(an expose of creationist Dr. Duane Gish)
by Joyce Arthur
Article and Drawing Copyright (c) 1996 Skeptic Society
Published in the Skeptic, magazine of the Skeptic Society, Vol. 4, No. 4, 1996, pp. 88-93
[The following is a slightly expanded version]
“What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church…a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.”
— Martin Luther (full citation at end)
Can the Biblical creation story in Genesis be converted into a scientific account of the origin of humanity? Is it a fair and plausible alternative to the theory of evolution? Many people believe so, and some people work hard to make it so. But can it be done honestly and with integrity? A look at the “scientific” creationist movement and a close examination of the tactics of a well-known and influential creationist will reveal that the creation “science” movement gains much of its strength through the use of distortion and scientifically unethical tactics.
The mandate of the “scientific” creationist movement is to introduce the Biblical story of creation into public school science classrooms by disguising it as science. In attempts to legislate the teaching of creationism during the early 1980’s, “scientific” creationists, referred to hereafter as creationists, introduced bills in various state legislatures that called for “equal time” teaching of both creationism and evolution. These bills, as well as a law that was passed in Arkansas in 1981, defined “creation science” as follows:
“Creation science includes the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate: (1) Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing; (2) The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism; (3) Changes only within fixed limits of originally created kinds of plants and animals; (4) Separate ancestry for man and apes; (5) Explanation of the earth’s geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and (6) A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds” (Edwords 1983).
The Arkansas law, Act 590, which mandated the teaching of creation science, was overturned in a landmark decision in 1982 by Judge William Overton. The creation science bill amounted to “a religious crusade, coupled with a desire to conceal this fact,” he said, and “the evidence is overwhelming that both the purpose and effect of Act 590 is the advancement of religion in the public schools” (Overton 1982). A similar law that was passed in Louisiana in 1981 was overturned by the U.S. Supreme court on June 19, 1987 on much the same grounds (Eve and Harrold 1991).
In spite of their legal losses, creationists were steadily making inroads into public education. The battle was being waged on a grass-roots level, at school boards and individual schools, by local, dedicated creationists (Eve and Harrold 1991). In the early 1980’s, some scientists engaged in a counterattack by refuting the arguments of the creationists on a scientific level. For example, several books were published which took apart the creationist arguments piece by piece, and defended the theory of evolution (Eldredge 1982; Futuyma 1983; Kitcher 1984; McGowan 1984). The authors took pains to point out many scientific errors, omissions, and misunderstandings that led the creationists to doubt and attack evolution.
With the facts explained and the lawsuits won, scientists declared victory and returned to their labs and offices. But stubbornly, the creationist movement refused to die. Scientists had misjudged their opponents because they had assessed the creationist arguments from a scientific standpoint. Many failed to realize that it is not facts or theories that drive the creationist machine; it is strong religious beliefs, and the need to protect traditional lifestyles and values from the threat of secularism and “godless” evolution. Because of this, creationists do not use the methods of science to spread their message. They rely on charisma, religious faith, and emotional appeals which depict evolution as a destroyer of society (LaHaye 1974) and evolutionists as materialistic atheists who conspire to suppress creationism while hiding the many supposed weaknesses of evolution (Gish 1990a).
In recent years, some scientists have implied or stated that creationists regularly use distortion and deception when promoting creationism (Kitcher 1984; Godfrey 1984). For example, Tim Berra, a zoology professor at Ohio State University has stated: “The arguments of these fundamentalist missionaries often involve tortured logic, a stubborn denial of the evidence, a shallow understanding, or a reckless disregard for the truth” (1990: 125-126). Do creationists knowingly use deception to promote their cause? To find out, we will take a close look at a leading spokesperson for a major creationist center, Dr. Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research. Gish’s tactics have virtually served as a model for creationism in general, so examining his methods may shed some light on this question.
The Institute for Creation Research
The Institute for Creation Research, located in San Diego, California, has been a leading center for the promotion of creation science for over 20 years and publishes hundreds of creationist books, tapes, and teaching aids. It is the group responsible for the bills introduced and passed in state legislatures.
ICR prohibits academic freedom for its members. Staff at the Institute are not allowed to espouse anything that might contradict the basic dogma of the creation science model. To join, each scientist must sign a pledge professing adherence to several major tenets. These tenets include the factual and historical integrity of the Bible and the sudden creation of every living creature during the six-day Genesis creation week (Nelkin 1982).
