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Tower Babble

A response to Eugenie C. Scott’s review (published in Scientific American,
August, 1999, entitled “Creationism Evolves”) of Robert T. Pennock’s book,
Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism.

© 1999 Timothy Wallace.  All Rights Reserved. 

E ugenie Scott is the executive director of the “National Center for Science Education,” a philosophically motivated organization with a staunch pro-evolution, anti-creation, and anti-theistic bias[1], which is abundantly evident in her review.  With its visible emphasis being a mandate for humanistic philosophy of education rather than the teaching or practice of science itself, the NCSE (and therefore Scott) seem to take an unmistakably “ivory tower” approach to treating matters of both science and origins.

In the very first paragraph, Scott takes aim (as apparently does Pennock) at something called “New Creationism”—a broad-brushed attempt to attribute to “some creationists” a general trend away from the biblical creationary paradigm and towards less “religious” terms with which to describe themselves and/or their positions (e.g., “abrupt appearance theory,” “evidence against evolution,” and “intelligent design theory”).  While there certainly has emerged in recent years a sizeable presence of challengers to the modern rendition of Darwinian evolution who do not embrace the biblical creationary paradigm (e.g., Michael Behe, Phillip Johnson, Michael Denton, Lee Spetner), Scott’s pretense that such a presence represents a general shift away from the biblical paradigm could be attributed only to ignorance or delusion.

In the U.S., for example, the three most prominent institutions founded on the biblical creation paradigm (the Institute for Creation Research, the Creation Research Society, and Answers in Genesis)[2] have either increased significantly or decreased only marginally in the years since “Edwards v. Aguillard” (the 1987 court case alleged by the authors to have been the turning point), and have not by any stretch of the imagination been replaced or weakened by any “intelligent design” organization.  The rise of a non-biblical genre of anti-evolution contingent seems to indicate, if anything at all, that the bankruptcy of evolutionary thought vis-à-vis empirical science is becoming obvious to a range of observers that is rapidly broadening beyond the limits of biblical Christianity to include mere theists, agnostics, and perhaps even a few atheists!

That Pennock, and thus Scott, portray this new phenomenon as a reaction to “pressure to avoid the religious term ‘creationism’” is an open reflection of their failure to see beyond their anti-creationary noses to an objective analysis of data relevant to the whole matter.  Their eagerness to publicly portray what they perceive to be the “evolution” of the creationary movement is apparently so great as to prevent them from recognizing the emergence of what turn out to be new challenges to evolutionary dogma in their own right.

Scott’s presuppositions are again laid bare, when she matter-of-factly begins a sentence with, “Because science rules out supernatural explanations…”  Yet, it is not “science” itself that “rules out” the supernatural at all, but an unblushingly dogmatic predisposition that refuses to acknowledge the supernatural in the first place.  Readers would do well to note that many of the founders of what has become modern science were Bible-believing individuals, and that the heavily popularized myth that science has the authority to “rule out” the supernatural is a relatively recent (and for the most part unwarranted) device, contrived and enforced largely by those whose faith is the naturalism that dominates “mainstream” science today.

Apparently incapable of differentiating between science and the philosophical naturalism by which she insists that it be practiced, Scott (and apparently Pennock) are typical in their failure to recognize the difference between raw empirical evidence and that same empirical evidence as interpreted through the lenses of a “preexisting materialist prejudice.”  Thus Scott attributes to empirical evidence alone a “power” that the reader is apparently expected to believe renders the observer philosophically neutral in his interpretation.

Further evidence of Scott’s prejudice appears in her description of “theistic science” (in which supernatural explanations are permitted) as “antiscience—at least as science is practiced today.”  This statement betrays yet another apparent blind spot, since very little in the applied sciences—as they are practiced today—requires the practitioner to embrace a philosophy of naturalism in order to successfully practice the scientific method.  Countless fields of study and application involving physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, and more, bustle with daily activity around the globe, unencumbered by any reliance on a naturalistic or materialistic predisposition concerning origins.  The only basis upon which Pennock and Scott might wish to assert that “antitheistic science” is superior to “theistic science” is their own unacknowledged predisposition towards the former and against the latter.

Next, Scott invokes semantic smoke and mirrors to distinguish between materialist philosophy and “the methodological materialism of science”—to which she attributes without substantiation the authoritative edict:  “Science cannot use supernatural cause to explain the natural world.”  She doesn’t take the time to explain what the difference is between “the methodological materialism of science” and a methodology of science that is arbitrarily dominated by the presuppositions of a materialist philosophy, perhaps precisely because there is in fact no difference!

