The previous issue of Origins Research (10:1) featured an open letter from Chris Foreman to Omni Magazine about science and censorship. Apparently, Foreman's letter struck a responsive chord in our readers. We received many positive comments about his letter. We also received a few negative comments, however. One of our readers, Paul Ricci, wrote us with a systematic critique of Foreman's views. What follows is his letter along with Foreman's response.
Although I have not had a chance to read the anti-creationist articles in the February (1987) issue of Omni magazine, I found the retort to those articles by Chris Foreman interesting in that his objections reflect some very fundamental differences between the supporters of evolution and those of creation-science. Perhaps I can shed some light on the reasons Omni may have rejected Foreman's letter and why evolutionists, generally, would disagree with Foreman's arguments.
First, allow me to clarify the issue of who is censoring whom in the creation/evolution confrontation. It turns out that Foreman is playing loose and fast with the term "censor" despite his aid of a dictionary. Unfortunately, Funk & Wagnalls Desk Dictionary leaves out a very important qualification in its definition:
"An official examiner of manuscripts (texts, movies, etc.?) empowered to suppress them if objectionable."
Actually, the efforts of a censor are to eliminate anything politically objectionable, resulting in a more narrow definition of "censorship" (Webster's New World Dictionary, 2nd Ed.) than that quoted above. Would it be censorship, for example, for a library to intentionally omit books on fiction, or written in foreign languages, or technically advanced, on the grounds of lack of space or funds? One wouldn't think so but with the very broad definition quoted by Foreman, , this would be an example of censorship. Spatial, economic and (by implication) temporal limitations are not grounds for censorship claims. To the point, scientists realize there is a great urgency to teach as much science in a classroom situation as is academically feasible. Teaching astrology or flat-earth "science" in an astronomy class is objectionable (despite their tangential relation to science) on the grounds of lack of time. This is not censorship (since it is not done for dubious political reasons) though Flat-Earthers might think otherwise. Similarly, many outdated theories and hypotheses such as the spontaneous generation of organisms or vitalism (with its concept of entelechies) are not generally taught in biology courses because of time restrictions. No censorship is claimed in either of these cases. The situation is exactly the same for creation-science. Because of time restrictions in the classroom, creationsim is not taught, need not be taught, indeed, should not be taught unless and until it becomes accepted as a viable part of science by the scientific community in the same way they have accepted astornomy, geology, geography, etc.
On the other hand, qualifying, mis-stating, or omitting evolutionary theory (or any accepted part of modern science) by a minority who don't happen to agree with the majority view in this particular area, is censorship for this is being done for politically sensitive reasons, viz., to enhance long-since discredited scientific hypotheses (for whatever motivations). It would be analogous to a minority of Flat-Earthers modifying or omitting much of astronomy so they could teach astronomy from the point of view they think is important.
Foreman's point of letting the evidence determine the place of creationism in the public schools sounds reasonable until it is learned that such "evidence" has been examined and found wanting for creation-science. It is simply not evidence as judged by the vast majority of scientists and scholars who have examined both the objections against the evidence for evolutionary theory (e.g., the Paluxy footprints in Texas), and the alleged evidence for special creationism (e.g., rapid deposition of sedimentary layers). Ultimately, the evidence as understood and examined by the majority of scholars is what is and ought to be accepted by the community of scientists and taught in our public schools, not the dubious "evidence" of a minority of thinkers who more often than not have some theological axe to grind.
Further, the claim that we all carry around our dispositions, metaphysical assumptions or philosophical world views when we do science, may well be true to a greater or lesser extent. However, to conclude from this that the "metaphysical baggage" carried by creationists is entirely justifiable is quite erroneous for two reasons. First, any mataphysical assumptions must be irrelevant to the postulates or theories of science; these constructs of science must stand or fall with the examination of the basic count against it. When the evidence doesn't fit creationsim, some new ad hoc hypothesis is invented or some new clever definition is incorporated to "save face." In logic this is called the Redefinist Fallacy and is one of the most commonly committed types of incorrect reasoning found in creationist writing.
