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Critique of Intelligent Design

Evolution vs. Creationism

The Art of ID Stuntmen

Faith vs Reason

Anthropic Principle

Autopsy of the Bible code

Science and Religion

Historical Notes


Serious Notions with a Smile


Letter Serial Correlation

Mark Perakh's Web Site

Report on the 2005 Mega Creation Conference

Lynchburg, Virginia
July 18-July 22 2005

By Jason Rosenhouse

Posted August 23, 2005


With the Intelligent Design (ID) proponents sucking up all the anti-evolution oxygen these days, it is easy to forget that the young-Earthers are still around. No doubt motivated partly by a desire to remind everyone they're still here, they recently organized the Creation Mega Conference, held at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. That being just down the road from my digs in Harrisonburg, VA, I decided to check it out.

Sunday, July 17. Afternoon.

Lynchburg is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the beautiful scenery managed to divert me from the tedium of the drive. But as pretty as the scenery was, I was also struck by just how isolated Lynchburg is. I encountered almost nothing in the way of civilization as I drove down Route 29. I suspect the sort of extreme Biblical fundamentalism represented by the conference speakers can only survive in such isolated little burgs. I would soon find that a recurring theme in the conference presentations was the protection of their children from "the wisdom of the world." The word "wisdom" is definitely meant ironically here.

I arrived in Lynchburg without incident and located my host for the next few days; the Sleep Inn. Check-in went smoothly. The nice person at the desk pointed me towards the Liberty University campus. I decided to walk.

Sunday, July 17. Evening.

As I approached the main entrance of the campus I saw a large sign announcing one of Liberty University's slogans: "Changing Lives One Degree at a Time." It is an amusing slogan, since most Liberty students choose the school out of a desire to avoid having their faith challenged; which would inevitably happen were they to go to a mainstream university. If you truly believe in a young-Earth and global flood, then almost anything you hear in a science class will challenge your faith. Nearly all of their students are fundamentalist Christians to begin with. In other words, a Liberty education is about not changing your life.

It was rather hot and humid and I was sweating quite a bit when I managed to locate the Vines Center, which was the main facility for the conference. I went inside, allowed my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting, and located the conference registration table. I waited my turn, swallowed hard as I paid my $150 registration fee, and received my conference package: A complete schedule of the presentations. A notebook. Promotional material for various creationist groups. A copy of Ken Ham's subtly titled book The Lie: Evolution. Ham is the President of the young-Earth organization Answers in Genesis, co-sponsor of the conference.

The second paragraph of the introduction to Ham's book says, "My parents knew that evolution was wrong because it was obvious from Genesis that God had given us the details of the creation of the world." One of the presenters at the conference expressed the same thought more directly: "God said it, that settles it."

They are refreshingly clear and honest on this point. They have little use for the various politically correct subterfuges used by the ID folks in presenting their case. Unlike the ID people, YEC's are completely open about their religious motivations.

On the other hand, it tells you something about the way the goers approach this subject. They hate the fact that they must wage this war on science's turf. They want to be able to cite the authority of scripture and have everyone else take them seriously. It is already a major defeat for them that they must argue in scientific terms.

That is why many of the scientific assertions they make are jaw-droppingly ignorant. That is why they are able to stand in front of audiences, and, without apparent shame, speak with great confidence on subjects they obviously know nothing about. That is why one of the rallying cries I heard several times during the conference was, "It doesn't take a PhD!" Getting it right is not something that is important to them. Victory over the enemy is what's important. If achieving that victory means playing fast and loose with the facts then so be it.

I trudged back to the hotel and took advantage of the free HBO.

Monday, July 18. Morning.

There were already quite a few people milling around as I returned to the Vines Center. It was 7:30 in the morning, and Jerry Falwell was scheduled to kick off the festivities in forty-five minutes. I passed the time by browsing through the tables of books and DVD's for sale.

I've been reading creationist literature for years but it still made my blood boil to see so much of it in one place. You could open virtually any of the books to a random page and find grotesque distortions and malicious caricatures of modern science. For example, while browsing I picked up the book Refuting Evolution Two by Jonathan Sarfati (one of the speakers at the conference). I opened it to a random page, which turned out to be the beginning of Chapter Five. Here's the first sentence of the chapter: "When they begin to talk about mutations, evolutionists tacitly acknowledge that natural selection, by itself, cannot explain the rise of new genetic information." Natural selection by itself? What does that even mean? That's like saying, "When they begin to talk about mass, physicists tacitly acknowledge that gravity, by itself, can not explain the motions of the planets." There is no gravity without mass, and there is no natural selection unless you have a population of varied, competing organisms.

Over at one table a DVD was playing. On the screen was a handsome young man lecturing to a roomful of obviously enthralled students about the nature of geology. With a bemused tone he said that modern geologists insist that various geologic processes unfold over millions of years. "But how do they know that? Was anyone there to see it happen? Has geological science been going on for millions of years?" The video was galling for many reasons: The utter lack of respect for the work geologists do, the patronizing tone of the speaker, and the fact that no one really believes that if you didn't see something happen then you can not speak with confidence about it, immediately came to mind.

People started taking their seats and Jerry Falwell approached the platform. He described the conference as an historic event, and claimed around 2000 attendees (the conference blog later decreased that number to 1800). He then asserted that all the polls show that 2/3 to 3/4 of Americans agree with AiG on this issue, which is not correct. The polls have consistently shown that the percentage of people accepting the young-Earth position is just under fifty percent.

He boasted that the church is winning the debate. He said that despite having the media, Hollywood and academe against them, the church of Jesus Christ returned George W. Bush to the White House. And this is about science, right?

Then he launched into the standard pitch about creation being necessary to redemption. If Genesis is unreliable, then how could they be confident that the crucifixion account is true?

Evolution implies humans are worthless animals that have no value except to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Laughter.

If God could create an adult Adam with apparent age, why couldn't he do the same with the universe? (I suppose He could have, but why would He?)

Then things got surreal. He boasted about the loyalty oaths addressing both creation and eschatology that Liberty faculty are expected to sign. He was proud that Liberty had maintained its ideological purity despite their growth over the years. Which is amusing, since he and people like him routinely lambaste mainstream universities for being ideologically rigid. Modern university science departments are as good an example of a true meritocracy as you're likely to find. Falwell and his ilk hate this fact, because they know their peculiar beliefs cannot survive in such an environment. So they rail about left-wing bias in universities and try to force these schools to hire their intellectual disciples.

In public, they talk about fairness and academic freedom and open-mindedness. In private, that goes out the window. And why not? By dissenting from their view of things you are risking an eternity in Hell. What's a little rhetorical inconsistency compared with that?

