9/28/2008

ANOTHER ONE POPS OUT OF THE WOODWORK

Hello! While reading the Fresno Bee today, I came across this little jewel:

STARGAZE IN MADERA

In the mood for some stargazing? A "Star Party" will be hosted Monday at Home Grown Cellars, 13702 Road 20, Madera.

The event is free and starts at 6 p.m. People are encouraged to bring red lens flashlights, binoculars, telescopes, chairs and blankets. Guest speakers will include Dr. Theodore Johnstone, author of "Boundaries of Evolution" and Tom DeSilva talking about the constellations.

Hmm. Star-gazing? Evolution? This is the kind of thing that stimulates my baloney detector.

So I did a little research.....and sure enough, Johnstone is one of these fellows pushing some form of skepticism where evolution is concerned:



What does this have to do with stargazing, though? Johnstone is by all accounts a Madera County physician who earned his M.D. 49 years ago...In fact, I've met him on more than one occasion as part of meetings of the Fresno chapter of Reasons To Believe. I mean, he seems like a nice enough fellow, but he earned his degree as I said, nearly a half-century ago and then went into private practice. Which means that virtually everything he might have learned in an academic setting about evolution occurred before the genetic code was discovered, before speciation events and other episodes of natural selection in action were directly testable by genetic analysis, before the Human Genome Project, before Hox genes, before the whole field of 'evo-devo'. The chances that Johnstone actually had a college-level course in evolutionary theory at any time in the last fifty years is remote. Thus, like a lot of ID sympathizers, Johnstone appears befuddled by abiogenesis and the Cambrian Explosion, as if these had any bearing on the general correctness of the Darwinian paradigm:

Boundaries of Evolution describes the unlikelihood of evolutionary theory to explain how it is supposed to scale three major biological cliffs. The first cliff is the need for a logical explanation of how random chemical reactions could produce the first living cell from the primordial soup. The second is the problem of explaining how the first single-celled eukaryote evolved from a prokaryote. Mathematical improbabilities of evolutionary theory to scale the first two cliffs, in the time available, are demonstrated. The third insurmountable cliff is the necessity for a reasonable explanation of how millions of different kinds of multi-celled eukaryotes could have quickly evolved from single-celled eukaryotes.

And now this medical doctor is going to be appearing as a 'guest speaker' at an astronomy function? A carrot gets you a car that he's going to turn the talk from cosmological origins to 'origins of life' and use the venue as an opportunity to push some version of creationism. Um, I think I may be checking out this event.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that you consider yourself an academician qualified to judge Dr. T. Johnstone who has accomplished significantly greater academic achievements than yourself. This is a man with a medical doctorate. I doubt that 50 years ago one achieved this degree by simply proving his ability to wield a hypodermic syringe. Rather, as now, he achieved it through demonstrating intelligence and intellectual prowess. Generally, these types seem to retain their scholarly traits throughout life. I think publishing a book is evidence of this in Doctor Johnstone’s case. I know for a fact that he subscribes to God’s creating the world and I don’t believe that his work is any less for it. Surely, citing the Human Genome Project, you recognize Dr Francis Collin’s faith? He earned his M.D. in 1977 and pioneered the Human Genome Project. That’s almost 30 years of incomparable brilliance, being a nice guy too, and advocating that the universe is God’s creation.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I find it interesting that you would attend Reasons To Believe, which I researched and found to be a Bible based Chrisitan organization and then set out to disprove what is being taught. Why attend if you don't believe? I also don't understand your comittment to your church group that you speak of and yet not believe in the the Bible or are you selective and only discount the book of Genesis. God created the heavens and the earth and he created every little cell in you brother...believe it or not????Study the universe- you are a very very small speck in that great universe God created. Get it right you either a believeing Christian or a Darwin Pagan. I did my own research...Alex Lehman the guy putting this event on is a Science teacher, obvious a beleiver and has many accomplishments behind his name.
Maybe you should attend and be swallowed up by educated believers. I'm glad your not my child's Science teacher!

R. Moore said...

There are of course 2 sides to the "argument from authority" -- if Scott is not qualified to judge Dr Johnstone's pedigree, how do we know "anonymous" is? We must of course look for evidence one way or the other. In the case of Francis Collins he was, as pointed out, head of the Human Genome Project. His scientific opinions are in accordance with 99.999% of all science in his area. So we have good evidence for his knowledge of evolution.

Dr. Johnstone's background as listed, is Reason's to Believe. This organization's beliefs run counter to 99.999% of known science in the area of evolution. And a MD background only implies knowledge of medicine, a protocol based technical profession, difficult to master, but not sufficient in itself to claim expert knowledge of evolution. There is a tradition that MD's are authority on all subjects of science, this may have been true, relative to most people in science academia 100 years ago, it is definitely not true now. In fact, just this week, an article was posted in the internet suggesting that the bio-chemistry requirement for MD be removed, as too difficult for its relevancy to the practice of most modern MD's.

