Response to Feedback (1996)

Ken Saladin

 

Dear Friends,

I've had a number of questions ever since my 1988 debate with Gish was posted on the Web. It's been difficult getting time to answer, partly because of a giganormous publishing commitment with a tight deadline that I'm under right now, and partly because a lot of the questions require considerable time to dust off old notes, rummage in old files, and find answers or references. But here is a start, with hopes you don't mind a collective reply. Some of the questions are similar and the answers may be of collective interest.

Ken Saladin


Contents:

  • Tapes and transcripts of the debate
  • Wallabies of Hawaii
  • Shrinking sun
  • Debating creationists

TAPES AND TRANSCRIPTS OF THE DEBATE

>Hello, is there a tape casasette, or video available of your
>second Gish debate?

You can get audio cassettes or the print transcript of this debate as well as my 1984 debate with Gish from:

National Center for Science Education
P.O. Box 9477
Berkeley, CA 94709-0744
(510) 526-1674
(800) 290-6006
email removed
http://www.NatCenSciEd.org

Prices the last I knew were:
$ 8.00 Printed transcript of 1984 debate, 71 pp.
$10.00 Printed transcript of 1988 debate, annotated, 91 pp.
$10.00 Two audiocassettes of 1988 debate (approx. 4 hrs)


WALLABIES OF HAWAII

>In recent correspondence with the venerable Duane Gish,
>along with the standard fare of dogs-wolves-coyotes-jackals
>are all interfurtile and are therefore of a single "kind",
>no transitional fossils from Cambrian invertebrates to a fish,
>there came the topic of Hawaiian wallabies--I was told that a
>single pair of Australian wallabies escaped from a zoo in Oahu
>earlier this century and in this short time have given rise to
>a new species unable to interbreed with the Australian wallabies.
>The only reference I have ever been able to discover was a debate
>between you and Mr. Gish. [...] is it possible that you could
>give me more information and further references regarding these
>wallabies? What criteria for "species" is being employed?
>Were appropriate attempts at breeding made?

This question seems to be coming up more often that most, and unfortunately it's a hard one for me to document. In 1984, when I debated Gish for the first time, I had just recently read this in some source such as Omni, Discover, or some similar source. I incorporated it into the 1984 debate at the time I read it, but I did not make a note of the source (that debate was not annotated as extensively as I did my 1988 debate). What I said in 1984 was:

  • A pair of wallabies escaped from an Oahu zoo in 1916
  • They survived, bred, and gave rise to a wild population
  • As of the early 1980s, biologists somewhere had studied their descendents and concluded that they presented a case of incipient speciation under the new selection pressures encountered on Oahu
  • They are smaller and lighter-colored than the Australian species from which they descended
  • They eat plants that are poisonous to the Australian wallabies, and have evolved a new liver enzyme that detoxifies these plants
  • They are no longer cross-fertile with the Australian wallabies. So in answer to your question about the species criterion, they would meet the standard "biological species definition" of lacking interfertility

Thus it would seem to be a nice case of classical allopatric speciation. I wish I had been more careful to note the source in 1984. Maybe a literature search of that period would turn it up if anyone were interested enough to do that. One person who asked me about this quoted this letter from Gish on the subject:

> "Concerning the claim that there were a pair of
>Wallabies which escaped from a zoo in Oahu and which survived
>in the wild and gave rise to a whole population which now
>constitutes a new species, I have never heard such a thing,
>and frankly I doubt very much whether this story is true.
>I have been to Hawaii six or seven times; I have never heard of
>Wallabies on Oahu. Furthermore, it would be absolutely
>incredible that that even if such a process were possible
>that this could happen in about 68 years. I will have
>to make some inquiries to learn whether there is really
>a population of Wallabies in Oahu and if they are no
>longer able to breed with Australian Wallabies."

Gish evidently hasn't inquired into it in any depth. If someone is interested enough to check into this further, maybe you could get somewhere by seeing if U. Hawaii has a web page and through that find a link to an evolutionary biologist who could confirm, deny, or at least give an unknowing shrug about it.

I once tried to follow up on a story in Omni about an animal from the Congo that genetically and anatomically to be a human-chimp hybrid. Like other hybrids it had an odd number of chromosomes -- 47 (humans have 46 and chimps 48) -- among other intriguing evidence. The animal was said to be owned by a firm called Gentle Jungle that trains and maintains animals for the movie industry. I tried to chase this down by telephone to see if I could get connected to a scientist who had studied "Oliver" and got nowhere. I find the wallaby and Oliver stories intriguing but I think some caution toward popular science magazines is in order until stories are confirmed by someone closer to the source.


SHRINKING SUN

There was an inquiry about the old creationist chestnut, "the sun is shrinking," that apparently got lost in my e-mail boxes somewhere. However I *think* the person who sent it is included in the list receiving this message, and I think I remember the gist of the message adequately.

The "shrinking sun" argument was put forth by Dr. Russell Akridge, a physicist at Oral Roberts University, in a 1980 issue of Impact, a series of antievolutionary tracts from the Institute for Creation Research.

John Eddy and Aram Boornazian studied solar observations from 1863 to 1953 and concluded that there was evidence that the horizontal diameter of the solar disc had decreased over that time at a rate of 2.25 sec of arc (5 ft/hr). Akridge extrapolated from this to conclude that 20 million years ago the earth would have touched the sun, making the evolutionists' age of the earth untenable.