Debates – A Creationist Weapon
A favorite method used by ICR and other creationists to promote creationism is to debate prominent scientists at high schools, colleges, and universities on the merits of evolution versus creation. These public debates go a long way toward furthering creationist ideas. By debating well-known scientists, creationists receive considerable respect and credibility. Since debates are financed and heavily promoted by creationists and other Christian groups, they must be doing it because it helps their cause. Often, most of the debate audience consists of local church groups who have been specially bussed in for the occasion. Debates are a poor forum for imparting the complexities of science and evolution, and a good forum for delivering the simplistic and often eloquent rhetoric of creation science. Having a debate implies that creation and evolution are on equal terms and that the question of which one is right is an open issue that can be won or lost, and confidently decided, by a non-scientific audience within one evening (Edwords 1982a).
Duane Gish, Debating King
Duane Gish, Vice-president of the Institute for Creation Research, is an experienced and eloquent debater in the creationist camp. He holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and is probably the most influential and visible creationist in North America. He has lectured and debated widely on creation versus evolution and is the author of several books and many articles espousing creationism. Gish’s debate presentations are well-prepared, polished, and very persuasive to a layperson unfamiliar with science.
I examined many of Gish’s published writings, as well as transcripts and tapes of his debates, and discovered countless examples of questionable tactics and misleading arguments. The majority of Gish’s arguments I found to be a morass of errors, omissions, misquotes, old data, distortions, and non sequiturs. Even worse is my discovery that many scientists have publicly corrected Gish in his presence, but Gish has gone on to repeat the same errors in later debates and writings.
This troubling situation arises because Gish’s debates are canned—he repeats more or less the same stories and arguments against evolution over and over, from place to place, from month to month, from year to year. The same arguments are even reproduced in his books and articles. Because of the nature of debates, it’s inevitable that some of Gish’s arguments get refuted by various scientists over time, often more than once. But Gish just goes to the next debate without ever changing any of his storyline. He succeeds at this, because in the next city, with a new audience and a new scientist to debate, who’s to know that his argument got shot down, with evidence, by that other evolutionist last week?
In his debates, much of Gish’s diatribe is directed towards the fossil record and the alleged lack of transitional forms between earlier and later forms of life. Gish has admitted that if transitional forms can be shown to exist, then creationism is dead (see Debates-Parrish 1991). Creationists, including Gish, are able to deny the existence of transitional forms because they use their own home-made definition of the term. For example, Gish claims that to be intermediate, fossils must be on a direct line of descent with each other and that transitional creatures would have to possess half-formed, and therefore useless, body parts (Gish 1985, 1995). But evolution does not happen that way and the well-known theory of punctuated equilibrium solves many supposed problems with the fossil record (Gould and Eldredge 1972).
Not surprisingly, the topic of transitional forms is where Gish experiences the most problems. The rest of this article documents instances where Gish, in his debates or writings, has either ignored public corrections or has appeared to knowingly promote false information. The first few examples relate directly to his statements on transitions, including the proposed ape-like ancestors of modern humans, and it is with these ancestors that we begin.
A Question of Uprightness
Lucy is a 40% complete skeleton of a three million-year old Australopithecine (early hominid) discovered in Ethiopia by Donald Johanson in 1973. Scientists consider Lucy to be strong evidence for human evolution, because her skeleton shows both ape-like and human characteristics. She probably walked upright, and is thought by many to be on the direct evolutionary line to humans.
Lucy is a standard component of Gish’s debates. He has been repeating the same story about her since at least 1981. Gish’s motive is to show that Lucy was not a transitional form between humans and apes, but just an ape that could not walk upright. After discussing Lucy briefly, he cites scientist Lord Solly Zuckerman, who Gish claims did a thorough and careful 15-year study of the Australopithecines with the conclusion that these creatures did not walk upright (see Debates-Doolittle 1981, Park 1982, Thwaites 1988, Parrish 1991; see also Gish 1982). Gish clearly implies that Zuckerman examined the Lucy skeleton itself. However, Gish has repeatedly been told in many debates over the years that this is false (see Debates-Brace 1982, Miller 1982, Saladin 1988, Thwaites 1988). Zuckerman never saw Lucy, and his conclusion on Australopithecines was made at least three years before Lucy was even discovered (Zuckerman 1970). Furthermore, Zuckerman didn’t work with any of the original Australopithecine fossils. His conclusions were based on a cast of one half of the pelvis of a single specimen.
