the story grossly contradicted the function and capabilities of computers and so was impossible. It surprised me when, in this age of increased computer literacy, the story resurfaced a couple years ago (ie, in the late 1980's, about a decade into the personal computer age, in the Sunday supplement magazine in our local newspaper).

My interest in creationism was renewed at the turn of the decade (c. 1980) by sporadic reports that would filter in to North Dakota (where I was stationed), by a presentation by Dr. Duane Gish at UND (which I could not attend -- the presentation, that is), and by an article in Science 81. Since creationists were obviously still around, I was curious to see if there was anything to their claims, i.e. what their evidence is. After nine years of looking, I have found their evidence to be non-existent (and even decades after that, still no evidence to be found).

I first saw creationists in action one night in 1982 on CBN. A Tennessean host would run various debates (I believe it was David Ankerberg {CORRECTION: John Ankerberg}). This particular night, a creationist was debating a scientist -- it was only later that I could put faces to names, but from what I remember of how they looked I think they were Drs. Henry Morris and Frank Awbrey. I remember that the scientist showed several slides of hominid fossils between the same chimpanzee and human bones for comparison, such as knee joints (to show evidence of developing bi-pedalism). Then he showed slides of a human pelvis and chimpanzee pelvis side-by-side. First from the side, then from the top, he pointed out two sets of characteristics that clearly distinguish the one from the other (i.e. whether viewed from the side or from the top, the pelvis could be positively identified as human or chimpanzee). Next he showed both the same views of a hominid pelvis. From one view it was definitely ape, from the other it was definitely human, thus demonstrating it to be a intermediate form. The creationist then proclaimed the hominid pelvis to be 100% ape and not the least bit human by completely ignoring the human characteristic (even when reminded of it repeatedly by his opponent) and concentrating solely on the view that displayed the ape characteristic. Of course, the host declared this to be a creationist victory and threw in the standard creationist gross misrepresentation of punctuated equilibrium for good [?] measure.

This event made a lasting impression on me. The creationist's steadfast ignoring of the blatantly obvious evidence that was repeatedly pointed out to him is a selective blindness that I have found to pervade much of the creationist literature. Now I've begun to suspect that this is but one of many manifestations of the Dark Side of the Farce.

Also in the summer of 1982, KPBS aired a documentary on creationism, "Creation vs Evolution: Battle in the Classroom" (7 July 1982). This was the same production in which Dr. Duane Gish claimed on national television that certain bullfrog and chicken proteins show them to be more closely related to humans than are chimpanzees [NOTE: see my page, The Bullfrog Affair]. Unfortunately, the cable company equipment carrying PBS on base cable chose that night to go out again, but it did come back on during the credits at the end so I was able to get the address for the transcript.

The show started with the case of Ray Baird, an elementary-school teacher in Livermore, Calif, who used ICR materials to teach creationism in the public school -- that is until the parents found out. One the parents' complaints was that the "public school" edition textbook repeatedly called upon the student to choose between evolution or the Creator (again, I recognize that from my repeated experience with fundamentalist proselytizing as a common tactic -- giving the victim an "either-or" situation and having him make the choice right then and there). This problem of creationist textbooks urging students to choose was also cited in the Arkansas case. One school child interviewed told of a kid he knows who took the message to heart and chose: he decided that creationism was so stupid that if Christianity required him to believe it then he wanted nothing to do with it -- he decided to become an atheist. This is yet another of many manifestations of the Dark Side of the Farce. [NOTE: more information on my page, LIVERMORE 1981: Creation Science in the Classroom - A Case Study]

Shortly after my discharge from the Air Force and subsequent return to Southern California, I acquired a copy of Philip Kitcher's book, Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism, from which I learned several of the claims of "creation science" and their inherent problems. Then I read Godfrey's excellent anthology Scientists Confront Creationism and Futuyma's Science on Trial, which concentrates on explaining evolution, only addressing creationist claims in the final chapter, and presents some of the evidence for evolution.

