Answers in Genesis has tidings of great joy. The creationist ministry has announced the winners of this year's essay contest. The Research Challenge Contest for 2007 was designed to serve in part as a promotional campaign for AiG's new (but already revised) creationism text, Evolution Exposed. The rules required that the teenage entrants refer to the book:
Write your research paper using at least one reference from the book Evolution Exposed and one reference from the Answers in Genesis web site. Research paper counts for 65% of your score.Last year's winners also relied heavily on AiG resources, so the explicit requirement in the 2007 contest was unlikely to impose an undue burden on the competitors. By that same token, however, the winning essays for this year are as much exercises in recycling old arguments as last year's. It is extremely easy to find flaws in each one, as I will demonstrate.
While it's not fair to expect teenagers to write purely original essays, all of the winning papers suffer from the suffocating effects of their reliance on recycled creationist propaganda. Time and again the writers make demonstrably untrue statements (and they probably don't know any better). In this, of course, they simply mirror their elders.
The fabulous grand prize went to Karin Hutson, whose topic was Evolution of Ethics: How the biology class undermines Morality 101. Her reward is a $50,000 scholarship to the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University:
Dr. David A. DeWitt, Director of the Center for Creation Studies at Liberty University stated “I am delighted that we were able to partner with Answers in Genesis in this truly unique contest. Through AiG’s research paper ‘challenge,’ young people are ‘challenged’ to carefully consider the evidence for creation. It’s an excellent idea. The Research Paper Challenge was a great way for us to promote the understanding of creation and attract Creator-honoring, Bible-believing students to Liberty!”I'm guessing that Karin has a head start on that apologetics course.
At Liberty University, all undergraduate students are required to complete a course in creation apologetics taught from a young-earth creation perspective.
Karin Hutson begins her essay by repeating the apocryphal story about Cassie Bernall saying “Yes” in reply to Eric Harris's question, “Do you believe in God?” That was just before Harris (evolutionist) murdered Bernall (Christian) at Columbine High School in 1999. Nice touch. The story isn't true, but it's too good to pass up. It doesn't diminish the senseless horror of Bernall's death to point out that it was actually Valeen Schnurr, a Columbine survivor, who engaged in the exchange with Harris. Christians with an ax to grind have joined Bernall's family in perpetuating the comforting myth of martyrdom. Thus the winning essay in the AiG research paper contest begins with a falsehood. I'm pretty sure it's an unintentional misrepresentation of the facts, but such carelessness doesn't bode well.
Does Hutson's essay improve after its shaky start? Judge for yourself:
Evolution replaces God, purpose, and morality with nature, chance, and relativism. No wonder violence and vileness wreak havoc in schools and society today!No doubt the 9/11 hijackers were all evolutionists, right?
The basic argument is invalid, of course. Even if belief in evolution were to lead to unhappy consequences, that would imply nothing about the validity of the concept of evolution. Yet most of the paper is a tedious recital of supposed consequences of evolution. She pauses along the way to mock Daniel Dennett as possessing “foolhardy optimism” for arguing that (in his words) “we have the mind-tools we need to design and redesign ourselves, ever searching for better solutions to the problems we create for ourselves and others.” Karin is having none of it. Good behavior depends on belief in God and dismissal of evolution.
That, of course, is why religious people make the world a better place wherever they take their beliefs seriously. I offer Northern Ireland and Iraq as two especially persuasive examples. In the former case, both sides even claimed to be motivated by Christianity. No doubt that was a comfort to all the victims.
Runner-up #1: Naturalism is just another religion
Emily Zuercher takes aim at Naturalism in Modern Society. She's working the same vein as the winner. Here's her opening sentences:
Euthanasia, Nazism, moral decline, and abortion can all be attributed to the naturalistic doctrine behind evolution. Darwin's naturalistic ideology and evolutionary hypothesis are no longer confined to historical science in the classroom, but are now implemented into society as the basis for this generation's religion and moral standards.Ah, yes; exactly what Darwin was going for. The old naturalist was working out a system of religion and ethics.
Wouldn't he be surprised to hear that? It is possible, of course, for people to take Darwin's ideas beyond his intentions and to try to apply them inappropriately. For example, one doubts he would have been pleased with the notion of social Darwinism. Is this the argument that Zuercher is making?
