In 2005 I became aware of reports of how docents (a fancy word for smarter-than-average volunteer staff) in natural history musuems across the country were clashing with biblical creationists who were leading unofficial, alternative tours of the museums and re-interpreting all the displays according to a biblical historical world view. Many of the docents were left sputtering after being intellectually eviscerated by the withering questions by these creationists who were perceived as being unsensible and rude. One musuem, the Museum of the Earth, in an attempt to arm their docents against future intellectual onslaughts by creationists who ask way too many pointed questions exposing the soft under belly of Darwinian evolutionary philosophy, prepared a short guide for the docents called Evolution and Creationism: A Guide for Museum Docents (.PDF format) written by director, Dr. Warren D. Allmon. I had the opportunity to read through it and this review offers up my thoughts and critique.
Ideas, Faith and Interpretations
Dr. Allmon gives a simple summary of what this guide is all about in the first paragraph of the introduction.
This brief guide is intended to help you, the volunteer docent, understand and explain the basics of evolutionary biology to Museum of the Earth visitors. It is also intended to help prepare you to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about evolution, and to refer visitors to sources of additional information. Finally, it is intended to equip you with some tools that you can use to respond to challenges, some of them potentially hostile, from Museum visitors to the ideas presented in the Museum exhibits. (emphasis mine)
It is rather clear with a description like hostile that Dr. Allmon considers creationism to be a dangerous belief that has to be forcefully confronted. Creationism is religious faith, he states rather emphatically through out this guide, and true scientific inquiry cannot be compatible with any type of religious faith commitments, because science is only applicable to the natural and physical. Because we can observe and test the natural and physical, then any thing said to be supernatural, like a deity creating, falls outside of any true scientific inquiry and is taken by faith.
Yet despite his best efforts to present evolution as genuine scientific inquiry and creationism as religious philosophy based upon blind faith, Dr. Allmon uses plenty of philosophical words to describe the "science" behind evolution. He particularly likes the words idea and ideas, and if anyone were to look up the definition of idea in the dictionary, it is a definition wrapped in a lot of faith commitments, like something imagined, a notion, and imagine. Basically, things that cannot be observed or tested and thus have to be taken on "faith." As an interesting side note, the first entry in my dictionary for the definition of idea reads, "a plan for action" and has the word DESIGN as a synonym. But I digress.
Be that as it may, throughout his paper, Dr. Allmon makes just as many appeals to philosophy and commitments to faith as he accuses his creationist opponents. That just goes to show how ignorant the so-called scientific community is of the basic workings of general philosophy. For example, Dr. Allmon writes this in the opening paragraph under section A. Evolution and science (see if you can spot the philosophical faith commitments):
Science is an approach to explaining the natural world. It uses observations about that world and the rules of logic to test hypotheses that explain natural phenomena. Hypotheses that pass these tests are accepted, but such acceptance is always provisional, that is they can be overturned by sufficient credible evidence. Science does not deal with supernatural or with questions or issues for which no material or physical evidence exists; it is about seeking material causes for material phenomena.
In the very first sentence, Dr. Allmon reveals his first faith commitment: explaining observable phenomena in the world requires a person to interpret the science. In other words, making philosophical assumptions so as to provide an explanation for what a person sees in the natural world. The word interpretation implies a person is bringing to bear upon the evidence under question a set of presuppositions. This would be the ideas defined earlier and ideas are shaped by a person's unquestioned beliefs or preexisting prejudice.
Furthermore, note how he writes about material causes. Causality is also something that has to be accepted by faith. He is basically guessing with blind faith as to the material cause for material phenomena, and because he is probably operating from a presuppositional starting point of atheistic materialism, he automatically dismisses the supernatural (theism) out of hand with out question.
A more glaring problem is found in the statement, Hypothesis that pass these tests are accepted, but such acceptance is always provisional, that is they can be overturned by sufficient credible evidence. Let us pause and ponder this sentence. Throughout his paper, Dr.Allmon insists that evolution as a theory is so factual that the rejection of any part of evolutionary dogma would be considered irrational and would lead to the rejection of many other fields of science. He goes on to claim the reason we can be so absolutely certain of evolution is because it is a theory built upon the application of principles of scientific logic and reasoning. Dr. Allmon even compares the truthfulness of evolution to the beliefs in a heliocentric solar system and atomic theory. That is a rather bold assertion, but one that is not only inconsistent, but entirely disingenuous.
