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Please Note

I don't make a habit of posting messages critical of this web site (apart from my current collection of inane creationist comments that can be found here).   However, I'm making an exception in Jess Green's case.  In his opening statement Jess has more or less challenged me to post his somewhat arrogant views.  I do so now and follow it with a thorough refutation by Roger Scott.

A Message from Jess Green

Although I am doubtful that this will ever appear on your web-site, I will nonetheless try to enlighten you.  I am a college graduate with both a B.S. in Biology, and a M.Ed. in General Science.  In all of my science courses, which were at a public 4-year accredited institution, I have never seen evidence supporting evolution that was not either extremely circumstantial or contradictory to scientific law.

I have not the time nor the desire to share every one of these with you, but here are a few.  First, the law of entropy concludes that a process occurs naturally as a result of an overall increase in disorder.  In other words, there is a natural tendency for things to mix and to break down, events that represent increasing disorder.  I should not have to point out that in the theory of evolution the opposite is said to occur.   Second, you are already familiar with the problems presented with "Lucy".   Additionally, the projection of a human form from the many supposed "key" evolutionary finds is to say the least imaginative.

I have even seen the evidence presented by other fossil finds such as Archaeopteryx, which by every modern definition of a bird is a bird.  Even the methods of dating used today are very flawed and are used well beyond their capabilities.  Carbon dating is known to be accurate up to 1,000 years, but becomes increasingly problematic past this as the possibility of error begins to compound nearly exponentially.  Sedimentary dating is not even supported by many evolutionary scientists because it is unproven and there is modern evidence (volcanic eruptions, seismic activity, floods, tidal waves, meteors, etc.) that shows these layers can be altered and even created in very short periods of time.

An atheist philosophy professor, and acquaintance of mine, once said that the mathematical probability of evolution actually occurring is far less than the probability of a completely disassembled watch falling back together when its parts are thrown into the air.  However, in the end, I can no sooner prove to you scientifically that God exists or creation is true than you could scientifically prove to me that evolution or the "big bang" actually occurred.  The fact is that it takes a bit of faith to believe in either.

I hope that this will show you that some of us who choose to place our faith in God instead of in chance and coincidence are, in fact, educated on the issue and familiar with both beliefs.  In no way do I hope to separate myself from my "grassroots fundamentalism" - I am proud of my upbringing.  Moreover, I fail to see how the learning about any topic (with obvious exceptions such as how to commit murder, etc) could be detrimental to children.  In short, what are you afraid of?  Children should be taught diversity; that there are other beliefs and ideas.  They should have their own choice about what to believe.  Most religious believers would be happy if both were taught in science classes as they can be scientifically classified . . . . as theories.


Jess Green

By the way, how is my grammar?

A Response to Jess Green
Roger Scott

Jess, your opening paragraph, with its brief description of your academic qualifications suggests that you have been exposed to a variety of scientific concepts at a relatively modest level.

You mentioned the evidence for evolution that you encountered in college was circumstantial. Welcome to the real world. Much (but by no means all) theoretical scientific knowledge is based on circumstantial evidence. Perhaps you came across Arrhenius' ionic theory in your science courses. You may have balanced some equations and made some calculations based on the theory. Could you develop a proof for the ionic theory that does not involve circumstantial evidence? Probably not. What about atoms? Largely circumstantial evidence again.

When was the rotation of the earth on its axis actually proven? It was as late as 1851,when Foucault's pendulum experiment provided a demonstration. This was well over a hundred years after it became almost universally accepted. It was a mass of circumstantial evidence that previously carried the day for the earth rotation model. It is worth repeating this cardinal point – prior to 1851 there was a universal consensus among scientists supporting the Copernican notion of a sun-centred solar system in spite of there being no real ‘smoking gun’ proof.

Your comments about evolution being unsound because the supporting evidence is circumstantial have no basis in scientific history and no substance. (As it happens there is also more than enough "smoking gun" evidence in favour of evolution.)

The theory of evolution is accepted universally among scientists working in the area today, not because it was proven by Darwin (or anyone else) but because it organises and explains an enormous amount of otherwise unrelated evidence. So powerful an organiser and predictor is evolution that scientists now regard evolution as, in the words of Ernst Mayr, "a simple fact".

Ernst Mayr has named Charles Darwin, the founder of the modern theory of evolution, as the most influential scientist of the last one hundred and fifty years (Scientific American, July 2000, vol 283, Number 1, pp 66-71). As a self-styled student of science, you would be well aware of the level of the competition. Yet the theory Darwin founded, which is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of the human mind, is apparently not for you.