Then on the radio in the summer of 1984, I heard a speech by Fred Edwords, then editor of the journal, Creation/Evolution (C/E), in which I first learned the phrase, "Creationism is more fun than science!" I had not heard of the Committees of Correspondence (CC) before nor of C/E, so I got their address and started subscribing to both Creation/Evolution and Creation/Evolution Newsletter (now NCSE Reports). Then as soon as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) opened its membership to the public, I joined.

My first chance to start discussing all that I was learning came in Spring 1985, after I had been puzzling over the matter of Gish and the bombardier beetle. Gish claimed that the chemicals that the beetle uses in its defense explode spontaneously when mixed together (and since each generation of beetle would have blown itself up before an inhibitor enzyme could have evolved, then the bombardier beetle could not have evolved). When Awbrey and Thwaites demonstrated to Gish in public that the mixture does NOT explode spontaneously, Gish publically admitted that he was mistaken having been misled by his sources. All well and good, but then he continued to use the very same false claim for at least the next three years with full knowledge that it was false. My question was whether fundamentalist doctrine condoned lying if it would further the Faith ("lying for the Lord", if you would).

At that time we had some tech writers under contract at Ford Aerospace. When one of them, Charles, revealed himself to be a fundamentalist (of Chuck Smith's church, no less), I asked him my question. He answered to the negative and then asked me why I had that question. I told him about Gish and "Bomby", which troubled him since Gish was his "hero." We had a number of discussions and, even though he identified himself as having earned a BS in biology and having had "evolution crammed down [his] throat for years," he expressed a number of bizarre ideas about evolution, such as birds evolving wings separate from the forelimbs, so that an intermediate form would have to possess both forelimbs and wings at the same time (whereas the conventional view is that wings are modified forelimbs).

These discussions, which we had to keep to a minimum since we were at work, started me wondering about what I have recently taken to calling the "Dark Side of the Farce." Most arguments that he presented I countered and showed where and why they were wrong (of course, some I hadn't heard of yet). At one time, after I presented a number of incidents which not only questioned the quality of the ICR's science, but the honesty and integrity of its leadership as well, Charles denounced evolutionists as a pack of liars, but would not cite any specifics. It was obviously an emotional outburst, but I was unprepared to seek out its cause. Since then, I have come to understand that followers of "creation science" are led to believe that their faith depends on the truth of "creation science", or at least on the defeat of evolution. I have tried to examine the question further and have tried to engage others in discussion about it, but nobody, especially creationists, wants to talk about it.

All that I was learning came in handy, because on 28 September 1985, both Henry Morris and Duane Gish came to Long Beach to debate Frank Awbrey and William Thwaites (frequent contributors to C/E who together taught a Two-Model class at San Diego State University in which half the lectures were given by the ICR -- it was in this class that Gish's false claims about the bombardier beetle were exposed). In all, it went almost exactly as I had come to expect from the debates reported in Creation/Evolution Newsletter.

I told Charles about it and he joined me there. As we cruised the book tables that the ICR had set up, there was a children's book from the ICR devoted entirely to Bomby and which perpetuated the false claims that Gish had publically denounced SIX YEARS PRIOR! I don't think that Charles had wanted to see that one, but I pointed it out to him anyway and we thumbed through it. Actually, it seemed that most of the books for sale were about Bomby.

The order of speakers was Morris, Thwaites, Gish, then Awbrey. Then rebuttals were given in the same order. Fred Edwords had said that one thing that the ICR absolutely refuses to do, and he knew of no exceptions, was to present or discuss the "creation model." Sure enough, Morris quoted a number of "leading scientists" to the effect that there were only two possible models for "origins" and then proceeded to attack the "evolution model" without ever presenting the "creation model," after which he, of course, claimed to have "proven" the "creation model" -- without ever presenting it nor any evidence FOR it. The glaring lack of any presentation for the creation model proved very disturbing for Charles, who could not understand why they did not present any evidence FOR creation.