Nope. Her point is that evolution is simply a rival belief system, but one lacking the support of divine revelation (i.e., the infallible statements of the book of Genesis). As such, it's elbowed aside the doctrine of creationism:
Today, evolution is being accepted as a confirmed fact of operational science even though little testable evidence has been found. Just as testing or current observations cannot prove evolution, Biblical creation also cannot be confirmed in this manner. The doctrine of creation is credible, however, because the God of the universe was present and instrumental at the beginning of the world and recorded the events of it in His Word for man.Yeah. Like He said.
Since Emily forgot to blame Darwin for communism in her opening paragraph, she tosses it in later. She probably lost the first-place award to Hutson because she also selected a less compelling bogeyman. Her choice for evil evolutionist was Jeffrey Dahmer. If only she had gone with Klebold and Harris.
Runner-up #2: Day after Day
Laura Adele Price says that the days cited in Genesis 1 are 24-hour days. Her paper, Biblical Case for Literal Creation Days, rehashes the old arguments about the meanings of the Hebrew word “yom,” and takes some shots at the Hugh Ross school of “progressive creationism.” Price's paper is therefore part of an in-house battle between doctrinaire seven-day literalists and those who take a day-age stance in an attempt to take science seriously. Ross has genuine scientific credentials in addition to being a devout believer. He has labored diligently to reconcile scientific observation with God's revealed word—as he sees it—and his Reasons to Believe ministry explains how this can be accomplished by interpreting Genesis figuratively.
Price is not impressed by Ross's accommodationist argument that knowledge comes from both God's word and scientific observation. One revelation is enough for her.
[T]he disagreement regarding dual revelation comes with the progressive creationists' belief that the conclusions of secular scientists are absolute truth, just as Scripture is absolute truth.She thinks secular science purports to offer absolute truth? Hopeless, isn't it?
Runner-up #3: Irreducible recycling
You may recall how Michael Behe gave scientific respectability to the concept of intelligent design with his explication of irreducible complexity. If some biological construct is irreducibly complex, then how could evolution have shaped it? By definition, something that is irreducibly complex must be nonfunctional as soon as anything is subtracted from it. An intelligent designer must intervene because natural selection can operate only on biological characteristics that have functions. That's how the argument runs.
Behe gave the whip-like bacterial flagellum as his favorite example. Further research has since revealed a perfectly plausible evolutionary pathway for development of the flagellum, showing how it could have been co-opted from secretory organs and pressed into service as a propulsion device. I guess it's not irreducible anymore.
This did not, however, deter Rebecca Tappendorf from recycling Behe's outdated arguments in her essay God's Incredible Design of Irreducibly Complex Cells. She bases much of her essay on the argument from incredulity, referring to cells as “machines” and marveling that anyone could think that such machines occurred “by accident.”
Cells are incredibly complex, and naturalists explain this developing evolution of complexity through two hypotheses, the infolding theory and endosymbiosis. However, there is little support for these hypotheses and much evidence against them. Many evolutionists are recognizing the problems with these theories that attempt to explain cells' irreducible complexity. An infinitely intelligent Designer must have created these cells. That Creator and Designer is Jesus.It is breathtakingly cheeky for creationists to follow a criticism of evidence for evolution with baldly dogmatic statements, but one learns not to be surprised. Rebecca, of course, is merely conforming to the model she was given. And she is just starting to build up steam.
The minute flagellum accomplishes locomotion, is remarkably complex, and is an excellent example of irreducible complexity. If any part of the flagellum were missing, the whole system would be destroyed. Is it scientific to believe that this amazing miniature motor came about through a series of mutations and random chance? Is it logical to think that all the vital parts of the bacteria were formed by accident in precisely the correct order and with the much-needed information to work harmoniously together as a microscopic, self-sustaining entity?She blithely ignores the counterarguments. In fact, I dare say she does not even know that Behe's contentions are long since refuted. She has probably never even heard that “irreducibly complex” complex organ can be shaped by evolution. All of her citations are to creationist tracts and books. She cannot know what they do not tell her. Certainly no one has handed her any apples from the Tree of Knowledge.
Miss Tappendorf has elected to concentrate her fire on two evolutionary hypotheses related to the development of eukaryotes from prokaryotes: membrane infolding and endosymbiosis. Apparently neither explanation for eukaryotic evolution is complete. Rebecca finds the gaps fatal. It's the attitude of someone conditioned to have pat answers to everything, and it's completely foreign to the way science is actually done. Did you expect anything else?
