As I mentioned previously, Don McLeroy showed up at Jerry Coyne’s discussion of the book Faith vs. Fact. He passed out a pamphlet or essay paper to Dr. Coyne. A kind reader sent me a copy of it. Suffice to say that it is a who’s who of creationist tropes.
As usual on these things, I begin with a brief overview of some oddities. That is, things that I find unique or interesting about the item. The first that struck me as interesting is McLeroy lists himself under the author as “Former Chair, Texas State Board of Education”. I don’t know if he’s ever job hunted or anything, but that’s a red flag to anyone who thinks about it for a second. First, why bring attention to something that you aren’t anymore? Second, doesn’t he have some other, more relevant qualifications?
Honestly, I don’t really care, but it is a telling point in the common creationist trope of authoritarian beliefs. He at least used to be somebody.
The other thing I notice in a paper that is supposed to be a scientific examination of origins in the Bible and in science is that there’s not a lot of references. He says that we will look at the origin of the universe, the origin of plants, the origin of creature life [sic], and the origin of human consciousness. That’s a lot considering that there are a bare 11 references, only one of which is a peer reviewed journal article. There’s even an article from 1721, which as far as scientific and philosophical knowledge goes might as well have been the Dark Ages… ummm… never mind.
In the beginning, Don has a problem. He says that “Science is then used to test the materialist and biblical explanations…” There’s a problem though. If he doesn’t actually provide any scientific explanations, then he’s creating a strawman argument. Another, very common, creationist trope. Don then says
All four of the materialist explanations fail the test of science while all four of the biblical explanations pass.
See, right there is the strawman. Refer to that list of things we’re talking about. There is no single scientific explanation for the origin of the universe, for example. There is no single explanation that all scientists accept for the origin of the universe. When I say scientists here, I refer to actual scientists, not creationists. The vast majority agree that the Big Bang is most likely correct. But even within the Big Bang are a number of competing hypotheses for what caused the Big Bang, what started the process, and what is really happening with expansion.
The idea that ‘physical’ matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes or phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter defies common sense.
Ah, the famous “common sense” argument. Here’s the problem with common sense. It tells us that we aren’t moving and the Sun moves around Earth. But we know that’s not true. Common sense tells us that we are lucky or unlucky. But that’s just patterns and confirmation bias. We know that the human mind is fallible, that’s why double blind studies exist.
About that first bit. Dr. McLeroy, tell us all one thing that you can show exists, but that is not material or energy. That’s all you have to do. Let’s get a few things out of the way, information, for example, is physical and energy. It cannot exist without a physical or energy based medium in which to exist. So that’s out. Morality? That’s one I’ve heard recently. Morality, of course, is a socio-cultural phenomena that only exists in the minds of the people within that culture. Go ahead, try and prove an objective morality exists, I’ll wait.
McLeroy keeps referring to the “test of science”. I can’t wait to see what this is like.
McLeroy also says that materialists are not allowed to have miracles or spiritualism. Which makes sense, since the source of any such events would, by definition, be outside of the known universe. However, the effects of such a deity would be observable in the known universe. As wind rustles leaves and electrons cause phosphor tubes to glow, things we can’t see result in effects we can see. The simplest evidence that such things don’t exist is, that in spite of thousands of years of desperate searching, such effects have never been found.
Life and living forms require explanations, not speculations. Therefore, let us take a close look at an alternative, the Genesis creation account and compare materialism with it. After all, Bible has an excellent historical record in regard to science. [ed. note: emphasis in the original]
After I stopped laughing, I wondered how a person with a doctor’s degree and license could make such idiotic claims. The Bible has an excellent record compared with science? Apparently, McLeroy really things that Pi is equal to 3 and bats are birds and rabbits chew cud and a fish could swallow a man and snakes can talk.
But then I realized what kind of man did make this claim. One who has been utterly and completely brainwashed by religion. It is so pervasive and so effective than an otherwise intelligent man can be reduced to making apologetic statements like this. Honestly, I feel sorry for him. In spite of his education. In spite of reality, he has accepted something with no evidence and no requirement and not put it to any test. Further, he has (through his actions on the Texas Board of Education) attempted specific and grievous harm to the children throughout the entire state. I feel sorry for him, trapped in his little world that makes this essay something he thinks to be proud of.