It is inconsistent because if what he is saying is true, that evolutionary theory is so factual to deny any part of it is akin to irrationality and will lead to the wholesale rejection of other fields of science, then it cannot be provisional. If his understanding of evolutionary theory is that it is provisional and can be overturned by the appearance of unknown evidence, then what could happen to all of these other fields of science allegedly built upon evolutionary theory if and when any such evidence appears? In other words, if some as of yet unknown evidence comes to light to discredit the basics of evolution, what happens then to all our understanding of medicine, biochemistry and genetics, fields Dr. Allmon claims is totally dependent upon evolutionary theory? Along the same lines, would Dr. Allmon believe the heliocentric solar system is provisional? Does the provisional description also apply to known scientific laws like gravity? As bold as his assertion is, in point of fact, it is absurd and completely self contradictory. Anyone remotely familiar with philosophy would recognize this.
Worse still, however, this statement is entirely disingenuous. Like all apologists for Darwinian evolution, Dr. Allmon makes grand, sweeping claims with out honestly defining his terms. Moreover, he switches definitions of terms in mid-stream. Let me show you what I mean. The first sentence of section 5., Evolution: A quick overview, under heading A., Evidence vs. mechanism, Dr. Allmon writes,
The question of whether evolution occurs is separate and different from the question of how evolution occurs. The evidence is overwhelming that evolution has occurred - that it is a satisfactory explanation for the observations we make about the history, order, and diversity of life.
He is essentially using two different definitions for evolution without alerting his readers to his usage. It is true evolution - change with in a species of animal as it adapts to its changing environment - is observable and has been documented, but evolution - change over vast amounts of time that allows for increase of information so a species of animal slowly turns into a entirely different type of species, i.e. dinosaurs sprouting feathers and becoming modern day birds - has never been observed, nor has there been any documented evidence. Evidence has to be interpreted and like I stated above, a person's interpretation is driven by his or her presuppositional biases.
Creationists readily believe the first definition and support it. There is change within a created kind so that an organism can adapt to changes in its environment. No creationist rejects this definition, and in fact would even acknowledge natural selection as a cause directing adaptational change with in a species. The species, however, only changes with in itself. There is no rational reason to believe the idea of a change occurring in an environment that allows for the emergence of an entirely new species from the old one. For instance, a species of bird may develop a change in beak size when a change occurs within the environment, but the species of bird is still the same species of bird. It doesn't begin the process of developing into an entirely new, non-avian, or even avian-like species.
Like all advocates for Darwinian evolution that promotes the idea of a particles-to-people evolution, Dr. Allmon calls the evidence for change within in a species evolution and believes it affirms his speculations about the general theory of evolution and so concludes creationism is disproved. In short, he is confusing operational science with origins "science." Operational science deals with repeatable observational processes in our present, like chemistry, physics, medicine and so forth. Anyone can practice operational science. Origin science, however, is using science for speculative theorizing about the unobservable and experimentally untestable past. This is where ideas and interpretations come into play and those are non-material things driven by one's presuppositional biases.
Also in his article, Dr. Allmon attempts to define creationism, but in reality, his description of creationists are cartoon caricatures of creationists invented by atheistic evolutionists. Let me begin by providing a summary definition of creationism as defined by a biblical creationist.
