• An Interview with PZ Myers and Terry Mortenson


    Beth’s note: I conducted this interview a while ago and figured it would be a good fit on this new blog. Enjoy!

    Introduction: Terry Mortenson from Answers in Genesis (AiG) was in Morris, Minnesota presenting Young Earth Creationism information to the community. I was asked by the St. Cloud Friends Free of Theism to cover the event and (hopefully) interview Mortenson.

    While killing time between the morning session and evening, I realized that Morris is also home to Biologist and University of Minnesota Morris professor PZ Myers. I enjoyed PZ’s writing in the past so on a whim, I called and was pleased he was able to grant an interview to balance the piece.

    So, here’s what I did: I posed the same questions to each interviewee. Not every question has a dual response because sometimes the interviewee already answered the question in a previous response. After each interview, I transcribed the dialogue.

    I hope you enjoy reading this final draft as much as I enjoyed working on it.

    Question 1:

    Good science relies on peer reviewed, publicly verified evidence. AiG say creationism is based on good science. If that is the case, why has mainstream science, as well as the US courts (in the Dover PA case), reject creationism as a science?

    Terry Mortenson: The reason the courts have rejected it is because the courts, the judge there, was educated with evolution all his life, he listened to the scientific majority, and went with the scientific majority. He wasn’t a scientist himself to evaluate the arguments, and I think also there was the influence of the separation of church and state issue and his perception that the intelligent design strategy was inherently or covertly religious in its agenda and so he interpreted things in that light.

    The evolutionists say that creationists do not publish in peer reviewed literature and that is simply false. There are many, many creationists who have a long list of publications. What they don’t publish, is their openly creationist research in the public, secular journals. And the reason is because it would be rejected by the editor out of hand before it’s even sent to a reviewer.

    The evolutionists will protest that, but I could give you quotes by non big bang secular astrophysicists who are not creationists, who are probably atheists like the big bang guys are, but they don’t hold to the big bang and they have scientific reasons for rejecting the big bang and they can’t get their stuff published because the big bang dominates the journals.

    And so I could give you lots of documentation about that, the evolutionists will say, “No, it’s because they really don’t have good science.” And that’s just false because how could a creation scientist say, for example, Dr John Baumgardner who was a research geophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a major US Government lab, he was a researcher there for about twenty years and he developed a multi variable, very complex computer program regarding the structure of the earth and it’s used by the German weather service, he’s been over to Germany many times consulting with them on his complicated computer program, because the atmosphere functions in some very similar ways to the crust of the earth… how could he be doing that and not be a real scientist?

    You’d have to say that the Los Alamos National Lab are just a bunch of incompetent people that can’t even recognize that Dr. Baumgardner should have never gotten his degree at UCLA and he doesn’t know anything. Of course he does and he published in the secular literature. And evolutionists use his software, it’s called the Terra program, and evolutionists punch different starting assumptions into the software to get different results. But they use it because it’s good science.

    Many, many creationists, and there are many creationists who are closet creationists, nobody at their job know they’re creationists because they’re afraid they’ll lose their job. So, they are publishing in their field and nobody knows they’re creationists because they’re not publishing on the creationist/origins issue. They’re very competent in their field as engineers, biologists, whatever.

    PZ Myers: There are a lot of complicated reasons for that. But the main reason is that creation science ignores 99.999 percent of the science. What they will do is, ignore all the evidence against their claims and fasten onto the little bits and pieces that can be twisted and interpreted to support their views.

    That means when you present their ideas in the courtroom of science, where we evaluate these as cases, is this person doing good scholarship, are they looking at all the evidence, are they doing good experiments? We say, “no.” They’re doing crap, not science. Throw it out.

    It’s cut and dried. There is no ambiguity here. This is like arguing that the earth if flat. They’re equally nonsensical.

    Question 2:

    Science gathers evidence, evaluates it, and then draw conclusions based on the evidence. Many times scientists find their hypothesis incorrect and adjust their views based on evidence. Pseudo science/creationism begins with a conclusion and cherry picks and distorts evidence to support their conclusions. Will you comment your thoughts on this quote?

    This question was answered in the above response by Terry Mortenson.

    PZ Myers: Uh, huh. It will be interesting to see how Mortenson handles this question. Go to the AiG website for instance, they have a little oath that you have to take to be a member of the staff that declares that the Bible is the literal truth, that true science does not contradict the Bible. It basically says, “Here are your conclusions, you have to accept these and all evidence has to support them.”

    It’s anti-science right there.

    If you look at evolutionary biologists, if we found something that contradicted evolution, that would be exciting. We’d get a Nobel Prize. So we look for that kind of thing, but it just doesn’t turn up. It’s like we do not care what the answer is as long as that answer is an accurate reflection of nature and truth.

    Question 3:

    Many religions have unique creation stories. What makes your version of events correct?

    Terry Mortenson: I don’t know any other religions that have such a detailed account of creation but, I have not heard of any scientists who has used their creation story, say, in the Hindu religion or something, to develop any scientific models that can be tested.

