First Rebuttal for the Affirmative

(Saladin, 15 minutes)

[During the intermission, someone from the audience asked me if I could speak more slowly. I apologize if I talked too fast for some of you to follow me, especially the foreign students, but I would point out that it's hard for me to speak slowly, because there's so much to be said for evolution I can't resist the temptation to get in as much as possible. By contrast, Dr. Gish can easily afford to speak slowly, since there's so little that can be said in defense of creationism. [Laughter]

I would also like to point out that I tried in my opening statement to give positive evidence for evolution, not just to criticize creationism.] {1} But what did [Gish] do? All he did was present negative evidence and try to convince you that that proves his point, just by disproving the other point. [Applause] Dr. Gish hasn't come anywhere near establishing what he writes in his book: that all basic forms of life were created all at one time, in the Creation Week, maybe ten, maybe twenty thousand years ago, and that no new basic forms of life have come into existence since then.


[SLIDE 87: Star cluster] Now let me begin with, uh, the so-called cosmic egg, since everything else including Dr. Gish's speech began with that. He's been quick to point out that no one knows where it came from. [SLIDE 88: The Creation] Then again, nobody has ever been able to say where God came from, either. What Dr. Gish has done is to resurrect a 13th century theological First Cause Argument.

This has never really gotten anybody anywhere, because if you argue that everything has to have a cause, or a creator, then you have to face up to the question of who created God. And if you argue that there are some exceptions, or even one, then that exception might as well be the physical universe as God. [SLIDE 89: Earth from Apollo] Now, it's really irrelevant, the whole thing is really irrelevant to evolutionary theory, because if God created our planet, if we grant that, it doesn't affect evolution one bit. Charles Darwin himself, in the famous last paragraph of The Origin of Species, granted to God the creation of the first life, and said his book sought only to explain the history of life since then {2}.


Now as to thermodynamics, the idea of order from disorder, uh, yeah, order from disorder, you have to remember that we're dealing with life on the planet Earth, and the earth is not a closed system so it does not have to show a tendency toward greater entropy or disorder. All that the Second Law requires is that if the earth is going to show decreasing entropy or increasing order, it merely has to be energetically coupled with something else which is gaining entropy at a faster rate {3} [SLIDE 90: Solar flare] And that something else is the sun. The earth receives 51 billion kilowatts of solar energy every second. Now I looked at my home electric bill and calculated that would run my household for 5.8 million years on one second of solar radiation if I could just capture it all. It would be a long time before I had to write another check to the Georgia Power Company. [SLIDE 91: Sunset over marsh]

Dr. Gish has always been fond of quoting Isaac Asimov as his authority on the Second Law. In our journal, Creation/Evolution, Issue VI, Dr. Asimov responded. He described Gish's treatment of the Second Law as being, and I quote, "on a kindergarten level." The problem with Gish's treatment of it is that he ignores that when you have an open system, you can have things going to a higher degree of order.

[SLIDE 92: Snowflake] That's why water vapor can lose heat and produce snowflakes. For all their beautiful symmetry, do we really have to believe God sits down at a drafting table drawing up blueprints for every snowflake that falls? [SLIDE 93: Molecular structure of ice] Isn't it a lot more reasonable to accept that the inherent probabilities of water molecules are enough to account for this crystalline architecture? And even if we choose to believe that God made water this way, then by the same token we can believe he also made carbon, and nitrogen, oxygen, and so fort in such a way they could produce amino acids and proteins without needing his constant supervision.

Dr. Gish is going to object to this, I know, by saying it's not enough to have an open system, you also have to have an energy conversion mechanism and a program to direct the change, like an automobile engine or a genetic code. You can check all the physics textbooks you want to, and you won't find a one of them including these stipulations as part of the Second Law. As he typically does, Gish has simply erected a straw man --- something that no scientist believes anyway. In fact the creationists have a history of concocting their own Second Law. Not being satisfied with the one in the physics books, they call theirs the "New Generalized Second Law." If Dr. Gish wants to attack his own law that's fine with me, but it isn't very relevant to physics or evolutionary biology. It's like going around punching himself in the nose, and it doesn't bother me a bit. [Audience laughter]


Now as to human evolution, I'll have to be kind of sketchy because time is short, but Gish cites Sir Solly Zuckerman. Zuckerman's book was published in 1970 and is now far out of date with respect to discoveries of the human fossil record. Furthermore, Zuckerman never laid hands on any of the original australopithecine fossils, and based his whole argument on a cast of one-half of one fossil pelvis.

