Carl Wieland, creation and evolution Are their Answers in Genesis?

posted: 4406 days ago, on Thursday, 2005 Sep 29 at 12:13
tags: atheism, creationism, events, Answers in Genesis, Shofar, evolution, fundamentalism, Stellenbosch.

I'm still not convinced. In fact, I'm downright annoyed.

I recently (2003 September 07) attended my first creation science [1] public talk, presented by Answers In Genesis [2] and Shofar Christian Church [3].

Footnotes:

[ 1 ] By 'creationist' and 'creation scientist', I mean a (Christian) Fundamentalist who believes the Universe is only some 10,000 years old. The overwhelming majority of Christian denominations (e.g. Dutch Reformed, Catholic), while believing in a Creator (and are 'creationists' only in that sense), do not think the Universe is only some 10,000 years old.

[ 2 ] AIG is a Christian ministry, registered as 'Answers In Genesis of Kentucky, Inc.'.

[ 3 ] Shofar is a Fundamentalist religious organisation active in Stellenbosch and environs. A significant proportion of their congregation consists of wealthy persons. Pastor Fred May lives in an impressive home in one of the more exclusive parts of Stellenbosch.

I was looking forward to the evening's entertainment for a number of reasons. For one, I was curious about the approach the speaker would take. Being involved in communicating science to the general public, I know that it is challenging.

Furthermore, having read a modest selection of creation science literature and having a passing familiarity with some of the arguments they use, I was interested in how the speaker would present his arguments.

The 300+ seats at the Stellenbosch-Sentraal NG Church hall were all taken, and people were standing in the corridors listening to the speaker, Dr Carl Wieland. He reminded me of the Australian actor Sam Neil: the same characteristic accent, soft-spoken manner, and practised ability to deliver lines.

What follows is my account of his two presentations, the first titled "Creation/Evolution: The Controversy". For those readers who would prefer to skip to the end, I can summarize his talk as a concatenation of facile caricatures of science, coercing the audience to reject scientific knowledge, often on (inappropriate) moral grounds.

Dr Wieland's opening gambit set the tone for much of what was to follow. By playing on the audience's feelings and appealing to their sense of morality, he had them conclude that the scientific theory of biological evolution was incorrect. He did this by repeatedly referring to pain, struggling, disease and death, common-place but tragic features of this world. His argument went something like this:

  1. Evolution says we came about through a process of struggle, suffering, pain, disease and death.
  2. This is clearly not good.
  3. We all know God is good.
  4. Therefore, we did not come about because of evolution.

While it may be fashionable in some quarters to judge the truth-value of statements concerning the physical world on moral grounds, this is rightly frowned upon by others. I am inclined to think that anyone constructing an argument after this fashion exhibits a certain degree of intellectual dishonesty, which suggests a warped moral development. Of course, situations are invariably more complex than at first blush, so I'm still gathering data.

Nevertheless, Dr Wieland's shaky opening argument made me anticipate that he would make a habit out of judging the truth about natural processes from a moral or emotional perspective. You may not like certain facts, a friend once told me, but that does not make them any less true. I was not to be disappointed.

Dr Wieland went on to state that "the meaning of christianity is all tied up in Genesis", and sounded a warning to all non-fundamentalist churches: those who reject "a literal man, a literal woman" in the Genesis account are wrong.

He summed up his thesis with: If evolution is true, there is no Creator, and if there is no Creator, there is no morality. Of course, he does not consider that morality does not require a divine being.

But that is not my objection. It is faulty reasoning to judge science from a moral (i.e. religious) perspective. Saying that evolution does not happen in nature because it is immoral, is a non sequitur. There are many things one can have a moral opinion about processes in nature are not amongst them.

I was perplexed when he next went on to briefly discuss the philosophy of science. He was describing, I suppose, the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning. The upshot of it all was the conclusion that, because you can't directly repeat or observe the past, you "can't prove anything about the past". Either this is a spectacularly brilliant insight, or its just plain dumb.

I made a special note when he said: "We are not trying to prove the Bible true."

