Editor's note: The January EXPLORER article on creationism and teaching trends in the United States struck a large chord with our readers, as evidenced by the many lengthy letters (see March and April EXPLORERs).
Here are some more of those thoughts.
Two letters to the EXPLORER (March) misinterpret my views concerning debates with creationists.
The journals "Skeptical," "Inquirer" and "Evolution versus Creationists" warn evolutionists from attending debates organized by creationists. Such organizers setup conditions to assure their winning of these debates, which include packing the auditorium with biblical literalists and fundamentalists who boo these supporting evolution and brand them satanists and atheists, such as I have experienced. The truth is not in them.
Probably I have written more letters to the Tulsa newspapers defending evolution from attacks by anti-evolutionists than any other geologist. Often I have been disappointed at the weak response from my fellow geologists.
We need better presentation in the media, because creationists, astrologers and physic charlatans are contributing much erroneous information leading to the dumbing of America. Some of their success in Kansas, Oklahoma and a few other states have been curtailing evolutionary concepts in academic textbooks and promoting the false science of creationism.
One of my projects has been contributing the journal "Evolutionary Anthropology" to the Tulsa Central Library.
Frankly, I am delighted that the EXPLORER has taken a strong stand in support of evolutionary concepts for which I have been involved for more than 60 years.
Allan P. Bennison
Grass Valley, Calif.
Buy A Ticket
I was amazed by the number of letters in the March EXPLORER, responding to your initial article on the teaching of evolution in Kansas public schools. But I really should not have been surprised. The issue has waxed and waned since at least the Scopes "Monkey Trial."
I give many talks on geology and paleontology to elementary and high school students. Lately, many of them have begun to challenge my presentations, mostly where they differ from the biblical account of Genesis. These students spout the worst form of pseudo-science (in the form of "creation" science) to disprove an ancient Earth, and that there is no evidence for evolution.
I tell these students up front that I personally believe it is a non-issue. Science and theology are not in conflict. The concept of "deep time" (an ancient universe) should have no impact on the religious faithful. The concept of evolution of life likewise should not make the faithful uncomfortable. The seeking of scientific explanations for physical phenomena does not require abandonment of one's faith.
When I first began to take geology courses, I felt that I had to abandon my religious beliefs because they conflicted with the literal text of Genesis. I now realize that was a result of my own ignorance and lack of depth of knowledge and faith.
I recall the April 1999 EXPLORER article about the flooding of the Black Sea. Walter Pitman and William Ryan wrote a book describing their discoveries. It's unfortunate title, Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Evidence, probably will be taken out of context. Theologians will use the title to show that scientists have "proven" a universal flood. In fact, the authors document a flooding of the Black Sea basin about 7,500 years ago. They hypothesize that this flood could have inspired the myth of a universal flood that was incorporated into the Bible.
If there was not a universal flood, why do so many cultures have a creation myth that includes a flood? My guess is that early peoples were observant -- they had to be to discover and effectively exploit resources in their often hostile environments. Perhaps they discovered sedimentary rock with shellfish fossils many miles and perhaps thousands of feet above the nearest large body of water.
A flood is a logical conclusion from the physical evidence.
What was most surprising to me in many of the Forum letters was their attempt to marry science to religion (i.e., Bill Marshall: the "… Big Bang follows the book of Genesis to the letter."). There is an unspannable gulf between the two. I do not believe that science will ever resolve "what came before" the Big Bang. Perhaps that is the realm for the faithful, as Bill Marshall suggests. Certainly, scientists have been able to develop a rational explanation for what has occurred since the Big Bang.
Modern science attempts to answer questions regarding the physical universe with observation, hypothesis and experimentation. Scientific theories are developed, tested, revised and perhaps discarded when the theories don't fit the data. Science and religion do not conflict because they do not intersect. One can no more "prove" many of the narratives in the Bible than may biblical text "prove" scientific events. It is only theologians who are concerned with how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Religious beliefs cannot be tested. Some may believe it blasphemous to even suggest their revision. Read the book Galileo's Daughter, and you will see how scientific discoveries were quashed during the Inquisition. It is for this reason that I respectfully disagree with the letters of Robert Burkett, Bill Marshall and Carl Hulick. I believe they encourage a modern form of the Inquisition.