Falwell closed on a suitably dramatic note, exhorting his adoring listeners that they had the truth, the inerrant word of God on their side. They should ignore the loud voices from the opposite side. Indeed. The moment they stop ignoring them is the moment they realize that they have been lied to about science.

After Falwell came David DeWitt, director of the Center for Creation Research at Liberty University. He made only a few brief remarks, emphasizing Liberty's adherence to a literal interpretation of the Bible from "Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21." In particular, they believe Adam and Eve were real people and that God created in six literal days.

It was the conclusion to his remarks that struck me, however. He was contrasting Liberty's theological purity favorably against the weak-kneed, compromised theology of various other, allegedly Christian colleges. You know the ones I mean. Those are the Christian colleges that present biology and geology in a serious way; the ones that suggest that ideas like evolution or the geological column are actually pretty nifty. Wheaton College was singled out for particular derision. It seems that in a survey of Wheaton students, a majority indicated that they were more confused on the subject of origins after going through Wheaton's curriculum than they were before. DeWitt described this as sad. Happy, apparently, is the fate of Liberty's students, who described themselves as less confused on the subject as a result of their education.

After Falwell's theatrics, DeWitt was a bit dull. They wisely got him off the stage quickly. Ken Ham was up next. Say what you want about him, he is never dull.

The keynote presentations were going on in a large coliseum. The speakers stood on a stage at some distance from the nearest audience members, but their charming faces were projected onto several large screens for the benefit of the attendees. Separate screens displayed whatever Power Point slides the speaker chose to use. The presentations were very slick and professional, more so than what you often see at real scientific conferences.

But, then, the explanation for that is not hard to see. At scientific conferences, the purpose of the presentations is to transmit facts and ideas to the audience. Glitz and flash are not viewed as important. But in creationist conferences, the point is to fool people into thinking that something of great import is being delivered from the stage. They want to provoke the reaction, "How could they be wrong? Their presentation is so slick!"

Ham's talk was entitled "Rebuilding the Foundation." It was mostly a cheerleading talk, with very little scientific content. His rallying cry was "We're taking them back!"

Here's a list of the things Ham described as needing to be retrieved by the Christian community: Christian Institutions, History, Creation, Chemistry, DNA, Marriage, Dinosaurs, Animal Kinds, Biology, Genetics, Stalagmites, Stalactites, The Meaning of Death, Physics, Geology, The Grand Canyon, People Groups, Education and Genesis 1-11. Somehow I was reminded of comedian Steven Wright's line, "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"

There were a few other choice nuggets in the talk. He outlined the "Seven C's" approach to history: Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, Consummation. To which I add an eighth C: Clever! There was also the casual suggestion that God allows natural disasters and events like 9-11 because of human sin.

Ham closed his talk by imploring the audience to buy lots of books and DVD's from the concessions in the front of the hall. But I don't mean he simply said, "Please visit the bookstore during the break between the talks." Not at all. He went on for fifteen minutes describing in great detail the various titles that were available. In fact, virtually every talk I attended concluded with five to ten minutes of pleas to buy lots of stuff. Every time you thought they were finished hawking their wares, they'd rattle off a whole new series of products you were expected to buy. It reminded me of the old saying that television is a series of advertisements occasionally interrupted by programming just interesting enough to keep you watching until the next commercial. The actual presentations were the programming; the advertisements were the point of it all.

After Ham's talk there was a thirty-minute break. After that the conference broke into parallel tracks. There were two talks going on simultaneously, one in the "Basic" track, the other in the "Advanced" track. Goodness! What to do?

I considered my options. The advanced talk for the morning was entitled "Refuting Compromise" by Jonathan Sarfati. The compromise he had in mind involved those Christians, most notably Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, who have made their peace with the great age of the Earth. That did not seem like something I could get worked up over.

And how could I resist the basic talk, entitled "What's the Best Evidence That God Created?" by Carl Kerby? You might try to anticipate the answer to that question before I come to it a few paragraphs from now.

My one concern about the talk, that it would be dull and ponderous, was put to rest right at the start when Kerby, in a tone more appropriate for an audience of five-year olds (basic indeed), informed us that this would be a fun talk. He began by discussing stars. They blow his socks off! The beauty, the colors the order! He's in awe! As am I, albeit for different reasons.

He then informed us, proudly, that he was neither deep nor complex. This was a common refrain in this talk, at the conference generally, and in most creationist presentations. It is standard anti-intellectualism. If you think too much you get confused. It is obvious to everyone that there is a God. Only by many years of advanced study at a Godless university could you presume to reject something so clear.

He then showed us a picture of an elaborate sand castle and said, mimicking similar arguments made by proponents of Intelligent Design (ID), that the castle was obviously designed. But how much more complicated is a star than a sand castle! Like, QED, dude.

We were maybe five minutes into the talk at this point. It was around here that I got the sinking feeling that things were not going to get any better. From here Kerby presented a menagerie of nature's oddities. It was standard creationist fare: point to some random structure in some obscure little critter, gush about how complicated it is and how all the parts had to be there before it could function, scoff at the idea that such a thing could have evolved, bask in the cheers and laughter of the delighted audience. Creationists of a bygone era made this point with such banalities as the human eye or bird wings. Occasionally they whipped out something more esoteric, like the defense mechanism of the bombardier beetle. Richard Dawkins gave a good description of the style of argument in a recent essay:

Creationists mine ignorance and uncertainty, not as a spur to honest research but in order to exploit and abuse Darwin's challenge. "Bet you can't tell me how the elbow joint of the lesser spotted weasel frog evolved by slow gradual degrees?" If the scientist fails to give an immediate and comprehensive answer, a default conclusion is drawn: "Right then, the alternative theory, 'intelligent design', wins by default." Notice, first, the biased logic: if theory A fails in some particular, theory B must be right! We are encouraged to leap to the default conclusion without even looking to see whether the default theory fails in the very same particular. ID is granted (quite wrongly as I have shown elsewhere) a charmed immunity to the rigorous demands made of evolution.

Notice, second, how the creationist ploy undermines the scientist's natural - indeed necessary - rejoicing in uncertainty. Today's scientist in America dare not say: "Hm, interesting point. I wonder how the weasel frog's ancestors did evolve their elbow joint. I'm not a specialist in weasel frogs, I'll have to go to the University Library and take a look. Might make an interesting project for a graduate student."

No, the moment a scientist said something like that - and long before the student began the project - the default conclusion would become a headline in a creationist pamphlet: "Weasel frog could only have been designed by God."