Attempting to dismiss the notion of “intelligent design” with a wave of her hand, Scott states, “Charles Darwin’s major contribution to science was showing that structural complexity could be explained through natural processes and did not need the guiding hand of God.”  The only problem with this claim—its popularity among anti-creationists notwithstanding—is that it has yet to be demonstrated or even theoretically substantiated via empirical science.  Such a claim lacks any scientific authority, despite its ostentatious pretense of honoring a “major contribution to science.”

To date, no demonstrably plausible natural process has been observed or advanced in theory by which new genetic information could be generated, specifying a previously non-existent biological process or physiological characteristic in a subject organism.  The structural complexity of any organism’s physiology is never greater than the complexity of the information by which its structure is assembled and maintained.  So how exactly can Charles Darwin be said to have shown “that structural complexity could be explained through natural processes” when a plausible natural process by which the very source of that structural complexity (i.e., the more complex genetic information that specifies it) has yet to be found?  Scott’s failure to acknowledge this critical question (let alone attempt to answer it) seems to demonstrate a greater measure of faith than knowledge in her cursory treatment of this matter.

Apparently not content to have credited Darwin for having solved a problem that he never solved, and in order to lend greater credibility to their argument (namely, the standard anti-creation battle cry:  ‘If it’s not evolution, it’s not science!’), Scott and Pennock go on to present a sampling of simplistic, equivocal, and strongly biased interpretations of a few other matters where their knowledge is likewise insufficient.

“Most Christian theologians today believe that God can be Creator and be in charge of the universe without having to line up the chromosomes during each cell division or having to adjust planetary orbits directly,” states Scott.  She provides no references in support of this claim, however, so the validity of such a verbally specific—yet semantically ambiguous—statement is questionable.  And even if it were true that the majority of modern Christian theologians didn’t consider God any longer actively involved in His creation, such an assertion is entirely moot, since 1) human opinion (even in a majority—particularly among “mainstream” theologians) has never ipso facto comprised the truth, and 2) the Christian Scriptures (the foundation on which the Christian faith is based) specifically and directly refute such a notion, the beliefs of any particular group of theologians notwithstanding.

The reason for their making the above fallacious pronouncement becomes obvious in the same paragraph, if not the same sentence:  the authors’ aim is to mock, from any available angle, the very nature and character of the Living God of the Bible, by rendering Him effectively inoperative within His own creation—as dictated by the predisposition of authors’ own materialist philosophy, masquerading as “science.”  Hence this section of Scott’s review wears the subheading “The ‘God of the Gaps’ Problem.”

By giving the appearance of appealing to an authoritative body (“most Christian theologians today”), Scott obviously aims to buttress not only her stated assertion that creationism has evolved, but also an implied claim that the absolute truth of God’s Word is in fact less than absolute, and subject to the collective opinion of an apparent majority of theologians, rather than being immutable truth to which Christian theologians humbly submit their collective opinion.  The principle upon which Scott bases this inferred claim is a logical fallacy in the context of Christian doctrine.  Strictly speaking, the truth of the Scriptures has never been a matter of opinion—majority or otherwise—in the Church.  Furthermore, the presumption that in certain times and places a majority of Christian theologians did or do embrace erroneous, unbiblical doctrines is no basis for building a case favoring more of the same.

It is noteworthy that Scott makes reference to a “public” that is “more concerned…with existential issues of meaninglessness and purpose than with empirical scientific evidence,” apparently wishing to minimize—if not bypass—the philosophical and metaphysical ramifications of a science ruled by naturalistic, materialistic philosophy.  “Pennock,” she says, “presents a particularly thoughtful discussion of why neither science nor evolution renders life meaningless.”  There is no question in my mind but that genuine science cannot render life meaningless.  However, it is truly remarkable that, having found in Pennock a “particularly thoughtful” denial of the inevitably nihilistic philosophical end of evolutionary thought, Scott fails to seize an opportunity to attribute some meaningfulness to naturalism by citing even a portion of the core of Pennock’s discussion.

In another illogical attempt to bolster evolution’s sagging credibility in the face of science, Pennock apparently asks readers to concede (unobserved) biological (macro)evolution on the grounds that languages have been observed to evolve in recorded history.  Scott’s paragraph briefly treating this thin argument ends by saying, “neither languages nor living things have the orderliness of specially designed phenomena but look far more like ‘jerry-built jumbles’ such as would be produced by evolution.”