    There are Muslims who are creationists, but there are many who are evolutionists because they got their education in the West and they learned evolution at their Western universities. Jews, if they believe their scriptures, that’s the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, so if they’re serious about their Hebrew Bible, then they will come to the same kinds of conclusions as creationists. But most Jewish people are pretty nominal in their faith, it’s more of a cultural thing and they don’t really believe the Old Testament is historically true. They’re more different than a lot of other religious people who would identify themselves with Christianity but don’t believe the Bible is the word of God, they just believe it’s an ancient religious book with some nice stories and good morals, but they don’t believe it’s the word of the creator. They don’t believe Genesis is history, they believe it’s mythology.

    So, if you believe Genesis is mythology, you’re not going to spend any time trying to develop any scientific models. Creationists believe there are lots of good reasons to conclude that Genesis is history and therefore it gives us important statements about the past that can help us understand just as an example, my son is a sheriff’s deputy in Florida and if he were to investigate a report of a dead body in a house and he had with him an eyewitness testimony that had been written by someone who said, “I heard a gun shot and saw a man run out of the house,” he would be a foolish detective if he didn’t take that information and consider it. He would cross examine the person and he would find that the witness is reliable and he wasn’t hallucinating, on drugs, or a liar, and he would take that into account in his investigation and that testimony could lead him to clues in the circumstantial evidence that would solve the crime.

    Creationists believe that Genesis is history and that that it ultimately is not just written by Moses, but inspired by the God who is creator of all. And he was not an eye witness of the events, but actually caused the creation. So, other religions don’t have specific things like that, they don’t have a historical account that as far as I know, any scientist who would believe in those religions would use their text for scientific research because I don’t really think it’s historically true.

    Question 4:

    What’s the difference between creationism and intelligent design (ID)?

    PZ Myers: AiG actively opposes ID. ID creationism forgoes the truth of the Bible. It’s independent of the Bible. So, that’s their approach to everything.

    However, I’d say they’re exactly identical because if you look at the people behind ID, they’re almost all Christians, almost all fundamentalist, almost all evangelical Christian. And what ID is, is this facade they throw over the Bible and it’s all intended to hide the fact that it’s the Bible so they can sneak into the schools so it’s not a “religious” theory anymore.

    ID is not religious enough to suit AiG. There’s this attitude that “Well the ID creationist are hiding the truth of the Bible, are ashamed of the Bible.”

    Question 5:

    Why isn’t creationism represented in any main stream scientific journals?

    Terry Mortenson: Because there’s tremendous bias against any alternative view that’s what the film “Expelled” showed, that there’s censorship in science. So the majority view rules and anybody who bucks majority opinion is either not going to be heard or suffer over it. In the history of science, that has happened many times.

    For example, there was a doctor in Budapest, I think his name was Semmelweis and he was watching people in the hospital dying and he concluded it was the unsanitary medical practices, the doctors were using the same medical instruments over and over on different patients so he started the practice of insisting that his nurses wash their hands and use sterile equipment. He was ridiculed and if I’m not mistaken, he was also removed from the hospital. But he was the doctor that developed sterile medical techniques. But, he suffered incredible medical persecution from other people.

    This had nothing to do with creation or evolution but…

    PZ Myers: {Laughter.} There’s no science there. It’s that simple. If you look at papers of evolutionary biology in the journals what do you see? What you see is a collection of observations, predictions, measurements, looking at the legal frequencies over populations, for instance, and that’s simply not the kind of thing that creationists deal with. They’ve already got their answer, they’ve got their conclusion.

    What they do is… well for one thing, they don’t do any research. AiG claims to have scientists, they do not do research. They do apologetics and that’s all.

    This is another big difference too, is they’ve got this thing called “The Creation Museum.” But if you look at real museums, what you see when you go in is this tiny little fraction of the collection. They put a few things on exhibit, they will often rotate exhibits, but what’s going on behind the scenes, there’s a huge research effort, they’re constantly collecting, advising, publishing.

    The Creation Museum does not have any of that. Nothing. They have props up front and nothing behind. It’s a hollow shell which is why I refer to it as a creation (with quotes) “museum.” It’s not a museum.

    Just go to the Science Museum in St. Paul. It’s amazing. Get some tours behind the scenes. They’ve got gigantic collections, all kinds of stuff stuffed away, you couldn’t possibly put it all on exhibit; it’s on racks and shelves. They’ve got scientists who are constantly collecting more material and adding to the collections. There’s curatorial work to maintain everything.

    These frauds at AiG don’t do anything like that. They don’t know what a museum is. They really don’t.

    Question 6:

    Why science? Creationism can easily be taught in social studies, world religion classes, anthropology, sociology, why try to get it in the hard sciences that require high-level evidence?

    Terry Mortenson: Well, let’s say a couple of things. First of all, we’re led to believe by people like PZ Myers that science is just objective and it doesn’t have anything to do with religion, but I would counter that as I illustrated in some of my talks, evolution is a scientific paradigm that flows out of a religious world view called atheism, naturalism, materialism, secular humanism, those are all just different names for the same religion.

