Monday, November 23, 2009

Dayton, Tennessee: Ground Zero

Allen Abel, of Canwest News Service has written an article about the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee. Such is the media climate surrounding the anniversary of the publishing of On the Origins of Species by Charles Darwin, which came out 150 years ago, tomorrow. The article is more of a description of how the town and university that bear the name of William Jennings Bryan respond to the theory. He writes:
Across town, on the Bryan College campus, I meet the prelate of laboratory anti-Darwinism. Todd Charles Wood is a ``young-Earth creationist,'' strict Biblical literalist and holder of a doctorate in biochemistry from Thomas Jefferson's own University of Virginia. He acknowledges that there are difficulties involved in proving that Darwin and his disciples - the list would include virtually every reputable scientist since 1859 - are incorrect.
The interview with Wood continues, in which the following exchange is quoted:
Wood concedes that ``theories are needed'' in the pursuit of a rigorous creationist biology. He cites a number of perplexities that such a theory would have to explain: feathered dinosaurs; fossil whales with both teeth and baleen; the fact that human beings share 99 per cent of their genome with the chimpanzee.

``That may be the big one,'' says Wood.

``The theory is already written,'' I suggest, holding up a copy of The Origin of Species.

``Why would God create anthrax?'' the scholar wonders out loud.

``Why would God create Darwin?'' I reply.

``I don't have a theory from which to work,'' Wood admits. ``Once Darwin hit on natural selection, he had a theory with which to work. Evolution is well- supported. It is not bogus. It is not a failure. It is not in crisis. I just happen to think it's wrong.''
These are the words of a scientist? He has no evidence to demonstrate that evolution is wrong, he just thinks it is? Perhaps the most damning statement here is the lack of theory that creationists work from. It is the same lack of theory that plagues Intelligent Design.

Small-town America.

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  1. Todd Wood got mentioned on several blogs, and various other places online, when he made this post on his blog a couple of months back -

    Various creationists accused him of being a liar and deluded. One creationist whom I showed this post to said that Wood was probably a closet atheist who had infiltrated the creationist movement to undermine it from within (I'm not joking!!!).

    Anyway, Wood had to make a post a few days later to respond to all the claims about him and the e-mails he had been receiving. He re-affirmed that he was a YEC, and that he believes in everything that comes with it.

    I first encountered Wood as he is mentioned in Dennis Venema's 'Christianity and Biology' series on Gordon Glover's blog. Venema held him up as an example of how a creationist could at least attempt to deal with the genomic data as normal scientists see it. Wood's paper 'The chimpanzee genome and the problem of biological similarity' is a must read for all honest creationists.

    If you follow Wood's blog, he makes it quite clear that he believes what he does because of his views of the Bible. While he acknowledges the evidence and vast explanatory power behind evolution, he appears to genuinely believe that by working within a YEC framework he will ultimately be able to develop a working model.

    He is often referred to as an "honest creationist", along with Kurt Wise. For a while I kind of felt sorry for Wood as I read his posts and what he was trying to do with the science, and kind of respected him for his honesty. However, what I see as the real problem is that if he, as someone who really understands the evidence, can still reject it, then what chance do we have of convincing unqualified creationists who don't understand the evidence and just believe what they are told by AIG and ICR?

    In a recent post - - Wood actually says;
    "I think modern creationists would be much better served if we stopped coddling their every doubt and fear with new "evidence for creation" and instead helped to wean them off evidence altogether. A truly close Christian walk with Jesus should render evidence irrelevant. This is where we really want to be, not buffeted about by the wind and waves but confidently walking through the storm with our eyes fixed unwaveringly on Christ."

    How anyone can say such a thing and still claim to be a scientist is beyond me. In science evidence is always the ultimate decider. Without it science simply becomes a series of opinions. Whilst I originally saw Wood as a pretty decent fellow, honestly trying to deal with seemingly insurmountable problems the YEC framework has, I now see him as a large part of the problem. With people such as him there is no way this 'controversy' is ever going to be resolved.

  2. I have a huge amount of respect for Dr. Wood. Notice the respect he gives evolution -- he admits that it's not a theory in crisis, that it in fact explains things very well. The reason he rejects it isn't that he's fooled himself into thinking that it's flimsy.

