Volume 10, Number 1

Science, Censorship, and Omni Magazine

To the Editor of Origins Research:

The February issue of Omni magazine contained a series of anti-creationist articles and commentary. From beginning to end, the 842,282 readers of Omni were presented with a distorted caricature of special creation and creationists. This false picture simply had to be challenged. Because I am a regular reader of Omni, I wrote an extensive letter to the editor. I do not expect the letter to be printed in Omni, but I do want you to know that such bombast, disguised as science, has not gone unchallenged.

Web note: A response to this letter was received and featured in Origins Research 10:2, along with a response by Dr. Foreman. We have included the continuation of this dialogue in the on-line version of OR 10:2

To the Editor of Omni:

It may surprise you to know, but I am both a frequent reader of Omni and a scientific creationist (yes, we do exist). For several years, I have enjoyed the intellectual and open-minded articles I found in your magazine. Your treatment of science and technology, in particular, has been excellent. For this reason I found your February issue of Omni especially disappointing. Its collection of diatribes was unworthy of a publication that prides itself in its objective quest for truth. In fact, Omni's behavior resembled that of the proverbial politician who penciled on the margin of his notes, "Argument weak at this point. Thump podium and holler louder!"

You don't have the editorial space for me to rubut your every thump and holler, but please allow me to respond with five broad questions.

Who is Censoring Whom?

The central irony of the entire Omni issue is its premise that a small group of religious zealots is conspiring to censor all the science books in America. Such an accusation is absurd when one considers the commonly understood definition of "censor": "An official examiner of manuscripts empowered to suppress them if objectionable" (Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary), By this definition, is it the creationist or the evolutionist who has a virtual monopoly on the teaching of origins? Is it the creationist or the evolutionist who has been examining textbooks and has tried, through the courts, to suppress objectionable material about origins? Is it the creationist or the evolutionist that has to fight for equal time and academic freedom? In short, who is the censor and who is the censored?

With misplaced indignation, several prominent writers speak of censorship, intolerance, Stalin, book burning, and mental straight-jackets. With manifest hypocrisy, Omni even offers to send a protest card to the White House objecting to the censorship of science. As in many a rape case, where victim and criminal seem to trade places, creationists -- the true victims of censorship -- are protrayed as censors while evolutionists are portrayed as innocent victims. This tactic of role-reversal is as repugnant in a magazine as it is in a court of law.

In her article, "Censoring Science", Kathleen Stein is never quite sure what her attitude toward censorship should be. At one point, she congratulates an anthropology professor for discussing and "debunking" creationist literature. She insinuates that young people should be exposed to anti-evolutionary propaganda as a learning tool. Yet as she concludes her article, she quotes an assistant principal as saying, "We would be in jeopardy of confusion if we said, 'Now that we've told you the earth is four billion years old, we're going to tell you that it's six thousand years old'. It would be difficult for a tenth-grader to comprehend why we're going through these two extremely different concepts. That's not science" (p. 99).

Should young people be exposed to evidence that supports special creation, or should they be shielded from such evidence because it might lead to confusion? This is the issue before evolutionists, and how they approach it is indicative of how they approach all questions of truth.

Omni asks, "Should scientific creationsim be taught in public schools?" Special creation is either true or false. If it is true (or if significant evidence supports creationism), it should be a part of the school curriculum. If it is false, (or if it cannot be supported by scientific evidence), it should not be taught under any guise. Evidence, and evidence alone, should determine the place of creation in public schools. Any argument not rooted in scientific evidence is obscurant. If this evidence supports special creation, it deserves to be taught along side of evolution. Omni's tirade of arguments based on ridicule, religion, censorship, and church/state was little more than a school of red herrings.

Does Ridicule Lead to Truth?

