Skip to comments.Tough Assignment: Teaching Evolution To Fundamentalists
Posted on 12/18/2004 5:56:30 PM PST by PatrickHenry
Professional danger comes in many flavors, and while Richard Colling doesn't jump into forest fires or test experimental jets for a living, he does do the academic's equivalent: He teaches biology and evolution at a fundamentalist Christian college.
At Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., he says, "as soon as you mention evolution in anything louder than a whisper, you have people who aren't very happy." And within the larger conservative-Christian community, he adds, "I've been called some interesting names."
But those experiences haven't stopped Prof. Colling -- who received a Ph.D. in microbiology, chairs the biology department at Olivet Nazarene and is himself a devout conservative Christian -- from coming out swinging. In his new book, "Random Designer," he writes: "It pains me to suggest that my religious brothers are telling falsehoods" when they say evolutionary theory is "in crisis" and claim that there is widespread skepticism about it among scientists. "Such statements are blatantly untrue," he argues; "evolution has stood the test of time and considerable scrutiny."
His is hardly the standard scientific defense of Darwin, however. His central claim is that both the origin of life from a primordial goo of nonliving chemicals, and the evolution of species according to the processes of random mutation and natural selection, are "fully compatible with the available scientific evidence and also contemporary religious beliefs." In addition, as he bluntly told me, "denying science makes us [Conservative Christians] look stupid."
Prof. Colling is one of a small number of conservative Christian scholars who are trying to convince biblical literalists that Darwin's theory of evolution is no more the work of the devil than is Newton's theory of gravity. They haven't picked an easy time to enter the fray. Evolution is under assault from Georgia to Pennsylvania and from Kansas to Wisconsin, with schools ordering science teachers to raise questions about its validity and, in some cases, teach "intelligent design," which asserts that only a supernatural tinkerer could have produced such coups as the human eye. According to a Gallup poll released last month, only one-third of Americans regard Darwin's theory of evolution as well supported by empirical evidence; 45% believe God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.
Usually, the defense of evolution comes from scientists and those trying to maintain the separation of church and state. But Prof. Colling has another motivation. "People should not feel they have to deny reality in order to experience their faith," he says. He therefore offers a rendering of evolution fully compatible with faith, including his own. The Church of the Nazarene, which runs his university, "believes in the biblical account of creation," explains its manual. "We oppose a godless interpretation of the evolutionary hypothesis."
It's a small opening, but Prof. Colling took it. He finds a place for God in evolution by positing a "random designer" who harnesses the laws of nature he created. "What the designer designed is the random-design process," or Darwinian evolution, Prof. Colling says. "God devised these natural laws, and uses evolution to accomplish his goals." God is not in there with a divine screwdriver and spare parts every time a new species or a wondrous biological structure appears.
Unlike those who see evolution as an assault on faith, Prof. Colling finds it strengthens his own. "A God who can harness the laws of randomness and chaos, and create beauty and wonder and all of these marvelous structures, is a lot more creative than fundamentalists give him credit for," he told me. Creating the laws of physics and chemistry that, over the eons, coaxed life from nonliving molecules is something he finds just as awe inspiring as the idea that God instantly and supernaturally created life from nonlife.
Prof. Colling reserves some of his sharpest barbs for intelligent design, the idea that the intricate structures and processes in the living world -- from exquisitely engineered flagella that propel bacteria to the marvels of the human immune system -- can't be the work of random chance and natural selection. Intelligent-design advocates look at these sophisticated components of living things, can't imagine how evolution could have produced them, and conclude that only God could have.
That makes Prof. Colling see red. "When Christians insert God into the gaps that science cannot explain -- in this case how wondrous structures and forms of life came to be -- they set themselves up for failure and even ridicule," he told me. "Soon -- and it's already happening with the flagellum -- science is going to come along and explain" how a seemingly miraculous bit of biological engineering in fact could have evolved by Darwinian mechanisms. And that will leave intelligent design backed into an ever-shrinking corner.
It won't be easy to persuade conservative Christians of this; at least half of them believe that the six-day creation story of Genesis is the literal truth. But Prof. Colling intends to try.
...then why is it that whenever you attempt to list some of these "facts and evidence", you keep getting them wrong?
What it doesn't fit with is your spin on them - that's an entirely different matter; but, you're not objective on the matter and will refuse to see it.
Oh, sure, right, of course, whatever you say.
That aside, I'm not the one begging people to accept the notion that my belief system is science - you are.