I am appalled by Robert Hefner IV, who stated that he "… didn't need evolution…" to help him discover oil or gas. I don't' imagine his faith has had an impact, either. Even if he is exploiting a developed field, he must be extrapolating or interpolating available data from existing wells or studies.
Certainly, whole staffs of micropaleontologists would be out of work if companies didn't believe examination of the successions of microfossils offered some benefit.
Further, Mr. Hefner cites the "…anthropic principal (sic), which states that the physical structure of the universe is exactly what it must be to support life." To me, it shows how narrowly he views "life." A different structure would result in a different universe, and different forms of life. If the size of subatomic particles was different, that does not mean there would be no "creation," just a different form.
Some people believe that it is critical that ice has a lower specific gravity than water. During the winter, ice develops on the surface of lakes and rivers, and thus protects aquatic life below from extreme cold. What would have happened if ice was like most solid materials, with a greater specific gravity than water?
Perhaps life "as we know it" couldn't survive such an environment. That doesn't mean there would be no life.
I believe that AAPG is correct in raising this issue and encouraging science education. But I do not believe that education should serve as a foil or alternative to religion. We have to teach science and geology as a logical progression of understanding, from the observational to the experimental.
The relative scale of geologic time was developed through observation of sequences of strata and fossil remains. We extrapolate relative ages across continents by comparing fossils. It wasn't until the 20th century that geochronologists were able to assign absolute ages to mineral grains in rocks.
My concern is that new generations of science-illiterate youth will not have the tools to succeed in the current world. They will believe that, since faith can "move mountains," their faith alone will provide them with the natural resources they require.
I am reminded of the story of the man who prayed to win his state's lottery. For years, he prayed, yet didn't win. After lamenting his failures in his latest prayer, a voice comes down from above and says: "Buy a ticket."
If the Lord truly helps those who help themselves, a basic knowledge of the sciences and scientific method is essential. That is the conundrum facing scientists today.
A current example of pseudo-science is global warming. Empirically, we can see that the modern industrial world is releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gases. The logical conclusion is that rising global temperatures are caused by man. It is only when one questions the empirical and undertakes investigations of past climates and temperatures that we see the current increase in global temperatures is within the range of the recent geologic past. We cannot separate the human-caused from natural variation.
Let's keep science in the classroom, and religion in the home, church, synagogue, mosque, temple…
Jay R. Spielman
Where Conflicts Arise
The evolution creation controversy is being perpetuated by misconception on both sides of the dialogue. Unfortunately, neither side appears to be open to a truth-searching discussion of the controversy.
There are certain basic fundamental arguments for both the evolutionist and the creationist.
It is an accepted truth that the concept of organic evolution of pre-historic life (both micro and macro organisms -- these terms are new coinage, which I believe are redundant and useless) is found in the fossil records of life that has been entombed in the sedimentary rock column. These rocks span much of geologic time.
A tenet of the evolutionist is that all life forms have evolved from the first one-celled life through successive evolutionary changes to present day life, including mankind; i.e. man has evolved from a lower form of preceding life.
This tenet is absolutely refuted by the creationists, who hold to the concept that the earth and all therein were created by a Supreme Being. They hold that this concept is based upon biblical truths. The evolutionists do not accept this concept because it is not scientific.
The fallacy of the evolutionary concept is that the fossil record does not support a continuous evolutionary sequence for all life. There are major gaps in the fossil sequence. There are no fossil evidence of evolution between Kingdoms, Phyla or Classes of pre-historic life, as well as modern life. A fundamental law of biology is "like begets like." That is true today and the fossil record conveys this as being true in pre-historic life.
The evolutionist proposes to bridge these fossil gaps by assumptions. This is a fallacy and is not acceptable in science -- assumptions can not be equated as being factual.
Another fallacy in the evolutionary dogma has to do with the origin of first life. There is no factual evidence of any kind that records how first life began. Life cannot be put in a chemical formula or in a mathematical equation, thus there is no scientific evidence for the beginning of life.
The creationist's answer for the origin of life is that it was created by a Supreme Being, as was the creation of the earth and all outer space. Science cannot prove or disprove the creationist concept. This concept is accepted as being a biblical truth.
