A Representative Example of Intellectual Dishonesty in the pathlights.com Creation-Evolution Encyclopedia (1997)
The pathlights.com Creation-Evolution Encyclopedia may very well have the dubious honor of being the worst piece of creationist literature ever written. In this paper, I will examine a passage representative of the lack of integrity and low intellectual caliber demonstrated throughout the Encyclopedia as a whole.
In The Origin of Matter – 1, we find the following statement:
Science fiction. Several men dreamed up the Big Bang idea in the 1920s and 1940s. A science-fiction writer, George Gamow, led out in promoting it to the scientific community. He used cartoons to illustrate it. – pp.13-14.
The Encyclopedia dismisses Gamow as a science fiction writer because of his popularizations of science such as the by all accounts excellent Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland (1957. New York: Cambridge), without mentioning the following interesting facts (drawn from a paper by science writer John Gribbin):
- Gamow studied physics at the University of Leningrad.
- Gamow was a quite accomplished theoretical physicist before he even started theorizing about the Big Bang, having come up with quantum tunnelling as an explanation of the emission of alpha particles by atomic nuclei and the fusion of hydrogen atoms in the sun.
- Gamow was “appointed Master of Research at the Academy of Sciences in Leningrad, and Professor of Physics at Leningrad University, at the tender age of 27.”
- Gamow was Professor of Physics at the George Washington University in Washington, DC from 1934 to 1956, and Professor of Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, until his death in 1968.
- Gamow’s original work on the Big Bang theory with his graduate student Ralph Alpher was printed in the peer reviewed journal Physical Review. Rest assured, Physical Review does not publish collections of cartoons.
- Gamow’s team successfully predicted the existence of the background microwave radiation well before its experimental discovery in 1963 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson.
- Gamow published a paper on molecular biology in 1954 (shortly after the structure of DNA was discovered, but before the genetic code was cracked) that “presented the key idea that hereditary properties could be characterised by a long number in digital form” which is very close to the way the DNA code works.
That’s some science-fiction writer.
So why did the Encyclopedia editors fail to mention the facts listed above? Why did they suggest that Gamow was a mere science fiction writer rather than a top-notch physicist, and that he conveyed his ideas entirely through cartoons rather than through peer-reviewed technical papers? I can think of only two possible explanations: either the editors did not bother to perform the rudimentary research necessary to establish the listed facts (it took me five minutes with AltaVista to find Gribbin’s paper), or else they chose to deliberately suppress the above facts, perhaps incorrectly reasoning that lies of omission are not lies. Either way, their actions (or lack thereof) reflect severe intellectual dishonesty on their part, especially since their omissions tarnish the reputation of a physicist who has made noted contributions to the advancement of science.
I would like to thank Bill Schultz for helpful feedback on this article, and John Gribbin for his article on Gamow. Also special thanks to Roger Scott and Mike Hopkins for bringing to my attention two embarrassing errors I made in an earlier version of this paper.