The academic calendar offers some generous vacation intervals between school terms. I normally try to take advantage of the time to catch up on cleaning and organizing my residence, which looks like an uncurated archive at the end of each semester. I never get as far as I intend, however, because each dig into the stacks of books and papers produces bright, shiny distractions that draw my attention away from the task.
This week I made one of those bemusing discoveries that stops the housework and drives me back to the computer. It's a photocopy of an opinion piece from the October 11, 1981, edition of the Sacramento Bee. (Perhaps you have something similar lying around in your house!) More than twenty-eight years ago I was inspired to preserve this precious piece of prose. Why, pray tell?
It is a deep-frozen example of creationist cant from an engineer—although from Pittsburgh rather than Salem. Creationism keeps disguising itself with new labels in hopes of sneaking into school science classes, but its arguments are predictably familiar and stale.
The item speaks for itself, but I can't resist interpolating a few remarks:
Creationist Claims Evolution Fails The Test Of SciencePaging William Paley! Someone just found your watch!
R.G. Elmendorf is a registered professional engineer and a graduate of Cornell University, who lives near Pittsburgh, Pa. Five years ago, he issued a $5,000 challenge to anyone who could show how evolution can operate in the same world as the second law of thermodynamics. He says he hasn't paid off yet.
By R.G. Elmendof
Special to The Bee
I am one of a few creationists who do not agree with the “two-model” approach to the teaching of origins in public schools, believing that this approach (1) distorts science, (2) misrepresents creation, and (3) is an unnecessary compromise with evolution.
First, within its own very restricted area, science is a valuable tool In the search for truth, but outside this area, science becomes a distorted, subjective and misapplied thing, no longer true science at all and in great danger of generating philosophical and religious opposition. Not everything that scientists think, say and do is science.
A great deal of misunderstanding about this exists that affects the creation/evolution controversy, for example In the promotion of evolution as a scientific fact on Carl Sagan's Cosmos series and in the term creation-science by proponents of the two-model approach incorporated in “balanced treatment legislation.” The whole question of origin is more accurately history, not science, no matter how much scientists like to investigate and speculate about history. After all, what scientist observed the steamy landscape and erupting volcanos of the evolutionary scenario, or the zap-zap of the creation scenario?
Secondly, if origin is not accessible to science, a choice between creation and evolution must be made on a different basis. As a creationist, I believe, by faith, that the universe, the world, the earth and man came about by the purposeful action of a “clockmaker.” An evolutionist believes, also by faith, that matter by itself was able to make the uphill journey from molecules to man, without any clockmaker being required.
These are the only two options on origins. No rational compromise between them exists. It is possible to compare these two faiths about the past in a logical, organized way, using “models” as conceptual frameworks for the ideas incorporated In each, and it is also possible to examine scientific evidences which seem to “fit” one or the other model better. But it is not possible to put either scheme to an actual scientific test. You can't go back and repeat the experiment. Who's to say what actually happened In the past, except by faith in creation or evolution?Here we have an engineer who is fixated on running experiments (although I'll bet he's never run one since graduating from college). Elmendorf subscribes to a straitjacketed version of science that can scarcely exist outside of a laboratory. It's funny that an engineer doesn't understand field work. He also suffers from a poverty of imagination. While science can be performed in only one way, the question of origins admits of only two models. Either God did it or Darwin did. This false dichotomy is popular among creationists because any perceived flaw in the theory of evolution is then automatically a point in favor of divine creation. (Hallelujah.)
Whether such faith is equivalent to religion Is beyond the scope of this article, but there definitely is an underlying religious construct involved in the creation/evolution controversy. It is futile for creationists to studiously avoid mention of biblical creation, and for evolutionists to hide the fact that evolution is a basic tenet of humanism and other non-theistic religions. The heart of the creation/evolution controversy is the Bible vs. evolution, and everybody knows it.I guess that proves that secular humanism is a religion. I am definitely falling behind in my non-prayers to non-God.
On the third point, there is a very important distinction between creation and evolution that is not widely recognized. Evolution, in addition to its historical claims about the past, makes the further claim that it is still operating in the present. Creation specifically excludes such a claim, being a once-only phenomenon, now finished.Elmendorf has creationism retiring (undefeated) from the field of battle because it is not subject to scientific testing. His fellow creationists would probably not be willing to cede this point. It's hardly a good way to get creationism into the science classrooms of America.
This is an extremely significant difference, because by making such a claim, evolution brings itself into the here-and-now natural world where science operates. It can therefore be presented as a legitimate scientific hypothesis, which creation cannot do. However, by taking this position, evolution also subjects itself to scientific testing and possible falsification—a criterion of true scientific ideas.
The bad news for evolution is that the test has already been made, by direct comparison of evolution with well-established scientific laws, and evolution has flunked the test. Evolution claims to be a self-caused, uphill process, but the principle of the second law of thermodynamics is that all processes are downhill. Evolution claims that life can come from non-life, but the law of biogenesis asserts that life comes only from life. Evolution postulates limitless change in living things, but the laws of genetics set absolute limits on such variation.Were these arguments ever fresh? The “second law” and “biogenesis” and “absolute limits” on variation. These claims were refuted the first time they got trotted out. How many refutations are necessary before creationists give them up? (Sorry: “infinity” is not a number.)
These and other insurmountable scientific barriers flatly preclude evolution happening by natural means in the here-and-now world, and that means that evolution can be said to have been scientifically disproven. This is an embarrassing predicament for evolution, and the problem has the best evolutionist brains in the country trying to find a way around, over, under or through these scientific laws to save evolution from disaster. But whether evolutionists like it or not, it's all over for evolution's claim to be “scientific.” There is then really no justification for creationists to compromise with evolution by propping it up to look alive in public school science classes with the two-model system.If evolution was already dead and buried back in 1981, then it sure has become a lively zombie. Remember when D. James Kennedy (the late D. James Kennedy) declared the death of evolution? Good times!
Common sense and fair play certainly call for an end to the present exclusive domination of evolution in public school curricula, but In their efforts to achieve this end, I think that the two-model creationists have misled some important points, and I would like to challenge their thinking with the following questions: Why distort science by leaving the question of origins in science class? Science cannot answer the question. Why deny that creation is essentially a religious faith about the past? Historical evolution is the same thing. Why treat evolution as if it were still a worthwhile “scientific” idea? It's already been scientifically tested and falsified.As we all know, the Arkansas Balanced Treatment law was struck down in 1982 by the famous McLean decision written by Judge Overton. Perhaps Elmendorf felt vindicated by this defeat of the two-models approach. He has not, however, become an icon of anti-evolution. A Google search has little to say about our editorial writer.
Perhaps these questions will be answered during the current American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the Arkansas Balanced Treatment Legislation. I hope so, because the creation/evolution controversy involves far more important issues than many people realize. Creation-science? T'aint so. Evolution-science? Impossible.
Still, “little” is not the same as “none.” Elmendorf apparently divides his time between two forms of crackpottery: creationism and geocentrism.
That's right. When not fighting evolution, R.G. Elmendorf tries to get people to believe that the sun orbits around the earth. He says he'll pay $1,000 to anyone who can prove heliocentricity.
Can flat-earth theory be far behind?