Kerby produced some examples that were new to me: The cave Weta of New Zealand, an insect which has "anti-freeze" blood to allow it to survive the cold winters of its native habitat; the Moloch Lizard; the congregating behavior of Emperor penguins, some exotic species of frog then went by too quickly for me to write down, and so on. In every case the argument was the same: The complex system in question could not have evolved gradually because it could not have functioned until all of its parts were in place. No, strike that. It was positively laughable to think that such a thing could have evolved. Utterly ridiculous!& You'd have to have no brain at all even to entertain the notion!!

After each example Kerby asked the audience, "Is this the best evidence that God created?" To which the delighted audience would reply, "Not even close!" So what is the best evidence that God Created? Have you guessed it yet?

It is the Bible! The best evidence that God created is that He told us He created. And then Kerby closed his talk with a chilling but typically clear expression of creationist logic: "Do not let evidence fuel your appreciation of God. Let your appreciation of God influence your view of the evidence."

But what really bugged me about the talk was not the extreme shallowness of Kerby's thinking. No, I'm used to that. What bugged me were his incessant imprecations that people show humility before the glories of nature.

Humility? How dare these people talk about humility!

You know what scientists do when confronted with nature's complexity? First they spend five years or more in graduate school, living in near-poverty, having no life, studying all the time while being used as cheap labor by the university, just to get a PhD. Then they go out into a job market that presents the very real possibility of unemployment as the reward for all that hard work. If they're lucky they'll land a post-doc, and bounce around the country for a while struggling to find a permanent position. Even if they are lucky enough to land a permanent position they could very well find themselves in some two by nothing town in the middle of nowhere. They spend years trying to get a research program off the ground, scrapping for grant money, and fighting with ornery referees to get their research published.

And why do they do that? They do it because they know that is what it takes if you want to understand nature's complexity just a little bit better. That's what it takes to make the tiniest dent in the sum total of human ignorance.

That's humility.

What isn't humility is having a used car salesman give you a brief description of some complex system, conclude after five seconds' reflection that it could not have evolved, and then decide that only an omnipotent God could be responsible for such a critter. That's not humility, that's supreme arrogance. That's pride and sloth all wrapped up into one.

Though the talk was held in a large classroom, there was no question and answer period. In fact, none of the presentations had Q&A's. Later in the conference Ham would mention that they felt it was impractical to have such sessions, which was total nonsense. It would have been trivial to set up microphones in the aisles for those talks held in the coliseum, while the talks in the classroom wouldn't even have required microphones. In fairness, however, most of the speakers hung around after the talk to take questions on a more intimate basis.

Monday, July 18. Afternoon.

Carl Kerby's talk was followed by a two-hour lunch break. I fled the classroom, emerged into the humid Lynchburg weather, and went searching for a place to eat lunch. I eventually settled for a nearby Mexican restaurant. Ordered a fajita burrito. It was really, really, good. Felt better.

I finished lunch with more than an hour and a half to spare before the next talk. Since I was close to my hotel, I decided to relax there for a while before going back to campus. Got to the hotel, went back to my room, laid down on the bed. Grew contemplative.

I am often asked why I do this. Why would I spend so much time, and a not inconsiderable chunk of money, hanging out with people whose views I obviously have little respect for? Well, there are a couple of reasons why I do it.

Partly my interest is as a journalist. Especially for those of us who live in the red states, the pernicious influence of religious fundamentalism is a simple fact of everyday life. Someone has to keep an eye on what these folks are doing and saying.

Partly I feel morally obligated to do it. Nonsense has to be confronted. A short drive from my home, some two thousand people are gathering to listen to a series of frauds and charlatans impugn the characters of my colleagues and tell lies about what scientists believe and why they believe it. How could I live with myself if I didn't do what little I could to challenge it?

Partly I think I can do some good. In other conferences of this sort that I have attended there have always been opportunities to ask questions after the talks. Merely by asking a polite but challenging question I knew I could count on having a large crowd around me afterwards. In those forums you have a chance to plant a few seeds.

Yet another reason is anthropological. These are people who see the world very differently from the way I do. As much as I deplore what they stand for, I want to try to understand where they are coming from and why they believe the things they do.

And let's not overlook my last reason: I enjoy it. I like seeing people who are fired up about big questions, and I like a good argument. And since having the Earth open up and swallow them whole doesn't seem to be an option, I might as well engage them.

Enough contemplation. Back to the conference.

My choices were "How to Defend the Christian Faith in a Secular World," by Ken Ham in the basic track, and "Rocks Around the Clocks: The Eons That Never Were," by Emil Silvestru in the advanced track. Having had my fill of Ham, I elected for the rocks.

Big mistake. Silvestru's talk was a typical creationist snow job. Look! Here's a tree buried through many layers of sediment. Look! Here are some preserved dinosaur eggs. Look! Here's a Sequoia fossil in the Arctic. In most cases the examples went by far too quickly to digest their supposed importance.

Frequently the logic seemed off. For example, why are preserved dinosaur eggs supposed to be a problem for evolution? If I understood Silvestru correctly it is supposed to be because for an egg to be preserved, it must be covered in sediment very quickly. But preserved dinosaur eggs come from all over the world and are from roughly the same time period. Such rapid burial could only have been caused by a major catastrophe. And this catastrophe would have had to be global to explain the distribution of eggs. So Noah's flood is real.

I am open to the suggestion that I have misunderstood Silvestru in some way, because the argument as I currently understand it is just too dumb. These eggs may date to the same geological era, but they surely were not literally buried during the same few days. And it's not as if the globe was pock-marked with droves of dinosaur eggs. It was not at all clear why several local "catastrophes" could not explain the data Silvestru was attributing to a global event.

But mostly I didn't pay too much attention to Silvestru, since he was uttering one howler after another every time he brought up evolution. For example, he argued that the rates of evolution as documented by the fossil record spelt the death knell for the theory.

In the notes accompanying the lecture Silvestru expressed the point this way:

Thus the Archean represents 47 percent of the Earth's age, the Proterozoic 40 percent and the Phanerozoic the remainder of 13 percent! Yet it is during the Phanerozoic that the vast majority of evolution is claimed to have unfolded, with human evolution (the most complicated of them all!) taking the shortest time of all! There is definitely a strange correlation between time and evolution since our planet is believed (by evolutionists) to have taken a quarter of its entire age before the first form of life evolved, 62 percent of its age all it accommodated was single-celled creatures (protozoans) but then it surely caught up with its completely random goal, evolving the absolute majority of all known life forms in just 13 percent of its age!

And creationists wonder why we don't take them seriously.

First, since evolution is going on all the time it is nonsensical to say that the vast majority of evolution unfolded during 13% of Earth's history. The one-celled organisms that were the sole denizens of the planet for so long were evolving the entire time they were present. But there are limits to the plasticity of such organisms, which is why we do not see impressive morphological changes documented in the most ancient fossils.

