Thursday, September 24, 2009

New concepts in scholarship

Taking “ex nihilo” too literally

The notorious case of “Dr. Dino” made it clear that creationists' credentials are often as invalid as their arguments. The creationists, however, crave respect and recognition. It irks them that the scientific community treats them with contempt.

Lawrence E. Ford is the executive editor of Acts & Facts, the monthly magazine of the Institute for Creation Research. He is very unhappy about the failure of creationism's leading lights to get the accolades he thinks they deserve. There are, of course, faithful Christians who are scientists in good standing, but Ford is irritated that they are not his kind of Christian. In the September 2009 edition of Acts & Facts, Ford takes aim at Francis Collins, the scientist appointed by President Obama to head the National Institutes of Health. Collins is known for leading the Human Genome Project, a milestone in scientific endeavor, and for promoting “BioLogos,” which is rather something less. Collins, a professed Christian, would like people to take religion as seriously as science. He established the BioLogos foundation to advance this cause, but he's been having a rough go of it.

Ford and the folks at ICR don't like BioLogos because Collins accepts evolution. While Collins has been criticized for his fuzzy approach to evolution, he is definitely not a creationist. Any religious point of view that doesn't embrace a narrowly fundamental view of six literal days of creation is beyond the pale for the ICR folks.
[Collins] appears to be genuine and sincere in his belief that Jesus Christ is his personal Savior. But quite troubling is Collins' public and proud disbelief in the historicity of the Bible, the existence of Adam and Eve, the event of the Fall, and many more fundamental doctrines of God’s Word—leading one to conclude that even if he is a Christian, his self-selective beliefs are terribly resistant to God’s truth, revealing his dangerously poor view of the power of God.
I am charmed by Ford's unselfconscious choice of the phrase “self-selective beliefs” to criticize Collins. It's difficult to avoid thinking of pots and kettles.

Ford is quite nettled by the comments of Karl Giberson, the man picked by Collins to be the president of BioLogos. Giberson offended Ford by making the following statement:
Our key question is: Why do individuals such as Ken Ham, Tim LaHaye, David Barton, and James Dobson have such extraordinary influence when they are not leaders in their fields?
At the HarperCollins site devoted to Giberson's publications, Giberson goes on to say a few words about The Anointed, his forthcoming book about the leaders of the anti-science cult:
In our book, we juxtapose the above leaders with their more legitimate evangelical counterparts—genuine authorities who largely conform to the standards of the academy and are recognized as leading scholars in their respective fields. This strategy allows us to locate the tension in our project within evangelicalism, avoiding the tendency to caricature the entire evangelical community as hostile to mainstream academia. Our tactic will be to ask why so many evangelicals prefer Ken Ham to Francis Collins, Tim LaHaye to N. T. Wright, David Barton to Mark Noll, and James Dobson to David Myers.
Lawrence Ford seizes on the words “leading scholars” and hurls them back with his own list of cognoscenti:
Is Dr. Giberson ignorant of the scientific contributions of scientists such as Dr. Henry Morris, Dr. Duane Gish, Dr. Ken Cumming, Dr. Steve Austin, Dr. Andrew Snelling, Dr. Jason Lisle, Dr. Russ Humphreys, Dr. John Baumgardner, Dr. Larry Vardiman, Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith, and many other credentialed and evangelical members of academia who are “leading scholars in their respective fields”?
I bet you know where this is going, don't you? Let us take a moment to examine the “leading scholars” identified by Mr. Ford. There are, in fact, no surprises.

While Google Scholar may not be the most sophisticated tool for examining the output of contemporary researchers, it's readily accessible and quite sufficient for our purposes. What does Google Scholar dredge up for Henry Morris? It's not an impressive list. Dr. Morris is credited with a bunch of creationist publications concerning Noah's flood and two items in his field of engineering: a 1955 paper on Flow in rough conduits and a 1963 book on Applied hydraulics in engineering.

The late Dr. Morris, if he was ever a leading scholar in engineering, has had his day. His is not a name to conjure with in 2009.

How about the estimable Duane Gish? No surprises here either. Dr. Gish's list includes articles on a synthetic preparation similar to arginine vasopressin (1954, 1958), peptide synthesis (1952), immunosuppressive nucleic acids (1971), tobacco mosaic virus amino acids (1961), and something having to do with cytosine (1976). His 1954 paper has been cited 109 times by Google Scholar's reckoning. Gish has published only anti-evolution tracts and books since leaving the world of research more than thirty years ago.

Not a leading scholar.

