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Space Debates

To the Editors:

In "The Other Evolution Wars" (November–December) David Kaiser points out that the scientific study of the origin and evolution of life has been attacked for decades by biblical fundamentalists, whereas the scientific study and evolution of the cosmos has, until relatively recently, escaped such vigorous attacks. Dr. Kaiser attributes the difference in the way these two scientific fields have been debated in the public schools to pedagogy and prestige. The Big Bang has never been a central part of high school curricula, and physicists emerged from World War II as national heroes. But since the end of the Cold War, physicists' cultural standing has changed dramatically, especially with regard to federal funding in the U.S. Dr. Kaiser says that the changing fortunes of physics, combined with physicists' own internal divisions and the obviously speculative nature of recent work (such as string theory parallel universes), has opened the door for a concerted attack.

Dr. Kaiser also cites a rash of new "authoritative texts" that antiscience education board members can use in their arguments for bringing supernatural explanations into secular classrooms. Among these books is Thousands, Not Billions: Challenging an Icon of Evolution, Questioning the Age of the Earth by Donald DeYoung. According to his biography, DeYoung holds a Ph.D. in physics from Iowa State University and a Master of Divinity from Grace Seminary. DeYoung believes that all stars were instantly created on the fourth day of creation, that they are all the same age and that there was no embryonic stage of star formation from nebulae. DeYoung has used the prestige of his Ph.D. from a highly respected secular university to publish his books and thereby spread his antiscientific philosophy well beyond his classroom. How does a person whose basic philosophy is so anti-science obtain a Ph.D. in any branch of science from a secular university? I have asked for accountability from the granting institutions regarding this problem in the Skeptical Inquirer.

Dr. Kaiser did not mention that the late Imanuel Velikovsky published his book Worlds in Collision in 1950, claiming that the solar system was still being formed by cosmic catastrophes during historical times (such as planet Jupiter ejecting protoplanet Venus as a comet). Some of these events could be used to explain some events of the Bible such as the plagues in Egypt prior to the exodus of the Israelites. His books were widely read at the time, and he gave lectures at several secular universities. Carl Sagan and other astronomers felt compelled to hold a symposium to offer scientific evidence against Velikovsky's theories.

Interestingly, in Astronomy and the Bible: Questions and Answers, DeYoung states that "Velikovsky is hardly a friend of creationists or Christians in general since he fully accepted evolutionary theory. Velikovsky denied the Genesis flood and attempted to explain the Old Testament miracles as natural catastrophes."

William D. Stansfield
California Polytechnic State University

To the Editors:

David Kaiser's article opens a serious question: Where did we go wrong with our education?

Having been born to a physician mother and an embryologist father, whose scientific output included several papers on evolution, I had the advantage of knowing about evolution long before I heard about books based on revelation. It gave me a feeling of humility and kinship not just with apes, but with all living matter. Watching tadpoles' tails shrink and seeing them grow into frogs helped me imagine that something similar happened to my ancestors.

Natural scientists are aware that no amount of observational evidence can prove one right, whereas a single new observation may prove one wrong. We love it that way. But I observe that we are in a micro-minority. The vast majority will never explore and do not even want to explore. If they ask at all, they want a complete, ready made answer, so they may memorize it. You may tell them that the universe is 13 billion years old, but in their way of thinking, it is just as much a dogma as the biblical 6,000. And the biblical account is a lot shorter than all the books that they would have to study just to be able to comprehend why the dogma of 13 billion may be superior to the dogma of 6,000.

Zdenko F. Danes
University of Puget Sound
Tacoma, WA

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