Crusading against Christianity
A response to Claassen
26 August 2005
George Claassen is the science editor of Die Burger, a daily Afrikaans newspaper in the Cape. He teaches science journalism at the graduate school of journalism of the University of Stellenbosch.
Dr Claassen has become notorious for his scathing attacks on religion in general, and creationists in particular. Strongly influenced by the aggressively atheistic Darwinian promoter, Richard Dawkins, and the leading US sceptic, Michael Shermer, he believes that ‘religion is a mental virus’ <www.news24.com/News24/Columnists/George_Claassen/0,,2-1630-1827_1756747,00.html> (how does he know that belief in evolution is not also in the same category?), that evolution is ‘alive and well’ and the most important theory discovered by scientists. In ‘The earth is not 6 000 yrs old!’ <www.news24.com/News24/Columnists/George_Claassen/0,,2-1630-1827_1753163,00.html> he pays tribute to radiometric and other dating methods, but fails to point out the many assumptions and inaccuracies involved. He also ignores recent experimental findings, widely publicized on creationist websites, that demolish the chief cornerstone of all radiometric dating methods.
In a recent article, Wake up and smell the eggs! <www.news24.com/News24/Columnists/George_Claassen/0,,2-1630-1827_1749701,00.html>, Claassen chose to mention our ministry, and one of the staff members, by name.
After receiving several requests from supporters for a response, it was decided to post this response. We do so in typical ‘email’ fashion, showing Claassen’s comments in indented, colored text, followed by our comments.
Wake up and smell the eggs!
News24, 05/08/2005 09:33
Is there anyone around on Earth who still believes the planet is only 6,000 years old? Unfortunately yes, despite the announcement in last week’ Science that the oldest dinosaur embryos were discovered in the eastern Free State’ Golden Gate Highland National Park.
A growing number of educated believers from all walks of life believes once more that the earth is only about 6,000 years old—which was in fact the majority view of the church throughout history, and a view shared by many of the founders of modern science. Should Christians see this as ‘unfortunate’? We have an Eyewitness account from One who was there ‘in the beginning’, and who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18). Moreover, we have Jesus’ words that ‘from the beginning of creation’ (not after millions of years of death, bloodshed, pain and suffering) He ‘created them male and female’ (Mark 10:6–7). And we have the genealogies in Genesis 4, 5, 10 and 11 confirmed by 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3. So to explain the unobservable, unrepeatable past (out of reach of the direct tools of the scientific method), should we accept the fallible opinions of fallen man over God’s Word?
Our entire ministry exists to confirm that believing in Genesis as straightforward history does not require any abandonment of reason (in fact the opposite) and is consistent with the facts (as distinguished from popular interpretations) of the real world.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence which suggests that the earth and universe are thousands, not billions of years old.
Of late, even some non-Christian scientists have questioned the traditional evolutionary view, concluding that at least some involvement of a designing intelligence is required.
The embryos, wonderfully preserved, were found in seven eggs and are 190 million years old.
Finding such fossils ‘wonderfully preserved’ is something we are delighted about—well-preserved fossils generally indicate sudden burial, before the forces of decay can do their work. But the ‘190 million years’ is stated as fact, when it is not something that can even be directly measured. Such assertions are generally based on a long chain of reasoning, in which one long-age conclusion is based on another long-age conclusion which is based on … . At the bottom one always finds unprovable assumptions. For example, sedimentary rates are assumed to have always been roughly the same (not even reasonable, let alone provable) and radiometric decay rates are supposed to have been constant throughout history (apparently reasonable, until the recent experimental results referred to earlier). Claassen’s asserting something does not make it fact.
They were discovered 30 years ago by the father of the Bernard Price Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand, James Kitching, widely regarded as one of the leading experts on Karoo fossils.
The Karoo formation, interestingly, features in the pioneering creationist classic of Flood geology The Genesis Flood. Its immense fossil richness and preservation fits much better with the notion of massive continent-wide catastrophic flooding than with the traditional ‘slow-and-gradual’ ideas about fossil formation.
At the time, nobody could study them because of a lack of technology, scientists and equipment to dig the fragile treasure trove out of the soil.
After a joint research project by scientists of the Bernard Price Institute, the University of Toronto, and the Smithsonian Institute—an example of international scientific collaboration if ever there was on—the Massospondylus carinatus embryos were exposed in eggs of a 6cm diameter. The 15cm embryos would have grown to dinosaur adults more than 5 meters long, walking on two hind legs with a long tail.
Massospondylus carinatus was a herbivorous (plant-eating) dinosaur from the early Jurassic period (208 to 146 million years ago) and was given the name in 1845 by Sir Richard Owen, a British scientist who studied fossils of this creature in South Africa’s Great Karoo.
It is not generally known that Richard Owen (England’s greatest anatomist and first director of the British Natural History Museum) was one of several well-known scientists who opposed Darwin on scientific, not religious, grounds.