In 1982, at a high school in Lion’s Head, Ontario, Gish debated Chris McGowan, a zoologist from the University of Toronto. A member of the audience, Jay Ingram, (former host of the national Canadian radio program Quirks and Quarks), heard Gish’s Lucy story, which clearly implied that Zuckerman had studied Lucy herself and concluded that she, along with other Australopithecines, did not walk upright. Knowing this was not true, Ingram asked Gish in the question and answer period why he had misled the audience. A show of hands indicated that about 90% of the audience had assumed from what Gish had said that Zuckerman had studied Lucy. Gish became very upset, lost his temper, and railed that he wasn’t responsible for people misinterpreting his remarks (Ingram 1992).
Gish has never bothered to change his misleading story; in fact, he went on to increase its inaccuracy. In a 1991 debate with biologist Fred Parrish, Gish stated outright that Zuckerman had examined the Lucy skeleton itself: “For 15 years…[Zuckerman] studied fossils of Lucy and fossils of 1-2 million years younger than Lucy [sic]” (see Debates-Parrish 1991).
Homo Erectus – A Tangled Web of Contradictions
Homo erectus, a hominid species similar to, but more primitive than, modern humans was first discovered in Java by Eugene Dubois in 1891. Further discoveries followed in China beginning in the 1920’s.
Anthropologist C. Loring Brace debated Gish in 1982 and spent a large part of his debate time detailing the many errors and distortions in Gish’s written treatment of both Dubois’ Homo erectus and the Homo erectus hominid found in Zhoukoudian, China, nicknamed “Peking Man” (see Debates-Brace 1982; see also Brace 1986). Brace concluded in the debate that Gish’s presentation on Homo erectus in his book Evolution? The Fossils Say NO! (1979) was “demonstrably lacking in honesty.” In part of this book, Gish tries to prove that Homo erectus is an ape-like creature unrelated to modern man.
Here are just a few examples from Gish’s book that Brace uncovered. Gish claims that Dubois “concealed the fact that he also discovered at nearby Wadjak and at approximately the same level two human skulls with a cranial capacity…somewhat above the present average.” With this remark, Gish was insinuating that Dubois was hiding evidence that the Homo erectus bones could not be from a “missing link” between modern humans and an ape ancestor. However, as Brace pointed out, Dubois had already published these previous Wadjak finds. They were completely unrelated to his more recent Homo erectus finds, which, incidentally, were found 100 miles away from Wadjak, not nearby. But Gish’s worst error was exposed when Brace explained that the geologic level where the bones were found at the Homo erectus site was actually half a million years old while the level at Wadjak was only 10,000 years old. That is a far cry from Gish’s “approximately the same level.”
In an effort to impugn the integrity of Marcellin Boule, a scientist who reported on the Homo erectus remains found in Zhoukoudian, China, Gish claims that there was a significant difference between Boule’s earlier and later descriptions of the remains. However, Brace noted that the later account was simply a reprint of the first one, with only minor typographical changes.
Gish suggests that a scientist who worked at Zhoukoudian, Franz Weidenreich, constructed unreliable and biased models of Peking Man’s skull that differed from earlier descriptions of the bones. These unreliable models, Gish declares, are the only evidence available. Brace pointed out that there are photographs of the original bones, which were lost, and he made it clear that there was no evidence at all that the models are in any way unreliable. As Brace stated in the debate, “The supposed differences in the earlier and later accounts of the nature of the material discovered at Zhoukoudian are simply a fabrication by Dr. Gish designed to cast doubt on the work of some of the most respected students of the human fossil record.”
Gish published another edition of his book in 1985, expanding it and retitling it Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record. Every single error pointed out by Brace is repeated, almost word for word. In addition, Gish has repeated these same errors in at least one other debate with biologist Karl Fezer of Concord College, in 1992. In an article (1993) that delves deeply into Gish’s misrepresentations, Fezer states:
“An author concerned about getting his facts right would certainly, when accused of error by a recognized authority, seek out the relevant evidence. Yet Gish never asked Brace to cite his sources… Other scientists have also tried to straighten out Gish. There is little evidence that Gish modifies what he says to take this criticism into account. Appearance is everything. Truth seems not a high priority.”