He next spoke briefly about Noah's Ark, pointing out it was about the size of the Titanic. An interesting analogy.

More interesting, and something which I would like to investigate, is his assertion that pressure to re-interpret the creation account in Genesis as taking place over millennia, occurred as a result of discoveries in science suggesting the Earth was millions of years old.

The end of the first session for the evening was drawing near. Again, he chose the tactic of presenting a simplified account of an event (to the point of being facetious) eliciting moral indignation in the audience. After recounting horrific stories of scientists hunting Aborigines like animals, even quoting Stephen Jay Gould along the way, he told the audience that belief in evolution leads to racism. Again, I am forced to question Dr Wieland's personal moral code. He comes across as being very widely read - yet he repeatedly misrepresented situations, telling half-truths, and misleading his audience by spin-doctoring facts to suit his needs.

[ 4 ] In the late 1800s, certain thinkers were promoting the idea of "social darwinism". Darwin rejected this he wrote in 1879: "What a foolish view seems to prevail ... on the connection between socialism and evolution through natural selection." (see Darwin, F. (1888) The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, John Murray: London, p.237)

He went on to ask an interesting question: "Were South African churches responsible for racism in South Africa?" needless to say, a complex question. But Dr Wieland has the answer. "No." and his reasons? "Did you know," he asked, "that Jan Smuts wrote a book on evolution?" without pause, he pointed out that Verwoerd had studied the works of Hitler, who had studied the works of Nietzsche, who had studied the works of Darwin. So now we know South Africa's racist history can be blamed on the theory of biological evolution by natural selection [4]. The implication, of course, is that anyone who accepts evolution, is in danger of acquiring the racist meme, and lacks morals.

After a short interval, Dr Wieland delivered his second presentation, "Dinosaurs and the Most-Asked Questions - Answered!" explaining that dinosaurs and humans existed together on earth after the global flood, he pondered if humankind wouldn't have some kind of 'collective memory' of those dinosaur-days. His suggestion is that the numerous tales of dragons, found in many cultures, represents our collective dinosaur memories. If I understood him correctly, he seriously believes that St George really *did* slay a dragon.

Interestingly, throughout this second session, he was noticeably more cautious in his statements: "The dinosaur-dragon connection is pretty reasonable" "often fits in very well" "maybe" "that's an option".

These more cautionary statements, however, were not accompanied by equally sound reasoning. Instead, his argument style became more childish, more like a tabloid and less like a serious presentation to a grown-up audience.

In his discussion of the scientific explanation of the extinction of dinosaurs, he presented one of the many earlier theories, namely that the herbivorous dinosaurs became specialized in their diet and ate up all the available food. As a layman, this sounds like a possibility, although I don't know enough to judge if it is sound. Dr Wieland, instead of presenting a counter-argument to discredit the idea, presents a cartoon. A fat green dinosaur is shown clasping its stomach: "Scientists say they died from constipation!" after the laughter died down, I was expecting him to apologize for taking a cheap shot, and say something like, 'OK, folks, that's just a joke. Today, the depleted food resource theory is discredited because of x, y and z.' I was disappointed. Instead, Dr Wieland blithely skipped ahead to discredit another scientific theory with a cartoon. "Dinosaurs were killed when they were hit by rocks from space" is his summary of the Alvarez theory. The cartoon showed two fat green dinosaurs being pelted by small rocks, the one dinosaur's eyes "x"ed out in typical cartoon style.

Note that he doesn't say "meteorite", or give any idea of the scale of the energy released by meteorites large enough to form impact craters such as can be seen at Vredefort or Morokweng (to choose just two examples, both in South Africa). Incidentally, the Vredefort event would have wiped out not just the dinosaurs, but any other form of biological life, had there been any around at the time (2023 M years ago).

