SKEPTICAL INQUIRER ELECTRONIC DIGEST APPENDIX
REVIEW OF PBS' FIRING LINE CREATION/EVOLUTION DEBATE
Written by John Forester
Resolved: That Evolutionists Should Acknowledge Creation:
The Science versus Religion Debate,
This two-hour debate was presented on the Public Broadcasting System program Firing Line in December, 1997. The moderator was Michael Kingsley.
For the proposition that evolutionists should acknowledge creation were:
William F. Buckley, Jr., conservative author
Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry
Philip E. Johnson, professor of law
David Berlinskey, writer on mathematics and religion.
Against the proposition were:
Barry Lynn, minister and attorney, director of American's United for Separation of Church and State.
Eugenie Scott, anthropologist, CSICOP fellow and director of Center for Science Education
Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy
Kenneth Miller, professor in cell biology.
2 Opening Statements
2.1 W. F. Buckley
Buckley said that he avoided extremes. However, naturalistic theory is fanciful, and without theory the naturalistic result must be chaos. Buckley supports the anthropic view that the universe was designed for human life to exist.
2.2 Barry Lynn
Evolution is a fact and has a satisfactory theory that has received no
substantial challenge since it was first enunciated. In his view, creationism is
about fundamentalist religiosity, discredited science, and plain nonsense. The
result is that schools teach pseudo-science instead of real science. We have to
be able to recognize the difference between scientific and religious questions.
The creationists should either provide a coherent theory to explain the facts
that are known to exist, or they should shut up.
3 Statements, Questions and Answers
3.1 Philip Johnson
Evolutionary science assumes materialism and asserts, therefore, that evolution must be by unintelligent causes. The appearance that living things have of being designed with a purpose, therefore, must be explained by evolutionists by materialistic or naturalistic causes because that is required by their dogma which denies the supernatural. This is a very religious attitude. His side will separate real science from religious questions.
3.2 Eugenie Scott
Evolution means change, both in the universe and in biology. In biology it means shared ancestors from which is descent with modifications. This is fact. The difference in opinions is about causes. Who did it is not a scientific question, just a religious one.
Johnson: Darwinism encourages atheism, doesn't it? Scott: Only for Biblical
creationists. 40% of scientists believe in an ultimate cause. Johnson presented
the two fish, Jesus and Darwin, objects of intelligent design. He tried to show
that Darwinism is an argument for atheism. Scott: Don't confuse scientific and
religious questions. Johnson says then that evolution does not occur, and that
random modification with natural selection is insufficiently powerful to produce
it. Darwinism is based on the metaphysical principle of atheism. However, he
says that he agrees with descent with modifications, qualifying his belief as
that natural selection works only to select among the existing and unchanging
gene pool of a species and does not produce new species. Scott asked what gene
pool did Johnson consider? Johnson said that we haven't seen new high-level
groups, new phyla, being produced.
3.4 Michael Behe
The universe is the evidence for the intelligent designer. A) The universe had
a start. B) The universe fits life. C) Life started. D) The interactive
complexity in cells, his own field, demonstrates intelligent design. He
presented his view that the rotating bacterial flagellum must have been
intelligently designed because if you remove any part it won't function. He
showed Haeckel's pictures (1860?) of similar embryonic development of different
animals, and said that these were frauds, trying to say that evolutionists were
3.5 Kenneth Miller
Demonstrated that Behe's own example of the mousetrap as irreducibly complex design is inaccurate, because he removed a part from a rattrap and it still worked. Then he presented a biochemical reaction in bacteria that developed in a new way when one necessary enzyme was prevented from developing. Behe ducked those issues, asserting that he means functions and not parts, and quoting favorable reviews of his book Darwin's Black Box.
3.6 Michael Ruse
He accepts Darwinism. Creationism is neither science nor religion. Johnson
tried to tar Ruse with the brush of liberal social theories and actions. Ruse
replied that many scientists were liberal, but there were others, such as R. A.
Fisher, whose conservatism would keep one awake at night. Berlinskey then asked
what theory of biology did Ruse recognize, because Berkinskey couldn't recognize
any such theory. Ruse listed many theories, natural selection, various genetic
theories, and others. None of these satisfied Berlinskey, who wants a theory
that is so complete that an engineer could implement it. Behe quoted Ruse to the
effect that the Big Bang theory was philosophically unacceptable, and Ruse
agreed that was his opinion. No one then asked what all that meant.
