Review of Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics
The following appeared in Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith, the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, in the September 1994 issue (vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 193-195), and is reprinted here with the permission of the editor. (The title is mine and did not appear with the published version.) I thank Chris Stassen, Richard Trott, Andrew MacRae, and Chris Nedin for their helpful comments on earlier drafts.
Last year, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) published Duane Gish’s Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics, a 451-page book which, according to its back cover, “evaluates the major arguments for and against special creation and evolution and defends creation scientists against the distorted, inaccurate, and often vicious attacks of evolutionists.” The book is, in effect, the creationist counterpart to Arthur N. Strahler’s 1987 book, Science and Earth History: The Evolution/Creation Controversy. A comparison of the two books is instructive. Strahler’s 552 pages provide an introduction to mainstream views of the sciences involved in the creation/evolution controversy while also describing and rebutting numerous creationist objections to those views. But while Strahler’s book is sober and scholarly in style and generally allows creationists to speak for themselves, Gish uses inflammatory language and is usually highly selective in his quotations from critics. Strahler sampled a wide variety of creationist works, drawing from about 100 creationist books and articles, including numerous articles in the ICR’s Impact series and Technical Monographs, the Ex Nihilo Technical Journal, the Creation Research Society Quarterly, and Origins Research. Gish, on the other hand, selects only a tiny sample of anti-creationist works. While Strahler took great pains to make his book up-to-date, with 328 (45%) of the 722 entries in his bibliography less than eight years old, Gish ignores recent work– only 26 (6%) of his 428 references are from the eight years preceding his book’s publication. In short, while Strahler’s book is fair, balanced, and up-to-date (as of 1987, at least), Gish’s book is neither fair, balanced, nor up-to-date.
According to Gish, evolutionists are “smug” (pp. 12, 16), “gripped … firmly [by] dogma” (p. 13), “arrogant” (pp. 16, 295, 306), “vicious” (pp. 19, 71, 162, 194, 205, 334, 343, etc.), “slanderous” (pp. 88, 96, 193), “virulent” (pp. 98, 141, 275, 334), and “bitter” (pp. 343, 357). Creationists, on the other hand, are “the voices of scientific reason” (p. 13), taking part in a “renaissance” (p. 15), and are promoting “an open, free, and thorough scientific challenge to evolutionary theory” (p. 18). It is impossible to read more than a few pages of Gish’s book without encountering emotion-laden adjectives. And if Gish can describe an evolutionist as an “atheist,” a “humanist,” or a “Marxist,” he rarely hesitates to do so (pp. 21, 22, 29, 72, 145, 253, etc.). It is ironic, then, that Gish advises evolutionists to avoid “vicious, ad hominem attacks” (pp. 71, 107).
Gish maintains his picture of evolutionists as atheists, agnostics, humanists, and Marxists by ignoring Christian critics of creationism. The reader of Gish’s book is left in the dark not only about Christians who advocate some form of theistic evolution, but about old-earth and progressive creationists as well. The ASA, the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, and the Reasons to Believe Institute are all absent from the book–only young-earthers are mentioned. In part this maneuver is made possible by Gish’s refusal to defend a young earth or flood geology, despite the fact that these tenets of creationism are a central focus of ICR literature.