No, actually, we're not. But just for fun, feel free to quote where you mistakenly think we are.
None of you have proved it, nor have your colleagues in the profession.
And there's yet another example of just how badly you misunderstand science. Science does not deal in "proofs". To think that it does is to reveal a deep, fundamental misunderstanding of it.
They have rather failed to and instead proved that it is a belief system by ignoring facts that contend against them,
Such as? Name your best one or two examples, so that we can determine whether you have a point, or have no real idea what in the heck you're talking about.
suppressing evidence that disproves them, etc.
Same as above: Name your best one or two examples, so that we can determine whether you have a point, or have no real idea what in the heck you're talking about.
The argument isn't my belief system vs. yours. The argument is that your belief system isn't science
Because...? And no, contrary to your belief you have not yet made a case for that assertion on this thread. At most you've made misrepresentations about science and/or evolution, and then stamped your feet and blustered about how you've already proven your point.
and doesn't belong in the schools.
Science always belongs in the schools. And yes, evolutionary biology *is* science.
I understand you'd like to make it about something else; but, it ain't gonna happen. And I'm not sorry.
Support your claims, or retract them. The ball's in your court.
It's so much more civilized sounding that way.
Okay, you've repeated this until you're blue in the face, but it's time to put up or shut up. State exactly what you think science constitutes, and then explain *specifically* and *with citations* why you are under the impression that evolutionary biology doesn't qualify as science. If you make any claims, you are expected to support them, by citing actual evidence from reputable sources for your claims.
And no, "so-and-so says that..." does not count. Nor am I interested in any tirades, speeches, or denunciations. You are expected to lay out an actual case for your position, using facts and logic, if you know how.
Your understanding is poor.
If light can be slowed down that drastically,
It can't. It can however be delayed. No, this is not the same thing.
then one cannot state that the speed of light is necessarily constant or equal when coming from any given source compared to any other source.
One can state that it is constant, because it is.
Between that and the red shift issue, that pretty much blows any confidence in results based on light time
You sure go out of your way to look for excuses to avoid having to accept the most straightforward implications of the evidence, don't you?
and leaves only Geometric projections which are of no confidence over infinite distances.
Wow! Your misonceptions about geometry are as amazing as your misconceptions about biology! No, the distances are not "infinite" -- do you even know what the word means? And yes, geometry is still valid over "really really big" distances". How on Earth did you get the mistaken impression that it's not?
The precision of the angles at base become a guess and thusly precision in general erodes.
The hell they do... You haven't the faintest clue how the angles are determined, do you?
Furthermore, there are many geometric methods for determining distances which do not rely on "precision of the angles at base", but then I guess you're unaware of *that* as well...
Oh? Let's start here... The following is from a debate between Chris Stassen (the author) and a young-earth creationist:
(B) Methods scientists use to give an age for the earth/universe.
I will present three ways to derive an age for the earth:
- We can try to find the oldest rocks on the earth. While this doesn't guarantee an absolute age (for the original rocks need not be available), it can at least give a lower limit for the age of the earth. (Unlike Bob's limits, these are derived by dating a specific object.)
The oldest rocks exposed on the surface of the earth are 3.5 to 3.8 billion years in age. Consider the various dating methods applied to the Greenland Amitsoq Gneiss:Rb-Sr isochron 3.70 +- 0.14 billion years Pb-Pb isochron 3.80 +- 0.12 billion years U-Pb discordia 3.65 +- 0.05 billion years Th-Pb discordia 3.65 +- 0.08 billion years Lu-Hf isochron 3.55 +- 0.22 billion yearsNote that all of the methods agree (3.68-3.70 is within all of their ranges of error). Isochron and discordia methods also have an internal check which identifies undateable samples. Similar formations which give similar ages can be found as well in North America, India, Russia, Australia, and Africa. This date therefore merits some confidence.
If Bob wishes to object to these dates, he will have to explain why a 10,000-year-old rock was "created" so that five independent dating methods would all yield the same fictitious age.
- We can try to date other objects in the solar system. Both sides of the debate believe that other objects in the solar system formed at about the same time as the earth, and therefore an age for one of those objects is an age for the earth.
The moon is not as geologically active (dating should be more reliable, as rocks have less complex "histories"). Again, the original rocks need not be available, so the age will only be a lower limit; the moon must be at least as old as the oldest rocks we've found on it.
Lunar basalts were collected by six different Apollo expeditions, from six different sites. These samples all give ages ranging from 3.16 to 3.96 billion years, by both Rb-Sr isochron and Ar-Ar dating methods. When both methods are applied to one sample, the results agree to within 3%.
