Report on the 2005 Mega Creation Conference
July 18-July 22 2005
By Jason Rosenhouse
Posted August 23, 2005
Intelligent Design (ID) proponents sucking up all the anti-evolution oxygen
these days, it is easy to forget that the young-Earthers are still around. No doubt motivated partly by a desire
to remind everyone they're still here, they recently organized the Creation
Mega Conference, held at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. That being just down the road from my
digs in Harrisonburg, VA, I decided to check it out.
Sunday, July 17. Afternoon.
located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the beautiful scenery managed to
divert me from the tedium of the drive.
But as pretty as the scenery was, I was also struck by just how isolated
Lynchburg is. I encountered almost
nothing in the way of civilization as I drove down Route 29. I suspect the sort of extreme Biblical
fundamentalism represented by the conference speakers can only survive in such
isolated little burgs. I would
soon find that a recurring theme in the conference presentations was the
protection of their children from "the wisdom of the world." The word "wisdom"
is definitely meant ironically here.
I arrived in
Lynchburg without incident and located my host for the next few days; the Sleep
Inn. Check-in went smoothly. The nice person at the desk pointed me
towards the Liberty University campus.
I decided to walk.
Sunday, July 17. Evening.
As I approached
the main entrance of the campus I saw a large sign announcing one of Liberty
University's slogans: "Changing Lives One Degree at a Time." It is an amusing slogan, since most
Liberty students choose the school out of a desire to avoid having their faith
challenged; which would inevitably happen were they to go to a mainstream
university. If you truly believe
in a young-Earth and global flood, then almost anything you hear in a science
class will challenge your faith.
Nearly all of their students are fundamentalist Christians to begin
with. In other words, a Liberty
education is about not changing your life.
It was rather hot and humid and I was sweating quite
a bit when I managed to locate the Vines Center, which was the main facility
for the conference. I went inside,
allowed my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting, and located the conference
registration table. I waited my
turn, swallowed hard as I paid my $150 registration fee, and received my
conference package: A complete
schedule of the presentations. A
notebook. Promotional material for
various creationist groups. A copy
of Ken Ham's subtly titled book The Lie: Evolution. Ham is the President of the young-Earth
organization Answers in Genesis, co-sponsor of the conference.
The second paragraph of the introduction to Ham's
book says, "My parents knew that evolution was wrong because it was obvious
from Genesis that God had given us the details of the creation of the
world." One of the presenters at
the conference expressed the same thought more directly: "God said it, that
refreshingly clear and honest on this point. They have little use for the various politically correct
subterfuges used by the ID folks in presenting their case. Unlike the ID people, YEC's are
completely open about their religious motivations.
On the other
hand, it tells you something about the way the goers approach this
subject. They hate the fact that
they must wage this war on science's turf. They want to be able to cite the authority of scripture and
have everyone else take them seriously.
It is already a major defeat for them that they must argue in scientific
That is why many
of the scientific assertions they make are jaw-droppingly ignorant. That is why they are able to stand in
front of audiences, and, without apparent shame, speak with great confidence on
subjects they obviously know nothing about. That is why one of the rallying cries I heard several times
during the conference was, "It doesn't take a PhD!" Getting it right is not something that is important to
them. Victory over the enemy is
what's important. If achieving
that victory means playing fast and loose with the facts then so be it.
I trudged back
to the hotel and took advantage of the free HBO.
Monday, July 18. Morning.
already quite a few people milling around as I returned to the Vines
Center. It was 7:30 in the
morning, and Jerry Falwell was scheduled to kick off the festivities in
forty-five minutes. I passed the
time by browsing through the tables of books and DVD's for sale.
reading creationist literature for years but it still made my blood boil to see
so much of it in one place. You
could open virtually any of the books to a random page and find grotesque
distortions and malicious caricatures of modern science. For example, while browsing I picked up
the book Refuting Evolution Two by Jonathan Sarfati (one of the speakers
at the conference). I opened it to
a random page, which turned out to be the beginning of Chapter Five. Here's the first sentence of the
chapter: "When they begin to talk
about mutations, evolutionists tacitly acknowledge that natural selection, by
itself, cannot explain the rise of new genetic information." Natural selection by itself? What does that even mean? That's like saying, "When they begin to
talk about mass, physicists tacitly acknowledge that gravity, by itself, can
not explain the motions of the planets."
There is no gravity without mass, and there is no natural selection
unless you have a population of varied, competing organisms.
Over at one
table a DVD was playing. On the
screen was a handsome young man lecturing to a roomful of obviously enthralled
students about the nature of geology.
With a bemused tone he said that modern geologists insist that various
geologic processes unfold over millions of years. "But how do they know that? Was anyone there to see it happen? Has geological science been going on for millions of
years?" The video was galling for
many reasons: The utter lack of respect for the work geologists do, the
patronizing tone of the speaker, and the fact that no one really believes that
if you didn't see something happen then you can not speak with confidence about
it, immediately came to mind.
taking their seats and Jerry Falwell approached the platform. He described the conference as an
historic event, and claimed around 2000 attendees (the conference blog later
decreased that number to 1800). He
then asserted that all the polls show that 2/3 to 3/4 of Americans agree with
AiG on this issue, which is not correct.
The polls have consistently shown that the percentage of people
accepting the young-Earth position is just under fifty percent.
He boasted that
the church is winning the debate.
He said that despite having the media, Hollywood and academe against
them, the church of Jesus Christ returned George W. Bush to the White
House. And this is about science,
Then he launched
into the standard pitch about creation being necessary to redemption. If Genesis is unreliable, then how
could they be confident that the crucifixion account is true?
implies humans are worthless animals that have no value except to PETA (People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
If God could
create an adult Adam with apparent age, why couldn't he do the same with the
universe? (I suppose He could
have, but why would He?)
Then things got
surreal. He boasted about the
loyalty oaths addressing both creation and eschatology that Liberty faculty are
expected to sign. He was proud
that Liberty had maintained its ideological purity despite their growth over
the years. Which is amusing, since
he and people like him routinely lambaste mainstream universities for being
ideologically rigid. Modern
university science departments are as good an example of a true meritocracy as
you're likely to find. Falwell and
his ilk hate this fact, because they know their peculiar beliefs cannot survive
in such an environment. So they
rail about left-wing bias in universities and try to force these schools to
hire their intellectual disciples.
In public, they
talk about fairness and academic freedom and open-mindedness. In private, that goes out the
window. And why not? By dissenting from their view of things
you are risking an eternity in Hell.
What's a little rhetorical inconsistency compared with that?
on a suitably dramatic note, exhorting his adoring listeners that they had the
truth, the inerrant word of God on their side. They should ignore the loud voices from the opposite side. Indeed. The moment they stop ignoring them is the moment they
realize that they have been lied to about science.
came David DeWitt, director of the Center for Creation Research at Liberty
University. He made only a few
brief remarks, emphasizing Liberty's adherence to a literal interpretation of
the Bible from "Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21." In particular, they believe Adam and Eve were real people
and that God created in six literal days.