Christian critics of creationism are hardly the only critics ignored. Gish refers to only a few anti-creationist works: only three books in any detail, all published prior to 1984. He responds (p. 103) to only a single article from the thirty issues of the National Center for Science Education’s Creation/Evolution (C/E) journal published prior to his book: a 1981 article about Gish’s bombardier beetle claims by Christopher Gregory Weber. Even here, Gish lets Robert Kofahl’s reply (also published in C/E) do the work of responding, and ignores Weber’s rebuttal in the same issue. And 100 pages later (p. 204), Gish falsely claims that “evolutionists made no attempt to answer my challenge to explain how an ordinary beetle could have evolved into a bombardier by any mode of evolution”–contradicting his mention of “Weber’s attempt to explain the evolution of the bombardier beetle from an ordinary beetle” on the previously cited page. One other article from C/E is mentioned by Gish (pp. 88-89), Kenneth Miller’s “Answers to the Standard Creationist Arguments” from 1982. Gish writes (p. 89) that “In a critique later in this book, we will return to a discussion of Miller’s attempt to provide answers,” but he never does. Instead, he attacks Miller for falsely charging him with quoting E. J. H. Corner out of context, ignoring the fact that Miller corrected and apologized for his mistake in C/E (IX:41-43). Had Gish made use of C/E, he would have had to correct his erroneous statements about Karl Popper (pp. 35-36; C/E XVIII:9-14), been unable to claim that Richard Lewontin “neither names the culprit nor provides any documentation” for his charge of being quoted out of context by creationists (pp. 252-253; C/E VI:34-36; the culprit was Gary Parker of the ICR), been forced to deal with the pseudogene evidence for common ancestry (C/E XIX:34-46; XXVII:45-49), needed to respond to Edward Max’s thermodynamics challenge (C/E XXVII:53-55), and been unable to repeat his misleading defense of his false claim that there are chicken and bullfrog proteins that more closely resemble human proteins than the corresponding chimpanzee proteins (pp. 96-101; C/E XVII:1-9). On top of all this, Gish incorrectly identifies the editor, publisher, and address of C/E by using information that was about two years out-of-date at the time.
It is also apparent from Gish’s book that he has not read one of the most significant popular works arguing for evolution in recent years, Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker (1985). If he had, he would not have made the mistake of claiming (p. 54) that “The white coat color of the polar bear cannot be adaptive, however, since he has no predator”–an argument rightly ridiculed by Dawkins on pp. 38-39 of his book.
When Gish does cite anti-creationist sources, it is often in an odd way. Chris McGowan’s 1984 book, In the Beginning… A Scientist Shows Why the Creationists Are Wrong, is almost entirely about the fossil record, and much of it criticizes Gish. Gish cites McGowan’s book only once, on p. 163, regarding thermodynamics. On the other hand, Gish cites (p. 62, via secondary source) E. O. Wiley and Daniel Brooks’ Evolution as Entropy, regarding the significance of natural selection, but ignores their work in his thermodynamics chapter.
Finally, Gish sometimes seems to go out of his way to miss a critic’s point. He discusses David Raup’s statement that the geologic column was established by creationists prior to Darwin, and not based on the assumption of evolution (pp. 303-304). Gish quotes Raup saying that “Geochronology depends upon the existence of a virtually exceptionless sequence of distinctive objects in rocks.” Gish suggests that this is contradicted by Raup’s later statement that “Not uncommonly, however, demonstrably young rocks are found beneath older rocks,” but only by ignoring what Raup says immediately thereafter about the geological evidence for thrust faulting. Raup explicitly states that when there is such evidence, “the reversal of the order is not a meaningful exception to the Law of Superposition.” Such structural deformations can be detected and the original order of rock sequences restored using geometric principles which are taught in any good introductory geology text, and not, as Gish goes on to claim, “by the fossils they contain.” This is demonstrated by their routine application to rocks without fossils. Further, Gish describes Raup as criticizing “some creationists.” He doesn’t mention that he himself wrote that the geologic column “is based on the assumption of evolution” (Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record, 1985, p. 47)–three years after having admitted when shown a 1795 geologic map that this was a mistake (McGowan, In the Beginning…, p. 100).
Gish’s book is not entirely without value. He does demonstrate that critics of creationism have made mistakes–sometimes sloppy ones– in their arguments against creationism and creationists. He has made some objections against evolution which show the need for continued research. But this is entirely overshadowed by the fact that his book suffers from the same flaws he finds in the work of evolutionists, and to a much greater degree. To have accomplished the goal of the book’s title, he should have begun with C/E, some old-earth creationist works such as Daniel Wonderly’s Neglect of Geologic Data: Sedimentary Strata Compared with Young-Earth Creationist Writings, and a copy of Strahler’s book–to which Gish makes not a single reference.
Jim Lippard is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of Arizona. He is a regular contributor to Creation/Evolution and Skeptic magazine.