Later, in response to a letter I had written to him asking directly what the creation model is and what the evidence FOR that model is, Dr. Morris wrote:

"The evolution model, in general terms, is not just Darwinism, but any naturalistic concept of origins (including most of the world's religions, ancient and modern). The creation model, in general terms, is not just the Biblical record, but any cosmogony which postulates a transcendent personal Creator to account for the universe and its basic components. Evolution says one CAN explain the origin and development of all things in terms of continuing, natural processes. Creation says one CANNOT so explain them."

Now I could understand and even support a dichotomy between naturalistic and supernaturalistic concepts and that is what the last two sentences express. Not only that, but they express the creationist strategy in very concise terms: show that "the origin and development of all things" cannot be explained naturalistically but rather requires supernaturalistic explanations. They implement this strategy in large part by criticizing our inability to provide all the answers in naturalistic terms. Of course, this is not due to a lack of natural processes to do the job, but rather to our lack of knowledge and understanding of those processes; our inability to "explain the origin and development of all things in terms of continuing, natural processes" stems from our lack of omniscience.

But then Morris confuses the issue and corrupts this dichotomy by lumping most of the SUPERNATURALISTIC "concept[s] of origins" in with the NATURALISTIC. And even though he gave lip service to non-Biblical concepts that could be included into the "creation model," their literature makes it quite clear that the basis for the "creation model" is Genesis and that the criteria for the inclusion of a non-Biblical idea into the "creation model" is its agreement (or at least its lack of conflict) with the Bible. Since any "concept of origins" that is not part of the "creation model" must be put into the "evolution model," including the vast majority of the creation myths, the "evolution model" turns out to be an enormous mishmash of unrelated and conflicting ideas, extremely few of which have anything to do with evolution and whose membership in the "evolution model" is determined strictly by the criteria set by the "creation model." Any attempt to "prove" the "creation model" by "disproving" the "evolution model" must depend on disproving every single element of that "evolution model," since it is largely self-contradictory as it stands (i.e. as the creationists have created it). Clearly, this is an intractable problem. The only viable option open for creationists to prove creation would be to present the creation model and the evidence FOR that model. Creationists have not done this (much to Charles' chagrin) and resist all efforts to get them to do it. Evidently, neither an actual creation model exists nor any evidence FOR such a model, but I have already discussed this problem elsewhere.

Morris ended the letter by encouraging me "to read some of [their books] with an open mind AND HEART" (original emphasis). Having received most of my Christian training from fundamentalists, I was very familiar with their proselytizing tactics (too familiar, since I was myself a frequent target), so that phrasing did not escape my notice. Although I had heard reports of their attempts to proselytize through creationism (you were yourself a victim of it), this was the first time that I had actually seen it being done. It hasn't been the last.

Back to the debate:

Next, Thwaites presented a number of creationist claims and refuted them. Among them was Gary Parker's claim that a number of protein comparisons show very dissimilar organisms to be more closely related to humans than the chimpanzee is (this claim is blatantly false, as is reported in my file, BULLFR.OG -- [NOTE: that was on CompuServe; now it's reposted as my page, The Bullfrog Affair]). He also gave a very brief account of Gish's bullfrog-protein claim (the subject of BULLFR.OG) and the fact that the only source that Gish had ever offered for his claim was a joke he had been told. These protein claims were very much a part of the ICR's teachings, yet in the ICR's newsletter, Acts & Facts, the reviewer of this debate expressed abject ignorance of these claims as if he had never heard of them before.

There was nothing about Gish's presentation that makes it stand out in my memory, except maybe his tired old joke of displaying a slide of an infant orangutan and apologizing that a picture of his grandchild had somehow slipped into the slide tray. He also talked about basic created kinds. I have heard that he gives the same presentation all the time, come hell or high water, with few variations (e.g. he has recently added a challenge for his opponent to explain the metamorphosis of a butterfly).

Finally, Awbrey presented some of the evidence for evolution, including transitional fossil sequences, and discussed problems with Flood Geology.

