Dr. Edward Max's Rebuttal of Ross Olson's Response
For Dr. Max's Original Article, click HERE.
For A Paper Distributed at Dr. Max 2/22/01 Debate with Duane Gish, click HERE.
For An Introduction To Answering Dr. Edward Max's Challenge, click HERE.
For Ross Olson's First Critique, click HERE.
For Dr. Max's Rebuttal, click HERE.
For Ross Olson's Second Critique, click HERE.
For Dr. Max's Second Rebuttal to the Second Critique, click HERE.
For Ross Olson's Third Critique, click HERE.
For Dr. Max's Third Rebuttal to the Third Critique, click HERE.
For Olson's Critique Number Four, click HERE.
For Dr. Max's Fourth Rebuttal to the Fourth Critique, click HERE.
For Olson's Critique Number Five, click HERE.
For Dr. Max's Fifth Rebuttal to the Fifth Critique (and the summary linked below), click HERE.
For a summary of these interactions, click HERE.
We seem to be "talking past each other," and I think one reason is that you misunderstand my position and my aims, so you don't see how individual arguments I put forward fit into my overall position on "creation science." I tried to make this clear at the debate, but was evidently unsuccessful. Here is my overall position; I will break this down into points you may want to address individually.
1. Creationism is only one of many minority views whose proponents would like to have their views represented in the public school classroom, including folks who believe that the earth is flat, or that the pyramids in Egypt were designed by ancient astronauts. We can't teach all of the minority views discussed in crackpot books and have any time left over for mainstream science, so how do we decide what to include and what to omit? In my view, publication in the peer-reviewed professional scientific journals should be a requirement for any view to be represented in the science classroom. Such publication certifies a minimal standard: that a manuscript was satisfactory to referees and editors who were not chosen by the author. This minimal standard has not been met by creation science. The modern professional peer-reviewed scientific literature contains much evidence presented in support of evolution but no papers that explicitly support a creationist model. (See my comments below on Gentry below.) Therefore, public science education should include evolution but not creationism.
2. Creationists cry foul, claiming that their views have been rejected from professional journals for inappropriate reasons, namely the refusal of the "elite" scientific establishment to consider anything that challenges the "dogma" of evolution (as in your comments about Gentry). Therefore, while creationists may agree that other minority views should be excluded from the classroom for want of representation in the peer-reviewed professional literature, they engage in special pleading for their own cause. They claim that their ideas have been rejected for inappropriate reasons rather than poor scholarship. It follows, they claim, that absence of creationism from the professional literature should not disqualify creationism from the public science classroom.
3. My position is that rejection of creationism from the professional literature is due to the failure of "creation scientists" to meet the minimum standards of scholarship for publication in a peer-reviewed professional science journal. Considering this failure, their special pleading has no merit.
The thrust of my antibody "Fitness" essay and all of our correspondence has been to argue point (3) above. I am thus not trying to "prove" evolution, or even to outline evidence that supports it; the latter aim has been well achieved by publications in the professional science literature. Therefore you may well be right when you say, "you have not really done much at all for the cause of evolution." All I am attempting is the very narrow goal of showing that specific "creation science" arguments are erroneous and reflect poor scholarship, and that these weaknesses fully explain why these arguments are rejected by mainstream professional scientists. Therefore, creation "science" does not merit any exception from the principle that claims not represented in the professional peer-reviewed scientific literature should not be taught in public school science classrooms.
You mention my criticisms of Dr. Gish's arguments and then say "I wonder if you are harping on this to avoid dealing with the real issue." Later you refer to my examples of erroneous creationist arguments and say, "I am not going to deal with them at this point. Even if creationists were all mistaken on those points and are still mistaken and refuse to admit that they are mistaken, you still need to answer the fundamental issues I have brought up." And you refer to "vast literature supporting a young earth and solar system." You seem to feel that perhaps it is true that my "nitpicking" might have detected a few invalid creationist arguments, but there is no point in discussing these since there are many other valid ones so that the creationist case is still strong. What I wonder is whether it ever might occur to you that systematic detailed examination of EVERY creationist argument in that "vast literature" that you refer to would show that each one - from moon dust to solute concentration of the ocean - is just as invalid as the Gish arguments I discussed.