Taken from Refuting Evolution 2 by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati:
We [creationists] base our science on the biblical framework of history, which provides much information about when and how the Designer performed special acts of design. That is, during creation week about 6,000 years ago. He created distinct kinds of creatures. Shortly after that, Adam sinned and brought death and mutations into the world. About 1,500 years later, God judged the world by a global flood that produced most of the world's fossils. But two of every kind of land vertebrate (seven of the few "clean" ones and birds) were rescued on an ocean-liner-sized ark. After they landed on the mountains of Ararat, the ark animals migrated and diversified, adapting to the different environments - including some speciation. Mankind disobeyed God's command to fill the earth, and migrated only when God confused the languages at Babel about 100 years later. This explains why human fossils are higher in the post-flood fossil record than other mammals. (Refuting Evolution 2, p. 21)
Rather than allowing creationists to define their own position, Dr. Allmon defines creationism as,
[the] belief that the Earth and its life were created, essentially in their modern forms, by a supernatural power
His first clause is accurate, but then he nullifies it when he makes a totally inaccurate statement about modern forms. It is fairly obvious that Dr. Allmon is entirely ignorant of what creationism actually teaches. I imagine his definition is based upon second or third hand sources written against creationism, perhaps pulled from one of the atheistic books he recommends in his sources for more information section of his paper. Basically, he believes creationists think God created all animals, plant life, sea life, and so forth as we observe them now. Thus, God created all varieties of dog from poodle to wolf, all varieties of cat, from tabby house cats to lions, and all variety of birds from humming bird to ostrich. He ignores the creationists point on created kinds that would have been originally created with enough DNA information to adapt to all sorts of environments. Dr. Sarfati explains this in his his book, Refuting Evolution,
In contrast, creationists, starting from the Bible, believe that God created different kinds of organisms, which reproduced "after their kinds" (Gen. 1:11-12, 21, 24-25). Each of these kinds was created with a vast amount of information. There was enough variety in the information in the original creatures so their descendants could adapt to a wide variety of environments. (Refuting Evolution, p. 32)
Dr. Allmon misrepresents the creationist by repeating the typical evolutionary idea of a creationist lawn as represented in the picture. (taken from the Answers in Genesis article Variation and Natural Selection vs. Evolution
It is the idea that the Genesis created kinds are the same species we see today. What Dr. Allmon presents in his guide, along with practically every other anti-creationist lecture, only refutes this strawman caricature.
Creationists actually believe and teach what is known as the creationist's orchard.
God created the original kinds with so much information that diversity could take place with in the created kind over time. This is the model Dr. Allmon must interact with.
Dr. Allmon further misrepresents creationists by lumping all theistic belief under one idea without providing the reader with any discussion on the distinctions separating the various camps. He assumes creationism is the same as Intelligent Design, for example, even though ID proponents are embarrassed by creationists and do their best to separate themselves from them.
Then, he makes an inaccurate statement that, creationists believe in the action of divine or supernatural forces in shaping the natural world on a regular basis. I am not sure what creationists he is referring to, but Bible believing creationists believe God finished his creative work in shaping the natural world on day 6. Part of that creative process was setting into motion natural laws that operate with in our world and universe, like gravity. Only on rare occasions has God intervened with His redeemed people for His redemptive purposes with the use of supernatural miracles that suspend the action of natural processes. That is not something that happens regularly and it is dishonest for Dr. Allmon to say otherwise.
Dr. Allmon finishes his description of creationists by stating,
Modern creationism frequently focuses on what its advocates describe as scientific evidence for creationist interpretations, labeled most often as "creation science" or, most recently, "intelligent design theory." Although it is perfectly legitimate for a person to hold and promote creationists beliefs, there is no scientific evidence for such beliefs, and they are not scientific by any definition of science, a point repeatedly affirmed by state and federal. as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.
First, it would have been helpful for him to provide an example or two of what he means by "scientific evidence for creationist interpretations." Sadly, he doesn't, but he does unwittingly admit to evidence being interpreted. The problem, however, is that he doesn't recognize the clear presuppositions a person brings to the interpretation of that evidence. He goes on to say such scientific evidence is not scientific, but just saying it is doesn't make it so. The appeal to what courts have ruled is especially precious. Courts are not the experts to judge the credibility of scientific evidence. They are also notorious for having made stupid rulings in the past that have since been overturned. Current judicial rulings does not establish the legitimacy of science.
Is Evolution against religion?
Under the section called Frequently Asked Questions, the last question Dr. Allmon attempts to provide an answer asks, Is evolution against religion?
Dr. Allmon replies:
No. The most often-cited evidence for this is the fact that there are many evolutionary biologists and paleontologists who profess to be somewhat or very religious. Most generally, it is possible to hold the view (as many practicing scientists do) that science and religion need not be in conflict with each other, because they address fundamentally different aspects of human experience. Science deals only with material reality; religion deals with the spiritual, the moral and the ethical. Many scientists profess that science cannot ever answer ultimate questions such as "why are we here?" "What was the beginning of everything?" or "How should we live our lives?" According to this view, these questions very properly belong in the ream of religion.