The arrival of multicelluarity, however it occurred, merely opened up vast new territories for evolution to explore. It was not evolution itself that was occurring more quickly during this time, but rather the evolution of changes large enough to appear in the fossil record. And his statement about human evolution being the most complicated is based on nothing more than his desire to treat humans separately from other animals. Biologically there is no basis for his assertion.

Next up was Phillip Bell in the Basic track discussing, "Ape Men, Missing Links, and the Bible," and Douglas Kelly on "The Importance of Chronology in the Bible," in the advanced track. I went Basic this time.

Phillip Bell was one of the youngest speakers at the conference. Unlike his fellow AiG'ers, he was plainly nervous. His subject was "Ape Men, Missing Links and the Bible." He had the unpleasant task of having to explain away all of those highly suggestive hominid fossils that keep turning up on various African plains.

I was particularly interested in this talk. It was not that long ago that I was on the fence about this whole issue. For me, the various transitional fossils linking human beings to our ape-like ancestors were a particularly compelling piece of evidence in favor of evolution. As far as I was concerned, creationists had yet to come up with a remotely plausible reason for why I shouldn't draw the obvious conclusions from those fossils.

Well, they still haven't. Bell's talk was made up entirely of standard creationist boilerplate. All of those fossils were either "fully ape" or "fully human." Piltdown man was a hoax. Evolutionists will find a tooth or a toe and simply concoct an organism to go with it. There is great controversy among paleoanthropologists about the evolutionary relationships among the various hominid fossils.

There was also the standard material about world-views and interpretations of the evidence. He reiterated the standard imprecation to allow the Bible to influence your interpretation of evidence. The Bible is quite clear that Adam was formed from the dust of the Earth (Gen. 2:7) and that he was the first man (1 Cor 15:45). Therefore we should not find any transitional forms between apes and humans. If we find something that appears to be transitional that's not evidence for evolution; it's evidence that we haven't properly discerned the importance of the particular fossil.

Thus, "Lucy," one of the oldest and most complete hominid fossils, was just an ape and Neanderthal man was fully human. It is a familiar argument, but it won't wash. You can assign whatever label you want to a given fossil. It is not going to change the fact that the fossils we have show a clear progression from hominids with mostly ape-like features through those that are more and more like modern humans.

Also making its appearance was the beloved creationist ploy of using quotations out of context. One example should suffice. In a 2002 article for the British magazine New Scientist, paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood wrote,

Our progress from ape to human looks so smooth, so tidy. It's such a beguiling image that even the experts are loath to let it go. But it is an illusion. (Bernard Wood, "Who Are We?" New Scientist, Oct. 26, 2002.)

What's this? A prominent scholar admitting that human evolution is an illusion? That is the impression Bell wished to create.

Of course, readers knowledgeable about basic evolutionary theory will have little trouble discerning Wood's point. The illusion he refers to is not the evolution of humans from ape-like ancestors, but rather the idea that this evolution was smooth and tidy. Wood spells this out in the next paragraph, where he discusses the significance of a then recently unearthed fossil skull from Chad:

It is forcing us to rethink the idea of human evolution as a smooth progression without blind alleys or dead ends. It can't possibly be so tidy, as within this framework the Chad fossil makes no sense...

Bell closed his talk with a truly bizarre statement. He summarized the fossil evidence as follows: There are thousands of hominid fossils, a statement he backed up by citing the Catalog of Fossil Hominids from the British Museum of Natural History. Then he said there are hundreds of human fossils, and numerous extinct ape fossils. But nothing in between! The three categories -- hominid, human and ape -- were listed on three separate lines, clearly indicating they were intended as three separate classifications. Alas many of those hominid fossils are, indeed, "in between" in the sense he has in mind.

All in all, not a very convincing presentation. However, feeling ornery, I decided to wait by the stage to ask him a few questions. There was quite a large crowd around him, so I had to wait some time for my turn.

As I listened to the things other people were asking, I was struck by how foolish the organizers had been in not allowing a more public Q&A session. Most of the questions were so fawning and obsequious that the speakers could only have grown in stature by answering them. "Sir, you're smart, you're handsome, you're eloquent. If I worked really hard do you think I could be half the human being you are?" That sort of thing. At other talks I saw people posing for photographs with the speaker (at times thrusting their young children forward to be filmed with the speaker as well), others grabbed whatever scrap of paper they could find to collect an autograph. It seemed like many in the audience viewed the conference presenters as rock stars.

Partly because of where I was standing and partly because of my own nervousness, I was the last one to get to Mr. Bell. So it was just the two of us standing there. We had a very pleasant, though ultimately unproductive conversation.

Here is one example of how the conversation went. During the talk Bell used a second quotation from the Bernard Wood article quoted earlier, "Certainly," Wood wrote, "the search for the 'missing link' is doomed to failure." In reply I pointed out that actually Wood's point was that we shouldn't think in terms of missing links, because even if we had the right fossil in front of us we would have no way of recognizing it as such. He replied with the bizarre argument that having a large number of candidate "missing links" is somehow a problem for evolutionists. Further, given the rampant controversy among paleoanthropologists about the proper classification of these fossils, scientists should not be so arrogant about talking about human evolution as a fact. I replied that he was confusing two separate questions. One question involves reconstructing specific evolutionary lineages. I said that sometimes we might have genetic and embryological evidence to supplement the fossils but in general it is very difficult to reconstruct specific lines of descent. But a separate question is whether the fossils we have are consistent with the hypothesis of human descent from ape-like ancestors. That hypothesis gets stronger as we dig up more fossils.

He replied by talking about bushes versus trees, and about how those "iconic" diagrams of the ape to human transition that evolutionists use to prattle about are all nonsense. I had to laugh at this point. This was exactly the point Wood was making in the quote I mentioned previously. What Bell was saying to me at this point was quite right, and it showed that he did understand the quote properly. This makes the abuse of Wood's article during his talk all the more inexcusable.

We went on for quite a while, discussing the Cambrian explosion, the growth of genetic information, the distinction between popular and professional evolutionary biology and the like. In every case his answers suggested to me that he just didn't know what he was talking about. Nonetheless we shook hands and parted on friendly terms.

Dinner was next, and then three talks in the evening: "The History and Impact of the Book The Genesis Flood" by John Whitcomb; "The Truth About the Scopes Trial," by David Menton; and "Genesis: The Bottom Strip of the Christian Faith," by Carl Kerby. Somehow I couldn't work up any enthusiasm for any of this, and I spent the evening at a nearby Barnes and Noble instead. It was nice to spend some time browsing through real books.

Tuesday, July 19. Morning.