It was the
conclusion to his remarks that struck me, however. He was contrasting Liberty's theological purity favorably
against the weak-kneed, compromised theology of various other, allegedly
Christian colleges. You know the
ones I mean. Those are the
Christian colleges that present biology and geology in a serious way; the ones
that suggest that ideas like evolution or the geological column are actually
pretty nifty. Wheaton College was
singled out for particular derision.
It seems that in a survey of Wheaton students, a majority indicated that
they were more confused on the subject of origins after going through Wheaton's
curriculum than they were before.
DeWitt described this as sad.
Happy, apparently, is the fate of Liberty's students, who described
themselves as less confused on the subject as a result of their education.
theatrics, DeWitt was a bit dull.
They wisely got him off the stage quickly. Ken Ham was up next.
Say what you want about him, he is never dull.
presentations were going on in a large coliseum. The speakers stood on a stage at some distance from the
nearest audience members, but their charming faces were projected onto several
large screens for the benefit of the attendees. Separate screens displayed whatever Power Point slides the
speaker chose to use. The
presentations were very slick and professional, more so than what you often see
at real scientific conferences.
But, then, the
explanation for that is not hard to see.
At scientific conferences, the purpose of the presentations is to
transmit facts and ideas to the audience.
Glitz and flash are not viewed as important. But in creationist conferences, the point is to fool people
into thinking that something of great import is being delivered from the
stage. They want to provoke the
reaction, "How could they be wrong?
Their presentation is so slick!"
Ham's talk was
entitled "Rebuilding the Foundation."
It was mostly a cheerleading talk, with very little scientific
content. His rallying cry was
"We're taking them back!"
Here's a list of
the things Ham described as needing to be retrieved by the Christian
community: Christian Institutions,
History, Creation, Chemistry, DNA, Marriage, Dinosaurs, Animal Kinds, Biology,
Genetics, Stalagmites, Stalactites, The Meaning of Death, Physics, Geology, The
Grand Canyon, People Groups, Education and Genesis 1-11. Somehow I was reminded of
comedian Steven Wright's line, "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"
There were a few
other choice nuggets in the talk.
He outlined the "Seven C's" approach to history: Creation, Corruption,
Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, Consummation. To which I add an eighth C: Clever! There was also the casual suggestion
that God allows natural disasters and events like 9-11 because of human sin.
Ham closed his
talk by imploring the audience to buy lots of books and DVD's from the
concessions in the front of the hall.
But I don't mean he simply said, "Please visit the bookstore during the
break between the talks." Not at
all. He went on for fifteen
minutes describing in great detail the various titles that were
available. In fact, virtually
every talk I attended concluded with five to ten minutes of pleas to buy lots
of stuff. Every time you thought they were finished hawking their wares, they'd
rattle off a whole new series of products you were expected to buy. It reminded me of the old saying that
television is a series of advertisements occasionally interrupted by
programming just interesting enough to keep you watching until the next
commercial. The actual presentations
were the programming; the advertisements were the point of it all.
After Ham's talk
there was a thirty-minute break.
After that the conference broke into parallel tracks. There were two talks going on
simultaneously, one in the "Basic" track, the other in the "Advanced"
track. Goodness! What to do?
I considered my
options. The advanced talk for the
morning was entitled "Refuting Compromise" by Jonathan Sarfati. The compromise he had in mind involved
those Christians, most notably Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, who have made
their peace with the great age of the Earth. That did not seem like something I could get worked up over.
And how could I
resist the basic talk, entitled "What's the Best Evidence That God Created?" by
Carl Kerby? You might try to
anticipate the answer to that question before I come to it a few paragraphs
My one concern
about the talk, that it would be dull and ponderous, was put to rest right at
the start when Kerby, in a tone more appropriate for an audience of five-year
olds (basic indeed), informed us that this would be a fun talk. He began by discussing stars. They blow his socks off! The beauty, the colors the order! He's in awe! As am I, albeit for different reasons.
He then informed
us, proudly, that he was neither deep nor complex. This was a common refrain in this talk, at the conference
generally, and in most creationist presentations. It is standard anti-intellectualism. If you think too much you get
confused. It is obvious to
everyone that there is a God. Only
by many years of advanced study at a Godless university could you presume to
reject something so clear.
He then showed
us a picture of an elaborate sand castle and said, mimicking similar arguments
made by proponents of Intelligent Design (ID), that the castle was obviously
designed. But how much more
complicated is a star than a sand castle!
Like, QED, dude.
We were maybe
five minutes into the talk at this point.
It was around here that I got the sinking feeling that things were not
going to get any better. From here
Kerby presented a menagerie of nature's oddities. It was standard creationist fare: point to some random
structure in some obscure little critter, gush about how complicated it is and
how all the parts had to be there before it could function, scoff at the idea
that such a thing could have evolved, bask in the cheers and laughter of the
delighted audience. Creationists
of a bygone era made this point with such banalities as the human eye or bird
wings. Occasionally they
whipped out something more esoteric, like the defense mechanism of the
bombardier beetle. Richard Dawkins
gave a good description of the style of argument in a recent essay:
ignorance and uncertainty, not as a spur to honest research but in order to
exploit and abuse Darwin's challenge. "Bet you can't tell me how the elbow
joint of the lesser spotted weasel frog evolved by slow gradual degrees?" If
the scientist fails to give an immediate and comprehensive answer, a default conclusion
is drawn: "Right then, the alternative theory, 'intelligent design', wins by
default." Notice, first, the
biased logic: if theory A fails in some particular, theory B must be right! We
are encouraged to leap to the default conclusion without even looking to see
whether the default theory fails in the very same particular. ID is granted
(quite wrongly as I have shown elsewhere) a charmed immunity to the rigorous
demands made of evolution.
Notice, second, how the
creationist ploy undermines the scientist's natural - indeed necessary -
rejoicing in uncertainty. Today's scientist in America dare not say: "Hm,
interesting point. I wonder how the weasel frog's ancestors did evolve their
elbow joint. I'm not a specialist in weasel frogs, I'll have to go to the
University Library and take a look. Might make an interesting project for a
No, the moment a scientist said something like that
- and long before the student began the project - the default conclusion would
become a headline in a creationist pamphlet: "Weasel frog could only have been
designed by God."
Kerby produced some examples that
were new to me: The cave Weta of New Zealand, an insect which has "anti-freeze"
blood to allow it to survive the cold winters of its native habitat; the Moloch
Lizard; the congregating behavior of Emperor penguins, some exotic species of
frog then went by too quickly for me to write down, and so on. In every case the argument was the
same: The complex system in
question could not have evolved gradually because it could not have functioned
until all of its parts were in place.