Ken Cumming? Is he the guy who works on muscle pathology (WJK Cumming) or the fellow who works on matters relating to fisheries (KB Cumming)? The only definite link to the Ken Cumming of ICR fame is his attack on the PBS series Evolution.

Not a leading scholar.

How about Steve Austin? Dr. Austin's high-water mark is a 1991 paper on the forward-backward search algorithm, cited 90 times by Google Scholar's count. But it's not the same Steve Austin. To make certain that we're not talking about the wrestler (“Stone Cold” Steve Austin) or the Six Million Dollar Man, we can turn to CreationWiki for some assistance. Their bio of Dr. Austin contains a convenient list of his publications, identifying three as having appeared in “secular” (i.e., research) publications. The others are all from ICR.

Andrew Snelling? Also trapped in the creationist ghetto. Google Scholar finds that all of his publications are related to creationism conferences and creationist journals. He cannot break into genuine peer-reviewed publications.

We finally get a small break when we reach Jason Lisle. Dr. Lisle is a genuine astrophysicist, although he's tossed over the rigorous discipline of his field in favor of cloud-castle architecture. He has a string of genuine research articles published in such estimable venues as the American Journal of Physics, The Astrophysical Journal, and Solar Physics. He seems to have made a specialty of solar supergranulation. Now that he is dedicated to such apologetic works as Taking Back Astronomy and The Ultimate Proof of Creation, one predicts his scientific productivity is going to take a severe dive. Once you've started advancing arguments that the planets began as water worlds “which God then supernaturally changed into the substances of which the planets are comprised today,” you really have stopped being a scientist.

It's the same story throughout Ford's list of creationism's research superstars. Fizzle after fizzle. The usual pattern is a publication or two in a genuine journal, followed by a flood of articles devoted to proving that the earth is young or that a great flood once covered the whole planet.

And Francis Collins? Google Scholar finds page after page of published research papers. The first one, Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome, is identified as having 6468 citations (more than all of Ford's list of superluminaries together).

There's a reason creationist scientists get no respect: They don't do science.


RBH said...

This is a keeper. Thanks!

Porlock Hussein Junior said...

Hell, that Collins paper has more co-authors than the creationists have citations. Takes 48 footnotes to give all the affiliations, and lots of them are duplicated.

William said...

The thing I find very cheering in those lists of publications is their age. These guys are old. Is there an up-and-coming generation of scientist/creationists to take their place? Let's hope not.

Zeno said...

Well, William, it's a mixed bag. There are plenty of old codgers at ICR, but Jason Lisle is by no means an elderly man (his Ph.D. is from 2004). And the same issue of Acts & Facts celebrates ICR's recruitment of Nathaniel Jeanson, a brand-new Harvard Ph.D., as a research associate. He's the young fellow who is quoted in the magazine and on ICR's website as saying "I asked myself, 'How can I use and abuse my training to influence eternity, rather than for temporary gain?'" He actually said "use and abuse"? Wow. Way to be a good Christian!

There's more on Jeanson at Pharyngula.

RBH said...

AIG's Georgia Purdom (molecular geneticist) is young too, in her late 30s I guess from her appearance in person -- she used to teach at a Nazarene college near me.

cipher said...

I am charmed by Ford's unselfconscious choice of the phrase “self-selective beliefs” to criticize Collins. It's difficult to avoid thinking of pots and kettles.

I'm convinced they receive some sort of irony inoculation at birth.

Jeanson is a particularly egregious young tool. I attended one of the lectures in Boston (and wrote the account on Pharyngula). I forwarded the link to that ICR article to his former doctoral advisor and to someone in Harvard's administration. I've suggested they revoke his degree, as it was obtained fraudulently. He obviously never had any intention of practicing legitimate science.

Jeanson is also a product of Christian homeschooling. Welcome to the future, ladies and gentlemen.

Jeff Eyges

Killua said...

What's truly sad is that Ford probably thinks "Dr. Henry Morris, Dr. Duane Gish, Dr. Ken Cumming, Dr. Steve Austin, Dr. Andrew Snelling, Dr. Jason Lisle, Dr. Russ Humphreys, Dr. John Baumgardner, Dr. Larry Vardiman, Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith" actually DO have massive legitimate contributions to science.

Creationists seem to be under the impression that a dr. in front of your name is the same as legitimately contributing to science.

I recently got into an argument with a YEC, who gave me a long string of quotes relating to god from scientists, and naturally, only ONE was actually a creationist (not a YEC either). They like to use appeal to authority fallacies, regardless of how bankrupt their position is. (Or, perhaps, because of how bankrupt their position is)