It was only with tremendous effort that I got up in time for the first talk of the day, at 8:50 in the morning. I'm not naturally a morning person, you see, and the thought of going forth into the ridiculous Lynchburg heat at that hour was not appealing. Nonetheless, since the conference schedule promised a true embarrassment of riches, I dragged myself out of bed anyway. The basic track was offering "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made," by David Menton. The advanced track had "Two Hundred Years of Christian Compromise on the Age of the Earth," by Terry Mortenson. I chose the latter.

I trudged into the classroom just as Mortenson was beginning. He opened with a prayer, then got down to business. No science this time around, just a rogue's gallery of confused Christians unwilling to tow the party line on the age of the Earth. After a brief history of geology from 1770 to 1830, Mortenson rattled off a list of pioneer compromisers. These were the scamps who paved the way for the modern heresies so many modern Christians claim to believe.

There was Thomas Chalmers, who fathered the "Gap Theory" (in which a gap of indeterminate length is assumed to have occurred between the first two verses of Genesis), and George Stanley Faber, who concocted the "Day-Age Theory" (in which the "days" of Genesis actually refer to ages of indeterminate length. There were people who argued for a local, as opposed to global, flood, like John Pye Smith, and those like William Buckland and Adam Sedgwick who argued for a global, but geologically limited flood.

A particularly noteworthy example here was John Fleming, who apparently wrote about a tranquil flood and once claimed that the flood left no traces behind. The geology mavens in the audience had a good laugh at that one.

Actually, the audience reactions were the most interesting part of this talk. For example, at one point Mortenson put up the following quote from Charles Lyell:

I have always been strongly impressed with the weight of an observation of an excellent writer and skillful geologist who said that for the sake of revelation as well as of science - of truth in every form - the physical part of Geological inquiry ought to be conducted as if the Scriptures were not in existence.

This brought loud groans from the audience.

I had a hard time getting worked up over this one; Christians can argue all they want among themselves about this sort of trivia. I was already psyching myself up for Werner Gitt's talk, "In the Beginning was Information." The alternative was "Fossils, the Flood and the Age of the Earth," by Tas Walker.

Gitt was kind enough to provide extensive notes to accompany his talk. Here is the introduction from those notes:

We will set out in a new direction, by seeking a definition of information with which it is possible to formulate laws of nature about it. Information is a nonmaterial entity and this is the first time that a law of nature has been formulated for a mental concept. First, we will describe the distinguishing attributes of information, formulate its definition, state the laws themselves and draw six strong conclusions. Since we have successfully discovered and formulated 10 laws of nature about information, we will refer to this definition of information as Laws of Nature about Information (LNI).

While you're trying to figure out what any of that means, consider the "strong conclusions" Witt is going to draw from his model:

  1. God Exists; Refutation of atheism.
  2. There is only one God, who is all-knowing and eternal.
  3. God is immensely powerful.
  4. God is spirit.
  5. No human being without a soul; Refutation of materialism.
  6. No evolution.

Those are copied verbatim from the notes he provided. Now, we really could stop here and dismiss Witt as a crank. There is simply no way any bit of armchair theorizing or abstract modeling could possibly lead to the breathtaking conclusions Gitt is trying to draw. Nonetheless, let us consider some of his specifics.

Witt began by answering the question, "What is a Law of Nature?" He writes,

Laws of nature describe events, phenomena and occurrences which consistently and repeatedly take place. They are thus universally valid laws. They can be formulated in science, hence laws of nature for material entities in physics and chemistry (e.g. energy, momentum, electrical current, chemical reactions) and non-material entities (e.g. information, consciousness). Due to their explanatory power, and their correspondence to reality, laws of nature represent the highest level of significance in science. The following points about laws of nature are especially significant:

  1. Laws of nature know no exceptions.
  2. Laws of nature are unchanging in time (past, present or future).
  3. Laws of nature can tell us whether a process being contemplated is even possible or not.
  4. Laws of nature exist prior to, and independent of, their discovery and formulation.
  5. Laws of nature can always be successfully applied to unknown situations.

(Emphasis in original)

There is an awful lot to discuss here, but actually I think the subtext is more important than the text. I suspect most scientists are instinctively uncomfortable with the sorts of sweeping generalizations Gitt is making here. To the extent that scientists talk about natural laws at all, they really just mean certain generalizations that have consistently been successful in predicting the results of experiments. The key criterion is usefulness, not capital-T, metaphysical Truth. Science is a way of bringing order and predictability to the observations we make about nature. We need a word to describe those theories and models that have consistently proven themselves to be useful, and the word that is chosen for that purpose is "true."

But that's too wishy-washy for creationists. They don't care about "generalizations scientists find useful." Not at all. They want Truth. Like the Bible provides. As I have mentioned previously, the only reason they ever talk about science is that society requires that of them if they are to receive any hearing at all for their ideas. This is why they are so unreceptive to the perfectly sensible argument that hypotheses about God's actions in the world are not scientific because they don't lead to anything scientists can use to further their work.

That is why Gitt, and his supporters, are so happy to talk in such sweeping terms. They're not trying to further scientific research. They're trying to justify their faith in terms that won't get them laughed at.

Okay, back to the talk. Gitt provided the following "Natural Law Definition of Information":

Information is an encoded, symbolic representation of material realities or conceptual relationships conveying expected action and intended purpose. Information is always present when, in an observable system, all of the following five hierarchical levels (or attributes) are present: Statistics, syntax (code), semantics (meaning), pragmatics (action) and apobetics (purpose).

For completeness, let me list his ten laws of nature about information:

  1. A purely material entity cannot generate a non-material entity.
  2. Information is a non-material fundamental entity.
  3. Information is the non-material foundation for all program-directed technological systems and all biological systems.
  4. There can be no information without a code.
  5. Every code is the result of a freely-willed convention.
  6. There can be no new information without an intelligent, purposeful sender.
  7. Any given chain of information can be traced back to an intelligent source.
  8. Allocating meaning to a set of symbols by a sender, and determining meaning from a set of symbols by a recipient, are mental processes requiring intelligence.
  9. Information cannot originate in statistical processes.
  10. The storage and transmission of information requires a material medium

Where did these "laws" come from? According to Gitt they are generalizations from scientific observations.

There's an awful lot to criticize in those "laws," but let's stay big picture for the moment. What sorts of things does Gitt have in mind in formulating his definition? Well, certainly human languages. And computer programming languages, or things like Morse code would no doubt fit his definition. But since those are all things that human beings constructed themselves, it is not surprising that they have no existence without the input of intelligence. In fact, by building meaning and purpose into his definition of information, it's hard to see how information could possibly exist without intelligent agents to produce and perceive it.