It is your right and privilege to reject evolution. However, please do not set yourself up as any sort of an expert on the scientific issues involved. Your letter reveals that, on this issue at least, you are not well educated and are quite misguided. You have absorbed one (at least) of the numerous false creationist objections to evolution. Scientists have answered these objections on many occasions.

The application of the second law of thermodynamics as proposed by you is wrong, as the law only applies in isolated systems. You appear to be saying that no part of any system, however small, can show an increase in order. That is quite false. Evolution occurred (and is occurring) on the surface of the earth which is an open system. (The earth's surface receives material from space and energy from the sun.) For an actual experiment clearly in opposition to this amazingly bad creationist argument, look up the Miller-Urey experiment here or in a decent biology text. Alternatively, read this article on the primitive atmosphere or this article or this article.

The creationist interpretation of the second law rules out of existence, among a very long list, all igneous rocks, many metamorphic rocks, as well as hurricanes, tornadoes, rain and snow (and the clearly demonstrated result of the Miller-Urey experiment). In other words, the creationist interpretation of the second law of thermodynamics is incompatible with the world we see about us. To put it more simply still, it is nonsense.

Why then do we keep hearing it? Well, it sounds intuitively correct. But much of what science has learned about the world is counter-intuitive. (Why else would much of Aristotelian physics have survived as long as it did? Isn't it obvious that the sun moves overhead? Yes, but that conclusion is wrong.) Click on this link for more information on the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Archaeopteryx is a genus of extinct bird. Its reptilian characteristics have long made it a classic fossil supporting the theory of evolution. Creationists have never been quite comfortable with it. They alternate between calling Archaeopteryx fossils fakes and proposing Archaeopteryx as a real fossil of a true modern bird (which of course it isn't given its morphology). "The several known specimens of this deservedly famous fossil show a mosaic of reptilian and avian features, with the reptilian features predominating. The skull and skeleton are basically reptilian (skull, teeth, vertebrae, sternum, ribs, pelvis, tail, digits, claws, generally unfused bones). Bird traits are limited to an avian furcula (wishbone, for attachment of flight muscles; recall that at least some dinosaurs had this too), modified forelimbs, and -- the real kicker -- unmistakable lift-producing flight feathers." (from the Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ Part 1B by Kathleen Hunt (1994-1997), Talk.Origins Archive.)

There are no "problems" for evolution with Archaeopteryx, but there certainly are for creationism. Nor are there any apparent damaging problems for evolutionary theory with the hominid fossil known as Lucy. You did not specify what you see as problems so they cannot be discussed here. There has been vigorous discussion surrounding this famous fossil, and the most energetic debate stems from rivalry between people working in the same academic research field. Research into evolutionary history proceeds, which is more than can be said of creationism.

Radiometric dating is not used "well beyond" its capabilities. Carbon dating is only one absolute age dating technique and is not used in dating fossils older than about 50,000 years. This rules out the great majority of fossils. (Where your figure of 1,000 years comes from is a mystery.) Carbon dating has recently been further refined and calibrated with a sequence of shales in Japan dating back to 43,000 BCE  (ABC News.com has described the new developments).  (It is worth pointing out the last sentence: "The new results don't radically change any carbon dates, just narrow the uncertainties of how long something has been dead.") In other words, the carbon dating method now has independent support dating back as far as 45,000 years ago. There are no problems with carbon dating as asserted by creationists.

There are many age dating resources available. In case you think that radiometric dating is a nefarious, satan-inspired enterprise, pay particular attention to one of the links above. Here it is again: Radiometric Dating A Christian Perspective. If you are going to be a science teacher, you at least owe it to your students.

This sentence is arguably your most foolish. "Sedimentary dating is not even supported by many evolutionary scientists because it is unproven and there is modern evidence (volcanic eruptions, seismic activity, floods, tidal waves, meteors, etc.) that shows these layers can be altered and even created in very short periods of time."

Who are the "evolutionary scientists" who dispute "sedimentary dating"? What is "sedimentary dating"? Scientists do not use the term. For a supposed science graduate, you are somewhat loose with your terms. What is unproven? Probably you are referring to the laws of superposition and cross-cutting relationships. They are techniques to establish relative ages, not absolute ages. (See Radiometric Dating and the Geological Time Scale Circular Reasoning or Reliable Tools? in the Talk.Origins Archive.)

It may come as a surprise to you, but geologists have been aware of "volcanic eruptions, seismic activity, floods (and) tidal waves" for some time. Their effects, while still being studied, are reasonably well understood. Perhaps you have been influenced by the creationist response to the 1980 eruption of Mt St Helens. The rapid changes observed produced a flurry of excitement among certain creationists. Why they were excited only they know for sure. A blanket of volcanic ash was deposited quickly in an area of about 500 square kilometres. And what since then? Lakebed sediments not withstanding and considerable natural revegetation, little but erosion. What is so remarkable about volcanic activity that it threatens the theory of evolution? What is so remarkable about "seismic activity, floods, tidal waves, meteors, etc" that they threaten the theory of evolution? What are you talking about?

