Usually I write these accounts in strict chronological order. I will break from that tradition this time since one of my most interesting experiences at the conference came right near the end. I had made a pest of myself during several of the Q and A’s after the talks, meaning that by the third day of the conference I had a bit of a reputation. Late in the day a pleasant enough fellow approached me in the bookstore, and we had a conversation.
I asked him flat out why he was a creationist. He replied with a brief biography about how he came to Christ when he was twelve, but didn’t really give any thought to evolution until much later. A sermon he heard in church set him on to the issue, and he proceded to read a number of books and articles on either side. He found the creationist arguments to be convincing. End of story.
There is a stereotype of young-Earth creationists that they are chronically adverse to thinking, that they just thump their King James Bibles and snarl at anyone who disagrees with them, and that their views are purely the product of mindless faith. I have attended many creationist gatherings over the last six years. And I can honestly say that I have encountered a lot of people who fit the stereotype perfectly. I’m talking about people so ignorant and paranoid it is impossible even to have a conversation with them.
But the stereotype is not the whole story. In fact, I’m not even convinced it’s the dominant part of the story. For every person I’ve met who fits the stereotype I have met two like the fellow above. People who have, indeed, given some serious thought to the issue and who are prepared to go point by point in a debate. It is one of the cliches of anti-creationist life that there is no point in marshalling scientific arguments and evidence since creationists have completely immunized their brains against such puny weapons. Certainly there is some truth to that. But there is falsity in it as well, and those scholars who have taken the time to answer creationist arguments and to make a cogent case for evolution have not been wasting their time.
Creationists are very enthusiastic about religious faith, but they also believe sincerely that they have good, rational arguments to make in defense of their views. At every conference I have attended, including this one, I have encountered many people genuinely interested in what I had to say. They are badly misinformed and tend to live insular lives in which they don’t often encounter an alternate viewpoint presented intelligently. This is one of the reasons I go to these conferences. Of course you’re not going to make some slam dunk argument that will instantly cause them to change the way they think about life. But maybe you can plant a few seeds, enough so that the next time they here some preacher frothing at the mouth about the foolishness of evolution, they at least have the decency to feel some shame.
Sadly, while I have generally been impressed with the personality and temperament of many of the people I have met at these conferecnes, the fact remains that they are hopelessly ignorant of science. This ignorance is exacerbated by the annoying fact that so many of them fancy themselves highly knowledgeable indeed. It didn’t take long for my interlocutor to whip out the standard talking points. He sagely informed me that the second law of thermodynamics contradicted evolution, that there were no transitional forms in the fossil record, and that geneticists could not explain the growth of genetic information over time.
This is where the conversation got very frustrating indeed. You see, when creationists say, “The second law of thermodynamics contradicts evolution,” they actually mean, “I don’t understand how natural processes can account for the increase in complexity of organisms over time.” They are not saying anything about the size of Delta S relative to the integral of dQ over T, and it is very unlikely that they will know what you are talking about if you bring it up.
When I pointed out the second law implies that while the entropy of the universe as a whole is increasing, it has no problem allowing for local increases in complexity and order, he came back with the standard creationist retort that the mere fact that energy enters a system is not enough to explain increases in complexity within that system. For the life of me I could not get him to understand that he was no longer talking about thermodynamics. If your claim is that evolution runs afoul of the second law, then show me the entropy calculation that backs that statement up. If the issue is growth in complexity over time, then simply say that and stop talking about the second law.
Likewise for the fossils. I pointed out that the fossil record is teeming with transitional forms, and that you can read about them in virtually any textbook on paleontology. Virtually every major transition, whether from fish to amphibian, amphibian to reptile, reptile to mammal or many others are amply documented in the fossil record. He was unimpressed. You know why? Because he has seen statements from Stephen Jay Gould and David Raup denying that there are trnasitional forms.
Care to guess how much luck I had explaining the fine points of punctuated equilibirum, or what Gould and Raup had in mind in making their overly florid statements?
Exasperated I said something like, “Look, the fossil record is the most obvious place to look for evidence of evolution. If it were really the embarrassment creationists say it is, how do you explain that virtually every paleontologist in the world is an evolutionist? And if geneticists really could not explain how genetic information can grow over time, one of the fundamental questions any theory of evolution has to explain, why would evolution be so overwhelmingly dominant among scientists?”