No, strike that. It was
positively laughable to think that such a thing could have evolved. Utterly ridiculous!& You'd have to have no brain at all even
to entertain the notion!!
example Kerby asked the audience, "Is this the best evidence that God
created?" To which the delighted
audience would reply, "Not even close!"
So what is the best evidence that God Created? Have you guessed it yet?
It is the
Bible! The best evidence that God created is
that He told us He created. And
then Kerby closed his talk with a chilling but typically clear expression of
creationist logic: "Do not let
evidence fuel your appreciation of God.
Let your appreciation of God influence your view of the evidence."
But what really
bugged me about the talk was not the extreme shallowness of Kerby's
thinking. No, I'm used to
that. What bugged me were his
incessant imprecations that people show humility before the glories of nature.
Humility? How dare these people talk about
You know what
scientists do when confronted with nature's complexity? First they spend five years or more in
graduate school, living in near-poverty, having no life, studying all the time
while being used as cheap labor by the university, just to get a PhD. Then they go out into a job market that
presents the very real possibility of unemployment as the reward for all that
hard work. If they're lucky
they'll land a post-doc, and bounce around the country for a while struggling
to find a permanent position. Even
if they are lucky enough to land a permanent position they could very well find
themselves in some two by nothing town in the middle of nowhere. They spend years trying to get a
research program off the ground, scrapping for grant money, and fighting with
ornery referees to get their research published.
And why do they
do that? They do it because they
know that is what it takes if you want to understand nature's complexity just a
little bit better. That's what it
takes to make the tiniest dent in the sum total of human ignorance.
humility is having a used car salesman give you a brief description of some
complex system, conclude after five seconds' reflection that it could not have
evolved, and then decide that only an omnipotent God could be responsible for
such a critter. That's not
humility, that's supreme arrogance.
That's pride and sloth all wrapped up into one.
Though the talk
was held in a large classroom, there was no question and answer period. In fact, none of the presentations had
Q&A's. Later in the conference
Ham would mention that they felt it was impractical to have such sessions,
which was total nonsense. It would
have been trivial to set up microphones in the aisles for those talks held in
the coliseum, while the talks in the classroom wouldn't even have required
microphones. In fairness, however,
most of the speakers hung around after the talk to take questions on a more
Monday, July 18. Afternoon.
talk was followed by a two-hour lunch break. I fled the classroom, emerged into the humid Lynchburg
weather, and went searching for a place to eat lunch. I eventually settled for a nearby Mexican restaurant. Ordered a fajita burrito. It was really, really, good. Felt better.
I finished lunch
with more than an hour and a half to spare before the next talk. Since I was close to my hotel, I
decided to relax there for a while before going back to campus. Got to the hotel, went back to my room,
laid down on the bed. Grew
I am often asked
why I do this. Why would I spend
so much time, and a not inconsiderable chunk of money, hanging out with people
whose views I obviously have little respect for? Well, there are a couple of reasons why I do it.
interest is as a journalist.
Especially for those of us who live in the red states, the pernicious
influence of religious fundamentalism is a simple fact of everyday life. Someone has to keep an eye on what
these folks are doing and saying.
Partly I feel
morally obligated to do it.
Nonsense has to be confronted.
A short drive from my home, some two thousand people are gathering to
listen to a series of frauds and charlatans impugn the characters of my
colleagues and tell lies about what scientists believe and why they believe
it. How could I live with myself
if I didn't do what little I could to challenge it?
Partly I think I
can do some good. In other
conferences of this sort that I have attended there have always been
opportunities to ask questions after the talks. Merely by asking a polite but challenging question I knew I
could count on having a large crowd around me afterwards. In those forums you have a chance to
plant a few seeds.
reason is anthropological. These
are people who see the world very differently from the way I do. As much as I deplore what they stand
for, I want to try to understand where they are coming from and why they
believe the things they do.
And let's not
overlook my last reason: I enjoy
it. I like seeing people who are
fired up about big questions, and I like a good argument. And since having the Earth open up and
swallow them whole doesn't seem to be an option, I might as well engage them.
Enough contemplation. Back to the conference.
My choices were
"How to Defend the Christian Faith in a Secular World," by Ken Ham in the basic
track, and "Rocks Around the Clocks: The Eons That Never Were," by Emil
Silvestru in the advanced track.
Having had my fill of Ham, I elected for the rocks.
mistake. Silvestru's talk was a
typical creationist snow job.
Look! Here's a tree buried
through many layers of sediment.
Look! Here are some
preserved dinosaur eggs.
Look! Here's a Sequoia
fossil in the Arctic. In most
cases the examples went by far too quickly to digest their supposed
logic seemed off. For example, why
are preserved dinosaur eggs supposed to be a problem for evolution? If I understood Silvestru correctly it
is supposed to be because for an egg to be preserved, it must be covered in
sediment very quickly. But
preserved dinosaur eggs come from all over the world and are from roughly the
same time period. Such rapid
burial could only have been caused by a major catastrophe. And this catastrophe would have had to
be global to explain the distribution of eggs. So Noah's flood is real.
I am open to the
suggestion that I have misunderstood Silvestru in some way, because the
argument as I currently understand it is just too dumb. These eggs may date to the same
geological era, but they surely were not literally buried during the same few
days. And it's not as if the globe
was pock-marked with droves of dinosaur eggs. It was not at all clear why several local "catastrophes"
could not explain the data Silvestru was attributing to a global event.
But mostly I
didn't pay too much attention to Silvestru, since he was uttering one howler
after another every time he brought up evolution. For example, he argued that the rates of evolution as
documented by the fossil record spelt the death knell for the theory.
In the notes
accompanying the lecture Silvestru expressed the point this way:
Thus the Archean represents 47 percent of the
Earth's age, the Proterozoic 40 percent and the Phanerozoic the remainder of 13
percent! Yet it is during the
Phanerozoic that the vast majority of evolution is claimed to have unfolded,
with human evolution (the most complicated of them all!) taking the shortest
time of all! There is definitely a
strange correlation between time and evolution since our planet is believed (by
evolutionists) to have taken a quarter of its entire age before the first form
of life evolved, 62 percent of its age all it accommodated was single-celled
creatures (protozoans) but then it surely caught up with its completely random
goal, evolving the absolute majority of all known life forms in just 13 percent
of its age!
And creationists wonder why we
don't take them seriously.
since evolution is going on all the time it is nonsensical to say that the vast
majority of evolution unfolded during 13% of Earth's history. The one-celled organisms that were the
sole denizens of the planet for so long were evolving the entire time they were
present. But there are limits to
the plasticity of such organisms, which is why we do not see impressive
morphological changes documented in the most ancient fossils.
arrival of multicelluarity, however it occurred, merely opened up vast new
territories for evolution to explore.