Meteorites are not geologically active at all; there is good reason to expect that most are undisturbed since their formation with the rest of the solar system. Faure has a chapter on meteorite dating in Principles of Isotope Geology (this book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand radiometric dating).
Chondritic meteorites consistently give an Rb-Sr isochron age of 4.49 +- 0.07 billion years. Achondritic meteorites consistently give an Rb-Sr isochron age of 4.36 +- 0.11 billion years. A combined method using samples of minerals from many different meteorites gives an Rb-Sr isochron age of 4.46 +- 0.08 billion years.
Note that a small percentage of meteorites give ages younger than 4.5 billion years. This is to be expected when events such as collisions cause melting and recrystallization, which would "reset" the radiometric "clocks." Still, most meteorites give the same age, and none give ages older than that.
This arrangement of data is expected if the solar system is indeed 4.5 billion years old. I can't imagine how to explain it if the actual age is 10,000 years. But that is Bob's task - not mine.
Again, if Bob wishes to disagree with the methods, he will have to give specific objections. He will have to explain why meteorites were created to give isochron ages of 4.5 billion years rather than, say, 91 billion years. He ought to have a reason why a 10,000-year-old sample could be expected to give an isochron at all.
- Finally, since we figure all of the objects in the solar system formed at about the same time (as do the creationists), we can construct a "model lead" age. This is a calculation which is performed on various Pb isotopes (some of which are the result of uranium decay, and others which are not). We will plot Pb/Pb vs. Pb/Pb of samples from several different objects (meteorites and earth sites).
If these objects were all formed at the same time from a shared pool of materials, these points should lie on a straight line, and the slope of the line should give the age at which these objects became separated.
If these objects instead had separate origins (for example if they were created out of nothing), then there is no reason to expect the data points to lie on a straight line. Since the age is determined from the slope of the line, a scattering of points prevents any age from being determined at all.
In addition, if some of the samples were contaminated after the separation event, then those points should be moved away from the straight line, and again a meaningful age could not be determined. The fact that the samples do indeed lie on a straight line provides evidence that the resulting date is accurate, and that the samples have not been contaminated.
Y-axis: ratio of Pb/Pb; X-axis: ratio of Pb/Pb. Data points: (1) Iron Meteorites; (2) Beardsley; (3) Modern sediments and young Galenas; (4) Saratov; (5) Elenovka; (6) Richardton; (7) Nuevo Laredo. I can't really do it justice in ASCII, I recommend interested parties to get the original. All of the points lie on (or very near) a straight line. The slope of the line represents an age of 4.55 billion years. The only reasonable explanation for this arrangement of the data is that (1) the objects in the solar system all formed from a common pool of matter, and (2) they became isolated from each other about 4.55 billion years ago.
I doubt Bob has a convincing explanation for how young, "independently created" objects from all over the solar system could have their lead contents form an isochron. I wonder how he will account for the fact that the resulting age matches other dating methods' results for the solar system.
We have examined Bob's method for dating the earth. The method has many insurmountable problems, yet it is repeated in several creationist books which argue for a young earth. We have also examined some creationist complaints about the validity of the scientific methods for finding an age for the earth. All are either irrelevant or simply wrong. These are not the hallmarks of an enterprise which has reached its conclusions on careful study of the evidence. These are not the hallmarks of an enterprise which even understands the evidence.
Some accuse "scientific" creationists of ignorance or dishonesty. That may be true in some cases (e.g. Morris trying to palm off wildly inaccurate dust influx rates as reasonable values). A more reasonable explanation is that most of these mistakes are born out of desperation to support a view that the evidence flatly contradicts.
Perhaps Bob can do better than the leaders of the movement. Since Bob usually seems content to work directly and trustingly from their books, I do not expect it. Bob may surprise me and produce a reasonably convincing method which gives a young age for the earth. But if he manages to do so, it will not be a method found in popular creationist literature.
Bob's age for the earth differs by about six orders of magnitude from the value that scientists propose. This is not a minor difference. One of our two positions is like arguing that Alpha Centauri is closer to the Earth than the Sun is, or that one can buy a nice house in California for a quarter. The positions are so far apart that it should be trivial to choose the one that the evidence supports. It is. I have presented some solid pieces of this evidence. Bob needs to propose some evidence of his own, but he must also have testable explanations for how my evidence fits into his position.
