Letters To The Editor
Stephen Robinson's Commentary, "Where Have All the Scientists Gone?'' (Aug. 25, 1982) has just been drawn to my attention so that I might respond--not only as a registered professional engineer and a scientist, but as an educator as well.
Mr. Robinson's description of science as an interwoven whole is uncommonly perceptive for an engineer, and I was most pleased and proud to see a fellow engineer express himself so well in a public forum. Moreover, he is right about scientists being far too reluctant about getting into the fray. In my view, some have taken this to the point of professional irresponsibility.
On the other hand, some scientists have tried hard to speak out against creationists, but formal channels are not well suited to the exposing of imposters, liars, and charlatans. This is largely because publishers and media people fear the legal hassles that may result even when such exposes are accurate. I know because I have tried hard to publish such exposes myself and have met repeatedly with the reluctance of editors to allow the truth to be said about the creation-science movement.
After much effort, I have been successful in getting some of my articles published. But I have been the only engineer among several scientists who are also in the fray and who are also exposing the creationists' arguments for exactly what they are--namely, anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, and defenders of the inerrancy of Scripture literally interpreted.
What is surprising to me is that anybody as astute as Mr. Robinson could exhibit such well thought out concerns about creation science and yet be virtually unaware of: (a) all the anti-creationist postion statements that scientific academies have already drafted and published, (b) the spate of anti-creationist books written by scientists, and (c) all the articles by scientists, educators, and even theologians that have already been published in all kinds of popular and scientific journals.
Among many sources, the quarterly journal Creation/Evolution is dedicated almost entirely to articles of this sort, many of which are contributed by scientists. So it is not so much that the scientists aren't speaking out as that the seekers of sanity simply aren't as ardent in their quest as are the seekers of Arks and other things from the Genesis account. Nor is this too surprising, really, for it requires a very ardent effort to maintain a belief in absurdities.
One final note should be made in closing, namely that the leadership of the creation-science movement is more heavily laden with professional engineers, engineering educators, and Ph.D.'s in engineering than any other similar group in any science.
I suspect that Mr. Robinson, like most engineers, will be surprised to find how unaware we can somtimes be of the embarassing escapades of our own "brethren."
John W. Patterson Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Iowa State University Ames, Iowa
In the Sept. 22, 1982, issue of Education Week, the article on "'Effective-Schools' Efforts Taking Root in the States" and the databank on "School-Improvement Initiatives, State by State," provided very interesting information on national school-improvement programs.
It is our understanding that the information was provided by the Education Commission of the States, though the survey report did not include Ohio's school-improvement initiatives. Therefore, allow us to share a few of Ohio's activities in this area.
The State Board of Education, in preparation for educational leadership in the 80's, has revised its philosophy and established fundamental learner goals. Additionally, the board is considering the adoption of new minimum standards for Ohio schools in order to provide a general education of high quality. Three new types of teacher certification have been adopted during the past five years. New administrator-certification standards have been proposed with a January 1, 1985, effective date.
The Ohio Department of Education has provided technical assistance to Ohio school districts through its effective-school program for the purpose of increasing the basic skills of Ohio's students. The initiative of Ohio school districts in developing school-improvement projects gave impetus to the Department of Education to develop six pilot programs for effective schools in different locations throughout the state. In addition, the department provided a week-long summer academy, Ohio Academy for School Improvement Strategies, to provide technical training and strategies for Ohio administrators designing school-improvement action plans in their districts.
Despite Ohio's absense from the ecs survey, the state has initiated school-improvement efforts in the following areas, noted by the study: teacher recertification, new types of teacher certification, teacher inservice, administration training, new administration training academies, curriculm developmental efforts, new local accreditation standards, effective-schools projects, dissemination and adoption assistance, student-competency tests, parent-involvement programs/requirements, and community-information dissemination programs.
Evidence of the success of these activities can be found in our students' test scores, which are above the national average on both act and sat tests. We believe that this is directly related to the State Board of Education's emphasis on improving pupil achievement.