In Gish’s latest book, Evolution: The Fossils Still Say NO! (yet another updated rehash of his previous books), he has managed to correct only one of his many errors—he has quietly deleted the claim that the Wadjak skulls were discovered at about the same level as Dubois’ Homo erectus finds (1995, pp. 281).
Gish Monkeys With His Sources
An article by Alex Ritchie (1991) describes how Gish attributed to a scientist a quote that was never said and while doing so, plagiarized another writer. After following Gish’s trail and discovering the messy truth behind the misquotation, Ritchie concluded:
“From 1972-85 Dr. Duane Gish deliberately selected, published and perpetrated a doctored quotation, plagiarised from [Patrick] O’Connell (1969). He then attributed it to [Marcellin] Boule (1937), …well aware…that it misrepresented the meaning and intention of Boule’s text.”
Gish used a source by a creationist and Roman Catholic priest, Patrick O’Connell, to support his argument that “Peking” Man, a Homo erectus hominid found in China, was likely a monkey or ape (1969). O’Connell believed that the remains of Homo erectus were those of two different creatures, one an ape, and the other fully human. O’Connell misquoted Marcellin Boule, the French anthropologist, as saying that Peking Man had “monkey-like skulls,” thereby projecting his own belief as part of Boule’s views. Gish copied the misquotation word for word, (1979: pp. 134; see also 1978 edition: pp. 129; 1973 edition: pp. 99) but instead of citing O’Connell, he cited Boule’s original work (1937), which he apparently did not consult. Ritchie points out in his article that Gish must have been aware of Boule’s actual views on Homo erectus. Boule’s book Fossil Men (1957) was used by Gish as a source and it contradicts what Gish claims are Boule’s views. Boule actually concluded that Homo erectus was not an ape, but a transitional form between humans and apes.
Gish Impaled on the Horns of a Dilemma
In Gish’s book, Dinosaurs: Those Terrible Lizards (1991 and earlier editions), he claims that Triceratops, a late Cretaceous horned dinosaur, appeared in the fossil record without a trace of any ancestor. Frederick Edwords, in a 1982 debate (see Debates-Edwords) confronted Gish with contrary evidence to his assertion. Gish replied that Triceratops’ supposed ancestors are found in the same strata as Triceratops, so they couldn’t be part of an evolutionary sequence (Edwords 1982b). This is incorrect, since the ancestors Edwords mentioned are actually found in geologic strata spanning 10-45 million years before Triceratops (Edwords 1982b). On March 20, two months later, Kenneth Miller had a chance to reprove Gish during a Tampa, Florida debate at Jefferson High School. Miller described and showed several transitional forms of dinosaurs leading up to Triceratops, including Monoclonius with its two incipient horns. When Gish objected that the animals occurred too close together in time for one to be ancestral to another, Miller countered by pointing out that they had at least 15 million years to evolve. He then handed Gish some textbook material on Monoclonius that confirmed this, advising him to study it before his next debate (Edwords 1982a). Nevertheless, only 11 days later, in a debate with Michael Alan Park (see Debates-Park 1982), Gish repeated his assertion that Triceratops appears “suddenly in the fossil record, with no transitional forms.”
To this day, in spite of additional oral and written rebuttals by scientists over the years, Gish continues to claim during debates and lectures that Triceratops has no transitional ancestors and that proposed ancestors do not occur early enough in the fossil record. (Debates: Shermer, 1995; also see Gish, 1994). This falsehood is also repeated in several subsequent books (1985, 1990a, 1995).
Those D’Amphibious Reptiles
David Milne (Evergreen State College), has suggested that Gish may have been guilty of misrepresentation in his use of a figure that appeared in George Gaylord Simpson’s book Life of the Past (1953). Simpson’s book shows a group of fish, amphibians, and reptiles with arrows depicting descent of the various classes that the animals belonged to—not of the specific species shown as examples, as Simpson clearly explains in the caption. Gish, without citing Simpson’s book as the source, lifted two of the animals from the figure and printed them in his 1972 edition of Evolution? The Fossils Say NO!, falsely stating that one species was a supposed ancestor of the other. In addition, he mislabelled one of them as the primitive amphibian Ichthyostega, when in fact, the animal actually shown was another, more modern looking amphibian called Eryops (and so labeled in Simpson’s book). Both animals are amphibians, but the earlier Ichthyostega shows obvious transitional features, such as vestigial fins. Milne suggested that Gish didn’t want to portray Ichthyostega simply because it looked too fish-like (Milne 1981).