This US Geological Survey page shows the locations of certain fossil plants and animals. Between the time depicted and the present day there would have been a great deal of seismic activity, volcanic activity and no doubt many tsunamis. This is entirely compatible with evolutionary theory.

As for meteors, here again you demonstrate the shallowness of your knowledge. A meteor is a streak of light produced by atoms excited by friction between a meteoroid and the atmosphere. Please explain how streaks of light will upset evolutionary theory. Probably you meant a meteoroid. If so, your argument is still inconsequential. How could impacts such as that which produced Barringer Crater in Arizona have damaging implications for the theory of evolution? How would meteoroids, even a shower of them, support creationism?

Perhaps you have heard of the Alvarez impact theory for the extinction of the dinosaurs. It is not a problem for evolution. If anything the theory has added to our knowledge of how evolution works. To a significant extent, it appears evolution goes hand in hand with extinction.

Your "atheist philosopher" friend does not understand probability as it applies to evolution. Unfortunately he is not alone in his ignorance. At least one scientist (and an outstanding one at that) has had the same problem. In 1981 Sir Fred Hoyle opined that the odds of evolution happening on earth in the way proposed by orthodox evolutionary theory were of the same order as a jumbo jet being assembled by a tornado as it moved through a junkyard. This is the same argument as the re-assembling watch that you mentioned. (Hoyle, by the way, is opposed to creationism and supports evolution but not a wholly earth-based process; he supports the idea that life originated in space and seeded the earth with simple forms. These then evolved in a conventional Darwinian manner).

One possible scientific response goes something like this. A tornado could by chance rearrange only a few parts from a junkyard into a semblance of order and certainly nothing on the scale of a jumbo jet. What, however, if there was a mechanism which recognised those chance arrangements which looked like they came from a jumbo jet and preserved them? Gradually, something resembling a few sections of a jumbo jet would develop. The mechanism to preserve the new assemblage would be similar to the way in which natural selection works in the biological world save for one crucial point - the mechanism preserving the jumbo jet-like pieces has a definite objective. Natural selection has no goal. Since natural selection has no goal, the re-assembling watch analogy has no application to evolution.

The chemical evolution required to develop life involved a very large number of contingent steps. The chances of this happening in exactly the way they did are exceedingly small. But then so were the events of your last twenty-four hours. You will never have another twenty-four hours exactly the same. This does not mean that your last twenty-four hours were any more miraculous or unlikely than my last twenty-four hours. Neither of us will ever be able to repeat them. It is therefore futile and meaningless to reckon the odds in the way proposed by Hoyle, by you and by your philosopher friend.

As they have a preordained outcome, the re-assembling watch analogy and the identical jumbo jet in the junkyard analogy, actually correspond to the odds against the whole of evolutionary history being repeated, i.e. occurring all over again. Those odds are of course exceedingly small. The odds on evolution happening once are nothing like as small.

There are no insurmountable theoretical problems for the person who proposes that inorganic self-organising chemicals eventually produced organic life. The chemical environment on the surface of the earth four thousand million years ago was reducing, not oxidising as it is now. The material inputs for the development of complex carbon molecules were available. The temperature conditions were appropriate. The size of the planet meant that its gravitational field was neither too strong nor too weak. There is much to be discovered, but it is far from the act of "faith" creationists suppose. It is a highly plausible scenario. Leslie E. Orgel's short article The Origin of Life is well worth reading. (There is also a useful section on the Miller-Urey experiment.)

Having dealt with your flawed objections to the scientific view of life's history, it should be stressed that the theory of evolution does not deal with the ultimate origin of life. Evolutionary theory per se assumes the existence of life and deals with its elaboration after an unspecified origin.

We therefore do not have a situation where there are two more or less equally weighted but opposing points of view, each with supporting evidence and each requiring great faith. Evolution has an Everest of evidence in support and well-established mechanisms to explain it. There is no evidence in favour of creationism and it has no framework of theoretical scientific support. (Do you, Jess Green, know of ANY evidence favouring the creationist model and not the evolutionary model?)

Creationism is entirely without substance. It has been comprehensively defeated in all scientific forums, it has no support whatever within mainstream science and it has no body of researchers in the field. Today, creationism is a tragicomedy in many acts that are linked only by a witless, farcical, unchanging script that is contrary to logic, nature and science. You don’t agree? What about the repeated raising of the spurious application of the second law? It does not require an act of faith to accept evolution. It requires both faith and a closing of the mind to accept creationism.