I am willing to defend what I wrote in my "Fitness" essay and what I said at the debate regarding poor scholarship in specific creationist arguments; but I haven't the time for a broad defense of evolutionary theory, and certainly will not try to defend claims of other evolutionists that I do not think are well supported by scientific evidence. If you want to argue that I have made errors in my attempts to debunk specific creationist claims, it seems to me that you must accept the burden of examining those creationist claims I discussed, rather than sidestepping those claims, bringing up other creationist claims, and asking me to defend other arguments (e.g. on the origin of life) that I have never made.
You take issue with my comparison of creationists with flat earthers and snake oil charlatans. But there is one resemblance that seems unarguable to me: their claims are not supported in the professional literature. Another significant difference between scientists on the one hand and creationists and charlatans on the other is how they deal with claims they made that have been proven wrong. You cited Piltdown man and Nebraska man as examples showing that mainstream science sometimes makes errors, as if the errors of creationists were no worse. But an examination of the way these errors were dealt with by mainstream science, as opposed to the way creationist errors are dealt with in the creationist community, shows that the way creationists deal with their errors makes them look like flat-earthers and snake oil charlatans more than like scientists. In mainstream science, once an error is pointed out in the published literature, the scientific community learns of the error from reading the literature, so this erroneous idea could never again be used to support a future argument without being immediately rejected. Indeed, I challenge you to find any modern professional scientific publication drawing conclusions based on the original erroneous interpretations of Nebraska man or Piltdown or Haeckel. In contrast, all the errors of Gish that I cited were used repeatedly after they were refuted. The reason creationists are able to recycle refuted errors is that - unlike scientists writing for their fellow professionals - creationists address lay audiences who do not know that the erroneous arguments have previously been refuted. Most creationists learn about the creationist arguments from other creationists. They almost never go back to the original professional (non-creationist) scientific literature to check whether the arguments are based on good data and good logic; rather, they are happy to accept any argument that appears to contradict evolution, regardless of the merits of the argument. And the few c reationists who do discover that a creationist argument is false almost never attempt to challenge or criticize one of their own. This allows false arguments persist and be recycled over and over, just like the false claims of snake oil charlatans that are re-used in every new town.
And, sad to say, you seem willing to continue the creationist trash recycling tradition in that you have avoided dealing head-on with Dr. Gish's errors. In my previous rebuttal I wrote: "Let me suggest that before you bring up any new creationist arguments, you go on record with your opinion about each of these examples." If you wanted to advance the cause of truth like a true scientist you could have taken my suggestion and examined my arguments about each of Gish's errors. You could have used the podium of your Website to criticize the sloppy scholarship of Dr. Gish and to call for better standards among creationists and for the repudiation of these false arguments. Instead, you said "I am not necessarily defending all that Dr. Gish has said and done" and refused to state clearly whether you agree that the examples I listed do in fact reflect poor scholarship that would not meet the standards of publication in the professional science literature. If you should reconsider and decide to undertake an evaluation of the examples in my list, then perhaps after coming to agreement on some of those arguments we could take up other creationist claims (one at a time, please) that I believe are equally erroneous, like the ones you mentioned about the dust on the moon and solute concentrations of oceans.
(As I noted before in our correspondence, Archeoraptor was never published in the peer-reviewed professional literature except to expose the fraud [Rowe et al, Nature 410:539, 2001]. Therefore archaeoraptor is not an example of an error in the professional science literature as you imply, but rather an example of how "nitpicking" scrutiny can weed out erroneous claims and prevent their contaminating the professional literature. I agree that Haeckel's drawings are misrepresentations that should not be perpetuated in elementary biology textbooks, but these drawings have not been accepted as a foundation for arguments in the modern professional literature any more than Piltdown has.)
Here are some comments on specific points you made.
