Lynchburg, VA—Science and scripture cannot contradict one another, and if they appear to do so, then there is something wrong with the science. God created the world in six 24-hour days, according to Georgia Purdom, an assistant professor of biology at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, OH. "It's what God said, and that's enough, and that's the way it has to be," said she. Purdom testified to the attendees of the 2005 Creation Mega-Conference that five years ago she "felt called to understand what I believe and why I believe it." Answering this call brought her to read Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (1996) by Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe. The book introduced her to the "intelligent design" movement.
Initially attracted to intelligent design theorizing, Purdom eventually found it unsatisfactory. Thus the question in her talk: "The Intelligent Design Movement: How Intelligent Is It?" Purdom rejects evolution because it is built on the notion that the process of natural selection relies on death, pain, suffering, and disease to produce our contemporary world. According to creationists, death did not enter the universe until Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:19). "I couldn't believe it because it did not fit with the God I know; the God with whom I have a personal relationship," insisted Purdom. Intelligent designers share the same problem with evolutionists—both ignore Scripture.
Purdom explained that intelligent design was just "refurbished natural theology" of the sort made famous by Anglican divine William Paley in his Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802). Paley famously argued that if someone stumbled over a watch in a forest that he would immediately perceive that "the watch must have had a maker." Paley claimed that the complex mechanisms of organisms in the natural world point to the same conclusion. Purdom believes that both natural theology and intelligent design are fine as far as they go, but they don't go far enough. The problem is that nature is a general revelation while scripture is a special revelation and special revelation trumps general revelation.
Purdom sums up intelligent design as saying, "If it looks designed, it is designed." But still, how are intelligent design theorists going to determine if something is designed or not? "You can't just look at something and tell if it is designed," she says. This is where she still finds Behe valuable. In Darwin's Black Box, Behe explains the concept of "irreducible complexity" using the homely example of a mousetrap. A standard mousetrap is irreducibly complex because it will only catch mice if it has a board, a spring, a trigger and so forth. If any part is missing, it will catch no mice. The existence of irreducible complexity in organisms similarly points to an intelligent designer. Behe offers examples of several irreducibly complex biological systems such as the biochemistry of sight and the operation of the bacterial flagellum which must have the existence and coordinated action of many different proteins and other molecules or they will fail.
Purdom points especially to the complexity of the mammalian blood clotting cascade. We do know that genetic mutations disable blood clotting in people. For example, one version of hemophilia is caused by a lack of the blood-clotting Factor VIII, which is perhaps analogous to a mousetrap missing its spring. Purdom thinks that this is a knockdown argument against evolution, which is supposed to work by small gradual successive steps. If a new modification is not immediately functional, then it's gone. "Evolution doesn't believe in keeping leftovers," declares Purdom.
But is the mammalian blood clotting system irreducibly complex? While the work is far from complete, researchers are making progress in figuring out how that system came into existence over hundreds of millions of years. Strangely, Purdom rejects a well-known pathway for creating novel functions at the molecular level—gene duplication with subsequent modification of the redundant gene, which leads to new functions.
In any case, while accepting a good bit of the Intelligent Design movement's arguments, Purdom points out that Intelligent Design also allows for macroevolution—that is, new species can arise from earlier species. This a definite no-no since the Bible clearly states that God "created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, after their kind." If all creatures reproduce only their own "kind," then there is no way for evolution to produce new species.
However, according to Purdom, "the biggest problem is that Intelligent Design theory divorces Creator from Creation. They do not presume to pierce the veil of the Designer. They won't say 'who done it.'"
Purdom is also annoyed that ID advocates will not talk about the optimality of design. She pointed to a statement by ID godfather, Philip Johnson who recently said, "I suppose the Creator could have made it so that we would live forever and be bulletproof. Flawless design may not be his point."
In Purdom's creationist interpretation of Genesis, God made a perfect world in which Adam and Eve were the moral equivalent of immortal and bulletproof; however, it is now flawed due to Adam's sin. Even more horrifying to Purdom is the statement by Baylor University professor and Design Inference author William A. Dembski, "One looks at some biological structure and remarks, 'Gee, that sure looks evil.' Did it start out evil? Was that its function when a good and all-powerful God created it? Objects invented for good purposes are regularly co-opted and used for evil purposes."
