Re: Grand Canyon Tears America Apart in Battle Between Science and Faith

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Mon Jan 19 2004 - 09:01:15 EST

John W Burgeson wrote:
> George wrote: "There are a number of things wrong with this argument but
> I will note only one.
> Acceptance of the principle that "The gov't ought not take a stand for or
> against any
> particular position, no matter how solid the science behind it" would
> mean that those
> responsible for public (i.e., gov't) education would have no grounds for
> rejecting YEC &
> other aberrations from science curricula."
> 1. Tell me the other things wrong with it.

        Proceeding in order with your original statement.

> Complaints from Elders and others caused seven leading Earth-science
> organizations to write to the NPS on 16 December asking for the book to
> be removed from the shop —>>
> I, for one, think this is an absurd thing to do -- did we learn NOTHING
> from the similar campaign against Velikovsky some 30 or 40 years ago?

        The "campaign against Velikovsky" (~50 years ago) had a different character.
1st, V's claims were novel, unlike those of YECs, which have been weighed in the balance
& found wanting numerous times. 2d, some of V's critics apparently never read _Worlds
in Collision_ with any care before reading it. (~ 30 years ago I wrote a paper for
Pensee, a journal publicizing V's ideas, in which I examined his physics claims & found
them wrong but not quite as absurd as some critics had suggested. Unfortunately the
journal went broke after accepting the paper but before it could be published!)
        The "martyrization" of V would have had less effect if the initial critques of
his work had been done more carefully - & from an interdisciplinary standpoint. (I
heard V speak once in Pittsburgh at a conference to examine his ideas - an incredibly
long-winded old guy. The interesting thing was that the historians & archaeologists
there all knew that his history was baloney but thought that physicists had found
support for his claims, while as a physicist I knew that his physics was wrong but
had thought that maybe some of his historical claims had some validity!)
        But I suppose your point is that the use of economic leverage by the scientific
community to keep V's stuff from being published was wrong & conferred "martyrdom" on
him. I don't agree that there's anything wrong in principle with using such economic
leverage. (Cf. strikes, the Birmingham bus boycott, &c.) I'll comment on the 2d point

> When you marginalize a position, it just gives them legitimate reason to
> declare themselves as martyrs for the cause. And who is to say another
> view may similarly come under attack? What if the book was all about
> evolutionary theory and the attackers were YECs?

        1st, YEC is "maerginalized" only relative to the scientific community. As you
have pointed out ("They are winning"), in the larger society, & especially
conservative Christian churches, it is mainstream. 2d, YEC hasn't always been marginal
for scientists: It became so gradually as scientific evidence for an old earth &
evolution accumulated. De-marginalizing it scientifically would mean going back to
        3d, "marginalizing" YEC may give them a _plausible_ reason to declare themselves
as martyrs but that is not the same as a _legitimate_ reason. & 4th, the "who is to
say" argument assumes a relativity of truth that neither scientific societies nor the
govt is bound to accept, nor should they. Keith's post makes this point very well.
        The 1st Ammendment says that the govt can't make an establishment of religion,
but it says nothing about govt agencies recognizing some scientific theories as better
than others. Again I refer to Keith's excellent post. If the govt can't make any
scientific distinctions then the CDC has to accept the theory that diseases are caused
by invisible demons on the same level as the theory that they're caused by viruses or

> The bookstore should be able to set its own policies about what will sell
> and what won't.

        & scientific organizations should be able to express their displeasure with
what's on sale & use their influence to keep bad science from masquerading as good.

> 2. Have you read FRACTURE?


> 3. I reject your argument (above).
> a. The education arms of gov't SHOULD acknowledge and even teach YEC in
> science classes
> b. The YEC views should be presented as what they are, and no more.

        Of course evidence for an old earth & universe & for evolution should be
presented, & areas (such as the origin of life) that "orthodox" science hasn't dealt
with adequately should be acknowledged. This could certainly include presenting
putatively scientific YEC claims & showing the massive problems with them. & of course
students shouldn't be _forced_ to accept one view or another, though they can be
required to understand the theories & evidence on tests. But this material should
certainly _not_ be presented in a "some say this, some say that, you can make up your
minds" manner.
        Furthermore, if YEC views are "presented as what they are," teachers will be
free to critique them, & it will be very hard to keep them from sliding over into
ridicule of the biblical creation accounts if they want to. & I think all Christians
should be concerned about that.

> c. The education arms are (usually) competent to give them the exposure
> they deserve
> d. Their exclusion today is one case of the marginalization I speak of.

        I'm not sure if you mean "case" or "cause" here. Either way, I repeat what I
said above: YEC got marginalized scientifically by an accumulation of scientific
evidence & the development of scientific theory. (No, I do not naively think that
science proceeds in a completely objective way without any ideological commitments on
the part of its practitioners or popularizers.)
         e. By ignoring the YEC view, credibility is given it that it does not
> deserve.

        No. This may provide grounds for claiming "martyrdom," as noted above, but
there is no way it can be said to give "credibility." Is phlogiston theory made
credible today by the fact that no one (outside history classes) teaches it?

> f. By ignoring the YEC view, the case against it is never taught.

        The case for an old earth & evolution should be taught. If you want teachers to
add "therefore the earth isn't young & life didn't appear suddenly," it's OK with me.
        In reality evolution has been, & to some extent still is, either ignored or
(more likely) downplayed in many public schools. There are plenty of teachers who have
no problem with evolution itself but are nervous about teaching it because of the flak
they'll get from YEC parents &c. This returns to the point about marginalization.
While YEC is marginal - & properly so - in the scientific community, it is not marginal
in the communities in which many public school teachers live & work.

        Finally, on the general question of the best way to counter YEC claims. I agree
that giving a movement plausible reasons to claim "martyrdom" may give them publicity &
appear to give their claims more credit than they deserve. But I also think that one
should not place undue faith in the liberal idea that if ideas are freely & openly
discussed, the truth will always win out. (Here I don't use "liberal" in a pejorative
Limbaughish fashion but simply as a designation of a classic position.) While such
exchanges of ideas are very valuable, there is no guarantee that truth will emerge from
them. This is especially the case when a relatively uninformed public tries to debate a
technical subject, & even more so when the material for one side of the debate is
supplied by people with a clear ideological agenda. That applies to laissez faire
capitalists who want to deny global warming as well as to YECs.
        A democratic society depends to some extent on the belief that the electorate
can make intelligent decisions about issues if they are discussed openly. But in a
scientific & technological world that will work only if the electorate has some basic
scientific understanding of the world. & that means that education in good science, and
its distinction from bad science, is essential for the long term viability of such a
society. (It is, needless to say, a necessary but not a sufficient condition.)


George L. Murphy
Received on Mon Jan 19 09:04:05 2004

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