Bob will have to offer an explanation for how a collection of young rocks from different parts of the solar system could form an isochron giving an age of 4.5 billion years. He will also have to offer an explanation for how the Amsitoq Gneiss could give the same (incorrect) date by 5 independent methods, all of which passed internal checks.
No matter how many "rocks" Bob throws at radiometric dating, he will need to present an explanation for the curious agreement of all of the varying methods. Proposing a deceptive creator is an admission of failure to do so. [...]
In my opening statement, the dating methods I used were all radiometric. I used radiometric dating because it is the only quantitative method I know for giving an age. There are plenty of geological formations which I could discuss (e.g. varves, fossil reefs and stromatolites, limestone and chalk deposits) that are very difficult to explain as features of a young Earth. I mentioned a few in my rebuttal (e.g. ocean floor sediments). But these formations cannot be used to date the entire earth - which is our topic.
I am somewhat disappointed that Bob didn't provide better objections to the radiometric dating methods. He mostly reused materials that he had posted previously to talk.origins. (I was loaded for bear, but faced gnats. :-) )
I presented only isochron and discordia methods. Bob gave objections to K-Ar methods, which he incorrectly generalized to all methods. For K-Ar dating methods, there is an "assumption that no parent or daughter product has entered or left the system" (technically, the assumption is that it won't happen without leaving detectable evidence of contamination). There is no analogous assumption for isochron methods, as a systematic contamination is the only reasonable explanation for a bad date which keeps the points on a line. That sort of contamination ("the mixing model") is detectable, was tested for, and was found not to be present.
Bob makes the claim that "radiometric dating methods are known to give very inaccurate (6-7 orders of magnitude) results." But this is in a tiny minority of cases. If these methods are so wildly inaccurate, how do five of them agree on the same age? If the five methods gave results similar to the metals-in-the-oceans method (scattered randomly), I would be first in line to call the Amsitoq Gneiss sample "undateable." (By the way, I presented the "raw" results of the methods; no "corrections" necessary.)
Bob also objects that the dates "have never been shown to be correct." They show a strong correlation with each other, with position in the geologic column, and with dates derived by other means. The methods work practically all the time on samples of known ("historical") age which pass contamination tests. I don't know what more Bob expects. He argues we can't "know" the age, but lack of absolute certainty doesn't make 10k years a palatable alternative. (Bob would need to explain how the dates could consistently be so far out of whack. Without that explanation, such an argument is worthless.)
I also want to take issue with Bob's argument against deceptive creation, which was to say that "the Creator didn't design the dating methods." All radiometric dating methods I presented are straightforward mathematical equations derived directly from half-life and isotope measurements (yes, even isochron methods). Agreement of the five methods is "appearance of age" just as surely as if the rock were labeled "3.7 billion years old" (perhaps even more surely, as a label is easier to fake). Bob pleads "misinterpretation," but fails to present any intepretation at all which could account for the sample's actual age being nearly six orders of magnitude lower.
Bob is asking me to believe that the Creator (without deception - by accident?) "initialized" or an unidentified process (acting for <10,000 years) "changed" isotope levels in the Amsitoq Gneiss so that five self-checking methods would yield the same (wrong) age. If this is creationist "science," it's unteachable in public schools even without religious reference. Arguments like that would justifiably get laughed out of any respectable refereed journal. But one can find lots of arguments like that in creationist "scientific" journals. :-(
An old earth provides the best and simplest explanation for the Amsitoq Gneiss dates, the Solar System model Lead results, the pattern of ocean-floor sediments, and the youth of short-period comets (see my rebuttal for the last two). A 10,000-year-old earth does not explain any of these things easily. [Note that I can use Bob's own evidence to contradict his proposed age!]
If the Earth were young, and the Creator wanted us to believe it, then all five methods applied to the Amsitoq Gneiss would give an age of 10k years. Anyone examining the evidence independent of religious conviction cannot escape the conclusion that the Earth is very old (Harold Coffin, a creationist witness at the Arkansas trial, admitted that under cross-examination).
In summary, Bob dismisses radiometric dates mainly "because they are not known to be correct." This argument holds no water because he failed to explain how the dates could systematically be wrong. It is merely a naked handwave, without any "scientific" hypothesized mechanism to support it.