It was not evolution itself that was occurring more quickly during this
time, but rather the evolution of changes large enough to appear in the fossil
record. And his statement about
human evolution being the most complicated is based on nothing more than his
desire to treat humans separately from other animals. Biologically there is no basis for his assertion.
Next up was
Phillip Bell in the Basic track discussing, "Ape Men, Missing Links, and the
Bible," and Douglas Kelly on "The Importance of Chronology in the Bible," in
the advanced track. I went Basic
Phillip Bell was
one of the youngest speakers at the conference. Unlike his fellow AiG'ers, he was plainly nervous. His subject was "Ape Men, Missing Links
and the Bible." He had the
unpleasant task of having to explain away all of those highly suggestive
hominid fossils that keep turning up on various African plains.
particularly interested in this talk.
It was not that long ago that I was on the fence about this whole issue. For me, the various transitional
fossils linking human beings to our ape-like ancestors were a particularly
compelling piece of evidence in favor of evolution. As far as I was concerned, creationists had yet to come up
with a remotely plausible reason for why I shouldn't draw the obvious
conclusions from those fossils.
Well, they still
haven't. Bell's talk was made up
entirely of standard creationist boilerplate. All of those fossils were either "fully ape" or "fully
human." Piltdown man was a
hoax. Evolutionists will find a
tooth or a toe and simply concoct an organism to go with it. There is great controversy among
paleoanthropologists about the evolutionary relationships among the various
There was also
the standard material about world-views and interpretations of the
evidence. He reiterated the
standard imprecation to allow the Bible to influence your interpretation of
evidence. The Bible is quite clear
that Adam was formed from the dust of the Earth (Gen. 2:7) and that he was the
first man (1 Cor 15:45). Therefore
we should not find any transitional forms between apes and humans. If we find something that appears to be
transitional that's not evidence for evolution; it's evidence that we haven't
properly discerned the importance of the particular fossil.
one of the oldest and most complete hominid fossils, was just an ape and
Neanderthal man was fully human.
It is a familiar argument, but it won't wash. You can assign whatever label you want to a given fossil. It is not going to change the fact that
the fossils we have show a clear progression from hominids with mostly ape-like
features through those that are more and more like modern humans.
Also making its
appearance was the beloved creationist ploy of using quotations out of
context. One example should
suffice. In a 2002 article for the
British magazine New Scientist, paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood wrote,
Our progress from ape to human looks so smooth, so
tidy. It's such a beguiling image
that even the experts are loath to let it go. But it is an illusion. (Bernard Wood, "Who Are We?" New
Scientist, Oct. 26, 2002.)
What's this? A prominent scholar admitting that
human evolution is an illusion? That is the impression Bell wished to create.
course, readers knowledgeable about basic evolutionary theory will have little
trouble discerning Wood's point.
The illusion he refers to is not the evolution of humans from ape-like
ancestors, but rather the idea that this evolution was smooth and tidy. Wood spells this out in the next
paragraph, where he discusses the significance of a then recently unearthed
fossil skull from Chad:
It is forcing us to rethink the idea of human
evolution as a smooth progression without blind alleys or dead ends. It can't possibly be so tidy, as within
this framework the Chad fossil makes no sense...
Bell closed his
talk with a truly bizarre statement.
He summarized the fossil evidence as follows: There are thousands of hominid fossils, a statement he
backed up by citing the Catalog of Fossil Hominids from the British Museum of
Natural History. Then he said
there are hundreds of human fossils, and numerous extinct ape fossils. But nothing in between! The three categories -- hominid, human
and ape -- were listed on three separate lines, clearly indicating they were
intended as three separate classifications. Alas many of those hominid fossils are, indeed, "in between"
in the sense he has in mind.
All in all, not
a very convincing presentation.
However, feeling ornery, I decided to wait by the stage to ask him a few
questions. There was quite a large
crowd around him, so I had to wait some time for my turn.
As I listened to
the things other people were asking, I was struck by how foolish the organizers
had been in not allowing a more public Q&A session. Most of the questions were so fawning
and obsequious that the speakers could only have grown in stature by answering
them. "Sir, you're smart, you're
handsome, you're eloquent. If I
worked really hard do you think I could be half the human being you are?" That sort of thing. At other talks I saw people posing for
photographs with the speaker (at times thrusting their young children forward
to be filmed with the speaker as well), others grabbed whatever scrap of paper
they could find to collect an autograph.
It seemed like many in the audience viewed the conference presenters as
of where I was standing and partly because of my own nervousness, I was the
last one to get to Mr. Bell. So it
was just the two of us standing there.
We had a very pleasant, though ultimately unproductive conversation.
Here is one
example of how the conversation went.
During the talk Bell used a second quotation from the Bernard Wood
article quoted earlier, "Certainly," Wood wrote, "the search for the 'missing
link' is doomed to failure." In
reply I pointed out that actually Wood's point was that we shouldn't think in
terms of missing links, because even if we had the right fossil in front of us
we would have no way of recognizing it as such. He replied with the bizarre argument that having a large
number of candidate "missing links" is somehow a problem for
evolutionists. Further, given the
rampant controversy among paleoanthropologists about the proper classification
of these fossils, scientists should not be so arrogant about talking about
human evolution as a fact. I
replied that he was confusing two separate questions. One question involves reconstructing specific evolutionary
lineages. I said that sometimes we
might have genetic and embryological evidence to supplement the fossils but in
general it is very difficult to reconstruct specific lines of descent. But a separate question is whether the
fossils we have are consistent with the hypothesis of human descent from
ape-like ancestors. That
hypothesis gets stronger as we dig up more fossils.
He replied by
talking about bushes versus trees, and about how those "iconic" diagrams of the
ape to human transition that evolutionists use to prattle about are all nonsense. I had to laugh at this point. This was exactly the point Wood was
making in the quote I mentioned previously. What Bell was saying to me at this point was quite right,
and it showed that he did understand the quote properly. This makes the abuse of Wood's article
during his talk all the more inexcusable.
We went on for
quite a while, discussing the Cambrian explosion, the growth of genetic
information, the distinction between popular and professional evolutionary
biology and the like. In every
case his answers suggested to me that he just didn't know what he was talking
about. Nonetheless we shook hands
and parted on friendly terms.
Dinner was next,
and then three talks in the evening: "The History and Impact of the Book The
Genesis Flood" by John Whitcomb; "The Truth About the Scopes Trial," by David
Menton; and "Genesis: The Bottom Strip of the Christian Faith," by Carl
Kerby. Somehow I couldn't work up
any enthusiasm for any of this, and I spent the evening at a nearby Barnes and
Noble instead. It was nice to
spend some time browsing through real books.
Tuesday, July 19. Morning.