I think we all know what Gitt is building up to here. He is going to claim that the genetic code fits his definition of information. Indeed, in justifying the first of his six conclusions, he writes,

Because all forms of life contain a code (DNA, RNA), as well as all the other levels of information, we are within the definition domain of information. We can therefore conclude that: There must be an intelligent Sender. (Emphasis in original)

Whoa! Stop the presses! Does the information encoded in our genes really possess the properties Gitt requires? Is Gitt really attributing meaning and purpose to genes? What could this possibly mean? He might say that the purpose of genes is to produce proteins. But is that the genes' purpose, or is that simply what genes do?

Or consider Gitt's explanation of what constitutes "Pragmatics" (Action):

Information invites action. Every transmission of information is nevertheless associated with the intention, from the side of the sender, of generating a particular result or effect on the receiver.

Who is the sender and who is the receiver in the case of DNA? Our genes, after all, do not know that human observers are attributing to them the property of containing information. They, and the associated cellular machinery that transforms them into proteins, are simply doing whatever it is that they do, governed by various principles of physics and chemistry. Describing them with terms generally reserved for the actions of intelligent agents can never be anything more than a vague analogy.

Which brings us to the most fundamental problem of all with Gitt's project. He spoke constantly about the information content of our genes. He talked about the quantity of information increasing or decreasing in some context or other. He said the cell contains more information than the Encyclopedia Brittanica. But at no point did he ever tell us how to measure information!

That's right. His constant challenge to evolutionists was to produce a natural mechanism that could increase the information content of our genome. But there's no hope of answering that question until we know precisely how to measure information.

There is a branch of mathematics known as information theory. Within this theory, pioneered by Claude Shannon in the late nineteen forties, there is a precise method for determining the information content of a given message. During the talk, however, Gitt explicitly differentiated what he was doing from Shannon's conception of information. He pointed out that Shannon's theory deals adequately with the "Statistical" level of information (the number of symbols in the message), but none of the other levels. This has the advantage of allowing a mathematical formulation of information, but it sacrifices many aspects of the everyday meaning of the word (like, well, meaning). Gitt even said explicitly in his talk that his notion of information does not admit any mathematical formulation.

When Gitt concluded his talk the coliseum erupted into enthusiastic applause. Before long, everyone except me was standing. Ken Ham took the stage and boasted that this was one of the most powerful apologetic arguments he had ever heard. It was an especially revealing moment. Since Witt's argument, as a simple matter of fact, made no sense at all, there is no way anyone in the audience understood a word he was saying. But since he arrived at the right conclusion via suitably technical language, they were willing to overlook that detail.

I decided to hang around for the Q and A. I was more aggressive this time, and worked my way through the crowd. I was standing pretty close to Dr. Gitt, part of a crowd of about forty or so people. The questions being asked were the usual fawning silliness, until Gitt got to the person standing next to me. Though he was clearly a supporter of both Answers in Genesis and Gitt, he asked what I thought was a very perceptive question.

He asked Gitt what his peers (by which he meant other scientists) thought about his natural laws of information. He pointed out that something like the law of gravity could claim universal acceptance among scientists. Could the same be said for his natural laws of information?

Gitt, incredibly, replied that his ideas have wide acceptance among scientists. He boasted of various seminars at which he had spoken in mainstream universities and talked about the enthusiastic response he generally got. He claimed to have published this material in secular journals.

He then started gushing about how all it would take to refute his ideas is for a scientist to produce a single natural mechanism that could increase the information content of the genome. That's it! Just one! That's all it would take! But they couldn't do it!!

I had had enough. I said, loudly enough for everyone to hear, "What effect does a genetic mutation have on the information content of the genome?"

Silence as forty pairs of eyes turned towards me. I swallowed hard and continued, "As I'm sure you're aware, genes mutate all the time. Before I can answer your challenge I need to have a better understanding of your notion of information. So tell me how a simple point mutation changes the information content of the gene."

He gave the standard response that genetic mutation invariably leads to a loss or degradation of information. Alas, in the heat of the moment I did not think of the obvious reply: If a given point mutation (in which a single nucleotide in a gene is replaced with a different nucleotide) results in a loss of information, than the reverse mutation must result in a gain of information.

Instead I said, "You keep talking about information going up or information going down. You talked about the cell containing more information than an encyclopedia. But at no point did you tell us how to measure information. And without such a measure it's not even meaningful to talk about information content increasing or decreasing." I went on to say, "Usually when scientists talk about information they have in mind Shannon's concept. When it comes time to measure information, is that what you have in mind?"

He hemmed and hawed a bit but eventually conceded that information can only be quantified at the "Statistical" level and that for the purposes of measuring information that is what was important.

So I replied, "If that is what you mean, then there are several well-known mechanisms that can lead to an increase in information content. Here is one. A gene can duplicate, leaving two copies of the same gene. One of those genes can then mutate, leading to two different genes. If you are measuring information in Shannon's sense, then it's a simple calculation to show that you now have more information than you started with. You can find this process described in any genetics textbook. Why is this not an adequate response to your challenge?"

He replied with the standard creationist evasion at this point: He argued that duplicating a gene does not produce new information. It's a jaw-dropping reply, since it simply ignores the part where the duplicate gene subsequently mutates.

Anyway, we went at it for several minutes. His answers always came down either to misunderstanding the process I was describing, or changing what it meant to measure information. At one point he started talking about computer programs, and argued, typically, that if you mutate a computer program that will almost certainly crash the program. He argued that this was analogous to what happens when a gene mutates.

Once again I did not come up with the obvious reply: computer programs mutating and producing new and better programs is exactly what happens in artificial life experiments. Instead I simply replied that likening genes to computer programs was a bad analogy in this context. When you mutate computer code you will almost certainly produce something that is not meaningful in the particular computer language you are using. That's not the case with DNA. Every three-letter DNA "word" codes for some protein or other, making it very difficult to speak in general terms about what happens to the information content of the gene as the result of a mutation. He shrugged and, to my delight, agreed that was a good point.

At this point I felt my mission had been accomplished. I knew there was little hope of actually winning the argument, but I made it clear that there are answers to the idiotic arguments he made in his talk, and everyone had a chance to see that there were people who were totally unintimidated by the great Dr. Gitt. There was still a large crowd of people gathered around him waiting to ask questions, so I decided this was a good time to bow out of the conversation.

Nonetheless, I couldn't resist one parting shot. "There is one more point I wanted to raise before I go," I said. "In your reply to the previous gentleman you said that your ideas about information are well-received by other scientists. But even you would have to agree that evolution is the dominant paradigm among scientists. Since you made it quite clear in your talk that your ideas absolutely rule out the possibility of evolution, I don't think it's really true that scientists agree with you here."