A ploy Dr Wieland often used in his presentation was to present half-truths. For example, he showed a slide called ' "Fresh" T. Rex bones', with a quote from an article that appeared in Science, a respected peer-reviewed publication. From the quote I gathered that a researcher had found intact red blood cells in a preserved dinosaur bone. Apparently, it is not possible for a fragile blood cell to survive for million of years. From this, Dr Wieland concluded that the dinosaur bones could not be millions of years old. I know almost nothing about red blood cells (it's been a while since high school biology class), but it does sound unreasonable that they would remain preserved for that long. I do, however, know something about the process of science. If the findings published by the scientists in that article were to cast serious doubt on the age of dinosaurs, it would be highly controversial. After all, this is a break-through, and could catapult the scientists into near-celebrity status. There would be a flurry of research with results being submitted to leading journals and presented at conferences. There would be a ripple effect as the findings would impact other areas of science. However, all Dr Wieland presents is that single article, published in 1994. That is almost ten years ago. Dr Wieland does not bother to assess the impact of that article. Or, he does not bother to tell the audience.

His choice of presentation style creates serious doubts about his honesty and intellectual integrity. One could argue, I suppose, that he is not a scientist, and is therefore unfamiliar with acceptable reasoning styles. However, as editor of a magazine, it is his job to use words to communicate with, and persuade, his readers. I have to assume that he therefore understands a range of rhetorical strategies, and that his choice of particular tactics is a conscious one.

Following his presentation, a question-and-answer session was held.

One of the early questions concerned the 'water canopy' theory. I had read about this years ago in a publication of the Institute for Creation Research (OCR). As I recall, the 'early' Earth was surrounded by a sphere of water, suspended in the atmosphere. When this water canopy fell down, it caused the (global) biblical flood. It was also supposed to act like a shield of some kind, explaining why the folks back then lived much longer than after the biblical flood. According to Dr Wieland, this theory was never accepted by any credible creation scientist. An individual "with a mail-order degree" popularized the idea in America, he explained. Odd, though, that the ICR used it for a while as an explanation for all sorts of things.

An audience member asked a question about the distances to the stars and how the age of the universe according to astronomers could be reconciled with Genesis. At last, I thought, a topic about which I know something. He admitted that creation scientists didn't know how to explain the apparently large distances/ages in the universe, although some of them are "toying with the idea" of "relativistic time-dilation", an explanation which is "ingenious, but may be wrong." He hastened to add, though, that "Big Bang people have the same problem." I couldn't figure out just what this problem is, since his reply was a hodgepodge of "the horizon problem", and "the uniformity of the background temperature." This certainly confused me, and not doubt the audience members too. Dr Wieland touched on three topics: the constancy of the speed of light, the horizon problem, and the nature of the cosmic background radiation. Let's take them one at a time.

[ 5 ] Of course, some of these manners may be counter-intuitive for example, weird things happen to objects travelling at the speed of light. They seem weird only because we don't usually travel at such a great speed.

Astronomers assume the speed of light to have been constant since the moment of the big bang. This assumption could be false. More generally, science assumes that the laws it uncovers, hold at all times and all places. Given a set of conditions, the physical laws operate in a consistent manner [5]. Also, in the distant past, events unfold in the same fashion as they do today. The Universe is said to be isotropic. Philosophically, I am quite comfortable with this idea. Perhaps Dr Wieland was talking about the 'tired light theory'. According to this idea, the redshift observed in galaxies are not a measure of the expansion of space (and hence the distance to the galaxy). Instead, the light is redshifted because it has lost energy while moving through space to earth. 'Tired light' is not a creationist theory; it was first suggested by the astronomer Fritz Zwicky, a few months after Edwin Hubble announced the redshift-distance finding. However, the theory has been disproved by two sets of observations: the light-curves of nearby and distance supernovae confirm the expansion of space, and the shape of the cosmic background radiation curve, which remains a blackbody curve and is not distorted, as the 'tired light theory' would suggest.

The horizon problem has to do with the appearance of the universe at widely-separate places. It has been solved by inflation theory, an early 1990s modification to the (standard, 1960s) Big Bang model. Inflation theory postulates that the universe underwent a brief hyperexpansion a split second after the big bang, when quantum conditions prevailed.