1. On style: I prefer brief, direct and unambiguous. I'm sorry if it comes across as arrogant. I find the arguments sufficiently interesting that they do not need to be decorated by tangential flourishes. I did not mean to imply that what you wrote was "worthless," only that you wrote more than I could respond to. Furthermore, what you call "nitpicking" I see as attention to detail and avoidance of error. The devil is in the details. And those arguments of yours that I said couldn't understand - I wasn't trying to be perverse or contrary; sorry, but I really didn't understand them.
2. What I learned from Dr. Gish: nothing, other than debating style. If you think he offered any valid scientific evidence against evolution that I should learn from, or any valid arguments defending against my criticisms of his scholarship, please identify specifics. Occasionally from creationists I learn something indirectly - by tracking down their arguments and learning the detailed science of why they were wrong. For example, by researching Dr. Gish's claim about the absence of homologs of the Organ of Corti in non-mammalian vertebrates, I learned something about the reptilian cochlea, which looks perfectly homologous to the mammalian Organ of Corti. In rare cases I have actually learned some valid science from a creationist (but never from Dr. Gish, to the best of my recollection).
3. In some of your comments you seem to be "begging the question" without realizing it. You write:
"evidence for design ought to point to a designer"
What we have in living organisms is evidence for astoundingly complex mechanisms that perform complex adaptive functions, which resemble in some respects mechanisms designed by intelligent humans. But evolutionists believe that this resemblance is misleading; they hypothesize that astoundingly complex mechanisms that perform complex adaptive functions can arise by evolutionary mechanisms from simpler organisms without intelligent design. Therefore, unless you exclude the evolutionary hypothesis a priori by begging the question, there is no "evidence for design" in the sense of evidence that compels belief in origin through intelligent agency as opposed to origin by evolutionary mechanisms.
4. On Gentry. I previously wrote: "If you know of a creationist paper in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, please let me know." You replied:
I guess you didn't really read my responses to you word for word. Because, in the introduction to the online debate, still posted of the TCCSA Website, I mentioned Robert Gentry, whose work on polonium halos was in the mainstream journals . . . But, of course, you did not even look it up. I guess that makes you a poor scholar! Do you want to turn in your credentials or even fall on your sword right now?
I did read your responses in detail, but as I indicated previously, I didn't have time to comment on every point. Since you mention Gentry again, I will comment. I read several papers by Gentry in the professional literature years ago when I first became interested in the creation/evolution debate. Although I have not been able to get access to all of his papers, I have never found a peer-reviewed professional publication of his that explicitly argues the creationist position against evolution. I am listing the ones I have read (Science 160:1228, 1968; Science 169:670, 1970; Nature 244:282, 1973; Nature 252:564, 1974; Science 184:62, 1974). Of these, only in the last one does Gentry refer to any kind of challenge to current scientific beliefs, where at the end of his paper he says: "The question is, can . . . [isolated polonium halos] be explained by presently accepted cosmological and geological concepts relating to the origin and development of Earth?" This sentence falls far short of explicitly arguing a creationist position. Since you suggest I am a "poor scholar" for not being aware that Gentry has published a peer-reviewed professional paper arguing for creation, I would appreciate it if you would demonstrate your own scholarship by sending me the citation you are referring to. I am aware that Gentry has written non-peer-reviewed material that argues a creationist position more explicitly (perhaps the book you mentioned is an example), but I am not interested in non-peer-reviewed material, as of course I know there are a lot of creationist publications in that category. If you supply the citation, I will review it, and will be happy to have my error on this point corrected.
