YEC on Campus

A Baptist group on campus invited G. Charles Jackson of the Creation Truth Foundation, a young-earth creationist ministry, to give a talk. So naturally I had to attend.

Unfortunately, my recorder’s batteries died during the pre-talk service, so I wasn’t able to record the event. But I tried to take notes.

The short version is that if you’ve seen Kent Hovind, or Ken Ham, or Ray Comfort, or any of their colleagues on the young-earth anti-evolution circuit, then you’ve seen G. Charles Jackson. He had the claims of having degrees. He had the cartoony misrepresention of evolutionary arguments. He had the mined quotes, and the ancient references. Okay, that’s not entirely fair, since he had a few arguments that I don’t remember seeing elsewhere. But still, nothing earth-shattering.

Have you ever gone to a concert by a band that used to be big, but is still touring, like Styx or Journey or Def Leppard? One of those that haven’t released an album in fifteen years (aside from direct-to-remainder-bin “Greatest Hits” compilations) and whose only attraction is nostalgia; playing to small venues full of people who used to like them in their heyday. But they keep touring and playing those old hits because it’s all they’ve got.

I got a similar vibe from Jackson. His entire schtick would have been right at home in circa 1992. Except that he’s younger than the Hovinds and Wiel, so maybe he’s more of a tribute band than an aging rocker. If you’re the sort of person who’d rather see a local stage production of a play than to watch a Broadway cast performing the same play on video, then you might enjoy going to see Jackson, rather than watching a Kent Hovind or Ray Comfort video.

He started out by talking about how natural selection culls the unfit; it doesn’t create new genes or new traits (CB110, I think). So where does the variation come from in the first place?

I have to give Jackson props for originality, though nothing else: most creationists mischaracterize evolutionary theory by ignoring the role of natural selection (CB940). Jackson is the first one I’ve heard to mischaracterize it by ignoring the role of mutations.

Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam: Jackson completely mischaracterized these. He never actually came out and said that Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam lived together and were the only humans on earth, but he certainly tried hard to give that impression (CB621). He also quoted papers showing that the mutation rate in mitochondria is much higher than originally thought (CB621.1), and therefore M. Eve and Y-c Adam lived only 6000 years ago.

He said the similarities in chimp and human DNA are due to them being used for a common purpose (CI141.1). To make his point, he put up — I kid you not — a standard textbook illustration showing common structure in a human hand, a cat’s paw, a whale’s flipper, and a bat’s wing. In other words, to show that common design means common function, he showed limbs used for grasping, running, swimming, and flying.

He claimed that all the different genera, certainly all the different families, were created separately, much as at the Creation Museum. He didn’t go into any detail about how he knows this, or even how to tell whether, say, dingos and poodles are the result of a single creation event or multiple ones. Presumably that’s because without coming to a consensus.

He’s a literalist. He rejects common descent, and actually believes in Noah’s flood, which occurred in the year 1689 after the creation of the world.

He claimed that introns, which are bits of the genome that are transcribed to RNA but are spliced out before the RNA is transcribed to DNA, should have a high mutation rate, since they’re not affected by natural selection. To be honest, this doesn’t seem to show up in the Index to Creationist Claims, and I don’t think I’ve seen this specific argument before.

Then he launched into the argument from population (CB620). I’ve addressed this one elsewhere. Suffice it to say that these calculations assume a modern population growth rate because that gives the answer they want.

Jackson claimed that all modern goats descend from five ewes, presumably the goat equivalent of Mitochondrial Eve. I don’t know where he got his information, nor am I entirely sure how the argument is supposed to work. But he traced it back to the animal population on Noah’s ark.

He then tried to coopt scientific explanations of human migration by saying that to get from Africa to the rest of the world, humans had to pass through the Middle East, which is where Eden, Mount Ararat, and the tower of Babel were. So I guess he considers that evidence for Genesis.

He then spent a few slides on the argument from authority: Isaac Newton thought the orderliness of the universe could only come from an intelligent being; Werner Arber thought God was a satisfactory origin-of-life theory; Francis Collins shows that it’s possible to be both a scientist and a Christian; Antony Flew.