McLeroy, then talks about James Hannam and God’s Philosophers. What Mcleroy doesn’t seem to understand is that, while Christians and people of religion can do science (and do it well). Their work in science has nothing to do with religion. Science is a very specific set of practices and logical conclusion.
I personally don’t understand how people like Ken Miller and Robert Bakker can have science and religion in their brains. I understand that it’s due to the ability of the human mind to ignore things in certain situations. In the church, they ignore their science work and in the lab, they ignore their religion.
Mcleroy then talks about the work of Rodney Stark. While I have a few issues with Stark’s conclusions, I have a much larger issue with McLeroy’s summary of those conclusions. Here’s McLeroy
He concludes his section on science with two points: ‘First, science arose only once in history – in medieval Europe. Second, science could only arise in a culture dominated by belief in a conscious, rational, all-powerful creator.
Even if Stark is correct in his first claim (which I disagree with), the second claim is what is important. But McLeroy leaves out an important point. Stark’s contention is that the creator god developed the universe to have specific principles and those principles were discoverable by man.
In other words, even if god exists (which there is no evidence for), the universe works using rules. Creationists have a hard time understanding this, but the physical rules of the universe do not imply a rule maker. In the same way that the appearance of design in living things does not imply a designer.
Is there an answer for why gravity is the weakest force and why magnet are only attracted to steel and nickel? I don’t know. But the point is that even if we don’t know, that doesn’t mean you get to insert god.
McLeroy says that the word “bara” as used in the context of Genesis chapter 1 is “to create out of nothing” or “to call into existence that which had no existence”. What is particularly interesting about this claim is that there is no support for it at all. He just says it, as if we should accept the word of a Former Chair – State Board Education. It doesn’t matter for this discussion, but it’s interesting what he chooses to support with claims and what he chooses not to support.
McLeroy then talks about how “bara” is used in the Bible in three places (the first, fifth, and sixth days of Genesis 1) and not in the other days. The implication here is that god caused the universe, the breath of life, and the image of god to appear out of nothing. The very definition of “poofed into existence”.
What is really interesting is that this argument is straight out of Answers in Genesis. This link is to a 2007 article with the same information.
So here we have the claim. That god created, out of nothing, the cosmos, living things, and man (in his image). Of course, if you apply this to Genesis 2, then it’s meaningless. And that’s a curious distinction.
Science is quite clear on the order in which things were formed on Earth. First, Earth itself, then ultra-primitive things which probably only barely deserve to be called life, then bacteria, then more complex bacteria (with chloroplasts and mitochondria), then multicellular things, then we get really creative with segments and shells and jaws and bones, THEN things start leaving the water and we get amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs, birds and mammals, last humans.
But the Bible is not only ambiguous about the order, it flat contradicts itself. That’s not very good science.
Note also, the Bible, with its use of the word bara, makes a distinction between plant life and creature life; plant life arose from the first bara while creature life needed the second. If we equate ‘living forms’ with plants, and ‘life’ with the creature life, we find we have a perfect fit with the question under investigation.
Huh? The science behind the origin of plants is quite clear and extensive. It matches neither record of the Bible in any way shape or form.
Basically, land plants evolved from green algae between 510 (Raven 2001) and 630 (Clark 2011) million years ago. Note that this was after the origin of animals. If the 510mya date is used, then even trilobites were well established. If the 630 mya date is used, we have to back farther into the Ediacaran. The oldest known community is about 600 million years old (McMenamin 1996), but there are microfossils dated to 635 million years or so (Leiming 2007). So, yes, animals existed before plants.
This information is based on detailed genetic studies that show the relationship between plants and algae. Further, I should note that the modern distribution of flowering plants is a relatively recent adaptation. The first flowers (and thus the ancestor of all flowering plants) appeared only 135 million years ago (Lawton-Rauh 2000). The flowering plants that modern mammals (especially primates) depend on didn’t exist early on.
So, not only does the Bible actually fail this point, McLeroy shows a distinct failure of scholarship. I’m not sure why he couldn’t be bother to type “origin of plants” into google or Wikipedia and read the resulting articles (of which the 5 I referenced are only the tiniest of samples). It’s not hard to do this kind of research. But that’s not what he’s after. He’s simply trying to discredit science and, in doing so, creates another strawman of epic proportions). Sadly, he even fails to take that down, because his own holy book betrays him with two different orders.