Buckley suggested that this discussion was merely in metaphors. Ruse replied that indeed many of our statements in the social and in the physical sciences were metaphors, which is how we explain in words the knowledge that we have gained, and which can be, and should be, checked by scientific investigation. He is satisfied with the use of metaphors in this sense.
3.7 David Berlinskey
He preached (my best description of his words, thoughts, and manner) that Darwinism is the last mystical religion, following Freudianism and Marxism to the grave. Natural selection is known to be insufficient, given existing complexity. He presented a sort of Pascal's wager, saying that we might discover that naturalism is correct, or we might discover god, and if we discover god who will feel diminished?
Lynn quoted Berlinskey's writings, asking why are only some plants carnivorous,
and why don't women have beautiful tails? Lynn states that Berlinskey doesn't
understand that different ecological niches will produce different species.
Berlinskey agrees that that is a hypothesis that he doesn't understand.
Berlinskey says that after the fact we can explain the existence of the part,
but we can't predict the outcome of a natural situation from general principles,
which is a necessary requirement of "normal science." Scott asked
what is the problem with understanding adaptive reproduction?
She asked Berlinskey about his statement that the fossil record is incomplete, when, for example, the reptile-mammal transition is so well documented that we have trouble deciding which is the dividing line between the two. Berlinskey replies that this transition is well documented, but not nearly as closely as Darwinism requires, while the transition to chordates is undocumented, as is the development of insects (from other multisegmented Devonian life).
Lynn pointed out that frequently, where gaps in the fossil record have been argued, we have later discovered intervening forms. So what does Berlinskey require, 16 more forms after the 16 that have just been discovered? Berlinskey replies that we must have a panoply of intervening species, claiming, or at least trying to claim, that since they do not show in [the discovered part] of the fossil record they did not ever exist.
3.8 Kenneth Miller
So Berlinskey and others claim that there is not theory of natural history?
Well, we have the fossil record showing sequences of appearances and
disappearances. The only conclusion to be drawn from a creationist
interpretation of that record is that the creator is incompetent, because 99% of
species are now extinct. That demonstrates that there can be no viable theory of
intelligent design. Behe again refers to Haeckel's fraudulent drawings, but
Miller replies that he has already published a correction to his textbook.
Johnson asks Miller for his most powerful demonstration of Darwinism's
creative power. Miller replies (1) that there is a unique genus of butterflies
in Hawaii that is dependent on bananas. However, bananas, we know from the
historical record, were brought to Hawaii only 1,000 years ago. Therefore, this
genus must have evolved in the last 1,000 years. Miller replies (2) that
mutation of human cells to respond to the prevention of the production of
tryptophan, achieved in only 7 generations of cells. Berlinskey says he doesn't
believe it, and Miller replies that then Berlinskey's argument is merely one of
personal incredulity. Johnson says that Darwinism [or life?] requires an immense
amount of information that is not in the fossil record. Miller replies that he
has provided two examples, how much more does Johnson demand? Behe quotes
Miller's writings that changes in early life of the embryo are likely to be
deadly, while changes in the later development are not likely to be so deadly.
But, Behe says, we now know that early embryos can change, so that therefore
Miller's statement is fraudluent and therefore no scientist understands how
Darwinism can affect embryology. Miller gives the simple reply that Behe is
deliberately misquoting Miller's statement, because low probability is not a
statement of impossibility, but Behe pretended that they were.
3.9 W. F. Buckley
Ruse asked Buckley why he wasn't on their side of the debate. Was it for
social reasons? Or for religious reasons? Buckley replied that he was not naive
and he objected to ideological fixity, from dogmatism from which everything else
derives. All dogmas are not equal. Dogmas disguise immethodical thought. To
materialists, materialism comes first, science second. Therefore, materialists
oppose creationist thought for dogmatic reasons. Scott asks "Why do we
need to invoke God in scientific work?" Buckley replies that "We
demand that scientists acknowledge creation as an alternative explanation, one
that we find more plausible." Miller presents a quotation that the
convergence of evidence for evolution in many disparate fields demonstrates the
actuality of evolution, and asks Buckley who made that statement. Buckley
agrees with the statement, which was made by Pope John 22, and MIller agrees
also. Johnson quotes Leuwonton as saying that scientists cannot allow a divine
foot in the door. In public schools, wouldn't that be an establishment of
religion? Barry Lynn replies that it would not be, but it would be bad teaching.
One can be a theistic believer in evolution, "As I am." Johnson asks
about immanent continuing design. Lynn replies that he believes in a God-created
system, but we still have scientific questions and religious questions, and
they are different. Evolution is a fact.