Most people are unaware that modern science is firmly rooted in a Christian worldview. It was not some coincidence (or racial superiority) that caused it to arise in Western Europe post-Reformation. See The biblical roots of modern science: A Christian world view, and in particular a plain understanding of Scripture and Adam’s Fall, was essential for the rise of modern science.. Most branches of modern science were founded by believers in biblical creation (see Creation scientists and other specialists of interest.
And by the way, Massospondylus carinus was named in 1854 (not 1845).
The Jurassic period formed part of the middle period of the Mezoic [sic—should be Mesozoic] era (245 to 65 million years ago).
Such age assertions fall into the same category as indicated earlier. Repeating something as fact over and over may make it (unfortunately) part of our cultural tapestry, but it does not make it fact.
According to the Science Desk Reference of Scientific American, the Jurassic period had similar climates worldwide which created forests of conifers and ferns; dinosaurs were abundant, birds evolved, and limestone and iron ores were deposited.
Boiled down to the actual data, these statements are based on the composition (particularly the fossils buried therein) of rock layers labelled as Jurassic because they contain certain assemblages of fossils. Statements such as ‘birds evolved’ are based on the assumption that birds evolved from non-birds, not because the contents of these rock layers demonstrate that. Creationist geologists interpret the rocks as a record of progressive burial during the global Flood and subsequent related catastrophes, which makes far better sense of the evidence.
The name derives from the Jura Mountains in France and Switzerland, where the rocks formed during this period were first studied.
Scientists are quietly commemorating the formulation of the Big Bang theory by Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias 40 years ago.
[Editor’s note: Creationist cosmologist Dr John Hartnett, co-author of the book Dismantling the Big Bang, has reminded us that “Penzias and Wilson got the Nobel prize for their discovery of the cosmic microwave background. They didn’t even know its significance and it had to be explained to them. Peebles and Dicke wrote an accompanying paper that was published after theirs explaining the significance. BUT the BB theory was formulated by Friedmann and Lemaitre some 40 years before their discovery, so they can hardly be given credit for that.”]
More and more secular scientists are questioning the validity of the big bang theory. A significant number have written an open letter that was published in New Scientist. They are finally catching up with long-running creationist scepticism regarding the big bang.
Since then various studies by astrophysicists have found with a fairly reliable degree of certainty that the Universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old.
To the uninitiated,13.7 billion years sounds more ‘scientific than’ 13–16 billion years.
Other studies have found that the Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago,
This figure has now become almost a household term. Not too many decades ago, students were taught that the age was much less by many hundreds of millions of years. How does anyone know that this latest age is finally ‘correct’? Most people would assume earth rocks were used to calculate this age. But surprisingly enough, the presently accepted age of 4.55 ± 0.07 billion years was calculated almost 50 years ago—from meteorites! How? By radiometric dating theory, with all of the problems and assumptions mentioned above.
and that life could have started in the early and primitive oceans less than 4 billion years ago.
Could have … should have … may have … ? After several decades and billions of dollars spent on origin-of-life ‘research’, evolutionists are no closer to answering this ultimate ‘big question’. In fact, the more we know about chemistry and information theory, the harder it is to imagine how the information-bearing molecules of life could have arisen on any assumed ‘primitive earth’—they were clearly programmed by an intelligent programmer. The tendency of nature is for complex molecules to degrade, not the reverse. As the renowned scientist Paul Davies said in a 1999 New Scientist: ‘How could stupid atoms write their own software, nobody knows…’
‘Natural selection’ is no help in this dilemma, prior to the existence of any assumed replicating machines. So severe is this problem that even the co-discoverer of DNA, the overtly atheistic Sir Francis Crick, was forced to postulate that the first organisms were transported here by alien civilisations (!).
Analyse these scientific facts in light of an astonishing group of naïve people in the Boland towns of Stellenbosch and Somerset West, who still propagate that the Earth is literally only 6 000 years old.
We think it naïve to accept evolution/long-ages as scientific ‘fact’ and to close one’s eyes to the way in which the facts actually support a thoroughly biblical worldview.
Led by the Stellenbosch architect Pieter Pelser and his colleagues of the Study Group for Bible-directed Thinking, Martin Blignaut, Gustav Bredell, Danie Spreeth, Hennie van Rensburg, Joos van der Merwe, Jim Allan, and a part-time lecturer at Helderberg College in Somerset West, Bernard Ficker, as well as Johan Kruger who established a South African chapter of the anti-evolutionary group [Creation Ministries International],
Although most of the individuals listed above would probably be supportive of CMI, the local ministry has no organisational ties with the Stellenbosch ‘Study Group’, neither with any particular school, college or university. Most of CMI–South Africa’s outreaches are to the nation’s churches.
It would be good, though, if advocates of the humanistic/naturalistic religion, like Claassen, could propagate their religious views without resorting to name calling and ad hominem slurs impugning the intelligence of their opponents. (One of us has a Ph.D. in zoology from a respected South African university, for example.)