Akridge's argument is rebutted in Arthur N. Strahler's Science and Earth History: The Evolution/Creation Controversy (Prometheus Books, 1987), pages 141-142. Strahler's book is also available at the NCSE address above. It's a little bit pricey (somewhere in the US $50-60 range) but there is a discount to NCSE members. In my opinion Strahler's book is the best overall compendium of rebuttals to these traditional creationist arguments and indispensible to the library of anyone who has to deal with these arguments.

I condense Strahler's rebuttal here. In Science News, 115:420, 30 June 1979, John Eddy points out that the shrinkage they reported is not for the entire solar disc but only for the outer layers, and that he believed it to be an oscillatory phenomenon, not a continual process of contraction.

Strahler reviews several other studies of solar diameter. For example Shapiro (1980) studied records of the times of 28 transits of Mercury across the solar disc recorded from 1736 to 1973 and found an insignificant difference of 0.3 sec/century. From 1975 to 1981 the Wilson Observatory found regular annual variations in solar diameter but "no observable trend." A study at The Royal Greenwich Observatory of Mercury's transits for three centuries found only a negligible difference of 0.008% but found evidence of an 80-year cycle of oscillation in solar diameter. A study by John Parkinson of University College (London) during a 1983 total eclipse found no support for the Eddy and Boornazian claim but produced data consistent with a 76-year cycle of oscillation.

Even before 1980 when Akridge published the ICR tract, Eddy and Boornazian had published their opinion that the effect was temporary and not a long-term trend. Akridge, typical of creationists, either did not research his subject carefully or chose to ignore the contradictory statements and evidence.

Akridge also exemplies a common creationist fallacy seen in many of their "young earth" arguments -- taking a value that apparently oscillates in some way and assuming from a short-term measurement that it has risen or fallen continually throughout all of earth's history. The periodic reversal of the planet's magnetic polarity is another case in point, which Thomas Barnes has used to try to make a creationist young earth argument.


DEBATING CREATIONISTS

Jim F. or Mike D., thanks for your long but engrossing story about the unpleasant experiences with the Yahoos in North Carolina. I'm not sure which person wrote this -- there was one name and address in the FROM field and a completely different one at the end of the message. Anyway Jim or Mike, as the case may be....

I certainly empathize with your situation, having received a large collection of hate mail myself for my public position on issues such as this. I've even had people hold a rally on the steps of City Hall to try to drum me out of town, church groups petition the college president for my dismissal, etc. But I've never had any problem with my college permitting me to teach a senior biology seminar on the creationist controversy. It is a very instructive subject to teach about, as it exposes students to the interface between biology and such fields as constitutional law, educational theory, theology, other natural sciences, philosophy of science, etc. My students do formal debates in which every member of the class is expected to function as a "scientific creationist" in one debate and as an anticreationist in another. The debates are judged by freshmen recruited from large general biology sections (mostly nonscience majors). I find that the good debaters among my seniors can win no matter which position they take.

>One person wrote a
>hate-filled letter expressing his sincere hope that I
>would be so kind as to DIE, and thus make the world a
>better place.

That sounds pretty familiar. And how many times have you been told to "go back to Russia where you came from"? A roller rink owner here put up a message on the flashing sign out by the road, "If you think you came from a fish, let's see how long you can hold your breath under wayer." That's small-town Georgia for you. But I'm still alive to tell about it and several of my adversaries have died or moved away.

>It's certainly not as if I ENJOY seeing nasty letters
>about me printed in the paper on an almost daily basis.

I know that feeling too. Somewhat in excess of 400 newspaper stories and editorial letters were written about my infidel ways throughout the 1980s.

> Soon after I started writing for the paper, I noticed
>that my columns seemed to contain large numbers of typographic
>errors. Key words would sometimes be left out of sentences,
>thus changing their meaning--worse yet, words were sometimes
>ADDED to the sentences.

That's very unfortunate. At least I did not experience any reprisals at work. (Isn't tenure grand?)

> Shortly after one column appeared, I received a
>telephone call from one of the area's private Christian
>schools [...]. The guy on the telephone asked me if I
>would come speak to one of their classes about what science
>is, how it's done, and in particular, about evolutionary biology.
>>Sensing a trap, I told him that I was NOT interested
>in debating the merits of creationism vs. evolutionary
>theory. He assured me that I had him ALL WRONG, that he
>only wanted me to explain how science is done to one of
>his classes [...] so I agreed.
>
> When I arrived at the school, I was ushered into a
>large auditorium with what must have been the bulk of
>the school's students--and a preacher who was ready
>and waiting to debate me about the merits of creationism.
>I was furious at having been lied to, and nearly turned
>on my heel to leave at that point, but I decided that
>that would have HANDED my unforeseen opponent a victory.
>If nothing else, I wanted to show those children that
>just because I was an "evolutionist," I wasn't
>a devil incarnate. So, I was charming, pleasant, polite
>and very, very patient--EVEN after being repeatedly
>called a liar and EVEN after being asked the VERY SAME
>QUESTION for the fifth or sixth time in a row. [...]

It's all too easy to say "what I would have done is...." I'd probably be too furious to do anything as cool and composed as I would later wish I had. But it would have been nice just to say a little about the school principal's lack of integrity, and your own concept of honesty, and quietly walked out the door.

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