Scientists mostly ignore creationists such as Duane Gish and his colleagues of the Institute for Creation Science. The creationists interpret this “conspiracy of silence” as an inability to refute their claims and a disdain for biblical truth. The following is a rebuttal by Professor William J. Dickensen, PhD, Professor of Biology at the University of Utah. It takes a lot of valuable time and energy to rebut the same threadbare arguments again and again. His recent debate at the U. of U. with the creationists was the topic of discussion for the July meeting of the Utah Humanists.
Evolution and The Public Schools
Resistance to teaching evolution in U.S. Public schools has a long history. legal actions pursued by creationists have failed. The courts struck down laws forbidding the teaching of evolution, and laws that require equal time in the classroom for creationism. Presently, there are no legal barriers to teaching evolution in the public schools but that does not mean the creationists have given up the fight. If courses were altered to placate the creationists much of biology, geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, anthropology, linguistics, and ancient history would disappear from the curriculum.
One tactic use by the creationists is to oversimplify the question of origins and creation into two choices: supernatural creationism (biblical, of course, but often not acknowledged), or naturalistic evolution. In actuality, most people do not fall neatly in either one. Offering only two choices tends to force those who are a bit uncomfortable with evolution into the creationist camp.
Another approach is quoting evolutionary authorities out of context. There are two aspects of evolution that scientists assign different degrees of certainty: (1) that evolution has taken place (high level of certainty) and (2) the mechanism that causes evolution (less certainty). By quoting scientists that are discussing the second aspect, it appears that scientists disagree with each other and are themselves uncertain about evolution.
A third strategy of creationists is to place questions of origins in the realm of the supernatural beyond the limits of science. Dr. Dickensen illustrated this with an analogy. Suppose you switch on a lamp but it does not light up. Using simple common sense, you are likely to construct hypotheses about the lamp’s failure such as, the light globe is burned out, the lamp in not plugged in, there is a power failure in the area, etc. These hypotheses are directly testable. We have here a simple model of how science is done, and the point is, it works. Now let us suppose that we made the hypothesis that the lamp in not working because the spirits of the lamp are displeased. This hypothesis is not amenable to scientific inquiry. It will likely divert you from solving the problem, and supernatural creationism does this. This should make clear why the term creation science is an oxymoron.
Evidence For Evolution
Dr. Dickensen pointed out that scientists accept evolution because there is supporting evidence. Because the quantity of evidence is large, it is difficult to do it justice in a one hour presentation. Included are two examples of his lecture.
Years before the idea of evolution was common, biologists classified species according to similarity. This grouping, for example places swallows in one group (birds), and bats in another (mammals). As the fossil evidence began to accumulate, it was clear that the system of classification reflected evolutionary history. The bird group separated from the mammal group over 100 million years ago and all mammals share a more recent common ancestor with common characteristics. Recently new methods of showing similarity were discovered. The DNA of swallows and penguins is more similar than bats and swallows, even though bats and swallows both have wings and earn their living catching airborne insects. Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than they are to gorilla. Testing shows that humans and chimps differ in only 1% of their DNA composition.
Another example of evidence comes from biogeography, which presents a set of facts that creationists have particular difficulty explaining. There are about 2,000 known species of fruit flies and of these 700 species live only in the Hawaiian islands. When the ark released its horde on Mt. Ararat, how did those 700 species make it to the Hawaiian islands and nowhere else? That a set of oceanic islands have many species of fruit flies fits the evolutionary model of specification precisely. It doesn’t matter what distribution of species you take, it gives the creationists trouble. Why did kangaroos make it only to Australia, humming birds only to the Americas, and hippos only to Africa?
The heart of Dr. Dickensen’s lecture dealt with refuting the arguments of seven creationist arguments. They were: (1) Thermodynamics, (2) Probability, (3) Transition fossils, (4) Order of randomness, (5) Appeal to authority, (6) Evolution is not testable, and (7) Evolution leads to immorality. For the sake of brevity, Numbers (1), (2) and (4) will be discussed.
The second law of thermodynamics says that free energy, the kind used for doing work, is always being downgraded. Water running down hill has energy that can be harnessed by a water wheel or a hydroelectric dam. Once the water runs into the ocean, all the energy is dispersed or degraded and can’t be harnessed anymore. Another aspect of the law is that it takes energy to keep things organized, otherwise chaotic randomness results. Much of what we do, whether it is repairing the car or cleaning the house, is an effort to reverse entropy (measure of disorder). The creationists argue that since everything in the universe tends to run down, disperse energy, and become chaotic and that evolution contradicts natural law. Evolution does produce intricately organized matter, namely life. In this argument the creationists give attention to only part of the law, and ignore the rest. If nature runs down over time the rivers should have stopped running long ago and all water on the planet should be in the oceans. The sun provides the energy through evaporation from the ocean to replenish fresh water in the mountains. The point here is that entropy can be, and is reversed all the time if you have an input of energy. The energy source which powers plants and animals, keeps their molecules organized rather than chaotic, and drives the uphill process of evolution is the sun which has produced a steady flow of energy to planet earth for 5 billion years.
