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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Duane Gish and Creationism

Richard Trott Critiques Duane Gish's Presentation
at Rutgers University

by Richard Trott
Copyright © 1994-1999
[Last Update: January 14, 1999]

This article appeared, with insignificant alterations on the part of a newspaper editor or two, on pages 2 and 4 of the March 29, 1994 issue of Rutgers Review under the unfortunately inflammatory title of "Lying for Jesus." In addition, the paragraph on thermodynamics as presented here has undergone some changes from the original to correct errors involving sloppy use of terminology on my part. A small correction concerning Neanderthal anatomy is also present in this version. The original version can be found here.


Other Links:
Gish's response
Duane Gish responds to this critique.
Trott rebuts Gish
Richard Trott rebuts Gish's response.
The Institute for Creation Research
Visit the web site of the organization that Duane Gish represents.
Creationism: Bad Science or Immoral Pseudoscience?
Joyce Arthur, writing for Skeptic Magazine, examines the questionable methods used by Duane Gish and other prominent "scientific creationists."
Creationism and Error
Scientific creationism differs from conventional science in numerous and substantial ways. One obvious difference is the way scientists and creationists deal with error.
A Creationist Exposed
Creationists like Duane Gish enjoy pointing out evolutionary embarrassments like Piltdown man and Nebraska man. But how do they deal with their own errors?

There exists in the United States a small but vocal group of people who call themselves "scientific creationists." These people claim that evolution is not science, but religion, and that the empirical evidence of the world does not support it. "Scientific" creationists believe that the teaching of evolution in public schools is the teaching of a religious dogma and that equal time should be given to the "theory" of creationism which apparently states, among other things, that the world is only several thousand years old and that humans have coexisted in the past with all currently extinct species. As we shall see, to maintain such an absurd view, "scientific" creationists need to alter many facts, omit many others, and use rather tortured logic. Unfortunately, largely due to its origin within hyperliteralist Christian circles, "scientific" creationism has experienced moderate political success in some communities.

On Monday, March 21, 1994, over 100 people came to hear Dr. Duane T. Gish speak at Hill Center on the Busch Campus. The lecture was sponsored by Rutgers InterVarsity Chinese Christian Fellowship. Gish is the vice president of the Institute for Creation Research and was touted in fliers for the event as "one of the world's leading experts on Scientific Creationism." The oxymoron "scientific creationism" aside, if Gish is "one of the world's leading experts," evolutionary scientists have nothing to fear from science. Unfortunately, they have a lot to fear from the overly credulous vicitims of pseudoscientific sophistry. None of Gish's supporters that evening seemed to notice the numerous times he contradicted himself by changing his position on a subject when it suited the needs of his argument. For example, early on in the lecture, Gish stated that neither evolution nor creationism is scientific since, among other things, neither is falsifiable. Gish then spent the remainder of his lecture attempting to falsify evolution. Furthermore, he later stated emphatically that creationism is a scientific explanation, even though, as noted above, he earlier said that creationism was not scientific.

Gish preached falsehoods about the fossil record. For example, Gish stated that there are no fossil precursors to the dinosaur Triceratops. Gish has been telling this myth for at least 12 years now. However, it is absolutely untrue. Ceratopsian precursors of Triceratops include, for example, Monoclonius and Protoceratops. This lineage appears in proper sequence in the fossil record. It shows the expected developmental change in body size, size of the bony frill, and number of horns. Unfortunately, it is likely that none of Gish's audience was aware that his statement was completely contrary to fact. Gish promulgated similar falsehoods about the fossil record all night long.

Gish also played subtle terminology games. He emphasized that there were no "transitional forms" in the fossil record but he did not explain what characteristics he would accept as "transitional" (with the exception of a ludicrous gloss on what one would expect to see in the horns of Triceratops). In the past, Gish has, for example, declared that the reptile-bird transition Archaeopteryx was not a transition because it had feathers and flew and was, therefore, a bird. To make the absurd assertion that Archaeopteryx did not show features of a reptile, Gish must conceal from his audience facts about Archaeopteryx such as that it possessed a pubic peduncle and a long bony tail. These are features found in reptiles that are never found in birds.

Gish showed either incredible ignorance or a stunning lack of integrity when he stated that Lord Solly Zuckerman, writing in 1970 that Australopithecus was probably not an ancestor of Homo sapiens, had more or less all the evidence that we have today. The field of physical anthropology underwent a revolution in the 1970s due to new discoveries and Gish's claim is patently ridiculous. Gish also told his audience that Neanderthals are now accepted as "fully human Homo sapiens just like you and me." Of course, Neanderthals were not "just like you and me". A Neanderthal had a longer and lower skull, a larger face and larger teeth, no chin or a slight chin, and a massive brow ridge in front of a differently shaped brain, as well as a distinctive skeletal structure.

One statement of Gish's was particularly laughable. He mentioned in an offhand manner that evolutionists "predicted" life on Mars. In other words, since there is no life on Mars, that's another strike against evolution. This is a truly remarkable grasp for straws.

Gish claimed that anti-creationist books "don't say a word" about the origin of fishes. I found this assertion peculiar, so I looked in the best anti-creationist book available. Allow me to highly recommend Arthur N. Strahler's Science and Earth History to anyone interested in all the information that Gish likes to pretend doesn't exist. Glancing through the table of contents, I found "Chapter 42. . . Invertebrates to Vertebrates." Flipping to the appropriate page, there was a section on the evidence for evolution from invertebrates to jawless fishes. Before that, there was also a section on precursors to Cambrian metazoans, which Gish also told his audience did not exist.

Lest anyone think this was a simple case of a crackpot outsider coming to Rutgers for a one-shot lecture of ludicrous assertions, allow me to point out that Rutgers InterVarsity seems to have actively participated in this campaign of misinformation. Before the lecture, a pamphlet was distributed to the audience. The pamphlet appears to be untitled and there is no apparent author listed. However, "Rutgers InterVarsity Chinese Christian Fellowship" does appear on the pamphlet and I will assume that they are at least indirectly responsible for the distribution of the pamphlet.

The pamphlet is a classic pastiche of selective quotations and creationist nonsense. For example, the pamphlet states, "The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that there is a general tendency of all observed systems to go from order to disorder. . . A fundamental law of physics says that natural systems go from order to disorder; evolutionists say that these same systems will go from disorder to order." This is, of course, complete nonsense. Among other problems with this argument, the Second Law of Thermodynamics requires an increase in disorder only in systems that are thermodynamically closed. Living systems are not thermodynamically closed. Living systems can undergo an increase in order (and can be observed constantly doing so today) as long as there is a corresponding larger increase in disorder in the environment from which the living system obtains energy.

Christians are commanded not to bear false witness. InterVarsity should be ashamed for perpetrating this intellectual fraud on the Rutgers community.

[Go to: Gish's response.]


The author wishes to thank the following people for their valuable comments on early drafts: James G. Acker, Steve Fritzinger, Wade Hines, Andrew Macrae, Tom Maguire, Tom Scharle, and Warren Kurt von Roeschlaub. Similarly, David Cavanaugh and Glenn Morton have been helpful with later revisions.
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