Franklin B. Walter Superintendent of Public Instruction Ohio Department of Education Columbus, Ohio
In his essay, "Where Have All the Scientists Gone?" (Commentary, Aug. 25, 1982), Stephen Robinson raises a number of thought-provoking questions. Even more interesting were the Letters responding to the essay that appeared on September 22 and 29.
I appreciate Mr. Robinson for the humble posture he took on the issue of creation-science education. His attitude is certainly a refreshing change from the general tone of those who are usually outspoken on this issue. It certainly is difficult to discern fact from hearsay when people get emotional and resort to name-calling. Like Mr. Robinson, I, too, am not a scientist. I have a teaching certificate in science education, and, like him, I am an avid reader of various science periodicals.
Mr. Robinson stated, "If I'm in error, perhaps someone will hasten to correct me ..." Your readership deserves a frank response to his questions.
For example, he wrote, "If scientific creationism is true, then, among other things, all the species that are or ever were, were created at the same time." Scientific creationists do not make this claim! We must remember that nature is not neatly broken down into those classifications found in biology textbooks. Taxonomic definitions and classifications are the useful and convenient invention of human beings and are subject to change. There are still many, many life forms where classification is uncertain (for example, should the two forms of echidna be listed separately?).
Scientific creationists make allowance for the actual observable data that indicate that breeding is possible not only at the species and genus level, but also, some would say, at the family level. Variations within these breeding "kinds" could and do occur as well as degenerate. But there is no scientific proof of macro-evolution from one class to another. What we do have are a lot of assumptions.
Mr. Robinson also asked, "If that's true, then such apparent evolutionary sequences as eohippus to equus are just that, only apparent." That's correct! That's why some macro-evolutionists believe that eohippus is the ancestral forerunner of our modern-day horse, while others, also macro-evolutionists, classify the same fossils as hyracotherium because it is believed to be morphologically and in habitat similar to the hyrax rather than the horse. The fact that there could be such differences of opinion is evidence that the issue is not as decided as many are led to believe. Besides, even if one grants that eohippus is an ancestral horse, it's still development within the same "kind" (i.e. micro-evolution). It's just an advanced horse developing from a "primitive" horse.
Mr. Robinson also remarked that "the carbon-14 dating technique has been independently derived from nuclear physics, which also says that fission bombs work for about the same theoretical reasons. Since we know that fission bombs work ..., then the carbon-14 technique of dating fossils must also be valid."
Whether or not fission bombs work is not germane to whether or not radiometric dating is valid. The important consideration here is that a number of unproven assumptions have been made in the use of radiometric dating. It is assumed that we know how tightly "wound" the radioactive "clock" was to begin with, that it has always run at a constant rate, and that it has never been "reset" or contaminated from environmental influences. There exists scientific evidence to question each of these assumptions.
What scientific creationists are trying to do is to open people's minds to explore those same concerns that Mr. Robinson expressed. We are not "bible-thumping zealots whose sole mission is to put their version of man's origin in every public school in the land," as charged by Frances Vandervoort in the September 22 letter to the editor. Many scientific creationists are not of the Judeo-Christian heritage. The majority are scientists or science educators who are sincere in their admission that the actual observable data in the world do not agree with many of the things thay were taught in the textbooks. Scientific creationists, as opposed to biblical creationists, do not want religion introduced into the science classroom.
"Poisoning the Well" is a fallacy in logic used to discredit a source of evidence before investigation by dramatizing the materials of personalities that favor a position while belittling those that oppose it. This is reinforced by the subtle argumentum ad baculum, "the argument of the club," in the letters of September 22 and 29, when professional ostracism replaces reason and evidence against teachers who might favor a two-model (scientific, not biblical) approach to studies on origins. Finally, the misuse of emotional terms like "glib-tongue, devious tactics, pseudo-science, and bible-thumpers" tends to cloud the issue with emotion rather than contribute to clear thought.
The educational community needs clear thinkers who are dedicated to a fair presentation of the evidence on the origin of life on our planet. Only then will our students be presented a balanced view.
Allen Wai Jang Principal Normandie Christian School Los Angeles