Can Dembski be implying that God created evil in the world? Purdom replies that Christians know that "sin has broken this world, including all of nature." To illustrate evil in nature, Purdom offers the example of the nature documentary showing an idyllic scene of a "zebra grazing peacefully, and then a tiger leaps out and bites its head off." (Of course this documentary would have to be filmed in a zoo, since that's the only place in which African zebras are likely to encounter Asian tigers, but never mind.) The problem with ID theory, as Purdom sees it, is that it implies that God is the author of evil unless you have Biblical understanding of how evil came into the universe through Adam's fall. ID is flawed because it lacks "the Bible as a foundation and framework." Purdom ended her lecture with a Power Point slide illustrating the ultimate argument from authority: "God Said It, That Settles It."
On this third day of the Creation Mega-Conference, participants got a half day off from their lucubrations, so there was only one more session in the morning, "The Human Origins Controversy." Australian plant physiologist Dr. Don Batten started out with the by-now-familiar trope of Adam versus Ape. Batten explained that if Adam is in your past, you are owned by God, who gives you absolute moral rules and who has the right to sit in judgment over you. If an ape is in your past, that leads to moral relativism in which morality evolved as way to help us pass along our genes. Man sets the rules.
Batten then pointed out that, according to Genesis, God took dust to fashion Adam. He did not take another animal and transform it into a man. Thus Genesis makes it clear that humanity did not evolve from lower animals. Batten then goes after the various "controversies" among paleo-anthropologists. "You don't have to research yourself because they (the evolutionists) start fighting among themselves," explained Batten.
Anyone who follows the debates among paleo-anthropologists knows that the field is extremely contentious. Just consider the recent controversies over Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Homo floresiensis. In 2002, French paleo-anthropologist Michel Brunet announced the discovery of a hominid skull in the Sahel region of Chad (Sahelanthropus tchadensis) that he dated to between 6 million and 7 million years old. His claim was challenged by researcher Brigitte Senut, who thinks that it is the skull of a gorilla ancestor.
In 2004, researchers announced that they had uncovered the 18,000 year old bones of a diminutive human species, Homo floresiensis, on Flores Island in Indonesia. The creature was immediately dubbed "the Hobbit." This conclusion was challenged by Professor Maciej Henneberg, head of anatomy at Adelaide University in Australia, who thinks the bones are those of a normal human whose growth had been stunted by disease.
Batten implied to his audience that such contentions among scientists mean that the whole field of paleo-anthropology has been discredited. However, such disagreements among scientists are not a sign of weakness; they are instead evidence of a field that is still developing.
To cut through all the controversies, horticulturist Batten told the conferees that he was going to prune and graft onto the tree of human ancestry as depicted by the Smithsonian Institution. Batten proceeded to systematically prune away many of the earliest branches in the Smithsonian tree of human ancestry, lopping off Ardipithecus ramidus, Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus garhi, Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis. Batten portrays himself as bravely cutting through a corrupt and self-serving evolutionist literature to show that none of the early hominids depicted by the Smithsonian are human ancestors.
But hold on a minute. Close inspection of the Smithsonian early human phylogeny graphic finds that in fact all possible ancestors trimmed by Batten are connected by dotted lines and question marks. Contrary to what Batten implies, the Smithsonian is not claiming that it is settled science that creatures like Ardipithecus ramidus and Homo rudolfensis are human ancestors; only that they might be shown to be so as scientific discoveries advance. Batten also claims to have discerned that Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens are all simply human. He fails to mention that the Smithsonian agrees, and joins all three with solid lines suggesting that science has strongly demonstrated that they are all connected.
With Batten's lecture, my time among the creationists came to an end. Just as the Reverend Jerry Falwell promised, there were no snake-handlers at the Creation Mega-Conference. Instead the conferees were a bunch of decent people trying to make sense of the world and live good lives. The deeply saddening thing is that these decent people have come to believe they have to reject modern science in order to do so.