At this point Amazing Thing Number One happened. He replied that there was no contradiction here because you could accept both God and evolution. I agree completely with that sentiment, but that was definitely not the party line at this conference.

I pressed on. "But we're not talking about believing in God and evolution. We're talking about accepting your particular theories about information on the one hand and evolution on the other. You said explicitly that that was impossible. So you were being disingenuous when you told the other fellow that scientists accept your ideas."

And this is where Amazing Thing Number Two happened. He shrugged and looked down at the floor. He actually looked abashed! Since I didn't think creationists were capable of shame, I considered this a major victory.

I shook his hand, thanked him for his time and started to walk away. I was mentally patting myself on the back for a job well done, and I was thinking about how badly I wanted another one of those delicious fajita burritos. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and all was right with the universe.

And that was when I heard a middle-aged woman in the crowd say, "You're really very ignorant about biology. You should learn a bit more before you start talking about it."

Now, all of the points I had made in my discussion with Dr. Gitt were both correct and straightforward. There was little doubt in my mind that this person could not have given a coherent summary of anything related to biology or mathematics, an impression that was amply confirmed in my subsequent conversation with her. Indeed, in light of the woman's comment I ended up spending a fair amount of time discussing Gitt's talk with about half a dozen conference goers. All of these people were embarrassingly confused about fundamental issues in biology. Despite this, they spoke with absolute confidence.

For me this was the single most depressing moment of the conference. There is no shame in being ignorant of modern science. But if you are unwilling to educate yourself on the subject, do not presume to lecture scientists about how to do their jobs. Basically, we are talking about people who have heard a few creationist speakers, and may possibly have read a few large-print anti-evolution books. It is on this basis that they feel justified in accusing scientists of bigotry, ignorance, stupidity and dishonesty. Simply incredible.

After our conversation I drove over to the Mexican restaurant, and got another one of those most excellent fajita burritos. The end to a perfect morning.

Tuesday, July 19. Afternoon.

My choices for the first afternoon talk were "How Our Textbooks Mislead Us: An Expose of Error and Fraud," in the basic track and "Hubble, Bubble, Big Bang in Trouble," in the Advanced track. Figuring that I had a pretty good sense of what creationists think of modern biology textbooks, I chose the Big Bang.

The talk was delivered by John Hartnett, another in the large Australian contingent at the conference. It was his task to persuade us that the Big Bang was a lot of atheistic nonsense. Which is interesting, since in other contexts creationists love the Big Bang. It allows them to claim that the universe had a definite beginning in time. (Do not trouble them with details like the fact that time itself apparently came into existence at the Big Bang). Since everything that had a beginning must have had a cause, well, you fill in the rest.

Anyway, the part of the Big Bang they don't like is the implication that it happened billions of years ago. Hartnett began with a reasonable description of what the Big Bang theory actually says. He showed some 10-day photos from the Hubble telescope that showed large numbers of galaxies in what was once thought to be empty space. He talked a bit about the Doppler Effect, and mentioned that according to relativity theory time and length are affected by speed and gravity. Relativity is real science by the way.

Next he talked a bit about Hubble's law; that the velocity at which a galaxy is moving is proportional to its distance from us. He described the standard idea that it is the expansion of the universe that leads to the observations of red shifts in the light received from distant galaxies. In particular, he pointed out astronomers use red shift data to measure distance. Then he described recent data that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and that the universe is apparently flat. Most of what he was saying here was standard and uncontroversial.

At this point he returned to the Big Bang and suggested that the apparent absence of anti-matter in our universe is a strike against standard Big Bang cosmology. Then he suggested that no one has any idea how stars and galaxies form, suggesting that this was another defect in the theory.

Then he got down to business. The centerpiece of Hartnett's case against the Big Bang was the alleged discovery of galaxies with anomalous red shifts. The claim is that there are galaxies with wildly different red shifts that are nonetheless connected by bridges of dust and debris. Under the standard model this should not be possible. If red shift is correlated with distance then these sorts of paired galaxies should have the same red shifts. He also pointed out that the bridge itself contained high red shift objects.

From here the discussion turned to quasars (very distant, non-stellar sources of radio waves whose origin is a bit mysterious). He provided something he claimed was evidence for the proposition that quasars are not as distant as commonly thought. Unfortunately, this went by too quickly for me to jot down. He then argued that quasars are found across paired galaxies, and concluded from this that quasars are actually being ejected out of galactic activity.

All of this was said to challenge the Big Bang for two reasons: (1) All of our distance estimates based on red shifts are now suspect and (2) Matter is constantly being created from the center of galaxies (so that it is not true that all matter was created at the Big Bang).

From here he suggested that in seeing quasars created from the center of galaxies, we are actually looking back in time 6000 years and watching creation as it happens. Then he recommended Arp's book and called it a day.

Alas, I know very little about astronomy or cosmology. After doing some research on the internet after the conference, I got the impression that these claims of "linked galaxies" are highly controversial, to say the least. However, Hartnett's talk was definitely the least foolish of the one's I attended.

Happily, things returned to their proper state of brain-dead insanity any jaw-dropping ignorance in the next talk: Carl Kerby's, "Evolution and Pop Culture." His competition in the advanced track was "Creation and Cosmology." Not a hard decision.

Kerby's talk was mostly a series of clips from various movies and television programs that made references to evolution, the ancient age of the Earth, or, occasionally, homosexuality. Kerby would say something like, "How many of you saw the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding?" A number of hands would go up. And then Kerby would ask, "Did you catch the evolution?" (Apparently there was a scene in the movie where one character turns to another of a different ethnicity and says something like, "My people were producing great music and art while yours were still swinging in trees.") The list of nasty television shows included episodes from Bugs Bunny, the Three Stooges, the 1960's Batman series, an episode of CSI and the cartoon Sponge Bob Square Pants. One theme that cropped up was that any reference to something being prehistoric was considered offensive. Why? Because history began on Day One of Creation Week. There is no prehistory!

Of course, it's not all bad news. There are shows like the Flintstones that depict humans and dinosaurs living simultaneously. Evolutionists hate the Flintstones I'm told.

Turning to movies we have the Disney movie Fantasia (Kerby was strongly critical of Disney generally), The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Ice Age, Lilo and Stitch, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Spider-Man. You might enjoy renting those movies and trying to find the evolution for yourself.

The reference to Ice Age was particularly revealing. Ice Age is an animated movie about a sloth, a mammoth, and a saber-tooth tiger that end up caring for an abandoned human infant. The unlikely trio is trying to catch up with a tribe of humans to return the baby. It's a very good movie, both funny and touching.

