Reply to an Open Letter from a Creationist
The deficiencies of Young Earth Creationism
Teresa Beck is one half of an on-line Christian ministry (1) that she leads with her husband. She read my article (2) that exposes how YECers misuse both the concept of Mitochondrial Eve and the science behind it, and she wrote me an open letter.
Why am I making an exception by responding publicly and in detail to her, when I usually ignore other similar communications from YECers? Well, Mrs Beck asked me to consider the e-mail as an open letter, and it very clearly demonstrates a number of deficiencies of the YEC belief system. It illustrates the dearth of scientific knowledge, the intellectual destitution, the vaporous attack on science and its methods, the hubris of faith, the clutter of factual error, the dismal language and the scurrilous argumenta ad homines against scientists typical of YEC argument. I felt it would be instructive to illustrate an example of the typical failings of the YEC position using this as a case study.
Here is the complete text of the e-mail from Mrs Beck exactly as I received it; the word 'Motochondrial' is entirely and idiosyncratically hers:
Consider this an open letter to all who hold your position:
I just read your Motochondrial Eve story, and I am amazed. I practically predicted your every word. I truly do not understand why you Disciples of Evolutionism cannot accept the Truth that so blatantly shines Its Light on your ignorance (willing ignorance).
I have read Darwin's work, and I think he would be the FIRST to stand up before scientists and say, "I never would have formed my theory had I known about DNA. What a jerk I was!" If William Smith or Robert DuBois had seen the aftermath of Mt. St. Helens, they would've said, "We're wrong; those layers formed quickly."
The Theory is dead. The least you all could do is admit it. You won't let creationists publish, you won't rethink the geologic time scale or your theories about ancient Man, and you won't give up on the Theory because of money and pride. All the while, knowing the Theory is a lie, you continue to indoctrinate children in school, knowing that the textbooks are FULL of things, like Haeckel's drawings, that have been proven wrong and things that have no empirical evidence whatsoever to back them up like Cosmic Evolution or Star formation. You are the worst kind of zealots.
Let the Theory go. Face the truth: God created, He owns the world and all that is in it, God judged with water, and God will judge again. Alas, you can't let go even though you know the Theory is a lie. Why? Because if you did, you'd be admitting that God has the right to judge you, too..
Some devil leads those who have little or no learning in science to criticise the work of professional scientists who devote their lives to the subject. Amongst YECers, this embarrassing trait is unusually common and Mrs Beck is no exception. She claims on her web site (closed in October 2006) to 'understand scientific concepts'. Why she thinks so is anyone's guess, for on the evidence of her e-mail and her web-site, she knows nothing of the purpose, methods and findings of science. She shows no sign of understanding the Theory of Evolution or the concept of the Most Recent Common Ancestor, or indeed any other scientific theory or concept. She states uncompromisingly and erroneously that cosmic evolution and star formation have no empirical support. She suggests that because the formation of geologic strata can occur rapidly when a debris avalanche occurs as part of a massive volcanic eruption, then the deposition of all of the vertical miles of geologic strata that exist in many individual locations must have occurred over a short time - that is a patently absurd proposition. She is wrong about almost every scientific topic she mentions.
The strength of Mrs Beck's opinions is matched only by the weakness of her reasoning. She tells us that she is 'amazed' by my Mitochondrial Eve article but she can give no specific reason for that opinion. I wrote to her, asking her to explain her specific grounds for disagreeing with the article and her reply was as vacuous as her original e-mail: 'My amazement with your article was that you sound like any other talking head evolutionist: "Forget the observable, repeatable data if it doesn't fit what we KNOW about the evolution of life." What does any scientist KNOW about the evolution of life? My problem with your science is that it is all based on assumptions: that the rock strata represent ages, that Mankind arose from other primates, that spontaneous generation of life CAN occur from non-living chemicals, that a dense dot can explode and produce a universe.', she wrote. Notice that she offers no specific argument to set against the carefully considered case that I laid out there. The methods of science hopelessly bewilder her. She states that things are 'assumptions' which, instead, are reasonable hypotheses or full-blown theories supported by evidence. Things such as common ancestry, modern cosmology and the basic geological principles established long before Darwin are not assumptions as she would have it, but conclusions drawn from the evidence.