As to the validity of Gentry's claims, I cannot give them meaningful evaluation since I have no expertise in his field. I do note that other scientists with appropriate expertise and credentials have published peer-reviewed professional papers interpreting Gentry's halos in ways that do not challenge conventional science (e.g. Von Wimmersperg and Sellschop, Phys Rev Lett 38:886, 1977; Moazed et al., Science 180:1274, 1973; Odom and Rink, Science 246:107, 1989). Other criticisms of Gentry's views are found at
My take on Gentry is that his observations can be explained by several interpretations that don't contradict modern science or evolution. If a typical objective scientist learned that his original interpretation was contradicted by considerable published science (essentially all of geology in Gentry's case), and if he knew that the same observations could be interpreted in alternative ways that were consistent with accepted science, this knowledge would persuade him to abandon his original interpretation. Gentry instead wants cling to his interpretation and to abandon conventional geology. For Gentry's theory to be correct, the vast geological literature including radiometric dating would have to be reinterpreted, and Gentry has not provided any such reinterpretation in the peer-reviewed literature that I have seen. His non-peer-reviewed writings clearly reflect a religiously motivated bias; and though this doesn't mean he is wrong, it certainly raises a question in my mind about whether his judgment is being clouded by motivation that should not be part of scientific reasoning. It seems to me that Gentry is arguing for a model in which a Creator created the earth recently, complete with myriad details of conventional geology which He designed to give earth the false appearance of age, but that Gentry outsmarted Him by detecting a clue to earth's recent age that He failed to conceal. I find Gentry's view scientifically unconvincing (as well as theologically repugnant) and conclude that Gentry has not contributed anything that should affect instruction in public school science.
5. You claim "I have exposed fuzziness in your thinking." For someone accusing a person of fuzzy thinking, you yourself seem surprisingly prone to misreading what I have said and then arguing against your own misinterpretation rather than against what I have written. This is particularly true for your comments about Gish's response to my antibody mutation argument and for your comments about my statements regarding the supernatural.
5.a First, here are some ideas about mutation that you attribute to me but that I never wrote or said:
You see hyper-mutation in a small, precisely controlled and limited portion of the DNA and jump to the conclusion that everything is mutation.
If random mutation of everything were our only means of defense [as you imply] , we would indeed die.
Therefore, it is deceptive to say that mutations are the only source of immunity or even the main mechanism.
I have never concluded that "everything is mutation." I have never said that somatic mutation was our "only means of defense" "the only source of immunity or even the main mechanism." In fact, I have pointed out that there are many other mechanisms that contribute to defense against infection. You have somehow ignored or misunderstood what I said at the debate and what I wrote in our exchanges, and you attribute to me ideas that are incorrect.
Furthermore, consider the "knee jerk" reaction that you attribute to Dr. Gish and that you claim is "right": that [if] our ability to fight infection were only based on random change [ then] we would not survive" This is a syllogism of the form If A then B B is false Therefore A is false. I agree that A is false, but it is not false for the reason that Dr. Gish was trying to mislead his audience into accepting, i.e. the idea that somatic mutation does not occur as I had described. Rather A is false because the other immune mechanisms that I outlined in my essay protect us before somatic mutation kicks in, protective mechanisms that Dr. Gish was ignorant of. Somatic mutation does occur and allows high affinity antibodies to evolve exactly as I described. If you disagree, please state your reasons; if you agree please say so. Your implication that it was acceptable professional scholarship for Dr. Gish to bluff his audience into accepting a "knee jerk" reaction that was false, intentionally misleading and founded on Dr. Gish's ignorance of the scientific literature, when he represented himself as an expert, is amazing to me. If you can't admit that Dr. Gish's behavior in this case reflected poor scholarship and integrity, then there is no point in continuing our exchange, since you are obviously willing to accept standards of scientific scholarship far below the norm for the profession.
Now the significance of the antibody mutation model for evolution is another issue. I don't know how to be clearer other than to repeat the very narrow point that I was trying to make in the essay: Creationists have claimed on various theoretical grounds that random mutation and selection can never lead to improved fitness; all I argue is that this creationist claim is mistaken and that the antibody mutation story provides an illustrative counterexample to that claim. In this model, following an environmental challenge (exposure to antigen) a gene which has not previously functioned to defend against this challenge turns out to have modest ability to help deal with the challenge (i.e. to encode an unmutated antibody that would bind antigen with low affinity); then successive rounds of random mutation followed by selection for the most adaptive mutations lead to a population with significantly improved adaptive function, without any intelligent design or pre-selected "target sequence." Whether the system requires complex mechanisms that you interpret as "designed" is totally irrelevant to the point that the improvement in antibody affinity derives from random mutation and selection. According to the creationist theorists, improved "fitness" cannot derive from random mutations and selection regardless of the complexity of the selection mechanism. This example proves that their theory is wrong, and that is all I was trying to show in my essay.