What many creationists do not realise is that, to a degree, the competitive, dog-eat-dog aspect of the capitalist economic system is well entrenched in evolutionary academia (as in other academic fields). There is a constant process of checking and crosschecking of the work of others. There is a (desirable) component of self-interest in this as well as an appetite for discovery.

If somebody could clearly, genuinely, actually show (as opposed to merely wishing) that the prevailing evolutionary paradigm was flawed and that the creationist concept was correct, then that person, far from being denigrated, would be both famous and feted. There would be lucrative speaking engagements, scientific accolades and awards. Don't hold your breath on this one though. Evolution is as well established as modern atomic theory or modern gravitational theory. (Actually, given that the graviton, the hypothetical quantum of gravitational interaction has yet to be rationalised with general relativity or even discovered, evolution is probably better established than modern gravitational theory.)

Science and creationism operate in quite different ways. Creationist organisations usually require the message of Genesis 1 to be strictly followed (but not the somewhat different and partly opposed Genesis 2 version for some reason). The so-called Creation Research Society requires that members must subscribe to this statement of belief. The Answers in Genesis website has a statement of faith that includes this: "The account of origins presented in Genesis is a simple but factual presentation of actual events and therefore provides a reliable framework for scientific research into the question of the origin and history of life, mankind, the Earth, and the universe."

The scientific approach is the antithesis of this. No statement of belief or faith is required. All that is expected is an approach that is both open to scrutiny and consistent with the laws of science, as they have come to be accepted. Appeals to authority have essentially no part to play in science.

The nature of scientific law needs some elaboration. While scientific laws are important in establishing a framework for scientific inquiry, they are not "set in concrete". Scientists who overturn some significant part of hitherto accepted scientific knowledge (such as a scientific law) and establish a significant new theory turn into scientific superstars. There are few of these, but it is not for the lack of trying. Einstein's stellar status is the best-known example of the phenomenon. This exemplifies one way in which science progresses. Scientific knowledge is by its very nature tentative. Information is gathered, sifted, regathered and refined. Hypotheses come and (usually) go. The result is progress. The contrast with creationism is stark. Creationism does not progress. It rehashes the same ground over and over. Creationism begins with a scenario it regards as anything but tentative and goes nowhere.

You state that children "should be taught diversity; that there are other beliefs and ideas. They should have their own choice about what to believe." It is agreed that a diverse educational curriculum is to be desired but that does not mean that it should contain demonstrable nonsense such as creationism, wrapped in a faintly translucent veneer of respectability. It is difficult to disagree with US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he stated "everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts." Creationists have not been able to produce any evidence in favour of their position, which is nothing more than fundamentalist religion masquerading as science. Faith without a hint of supporting evidence. That is not scientific and is totally unacceptable in science education. In 1995 the US National Association of Biology Teachers issued a Statement on Teaching Evolution. It asserts that "'creation science,' 'scientific creationism,' 'intelligent-design theory,' 'young-earth theory' or some other synonym for creation beliefs have no place in the science classroom." The US National Science Teachers Association issued a similar statement in 1997.

You clearly support the notion of "balanced treatment" for teaching creationism and evolution. There no sound reason for holding this view. Moreover, it is against the constitution of your country for it to be so taught in Government schools. Creationists have managed at various times to persuade states such as Arkansas and Louisiana to enact statutes requiring "balanced treatment". A US Federal District Court Judge concluded that "creation-science" was not science and in 1982 ruled that the Arkansas statute was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court also ruled against creationism in 1986. (Take a look at the list of scientists who went on record against creationism during that particular case. This is not an appeal to their authority but rather an indication of the strength within the scientific community of the support for evolution.)

One wonders at the depth of your commitment to diversity in education. Would you support the study of, let us say, ten or so separate deity-based belief systems? How about Baal? Isis? Ra? Mithras? Quetzalcoatl? There are plenty of candidates involving contemporary religions. How much would you focus on their separate creation myths? Would you support evolutionists visiting local fundamentalist Sunday schools? If your answers are "no", "not at all" and "no", then you are not quite the supporter of educational diversity that you claim to be.

There are several forms of ignorance. One form of ignorance is not knowing something. Another is not knowing something, but at the same time being aware that you are ignorant of it. Another form is not knowing something, but at the same time mistakenly believing that you are well informed about it. You have a considerable case of this latter form of ignorance.

Your statements to the effect that you are well educated and familiar with the relevant issues can be seen as rather smug and misplaced. You are unable to coherently present an argument and are profoundly ignorant of evolution and related concepts. One feels for your students.

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