Note that our ministry is more than just an ‘anti-evolutionary group.’ It is a non-denominational, Christ-centred group of evangelistic ministries. With thousands of website visitors per day, an international family magazine (Creation) and peer reviewed scientific journal (Journal of Creation), our ministry is one of the leading ‘apologetics’ (i.e. defending the Christian faith) ministries in the world today. Our main focus is on upholding and defending the authority, accuracy, and integrity of the Bible from the very first verse,
these people, like their American colleagues pushing a creationist and Intelligent Design agenda in all walks of life right into the White House, cling to the idea that modern science is wrong in its dating of the Earth’ age and life on it.
There are many creationists outside the USA: in various European countries, for example (Creation magazine goes to ~100 countries. Furthermore, Creation is produced in Australia). So this is not just an American thing, which Claassen tries to imply here. The pejorative phrase ‘modern science is wrong’ seems intended to make the reader think that we deny or oppose either the scientific method, the facts revealed by modern experimental science, or the technological advances to which it has led. Nothing could be further from the truth. The average reader would probably not stop to consider that the methodology of observational science cannot be applied directly to discussions about the unrepeatable, unobservable past. The two are very different, of necessity. The philosophical ‘lenses’ through which one interprets the facts are crucial, particularly when it comes to history. The ‘just-so’ stories about one-off past events that are supposed to have happened when there was no human observer present are in a different category from observations of how the present world works. This sort of obfuscation about the philosophy of science is unfortunately all too common in opponents of the Bible.
One wonders how they explain the Golden Gate-discovery.
That’s not difficult. The first dinosaurs were created along with other land animals and people; they have since (along with many other types of creatures) died out. The perfect world that God originally created was affected by a worldwide Curse following the rebellion of the first person against his Maker. Death, suffering and disease (so far from being present for millions of years prior to people, as all ‘long-age views’, even non-evolutionary ones, must assert) became part of the world, intruders for a time to be done away with in the future. Some people once saw living dinosaurs—we know this from the many ‘dragon’ legends from all corners of the globe—a puzzle for evolutionists who claim that the last dinosaur died out some 65 million years before the first person appeared. These eggs were probably laid in haste by animals fleeing the rising waters and rapidly covered with sediments and fossilized during the global Flood of Noah a few thousand years ago. For this specimen to be ‘wonderfully preserved’ (see above), catastrophic conditions, and not slow processes, had to be involved. Dinosaur remains have been found that have been so wonderfully preserved that it brings into question the claimed millions of years age for dinosaur fossils—including tissue that is still soft and stretchy.
Or, without even leaving South Africa’ borders, the discoveries by paleontologists of numerous similar examples of fossils millions or hundreds of thousands of years old at Taung, Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Klasiesriver Mouth, Blombos, as well as other sites elsewhere in Africa.
The fossils are not in dispute, and in each case are much more readily explained in a creationist framework. But the ages are once more simply an assertion, not reality.
Africa may be the cradle of mankind, but the thinking of some of its inhabitants is still encapsulated in the eggshells formed around it by nearly two thousands years of superstition,
Here Claassen’s fundamental anti-Christian bias comes to the fore. For him, Christianity and the Bible are just manifestations of one more superstition, on the same par with animism and witch-doctor practices.
as if the discoveries of Raymond Dart, Robert Broom, James Kitching, Phillip Tobias, Hilary and Janette Deacon, Ron Clark and others are meaningless and void of any truth.
This is of course nonsense. The discoveries are perfectly meaningful and as far as one knows, totally ‘true’. I.e. fossils of various creatures have indeed been discovered and carefully described in reputable scientific literature. The grandiose claims made about many of the fossil discoveries referred to above are another matter. For example, that group of creatures known as the australopithecines and habilines do not really qualify as man’s ancestors. Even some evolutionist experts in paleoanthropology and human anatomy, such as Professor Charles Oxnard, agree with this proposition.1 One of us (CW) remarked after visiting South Africa:
It is only the highly motivated search for candidates, and the absence of anything better, which keeps them featuring in textbooks … of that whole group, the ones in South Africa’s much-vaunted ‘Cradle of Humankind’ are some of the least inspiring candidates, even to evolutionists themselves.2
Evolutionists have come and gone and so have many of their theories (i.e. just-so-stories) about the unobservable past. But the basic belief system underlying their approach has remained the same—rejection of, even to the extent of scoffing at, what God has revealed about history (2 Peter 3:3–6).
The Bible describes it well in Romans 1 (the whole chapter is worth reading as a commentary on our modern condition). Fallen men and women, in active rebellion against their Creator, do ‘not like to retain God in their knowledge’ (v. 28) despite the evidence for His power and designing intelligence being all around them (v. 20).
- Oxnard, C., Fossils, Teeth and Sex—New Perspectives on Human Evolution, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, p. 227, 1987. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Apartheid and ‘The Cradle of Humankind’, Creation 26(2):10–14, 2004. Return to text.