Creationists are quick to point out a major tenet of evolutionary theory, that the raw material of evolution, the changes (mutations, genetic recombination, etc.), are purely random. How, they quibble, can we get the exquisite organization of a life out of randomness and chaos? They then present an example of this. Please switch into math mode now because this requires an understanding of a branch of algebra called permutations and combinations. Suppose we consider a particular protean found in an animal (proteins are long chains and the links in the chain are amino acids. Insulin and hemoglobins are examples of proteins). Suppose the protean polymer chain is 150 amino acids long (a small protein). Since there could be any of 20 amino acids that could fill that first site in the protein strand, the probability is 1/20 (read one chance in 20), the second is 1/20, etc. The probability that this protein would randomly come together in the right sequence is 20 multiplied by itself 150 times, or 1/20 to the 150th power. Such a number would have over 150 digits in it making such a chance occurrence highly improbable. This argument by itself is completely valid.
The important idea left out of the creationists argument is natural selection. Neither randomness or natural selection by themselves will cause evolution. By linking them, the probabilities become more realistic. Take the protein molecule example described above. Suppose that you had a die with 20 sides (each of the 20 amino acids). Then you roll the die until by chance you get the first amino acid. If you could keep it in its first position while you rolled the die for the second amino acid, the calculation changes dramatically. It now becomes 1/20 plus 1/20 etc. for the 150 amino acids. This produces a probability of 1/3,000. This example has included both the principle of reproduction and selection with randomness.
Because organisms can reproduce, they can duplicate and retain what organization they have already achieved. Each time they reproduce, if copying errors creep in (random mutations) we have modifications added by chance. Those modifications that are useful and help the organism survive are retained. If the change causes a disadvantage, the organism is selected out in the struggle for survival.
The course of evolution does require fantastically low probabilities to occur. A chance event of 1/1,000,000 looks pretty unlikely to occur but if the event is repeated 1,000,000 times, it will occur. In the history of the earth there have been billions of organisms alive at any one time for chance events to occur and billions of years for them to accumulate. With such a breadth of time and events, the improbable becomes probable.
Dr. Dickensen ended his presentation by discussing some of the principles of creation science. He listed five serious problems in their case: (1) The orderly flood, (2) The “slippery kind”, (3) The negative proof, (4) The incredulous observer, and (5) The omnipotent loophole. Just number (1) will be discussed here.
The Grand Canyon exposes a column of sedimentary rocks over a mile thick. Creation science would have us believe that those layers were ALL laid down in only a few month’s time during the “universal flood.” They explain the sequence of fossils thus: helpless invertabrates succumbed first and are in the bottom layer, reptiles succumbed next and are in the middle layers. Birds, being able to fly, and mammals and humans, with their intelligence succumbed last and are found in the top layers. The Colorado River cut through these solidified sediments since the flood, a few thousand years ago. Draw your own conclusions about creation science.
Futuyma, Douglas J. Science On Trial: The Case For Evolution, New York, Pantheon Books, 1982.
Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker; Why The Evidence Of Evolution Reveals A Universe Without Design, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1987.
What Do Humanists Believe?
Humanists do not believe in God. On balance, the evidence is against there being any supernatural force in the world, so Humanists prefer the scientific theory of evolution to explain why we are here. To say “God created everything” just poses the question: “Who created God?”
Humanists accept responsibility for their own lives. There are no “god-given” rules to guide our actions and decide what we believe. But, human beings also have a responsibility to the whole world. We are more advanced than any other living beings: we have unique abilities of understanding, reason, and sensitivity. For this reason, we must face the fact that the future of humankind–and the natural world–is in the hands of men and women, not fate or god.
Humanists believe that when a person dies, that is that! The human body is a wonderful organism, but when it ceases to function, the person is dead and there can be no further existence. For some people it is comforting to believe in a reunion with family and friends in some future life, but we feel that that the very idea of an “afterlife” is really just wishful thinking. What matters to Humanists is “here and now”–for ourselves and future generations.
Humanists do not claim to have any final answers. We look to the open book of nature, not to the closed book of “revelation”, for our understanding of the world and what is important in it. Science and ethics are continuing processes of discovery and surprise, so one must always be willing to consider new ideas.
Humanists expect fair play! Belief in God is a strength and help to many people, and we have no wish to threaten or distress them by undermining that support. However, we strongly object to schools teaching children about religion as if it were established fact. We expect the same critical methods to be used in studying religion as are considered necessary in the study of science or history.
Right And Wrong
Humanists are deeply concerned about right and wrong. Every society needs a moral code if people are to live together in harmony. But we believe that morality comes from within ourselves, not from “God”. It is to do with people, with individual goodwill and social responsibility: it is about unselfishness and kindness and consideration towards others.
Morality is possible because human beings have a sense of responsibility, and we work out our moral code as we come to understand what this means to ourselves and other people. Religious teaching and prejudice have, in the past, clouded this human basis of morality. But it is emerging now and needs to be developed and presented clearly.
Humanists have two particular responsibilities here:
- We must share with others our view that the highest human values and ideals come from people and not from “God”.
- We must seek to influence society for the best, along the lines that we ourselves have worked out.