A second point to make about metaphysical baggage is to note that not all such assumptions run counter to the evidence. For example, when the (mataphysical?) assumption was made that the behavior of organisms could be explained mechanistically instead of using entelechies, no harm was done. Similarly, when it was suggested that heat could be explained entirely by recourse to molecules in motion, instead of a mysterious substance called caloric, the materialistic assumption here was not detrimental. However, when Einstein postulated that the microcosmic world would be found to be totally deterministic ("God does not play dice with the world") he seemed to have been in error (although there is still some viable debate on this point). Here, Einstein's metaphysical baggage may have been detrimental to his science. It is interesting to note in this regard, though, that scientists have paid greater heed to the generally agreed upon evidence, to the apparent data from nuclear physics, rather than to Einstein's strong wish for a deterministic universe. Unfortunately, creation-scientists are in a position similar to that of Einstein but refuse to give up their metaphysical baggage in light of an over-abundance of evidence over the past century and a half in various sciences from astronomy to zoology. They apparently learned nothing from the example of Einstein and others.
To illustrate how creation-scientists resist changing their metaphysical baggage when the evidence strongly demands that they do, consider how they reacted to the discovery that light from distant galaxies took millions of years to arrive here on earth. Instead of realizing that the earth could not be young (of the order of a few thousand years) they put forward the ad hoc assumption that God created these galaxies along with their shells of light intact within a few thousand light years away. Why God would have done something so implausible has never been clearly explained (though I remember one student claiming He did so as a test for humans!). Realizing the implausibility of such strange behavior from an omnipotent God, many creation-scientists resorted to the ruse that light traveled much faster earlier than it does today. Coincidentally, this hypothesis involved a rate of slowing down of the velocity of light from the time of creation just right to give us a universe only a few thousand years old. A better example of the Redefinist Fallacy would be hard to find!
Dr. Gell-Mann may well caryy around his "share of metaphysical baggage" without being aware of it, But there is no evidence that any such metaphysical baggage interferes with his scientific work in Grand Unified Theories (GUTS), nor that he explains away counter-evidence with ad hoc assumptions as do so many creation-scientists.
But the sharpest difference between creation-scientists and evolutionists turns on the explanation for resemblances of various species, between classes and between orders. These resemblances are known not only from comparative anatomy, embryology and paleontology, but from serology and--most impressive of all--from protein similarities. To explain such similarities by the "common design" hypothesis simply won't work. This hypothesis usually is taken to mean that God created any and all similarites between species, etc., because such designs were seen by God, in His infinite wisdom, to be the best for those creatures. But if this were the case, then why are mammals found in the oceans, more like us than any other creatures of the same environment? The common design hypothesis suggests there should be only one common design for creatures in a particular environment, yet we find mammals, reptiles, fish, coelenterates, etc., all inhabiting the same oceanic environments. How does common design explain such a great variety of differences? Are warm-blooded creatures in an ocean a better design than cold-blooded fish or reptiles? Are the scales of a fish any better a design for the oceans than the thick skin of whales, dolphins and seals? Those questions, and a thousand others, are unanswerable from the common design hypothesis unless some new ad hoc assumption is added to save a faltering hypothesis.
Evolutionary theory, on the other hand, suggests many different ways in which creatures can adjust and adapt to the same environment, depending upon which genetic pool they have to help them adapt. If their genetic pool is not sufficient for rapid environmental change, they become extinct a la dinosaurs, moas, mastodons and thousands of other classes, species, etc. Did God in His infinite wisdom goof in His design of these creatures but not of others? To explain the demise of these creatures by a Noachian flood doesn't explain the demise of creatures since the flood of Noah's time (not to mention the scientific difficulties with the flood itself!)
