Creationism: A Textbook Case
Another creationist “science” textbook has fallen into my hot little hands, this time from the freebie bin at the library: Exploring Creation with Biology (2nd Edition, 2005), a huge, glossy home-schooling tome pitched at high-school level. With both “creation” and “biology” in the title, how could I not grab it?
The authors are Dr. Jay L. Wile and Marilyn F. Durnell, the former being the founder and ex-owner of the book’s publishing house, Apologia Education Ministries—he’s also a Young Earth Creationist with a real PhD in Nuclear Chemistry. That evidently gave him the confidence, though not necessarily the expertise, to author this and a whole string of similar textbooks, “exploring creation” with General Science, Physical Science, Physics, Chemistry, and Human Anatomy .
Exploring Creation with Biology has the look of a standard textbook, and much of it seems to be exactly that, boilerplate high-school biology bumf, right down to bits about dissecting earthworms and frogs. (Apologia will sell you the dissection kit separately, complete with dead frog.) No doubt, it serves up some of the basics of biology reasonably adequately, in a paraphrasing-other-textbooks sort of way. It’s where it departs from biology boilerplate that things get horribly interesting.
Predictably, Wile & Durnell take every opportunity to inject “creation science” into the mix, and snark at mainstream scientists; in doing so, they demonstrate how little they understand the scientific enterprise, in general and in detail. There are nuggets all the way through, but the module on evolution is particularly egregious—more or less an extended creationist tract, replete with all the debunked and discredited arguments ever trotted out by the ICR. But the technique is even more dishonest than simple misrepresentation. The authors make a show of being fair and balanced by presenting both sides of the issue, but the evolutionary side is a straw man dressed up in a clown outfit, with a “kick me” sign pinned to the seat of its pants. The creationist side, on other hand, is soundly backed up by God’s word as well as “some scientists”. Perhaps this is what creationists mean by teaching the controversy.
The authors’ ignorance of basic concepts is breathtaking. For example, here is how they explain punctuated equilibrium, preparatory to tearing it apart for their students’ edification:
In punctuated equilibrium, mutations still add genetic information to the fossil record, but they add it in steps that occur over very short time intervals. In between these very short time intervals, no macroevolution occurs. [Note: Wile & Durnell are obsessive about micro- versus macroevolution.] The idea here is that a group of organisms might be suddenly exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals or radiation. This would speed up the mutation rate among the individuals. Most of the resulting offspring would die, but a few lucky ones would get several good mutations all at once. These many mutations would add a lot of information to the genetic code, and the offspring would be more fit to survive. As the high levels of toxic chemicals or radiation continued, these few lucky offspring would produce more offspring with more mutations. Once again, most would die, but a few lucky ones might get several more mutations that added even more information, making them even more fit to survive. After just a few generations, the radiation or chemicals would be gone, and a new species would have emerged. That species would exist, essentially unchanged, for millions of years until another episode of high mutation rates occurred. (pp.291-2)
What can I say, except—WTF? They show a similar level of naive ignorance about the geologic column, Archaeopteryx, transitional fossils in general, molecular biology, abiogenesis, genetics, paleontology, and paleoanthropology, to name just the ones I took note of. And all of these lines of evidence, in their upside-down world, apparently falsify evolution and support creation. It’s as if they used Ray Comfort for their technical advisor.
But the most basic crime against the hapless kids exposed to this book is in the general attitude towards science. It seems science is flawed because it is a pursuit of flawed human beings, and it just keeps on getting things wrong. I cannot resist quoting this howler of an example in full, partly because Wile & Durnell’s idea of a scientific law is so funny:
Scientific laws are constantly being overthrown due to the fact that it is impossible to test them completely. For example, prior to 1938, it was considered scientific law that the coelacanth, a type of fish, was extinct. After all, many fossils of the fish had been uncovered, but no live specimen had ever been found, even after much searching. Since almost 100 years of searching for this fish had never turned up a live specimen, the hypothesis that it was extinct was eventually accepted as a theory and then as a scientific law. All scientists agreed: the coelacanth was extinct. Imagine their surprise when, in 1938, a live coelacanth was found in the net of a fishing boat off the coast of South Africa! We now know the coelacanth is relatively plentiful in the western Indian Ocean. In this case, then, a scientific law was overthrown due to the fact that it was impossible to test it completely. One would think that since 100 years of careful searching for the coelacanth had failed to turn up a live specimen, the law stating that it was extinct should be rather reliable. However, no one had looked carefully enough in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa, and therefore a scientific law turned out to be quite wrong! (p.12)
But with science failing so miserably, what can poor humans rely upon? The textbook’s answer: the Word of God, of course, which “contains truths that will never be shown to be wrong, because those truths come directly from the Creator of the universe (p.15).” Why, then, should one bother to study science? Because “there are many interesting facts and much useful information not contained in the Bible”, which are worth finding out because they will “help us live better lives.” And thus do Wile and Durnell trivialize the grand sweep of science, on top of misrepresenting and mangling it.
Science textbook? Not so much. More like religious propaganda, with optional dead frog.