It was only with
tremendous effort that I got up in time for the first talk of the day, at 8:50
in the morning. I'm not naturally
a morning person, you see, and the thought of going forth into the ridiculous
Lynchburg heat at that hour was not appealing. Nonetheless, since the conference schedule promised a true
embarrassment of riches, I dragged myself out of bed anyway. The basic track was offering "Fearfully
and Wonderfully Made," by David Menton.
The advanced track had "Two Hundred Years of Christian Compromise on the
Age of the Earth," by Terry Mortenson.
I chose the latter.
I trudged into
the classroom just as Mortenson was beginning. He opened with a prayer, then got down to business. No science this time around, just a
rogue's gallery of confused Christians unwilling to tow the party line on the
age of the Earth. After a brief
history of geology from 1770 to 1830, Mortenson rattled off a list of pioneer compromisers. These were the scamps who paved the way
for the modern heresies so many modern Christians claim to believe.
There was Thomas
Chalmers, who fathered the "Gap Theory" (in which a gap of indeterminate length
is assumed to have occurred between the first two verses of Genesis), and
George Stanley Faber, who concocted the "Day-Age Theory" (in which the "days"
of Genesis actually refer to ages of indeterminate length. There were people who argued for a local,
as opposed to global, flood, like John Pye Smith, and those like William
Buckland and Adam Sedgwick who argued for a global, but geologically limited
noteworthy example here was John Fleming, who apparently wrote about a tranquil
flood and once claimed that the flood left no traces behind. The geology mavens in the audience had
a good laugh at that one.
audience reactions were the most interesting part of this talk. For example, at one point Mortenson put
up the following quote from Charles Lyell:
I have always been strongly impressed with the
weight of an observation of an excellent writer and skillful geologist who said
that for the sake of revelation as well as of science - of truth in every form
- the physical part of Geological inquiry ought to be conducted as if the
Scriptures were not in existence.
This brought loud groans from the
I had a hard
time getting worked up over this one; Christians can argue all they want among
themselves about this sort of trivia.
I was already psyching myself up for Werner Gitt's talk, "In the
Beginning was Information." The
alternative was "Fossils, the Flood and the Age of the Earth," by Tas Walker.
Gitt was kind
enough to provide extensive notes to accompany his talk. Here is the introduction from those notes:
We will set out in a new direction, by seeking a
definition of information with which it is possible to formulate laws of nature
about it. Information is a
nonmaterial entity and this is the first time that a law of nature has been
formulated for a mental concept.
First, we will describe the distinguishing attributes of information,
formulate its definition, state the laws themselves and draw six strong
conclusions. Since we have
successfully discovered and formulated 10 laws of nature about information, we
will refer to this definition of information as Laws of Nature about
While you're trying to figure out
what any of that means, consider the "strong conclusions" Witt is going to draw
from his model:
Exists; Refutation of atheism.
is only one God, who is all-knowing and eternal.
is immensely powerful.
human being without a soul; Refutation of materialism.
Those are copied verbatim from the
notes he provided. Now, we really
could stop here and dismiss Witt as a crank. There is simply no way any bit of armchair theorizing or
abstract modeling could possibly lead to the breathtaking conclusions Gitt is
trying to draw. Nonetheless, let
us consider some of his specifics.
Witt began by
answering the question, "What is a Law of Nature?" He writes,
Laws of nature describe events,
phenomena and occurrences which consistently and repeatedly take place. They are thus universally valid
laws. They can be formulated in
science, hence laws of nature for material entities in physics and chemistry
(e.g. energy, momentum, electrical current, chemical reactions) and
non-material entities (e.g. information, consciousness). Due to their explanatory power, and
their correspondence to reality, laws of nature represent the highest level of
significance in science. The
following points about laws of nature are especially significant:
of nature know no exceptions.
of nature are unchanging in time (past, present or future).
of nature can tell us whether a process being contemplated is even
possible or not.
of nature exist prior to, and independent of, their discovery and
of nature can always be successfully applied to unknown situations.
(Emphasis in original)
There is an awful lot to discuss
here, but actually I think the subtext is more important than the text. I suspect most scientists are
instinctively uncomfortable with the sorts of sweeping generalizations Gitt is
making here. To the extent that
scientists talk about natural laws at all, they really just mean certain
generalizations that have consistently been successful in predicting the
results of experiments. The key
criterion is usefulness, not capital-T, metaphysical Truth. Science is a way of bringing order and
predictability to the observations we make about nature. We need a word to describe those
theories and models that have consistently proven themselves to be useful, and
the word that is chosen for that purpose is "true."
But that's too
wishy-washy for creationists. They
don't care about "generalizations scientists find useful." Not at all. They want Truth.
Like the Bible provides. As
I have mentioned previously, the only reason they ever talk about science is
that society requires that of them if they are to receive any hearing at all
for their ideas. This is why they
are so unreceptive to the perfectly sensible argument that hypotheses about
God's actions in the world are not scientific because they don't lead to
anything scientists can use to further their work.
That is why
Gitt, and his supporters, are so happy to talk in such sweeping terms. They're not trying to further
scientific research. They're
trying to justify their faith in terms that won't get them laughed at.
Okay, back to
the talk. Gitt provided the
following "Natural Law Definition of Information":
Information is an encoded, symbolic representation
of material realities or conceptual relationships conveying expected action and
intended purpose. Information is
always present when, in an observable system, all of the following five
hierarchical levels (or attributes) are present: Statistics, syntax (code),
semantics (meaning), pragmatics (action) and apobetics (purpose).
For completeness, let me list his
ten laws of nature about information:
purely material entity cannot generate a non-material entity.
is a non-material fundamental entity.
is the non-material foundation for all program-directed technological
systems and all biological systems.
can be no information without a code.
code is the result of a freely-willed convention.
can be no new information without an intelligent, purposeful sender.
given chain of information can be traced back to an intelligent source.
meaning to a set of symbols by a sender, and determining meaning from a
set of symbols by a recipient, are mental processes requiring
cannot originate in statistical processes.
storage and transmission of information requires a material medium
Where did these "laws" come
from? According to Gitt they are
generalizations from scientific observations.
There's an awful
lot to criticize in those "laws," but let's stay big picture for the
moment. What sorts of things does
Gitt have in mind in formulating his definition? Well, certainly human languages. And computer programming languages, or things like Morse
code would no doubt fit his definition.
But since those are all things that human beings constructed themselves,
it is not surprising that they have no existence without the input of
intelligence. In fact, by building
meaning and purpose into his definition of information, it's hard to see how
information could possibly exist without intelligent agents to produce and perceive
I think we all
know what Gitt is building up to here.
He is going to claim that the genetic code fits his definition of
information. Indeed, in justifying
the first of his six conclusions, he writes,
Because all forms of life contain
a code (DNA, RNA), as well as all the other levels of information, we are
within the definition domain of information. We can therefore conclude that: There must be an
intelligent Sender. (Emphasis
Whoa! Stop the presses!