Logical fallacies do not apply when one has evidence, as we do here, so Scott's skepticism (and my own) are well founded. Anonymous, I await your evidence of Dr. Johnstone's evolutionary credentials.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

I don't judge Dr. Johnstone solely by virtue of his educational attainment. Remember, I've met the guy personally and I already have an idea of what he believes, and why. Rather, I'm pointing out that there is a reason why M.D.'s, especially older ones, subscribe to this or that version of creationism...because (astonishing, but true) they are unlikely to have had any coursework in evolution in medical school, and if they had, it is likely badly out-of-date when compared to what is known today.

I absolutely agree with you, by the way, that personally subscribing to a belief in God does in no way disqualify a person as a scientist. But creationism itself is not science, and maintaining otherwise really does run the risk of undercutting an individual's credibility as a scientific figure. You mention Frances Collins, but you don't seem to understand that one of the primary motivations of Collins in writing 'The Language of God' was to decry creationism.

Collins has said, in part:

"As someone who's had the privilege of leading the human genome project, I've had the opportunity to study our own DNA instruction book at a level of detail that was never really possible before.

It's also now been possible to compare our DNA with that of many other species. The evidence supporting the idea that all living things are descended from a common ancestor is truly overwhelming.

I would not necessarily wish that to be so, as a Bible-believing Christian. But it is so. It does not serve faith well to try to deny that.

But I have no difficulty putting that together with what I believe as a Christian because I believe that God had a plan to create creatures with whom he could have fellowship, in whom he could inspire [the] moral law, in whom he could infuse the soul, and who he would give free will as a gift for us to make decisions about our own behavior, a gift which we oftentimes utilize to do the wrong thing.

I believe God used the mechanism of evolution to achieve that goal. And while that may seem to us who are limited by this axis of time as a very long, drawn-out process, it wasn't long and drawn-out to God. And it wasn't random to God....I would say that the stance that some believers take, which is simply to reject evolution, is also to reject the information that God has given us, the ability to understand. I believe God did intend, in giving us intelligence, to give us the opportunity to investigate and appreciate the wonders of His creation. He is not threatened by our scientific adventures."


Part of the scientific adventure, by the way, is absorbing new information and integrating it into present models, such as the HGP. As the second person to head HGP, Collins was uniquely positioned to do such, and so his thought (as quoted above) carries far greater weight than what some local science teacher (or local M.D.) personally believes. The great mistake that many people make is to regard doctors or engineers or related professions as authoritative in scientifc matters outside their own field of expertise. There is a reason why most of the professional creationists hold degrees, even doctoral degrees, but in areas outside of biology.

To put it bluntly: do I feel qualified to judge Dr. Johnstone's views on evolution? I do. I don't need a medical degree to recognize and expose pseudoscience for what it is. I simply need to be conversant with the facts, and be able to clearly articulate where these facts contradict the sort of arguments creationists make. I've done it before, and given an opportunity, I'll cheerfully do it again.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Anonymous wrote:

Frankly, I find it interesting that you would attend Reasons To Believe, which I researched and found to be a Bible based Chrisitan organization and then set out to disprove what is being taught.

Actually, I support the local chapter, albeit as one whose views are arguably more liberal than many other chapter members. I regret that since RTB's local chapter meets on Thursdays, when my church choir meets, that I have not attended an RTB chapter meeting in some time. But I am on their mailing list, and am on cordial terms with many of its members. It may interest you to learn that I have twice given presentations to the local chapter, including Dr. Johnstone, and that the focus of those presentations is not to provoke disagreement or to disprove RTB's teachings as doctrine, but to engage believers on the basis of the science. Reasons To Believe does not teach that how one chooses to interpret Genesis is critical doctrine; in fact, quite the opposite. If you doubt that, you can contact the local chapter President, Alan Graas. Alan is a very fine man and a sincere Christian and is always eager to interact with those who have an interest in origins. His e-mail is:

graas@sti.net


I also don't understand your comittment to your church group that you speak of and yet not believe in the the Bible or are you selective and only discount the book of Genesis. God created the heavens and the earth and he created every little cell in you brother...believe it or not????Study the universe- you are a very very small speck in that great universe God created. Get it right you either a believeing Christian or a Darwin Pagan.

Again, if I was to take your heavily-polarized views at face value, you would also find yourself at odds with Frances Collins, Ken Miller and a whole host of Christians who have made their peace with evolution. I would never take the step of questioning Dr. Johnstone's faith simply because I might have misgivings about his take on evolution: why, then, would it follow that you would feel justified in making such assumptions about yours truly?


I did my own research...Alex Lehman the guy putting this event on is a Science teacher, obvious a beleiver and has many accomplishments behind his name.
Maybe you should attend and be swallowed up by educated believers.


I encourage you to do more research. Some of the topics you might want to essay include the textual basis of Genesis, and the nature of science, which does not privilege our personal belief systems. Strictly speaking, we scientists are not in the 'belief' business; rather, we attempt to build models that can account for as many observations as possible. From this point of view, whether or not a scientist personally believes this or that is irrelevant. What matters is evidence.