He didn’t miss a step. He promptly informed me that sin is a powerful force, and it has systematically colored the way generations of scientists view the data. But what about all of the scientists who are Christians, or followers of other religions? Obviously they don’t have any preconceived bias against God. Perhaps not, but they are no less the victims of sin than anyone else. But what about scientists like Lamarck who became targets of scorn and ridicule for proposing evolutionary theories? It used to be scientists were overwhelmingly creationist in sympathy. How do you explain the more favorable reaction to Darwin? Simple. The way to apostasy was being paved by people like Lyell and Hutton and their old-Earth theories. Darwin arrived at the right time to take advantage of that.
It all made perfect sense to him.
So there you go. Creationism in a nutshell. A patina of science and calm argumentation, with the revival tent never lurking far beneath the surface.
Unlike at Ken Ham’s gatherings, the conference organizers were doing their best to bury the revival tent far, far beneath the surface. This, you see, was an attempt at a serious creationist research conference. The papers being presented were appropriately complex and impenetrable, and most of the speakers successfully achieved the passionless monotone they fancy to be the hallmark of real scientific presentation. It’s a pity. Say what you want about Ham, but when he is preaching to the choir he is never boring. The talks here combined the scientific respectability of creationism with the turgid style of the academic literature. Just try to sit in your computer chair and imagine the results.
I will have more to say about the minutiae of the conference in subsequent posts, but for now let me close with one dramatic break from the generally scholarly tone of the speakers. A fellow named John Pantana got up to tell us about God’s pharmacy. To anticipate in advance your natural question: Yes, he’s serious. I know that because someone asked him precisely that after his talk, and he bluntly answered in the affirmative. Read it and weep:
Here’s God’s amazing pharmacy. We can see the creativeness of God in the colors of food and the shapes of food that we put into our bodies. …
Did you know that the sliced carrot looks like a human eye. The pupil, the iris, the radiating lines look like a human eye. Science shows that carrots greatly enhance blood flow to the function of the eyes.
A tomato has four chambers and is red. The heart has four chambers and is red. All the research shows that tomatoes are loaded with lycopine and are indeed pure food for the heart and the blood.
Grapes and the heart. Grapes hang in a cluster that look like the shape of a heart. Each grape looks like a blood cell. All the scientific research shows that both red and green grapes are profound heart and blood vitalizing food.
A walnut looks like a little brain, a left and right hemisphere, upper cerebrums and lower cerebellums. Even the wrinkles and folds are just like the neo-cortex. They have shown that walnuts help develop more than three dozen neuron transmitters to the brain. So everybody eat some walnuts.
Kidney beans actually heal and help maintain kidney function. Yes, they look exactly like the human kidney.
Celery, bok choy, rhubarb and many others look like the bones. These food specifically target bone strength. Bones are twenty-three percent sodium and these foods are twenty-three percent sodium. If you don’t have enough sodium in your diet the body pulls it from the bones thus making them weak. These foods replenish the skeletal needs of the body.
Avocados, eggplants and pears target the health and function of the womb and the cervix of the female. They look just like these organs and the latest research shows that when a woman eats one avocado a week it balances hormones … and prevents cervical cancers. It takes exactly nine months to grow an avocado from the blossom to the ripened fruit.
Figs and male sperm count. Figs are full of seeds and hang in twos. Figs increase the motility of male sperm and increase the numbers of sperm as well to overcome male sterility.
Sweet potatoes and the pancreas. Sweet Potatoes look like the pancreas and actually balance the glycemic index of diabetics.
Olives and ovaries. Black and green olives assist the health and function of ovaries.
One last. Oranges, pomegranites, grapefruits and other citrus fruits look just like the mammary glands of the female and actually assist the health of the breasts and the movement of lymph in and out of the breasts.
Onions look like body cells. Today’s research shows that onions help clear waste materials from all of the body cells They even produce tears which wash the epithelial layers of the eyes.
You know, I just transcribed that laboriously from my little voice recorder. It seems I needn’t have bothered, because it looks like he got it verbatim from this site. Charming. Incidentally, I suspect Pontana got this from the web, as opposed to the website getting it from him, since he was reading mechanically from his slides, and stumbled over big words like lycopine, bok choy, and cerebrum.
He closed with:
Worship him who made heaven and Earth, the sea and all the springs of water. Worship the God of creation. How big is God? He’s big enough to rule the universe yet small enough to live within the heart. He’s got the whole world in his hands. Jesus is lord.
Don’t hear that too often at scientific conferences.