I must also remark that in order to discredit the idea of random mutation and selection you have made rather strange comments that seem to reflect either a significant misunderstanding about the role of mutation in the evolution model or rather imprecise writing. You say:
mutations often end the whole experiment by destroying the system
You seem to be forgetting that mutations occur in a minority of the population. A mutation may lead to the death of an individual, but the "system," i.e. the rest of the population, survives, allowing other individuals to experience different mutations, including some rare ones that may be beneficial. Similarly you state:
Dead organisms do not evolve. I cannot imagine why you are unable to see that, except for your knee-jerk reaction of rejecting anything stated by creationists.
Of course dead organisms do not evolve. What makes you think I don't "see that"? But the entire population doesn't die if one organism suffers a lethal mutation. Rather the population evolves as selection operates to enhance the survival of individuals with mutations producing traits that are advantageous in the environment.
In another part of your critique you again misunderstand my argument. You ask:
How do you know that myoglobin is a mutation (excuse me - "duplication and differentiation") of hemoglobin?
I don't know that myoglobin and hemoglobin arose through duplication and differentiation, and I don't argue that this is necessarily what happened. I bring up these proteins only to illustrate a plausible example of a protein family that might be explained by the evolutionist hypothesis of duplication and differentiation. My point is that this hypothesis - whether correct or incorrect - has been ignored by many creationist "information theory" experts. They claim that random mutations cannot be source of new information and but then they ignore the hypothetical possibility of gene duplication followed by random mutation followed by selection. What they ignore is exactly what evolutionists are postulating, so their analysis is irrelevant for evaluating the evolution model.
5.b. The other major area in which you seem unable to grasp my position despite multiple rephrasings and restatements concerns my views on the supernatural and on creationism as a religious belief. You say:
you continue to oppose creation
I said repeatedly at the debate that I respect the belief in creation and do not at all oppose it at all as a religious belief. I even held up a Bible and recommended it as a valuable resource for the faithful. Do you disagree with my position that the Bible is the best source for studying creation? What I continue to oppose is not the religious idea of creation, but bad science; and bad science is what I hear from creation "scientists," as in the examples that you avoid discussing.
What you do seem to say, however, is that no supernatural causes may be postulated. How can you say that?
I do not say that; I say the opposite!
And, I need to remind you, it is impossible to say scientifically that once you have discovered the causes of earthquakes, that you can assert with assurance that a particular earthquake was natural and there was absolutely no supernatural element involved in its extent or timing.
Since . . . you have no scientific data for a mechanism [for the origin of life], do you think it is proper to rule out -- a priori -- a cause outside the scope of science?
I find it truly amazing that you can ask this after all I said at the debate, in our correspondence and in my formal response to your rebuttal. Once more, here is my view: I DON'T RULE OUT A CAUSE OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF SCIENCE, AND I DON'T THINK IT'S PROPER TO DO SO!!!! I don't rule out participation of supernatural causes in the origin of life, in evolution, in lightning, in earthquakes or in sickness. How can I make it clearer?
I agree that a public school science course might reasonably discuss any valid scientific reasons for concluding a supernatural cause (if there should be any in the professional literature), but a cause that is truly "outside the scope of science" (i.e. not supported by any scientific reasons in the literature) should be outside the scope of science curricula. If you disagree, I wish you would explain why.
6. You wrote:
If a person were dead for three days, were confirmed to be dead, even beginning to decompose, and then came alive, would it be reasonable to wait for a natural explanation?
And you ask:
If it really were something supernatural, how would you be able to tell?
This, I think, is the most interesting question you have asked in all our correspondence, and I have given it some thought. It seems to me that two classes of supernatural manifestations can be imagined. There could be supernatural manifestations that don't violate our understanding of naturalistic science (for example, nudging mutations in a particular direction, causing lightning or an earthquake to strike at a particular place), a kind of hidden influence over apparent chaos. For such examples that do not violate our understanding of naturalistic science, there can be no scientific evidence for or against supernatural intervention. That's why I don't rule out the supernatural in such case, though I don't know how anyone could deduce supernatural intervention in the same examples without reference to a faith-based framework.