Frankly, Scott can only have been turning a blind eye to both empirical science (molecular biology in particular) and linguistics to make such a statement.  Wholly contrary to Scott’s assertion, living things have an incredible amount of inherent order:

Is it really credible that random processes could have constructed a reality, the smallest element of which—a functional protein or gene—is complex beyond our own creative capacities, a reality which is the very antithesis of chance, which excels in every sense anything produced by the intelligence of man?  Alongside the level of ingenuity and complexity exhibited by the molecular machinery of life, even our most advanced artifacts appear clumsy.
[Denton, Michael (molecular biologist), Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (London: Burnett Books, Ltd., 1985), p.342]

And while many and varied, all human languages possess a consistent fundamental order:

Chomsky holds that the grammar of a language is a system of transformational rules that determines a certain pairing of sound and meaning.  It consists of a syntactic component, a semantic component, and a phonological component.  The surface structure contains the information relevant to the phonological component, whereas the deep structure contains the information relevant to the semantic component, and the syntactic component pairs surface and deep structures.  Hence, it is merely the phonological component of grammar that has become greatly differentiated during the course of human history, or at least since the construction of the Tower of Babel.  The semantic component has remained invariant and is, therefore, the ‘universal’ aspect of the universal grammar, which all natural languages embody.
[Stent, Gunther S., “Limits to the Scientific Understanding of Man,” Science, vol. 187 (March 21, 1975) p.1054. Stent was Professor of Molecular Biology, University of California, Berkeley.]

In addition to such common basic order among languages, it has been noted that they all share a similarly high level of complexity:

It would seem likely that further light could be thrown on the evolution of human language by studying more and less complex human languages spoken today.  However, while it is possible to find parts of one language that are simpler than the corresponding parts of another language, no evidence has ever been produced that would suggest that one particular language as spoken by modern humans is more or less complex than any other.
[Matthews, Stephen, Bernard Comrie, and Marcia Polinsky, eds., Atlas of Languages: The Origin and Development of Languages throughout the World (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1996), pp.11-12.]

The so-called primitive languages can throw no light on language origins, since most of them are actually more complicated in grammar than the tongues spoken by civilized peoples.
[Linton, Ralph, The Tree of Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955), p. 9.]

It boggles the mind, then, that Eugenie Scott, director of a so-called “science education” organization, would claim that both languages and living things “look more like ‘jerry-built jumbles’ produced by evolution” than orderly, specially designed phenomena—unless she is looking at both of them through glasses so heavily tinted as to filter out all objective consideration of the empirical evidence.

“Scientists, like others, sometimes tell
deliberate lies because they believe
that small lies can serve big truths.”

— Richard C. Lewontin [3]     

Scott goes on to praise Pennock’s treatment of “confusion and squabbling among antievolutionists,” both of them ostensibly wishing to divert attention away from the rapidly accumulating weaknesses in the evolutionary paradigm being spotlighted by the whole lot of evolution’s detractors.  Taking special aim at intelligent design advocates (whose platform Scott and Pennock claim—without substantiation—“descended” from the biblical creation paradigm) for apparently attempting to “hide theological differences” among evolution’s opponents, the writers rely on a typically dismissive allusion to the wholly logical conclusion that evolution and creation constitute the only two plausible origins paradigms.

Pennock introduces “the Raëlian movement” as an alleged plausible third alternative, wherein UFOs are credited with the origin of life on earth, and—once again—both empirical science and the Bible itself are prostituted to lend the illusion of plausibility to an otherwise baseless agenda.  While an inability to discern abusive treatment of the Scriptures may be excusable, both Scott and Pennock must knowingly gloss over a profound absence of empirical support (one can only suppose that they’re accustomed to it by now) in order to suggest the “Raëlian” scenario as a plausible origins alternative.

Notwithstanding this failure on the parts of Pennock and Scott, it seems to have furthermore escaped their notice that crediting UFOs with depositing and nurturing life on earth by no means produces a third alternative of the same class as naturalistic evolution and biblical creation:  It merely shifts the focus of the origins question (i.e., “whence came the existence and intellect of the UFOs?”).

Using the UFO hypothesis as a springboard for sounding one of the most heavily parroted mantras among evolution popularizers, Scott (and apparently Pennock) insist that, “extraterrestrial intelligent design and Godly intelligent design ultimately fail as science,” because “either must be taken on faith.”  Their apparent failure to recognize the faith required to embrace their own dogmatic assertions in the face of empirical science severely erodes the credibility of them both, as does their apparently willful ignorance of the ever growing accumulation of empirical—scientific—evidence shown to support the biblical record.

“The first to present his case seems right,
Till another comes forward and questions him.”

— King Solomon [4]     

It’s a candid reflection of Scott’s caliber of moral integrity that she chooses to close her review by painting a picture typically used by evolution popularizers—one that is based more on willful ignorance and presuppositional tunnelvision than on objectivity and honesty.  She cites, for example, the textbook Of Pandas and People as a “familiar laundry list of long-refuted” arguments, ostensibly betraying some confusion on her part between the terms “rebut” and “refute"—an error on which she obviously wishes to base her intellectually bigoted dismissal.