We accept our responsibility for the society in which we live but we will resist those who wish to re-impose the prejudiced and intolerant morals of the past. We tackle sensitive issues-from abortion to capitol punishment, from medical ethics to religious and moral education. Our approach is based on a concern for the welfare and happiness of both individuals and communities.
We want to make this world better and safer for our own and future generations. We will work with others, when we can, for international peace, and end to hunger and poverty, and the protection of our natural environment.
It is not enough for people simply to have a conscience about such matters–that conscience must be stirred into action.
Humanists differ from religious people in a number of ways. We do not ask for help from “god”, nor do we expect any reward in “heaven”. Instead we rely upon ourselves and other human beings, and devote our time and energy to the world we live in.
“The humanist has faith in man’s intellectual and spiritual resources not only to bring knowledge and understanding of the world but to solve the moral problems of how to use that knowledge. That man should show respect to man irrespective of class, race or creed is fundamental to the humanist attitude to life. Among the fundamental moral principles he would count those of freedom, tolerance and happiness.”
(from Pear’s Cylopaedia)
–Published by the British Humanist Association
LDS On Humanism
The July, 1992 issue of the LDS publication Ensign (page 16) cites the Humanist Manifesto II as an example of the modern day voice of Satan. An article discussing the Book of Mormon character Korihor, who is described as the messenger of Satan (Alma 30:6), states he was preaching the doctrine of the devil to the Zoramites. The article says, “today the world is permeated with philosophies similar to those taught by Korihor” and goes on to quote three sections of Humanist Manifesto II as examples.
The author, Gerald N. Lund, advises Mormons not to get drawn into an academic philosophical debate with Korihor’s followers but rather combat their philosophy with “revelation and true doctrines.”
What Do Unitarian Universalists Believe?
Editor’s Note: Many chapter members are Unitarians, but many are not. Recently, Max Shifrer, who is both, gave me a card which he carries. For the interest of everyone, I am including that information.
- We believe in the freedom of religious expression. All individuals should be encouraged to develop their own personal theology, and to present openly their opinions without fear of censure or reprisal.
- We believe in the toleration of religious ideas. All religions, in every age and culture, possess not only an intrinsic merit, but also a potential value for those who have learned the art of listening.
- We believe in the authority of reason and conscience. The ultimate arbiter in religion is not a church, or a document, or an official, but the personal choice and decision of the individual.
- We believe in the never-ending search for Truth. If the mind and heart are truly free and open, the revelations which appear to the human spirit are infinitely numerous, eternally fruitful, and wonderfully exciting.
- We believe in the unity of experience. There is no fundamental conflict between faith and knowledge, religion and the world, the sacred and the secular, since they all have their source in the same reality.
- We believe in the worth and dignity of each human being. All people on earth have an equal claim to life, liberty, and justice—and no idea, ideal, or philosophy is superior to a single human life.
- We believe in the ethical application of religion. Good works are the natural product of a good faith, the evidence of an inner grace that finds completion in social and community involvement.
- We believe in the motive force of love. The governing principle in human relationships in the principle of love, which always seek the welfare of others and never seeks to hurt or destroy.
- We believe in the necessity of the democratic process. Records are open to scrutiny, elections are open to members, and ideas are open to criticism—so that people might govern themselves.
- We believe in the importance of a religious community. The validation of experience requires the confirmation of peers, who provide a critical platform along with a network of mutual support.
By David O. Rankin.
Published by the
Unitarian Universalist Association
Man For Himself
In this timeless book, Eric Fromm takes a positive view of Mankind’s ability to govern oneself through understanding the dynamics of both authoritarian ethics and humanist ethics. Following are some of the highlights of his book.
In the authoritarian system of ethics, an authority states what is good for humankind as lays down the laws and norms of conduct. It denies a person’s capability to know what is good or bad because the norm-giver is always an authority transcending and exploiting the individual. It ordains obedience to be the main virtue and disobedience the main sin.
In contrast, the humanistic system of ethics is based on using our innate and acquired ability to reason, our own power to love, and on our ability to live productively. Fromm considers productiveness an intrinsic human faculty which can give meaning to our life.
To love one’s neighbor is not a phenomenon transcending mankind. It is something inherent in and radiating from all of us. Love is not a higher power which descends upon us, nor a duty which is imposed upon us. It is our own power by which we relate to the world anb make it truly ours.
The nature of all life is to preserve and affirm its own existence. The first duty of an organism is “to be alive” and is the same as the duty “to be oneself.” This is a dynamic concept. human strivings are what distinguish us from other animals. We strive for the experience of harmony and unity to make productive use of our own powers by removing obstacles in ourselves and our environment. There is a human need for devotion. Man cannot live without faith. The question is whether this faith will be an irrational faith in leaders, machines, and success. Or the rational faith in mankind based on the experience of our own productive observing, thinking, and experiencing to free ourselves to BE ourselves and for ourselves.
We have to be hopeful regarding the future of mankind. However, there is one qualification for success–that we realize the decision rests with us. It rests upon our ability to take ourselves, our life, and happiness seriously; and on our willingness to face our own and society’s moral problems. The future rests upon mankind’s courage to be himself and for himself.