But the coup de grace to the creationist common design hypothesis comes from the data involving pseudogenes (see C/E Newsletter, XIX, pps. 36-45). In short, a pseudogene is a genetic error of no use whatever for the survival of a species but persists in all species evolved from the species in which the pseudogene originated (a rare occurence). "...the existence of two shared pseudogenes leads to the logical conclusion that both the human and ape sequences were copied from ancestral pseudogenes that must have arisen in a common ancestor of humans and apes." This evidence is incontrovertible, i.e., that humans and apes (in this case) shared a common ancestor, since there is no reason why a Divine Being would create a pseudogene with no beneficial results to that species. No doubt, though, some ingenious creationist will invent some new ad hoc assumption to save the common design hypothesis, or (s)he may try to discredit the scientific work done on pseudogenes, as they tried to do for the transitional fossil Archaeopteryx by claiming the latter was faked.
Space does not permit discussion of other differences between evolutionist and creation-scientists alluded to by Chris Foreman. However, he is quite right in objecting to the diatribes against creationists often used by frustrated scientists who don't want to get to the specifics of the data involved in their different world views.
In conclusion, in view of my earlier discussion on censorship it would be interesting to see whether this letter or some part of it makes its way to the pages of Origins Research which honors, admirably so, the principle of truth-seeking, as well as those of being critical and open-minded.
Cypress College, CA
Certain issues raised by Paul Ricci in response to my letter deserve further consideration. I will direct my own response into five broad areas: censorship, a flat earth, metaphysical baggage, ad hoc science, and Common Designer.
The first objection raised by Ricci concerned censorship. He began by replacing one definition of "censor" (mine) with another definition of "censor" (his). I cannot understand the reason for this switch nor for his insistence that politics be the sole motivation of censorship. Does he imply that religious, scientific, and literary censorship does not exist? Next, he alludes to a straw-man definition of "censor" (alleged to be mine) and proceeds to shred it to pieces. If he believes that my definition of censorship--which he, himself, quotes--allows for the exclusion of material on "spacial, economic, and temporal grounds", then he is mistaken.
The essence of censorship lies in its motive. If it were truly the case that special creation is being excluded from public schools because of space and time constraints, then no censorship is taking place. But this position is indefensible. Lack of public-school resources is not the problem. Censorship is the problem. Moreover, those who say that the creation position is being innocently omitted rather than deliberately supressed are compounding the problem.
Ricci's repeated equating of creationists with flat-earthers is offensive, but could prove instructive. Let us imagine that a large portion of the U.S. population believes that the earth is flat. Let us further imagine that a Gallup poll shows that most parents support a balanced approach in public schools (i.e. equal time for flat-earthers and round-earthers). If I were to teach this kind of "balanced approach" in a public school, I would be obliged to expose the flat-earth position as a fraud, but I would do it with tact. When it came time to discuss the shape of the earth, I would fearlessly provide the best available evidence for a flat earth written by its best proponents. Then, I would confidently provide the best evidence for the earth being an oblate spheroid. No one could accuse me of bias. I have enough faith in the shape of the earth and in the integrity of the mind not to be intimidated by any flat-earth argument. The point of this paragraph is this: Please give special creation a fair hearing in public schools. If the whole notion is so patently ridiculous (like a flat earth?), then what is there to fear? If special creation is a Fundamentalist deception being foisted upon an unsuspecting society, then why not demonstrate the deceit by contrasting evolution to creation? Students are not fools. The best way to expose a lie is to present its strongest case.
Ricci does not seem to appreciate the vagaries of metaphysics nor the influence of presuppositions. The word "metaphysics" means "beyond science". Metaphysics is by nature conjecture and speculation. It involves the structure of reality (ontology), the underpinnings of the universe (cosmology), and the justification of knowledge (epistemology). Some metaphysical systems may appear more reasonable than others, but all are equally unprovable and all equally indifferent to evidence. In view of this, how can Ricci term one metaphysical position "justifiable" and another "irrelevant to science"? Or how can he suggest that assumptions be shed while science is being practiced?