Bombardier Beetle Explodes in Gish’s Face
The Bombardier beetle is a fascinating insect which defends itself from attackers by ejecting a boiling hot chemical substance from its rear. Gish claims that it is impossible for this beetle to slowly evolve its mechanism, as a partially evolved system would be either useless or dangerous.
Evolutionists do not think that the Bombardier beetle’s evolution is a mystery. The beetle is a member of the family Carabidae and most species in this family have glands which secrete a noxious fluid used for defense. The Bombardier beetle’s mechanism is simply more highly developed than that of other related beetles, and this development is perfectly explicable in terms of natural selection. Gish is aware of this information because he sent me a copy of an article which described it (Weber 1981b). In a letter accompanying the article (1990b), he stated, “I have challenged evolutionists time and time again to explain how the Bombardier Beetle could have evolved from an ordinary beetle through a series of genetic mistakes. … I would be greatly indebted to you if you could provide such an explanation.” Gish continues to complain that evolutionists are completely silent on how this beetle could have evolved (1993). He unreasonably demands a detailed step-by-step account, but whenever scientists do provide evolutionary scenarios for particular animals, Gish dismisses them as tall tales with no scientific merit (1993: pp. 216).
Gish also made a serious factual error in his public recitations of the Bombardier beetle story and stubbornly refused to correct it for years afterward. He used to claim that the beetle’s noxious substance, consisting of hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone, was explosive without the presence of an “inhibitor.” To effect the explosion, Gish said, the beetle had to add an “anti-inhibitor” to the mixture (Gish 1980).
To test Gish’s claim, in 1978 William M. Thwaites and Frank T. Awbrey, of San Diego State University, mixed the two chemicals together in a classroom (Weber 1981a). There was no explosion. The mixture simply turned brown. When confronted with these results, Gish claimed that his error was a result of a mistranslation by another creationist (Kofahl 1981) of an article in German by Hermann Schildknecht (1968). Gish admitted that the two chemicals, when combined, do not spontaneously explode, and that no information on inhibitors or anti-inhibitors was provided by Schildknecht. Thwaites and Awbrey told me (1991):
“We demolished his bombardier beetle argument in a way that should have humiliated a biochemist. After we had corrected him several times, he merely added ‘or decompose’ after his claim that the chemicals in the beetle’s ancestor would explode. By his logic, that fixed everything.”
Gish continued to use his original Bombardier beetle story for several years in subsequent debates and lectures (Weber 1981a, see also Debates-Patterson 1980) and the children’s book in which he told his Bombardier beetle tale, Dinosaurs: Those Terrible Lizards, was reprinted without correction in 1980. Despite this obvious contrary evidence, in his new book, Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics (1993), Gish claims that he did not repeat the error in his debates and lectures and that his children’s book was corrected at the very next reprinting. He also describes the flaw in his argument as a “little hitch.”
David Milne notes that to his knowledge, Gish’s correction of his Bombardier beetle error, albeit late, is the only one that Gish has ever adopted in response to criticisms from scientists. Milne, who has debated Gish, thinks that the reason Gish finally changed it was because scientists confronted him with it so often that it became too embarrassing for him to continue using it (1991).
Have You Been Brainwashed, Dr. Gish?
Gish has a little comic-style booklet published under his name called Have You Been Brainwashed? (1986). First printed in 1974, the booklet was advertised and sold until 1992. It pictures Gish lecturing to a university audience on the shortcomings of evolution, and is adapted from an actual lecture that he gave. In a 1988 debate in Australia, geologist Ian Plimer exposed many errors and fallacies contained in this booklet, concluding that it contained “a lie every 11 words!” (see Debates-Plimer 1988; see also Price 1990). Gish excused the booklet on the grounds that it had been written 17 years ago and was scientifically accurate at the time. Plimer informed the audience that in spite of its admitted inaccuracies, the booklet was for sale outside the lecture hall.