A fallacy of strict creationism is that all life forms were created as modern forms, and that mankind and all earth changes data back about 6,000 years. All of the earth changes that the earth has experienced were catastrophic and have occurred within the 6,000 year span.
The vast scientific data refutes this creationism fallacy. There is unrefutable scientific data to support the age of the earth as being in the realm of four - five billion years, and possible fossil evidence for pre-historic life is in the realm of 500 million years.
There is factual evidence that earth changes have occurred over vast spans of time (geologic time) and once a first life form made its appearance in the rocks, it underwent evolutionary changes within that group -- not between groups.
In view of the scientific data we cannot date historic time by periods of day and night, nor the history of mankind by genealogy. We must be guided by established scientific truths.
There is circumstantial evidence that mankind may have inhabited this earth for thousands (perhaps millions) of man years, but no factual proof that man evolved from a lower form of life. Man did not evolve from a "monkey."
Once first forms of life were created by a Supreme Being, then evolutionary changes in them occurred in response to their environment, and continued until their extinction.
The evolutionist must accept a "special creation" for the earth and all therein; and the creationist must accept geological time and the evolution that first life forms have undergone. The proof is in the fossil record.
In this framework, the controversy can be resolved, and both concepts should be presented to the student in the classroom. Creationism as presented herein does not violate the Constitution.
In conclusion, Genesis 1:1 is acceptable as an infallible biblical truth. The how, when and why cannot be proven by science, nor can it be refuted by science. Creationism does not purport to be science, and should not be discredited because it is not scientific.
A Supreme Being of infinite knowledge did not create any mistakes. Any conflicts are in man's ignorance.
Regarding the article on creationism: The comments of Allan Bennison in the January EXPLORER were depressing. We don't need "nattering nabobs of negativism" in the creationism debate.
The Forum in the March issue was even more depressing. I had not realized how firmly rooted creationism was among geologists.
The good news is that those who accept a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis is probably not much more than 1 percent of the world population. The bad news is that 50 percent of that number probably live within 1,000 miles of the oil capital of the world.
I can respect those who agree with the bumper-sticker slogan that says: "God said it. I believe it. And that settles it". That is the essence of faith. We all have that to some degree. I suspect that there are some things that all of us have come to believe in the absence of any compelling evidence -- and sometimes, despite compelling evidence.
I freely confess to one article of faith. I have no expertise in most of the disciplines concerned with evolution, but I have faith in the abilities of those who do. And the vast majority of all biologists, paleontologists, geneticists and biochemists agree that the evolutionary process is alive and well.
I also have faith that their studies are honest and directed toward increasing the collective body of knowledge in their field of study.
I do not respect those who profess "scientific creationism." That is an oxymoron. We are all familiar with the basic process of scientific investigation. It does not proceed from acceptance of an unverifiable belief to a highly selective search for evidence to support that belief. Those who do so are frauds and charlatans who have deceived themselves and seek to deceive others.
Mr. Bill Marshall (March Readers' Forum) said that: "Paleontologists … have not found a missing link." If he had said that they have not found "the" missing link he would have been right on. I suspect that "a" missing link is found within or between species on an almost daily basis. Certainly, within the field of primate study, a significant discovery -- a missing link -- is found and reported almost every year.
Unfortunately, every time a missing link is found, two more are created. Consider an early man who had learned to count and was trying to establish some link between the concepts of "1" and "2." At some point, after decimals or fractions were discovered, he might have said that the missing link was "1.5" -- at which point some nay-sayer might have pointed out that there were now gaps between "1" and "1.5," as well as between "1.5" and "2."
Whether dealing with numbers or variations in life forms, the gap bridged by each link will become progressively narrower, but the number of gaps will increase. So creationists will never have to acknowledge "the" missing link, and the discussion will never end.
John T. "Ted" Schulenberg
Geology Under Fire
Lest we think there is no harm in the creationist movement to ban the teaching of evolution, please realize that the next science to be targeted will be (and is) geology.
In light of the recent State Board of Education decision allow schools to stop teaching evolution in Kansas, the publisher of a Kansas history book has removed a chapter on state geology and paleontology (source: UPI report). The book eliminated reference to fossils, inland seas that once covered Kansas and an extinct sea lizard whose fossilized remains are in the natural history museum in Hays, Kan.