Isaiah 40:22 has often been used to claim that the authors of the Bible knew that the Earth is a sphere. The usual counterargument is that that passage says “circle”, not “sphere” or “ball”, so it refers to a pizza-shaped earth, not a melon-shaped one. But according to Jackson, the Hebrew word for “circle” also means “sphere”. I don’t remember seeing any supporting evidence for this.

He launched into an attack on Eugenie Scott, saying that she claimed that all creationists are flat-earthers. This was an obvious straw man, and even though I didn’t know what he was referring to, I figured she had said something like “it is as unreasonable to believe in creation as it is to believe in a flat earth”, which is certainly a defensible statement. Now that I have an Internet connection again, I think what he was really referring to is this spectrum of beliefs, with flat-eartherism at one end, YECism further down, and progressing through evolutionary creationism, theistic evolutionism, and materialist evolution.

Moving right along, the Bible authors were onto something, because when Job 26:7 says that the earth is suspended over nothing, that would’ve sounded crazy at the time, and therefore must have been divinely inspired.

Also Leviticus 12:3 says that boys are to be circumcised on the eighth day, when allegedly vitamin K production peaks, thus helping with the blood-clotting associated with circumcision (CH135.1).

Not mixing meat and dairy allegedly prevents diseases. The “paths of the sea” mentioned in Psalm 8:8 are allegedly references to ocean currents. Blood sustains life, a fact that the ancient Israelites were apparently, in Jackson’s mind, too bloody stupid to notice without it being whispered to them by a god. The bit in Jeremiah 33:22 about the stars being innumerable is, to Jackson, a reference to the immensity of the universe. He also had something about the stars producing sound, which apparently refers to the fact that they emit radio waves. Oh, and the decay caused by original sin refers to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

I wonder if Mr. Jackson would be interested in what the Koran has to say about embryology.

Back to homologies: he accused scientists of circular reasoning: defining a homology as a trait shared due to common ancestry, and then using homologies as evidence for common ancestry (CB810). Not to rain on Jackson’s parade or anything, but the last book I read that discussed homologies (Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, highly recommended) defined them in terms of common traits: human arms, dogs’ legs, and whales’ flippers all consist of one bone attached to two bones attached to a bunch of bones.

Yes, birds’ beaks change shape and size over generations in response to local conditions like drought. But it’s not evolution because they change back after the drought ends.

Textbook authors copy from each other, therefore the classic diagram of horse evolution doesn’t prove a thing. Human embryos don’t have gill slits. The New York Times described “the extended evolutionary synthesis” as a scientific revolution, therefore Darwin was wrong.

The “molten sea” thing doesn’t get the value of π wrong. Okay, I’ll give him that one.

Then a slide showing Marilyn vos Savant urging people to to use reason when supporting their arguments. Thankfully, I think I managed to turn my guffaw into a cough.

Okay, on to the Q&A session.

In fairness, I liked Jackson’s version better than Hovind’s. When I went to see Kent Hovind perform, he had the audience write their questions down and pass them to him, so that he could pick out the softballs.

With Jackson, on the other hand, I managed to get into a bit of a shouting match about how creationists explain nested hierarchies and the tree of life. Why is it that of all the thousands of species of beetle, not a single one has a body part made of wood? Why is the gene for vitamin C in chimps and humans broken in exactly the same way?

His response basically boiled down to crimestop. He resolutely refused to see how this could be a problem for creationism, claiming that it’s compatible with creationism. I suppose a sufficiently-malicious god can create living beings any way he likes, with the appearance of common descent. So he hasn’t done anything to change my opinion that creationists don’t have a good explanation for nested hierarchies.

At any rate, he also brought up the Paluxy river tracks (CC101) and the Delk print, before going on to drawings on cave walls that, if you squint at them the right way and are told what you should see, look like T-rexes and Brontosauruses. He did say that the Ica stones are “controversial”, which at least places him a peg above Kent Hovind.

Oh, and apparently bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics, or gaining the ability to digest nylon isn’t evolution because, well, it just isn’t, okay? My notes just say “That’s not evolution, that’s just allele frequency change over time!”

In response to a question about how creationism can be falsified, he said that if goats were found to have come from more than N gene pools (where N is whatever number he thinks is required by the Noah’s ark story), then that would be evidence against his position. However, he didn’t go into detail about what this meant, or how to determine how many gene pools there are.

I didn’t see the end of it, because it was getting close to ten o’clock, and I had other stuff I needed to do.