Our program speaker this past month, club member Greg Courtney, presented a lot of information about the Science versus Creationism conflicts. His talk included some very disturbing videos of Creationists in action that may have prompted many of you to want to know more about the scientific refutations for the Creationist arguments. Greg had some recent books at the meeting about this subject. This month I am going to do a few mini reviews on other books on the subject. Please note the significance of the 1984 publication dates on these books. This was the time of the ACLU versus the State of Arkansas supreme court trials and an important defeat for the teaching of Creationism in public schools.
My first recommendation is In The Beginning...A Scientist Shows Why The Creationists Are Wrong by Chris McGowan. I have previously reviewed this 1984 work published by Prometheus Books in November of 1998. I will not add any more to that review here. Please refer to your November bulletin or read it in the book review section of our web page. I will say here that this is one of the more readable accounts of the Creationist problem.
The second work is Science and Creationism, Ashley Montague, editor. This is also a 1984 publication and is published by Oxford University Press. Science and Creationism has eighteen chapters. Each is written by a noted authority on this subject matter including the recognizable names of Isaac Azimov, Stephen Jay Gould, and Roger Cuffey. Since I am not doing a protracted review I will highlight only a few of the essay topics.
Robert Root-Bernstein contributed On Defining a Scientific Theory: Creationism Considered for Science and Creationism. This essay defines "scientific theory", "religious belief", and how the two differ. One might also look at this chapter as an explanation of how science works. This is very important basic information to know. As Root-Bernstein explains, knowing the definitions and differences eliminates the conflict - Science and Religion are two different entities dealing with two different areas (see also Rocks of Ages - Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life by Stephen Jay Gould, Ballantine Books, 1999 and the July/August 1999 special issue of Skeptical Inquirer dedicated to science and religion).
One of Gould's essays in Science and Creationism is entitled Evolution as Fact and Theory. Here is yet another extremely important set of definitions that far too many Americans do not understand. Gould explains in detail the fact of evolution and presents the theories proposed to explain how evolution works.
Gene Lyons produced the section entitled Repealing the Enlightenment. I have read more on world history recently than I ever had to in school. Lyons title alone carries significant meaning. Many of you will remember your history and know that the Enlightenment followed the Dark and Middle Ages and that the Dark Ages began at the fall of the Roman Empire. What went on during that time? The Inquisition, murders and torture for heresy, the destruction of anything from previous civilizations believed to be decadent, the destruction of the written knowledge amassed by earlier civilizations, the Crusades, and the suppression of scientific advancement is what went on. All of these church motivated actions plunged Europe into the Dark Ages. The Enlightenment was the beginning of Europe's climb out of the darkness through scientific discovery. You may be surprised to know that many of our modern inventions since the Enlightenment were known to earlier civilizations. These were "lost" during the Dark Ages and "invented" again during subsequent times. We actually owe thanks to the peoples of the Middle East and Asia for their records of these earlier inventions. (I highly recommend that you obtain Carl Sagan's last book The Demon Haunted World - Science as a Candle in the Dark for more about the Dark Ages and science and anti-science.)
One of the last chapters is the actual written judgement handed down by Judge William Overton against the Creationists in the ACLU vs. the State of Arkansas hearings. His decision was based on his findings that Creationism is religion from one sector of Christianity and that it is not science. He held that the teaching of Creationism in public schools violates the Constitution in regard to the separation of Church and State.
I want to tease you with other chapter titles that will give you hints at their content: "Scientific Creationism" - Marketing Deception as Truth by Hardin; Scientific Creationism: The Art of Distortion by Godfrey; The "Threat" of Creationism by Isaac Asimov; Evolution - The Fossils Say Yes by Halstead; Paleontologic Evidence and Organic Evolution by Cuffey.
Science and Creationism is a very good presentation of the facts that helped decide a historically important court battle. This is a good work to seek out.
The last book I will deal with is Abusing Science - The Case Against Creationism by Philip Kitcher. This one was published by the MIT Press in 1982. Kitcher's work is yet another excellent treatment of the Science vs. Creationism issues. He presents the factual scientific information as do the other two books. Kitcher also seems to spend a bit more time reviewing Creationist's tactics and the implications toward science education in this country. This last item was one of the reasons this book was written. The author was alarmed at the "big picture" scenario if the Creationists were to have their way.
Far too many people do not understand the far reaching effects if evolution is pulled from the teachings of science. Evolution is the backbone of biology and it is the only process that can explain why every living organism is made in the same way. Beyond this, in order to explain literal Biblical occurrences Creationists must take special liberties with the sciences of physics, astrophysics, chemistry, and geology.
It is not necessary to do a more extensive review of Abusing Science - The Case Against Creationism. It is an excellent book that takes the subject beyond the factual proofs.
I feel that I must add a comment to prevent yet another common misunderstanding willingly promoted by Creationists, that is, that accepting evolution as fact precludes belief in a Supreme Being. That evolutionists are all atheists or agnostics is not true. Recall the latest pronouncement by the Catholic Church - Catholics believe that evolution occurred and that at a certain time in earth history, God bestowed a soul upon man. In actual fact, many scientists do believe in a Supreme Being.
Why all the hubbub now? After all didn't the ACLU victory in Arkansas put this all to bed? Not quite. It did stop the teaching of Creationism as a competing scientific theory of evolution in public schools. The Creationists are a persistent lot and have shifted their focus to more subtle means. They now work to get people of their beliefs elected to local school boards so that they can eliminate textbooks or curricula discussing evolution.