There is no evidence that prokaryotes turned into eukaryotes through the inward folding of the plasma membrane. Molecules-to-man evolution requires the addition of material to the genetic code, most frequently through mutations. However, scientists have yet to find a mutation that adds information to the genetic code.Yes, that is her argument. Rebecca is parroting the old argument that evolution cannot increase the information in an organism's genetic code. There is ample evidence to the contrary, but she doesn't know about it.
Rebecca is similarly curt with endosymbiosis:
The endosymbiont hypothesis builds on the infolding hypothesis as it attempts to describe a process through which organelles might have been produced in an ancestral host cell. Through a process known as endocytosis, a host swallowed aerobic and photosynthetic bacteria but did not digest them. These engulfed bacteria gained the information to evolve into mitochondria and chloroplasts because the host cell and the ingested cells reproduced in synchronization with one another. Over the course of millions of years. the DNA of the host cell and the engulfed cells fused to provide long-lasting benefits for each cell. Evolutionists use molecular data to support this hypothesis, but there is no evidence that seems to confirm it.I like that. Evolutionists support the hypothesis with “molecular data” but they have “no evidence.”
Let's waste no more time on this.
Runner-up #4: He's baa-ack!
To be fair to R. Josiah Magnuson, he's never really gone away. Since making it as one of the runners-up in last year's Answers in Genesis essay contest, Josiah has been blogging away, devoting big chunks of time to serving as the intelligent design advisor to the doomed presidential campaign of Gene Chapman. It was a bit odd to see Josiah operating under the banner of ID, since he is completely unlike the cowards and trimmers who populate the ID ranks, Josiah is a completely forthright young-earth creationist. Although the Chapman campaign foundered on the rock of its candidate's own instability, Josiah continues to pen pro-creation think pieces.
His entry last year was a pugnacious poke at the many evil consequences of an evolutionary worldview. Frankly, I thought his essay was better than that year's grand prize winner. His new paper, however, is both milder and less compelling. At least the logic is as flawed as ever. Josiah is in good company with the other winners of the essay contest.
Josiah's essay is titled Survival of the Functional: How Natural Selection Kills Darwinian Evolution. Yes, he promises more than he can deliver. Josiah bases his argument on the claim that evolution cannot produce “a net gain in information.” It's basically the same as Rebecca Tappendorf's argument and suffers from the same problems.
Josiah believes that evolution would have to differentially select and preserve useless features until some critical mass of usefulness is suddenly attained:
Evolution is impossible because natural selection would have had to select in favor of less-fit organisms, possessing uselessly isolated components, in order to gradually compose the inter-dependently functional systems and organic information which may be observed today.Josiah imagines that evolutionists believe proto-birds hauled about useless half-wings or the dead weight of other non-functional features until the day all the pieces were in place to permit flight. He knows nothing about theories of exaptation, where the whole point is that each trait is useful at each stage, although the function of that trait may evolve along with it. Feathers are good for flight (though not strictly necessary, as bats and insects demonstrate), but they are also good for insulation. When feathers were pressed into service for flying, they continued to be useful for insulation. There was no interval in which they were hanging around without a function, just waiting for natural selection to make them useful.
Josiah cites a calculation by Dr. Werner Gitt, a creationist he says is affiliated with Germany's “Federal Institute of Science” (actually the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt in Braunschweig). Gitt is a computer scientist who thinks he's figured out how to measure the complexity of the human body. Josiah quotes him as saying, “The total number of bits handled daily, in all information processing events occurring in the human body, is 3 × 10 to the 24th power.” That's a big number, so it's supposed to prove that God did it all. But hold on a second.
The human body has about 10 trillion cells in it. If we divide Gitt's number by 10 trillion, we find that each cell is supposedly responsible for 3 × 1011 of the bits being handled. This is still a pretty big number, but it's no longer exceptional. Once you achieve that initial cell, simple multiplication gets you to the level that so amazed Dr. Gitt. I realize that Rebecca Tappendorf would object to my calling this “simple” multiplication, but we dealt with her earlier.
Answers in Genesis has handed out some prizes to inspire teenagers to regurgitate old creationist arguments. When Ecclesiastes 1:9 says that “there is nothing new under the sun,” it seems the Bible was talking about essays by creationists. Amen.