Furthermore, this dismissal (on the grounds of "lack of certainty") implies that Bob's belief in a young earth is based on something which will override "non-certain" - but solid - evidence. I wish Bob had discussed whatever it is he finds so convincing. His seven dating methods certainly don't merit such an investment of confidence; I bet he would still believe in a young Earth even if he were forced to admit his methods to be unreliable.
no, it doesn't "piss me off", that you and I *believe* differently. How 'bout you? >>
good question. nah. I dont even know you.
as to what PISSES ME OFF, and actually makes me question my metaphysical assumptions as to justice in the universe, consider for a moment that Auburn is not going to the Orange Bowl. THAT is enough to make anyone who yearns for moral certitude tremble with righteous indignation.
The point I was snarkily making was that in conversations like these, there are empirical monists who wave around the collective opinions of the "scientific community" as if it were a talisman to ward off questions. It is a religious faith, arrived at like many religious faiths (not all), by absorbing the worldview of those around you. My illustration of this is the quasi universal acceptance of "global warming" among the scientific community. Never has there been a bigger collection of bullshit dressed up as "science" than this, and yet it is swallowed down with nary a protest in most disciplines (gotta get that funding and tenure, ya know!).
You bring this up and people react with the same righteous indignation as if you called Mary a prostitute to Roman soldiers. It's a religious thing...., you wouldn't understand [wink].
A final note: The insistence of 20th and 21st century science to "leave home" and insist on empiricism as a basis for scientific inquiry cuts the ground out from under "science" itself. Empiricism can never demonstrate the validity of formulating scientific laws of behavior. The bright scientists realize this. It is the chowderheads who think because they have a masters from West Apopka State that they do not have to examine the basis for their assumptions and go merrily on spouting nonsense about the uniformity of matter and the universal application of "laws" of physics. Again, it is a religious thing. They just don't realize they have a different catechism.
Could I get that in English?
And the astute reader will note the large difference between the current version, wherein JMT asserts that "all he said" was that we are "obsessed with the flesh", and the original, "they are completely obsessed with their flesh".
All you seek to do is to lay a snare,
want to know what I believe, start with Genesis, as written in the original before man started playing word games and telling little children the fruit eaten came from an apple tree.
That's nice and all, but it fails to answer the question I posed. You wanted to see an evolutionist address a certain point you were interested in, and I'm trying to answer it, but I need clarification on what specifically you're asking about.
Once again, are you going to provide the clarification, or are you going to admit that you don't really want an answer after all? If the latter, are you going to stop complaining that "The E crowd never addresses this either they are completely obsessed with their flesh", since it's becoming apparent that you run away from honest attempts *to* address it?
A few days ago he made the same claim in this post on another thread:
"Nor can you account for how the sking of a beast could be dated 20k years apart from it's bones."I responded by pointing out that he was quite mistaken:
The link was in my original response to him. It documents very thoroughly that Hovind's claim was false, by getting a copy of the source that Hovind *himself* cited in support of his claim, and quoting it to show that it SAID NO SUCH THING. The skin and the bones were dated to different eras, but that's no big surprise because they were FROM DIFFERENT FINDS -- not the same "beast" as Havoc falsely asserts.
"Sure I can, that's an easy one: THAT ISN'T TRUE EITHER. Creationist Kent Hovind was lying -- he falsely claimed that two different dates measured for TWO DIFFERENT ANIMALS were from the same mammoth, when they were NOT."
And Havoc can't even claim to have not seen my exposure of his falsehoods, since he *responded* to it here at 12/20/2004 00:49:58 AM PST -- a few hours *before* he turned right around and made the same false claim *again* in this thread at 12/20/2004 4:18:07 AM PST in this post...
Havoc, would you care to explain why you're bearing false witness to your fellow Freepers?
"Obsessed with the flesh" placemarker.
That's not what he said. His implication that Fundamentalists are willfully ignorant has no bearing on Fundamentalists' intelligence, as the two are not the same thing. Maybe you should work on your reading comprehension.
Can you give me an example? I'm learning while I lurk!
However, mainstream science really disagrees not with their findings, but with their conclusions.
Funny. I thought creationists liked the Second Law of Thermodynamics because in their opinion, it proves that more complex life forms cannot develop from simpler ones.
Starting with the observed fact that the rewood's pump works, Id say that one long enough to reach the ground would sufice. Are you suggesting that God personally intervenes with a miracle each and every moment in the life of a redwood?
Just for information, vacuum pumps can't lift water more than thiry feet. So the word pump is irrelevant here, as it is in every large tree.
I guess that means you don't know and therefore your whole hypothesis is out to lunch.
Thank you for directing me to the talkorigins.org Web site.
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