Thursday, July 03, 2003

Creation and Science -- Part 1

In the early months of 1988, I was reading the Computer Recreations column of Scientific American. At that time, the writer of the column was A. K. Dewdney. On this particular month, he reviewed Richard Dawkin's The Blind Watchmaker, wherein Dawkins described a computer program that he wrote that morphed a figure from generation to generation. The program showed the diversity of figures possible after only a few iterations. Dewdney followed Dawkins with a more simple programming example that his readers could use. Dewdney's computer program employed some simple genetic programming techniques applied to the length of a dinosaur's neck from generation against the height of a tree containing said dinosaur's favorite food. Running the program showed how the both sides constantly adjusted to keep fed or avoid being eaten. 

Since I am no stranger to programming, I wrote a letter to Scientific American showing the shortfalls of his and Dawkin's programs. Although they purported to show evolution in action, they only demonstrated micro-evolution: change within the same species. For macro-evolution to occur, there needs to be an increase in information content. How do you increase information content by random actions? Both Dawkins and Dewdney had demonstrated micro-evolution, which is only a variation of existing information. To my surprise, A. K. Dewdney published a portion of my letter in a later column that year. The quote identified me as a programmer working for the IBM corporation. 

Unbeknown to me at the time, Stan Kurzban, who also worked for IBM, was very upset at Scientific American for publishing those sentences. He wrote to several others correspondents with the "bad news." He also complained directly to Scientific American. One of those other correspondents, contacted me and invited me to join their dialog about evolution. For the next three years, until IBM's downsizing scattered us, we carried on this dialog. I can only remember 3 out of the 4 other names. Here were the members: moving from belief in God and unbelief in evolution to unbelief in God and belief in evolution, you had:

  1. Don Curtis (Me)
  2. The man who invited me to join and whose name escapes me.
  3. Shirley Ulrich
  4. Jim Rogers
  5. Stan Kurzban

Members 1 through 4 called themselves Christians. Stan was an avowed atheist. Shirley and Jim both belonged to the American Scientific Affliliation (ASA). What is important, as far as this blog is concerned, is that I held my own in the discussion. We had respect for each others ideas, and I scored some points on occasion, as did the others. Towards the end, Stan would even state that he was no longer offended that I quoted scripture.

One reason that I maintained credibility with this group is that I knew better than to use material from groups like the Institute for Creation Research. It is not that I believed in an old earth vs. a young earth. It was that the work of Henry Morris, Duane Gish, and others was sloppy.

For example, years earlier, I had read The Genesis Flood. Although it contained some interesting and thought provoking ideas, the one thing that struck me was the inclusion of photographs of man-tracks in the same strata as dinosaur tracks. The pictures reminded me of "big foot" and 'loch ness monster" photographs. They were neither clear nor convincing. By 1985, after much prodding, ICR finally admitted that they might be wrong, but "continued research is in order." What to me was deniable from the original photographs is something to which ICR still clings today. The simple emerging truth is that the prints are those of another dinosaur. The Genesis Flood had to make the man who had made the tracks to be a giant, because of their larger than normal size. It would have been a simple matter to have dropped the claim altogether.

Other examples of sloppy work involve the thickness of moon dust as an indicator of a young universe, and the dramatic slowing in the speed of light used to explain cosmic distances.

I would ask myself, "Do these people not see that to promote ideas that go against the mainstream requires better and more meticulous work?" They were too quick to declare victory; too quick to label alternant ideas as morally defective.

When high school science fell on my shoulders in the home education of our boys, I would point out the faulty analysis and assumptions in the Bob Jones and A Beka science text books. The best that I could tell them was that science might one day support a 7x24 creation week, but that the creation scientists were not likely to get us there. They under-estimated the strength of the opposing arguments, and were too quick to ascribe moral failure to those who disagreed with their position. I wanted my sons to have a faith that transcended the need for creation-science. One that could acknowledge the problems and realize that they need not be fatal.

My own personal opinion, for years, was that science would one day find itself in a bind and come face to face with a young universe. Given the nature of scientific change, perhaps that might happen some day.

Discovering the Anthropic Principle began to change my mind.

Friday: The Anthropic Principle

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