When challenged previously on the veracity of this booklet, at a 1982 lecture in Berkeley, Gish brazenly stated that someone else had written it (Gish 1982, Jukes 1984). However, in his book Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics (1993), Gish owns up by calling the booklet “my little pamphlet” (pp. 124). He says nothing about its inaccuracies, although he refers to his book Evolution? The Fossils Say NO! as “more authoritative” (pp. 124).
Gish Rebuilds His Hollow Column
Gish likes to argue that the dating of the geologic column, or strata, is based on a circular argument. He states in his book Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record (1985) that the arrangement of the geological column is “based on the assumption of evolution” (pp. 47) and that the dating of fossils is based on a false assumption because fossils in rocks are used to date rocks, but at the same time, rocks are used to date fossils. These claims are faithfully repeated in his recent book Evolution: The Fossils Still Say NO! (1995).
However, 18th century creationist geologists had worked out the major components of the geologic column over 50 years before evolution was accepted. They organized strata by type of rock and observed that certain fossils were found only in particular strata (stratigraphy). This succession of fossil types was thought to reflect different time periods separated by cataclysms and new creations. Today, dating of the geologic column is supplemented by independent radiometric dating methods (Kitcher 1984).
At a public forum at the University of Toronto in 1982, Gish admitted that his argument was not true. Chris McGowan, a zoology professor, elicited a confession from Gish. In his book, In the Beginning… (1984), McGowan describes and refutes the creationist view that the geological column is based on the assumption of evolution. He then says, “To be fair, though, I must point out that during a recent public forum Dr. Gish did concede the error when I confronted him with a geological map published in 1795” (pp. 99-100).
Unfortunately, Gish’s Challenge book was published in 1985, three years after he admitted in public that his argument about the geologic column was in error.
Gish Revises Physics – Nobel Prize Winner Wrong
Ilya Prigogine won the Nobel prize in 1977 for his work on the thermodynamics of nonequilibrium systems. He wrote a related article in 1972 explaining how nonequilibrium thermodynamics solves the puzzle of how life can originate and increase its state of order in spite of entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Prigogine 1972). Simply put, the Second Law states that in a closed system, “useful” energy that can do work becomes gradually converted over time to energy that is unavailable for use—entropy, or an increase of disorder. Creationists interpret this to mean that complex living systems could not have evolved from simpler forms because overall, things run down rather than build up. However, living things are open systems and as Prigogine emphasized, are far from a state of equilibrium. They acquire energy from the sun and can locally decrease entropy and even increase their order and complexity without a violation of the Second Law.
In a debate with George Bakken (see Debates-Bakken 1987), Gish pretended ignorance of Prigogine’s basic thesis and instead claimed that Prigogine said the origin of life was virtually impossible because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Bakken 1991). Prigogine’s words were taken from the beginning of his article (1972) where he summarized the position that he was about to spend the next several pages refuting. Perhaps Gish only read the first page. However, he definitely knew before that debate what Prigogine really said. In a 1982 debate, Gish was told about Prigogine’s article by his opponent, C. Loring Brace, who described it as “an unassailable refutation of Gish’s claims” (see Debates-Brace 1982).
In Gish’s book Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics (1993), he changes tactics by strongly implying that Prigogine is not competent to theorize on the origin of life. After casting aspersions on Prigogine’s scientific method by claiming that he “hasn’t spent any time in the laboratory in years,” Gish says:
“Prigogine’s theoretical ideas are buttressed with a large amount of complicated mathematics which few biochemists and molecular biologists can understand, but it all does look deliciously scientific. Since Prigogine’s speculations lend comfort to his fellow evolutionists among the biochemists and molecular biologists, they are only too eager to bow to the authority of this Nobel Prize winner.” (pp. 186-187)
A logical inference from this statement is that Gish, a biochemist who has not spent any time in the laboratory in years, likely does not understand Prigogine’s mathematics himself. Unwilling to admit this, he imputes his lack of understanding to other scientists and concludes that they are paying blind obeisance to a Nobel prize winner.