In one scene, our noble trio, seeking a short cut, walk through an ice cave. Frozen into the ice walls of the cave are various other animals that apparently got trapped there. At one point we see the sloth walking through a lengthy corridor. He is on the far right side of the screen from the viewer's perspective. Frozen in the ice to his right are three other animals. The camera fixes on this scene for a moment and we see all four animals (the three in the ice and the sloth) lined-up in a row. They form a linear evolutionary sequence from a primitive looking creature on the far right to the modern sloth on the left.

I think it's obvious why Kerby did not like that. The interesting part, though, was what he said next. He said something like, "They were trying to indoctrinate your kids, they were trying to show evolution, but they failed. You know why they failed?" Silence from the puzzled audience. "Because they show all four of those animals existing at the same time. That's not evolution!" Cheers from the delighted audience, coupled with the thud of my jaw hitting the desk.

That is about as stupid as it gets when you are discussing evolution. Thinking that a species cannot coexist with its evolutionary descendants is as foolish as thinking that parents wink out of existence the moment their children are born. It was yet another example of how utterly confused many of the conference goers were about the most basic elements of evolution.

For Kerby and the audience there was little doubt that the frequent, casual references to evolution and millions of years were part of an orchestrated plot to make evolutionary thinking acceptable by making it so familiar. Kerby encouraged the audience to take advantage of these teachable moments to make sure their kids were sensitive to these attacks on their faith.

After the not obviously insane talk about the Big Bang, it was nice to get back to creationism as I know it. Despite the idiocy of the presentation, I left the classroom in a pretty good mood. I took another browse through the bookstore, and then headed back to my hotel. The evening line-up was "Distant Starlight: Not a Problem for a Young Earth," Our Created Moon: Origin, Creation Evidences", and "Image of God or Planet of the Apes?" I managed to find better entertainment for the evening (as I recall, HBO had a martial arts movie on that night.)

Wednesday, July 20. Morning.

The keynote talk for Wednesday morning was given by Georgia Purdom, entitled, "The Intelligent Design Movement; How Intelligent is it?" Dr. Purdom was one of only two women speaking at the conference. She was the only woman to give a science-based talk.

Her exposure to the ID movement came from reading Behe's Darwin's Black Box. She was concerned that ID did not lead people to Christ. God said He created in six days and that was good enough for her. She realized that the evolution/creation battle was all about our presuppositions - do you look at the world through the Bible or through man's theories. Everything in the Bible dovetails nicely into one consistent account. Standard creationist fare.

She then argued that ID poses grave problems for Christians. She showed the Discovery Institute's (a leading ID think tank) definition of ID:

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Purdom found this inadequate. Only certain features? Please. And who's the designer?

From here she discussed some history. She began with the natural theology of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. She discussed Paley, and pointed out that natural theologians were arguing that we could have knowledge of God apart from the Bible. It was a response to the higher criticism of the Bible that became popular during the late 1700's. She argued that while God is certainly revealed through his works, special revelation was more important than the study of nature.

Then she jumped to the 1970's and the current ID movement. She mentioned many of the pioneers of the movement, such as Charles Thaxton, Phillip Johnson and Michael Denton. Oddly, she made no mention of the hostile court decisions that plagued the YEC's during this time period.

After this she launched into a description of ID argumentation, and that's where things started getting weird. She described the ID notions of "Irreducible Complexity" and "Specified Complexity" as two different terms for the same thing. They are not, though William Dembski (a leading proponent of ID) does make a point of describing irreducible complexity as a special case of specified complexity. In reality the only connection between them is that both are worthless notions.

She described the mousetrap analogy (used by Michael Behe as an illustration of irreducible complexity. She fretted that the analogy was too simplistic and that evolutionists have a good time tearing it apart. Her feeling is that evolutionists can have the mousetrap, but actual biological systems - like the blood clotting cascade - are vastly more complex.

She was really impressed with blood clotting, and gushed about how a system lacking any of the relevant clotting factors will not function. There is no simpler system for clotting blood, she mused. I am sure that will come as news to the lobsters residing at the local fish store, that do just fine with a vastly simpler blood clotting system. In fact, she never got around to mentioning that, as described by Ken Miller and others, the evolution of the blood clotting cascade is not that hard to understand.

She then gave a barely adequate description of William Dembski's arguments about inferring design. But I did not start to perk up until she came to the problems with ID.

She argued that natural theology backfired, because it led to deism. By divorcing the creator from the creation, the natural theologians lulled people into thinking that it was enough just to acknowledge the designer, rather than believe specific things about His attributes. ID is the same as natural theology in this sense. She was concerned that with the ID people saying over and over again that their ideas do not lead to any specific view of the creator, it becomes more difficult for Christians to spread the Gospel. The public will feel deceived if they are told on the one hand that science points to a nebulous designer, but on the other that they have to accept Christianity.

It was at this point that she said the single most insightful thing I heard at the entire conference. She argued that another problem with ID is that it provides no account of poor design. She pointed to pathogenic microbes, carniverous animals, and viruses. She said that ID makes God Himself, and not man's sin, the author of such natural evil.

Yes, YES a thousand times YES!!! That's exactly right. Once you have God intervening in the world to tinker with his design to bring good things, like blood clotting cascades and immune systems, into being, then he is also responsible for all the bad things. It is inescapable. The YEC's can get around this point by blaming human sin. They're perfectly happy to cite scripture in defense of their views. But the ID folks are running around pretending to be scientists. The second they talk about natural history being influenced by human sin is the day they blow their cover. This leaves them with no effective answer at all. Usually they just argue lamely that what we perceive as bad design might actually have some hidden purpose. Sorry guys. No one's buying that.

The final problem with ID is that it emphasizes God as creator but says nothing about God as redeemer. She closed with a quote from William Dembski to the effect that while ID may be scientifically unobjectionable, whether it is theologically unobjectionable was a separate issue. So what is the solution to the problems with ID that she has identified? Take a wild guess.

And then she uttered the line that I mentioned back at the beginning of this essay. God said it, that settles it. That summed things up so well, I decided to leave before the next talk.


I wanted to hang around to ask Ms. Purdom some questions, but I had to scamper if I was going to make it back to the Sleep Inn in time for the 11:00 check out.

I returned to my room, gathered up my things and went down to the desk. The person behind the counter somehow discerned that I was part of the conference and asked how things went. I muttered that it had been interesting as I signed the credit card slip.

Then he said that apparently the organizers were very disappointed with the turn-out, and that they had been expecting more than 3000 people. He asked me if I had heard anything about how many people were there. I mentioned Falwell's statement about 2000 people showing up.

Then he said that there were plans for a Super Creation Conference in October, to try to attract more people.

"Is a Super conference bigger than a Mega conference?" I snarked.

We both laughed.