3.10 Berlinskey and Ruse
Berlinskey asserts that he has no interest in divine creation. There are gaps
in the fossil record. Does Lynn agree? Lynn does. Berlinskey then asserts that
therefore Darwinism is wrong because the fossil record is not complete. Only an
unbroken record of succession would satisfy a legitimate scientific temperament.
Lynn replies, "So we haven't found them? We have found many in the
past." Berlinskey questions Ruse as writing that studies of the origin of
life are often philosophical. Should high-school students be told this? Ruse
replies of course, provided that they are mature enough, and they generally are,
just be sure that the caveats are expressed. Berlinskey says that Ruse advocates
the criterion of falsifiability for scientific theories. What then would be a
falsifiable theory for the design of bacterial flagella? Ruse replies that an
investigation of the bacterial DNA might show it. For example, if that
investigation showed that bacterial DNA was closer to human DNA than the DNA of
gorillas and chimpanzees is to human DNA, then Darwinism would have a great
knife in its heart. Ruse states that Behe gives a great argument for the theory
of irreducible complexity, quoting Behe's own words describing this theory as
great as Newton's and others. Then what is Behe's theory? Behe replies that you
can detect intelligent design in the characteristics of living organisms.
Berlinskey then asks Ruse about Crick's hypothesis of galactic panspermia
[spores of life were delivered to Earth by spaceships from afar], because
development of life on Earth was impossible. No conclusion about that. Ruse
then asks Berlinskey about parasites. Were these created by the creator as well,
or do creationists get all the good things and evolutionists get all the bad
things? Buckley then quotes Leuwontin's argument for materialism as the only
begetter of truth, we much abandon superstition. What is Ruse's opinion of that?
Ruse replies that that is not a necessary conclusion, although he believes it.
Barry Lynn repli es that one can believe in the data of evolution and recognize
the failure of all attempts to contradict it, but that doesn't disprove the
existence of a Creator. Buckley asks whether randomness is adequate to do what
has occurred. Barry Lynn replies that randomness may well be one of God's tools.
We have to separate our scientific views from our religious ones, which
creationists don't. Do you, he asks Buckley, understand God's mind so well as to
rule out the possibility that God used evolution as his process to bring his
design to fruition? Buckley declines to answer that one; his mind is not great
enough. We have mysteries, and we must accept mysteries, and we must accept
that God's intent is a mystery, but that doesn't reject revelation. Lynn asks
Buckley why he objects to evolution, considering that all challenges have
failed? Buckley replies that thoughts about Darwinism have developed, nowadays,
to the concept that we must reject the materialist position.
Johnson rejects all reference to Biblical doctrine, he rejects literal
creationism. When presented with Creationist children's book showing dinosaurs
and humans as contemporaries, Johnson denies any connection with that.
"Literal creationism is as silly as is the work of Dawkins." We must
put aside all Bible issues and ask ourselves what is known from scientific
evidence? Miller presented the fossil record for he transition between ancient
land mammals and ancient whales, a big gap. Behe wrote that this is too big a
gap. So Miller then discloses the recent discovery of 3 intermediate sequential
forms, all properly sited. Johnson then asks where are these transitional forms.
These aren't them. He makes the mystifying statement that the fossil record is
least Darwinistic where it is most complete, in marine invertebrates. The
examples used by evolutionists come from where the fossil record is least
complete. These forms are not transitional and we don't know how they could
3.12 Michael Behe
Behe reasserts the anthropic argument, this time from cosmology and physics. [If the world were different, we wouldn't exist.] He asserts that astronomer Fred Hoyle believed this. So what?
Berlinskey, again asserting that the fossil record is incomplete, asked
"How many changes were required to go from a dog-like mammal to a
whale-like mammal? Give a number." Scott replied that the question is
absurd, because they haven't proposed such a number. Berlinskey states that
evolutionists cannot have a theory unless they can state the precise number of
changes that are required. Berlinskey quotes the statement that nothing in
biology makes sense without evolution. Why then, Mr. Miller, do none of your
scientific papers use the term "evolution?" Miller replies that of his
75 peer-reviewed and published papers, 3 do use that term. However, he says,
evolutionary concepts are very useful when considering biology, even if you
don't need to mention them. He states, regarding the number of changes, that we
have new species of sunflowers developed in only 10 generations. Berlinskey
then asks again about the number of changes for the dog-like mammal to the
whale-like mammal. He gets pinned down to some number like 100,000. Miller then
replies that that is far too many, as there are only about 10,000 genes that can
be changed. Besides, asks Miller, if Berlinskey agrees that the reptile-mammal
transition is well documented, how can Berlinskey still assert that transitions
are absent? If if isn't descent by modification, what hypothesis does
Berlinskey hold? Put up or shut up. Berlinskey then states that he holds no
position on descent by modification. He keeps on preaching about species
entering and leaving the fossil record. The more studying, the less plausible,
so he says. Miller retorts that the more studying, the greater the evidence and
the more credible is the theory. Berlinskey asserts that he doesn't advocate
intelligent design. He won't answer questions about the relationship of fossils.