    Atheism is a religion. It’s a religion that says, “There is no god. There is no morality.” Christians says there is a god, and there is morality. So, it is a completely erroneous way of looking at the world or this debate to say that the atheists are just objective unbiased and empiricists and they don’t’ have any religious ideas controlling their interpretation.

    Creationists have evidence, I’ve presented some of the evidence in my lectures and obviously in four hours I couldn’t possibly present all that creationists have dug up and accomplished and I couldn’t refute every objection in evolutionist could give. So, the hard sciences, the reason that christianity applies to the hard sciences is because christianity applies to everything. The Bible is relevant to every field of study in human dendeavor whether it’s the arts, or sociology, the humanities, entertainment, sports, business, government, law and hard sciences because the hard sciences are studying the physical creation which the Bible says God created and from a creationist perspective, the only basis, real basis, for science is you have to have an ordered universe and there has to be a regularity to nature otherwise science would be impossible.

    I mean, if gravity worked today but it doesn’t work tomorrow, you couldn’t do any experiments. If hydrogen and oxygen joined together today, two hydrogen and one oxygen, to form water molecules today, but tomorrow they formed some kind of poison, you couldn’t do any science.

    Where does the evolutionist get an explanation for the laws of nature? Why does nature seem to operate on these laws? Furthermore, to do science, we have to have the basic reliability of our senses, what our eyes see, what our ears hear, they’re basically reliable.

    Now, they’re not absolutely reliable because we know that a really thirsty person can see an oasis in the desert and their eyes are deceiving them. But science is based on the assumption that our five senses are essentially reliable and again, why should that be in an atheist world? It only makes sense, in the creationist world, where you have an intelligent creator who created an orderly universe, and he endows man with a mind to think like him at exactly similar and to be able to study his creation and right in the first chapter of Genesis we have basically a mandate from God for science and other things because God said “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

    And in the oldest book of the Bible, in Job chapter 12, God said, “Speak to the earth. Speak to the birds, Speak to the animals and they will teach you.” He wasn’t advocating some stupid, “I’m talking to a rock,” but in the sense of study them and they will tell you things and solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, you read the book of Proverbs and he says all kinds of things that show he obviously was a careful observer of nature.

    So, the whole basis for science really comes out of the christian world view. If you look historically where did modern science begin? It began in Western Europe, it began in the womb of the christian world view. It did not begin in an atheistic world view. All the original scientists, the vast majority of them, Kempler, Galleleo, Newton, and many, many others, they were devout christians. It was because they had a christian world view that they were studying the world.

    Ancient Greek culture didn’t create modern science. Hinduism didn’t provide a framework for modern science because the Hindu religious view is that the world is an illusion. So the christian world view and what happened 200 years ago is the atheist and deist hijacked science. And in the last 200 years they basically increasingly have been convincing people that science is only possible in an atheistic world view which is historically untrue and philosophically untrue. So the atheist is every bit as biased, he has a world view and we believe that starting with a christian world view makes far better sense of the physical evidence of the world whether it’s living creatures, rock layers, or fossils, or stars and galaxies and the solar system.

    PZ Myers: Yes. That’s a good question. I’ve asked them that myself.

    It’s universal. I’ve been fighting creationists for over twenty years now. Wow.

    For instance, I’ll sit down with these creationists and they’ll start talking about Noah’s ark, the flood, and they’ll invent all these elaborate excuses, pseudo scientific arguments and I can shoot them all down and tell them, “This is garbage, what you’re inventing is true nonsense.” I tell them this, I say, “Why don’t you just say that God did this as a miracle? You’ve got this omnipotent being, just say ‘Poof. God did it.’ Don’t argue with us about where the water came from; internal reservoirs of water, the hydroplate theory, all this other nonsense. Just say ‘God did this as a miracle and we can’t argue against you. We’re done.”

    But when they do that, they have to abandon the authority of science. These guys really do not have enough faith. They don’t believe enough. There’s a need to prop up their belief with the trappings of science, or it’s not quite persuasive enough.

    That’s where they fail totally. Creationism isn’t just bad science, it’s bad theology. This is people who don’t really believe as deeply as they think they should so they need to keep reinforcing it with pseudo science.

    Mortenson won’t say that. I guarantee you he won’t say that.

    The problem is that science gives them the wrong answer. It gives them the answer they don’t want. Science actually, and people will argue about this, science actually does say that we were created by impersonal processes, there was no intent, there was chance and necessity involved, and that’s it.

    One of the reasons science makes sense is the coherent story, you have all the pieces of evidence that fits. Things like creationism, the story doesn’t fit. They have to try so hard to shoe horn their bronze age myth into the framework of modern science. That’s what’s really jarring about it; none of it works. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s ignoring all of the evidence. But that’s what they do.

    Category: Interview


    Article by: Beth Erickson

    I'm Beth Ann Erickson, a freelance writer, publisher, and skeptic. I live in Central Minnesota with my husband, son, and two rescue pups. Life is flippin' good. :)