    And you're incorrect to say that he has no evidence. He does have evidence; there's always SOME ambiguous evidence (of course). What there isn't is any theory that actually uses the evidence. And unlike the ID people, he admits that.

    So his goal is twofold: first, to come up with a theory that's consistent with the data AND with his reading of Genesis; and second, to stop his cohorts from abusing science so that they can spend time instead doing and supporting science.

    There's nothing wrong with rejecting an accepted scientific theory, so long as you're attempting to replace it with an actual theory, and not a mere null hypothesis.

    Please check Todd's blog; start with this post, in which he explains that evolution is NOT a "theory in crisis". You may well find a LOT to write about here.

  3. Thank you, Ben.

    My first reaction was that the quote you were giving had to be out of context; indeed, Wood's post isn't about the nature of evidence, but the nature of faith. If I'd stopped there I might have disagreed with you.

    But Wood seems to actually be saying in this post what he contradicts everywhere else -- that faith overrides evidence.

    If you read all his other posts, he has a high view of evidence; he just posted a review of a book about Darwin that condemns it as not matching the evidence. He cites evidence that show that the evolution of the horse is substantially as documented by modern science (of course, he has to compress the timescale, and he has no idea how he's going to do that...).

    I'm disappointed in that post.

    One other thing that's odd about it is that the verses he cites therein are verses that have to do not with the existence of evidence, but with people who refuse to pay attention to evidence.

    I will say one thing in his favor, though: it's not fair to compare him to the ID people. He admits that he has no theory, and he's actually looking for one. If there's any truth to creationism, it'll be someone like him who finds it. If there isn't any, he's wasting his time, but he's not actually deceiving people about what he's doing in the meantime. The ID people have no theory, nothing but a pair of poorly-stated null hypotheses, both of which they pretend are full-fledged theories.

  4. Actually, Paul Nelson was quoted as saying that ID didn't have any theory. He wrote in 2004:

    Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory now, and that’s a real problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity” –- but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.((2004) The Measure of Design," Touchstone, pp. 64-65).

    Thanks for the rebuff, though. I was, perhaps too harsh on Dr. Wood. He does give the evidence a clear hearing and he does interpret it correctly, which is a start. Given that he can analyze information like this the way he does, one wonders why he never entertains the thought that maybe the Primeval History can be read in non-literal fashion.

    Also, judging from the comments of other Christians at his evolution post, even to admit there is evidence for evolution brands you as one who is going to Hell.

  5. Actually, Paul Nelson was quoted as saying that ID didn't have any theory.

    I remember that. I admired him at the time, and I would date the downfall of my belief in ID from the date that I began agreeing with him. The one additional thing I needed to see was that none of the real work being done in the ID field was even SLIGHTLY working toward producing a theory; nobody seemed to care in the least.

    And when you think about it, this is essential to ID as a political strategy. There's no way to produce a coherent theory of ID without identifying a specific design mechanism, and that would eliminate some of your ID allies, and possibly make your theory inadmissible in school.

    (The last point reminds me of one other thing that soured me on ID: the sheer dishonesty of the Discovery Institute, as their policy correctly claims that ID is not appropriate yet for classroom use, but in practice they seem to eagerly support every attempt to teach it in a classroom, public or private. If they had any honesty, they'd aggressively discourage teaching ID in schools, since that's actually their stated policy.)

    one wonders why [Dr. Wood] never entertains the thought that maybe the Primeval History can be read in non-literal fashion.

    I assume -- with some justification, although I can't point to his post -- that he has in fact entertained that thought, and decided that it was less likely to be true than the alternate thought, that the primeval evidence can be "read" in a different fashion.

    Probably I'm being too generous. Okay, I admit I am: it's far more complex to reread natural history than it is to reread a few pagefuls of ancient text. But I like having him around for two reasons. First, he can actually teach creationists what science is, while we can't. Second, it's remotely conceivable that he's right -- he's actually DOING science, even if his goal is so phenomenally remote.

    Also, judging from the comments of other Christians at his evolution post, even to admit there is evidence for evolution brands you as one who is going to Hell.

    One didn't have to wait THAT long to discover that :-). It's an interesting social effect that seems to indicate a fragile system -- they believe that anyone who *starts* looking is doomed to disbelieve (in other words, they don't completely believe their own claims).