[SLIDE 94: A. Afarensis family, from Johansen's Lucy] As for Oxnard, Dr. Gish badly represents him---, mis represents him. For example in Evolution? The Fossils Say No!, page 122, Gish says that Oxnard wrote that the australopithecines did not walk upright but, quote, "had a mode of locomotion similar to that of the orang."

Now I have Dr. Oxnard's paper with me tonight, and you're welcome to come up and look at it. Here in black and white, Oxnard writes, "it is clear that the actual overall mode of locomotion of the orang-utan today is not the model for these creatures" {4}. So again, Dr. Gish has completely reversed the original author's statement.

What Oxnard is discussing is whether Australopithecus robustus and Australopithecus afarensis [I had meant to say A. Africanus, not A. Afarensis] are ancestral to the genus Homo, which he doubts, but that's nothing new. I looked in the biology textbooks that I use, and not one of them, uh, posits that those are ancestral to Homo, but rather that they're a dead-end evolutionary line. Now Dr. Oxnard and Gish [I had meant to say Johansen, not Gish!] are also in agreement that Australopithecus afarensis, discovered by Don Johansen, commonly known by the nickname "Lucy," is ancestral to Homo.

This is, uh, next slide, please--- [SLIDE 95: Oxnard's phylogeny] Uh, here is, ah, the phylogeny from Oxnard's paper {5}, and what he calls "Homo" down there with a question mark is what the other paleontologists call Australopithecus afarensis. Dr. Oxnard just questions whether it should be put in the genus. But you see africanus and robustus were on a dead-end line. [SLIDE 96: Johansen's phylogeny] Now this is from Don Johansen's book, Lucy, and you see that they totally agree. He too has africanus and robustus as a dead end. So there's no substantial disagreement there.

Dr. Gish also puts up an argument about Neanderthal Man, and makes a number of mistakes in his citation of the literature on that too. But it's really quite irrelevant because nobody, so far as I know, maintains any more than Neanderthal is ancestral to modern Homo anyway, but, uh---- I don't mean ancestral to Homo, but to modern Homo sapiens {6}. More likely, it was Cro-Magnon, which is structured much more similarly to Modern Man and apparently immigrated into Western Europe from the Mideast, and apparently drove Neanderthal to extinction {7}.


Now his statistical argument. Gish says the odds of a functional protein being assembled without God's design are so low as to be nil. His argument reminds me of somebody --- I think it was Lord Kelvin --- who calculated that it would be impossible to build a ship that could carry enough fuel to steam across the Atlantic. Somebody else statistically proved that beetles can't fly. But of course we do have ocean liners and flying beetles. And we have amino acids self-assembling and producing functional enzymes in spite of Gish's contention that it's statistically impossible. There are now hundreds of papers in the literature documenting this, and I'll get to those later perhaps.

Now by the way I find it rather amusing that Dr. Gish should base his case on Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe. They wrote a book called Evolution From Space. Among other things, Fred Hoyle argues that insects are smarter than humans, but they're just not telling anybody. [Audience laughter] Wickramasinghe was the ICR's star witness at the creationism trial in Arkansas in 1981, and he proved to be quite an embarrassment to them. He testified that life on earth began with microbes in space that got caught in the tail of a comet and contaminated our planet. He blamed a 1978 flu epidemic on a virus from outer space. And when he was asked in cross-examination if believes children catch colds from comets, he replied, "That is so."

But what was particularly amusing was his testimony when he was asked about the views of the American creationists. He was asked, "Could any rational scientist believe the earth's geology could be explained by the single, a single catastrophe?" "No," he replied. "Could any rational scientist believe the earth is less than one million years old?" Again he replied, "No."