Omni's torrent of personal attacks was uncalled for -- especially in Ms. Stein's feature article, "Censoring Science". Is it really relevant that a certain preacher has a "bulky body in a polyester maroon jacket" (p. 43)? Or that an "old black woman" has a granddaughter who "was murdered by a jealous lover on a white lady's lawn" (p. 44)? Does special creation suddenly become less tenable if fat people in polyeter or old black ladies happen to believe it? Why does Ms. Stein waste so much ink insulting Blacks, Southerners, Conservatives, Christians, and just about everyone else who doesn't share her viewpoint? Can anyone really believe that such phrases as "the brain ceases" (p. 44), "mopping up after idiocy" (p. 94), and "pea-brained head" (p. 44), reflect her self-affirmed virtue of broad-mindedness? Indeed, her sympathetic portrayal of evolutionists and agnostics betrays a self-serving attempt to promote her own circle of "educated intellectuals" while belittling "ignorant ordinary folk".

Ms. Stein expended extraordinary effort ridiculing born-again toys, prime-time preachers, evangelical organizations, and Christian theme parks. But to what end? Questions of cosmogony should be resolved by studying evidence, not by ridiculing those who do not conform to her views.

Does Majority Opinion Decide Truth?

Most of the Omni authors seemed to imply that scientific truth is obtainable by a show of hands. Their argument seemed to be, "If a majority of scientists holds that evolution is true, then, by golly, it must be true!" Omni presents this argument against a history of science that is littered with the corpses of theories once thought unassailable: flat-earth, geocentric universe, phlogiston, etc. Does it really matter that only "700 credentialed professionals" favor special creation? Do the solicited testimonials of Stephen King, Arthur C. Clark, Ray Bradbury, and lesser luminaries disprove special creation? Is it really relevant that 72 recipients of the Nobel Prize signed a document attesting to the truthfulness of evolution?

Questions of cosmogony must be argued from evidence and not majority opinion no matter what the reputation fo those who hold this opinion.

Should Not Cosmology Conform With Ontology?

Several Omni authors suggested that creationism is unfit for public instruction because it affirms certain religious presuppositions. Everyone has presuppositions, including philosophers, politicians, preachers, and even scientists. To claim otherwise is false. We all bring our biases, prejudices, and expectations into our interpretation of scientific evidence. Metaphysical presuppositions undergird all of science -- presuppositions which cannot be scientifically verified. Why then do evolutionists object when creationist cosmogony conforms to creationist ontology?

Dr. Gell-Mann took pains to point out that a group of creationists adhere to a particular Christian doctrine. So what? I am sure that Dr. Gell-Mann carries around his own share of metaphysical baggage, even if he is unaware of it. Furthermore, it would not surprise me if Dr.Gell-Mann's cosmology (evolution) affirms his ontology (materialist of some sort, I suspect).

In a like manner, Bradford Smith conjectured that newly discovered particles around the star, Beta Pictoris, might be evolving planets. He goes on to state that "there must be an enormous amount of life in the universe". Such statements betray his evolutionary suppositions. Smith concludes his interview with a Spinozistic statement of faith: "I believe there is a scientific explanation as to how everything, including life, came into existence; how we as an intelligent species came into being. I believe metaphysical concepts are not required to explain it. My goal in life is to try and seek out those answers" (p. 118).

With such presuppositions, evolution becomes not possibly true, but necessarily true. It passes from science to faith. Nevertheless, it is evidence that must decide scientific questions. Whether or not an individual's view of origins conforms to a wider-held view of the universe is immaterial.

Is Evidence for Evolution Convincing?

As I stated earlier, the case for evolution must stand or fall on the basis of scientific evidence (and its interpretation). The best way to accomplish this is to propose an evolution model and a creation model, and then to see which model best explains the facts. In Omni's entire 15 page mockery of special creation, actual evidence was brought up only four times; and then only to deride rather than to argue.