Gish’s Amazing Story of Evolution
Besides his debating techniques and ignored public corrections, there is a disturbing omission by Gish that should be revealed. Gish has written a book for young people called The Amazing Story of Creation From Science and the Bible (1990a), in which he seriously misrepresents the theory of evolution. Not once in the book does he mention natural selection, the most important mechanism of evolution. By downplaying and ignoring the role of natural selection, Gish makes evolution seem absurd. He represents it as occurring entirely by chance and mutations: “Mutation is the commonly accepted mechanism required, by evolution, to change the first form of life into all other living creatures” (pp. 43).
But without natural selection, there is no hope of understanding evolution. Natural selection dictates that individuals with traits and variations better suited to the environment are more likely to survive than others who are less well-suited. Because they compete more successfully for mates and limited resources, and live longer, the fitter individuals leave more offspring, and their favorable traits are passed on to succeeding generations. The traits spread through the population, and eventually, perhaps, cause it to evolve into a new species.
Gish is an active anti-evolutionist who knows very well what the basic tenets of evolutionary theory are. He has a responsibility to at least present the other side fairly, but instead, he has has distorted and effectively concealed the cornerstone of the theory of evolution from his young, trusting readers.
Gish seems to be guilty of systematic distortion and misrepresentation. When his errors are publicly corrected, he tends to continue their repetition. Why does Gish do this? Obviously, his actions promote the cause of creationism. Most of the people in debate audiences only hear Gish once and leave with a favorable impression of his arguments. Few people would have the patience to follow Gish around on his debate tours and catch him at his tricks. The rare occasions when he’s been caught red-handed are more than compensated by the many times he’s gotten away with it.
According to the book, The Creationist Movement in Modern America, the psychology of creationists is very different from that of evolutionists (Eve and Harrold 1991). The authors say that creationists tend to perceive the world through the filter of their religious beliefs, and they differ from their opponents in “their most profound understandings of reality, religion, American society, and the nature of the scientific enterprise” (pp. 67).
In light of that perspective, it is not surprising that some people who have met or debated Gish have come to the conclusion that he is not knowingly dishonest. For example, Robert Schadewald (1991), a freelance science writer who has followed the antics of Gish, states:
“I used to be convinced that Gish was a conscious liar, because so many of the things he says are demonstrably false, and he is neither stupid nor uneducated. In the last few years, I have changed my mind. I now think that Gish is so severely deluded that he can no longer distinguish what he wants to believe from reality, at least on a conscious level.”
William Thwaites and Frank Awbrey (1991) state:
“We…were convinced at first that he must be a deliberate liar, but now we have concluded that he is not. …Gish says only what supports his belief. In his mind, that cannot possibly be a lie. … We also think that sometimes he says what he wishes were true. If he wishes he hadn’t said something, then he didn’t say it.” [italics in original]
David Milne (1991) states:
“[Gish] says things that are false, now, but I suspect that he no longer even realizes it, or cares. … He may have known, at one time, that there was something shaky or even devious about his claims, but he’s made them so long now, that they have taken on a truth of their own for him.”
A lack of integrity, whether deliberate or not, usually damages one’s reputation, but instead, Gish’s tactics have helped enhance the credibility of the Institute for Creation Research, and probably that of the entire creationist movement. Teachers and scientists struggling with the threat of creationism need to be fully aware of the exact methods used by one of the most popular advocates of creationism. A campaign based on errors and distortions does not require respect, or the time and effort spent in fighting it. If tactics such as Gish’s become common knowledge, we can perhaps begin to close the creationist chapter and get back to the work of real science.
The author is grateful to Bob Camfield, David Milne, Thomas Jukes, and Geoffrey Scudder for helpful comments and editing, and especially to Stephen Arthur for his editing, advice, encouragement, and support.
Joyce Arthur is a technical writer and editor, as well as a part-time freelance writer of both fiction and non-fiction. She has followed the creation/evolution controversy for many years. She lives in Vancouver, B.C.
Martin Luther Citation
As cited in Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, by Sissela Bok, Pantheon Books, New York, 1978. The full citation given in Bok’s book is: Martin Luther cited by his secretary, in a letter in Max Lenz, ed., Briefwechsel Landgraf Phillips des Grossmuthigen von Hessen mit Bucer, vol. 1.
Bakken, George S. 1991. (Professor of Life Sciences, Indiana State University.) Personal correspondence (April 15).
Berra, Tim M. 1990. Evolution and the Myth of Creationism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
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