He has no replacement for Darwinian theory, only he observes that it is
4 Closing Arguments
4.1 Barry Lynn
We have asked for alternative explanations, and we have been given none.
Berlinskey, just seconds ago, said he hadn't any. Behe says it may be God, or
not. Johnson says that there is no Biblical answer, stating that we must first
debunk evolution and then work out a new theory. Evolution is not ideology, it
is the fact of change. Behe says complexity requires intelligent design, but
mousetraps are made of inanimate material by humans, while living beings are
different. Behe is not comparing apples and oranges, but plastic apples to
organic oranges. Barry closes by quoting the first verse of John: "In the
beginning was the Word," and maybe the word was "Evolve."
4.2 William F. Buckley
The other side suggests deism is satisfactory. He quotes Disraeli at an Oxford conference on the same subject 130 years ago. "What question is now placed before society? Is man an ape or an angel? I'm on the side of the angels." Buckley characterizes this as brilliant but empty wit.
5 My Evaluations
Not one of the creationist side advocated literal creationism, not as it has been known in American political circles. The most that any one of them advocated is a sort of immanent deism, a continuing interference in evolution by a creator of some sort, combined with rejection of literal Biblical stories by some.
Buckley said practically nothing of import.
Behe tried hardest to present something of importance, but he failed to
press on in his specialty, perhaps with reason. The first bacterial flagellum
may have just waved back and forth, producing some motion, and only later
developed a rotating motion, possible only because of its small size. Animal
limbs can't rotate, just too many parts in the way, but something as small as a
flagellum can, but that doesn't have to be developed from nothing in one jump.
In his other arguments, Behe's claims were jumped on by the other side,
particularly by Miller's demonstrations and visual aids. Furthermore, Behe tried
to support his arguments by quoting favorable reviews from others, which is not
a scientific approach at all.
Johnson, while supposedly advocating the avoidance of dogmatism, argued
from a solidly dogmatic conservatism, attempting to tar evolutionists with all
the social evils that Johnson despises. He argues that random variation plus
natural selection is insufficient, without giving any evidence or theory as to
why it is insufficient. He practically said that he didn't believe facts.
Johnson is a lawyer, and I think that he would be a formidable opponent in a law
case, where cases are decided by a process that has little in common with
Berlinskey apparently believes that all scientific theories, to be valid,
must document every step of every way, as in a mathematical proof, one of the
areas in which he says he has written. He fails entirely to understand the
difference between deduction, which he understands, and induction, which he
doesn't. He insists that unless we can produce detailed predictions, as would be
required of an engineering theory, of the progress of evolution, we have no
scientific theory. Berlinskey is an agitator, a preacher for whatever it is
that he believes in, which he wouldn't say and which may even be nihilism. While
he has the least intellectual presence of any of the participants, his speaking
manner and the confidence of ignorance may well make him the most dangerous
opponent in political affairs.
Eugenie Scott did well in advocating the proper definition of evolution as descent with modifications, largely but not entirely through natural selection, separating the facts of its existence and how it works from the question of who did it.
Michael Ruse maintained the same point, saying that while his personal opinion is atheistic, that is a religious question that is outside the scientific ones, which don't require and should not consider religious answers.
Kenneth Miller provided the best detailed advocacy of the evolutionary view and the best detailed defense against its critics on the other side. He showed that the arguments of Behe and of Johnson and of Berlinskey were erroneous. He demonstrated some arguments for evolution from the fossil record in a convincing way.
Barry Lynn kept the argument together by maintaining that evolution exists but that it doesn't disprove a creator, while the other side had offered neither challenge to evolution nor a substitute theory of their own.
As to the title of the debate, that evolutionists should acknowledge creation,
the advocates of that view presented no real reasons why that should be done.
All that they presented were largely invalid criticisms of evolution by natural
selection, many of them completely unscientific. The opponents of that view
argued convincingly that a naturalistic view is sufficient for scientific work
and that wider hypothesizing is a religious or philosophical question rather
than a scientific one. Their defense of both the existence and the mechanisms of
evolution, insofar as the latter are known reasonably well, was entirely