Does the information encoded in our genes really possess the properties
Gitt requires? Is Gitt really
attributing meaning and purpose to genes?
What could this possibly mean?
He might say that the purpose of genes is to produce proteins. But is that the genes' purpose, or is that
simply what genes do?
Or consider Gitt's
explanation of what constitutes "Pragmatics" (Action):
Information invites action. Every transmission of information is
nevertheless associated with the intention, from the side of the sender, of
generating a particular result or effect on the receiver.
Who is the sender and who is the
receiver in the case of DNA? Our
genes, after all, do not know that human observers are attributing to them the
property of containing information.
They, and the associated cellular machinery that transforms them into
proteins, are simply doing whatever it is that they do, governed by various
principles of physics and chemistry.
Describing them with terms generally reserved for the actions of
intelligent agents can never be anything more than a vague analogy.
Which brings us
to the most fundamental problem of all with Gitt's project. He spoke constantly about the
information content of our genes.
He talked about the quantity of information increasing or decreasing in
some context or other. He said the
cell contains more information than the Encyclopedia Brittanica. But at no point did he ever tell us
how to measure information!
right. His constant challenge to
evolutionists was to produce a natural mechanism that could increase the
information content of our genome.
But there's no hope of answering that question until we know precisely
how to measure information.
There is a
branch of mathematics known as information theory. Within this theory, pioneered by Claude Shannon in the late
nineteen forties, there is a precise method for determining the information
content of a given message. During
the talk, however, Gitt explicitly differentiated what he was doing from Shannon's
conception of information. He
pointed out that Shannon's theory deals adequately with the "Statistical" level
of information (the number of symbols in the message), but none of the other
levels. This has the advantage of
allowing a mathematical formulation of information, but it sacrifices many
aspects of the everyday meaning of the word (like, well, meaning). Gitt even said explicitly in his talk
that his notion of information does not admit any mathematical formulation.
concluded his talk the coliseum erupted into enthusiastic applause. Before long, everyone except me was
standing. Ken Ham took the stage
and boasted that this was one of the most powerful apologetic arguments he had
ever heard. It was an especially
revealing moment. Since Witt's
argument, as a simple matter of fact, made no sense at all, there is no way
anyone in the audience understood a word he was saying. But since he arrived at the right
conclusion via suitably technical language, they were willing to overlook that
I decided to
hang around for the Q and A. I was
more aggressive this time, and worked my way through the crowd. I was standing pretty close to Dr.
Gitt, part of a crowd of about forty or so people. The questions being asked were the usual fawning silliness,
until Gitt got to the person standing next to me. Though he was clearly a supporter of both Answers in Genesis
and Gitt, he asked what I thought was a very perceptive question.
He asked Gitt
what his peers (by which he meant other scientists) thought about his natural
laws of information. He pointed
out that something like the law of gravity could claim universal acceptance
among scientists. Could the same
be said for his natural laws of information?
incredibly, replied that his ideas have wide acceptance among scientists. He boasted of various seminars at which
he had spoken in mainstream universities and talked about the enthusiastic
response he generally got. He
claimed to have published this material in secular journals.
He then started
gushing about how all it would take to refute his ideas is for a scientist to
produce a single natural mechanism that could increase the information content
of the genome. That's it! Just one! That's all it would take! But they couldn't do it!!
I had had
enough. I said, loudly enough for
everyone to hear, "What effect
does a genetic mutation have on the information content of the genome?"
Silence as forty
pairs of eyes turned towards me. I
swallowed hard and continued, "As I'm sure you're aware, genes mutate all the
time. Before I can answer your
challenge I need to have a better understanding of your notion of
information. So tell me how a
simple point mutation changes the information content of the gene."
He gave the
standard response that genetic mutation invariably leads to a loss or
degradation of information. Alas,
in the heat of the moment I did not think of the obvious reply: If a given
point mutation (in which a single nucleotide in a gene is replaced with a
different nucleotide) results in a loss of information, than the reverse
mutation must result in a gain of information.
said, "You keep talking about
information going up or information going down. You talked about the cell containing more information than
an encyclopedia. But at no point
did you tell us how to measure information. And without such a measure it's not even meaningful to talk
about information content increasing or decreasing." I went on to say,
"Usually when scientists talk about information they have in mind
Shannon's concept. When it comes
time to measure information, is that what you have in mind?"
He hemmed and
hawed a bit but eventually conceded that information can only be quantified at
the "Statistical" level and that for the purposes of measuring information that
is what was important.
So I replied,
"If that is what you mean, then there are several well-known mechanisms that
can lead to an increase in information content. Here is one. A
gene can duplicate, leaving two copies of the same gene. One of those genes can then mutate, leading
to two different genes. If you are
measuring information in Shannon's sense, then it's a simple calculation to
show that you now have more information than you started with. You can find this process described in
any genetics textbook. Why is this
not an adequate response to your challenge?"
He replied with
the standard creationist evasion at this point: He argued that duplicating a
gene does not produce new information.
It's a jaw-dropping reply, since it simply ignores the part where the
duplicate gene subsequently mutates.
Anyway, we went
at it for several minutes. His
answers always came down either to misunderstanding the process I was
describing, or changing what it meant to measure information. At one point he started talking about
computer programs, and argued, typically, that if you mutate a computer program
that will almost certainly crash the program. He argued that this was analogous to what happens when a
Once again I did
not come up with the obvious reply: computer programs mutating and producing
new and better programs is exactly what happens in artificial life
experiments. Instead I simply
replied that likening genes to computer programs was a bad analogy in this
context. When you mutate computer
code you will almost certainly produce something that is not meaningful in the
particular computer language you are using. That's not the case with DNA. Every three-letter DNA "word" codes for some protein or
other, making it very difficult to speak in general terms about what happens to
the information content of the gene as the result of a mutation. He shrugged and, to my delight, agreed
that was a good point.
At this point I
felt my mission had been accomplished.
I knew there was little hope of actually winning the argument, but I
made it clear that there are answers to the idiotic arguments he made in his
talk, and everyone had a chance to see that there were people who were totally
unintimidated by the great Dr. Gitt.
There was still a large crowd of people gathered around him waiting to
ask questions, so I decided this was a good time to bow out of the
couldn't resist one parting shot.
"There is one more point I wanted to raise before I go," I said. "In your reply to the previous gentleman
you said that your ideas about information are well-received by other
scientists. But even you would
have to agree that evolution is the dominant paradigm among scientists. Since you made it quite clear in your
talk that your ideas absolutely rule out the possibility of evolution, I don't
think it's really true that scientists agree with you here."
At this point
Amazing Thing Number One happened.
He replied that there was no contradiction here because you could accept
both God and evolution. I agree
completely with that sentiment, but that was definitely not the party line at
on. "But we're not talking about
believing in God and evolution.