They asked him what he though of scientific creationism. "Claptrap," he said. They asked him what he thought of Dr. Gish's hypothesis that all basic forms of life were created separately and had no common ancestry. Again his answer: "Claptrap." So here we have Duane Gish basing an elaborate argument on a scientist who writes about flu bugs from outer space, who thinks Dr. Gish is not a rational scientist, and who says Gish's opinions are "claptrap" {8}.

There are so many flaws in the line of statistical reason used by the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe team and adopted by Gish I can't address them all. For one thing no evolutionary biologist has ever said the formation of proteins in the Miller-type experiments is random. Dr. Gish is incorrect right from the start to make that assumption. There are lots of data in a couple of book chapters I brought with me tonight to show it's not random. Amino acids are selective about the order in which they will combine. They do not combine randomly in a Miller-type of experiment.

Now it should be obvious that even modern proteins don't have to have the structural specificity that Dr. Gish claims they do. You can shuffle a lot of those amino acids around and replace them with others, and still have a fully functional enzyme. For example beta-hemoglobin and frog hemoglobin differ in 46 percent of their amino acids, but they both transport oxygen perfectly well. So a second fallacy of his argument is that you have to have just one particular sequence of amino acids for an enzyme to do its job.

Furthermore, uh, Gish assumes you have to start with a mixture of amino acids and randomly come up with just one particular target protein, like cytochrome-c. No scientist would ever make the preposterous assumption that modern cytochrome-c sprang into existence, any more than we'd assume you could mix a bunch of amino acids together and have an elephant come out of the test tube. Dr. Gish totally ignores the role of natural selection and the well-documented evolution of molecules after their origin. So the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe-Gish statistical argument is a classic example of an old adage of computer programming: garbage in, garbage out. There are a multitude of fallacious assumptions that lead them to calculate the impossibility of things that actually do happen {9}.


Next, Gish has quite often, and to some extent tonight, quoted from the literature to make it look as if scientists are attacking Darwinism and about to throw evolution out the window. And tonight he quoted, I think it was either Newsweek or Time, and you ought to know better than to base an argument on a journalistic opinion. Believe me, I've been written about hundreds of times by journalists and I know how inaccurate they are. What Dr. Gish ought to do is take a look at the scientific literature on this.

When I look at it I find Gish completely misrepresents what these publications are saying about gaps in the fossil record. Stephen Jay Gould wrote in our journal, Creation/Evolution No. VI {10}:

It is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists --- whether by design or stupidity, I do not know --- as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional groups are generally lacking at the species level but are abundant between larger groups. The evolution from reptiles to mammals ... is well documented.

One of Gish's favorite appeals to authority is to a paper by Mark Ridley in New Scientist {11}. Now I went and read all the literature Gish cited in our first debate, including this one. Ridley's discussed punctuated equilibrium in some form, to some length, but then he criticized the creationists for misconstructing this debate over the mechanism of evolution as if it were a debate over the fact of evolution. Here are Ridley's own words about Gish's tactic:

This is a terrible mistake, and it springs, I believe, from the false idea that the fossil record provides an important part of the evidence that evolution took place. In fact, evolution is proven by a totally separate set of arguments, and the present debate within paleontology does not impinge at all on the evidence that supports evolution.

Remember what I told you earlier? Only 11% of Darwin's Origin of Species discussed fossil evidence? That evolution would be obvious just from the characters of the living species even if some geological process prevented any fossils from forming? That's what Ridley is saying. It's also the main thrust of what David Kitts {12} and E.J.H. Corner {13} and a number of other people that Dr. Gish cites are saying.

Dr. Gish fondly cites Derek Ager to make it sound like evolution is being debunked wholesale....

Aside to timekeeper: I can't read your time cards; I'm sorry.Timekeeper: Two minutes.Saladin: How many minutes?Timekeeper: Two.

