Monastic Science

I’m out of town at the moment, so here’s a scheduled post I wrote a couple of weeks ago for this occasion. I’ll be back Friday, I think?


We haven’t heard from the ICR’s lawyer/theologian extraordinaire, James J. S. Johnson, in much too long.

In the February edition of Acts & Facts he has an article called “Fishy Science.”  The thrust of this column is that humans aren’t evolving, and that we’ve always been able to do science. It makes for a better insight however into the young Earth creationist dystopia, in which observational science is the only science, along with being another example of Johnson’s strange obsession with the Vikings.

First, this observational science stuff: Johnson says,

Careful observations define empirical science. When “modern science” experts teach us about nature, we expect to learn about how our world works.

How does snow form and fall? How do birds fly? How do squirrels jump? How do fish swim? The answers require us to look with exacting care and to record what we see with exacting accuracy. Objective observations, carefully reported, qualify such studies as “empirical science,” i.e., seeing the natural world in the present.

This, ladies and gentlemen of the scientific persuasion, is the kind of stuff that you will be limited to should the creationists ever take over. A superficial explanation of the how, but no in-depth study of the why, or even any experiments it seems.

As an example of such “empirical science” Johnson quotes a book paragraph about the Salmonidae, the family of fish that includes salmon and trout, which says:

Salmonid fishes have long been admired for their elegant form and the grace with which they are able to swim through the water and leap over waterfalls. All salmonids share the same basic elongated, streamlined shape. Their power is supplied from compact, highly organized muscles that extend the entire length of the body.

Johnson compares this with a paragraph by a person he describes as “British scientist Gerald de Barry,” but whom he later reveals to have been a medieval clergyman. This second quote reads:

This is how the salmon contrives to leap. When the fish of this species [are] swimming, as is natural, against the course of the water…[and] come to some apparently insurmountable obstacle, they twist their tails round towards their mouths. Sometimes, in order to give more power to their leap, they go so far as to put their tails right in their mouths. Then with a great snap, like the sudden straightening of a bough which has long been held bent, they jerk themselves out of this circular position and so leap from the lower pool to the one above, to the great astonishment of anyone who happens to be watching.

To this he says:

Wow! That description reports careful observations!

Now I’m sure we can all agree that Wikipedia is not the greatest resource in the world, but their article on this character does provide a few other examples of his great skills of observation. Here’s something he wrote about the Irish, for example:

Moreover, I have never seen in any other nation so many individuals who were born blind, so many lame, maimed or having some natural defect. The persons of those who are well-formed are indeed remarkably fine, nowhere better; but as those who are favoured with the gifts of nature grow up exceedingly handsome, those from whom she withholds them are frightfully ugly. No wonder if among an adulterous and incestuous people, in which both births and marriages are illegitimate, a nation out of the pale of the laws, nature herself should be foully corrupted by perverse habits. It should seem that by the just judgements of God, nature sometimes produces such objects, contrary to her own laws, in order that those who will not regard Him duly by the light of their own consciences, should often have to lament their privations of the exterior and bodily gift of sight.

It might be committing the cardinal sin of historical science for me to say so, but I don’t think he liked the Irish very much.

Indeed, it seems to me that the former archdeacon of Brecon may not have been nearly as good at this “observation” thing as Johnson seems to think. I’d be quite interested to learn exactly how much of his salmon quote is accurate. Do salmon actually put their tails in their mouths sometimes?

Based on this comparison, which to Johnson is favourable, he says:

Mankind is not evolving. Adam’s race was created with powerful abilities to think rationally, to watch animals in the wild, to examine plants that grow, and to interpret cause-and-effect relationships that drive natural processes. Although earlier generations lacked today’s technology, they were far from primitive dummies incapable of empirical scientific observations. Adam, the first man, became the original, real empirical scientist when God tasked him with the taxonomic labeling of all of the original animals that dwelt in Eden (Genesis 2:19-20). God made Adam’s race keen-eyed and “smart from the start”—but when we forget our Creator, we play the fool (Psalm 14:1).

Johnson may be correct in saying that over the last several thousand years humans have been just as intelligent as today, but that in no way challenges the notion of evolution over millions of years.

Now, about those Vikings: Johnson cites his Gerald de Barry quote to,

de Barry, G. 2004. Gerald of Wales: The Description of Wales, Book II. L. Thorpe, trans. London: Penguin Books, 173 (quoting from Gerald’s The History and Topography of Ireland, Book II, chapter 42). Gerald died in 1223. For historical perspective, consider that Gerald was an F3 descendant (i.e., great-grandson) of Rhys ap Tewdwr, a political competitor (during 1081) of the famous Viking king William the Conqueror.

That’s a very strange way of putting it, not least because we usually call William a “Norman” and not a Viking. Similarly, in the main text of the article he says:

That’s “modern science”—except it’s not modern at all—it was written about 800 years ago, at least a generation before the Battle of Largs ended the Viking Era in the British Isles.

Johnson seems to forget that we don’t all have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Norse history – I for one had never even heard of this Scottish skirmish before reading his article – and so using it as context doesn’t actually help anyone. There are no other mentions of the Vikings at all in the article as published, they just don’t figure. Why Johnson thought he should mention them is a mystery to me, though I think he has done so before.

Such is the mind of the ICR’s Chief Academic Officer, and Associate Professor of Apologetics.

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3 thoughts on “Monastic Science

  1. When Johnson says …

    “Mankind is not evolving.”

    I am not identical to either of my parents. I have, on average determined from “observational science,” hundreds of mutations to my DNA that my parents do not have. This is descent with modification. If I were a part of one group of humans that becomes isolated from another group of humans our populations begin to become genetically diverged. This process happening in the past is what has given us what we refer to as “races.” Like it or not Johnson, this is evolution.

    “Adam’s race was created [...] God made Adam’s race …”

    By “race” does Johnson mean good and pure white people, or as the precursor to the term species as Darwin did but gets used by the unscrupulous to label him as a dirty racist?

    “Adam, the first man, became the original, real empirical scientist when God tasked him with the taxonomic labeling of all of the original animals that dwelt in Eden”

    As I recall the fable, Adam merely gave the animals names. I don’t recall any passages that claim Adam engaged in the classification into ordered categories which is the definition of taxonomic labeling. Chapter and verse anyone ?

    If I’m mistaken and if Johnson is correct, I wonder what Adam’s taxonomic label was for his pet Tyrannosaurus ?

    • Hmm, I suppose if the creationist view is one of “kinds” and there being one basal form that was instantly created, that would “kinda” count as taxonomy. *cough* I had briefly forgotten about the whole “kinds” thing and the redefining of standard scientific terms that creationists engage in. I take back my last bit of comment, just a tad.

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