It was in the rebuttals that I struck pay-dirt. In response to the criticism that creationists quote out-dated sources and ignore new findings, Morris told of a recent NASA document, written "well into the space age," which shows that if the moon were really as old as we think (about 4.5 billion years), then there should have been much more meteoric dust on it than we had actually found.

I later wrote to the ICR asking about this claim and, since I also had a few questions more specifically for Gish (about his appearance on an L.A. radio show with Fred Edwords the week of the latter's speech), he answered my letter with a copy of a letter written by the originator of the NASA-document claim, Harold Slusher, in which he cited and quoted from his source, the "1976" NASA document Meteor Orbits and Dust (NASA SP-135, Smithsonian Contributions to Astrophysics "Vol. II"), and used it to support his calculations of the annual influx of meteoric dust onto the earth (214 million tons). After rescaling his figures for the moon, he concluded that a 4.5-billion-year-old moon would have to be covered by a layer of dust 284 feet thick.

While browsing through the NASA documents in the university library, I spotted Meteor Orbits and Dust, pulled it off the shelf, and immediately saw that it was dated 1965! Slusher had misrepresented the date by 11 years! It was also Volume 11 (eleven), not two (Roman numeral II) as claimed. Upon examination of the referenced text within the document, I found that his single direct quote was a gross misquotation (on the basis of which he had included one factor), that he had badly misused the basic mathematical procedures for handling that included factor, and that he had included another factor which his referenced text clearly stated did not apply. In all, he had inflated his figures for the earth by a factor of one million (which when corrected yields an infall of a measly 214 tons -- far too little) and for the moon by a factor of 10,000 (which when corrected yields a layer of dust 1/3 inch thick -- far thinner than we found).

I wrote to Slusher about my findings, but never received any response (in five years). I later learned that Slusher never answers his mail, at least mail that questions his findings or methods. I then wrote back to Gish to warn him of the dangers of using Slusher's claim; I sent him photocopies of my letter to Slusher and the pertinent pages from the NASA document. Gish responded that the document was indeed dated 1976 and that I should wait to hear from Slusher first (fat chance of that! -- have you heard of any frost warnings in Hades?). I answered right back with more photocopies of the document and a direct request that, since I had submitted my evidence for the document's date to him, Gish should respond in kind with photocopied evidence for his claimed date of the document. That letter and the three that followed were all completely ignored by Gish.

Another researcher, Thomas Wheeler, reported having made the same discovery while following up on a footnote in Morris' Scientific Creationism (2nd ed., page 152) which cited the very same "1976" NASA document (Creation/Evolution Newsletter, 7:4, Jul/Aug 87, pp 14-15). When his partner, Frank Lovell, searched the literature, he found the same document as I did dated 1967 (the actual date of publication). When Wheeler wrote to Morris with their findings and asked if Morris could be in error, Morris said that was possible and that he would try to obtain a copy of his source and notify Wheeler of the results (no mention was made of whether Morris had done so).

Morris had included a copy of the calculations (apparently taken from the Slusher letter sent to me by Gish), so Wheeler took them to an astronomer for verification. The astronomer also found Slusher's calculations to be erroneous and greatly inflated through the inclusion of extraneous factors that clearly do not apply.

Wheeler wrote back to Morris with these findings and asked him whether he had an active astronomer verify that the calculations had been performed correctly and produced reliable results. Morris wrote back that he had not followed up on the reference and that he would correct the error in future editions. Then he went off on a tangent with a variety of young-earth claims (similar to what Gish had done to me). Another letter from Wheeler to Morris on the same subject was never answered.

What I would really like to find out is if Gish, Morris, and the ICR continues to use this NASA-document claim; I have encountered other creationist writers who continue to cite it. Gish knows that there's a problem with it at least from my correspondence with him, even though he denied it in writing. Morris also knows that there's a problem with it and has admitted it. Any letters that I write to them on the subject are ignored, so I need somebody else to innocently enquire about the NASA-document claim (preferably directly to either Gish or Morris) and we can see what their response is. Also, does Bird make use of it?