We're talking about accepting your particular theories about information
on the one hand and evolution on the other. You said explicitly that that was impossible. So you were being disingenuous when you
told the other fellow that scientists accept your ideas."
And this is
where Amazing Thing Number Two happened.
He shrugged and looked down at the floor. He actually looked abashed! Since I didn't think creationists were capable of shame, I
considered this a major victory.
I shook his
hand, thanked him for his time and started to walk away. I was mentally patting myself on the
back for a job well done, and I was thinking about how badly I wanted another
one of those delicious fajita burritos.
The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and all was right with the
And that was
when I heard a middle-aged woman in the crowd say, "You're really very ignorant
about biology. You should learn a
bit more before you start talking about it."
Now, all of the
points I had made in my discussion with Dr. Gitt were both correct and
straightforward. There was little
doubt in my mind that this person could not have given a coherent summary of
anything related to biology or mathematics, an impression that was amply
confirmed in my subsequent conversation with her. Indeed, in light of the woman's comment I ended up spending
a fair amount of time discussing Gitt's talk with about half a dozen conference
goers. All of these people were
embarrassingly confused about fundamental issues in biology. Despite this, they spoke with absolute
For me this was
the single most depressing moment of the conference. There is no shame in being ignorant of modern science. But if you are unwilling to educate
yourself on the subject, do not presume to lecture scientists about how to do
their jobs. Basically, we are
talking about people who have heard a few creationist speakers, and may
possibly have read a few large-print anti-evolution books. It is on this basis that they feel
justified in accusing scientists of bigotry, ignorance, stupidity and dishonesty. Simply incredible.
After our conversation
I drove over to the Mexican restaurant, and got another one of those most
excellent fajita burritos. The end
to a perfect morning.
Tuesday, July 19. Afternoon.
My choices for
the first afternoon talk were "How Our Textbooks Mislead Us: An Expose of Error
and Fraud," in the basic track and "Hubble, Bubble, Big Bang in Trouble," in
the Advanced track. Figuring that
I had a pretty good sense of what creationists think of modern biology
textbooks, I chose the Big Bang.
The talk was
delivered by John Hartnett, another in the large Australian contingent at the
conference. It was his task to
persuade us that the Big Bang was a lot of atheistic nonsense. Which is interesting, since in other
contexts creationists love the Big Bang.
It allows them to claim that the universe had a definite beginning in
time. (Do not trouble them with
details like the fact that time itself apparently came into existence at the
Big Bang). Since everything that
had a beginning must have had a cause, well, you fill in the rest.
Anyway, the part
of the Big Bang they don't like is the implication that it happened billions of
years ago. Hartnett began with a
reasonable description of what the Big Bang theory actually says. He showed some 10-day photos from the
Hubble telescope that showed large numbers of galaxies in what was once thought
to be empty space. He talked a bit
about the Doppler Effect, and mentioned that according to relativity theory
time and length are affected by speed and gravity. Relativity is real science by the way.
Next he talked a
bit about Hubble's law; that the velocity at which a galaxy is moving is
proportional to its distance from us.
He described the standard idea that it is the expansion of the universe
that leads to the observations of red shifts in the light received from distant
galaxies. In particular, he
pointed out astronomers use red shift data to measure distance. Then he described recent data that the
expansion of the universe is accelerating, and that the universe is apparently
flat. Most of what he was saying
here was standard and uncontroversial.
At this point he
returned to the Big Bang and suggested that the apparent absence of anti-matter
in our universe is a strike against standard Big Bang cosmology. Then he suggested that no one has any
idea how stars and galaxies form, suggesting that this was another defect in
Then he got down
to business. The centerpiece of
Hartnett's case against the Big Bang was the alleged discovery of galaxies with
anomalous red shifts. The claim is
that there are galaxies with wildly different red shifts that are nonetheless
connected by bridges of dust and debris.
Under the standard model this should not be possible. If red shift is correlated with
distance then these sorts of paired galaxies should have the same red
shifts. He also pointed out that
the bridge itself contained high red shift objects.
From here the
discussion turned to quasars (very distant, non-stellar sources of radio waves
whose origin is a bit mysterious).
He provided something he claimed was evidence for the proposition that
quasars are not as distant as commonly thought. Unfortunately, this went by too quickly for me to jot down. He then argued that quasars are found
across paired galaxies, and concluded from this that quasars are actually being
ejected out of galactic activity.
All of this was
said to challenge the Big Bang for two reasons: (1) All of our distance
estimates based on red shifts are now suspect and (2) Matter is constantly
being created from the center of galaxies (so that it is not true that all
matter was created at the Big Bang).
From here he
suggested that in seeing quasars created from the center of galaxies, we are
actually looking back in time 6000 years and watching creation as it happens. Then he recommended Arp's book and
called it a day.
Alas, I know
very little about astronomy or cosmology.
After doing some research on the internet after the conference, I got
the impression that these claims of "linked galaxies" are highly controversial,
to say the least. However,
Hartnett's talk was definitely the least foolish of the one's I attended.
returned to their proper state of brain-dead insanity any jaw-dropping
ignorance in the next talk: Carl Kerby's, "Evolution and Pop Culture." His competition in the advanced track
was "Creation and Cosmology." Not
a hard decision.
Kerby's talk was
mostly a series of clips from various movies and television programs that made
references to evolution, the ancient age of the Earth, or, occasionally,
homosexuality. Kerby would say
something like, "How many of you saw the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding?" A number of hands would go up. And then Kerby would ask, "Did you
catch the evolution?" (Apparently
there was a scene in the movie where one character turns to another of a
different ethnicity and says something like, "My people were producing great
music and art while yours were still swinging in trees.") The list of nasty television shows included
episodes from Bugs Bunny, the Three Stooges, the 1960's Batman series, an
episode of CSI and the cartoon Sponge Bob Square Pants. One theme that cropped up was that any
reference to something being prehistoric was considered offensive. Why? Because history began on Day One of Creation Week. There is no prehistory!
Of course, it's not all bad news. There are shows like the Flintstones
that depict humans and dinosaurs living simultaneously. Evolutionists hate the Flintstones I'm
movies we have the Disney movie Fantasia (Kerby was strongly critical of
Disney generally), The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible
Mr. Limpet, Ice Age, Lilo and Stitch, Finding Nemo, The
Incredibles and Spider-Man.
You might enjoy renting those movies and trying to find the evolution for
The reference to
Ice Age was particularly revealing. Ice Age is an animated movie about a sloth, a
mammoth, and a saber-tooth tiger that end up caring for an abandoned human
infant. The unlikely trio is
trying to catch up with a tribe of humans to return the baby. It's a very good movie, both funny and
In one scene,
our noble trio, seeking a short cut, walk through an ice cave. Frozen into the ice walls of the cave
are various other animals that apparently got trapped there. At one point we see the sloth walking
through a lengthy corridor. He is
on the far right side of the screen from the viewer's perspective. Frozen in the ice to his right are
three other animals. The camera
fixes on this scene for a moment and we see all four animals (the three in the
ice and the sloth) lined-up in a row.