She boldly proclaims the demise of evolutionary biology, which is one of the most vibrant topics in the current scientific literature, but she can't say why. She scatters accusations like confetti about the inaccuracy of the geologic timescale, embryology, molecular biology, cosmic history and the physics of stars offering neither evidence nor reasoned argument to support her claims. She suggests that Haeckel's exaggerated drawings affect the validity of the Theory today, as if Haeckel's biogenetic law had never been falsified by other scientists (not by creationists, of course) decades ago, and as if recent work in evolutionary developmental biology depended on them. She claims that the Theory survives because of 'money and pride', blind to the fact that nothing contrary to the evidence survives for long in science, and that our scientific heroes are those who break a paradigm in order to create new understanding rather than those who work diligently to defend the status quo. She claims that Darwin would abandon his idea of Natural Selection as the mechanism for evolution if he had known of DNA.. She offers no support for this peculiar suggestion because there is none - it is pure fantasy and wishful thinking. (On the contrary, it is likely that Darwin would have enthusiastically adopted the sciences of genetics and molecular biology and would have welcomed the discovery of DNA as the mechanism for inheritance; a mechanism that he had, in his lifetime, sought in vain.)
Her e-mail is saturated with the hubris of faith, the iconic idea that we should give religious concepts priority over observations regardless or in spite of the plain evidence. Mrs Beck should, of course, believe in the God of the Christian bible, or Allah, or Juno, or pink unicorns, or the flying spaghetti monster, or whatever takes her fancy, but that does not mean that, in figuring out how the world goes, scientists should defer to her or anyone else's religious myths. Once you get beyond her leaden syntax and her tired diction, Mrs Beck bases most of her religious language, 'God created, He owns the world and all that is in it, God judged with water, and God will judge again' ... ' [I] truly do not understand why you Disciples of Evolutionism cannot accept the Truth that so blatantly shines Its Light on your ignorance (willing ignorance)', on an unshakeable and unreasoning belief in biblical literalism that has nothing to offer the scientific endeavour.
Characteristically for a creationist, her writing bristles with factual error. For example, she claims that there is no evidence for cosmic evolution and no evidence for star formation. Neither is remotely true. The idea of cosmic evolution is supported by a huge quantity of evidence derived from studies of anisotropies in the Cosmic Microwave Background, galactic surveys, quasars, the Lyman-alpha forest, metal-poor stars, the signature of reionisation in the intergalactic medium and so on. You can find a discussion of supporting evidence for the Big Bang and subsequent cosmic evolution here and a fine recent review of the reionisation epoch here (3). As for star formation, well, it's quite simple - we can observe it happening and our ideas about the evolution of stars from initial formation through the main sequence to red giants and white dwarfs (or for massive stars, more spectacularly, through supernovae to neutron stars and black holes) is supported by a vast quantity of observational data. This article explains stellar formation and evolution (and, by the way, shows why the universe must be at least 11 billion years old). A very recent example of data supporting hypotheses of stellar formation is published in this article which describes observations of the faintest stars in a globular cluster (4) that confirm detailed star formation hypotheses about the smallest stars that can ignite hydrogen fusion in their cores, and about the formation of molecular hydrogen in the cooling outer layers of ancient white dwarfs. Evidence like this is published weekly and shows just how preposterous Mrs Beck's statement really is.
Finally, since she has nothing substantive to say, she descends into a personal attack on scientists' motives and integrity. Most insultingly, she claims that scientists know that evolution is false but that they cleave to it anyway for personal gain and to avoid 'God's judgment' - in other words, her thesis is that the entire community of scientists are liars and frauds and that there is a huge conspiracy to maintain this lie - what a shabby commentary on the tens of thousands of professional scientists who spend their lives working to improve our understanding of the world.
I don't doubt Mrs Beck's sincerity, but she has swallowed the foolishness and distortions that emanate from the likes of Ken Ham and Russ Humphreys on the appalling AiG site, and from the ignorant 'Dr' Kent Hovind with his pseudo-'doctorate' on the even worse DrDino site. Knowing no science herself, she has been seduced by creationist activists to try to debate it, and she makes a pig's ear of the attempt. Her arguments are intellectually vacuous, prejudiced, and based on blatant errors of fact. In other words her position is typical of a Young Earth Creationist.
1. The cyber home of the Beck ministry: http://www.thebeckhouse.com/ (In October 2006, the website for thebeckhouse was closed)
2, Misconceptions around Mitochondrial Eve here
3. Rennan Barkana, 'The First Stars in the Universe and Cosmic Reionization', Science 313, 931 - 934, August 2006
4. Richer et al, 'Probing the Faintest Stars in a Globular Star Cluster', Science 313, 936 - 940, August 2006