Friday, February 03, 2006

Eugenie Scott gives the Robert S. Dietz memorial lecture

Genie Scott of the NCSE gave a talk on "Creationism and Evolution: Current Perspectives" to a standing-room-only audience of several hundred at the ASU Physical Sciences building. This crowd came out to see her despite the fact that Jared Diamond was speaking at ASU at the same time, about his book Collapse.

The lecture began with a few words about Bob Dietz, who was a strong supporter of evolution and critic of creationism, and showed a few slides of him and his book, Creation/Evolution Satiricon: Creationism Bashed.

Genie gave an overview of creation science, comparing and contrasting it with evolution. She pointed out the logical flaw of the "two model approach" in assuming that evolution and creation are the only two possibilities and that falsifying evolution is all that's needed to prove creationism.

There followed a discussion of the Paluxy river mantracks, and how Glen Kuban's work led even the Institute for Creation Research to stop using them as evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived together. She talked briefly about some problems with the ark story and the misidentification of geological features as fossilized arks (another example which creationists themselves have refuted).

Genie described the NCSE Grand Canyon raft trips, pointing out how they teach both the evolution and creationist sides of the story, while the ICR raft trip only teaches the creationist version. She put up a photo of Steve Austin and his book Grand Canyon, Monument to Catastrophe, along with a photo of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, pointing out that they should not be confused, even though the creationist Steve Austin does work on cold stone. (This reference worked well with the young audience--my expectation was for a comparison photo of Lee Majors as the "Six Million Dollar Man" as the joke.) She spent some time describing how the Grand Canyon is composed of thousands of layers of sediment which the creationists claim to have been laid down through repeated walls of water and sediment precipitation. This set the stage for Austin's claims about the canyons around Mt. St. Helens, where a 30' deep ditch was cut by water in seven days--thirty feet of unconsolidated ash and loose sediment doesn't compare to four thousand feet of individual layers of shales, limestones, sandstones, etc.

Since the event was at ASU, home of the Institute of Human Origins, she mentioned Donald Johanson tiring of correcting bogus creationist claims about Lucy's knee joint.

She then turned to intelligent design, or "creationism light," which she described as consisting of only a single philosophical claim--that you can detect the evidence of things that are designed and are the products of intelligence, and in particular the product of a divine designer. ID has proposed two concepts for identifying design, Behe's irreducible complexity and Dembski's design inference. She described the Discovery Institute and the Wedge Document, and pointed out that there are many criticisms of Behe's irreducible complexity and Dembski's complex specified information on the web. The structure of the ID arguments, she argued, is the same as that of creation science--that evolution can't do it, therefore it must be intelligent design. Michael Behe's favored example of the bacterial flagellum was shown in an animated slide, and Genie pointed out that they like to use examples of complex systems where we haven't yet developed full explanations, but they ignore other examples of apparently "irreducibly complex" systems where we do have full explanations, like the evolution of the mammalian ear (which she proceeded to illustrate).

She gave a history of the intelligent design movement and its roots in creationism--covering the 1981 McLean v. Arkansas decision, Jon Buell's formation of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and the publications of Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen's Mystery of Life's Origin and Of Pandas and People. She described the science of the latter as awful, giving as an example its treatment of genetic distances between organisms based on cytochrome c, a demonstration that the authors don't understand evolution (a topic discussed in the Dover case).

Wesley Elsberry's work on word counts of "creationis[t/m]" vs. "intelligent design" in the sequence of manuscripts that became Of Pandas and People was graphically depicted, showing the former dropping to zero and the latter increasing to the level of the former in 1987, after the creationists lost at the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard.

She briefly commented on William Dembski's draft of version three of Of Pandas and People, which used "sudden emergence" instead of "intelligent design," and about the Discovery Institute's move to a "teach the controversy" position which it has held for a few years, and its model policy for school boards to teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution adopted by the Grantsburg, Wisconsin school board in December 2004.

She listed seven states that have introduced anti-evolution legislation this year (Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah), promoting books critical of intelligent design and creationism (including Young and Edis' Why Intelligent Design Fails, Pennock's Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics, Forrest and Gross's Creationism's Trojan Horse, Miller's Finding Darwin's God, Shanks' God, the Devil, and Darwin, Isaak's Counter-Creationism Handbook, and her own Evolution vs. Creationism, which she was pleased to announce had just been reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. She showed a screen shot of listing her book with a sales rank of #284, though she noted this is an hour-by-hour rank and she had to wait until late on Sunday night to get the shot.

In closing, Genie noted that Bob Dietz was a real scientific iconoclast who advocated views that were outside of the mainstream when he initiated them--that seafloor spreading occurs and is evidence of continental drift, that moon craters are asteroid impacts not volcanoes, that shatter cones are evidence of meteoritic impacts. He didn't respond to criticism by starting a policy institute, hiring a PR firm, and lobbying to have his theories taught in public schools--he responded by doing scientific work, by doing research, by writing and presenting papers. That's the work that needs to be done to get things taught in public school science classes.

Afterward, there was a small reception outside the auditorium, and Genie was swamped with people asking questions for quite some time. I was surprised that there were no obvious creationists or intelligent design advocates--those who were present (I'm sure there were some there) kept their views to themselves.


Schtacky said...

Great review and recap, Jim. It sounds like she hit all the hot spots, and reasonably, too.

Jim Lippard said...

Thanks schtacky!

Yes, she did a great job, and the audience seemed very receptive. The question and answer session was characterized by questions of the sort "how the heck do creationists explain X?" Where X was things like the visibility of galaxies millions of light years away, where the water came from in Noah's Flood, etc., which gave Genie the chance to talk about the speed of light decaying and the vapor canopy theory (though she missed the chance to mention Walter Brown's hydroplate theory and Bob Schadewald's description of it as "continental zip").

defender said...

Regardless of whether humanity truly evolved from blobs of jelly and monkeys, Creationists cannot prevail in the ongoing debate about our origins. Their position is fatally flawed. You see, the Creationist position fundamentally relies upon the premise that the Judeo-Christian Bible is the Word of God. If it’s not; if the Bible is just a book, then there is no Creationist position. Recently, a lawyer embarked upon a mission to become the greatest Christian on the planet. In his quest he made a profound discovery. He discovered that the Bible is unequivocally not the Word of God. His argument is compelling. After reading his thesis, I am both shocked and embarrassed that I spent my whole life as a Christian and a Creationist. And while his thesis does not invalidate the so-called theory of “Intelligent Design,” it absolutely dismantles the theory of Biblical Creationism. You can read his Thesis at

Jim Lippard said...

I hate it when people set up new Blogger accounts and fake blogs just to post advertisements. "Defender" is apparently selling a book which critiques the Bible (there are lots available, many available free online like Thomas Paine's Age of Reason, still a classic) and argues for some kind of relationship directly with God that is independent of any existing religion (though his website doesn't describe that part or even hint at any of the positive arguments the book may give for that position).

defender said...

Hi Jim,
First, this is NOT a fake blog account. Second, I am NOT selling a book. I read the book "In Defense of God" and found it compelling. I was searching for answers when I found this thread. I figured it was relevant to the discussion. I was looking to hear your response.

Jim Lippard said...

Defender: Your account was created this month and your blog contains only a single post, which is identical to your original comment.

Unfortunately, the parts of the online book's thesis that I think would be the most interesting (his alternative to the Bible) is not even hinted at in the website content, but is apparently only available by paying to download the book.

As for what's there, I haven't examined it thoroughly, but I'd say it seems to be on the right track in evaluating the moral standing of the Bible.