Then as a second class, there could be supernatural intervention that does violate our understanding - a miracle? For me to accept such an example as a product of the supernatural, it would have to be well-documented, and alternative interpretations would have to be fairly considered but ruled out. As examples of alternate interpretations I would consider:
1. lies by those who report the event (if I did not witness it myself)
2. embellishment of a true naturalistic event (especially if the story of the apparent miracle was handed down through many intermediaries and if no original contemporary documentation survives)
3. magic tricks, i.e. conjuring intentionally designed to be deceiving. The "miracles" witnessed by the faithful at the Oracle of Delphi apparently fell into that category, as do the "miraculous recoveries" faked by unscrupulous faith healers in our day. (I have witnessed many magic tricks that I cannot explain so I know I can be fooled by well-executed deception.)
4. hallucinations, misinterpretations or various forms of self-delusion regarding naturalistic phenomena that were not engineered to deceive
5. examples of naturalistic phenomena whose explanation is known, but not known to me
6. examples of naturalistic phenomena whose explanation is not known by anyone, implying that our understanding of science needs to be expanded, but not necessarily that the phenomena need to be attributed to the supernatural
7. a true supernatural event
I think you would agree that it may be difficult to distinguish between some of these possibilities, depending on the specific circumstances of the example. I am curious how YOU would be able to detect the supernatural; what kind of assurances of veracity do you feel would be required for you to abandon everyday assumptions of naturalism and to invoke the supernatural? There are many apparently unexplainable phenomena that get reported, and I am wondering: which of these claims you accept, and on what grounds? For example
Efficacy of homeopathic medicines in "infinite" dilutions
UFOs including sexual encounters and abductions by space aliens
therapeutic touch (i.e. healing accomplished by physical touching of a patient's skin)
facilitated communication of autistic patients
alternative medicine modalities such as
Qi Gong, reflexology, iridology (iris examination to diagnose disease), chiropractic subluxation theory of disease, Ayurvedic medicine, acupuncture, magnetic treatment for pain
dowsing rods to locate underground oil or water
extrasensory perception, psychokinesis, spoon-bending by mental force
With respect to the example you suggested, a dead person returning to life after removal of some organs, David Hume's criterion seems reasonable to me: is it more likely that the eyewitness was deceived/untruthful, or that the dead man returned to life?
I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates, then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion. [Hume, Enquiries]
Do you have some better criteria? Perhaps in addition to the two possible interpretations that Hume was weighing, he should have considered "advanced technologies" as a third possible interpretation of some baffling phenomena. Have you seen the TV slow about the "Six Million Dollar Man," or the movies "WestWorld" or the recent "Artificial Intelligence"? These all concern sci/fi technologies for creating artificial body parts that are beyond current science but not inconceivable for the future. Such technologies might have to be considered as an alternative to a supernatural resurrection example, and other technologies might explain other phenomena if one is open to the possible existence of more advanced technologies than our own. Advanced technologies are indistinguishable from magic, as Arthur C. Clarke pointed out. Explorers landing by plane in isolated regions with primitive peoples were considered to be supernatural beings by the natives. I dare say that David Hume might be persuaded of the supernatural if he met Robert Tools, who is walking around quite alive after his heart was removed, with no explanation that Hume could imagine based on the technologies of his time. The inclusion of advanced technology as a possible cause of baffling phenomena may have been less obvious to Hume than to us, given the slower advances in technology in his day.
Let me close by re-emphasizing that I cannot take the time for a freewheeling debate about evolution. I will defend the points that I made at the debate and in my "Fitness" essay if you have criticisms that I have not already addressed. But I insist that first, you take a stand on each of the items that I claim reflect poor creationist scholarship. On my part I have made it clear where and why I part with evolutionists who try to use science to argue against religion, and I ask you to follow suit. If you are determined to spare fellow creationists from criticism even in no-brainer situations like the examples of poor scholarship of Dr. Gish that I pointed out (and which he has not defended), then I see no point in our continued discussion.