Uh, I couldn't find Ager's paper in the library anywhere and librarians on two campuses told me no such journal had ever existed as the one Gish cited. So finally I wrote to Ager, and I have his letter with me tonight, if you'd like to see it. Ager says first of all Gish got the name of the journal and the year of publication wrong. But then he did enclose the paper Gish meant to cite {14}. Now the complete sentence Dr. Gish often alludes to reads, "It must be significant that nearly all the evolutionary stories I learned as a student, from Trueman's Ostrea/Gryphaea to Carruthers' Zaphrentis delanouei, have now been debunked," which makes it sound like evolution wholesale has been debunked. Ager was only talking about the evolution of Ostraea, which is oyster-like bivalve molluscs, from Gryphaea, another bivalve, and saying that previous interpretations of their relationship have been mistaken.

When I told him about Gish's quote, Ayer wrote to me:

I get rather tired of these things.... It is true I have been clasped to the fundamentalists' Californian bosoms because of things which I have written about evolution and about the stratigraphical record. Of course they have misunderstood and misrepresented me (and in some cases taken my perhaps overfacetious nature too seriously).

What's at issue in the debates in paleontology now are the tempo and the genetic mode of evolution, not the fact of evolution. Thank you. {Applause]


1. Part of the first rebuttal did not get on the tape recording, and the portion within brackets on this page is reconstructed from memory.

2. The theory of evolution concerns only the changes in populations of living organisms on the earth. It assumes that the earth and life already exist. God could have created the cosmic egg and let it go from there; God could have created the cosmic egg and let it go; God might even intervene in every little day to day event of mutation and natural selection. We have no way scientifically of proving or disproving any of these, and acceptance or rejection of any of these is a matter of personal religious faith. Once again, Gish's polemic is grounded in the fallacy of bifurcation (the fallacious belief that there are only two logical alternatives, and disproof of one leaves the other one proven by default.)

3. Even scientists often state the Second Law does not apply to open systems. This is not exactly correct. The Second Law applies to all systems, open or closed, but open systems can show a decrease in entropy if they are energetically coupled to another system (such as the earth to the sun) that shows a corresponding and greater increase in entropy.

4. The quote is from page 394 of: Charles E. Oxnard. 1975. The place of the australopithecines in human evolution: grounds for doubt? Nature 258:386-395. In this paper Oxnard generalizes that the place of all australopithecines in the ancestry of Homo is in doubt, but consider the date of publication and see the continuation of my discussion in this speech under the heading , "HUMAN EVOLUTION."

5. The phylogeny I showed was photographed from a letter by Michael L. Bagby, Creation/Evolution XX:41-42, and Bagby represented the diagram as having come from Charles E. Oxnard, 1979, Human fossils: new views of old bones, American Biology Teacher 41:264-276. I have since examined that Oxnard paper, however, and there is no phylogenetic diagram even remotely similar to this in it. I must retract my statement as to how much Oxnard and Johansen are in agreement, or what Oxnard's views of Australopithecus afarensis may be, until I have opportunity to examine other writings by Oxnard or to consult him personally. The point does remain valid that Oxnard and Johansen (and the textbooks from which I teach general biology and zoology) are in agreement that A. Africanus and A. Robustus are a dead end, not ancestral to Homo.

6. Gish and other creationists habitually try to dismiss Neanderthal as nothing more than an arthritic aberration. The early stoop-shouldered misconception of Neanderthal was based on the La Chapelle aux Saints specimen, which unfortunately was pathological, with arthritis of the neck, jaw, and spine. It was not typical of Neanderthal as a whole. Gish attempts to discredit evolution by harping on this interpretation from 1911-1913. The more recent view is that Neanderthal was fully as erect as modern humans, but this does not change the fact that it still shows a number of skeletal differences from modern humans and these differences cannot be explained by reference to arthritis, rickets, or the other pathological conditions to which creationists have appealed. Even with a shave and a business suit, a Neanderthal would not look like a modern human. See: Ernest Conrad. 1986. Creationists and Neanderthal. Creation/Evolution XIX:24-33.

7. Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon were both races of Homo sapiens, but Cro-Magnon more nearly resembles modern humans and probably would, if dressed up and taught some table manners, be indistinguishable from certain extant races. For the hypothesis I refer to, that Cro-Magnon was an immigrant to western Europe from Mideastern sites, see the following two articles, the first of which is an editorial commentary on the second: (1) Chris Stringer. 1988. The dates of Eden. Nature 331:565-566. (2) H. Valladas et al. 1988. Thermoluminescence dating of Mousterian "Proto-Cro-Magnon" remains from Israel and the origin of modern man. Nature 331:614-616.

8. This trial was so heavily publicized one can find accounts in almost any print news medium around December 1981 to January 1982. My sources for Wickramasinghe's statements included: (1) Astrophysicist debunks evolution, The Atlanta Constitution, 17 December 1981; (2) Discover, February 1982; (3) Roger Lewin, 1982, Where is the science in creation science? Science 215:142-146; (4) Frederick Edwords, 1982, Victory in Arkansas: the trial, the decision, and the aftermath. Creation/Evolution VII:33-45; and (5) Judge William Overton's final opinion in the case, reprinted in many places including Science, 215:934-943; the Montagu book cited in "Opening Statement for the Affirmative," note 16; the Hanson book cited in "Opening Statement for the Negative," note 2; and in Marcel C. La Follette. 1983. Creationism, Science, and the Law: The Arkansas Case. Cambridge: MIT Press. On page 940 of the Science reprint of the decision, Overton comments on and remarks that his statements were so bizarre, and so discredited the creationists' own case, that "The Court is at a loss to understand why Dr. Wickramasinghe was called in behalf of the defendants."

9. The erroneous assumptions behind the probability argument can be summarized:

1) That a particular protein chosen for argument (e.g., cytochrome-c) is the goal of evolution; only that protein will do; it is not satisfactory if materialistic evolution happens to produce just any protein.

2) That the goal must be a modern protein such as cytochrome-c, rather than a more primitive protein (i.e., perhaps smaller, perhaps less uniform in its use of L- and D-amino acids, perhaps not a perfect alpha helix, perhaps less efficient in catalytic capability, etc.).

3) That evolutionary theory requires a completely random process of amino acid polymerization, whereas the literature shows they do not join together randomly any more than a snowflake results from random assembly of water molecules.

4) That in order to function, enzymes must have a more specific amino acid sequence than they really do, and substitution of any one amino acid out of hundreds will destroy its ability to function; see my hemoglobin rebuttal under the heading, "Statistical Arguments."

10. The passage we printed in Creation/Evolution actually was reprinted from Gould's "Evolution as fact and theory" (Discover, May 1981).

11. Mark Ridley. 1981. Who doubts evolution? New Scientist 90:830-832.

12. David B. Kitts. 1974. Paleontology and evolutionary theory. Evolution 28:458-472. This paper, often cited by Gish, is a discussion of the controversy between phyletic gradualism and punctuated equilibrium, and concludes that a decision between these models will have to be made on some grounds other than the fossil record because the fossil record does not clearly support one over the other. It does not, as Gish usually implies, state that there is any fossil evidence for creation. Gish did not use Kitts in this debate as he did in 1984, but I felt it was worth getting in a word in defense of this paper.

13. E.J.H. Corner. 1961. Evolution. Pp. 95-114 in Contemporary Botanical Thought (A.M. MacLeod and L.S. Cobley, ed.). Chicago: Quadrangle Books. Although not in this debate, Gish typically cites Corner in the same spirit as Kitts, to make it sound as if Corner thinks the fossil record falsifies evolution. Corner argues that the principle evidence for plant evolution is from the comparative study of extant species rather than from their fossil remains, and states, "The life history of flowering plants teems with evolution." It should also be noted that Gish's creation model would require flowering plants in Precambrian rock, whereas there is a fossil record of some 365 million years of plant evolution before flowering plants appear abruptly around 135 million years ago. The abruptness of their appearance is an interesting paleontological problem, probably related to the coevolution of pollinating insects, but is not supportive of Gish's argument.

14. The correct citation is Derek V. Ager. 196. The nature of the fossil record. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 87:131-160.