In "Censoring Science," Ms. Stein attacks Dr. Duane Gish of the Insititute for Creation Research. She ruefully admits that Gish usually wins debates, but attributes this to distortion and trickery which plays on his audiences' ignorance. Ms. Stein totally misses the point of Gish's whale/cow cartoon (p. 94) which is, "If evolution is true, then the whale must have evolved from a cow-like ancestor." Moreover, if this is the case, then the fossil record should be replete with a myriad of transitional forms chronicling the ungulate/whale transmutation. The Gish cartoon was merely an imaginative (and humorous) guess at what some intermediate forms might have looked like. The real question is, "Does the fossil record provide evidence of ungulate/whale transitional forms?" The honest answer is "No".

Ms. Stein also dogmatically states that "this affinity of the blood [evidence from serology] agrees precisely with evidence from comparative anatomy, embryology, and paleontology showing that whales and cows descended from a common ancestor." On this point, her evolutionary slip is showing. No one would deny that some species share more characteristics than other species. (Can we imagine a universe in which this would not be the case?) It is an obvious fact that humans resemble monkeys more than they resemble aardvarks. Likewise, one would expect human blood to resemble monkey blood more than aardvark blood. But does this resemblance prove common ancestry? No. Resemblance carries two possible causes: common ancestor or common design. How one views the supernatural will predispose how one interprets the natural.

Ms. Stein also claims that "hard empirical evidence" for evolution is occurring under our very noses. Quoting Carleton Gajdusek, she states that, "microbes have a generation time of a different order of magnitude. In the lab, during one human lifetime, the influenza virus can go through changes equivalent to a million years of human evolution" (p. 94). Unwittingly, Ms. Stein has confirmed one tenet of creationism: changes occur only within the fixed limits of kinds. The much-watched influenza virus, for all its changes, remains just an influenza virus. It has demonstrated no urge to climb the evolutionary ladder toward some higher life form.

Further, Ms. Stein denies the creationist contention that mathematical probability militates against evolution. She incorrectly attributes the following quote to Dr. Gish: Amino acids "are as apt to form themselves into chains having the right sequences, as a tornado swirling through a junk yard can form spontaneously into a Boeing 747" (p. 94). Actually, the junk yard analogy belongs to a famed astronomer, Fred Hoyle ("Hoyle on Evolution", Nature, vol 294, November 12, 1981, p. 105). In contradiction to the professsional wisdom of most mathematicians and geneticists, she dogmatically asserts, "mathematical odds, in short, have nothing to do with the origins of life" (p. 94). With apologies to Descartes, her logic seems to run, "I exist, therefore I evolved."

It is a peculiar characteristic of many modern scientists that, in their limited area of recognized expertise, they tend to be critical of evolution, while in areas outside their expertise they uncritically accept it. Two cases come to mind: Francis Crick buys into nine-tenths of the evolutionary scenario. He believes that the universe and living organisms are evolving. Notwithstanding, in his own area of Nobel-Prize winning expertise, he believes that the standard evolutionary scenario is impossible. Francis Crick is so convinced that life on this planet could not have some from non-life that he has proposed a theory of "directed panspermia" whereby the first seeds of life came from outer space. Conversely, Stephen Jay Gould has no trouble believing that life evolved from non-life and that the entire universe is evolving. Nevertheless, in his area of paleontological expertise, he finds orthodox, gradualistic evolution impossible. Recognizing that the overwhelming majority of fossil forms are characterized by sudden appearance and stasis, Gould has opted for a theory of "punctuated equilibria" or "hopeful monsters". Compelled by the evidence, Gould has postulated that evolving species take unexpected and unexplainable leaps up the evolutionary ladder.

In conclusion, I relaize that there is no chance of this letter finding its way into your publication. Indeed, the odds of this letter appearing in Omni are probably no better than those estimated for the spontaneous generation of complex proteins. Yet, in its own way, my letter's non-appearance will speak volumes about Omni's true attitude toward censorship and bigotry -- and do so with an eloquence words could never achieve.

Editor's note: As this issue goes to press, Dr. Foreman has received no reply from Omni, and no portion of his letter has been printed.

Copyright © 1997 Christopher Foreman. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 3.12.97