If they are trying to be honest, then they should have abandoned this claim or changed it to reflect, at the very least, the correct date. But if they are not interested in its veracity but rather only want to use this claim to influence public opinion, then they should still be hawking it the same as when I got my copy. Unfortunately, my experience with and knowledge of the ICR lead me to expect the latter situation. But we still need a volunteer to write to the ICR.

[NOTE: I reported on my research in this claim on MOONDUST, which includes PDFs of original documents]

The rest of my history is fairly inconsequential. I have continued to receive and to read Creation/Evolution and NCSE Reports (formerly Creation/Evolution Newsletter) as well as Acts & Facts. I have acquired and read more books, including Strahler's Science and Earth History, Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker, Morris' Scientific Creationism, Morris & Parker's What is Creation Science?, and Menninga, Van Till, & Young's Science Held Hostage.

One project that I took on immediately after reading The Blind Watchmaker was suggested by his Chapter 3. In it, Dawkins described two different models for selection of randomly generated order: single-step selection and cumulative selection. As an example, he tried to use both to randomly generate a single line from Shakespeare, "Methinks it is like a weasel" (Hamlet). My own experiment used the alphabet in alphabetical order.

In single-step selection, the entire final product is generated at one time and must match the target order to succeed. If it fails, then the next trial must start all over again from scratch. The probability for single-step selection to succeed is very small: my own example's probability is of the order 10-36 and would take about 1028 years of independent trials on a supercomputer in order to have even odds of succeeding. This is the usual method of selection used by creationists to model evolution even though it obviously has nothing to do with evolution.

In cumulative selection, when the initial randomly assembled trial fails, multiples copies are made of it which are very similar to, yet slightly different from, the original. Then the copy that comes closest to the target is selected and used to generate the next "generation" of copies. And so on. This method obviously better models living populations and natural selection. The probability of success is astoundingly better; instead of taking millions of billions of years, it succeeds in less than half a minute -- consistently, repeatedly, without fail.

Since this seemed too good to be true, I undertook a study of the problem which calculated the actual probabilities. In one case, the probability of success within 80 generations is over 99.99%; in other cases, the probabilities of success within 100 generations are still relatively high. Obviously, the repeated creationist description of evolution being change through pure random chance is simply not true and very misleading; natural selection is very deterministic and not at all random.

Instead, I found a quantitative reason behind the statement that natural selection can make the improbable inevitable.
[NOTE: my program, originally in Pascal and recently updated to C, and my probability calculations can be found on my page, MONKEY]

And I have been spreading what I have learned. For years now, I have written letters to the local newspaper (somewhat curtailed in the past year due to time constraints) debunking creationist claims. In one particular case, a local creationist quoted an article by George Wald as saying that science has long since disproven spontaneous generation but we still choose to believe in it since we do not wish to believe in the only alternative, God. It took me a month to obtain a copy of that article, but when I finally did, that quote was nowhere to be found. My rebuttal exposing this created quote was printed within three days instead of the usual one to two weeks. Unfortunately now, the editorial policy seems to favor the sensationalism of the creationist claims rather being concerned about their inaccuracies.

Of course, I have been active in the Religion Forum. I joined a couple years ago with the purpose of discussing "creation science," but could not find anybody at first. Most of the members had long since soured on the ICR, which has been the main focus of my research, and newcomers espousing the ICR's teachings do not last long. It has only been within the past year that "creation science" activity has increased in the forum.

Finally, I have made initial contact with a local "Creation Science Association" and intend to attend their next meeting, where Bolton Davidheiser will speak (I need to ask him for the source of one of his claims).

So basically, this is where I am and how I got here. Perhaps now you can begin to understand why I cannot accept anything a creationist says at face value and why I insist on having every single claim verified.

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First uploaded on 1997 June 26.
Last updated on 2017 September 11.
-- to clarify some possibly ambiguous wording