Also edited out are discussions of how the state's oil and gas, rocks, and mineral were formed.
Why? Because evolution is not the only discipline of science that is at odds with creationist doctrine. So are geological time and the concept of stratigraphy. Geology and evolution are inextricably related through stratigraphy, fossils and paleontology.
Evolution is BOTH fact and theory. It is a fact that there is a fossil record with an organized succession of increasingly complex organisms. The regular appearance and disappearance of fossils is what led to the development of the stratigraphic divisions we still use today. Evolution, or rather ideas about evolution, are theories. These include gradualism and punctuated equilibrium.
Scientific debate continues (and will continue) about this aspect of evolution, but the factual basis remains. Creationists are not satisfied with attacks upon ideas (theories), they openly assault and try to suppress the evidence theories are built upon.
Earth science education in our public schools is already in a sad state. In colleges it is not getting much better. Many geology programs either no longer require or offer paleontology.
If creationists have their way ALL geology will be gone. By creating an environment hostile to teaching of evolution, the Board of Education has opened up the pathway for the elimination and suppression of other sciences. We should all be alarmed.
Christopher Paul Saxon
Red Flag Words
Regarding the March EXPLORER letters about creationism. Two seemed pro, two con and three intermediate, and yet they all seemed to me to be saying about the same thing. On careful re-reading, the disagreement seemed primarily based on semantics. All seven writers used certain words with quite different connotations, increasing the apparent confrontation.
The three principal "red flag" words are evolution, creationism and Darwinism; but the phrases fundamentalism, scientific research and biblical studies also raise debate. Problems increase when the words are linked as identical, as when evolution is equated with Darwinism.
The semantics become even more inflammatory with the use of "anti-" (see Burdick's letter). Thus a creationist becomes an anti-evolutionist, and evolution becomes anti-religion.
But as previously noted, all seven writers seem to agree on the fundamentals; only the red flag words inflame. History is replete with groups who have much in common but magnify their relatively minor differences, and thus remain enemies for millennia: Turks and Greeks, Serbs and Albanians, Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants.
Everyone knows that today is different from yesterday and that tomorrow will also be different still. The study of these changes is called history, or if of older changes, archeology. Today we are greatly involved in the study of the changes man has caused to animals and plants, especially extinction. Still older changes are studied by geologists and paleontologists.
When, however, we attempt to attribute these changes to a cause, not uncommonly there is disagreement.
In this context, the red flag word "evolution" has at least two meanings, one causal and the other observational. The paleontologist observes certain changes in plants and animals within the rocks, and informally speaks of these changes as evolution. But the prior usage of the word by Darwin was steeped in cause and effect. The word evolution is thus used for both observational changes and for the cause of the changes. Ideas as to the cause have changed markedly from the days of Darwin and will continue to change in the future.
All seven writers in the EXPLORER seemed to have accepted the observational changes called evolution, but differ as to the cause.
Similarly, I imagine the red-flag term "creationism" means different things to different people, each interpreting the word to fit his or her own pre-conceived notions. Thus some, possibly much, of the tension over creationism may be the result of a misunderstanding of the other person's position. Understanding is not synonymous with acceptance, but increases tolerance.
Hefner's letter makes a telling point. He writes, "When we try to explain any natural phenomenon, there are three possibilities: chance, law and design." This, again, involves semantics; what is "law," for example. He sees design in "evolution," and equates that with a designer. But if someone else, Darwin for example, sees chance involved, that is not to be equated with anti-design, and certainly not with atheism. The laws of chance are a reality, even if commonly misunderstood.
Observations and their description remain a basic tenant of good science (not that mistakes can't be made). The study of changes in organic matter in time and space, no matter what the study is called, is basic science. Ideas regarding origin, however, tend to change as more observations are made and newer ideas evolve -- they are subject to debate.
Both the scientist and the biblical scholar should seek mutual understanding. The views of the extremists on either side are probably irreconcilable. But for the majority, understanding can lead to respect, and the end of prejudice. This is far better than fratricide -- the inevitable result of misunderstanding and prejudice.
Donald H. Kupfer
Canon City, Colo.