The events surrounding origins are historical and at best can only be inferred indirectly. Physical objects cannot speak for themselves. The naked face of reality must always be viewed through a personalized set of colored glasses. Even famous scientists are not exempt from this optometric imperative. Terms like "metaphysical baggage", "presupposition" and "world-view" describe the spectacles through which we must all view the world.
Ricci seems to imply that only creationists--and never evolutionists--make ad hoc changes to their respective cosmogonies. This is simply not true. The history of evolution since Darwin is a history of one ad hoc change piled upon another. Examples abound (Oort cloud, assumed intermediates, primitive atmosphere), but space does not permit further elaboration.
Why is it that evolutionary scientists are entitled to overhaul their theory with each hint of new evidence, but creation scientists cannot fine tune their theory without being accused of ad hoc science? Let's be reasonable. Modifications, redefinitions, and refinements will occur in any scientific model, especially in a model that purports to explain the origins of everything.
The final objection raised by Ricci deals with a Common Designer. With all due respect, he appears to be confused about this issue. Key to understanding the issue of homology is a clear differentiation between "common designer" and "common ancestor". On the one hand, a common designer is responsible for the resemblance found among Haydn symphonies, Van Gogh paintings, Wright buildings, and Hemingway novels. A Chevrolet resembles a Pontiac because both cars are designed by General Motors. On the other hand, common ancestry is responsible for the resemblance found between, say, Donnie and Marie Osmond. Likewise, common ancestry explains the resemblance found among horses, or among koala bears. The distinction between common designer and common ancestry is apparent in these cases.
The big question then becomes, "Why do human beings resemble chimpanzees?" Is this resemblance due to a common designer (like Chevrolet and Pontiac) or is it due to a common ancestor (like Donnie and Marie)? Ricci would have us believe that this question has been long settled--that, indeed, man and ape have an unquestioned common ancestor. But his assertion reveals more bias than science. The common ancestor remains as elusive as ever. And why does he insist that a Creator/God form only a handful of living types? Is it inconceivable that a creative God loves variety, diversity, and individuality? Unlike Ricci, I am not prepared to second-guess God and suggest that some other world may have made more sense than the world we experience. Why does it puzzle Ricci that God would create many flora and fauna with common characteristics? Don't all inhabit a common earth? Don't all partake of common air and water? Don't all share a common food chain?
Many evolutionary pundits now concede that the entire cosmos appears to be specially designed for human habitation. The argument from design continues to appeal to the human mind because order continues to recognize order.
Ricci's final comment on pseudogenes is a continuation of his morphological argument, but on a molecular level. In fact, his pseudogene finds a morphological analog in the vestigial organ. Not surprisingly, the concept of "vestigial gene" suffers the same shortcomings as does the concept of vestigial organ. It may just be that the inability of science-in-its-present-state to explain the function of a "pseudogene" does not reflect imperfection in the gene. It may, just as well, reflect imprefection in our present understanding of genetics. The "pseudo" may more aptly describe the science than the gene. After all, the number of vestigial organs has dwindled to the point where the term "vestigial organ" has itself become vestigial. The pseudogene may experience a similar fate.
Furthermore--evolutionary pronouncements to the contrary notwithstanding--common ancestry is not the inescapable conclusion of a common gene. It only becomes inescapable when God is presupposed out of the picture. If God created both mankind and apekind with certain outward similarities, could it not be expected that inward similarities (in blood, protein, even pseudogenes) exist as well? Doesn't a similar structure suggest a similar blueprint?
In conclusion, I must reiterate that evidence and evidence alone arbitrate the truth about origins. In this connection, I was disappointed that Ricci repeatedly appealed not to evidence, but authority, in presenting his arguments. Like some medieval scholastic appealing to Aristotle, he appeals to the authority of evolutionary dogma. He pontificates that "the evidence as understood by the majority of scholars is what is and ought to be accepted." Please, present me with the evidence, but let me understand for myself. Let me accept for myself.
Chris A. Foreman
Copyright © 1997 Paul Ricci, Chris Foreman,
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File Date: 3.3.97