Dr Wieland's third comment, the nature of the cosmic background radiation (CBR), is also puzzling. He may be referring to old observations that seemed to show the CBR was entirely uniform, instead of "clumpy" as would be expected from the present-day distribution of galaxies and galaxy clusters. However, results from COBE and recently WMAP (satellites in Earth orbit carrying special telescopes) have clearly revealed the predicted "ripples" in the CBR.

So the question still stands, and more starkly: repeated astronomical observations consistently show a universe approximately 13.7 billion years old, in sharp contrast to the ~ 10,000 years favoured by creation scientists. Who is most likely correct, based on the astronomical evidence?

[ 6 ] 22nd book, 2:15 "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes."

Another question from the audience was about 'behemoth' and how light shone from its nose and fire came out of his mouth. Most Christians I have spoken to feel that this is a metaphorical phrase, or perhaps a mistranslation (much like Matthew's mischievous grape-eating foxes [6]). Behemoth is described in Job 41: "by his neesings a light doth shine" (verse 18); "out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out." (19); "out of his nostrils goeth smoke" (20); and "a flame goeth out of his mouth." (21). These passages are from the King James Version of the bible; the American Standardized Version has: "his sneezings flash forth light" (18); "out of his mouth go burning torches, and sparks of fire leap forth." (19); "out of his nostrils a smoke goeth" (20); "and a flame goeth forth from his mouth." (21).

Dr Wieland said that it was not inconceivable that some animal could have a physiology that would enable it to produce fire from its mouth. After all, he said, the bombardier beetle is something similar. Now, as far as I know, the bombardier beetle secretes an acidic substance with which to 'burn' its victims. This is only similar in the most casual and distorted manner, lacking the pyrotechnic elements entirely. I suspect Dr Wieland also felt his answer to be a bit 'thin'. He commented that the use of 'heat' to describe the creature could be symbolic, perhaps denoting it's temperament or behaviour, "but I'm careful to say that." indeed. If one is to believe in the Bible literally, it would be wise to be very careful when interpreting anything as symbolism.

A question was asked about the order of events in the first book of Genesis howcome light came first, when the Sun and stars were only made later (fourth day of creation). From what I could gather of Dr Wieland's reply, more 'careful interpretation' was called for, and that this 'light' is not the kind of 'light' we think of when we read: "... And god divided the light from the darkness. And god called the light day, and the darkness he called night", but some other kind of 'light'.

[ 7 ] A reasonable assumption, based on casual observation, held by many past peoples. There is still a Flat Earth Society today; somewhere in my files I have a local magazine article about a geography teacher who is a member of such a society. Seriously.

[ 8 ] Near the end of his presentation, Dr Wieland did state that he doesn't think scientists are practising "a conscious deception" but instead are 'victims' of a specific cultural milieu and mindset.

As if to draw attention away from the 'light', he spoke at length about the emphasis on the phrase "the evening and the morning" in the first verses of the bible. To him, this is very significant. From it, he concludes that "a rotating Earth is implied in Genesis". There are, however, numerous passages in the bible that imply that the earth is flat [7] I assume that not all implications are equal, though.

Speaking of assumptions, Dr Wieland is fond of pointing out that scientists "assume" this, "assume" that, and "assume" the other thing. I wonder if this is news to him, that makes him inordinately fond of repeating it so often? It is as if he does not understand scientific reasoning, or the duo of hypothesis & observation. Or, he does understand it, but misrepresents it on purpose. It is as if he seeks to persuade his trusting audience that some great mischief is being done to them by immoral, evolution-believing racist scientists, working in cohort to some sinister end [8].

Whatever Dr Wieland's personality dynamics, he certainly does his utmost to slander science, attacking it facetiously with cheap rhetorical tricks. I wonder if his God would look upon his presentation and say, "It was good."

Dr Wieland's presentation ended with the admonition that "[We] shouldn't put our faith in arguments", but in God. My question is, should anyone put their faith in Dr Wieland's intellectual honesty?

I'm still not convinced.

nothing more to see. please move along.