They form a linear evolutionary sequence from a primitive looking
creature on the far right to the modern sloth on the left.
I think it's
obvious why Kerby did not like that.
The interesting part, though, was what he said next. He said something like, "They were
trying to indoctrinate your kids, they were trying to show evolution, but they
failed. You know why they
failed?" Silence from the puzzled
audience. "Because they show all
four of those animals existing at the same time. That's not evolution!"
Cheers from the delighted audience, coupled with the thud of my jaw
hitting the desk.
That is about as
stupid as it gets when you are discussing evolution. Thinking that a species cannot coexist with its evolutionary
descendants is as foolish as thinking that parents wink out of existence the
moment their children are born. It
was yet another example of how utterly confused many of the conference goers
were about the most basic elements of evolution.
For Kerby and
the audience there was little doubt that the frequent, casual references to
evolution and millions of years were part of an orchestrated plot to make
evolutionary thinking acceptable by making it so familiar. Kerby encouraged the audience to take
advantage of these teachable moments to make sure their kids were sensitive to
these attacks on their faith.
After the not
obviously insane talk about the Big Bang, it was nice to get back to
creationism as I know it. Despite
the idiocy of the presentation, I left the classroom in a pretty good
mood. I took another browse
through the bookstore, and then headed back to my hotel. The evening line-up was "Distant
Starlight: Not a Problem for a Young Earth," Our Created Moon: Origin, Creation
Evidences", and "Image of God or Planet of the Apes?" I managed to find better entertainment for the evening (as I
recall, HBO had a martial arts movie on that night.)
Wednesday, July 20. Morning.
The keynote talk
for Wednesday morning was given by Georgia Purdom, entitled, "The Intelligent
Design Movement; How Intelligent is it?"
Dr. Purdom was one of only two women speaking at the conference. She was the only woman to give a
Her exposure to
the ID movement came from reading Behe's Darwin's Black Box. She was concerned that ID did not lead
people to Christ. God said He
created in six days and that was good enough for her. She realized that the evolution/creation battle was all
about our presuppositions - do you look at the world through the Bible or
through man's theories. Everything
in the Bible dovetails nicely into one consistent account. Standard creationist fare.
She then argued
that ID poses grave problems for Christians. She showed the Discovery Institute's (a leading ID think
tank) definition of ID:
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain
features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an
intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.
Purdom found this inadequate. Only certain features? Please. And who's the designer?
From here she
discussed some history. She began
with the natural theology of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. She discussed Paley, and pointed out
that natural theologians were arguing that we could have knowledge of God apart
from the Bible. It was a response
to the higher criticism of the Bible that became popular during the late
1700's. She argued that while God
is certainly revealed through his works, special revelation was more important
than the study of nature.
Then she jumped
to the 1970's and the current ID movement. She mentioned many of the pioneers of the movement, such as
Charles Thaxton, Phillip Johnson and Michael Denton. Oddly, she made no mention of the hostile court decisions
that plagued the YEC's during this time period.
After this she
launched into a description of ID argumentation, and that's where things
started getting weird. She
described the ID notions of "Irreducible Complexity" and "Specified Complexity"
as two different terms for the same thing. They are not, though William Dembski (a leading proponent
of ID) does make a point of describing irreducible complexity as a special case
of specified complexity. In
reality the only connection between them is that both are worthless notions.
the mousetrap analogy (used by Michael Behe as an illustration of irreducible
complexity. She fretted that the
analogy was too simplistic and that evolutionists have a good time tearing it
apart. Her feeling is that
evolutionists can have the mousetrap, but actual biological systems - like the
blood clotting cascade - are vastly more complex.
She was really
impressed with blood clotting, and gushed about how a system lacking any of the
relevant clotting factors will not function. There is no simpler system for clotting blood, she
mused. I am sure that will come as
news to the lobsters residing at the local fish store, that do just fine with a
vastly simpler blood clotting system.
In fact, she never got around to mentioning that, as described by Ken
Miller and others, the evolution of the blood clotting cascade is not that hard
She then gave a
barely adequate description of William Dembski's arguments about inferring
design. But I did not start to
perk up until she came to the problems with ID.
She argued that
natural theology backfired, because it led to deism. By divorcing the creator from the creation, the natural
theologians lulled people into thinking that it was enough just to acknowledge
the designer, rather than believe specific things about His attributes. ID is the same as natural theology in
this sense. She was concerned that
with the ID people saying over and over again that their ideas do not lead to
any specific view of the creator, it becomes more difficult for Christians to
spread the Gospel. The public will
feel deceived if they are told on the one hand that science points to a
nebulous designer, but on the other that they have to accept Christianity.
It was at this
point that she said the single most insightful thing I heard at the entire
conference. She argued that
another problem with ID is that it provides no account of poor design. She pointed to pathogenic microbes,
carniverous animals, and viruses.
She said that ID makes God Himself, and not man's sin, the author of
such natural evil.
Yes, YES a
thousand times YES!!! That's
exactly right. Once you have God
intervening in the world to tinker with his design to bring good things, like
blood clotting cascades and immune systems, into being, then he is also
responsible for all the bad things.
It is inescapable. The
YEC's can get around this point by blaming human sin. They're perfectly happy to cite scripture in defense of
their views. But the ID folks are
running around pretending to be scientists. The second they talk about natural history being influenced
by human sin is the day they blow their cover. This leaves them with no effective answer at all. Usually they just argue lamely that
what we perceive as bad design might actually have some hidden purpose. Sorry guys. No one's buying that.
problem with ID is that it emphasizes God as creator but says nothing about God
as redeemer. She closed with a
quote from William Dembski to the effect that while ID may be scientifically
unobjectionable, whether it is theologically unobjectionable was a separate
issue. So what is the solution to
the problems with ID that she has identified? Take a wild guess.
And then she
uttered the line that I mentioned back at the beginning of this essay. God said it, that settles it. That summed things up so well, I
decided to leave before the next talk.
I wanted to hang
around to ask Ms. Purdom some questions, but I had to scamper if I was going to
make it back to the Sleep Inn in time for the 11:00 check out.
I returned to my
room, gathered up my things and went down to the desk. The person behind the counter somehow
discerned that I was part of the conference and asked how things went. I muttered that it had been interesting
as I signed the credit card slip.
Then he said
that apparently the organizers were very disappointed with the turn-out, and
that they had been expecting more than 3000 people. He asked me if I had heard anything about how many people
were there. I mentioned Falwell's
statement about 2000 people showing up.
Then he said
that there were plans for a Super Creation Conference in October, to try to
attract more people.
"Is a Super
conference bigger than a Mega conference?" I snarked.