With this, Scott again invokes the vain illogic by which she pretends that empirical challenges to evolution do not ipso facto lend support to the creation paradigm:  Pennock’s diversionary use of the plausibly bankrupt UFO scenario notwithstanding, there are truly only two alternatives, and evidence exposing the falsehood and inequity of evolution’s monopoly on empirical science does indeed simultaneously weaken the evolutionist’s intellectual stranglehold on the public while shedding light on the straightforward credibility of the creation paradigm—at the very least by suggesting that it not be treated with the philosophical/religious prejudice and intellectual contempt commonly invoked by evolution popularizers as they hawk their wares to the unsuspecting public.

Only Scott’s—and Pennock’s—typical failure to hold an informed, comprehensive understanding of the biblical creation paradigm can be the cause for their inability to see that framework as anything but miracles masquerading as science.  Their overriding haughty approach is further accentuated by their failure to understand that science’s limitations (e.g., its inability to explain everything) do not logically translate for everyone into a justification for branding as “non-science” any phenomenon or historical event, the Author of which remains outside those limitations.  In short—to borrow Scott’s words—they themselves confuse the unexplained with the unexplainable or (worse) the unreal.

Insisting that the “scientific community” must become persuaded of the creation paradigm’s rightful place in classrooms before it can be given that place, Scott also fails to recognize that there is indeed a growing scientific community that has been so persuaded.  But Scott’s standard seems to be that it is only the “scientific community” comprised of anti-creationists like herself that qualifies—conveniently erecting a popular, but bogus, “catch 22” situation, by which evolutionist popularizers apparently hope to continue dominating students’ educational options and suppressing their critical thinking skills.

The very same scientific community that finds the creation paradigm a reasonable alternative (and so is virtually ignored by the likes of Eugenie Scott and the “scientific community” with which she identifies), ipso facto falsifies the popular straw-man claim (invoked as a parting shot by Scott) that creation paradigm “misrepresents science as an inherently antireligious enterprise.”  (Having spent so much energy caricaturing and deriding what she sees as a modified form of Bible-based creationism, she would be less than honest to deny her own “antireligious” bent!)  It bears repeating here that it is not science that creationists consider antireligious, but the presupposition of naturalistic philosophy that dominates much of what is popularized as “mainstream” science today—and which does indeed happen to be rather antireligious (or at least anti-Christian) in nature, quite apart from science itself.

Calling her caricature of creation science “no way to improve science literacy in America,” Scott can only be assumed to believe that a perpetual domination of naturalistic philosophy over science education is a way to improve science literacy, in spite of the fact that the record of the past several decades fails to support her contention.  Were it true that she really knew the difference between education and indoctrination, her ostensible concern for science “education” would be commendable.  Unfortunately, the most we can hope for—as long as Eugenie Scott and her ilk have their way—is her own brand of the very religion-masquerading-as-science to which she ostensibly objects.

Timothy Wallace


References

[1] It is noteworthy that the NCSE hardly ever deals with what one would call real science, e.g. chemistry, physics, astronomy, or even experimental biology.  To Scott and her colleagues, “science” seems to be a euphemism for “particles-to-people evolution”—having nothing to do with the applied sciences that have put men on the moon, cured diseases, etc.  On the other hand, the NCSE does publish a lot about religion and philosophy, to the extent of objecting to a public school teacher presenting historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.  The NCSE was founded by humanists and still led by humanists like Scott and Matsumara.

Readers might find the following links to be of interest:
        How Religiously Neutral are the Anti-Creationist Organisations?
        Another anti-creationist crusader wins Humanist award                 [RETURN TO TEXT]

[2] The period during which Scott alleges a shift away from biblical creationism to “avoid religious terminology” is from “within a few years” after 1987 to the present.  During this period the peer-reviewed Creation Research Society Quarterly saw a nominal 6.5% decrease, while Creation Ex Nihilo Magazine general circulation increased tenfold during the same period.  The peer-reviewed Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal has more than doubled in U.S. circulation since it commenced American distribution in 1994, and the Answer in Genesis (U.S.) mailing list (including subscriptions, supporters, and book purchasers) increased nearly fivefold during the same period.  (Comparable Institute for Creation Research figures were unavailable at the time of this writing.)  All of these publications and organizations (and others) have remained unequivocally faithful to the biblical creation paradigm throughout the period cited by Scott, which casts some legitimate doubt on the caliber of historical accuracy employed by both Scott and Pennock.  [From July 1999 personal correspondence with G. Wolfrom of CRS, with J. Sarfati of AiG Australia, and with L. McCabe of AiG USA.]   [RETURN TO TEXT]

[3] Lewontin, Richard C., “The Inferiority Complex,” review of The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen J. Gould, New York Review of Books (October 22, 1981).   [RETURN TO TEXT]

[4] Proverbs 18:17, Holy Bible, New International Version.   [RETURN TO TEXT]


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