Next, he gets into the “first cause” argument. He states, what I think is my favorite line in the whole essay.
When we consider everything that had a beginning is always observed to have a cause and since we now know the universe had a beginning, simple logic tells us the universe must have had a cause. And, since the qualities possessed by this cause describe the God of the Bible – spaceless, massless, timeless, uncaused, willful, and all-powerful – we find the biblical idea has passed the test.
Holy Cthulhu, is this really his idea of “logic”? I am simply stunned.
The Kalam argument is dead. Science actually has responses that more effectively explains the origin of the universe, even if we don’t know which one is exactly correct. Why are they better? Because the math works, they produce predictions about what we observe in the universe, and some of the more interesting ones are actually being tested as we speak.
But what is even funnier is that McLeroy tries to use a quote from an article written in 1712 to refute Lawrence Kruass. Yes, 1712. That’s McLeroy’s response to Krauss. Not “your math is wrong and here’s why”, not “the evidence is against you”, but Jonathan Edwards.
When nothing is “perfect nothing”, we can conclude that the materialist idea that the universe has popped into existence out of nothing has failed the test.
Keep going McLeroy, another strawman crushed under the mighty foot of The Dentist
I keep wanting to just call it a night, but it keeps getting better and better.
After a bit McLeroy brings us to the organization of life. He says that creatures reproduce after their own kind. Which no biologist would argue. Only creationists seem to think that a cat should give birth to a wolf and that’s how evolution works. It’s true that creatures can be organized into very specific groups.
Indeed, science has taken the idea of biblical kinds way past the limits of the Bible. It’s funny how Answers in Genesis proposed that each mammalian family was a “kind”. But the organization of life using science is very detailed. It uses both molecular and anatomical data and compares data sets. The results are amazing. Using different parts of DNA or using anatomy, the result is almost the exact same tree of life.
We look at the fused chromosome 2 in primates and see where we came from. We look at the broken vitamin C gene that only occurs in certain primates (including humans) and we see where we came from. We look at the bone patterns that are in every mammal, reptile, bird, and amphibian that exists or ever has existed and we see that same patter in our limbs.
What’s even more telling is we see the causes of our aches and pains, hernias and sex organs, appendixes and human tails. We see our genetic legacy in all the species that came before us.
The science is solid. Humans are not unique. We are not specially created to have dominion over all other creatures. We are primates, we are mammals, we are animals, we are a part of our planet.
I talked about McLeroy’s other claim, that we are something more than just molecules talking to each other.
McLeroy, as I predicted before I even got a scanned copy of his work, has used many creationist tropes and done a fantastic job of creating strawmen and deflating them.
He has a complete and utter failure of scholarship. His logic is so shoddy as to be effectively non-existent. His claims are unsupported and his conclusions so fatally flawed, I’m surprised he was able to type them without keeling over.
 I am reminded of The Cryptonomicron by Stephenson in which one of the “bad guys” is “The Dentist” with his army of hygienists and lawyers.
Clarke, J. T.; Warnock, R. C. M.; Donoghue, P. C. J. (2011). “Establishing a time-scale for plant evolution”. New Phytologist 192 (1): 266–301. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03794.x. PMID 21729086.
Lawton-Rauh A.; Alvarez-Buylla, ER; Purugganan, MD (2000). “Molecular evolution of flower development”.Trends in Ecology and Evolution 15 (4): 144–149. doi:10.1016/S0169-5347(99)01816-9. PMID 10717683.
Leiming, Y.; Zhu, M; Knoll, A; Yuan, X; Zhang, J; Hu, J (2007-04-05). “Doushantuo embryos preserved inside diapause egg cysts”. Nature 446 (7136): 661–663. Bibcode:2007Natur.446..661Y.doi:10.1038/nature05682. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 17410174.
McMenamin, M. A. S. (1996). “Ediacaran biota from Sonora, Mexico”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 93 (10): 4990–4993. Bibcode:1996PNAS…93.4990M.doi:10.1073/pnas.93.10.4990. PMC 39393. PMID 11607679.
Raven, J.A.; Edwards, D. (2001). “Roots: evolutionary origins and biogeochemical significance”. Journal of Experimental Botany (in active DOI due to publisher error (2008-04-30)) 52 (90001): 381–401. doi:10.1093/jexbot/52.suppl_1.381. PMID 11326045.