I'm glad your not my child's Science teacher!

Why? Because you would only want teachers who would reinforce your personal views teaching your child? You have an interesting conception of education!

j.o.l. said...

I am fully aware of Collins’ rejection of ID as a valid theory and I applaud his intellectual integrity. It demonstrates that scientists like Collins are very capable of finding God in valid science rather than in quasi-scientific arguments for God. By citing Johnstone’s degrees, I am placing him in the league of those who think before they write. Whether they think about God as creator of the universe or not. Your initial post argues that his education antiquates him. I argue that it means he has demonstrated in the academy and in the clinic that he knows how to think and more than likely you will find that his arguments, questions, and doubts with evolutionary theory are not because he thinks the earth is flat. Ultimately, what is at stake in this thread, perhaps to those calmer “anonymous” writers, is the instant dismissal of Johnstone’s argument because of his adherence to creationism. Too many Christian thinkers are not even offered a chance to argue in an intellectual climate that has come to be dominated by secular humanism and it is reason to be offended. A better approach perhaps, seems to be in the manner of your subsequent posts ; professional and with references to DNA rather than “baloney.”

Ian H Spedding FCD said...

anonymous wrote

I find it interesting that you consider yourself an academician qualified to judge Dr. T. Johnstone who has accomplished significantly greater academic achievements than yourself. This is a man with a medical doctorate.


I find it interesting that you consider that a medical doctorate qualifies its possessor as an expert on biological evolution. All those biologists must be kicking themselves that they spent so many years in study and research to become qualified in their chosen profession when it could all have been learned in their spare time while they trained to become doctors.

He earned his M.D. in 1977 and pioneered the Human Genome Project. That’s almost 30 years of incomparable brilliance, being a nice guy too, and advocating that the universe is God’s creation.

Do you have any evidence that his faith informed his research in any way? Did his research uncover any compelling evidence for the God whose existence he advocates? Did it even provide any explanations for the horrific waste, pain, suffering, disease and death which his God chose to make a part of this Universe?

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

j.o.l. writes:

A better approach perhaps, seems to be in the manner of your subsequent posts ; professional and with references to DNA rather than “baloney.”

Well, the 'baloney detector' (or, as it is sometimes called, the 'crap detector') is just a reference to the tool kit of healthy skepticism that's been advocated by the likes of Carl Sagan, etc. as essential to evaluating claims to determine whether or not they are pseudoscience. I haven't read Dr. Johnstone's book (I doubt hardly anyone has, so far), but if you read the description at Amazon.com it's pretty clear that he's going to use arguments that have already been vetted by the scientific community and found wanting: 'the Cambrian explosion', for example, or probability arguments against abiogenesis. Maybe Johnstone has some novel arguments that I haven't heard before. Maybe they deserve a fairer hearing than I've given them. Maybe. But it's pretty unlikely that either some retired medical doctor or some cranky old high school teacher is going to have a bunch of scintillating new insights in this field. It's highly likely that Dr. Johnstone's book is a pastiche of well-known creationist 'arguments' that have already been considered, and rejected by the scientific community.

Too many Christian thinkers are not even offered a chance to argue in an intellectual climate that has come to be dominated by secular humanism and it is reason to be offended.

They would have good cause to be offended if secular humanists were privileged by the scientific community simply for the private beliefs they hold. Ken Miller has certainly acknowledged that there is in certain academic circles an assumption that something like secular humanism must be true, and I see no reason to disagree with him. But the scientific community as a whole doesn't privilege beliefs. They privilege evidence. In my experience, Christians who complain about the burden of proof that they are asked to meet seem to really believe that they are being screwed over, as if they were somehow entitled to a different standard of proof. Well, they're not.

I can't say with certainty that Johnstone's book is 'baloney', but I do have very good reason to suspect it. And if you read my post I don't condemn Johnstone for skepticism of evolution up-front; I just think the burden of proof is definitely on creationists to show that their ideas are not, in fact, baloney! Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and there's nothing unfair or exclusionary about requiring everyone, including Christians, to meet that standard within science.

R. Moore said...

Anonymous said:

"...I find it interesting that you would attend Reasons To Believe, which I researched and found to be a Bible based Chrisitan organization and then set out to disprove what is being taught. Why attend if you don't believe?"

I can't speak for Scott, but from the RTB, Fresno website:

"The Fresno Chapter of Reasons To Believe exists to fulfill the Great Commission by establishing a dialogue with non-believers, removing the doubts of skeptics and strengthening the faith of believers."

This sounded like an invitation to a skeptic like myself, so I did not feel like a gate crasher in attending a few meetings. Unfortunately, I found it mostly to be a cult of personality centered around Dr. Hugh Ross. Whenever a scientist forms his conclusions, and then searches out the facts, I have a good clue they have no idea what they are talking about. I suspect Dr. Johnstone uses a similar approach to his scientific reasoning.