His answer is flatly dishonest in five areas.
First, he states there are many evolutionary scientists who profess to be somewhat religious, but who are these individuals and what types of churches do they attend? What exactly does he mean by somewhat or very religious? These are some important terms to define.
Second, he states science and religion need not be in conflict, but it all truth, it is not religion and science at conflict to begin with. It is two opposing worldviews that have diametrically opposite interpretations of evidence. Materialistic and atheistic naturalism and biblical theism. Dr. Allmon automatically assumes the general theory of evolution is scientifically valid and on par with atomic theory and the heliocentric view of the solar system. In his thinking, science = evolution, but he has not proven this, only made dogmatic assertions as to its certainty and made that his starting, a priori presupposition.
Third, even though Dr. Allmon claims religion and science should not be in conflict, the practitioners of evolution are most certainly in conflict and out right hostile against religion. As I already mentioned, Dr. Allmon provides a bibliography of materials for further study. The main on-line resource he provides is the erroneously titled, National Center for Science Education , which is philosophically atheistic and has as its goals the utter extermination of religious thought among any scientists. Eugenie Scott, who by all practical purposes is a secularized inquisitor, hunts down any Galileo-like high school biology teacher who dares to question the evolutionary magisterium by introducing intelligent design "heresy" to his or her students.
Fourth, Dr. Allmon insists scientists are only concerned with the material and confess science cannot ask the big why questions of morality, ethics and origins. But this insistence does not play out in the literature of evolutionists. Many evolutionist apologists try to make - though irrationally - arguments for where mankind came from, why people act as they do, and so forth, all with evolutionary ideology with the exclusion of religion. Richard Dawkins is a good example of this.
Fifth, religion, and in this case, biblical Christianity, will always be at odds with evolutionary ideology because biblical Christianity is a revelation based belief system. In other words, it is shaped by the Bible as a divine source of revelation given by God to inform mankind as to his origins and to answer the why questions Dr. Allmon claims science believes it shouldn't attempt to answer. The biblical record of man's history is a framework that excludes the notion of a general theory of evolution which teaches a particles-to-people process over billions of years. Such a belief is completely foreign to scripture and any one who thinks the two systems of thought are compatible and should not be at cross-purposes with each other, is biblical illiterate and plain ignorant of evolutionary philosophy. Again, ask the fine folks at the NCSE if they think evolution is compatible with the Bible.
Two thoughts as I close. My advice to Dr. Allmon is simply this: He needs to become familiar with what biblical creationism actually teaches. What he presents in this guide does not represent the creationism the museum docents will encounter. They are being given faulty information that only serves to damage their credibility and will lead to even more embarrassing encounters. If Dr. Allmon wishes to prevent the future befuddlement of museum docents by sharp thinking creationists, he would do well to know what creationists believe. Moreover, I would also recommend Dr. Allmon and his docent staff to become more familiar with epistemology, the philosophy of how we gather knowledge and justify our beliefs. Though in the end it will be an exercise in futility because material naturalism is an irrational worldview, having a working knowledge of epistemology is vital in defending why an evolutionist thinks his interpretation of scientific evidence supports his evolutionary conclusions.
For the Christian apologist, you need to be thankful to Dr. Allmon. He is to be commended for boiling down the key points of evolution for the average person, especially Christians. Moreover, I personally believe any Christian apologist who wishes to engage in a "museum ministry" of challenging staff and docents needs to be familiar with his paper. The more a Christian is prepared, especially with a working knowledge of his opponent's world view, the better the opportunity to be taken seriously as an apologist and avoiding looking like a crackpot. A Christian with only a surface knowledge of evolution cannot argue persuasively for the gospel or respectfully challenge an evolutionist world view.
Then one last thing. In any evangelical encounter, the Christian should not attempt to "win" a debate. I believe more evangelical encounters with unbelievers are squandered because Christians attempt to win a debate with the unbeliever and this only leads to anger and fustration with both the Christian and unbeliever. An encounter with a museum docent on the issue of evolution should be viewed along the lines of planting a seed as his or her worldview is respectfully challenged. Besides, the last thing a Christian wants to do is look like a bully picking on someone's sweet old grandpa or grandma.
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