Kent Hovind's Bogus Challenge
The following letter was received from Dr Barend Vlaardingerbroek, Senior Lecturer in Science Education at the University of Botswana. In it he describes the dealings he and his colleague Christopher J. Roederer, Lecturer in Law at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, had with Kent Hovind in connection with his publicized "offer".
To begin with the obvious, Mr Hovind has on his web site a public offer which reads:
I have a standing offer of $250,000 to anyone who can give any empirical evidence (scientific proof) for evolution.
That would present few, if any, difficulties to most undergraduate students of the life sciences. The offer looks to be a legitimate offer that calls for empirical proof and which, it is claimed, will receive scientific consideration through a neutral "peer review" process (a committee of trained scientists).
However, on closer examination, and when the initiator of the offer is pressed for specificity, it transpires that he is demanding (in a most circuitous manner, as will be shown below) evidence for nebulous claims that lie beyond the orb of pure empiricism. More sinister is the revelation that he who has chosen the aforesaid committee will look at the evidence first and decide what submissions go to the committee at all, and to what members of the committee at that. The result is that he intends to act as a judge in his own case, a case that he has made impossible to prove, and the "jury" for which may not exist, at least not one that conforms to the image presented.
The elaboration of the offer (under "How to Collect" on the web site ) is, at best, garbled, requiring two referrals to preceding material, invoking at least three kinds of evolution (cosmological, chemical, biological), and containing serious epistemological flaws in connection with the scope of empiricism. I wrote Mr Hovind on 30 August outlining our concerns about the nebulousness of his offer and was sent a FAQ attachment by his secretary. The same document was subsequently sent by Mr Hovind himself on 17 September. The document did not address the issues raised by us. It implied that he would act as a "first filter" ("Any legitimate evidence will be forwarded to [the committee]... Evidence of minor changes within the same kind does not qualify and will not be sent to the committee.") I responded to the effect that he had not addressed our concerns, to which the issue of the "first filter" had now been added, and also questioned him about the impartiality of the "committee" - should the members thereof be his ideological confreres, then any pretence at impartiality would be a sham. He replied on 18 September:
I do not have the first letter. The offer is clear to most people of average intelligence and the committee is neutral and ready to review any evidence you may have.
I informed him that he most certainly had the first letter as its text was included in his reply of the 17th, and pressed him again about the neutrality of the committee by asking him whether these people were professing creationists. His response on 23 September was:
I think the offer is fine as it is ... What evidence do you have for any type of evolution besides minor variations that some call micro-evolution?
At this point, we thought we were making progress in regard to the conditions that need to be met to satisfy the requirements of the offer. Kindly bear this critical point in mind while reading the rest of this account.
On 27 September, my colleague wrote Mr Hovind outlining some of the issues that in his opinion were dubious with reference to the nature of the offer as being one made "in good faith". These were:
* the need to delineate the nature and scope of a successful submission, and the impossibility of addressing supernatural inclusions, and the requirement about evolution being the "only" way in which his "observed phenomena" could have come about, empirically;
* the issue of the "first filter" and our desire to submit the evidence in sealed envelopes for direct dissemination to the committee;
* the applicability of the term "peer review" to the committee (viz, that they be people with advanced qualifications in science from recognized universities), and their impartiality (viz that they not be professing creationists);
* the decision-making mechanism of the committee (viz majority decision, or not);
* the need for refutation of submitted evidence on purely empirical grounds;
* our desired right of reply to any rebuttal.
On 28 September, Mr Hovind responded to these points in the following manner:
* he did not address the first point at all but merely wrote, "Then why do textbooks teach it as the only option? That is my point exactly!";
* To the second, he wrote, "That is fine - send it on. I am not a first filter.";
* Re: the crucial third point, his reply was, "I don't know if they are or are not young earth creationists like me but asking that question or making that stipulation would prejudice the committee. Everyone has an opinion on the topic. Quit stalling and send the 'proof' please." (Yes, distorted reasoning indeed!);
* He also avoided the equally crucial point about the decision-making mechanism, stating only that, "Since all taxpayers are being forced to fund the religion of evolution in schools and it is evolution that must be proven to be the only way our universe came into being like the textbooks say, what happens if one jury member will not vote with the rest?" (The connection continues to elude me.);
* He conceded to the final two points by the words, "That is fine."
I e-mailed him again the next day pointing out that we were not at all satisfied with his evasive answers to questions regarding the committee. His four word reply on 5 October was, "Where is the evidence?" I immediately, after consulting with my colleague, offered him the following agreement:
That if Barend Vlaardingerbroek, acting on behalf of himself and Christopher J. Roederer, submits evidence of an evolutionary transition between biological taxa above the Linnaean Family, subsequently judged as making the intended case beyond reasonable doubt by a majority of a panel of impartial peers, here defined as people with postgraduate qualifications in science who are not professing creationists, then Kent Hovind will immediately release to Barend Vlaardingerbroek and Christopher J. Roederer the sum of $250,000 as per their instructions. This agreement does not supersede earlier agreements regarding the processing of the submission. [Please note that the phrase "beyond reasonable doubt" is in Hovind's published material.]
His response came on 7 October and read:
What you have proposed... is not my offer and is only a small part of what evolution claims. I don't think you could demonstrate what you propose anyway so out of curiosity I would like to see what evidence you have. There are ten [committee] members in various fields of science so which ones it is sent to depends on the nature of the 'evidence'. It seems childish to use sealed envelopes though. If it is real evidence then it should be well known in the literature by now. Do you know something that no other scientists know?
The rest of the response was a list of quotations (at least two of them, including Stephen Jay Gould, entirely out of context) about evolution being nonsense. I replied briefly to the effect that he was continuing to avoid a clarification of the requirements of the offer in spite of having rejected our version, and that he was reneging on his statement that he was not a first filter.
My colleague, on 9 October, offered him essentially the same agreement that I had made, pointing out that Mr Hovind had changed the offer when he asked for evidence of evolution beyond the "micro" level, and asked for his assurance that he would not interfere with the envelopes, and would release the money upon receiving a majority ruling from the committee. Hovind's reply to me of 11 October reads as follows:
In order to collect the money you must 'Prove beyond reasonable doubt that the process of evolution (The universe came into being by itself by purely natural processes (known as evolution) so that no appeal to the supernatural is needed.) is the only possible way the observed phenomena (the universe, planets, life and mankind) could have come into existence.' If you want everyone to pay for this silly theory of evolution to be taught then the burden of proof is on you [grammatical and punctuation errors faithfully reproduced].
His response to my colleague, dated 14 October, reads in part:
Your interpretation of the offer is not correct. I would like to see what evidence you have to offer because I do not believe it exists but that is not what the $250,000 offer is for.
In other words, in 6 weeks of communications we had come full circle. My colleague wrote him to say that it would be advisable to not use words such as "science" and "empirical". All he got back was a statement to the effect that no evidence had been submitted.
Of course no "evidence" has been submitted. Neither my colleague nor I were born yesterday. We do not submit to rigged "juries", especially not when the "judge" decides what they are given to begin with..... and especially not when the existence of the "jury" is in some doubt. For three weeks, I ran an advertisement under "Announcements" in the on-line Pensacola City News labelled "Attn: Hovind's Expert Committee". There has not been a single response.
We are of the opinion that this offer is bogus; that it is a publicity stunt that scrapes the bottom of the intellectual and ethical barrels; and that the members of his "committee" are either Hovind's ideological confreres and are thereby a party to this deception, or they simply do not exist. However, it is up to readers to make their own judgement.