My Experiences as a creationist student in zoology departments of several universities
[Editor’s note: This is somewhat different from most of our web articles, but we feel privileged to have this contribution from creationist biologist Dr Frair. He is one of the handful of folk who were the pioneers of the modern creation movement, such as the late Dr Henry Morris. We think it will be of great interest to many readers, not just from the perspective of his comments on creation-evolution issues, but also his personal experiences during that era.]
Published: 22 March 2011(GMT+10)
In 1946, at the University of Massachusetts my first course in biology was taught by a brilliant professor, Ray Ethan Torrey. The course had been advertised as General Botany. However, it turned out to be primarily a consideration of how the flowering plants demonstrated evolution. Their embryology was presented as a shortened summary of their entire evolutionary history. During the second semester I studied general zoology under a relatively new Harvard Ph.D., Gilbert L. Woodside. He was an embryologist who also was convinced that the stages in embryological development displayed a summary of the ancient evolutionary past.
Another professor presented data indicating that animals had evolved from a marine environment because their blood fluid had the same constituents as seawater. An evolution argument that was well illustrated in our textbook was that the hearts of fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds showed a beautiful evolutionary progression. First there was the two-chambered heart of the fish, three of the amphibian, intermediate type of four in reptiles, and then avian and mammalian four-chambered hearts. We also learned about homology—for example, the similar limb bone arrangements of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. These likenesses were defined as being the result of common ancestry. Later, we were taught that Rutgers University scientists had been involved with blood serum studies (a field called serology). Results were believed to be consistent with the evolutionary evidence from anatomy.
Education through master’s degree
I was a new Christian, believing the Bible and never doubting my salvation, but was somewhat uncertain just what to believe about the subject of origins. Many evolutionary arguments seemed very convincing. I recognized that the book of Genesis was inspired by God, and it appeared to be presenting factual historical information, thus producing a conflict. The conflict became so great that in my junior year I transferred to a leading Christian college (Houghton). I majored in zoology with minors in chemistry and Bible. After graduation, I spent an additional year and summer at another Christian College (Wheaton) taking a full load of science, theology and apologetics courses. It was of some concern during those Houghton and Wheaton years because professors were not able to answer, at least to my satisfaction, some questions regarding evolution. But there were enough good answers to keep me going in a science career.
I taught middle and high school science, biology, physics, and health before returning to the University of Massachusetts for graduate school. To my surprise, I found myself in an experimental embryology class with Dr. Woodside, my former freshman zoology professor. He was a great teacher, and I chose him as my advisor for a Master’s Degree in embryology. (I also worked in his laboratory, and we coauthored a paper on effects of the first-discovered anti-cancer drug, 8-azaguanine).1
Embryology had been Darwin’s main ‘proof’ for evolution, but another scientist, Ernst Haeckel, had distorted the evidence that had led Darwin to this conclusion.
A big surprise was the discovery that Dr. Woodside completely had changed his view about embryology and evolution! Embryology had been Darwin’s main ‘proof’ for evolution, but another scientist, Ernst Haeckel, had distorted the evidence that had led Darwin to this conclusion. Dr. Woodside groaned that, “There has been only one Nobel prize given to an embryologist (Hans Spemann). This is because good embryologists came to one dead end after another trying to fit their data into an evolutionary pattern.” It had not worked because there were just too many exceptions. Therefore many good embryologists had become disillusioned and moved into other fields.
After receiving my MA degree on chick embryology I took more graduate zoology and biochemistry at Brown University for one year. Then I accepted a position as Biology Instructor at The King’s College (TKC) in New York. I commenced further graduate studies in the Biology Department at nearby New York University (NYU) while continuing to teach biology courses at TKC.
Understanding the issues
On the topic of creation and evolution, I read a variety of books, including Byron C. Nelson’s After its Kind. This book dealt with Genesis kinds or types. Also I explored literature distributed by the Evolution Protest Movement in England. Very importantly, I met men and women who were Christians and scientists belonging to the American Scientific Affiliation. This organization had been founded in the early 1940’s to oppose evolution. The biologist, Dr. William Tinkle, and other scientists strongly encouraged me to hold to a creation view. I studied a book titled Evolution, Creation and Science by Dr. Frank Lewis Marsh.2 He argued, very convincingly, that scientific evidence favored the concept of separate kinds which had diversified to produce all the varieties existing among fossil and living forms. Material in that book was a very important reason why I accepted the ‘kinds’ concept as my own working view. Also, geneticist and theologian, Dr. John W. Klotz, by his writings and personal talks helped to solidify my creationist position.
A New York University summer school course I took was taught by the Biology Department Chairman, Dr. Harry A. Charipper. At the beginning he gave us a ‘slide-making assignment’ for the entire course lab time. I decided to show the professor how fast that work could be done. So I worked furiously, completing it in three days! Dr. Charipper was amazed at the quality of my work done in such a short time. He gave me a good grade. Professor Charipper knew that I had an interest in embryology. So he wrote an excellent letter to the department’s vertebrate embryologist, Dr. H. Clark Dalton. He strongly recommended me as a potential Ph.D. student.
Before my appointment in the office of Dr. Dalton, I knew him only by his apparently good reputation. He soon learned that I had some questions about evolution and asked if I happened to be a Christian. I replied in the affirmative. He reacted with a caustic verbal attack on my faith and beliefs. “How do you expect to be a Christian and a scientist?” he queried me angrily. Later he wrote a scathing letter about me to the Department Chairman.
Some days after my interview with Dr. Dalton I was in the Biology Office to obtain a copy of my transcript. The secretary handed me my whole folder. In the folder on top was a letter from Dr. Dalton to Professor Charipper. It was almost unbelievable how he literally tore me apart. I was stunned! Also in the folder was the prior very favorable memo from the Department Chairman, Dr. Charipper. However, it was clear that my future in embryology at NYU had been terminated!3
Relief at Rutgers University
Shortly after this, I was accepted as a graduate student in the Zoology Department at Rutgers University in New Jersey. This was like a breath of fresh air! Faculty members there were very friendly and anxious to help and encourage students! Many professors in the department attended local churches. I was a laboratory instructor and took graduate courses the first year. I had an NSF grant covering all expenses (especially research) the next year. My transcript was replete with graduate credits. So after just the one-year of formal courses at Rutgers, I did mostly turtle research. I wrote my dissertation and received a Ph.D. in serology.
My advisor, Dr. Alan A. Boyden, was the Zoology Department Chairman and senior professor in that department. During the 1930s Professor Boyden had initiated blood-serum-protein studies in the United States. I was the last of his many Ph.D. students. Dr. B (as he was affectionately known) had a genuine respect for those who were serious about a Christian commitment. Because of his research and that of his many previous students, Dr. Boyden had become recognized as the “father of biochemical taxonomy.” Most scientists used results of these studies to support evolution. However, they were greatly ill-informed.
He emphasized that it was bad science to extrapolate from the small changes (for which there was plenty of evidence) to large changes which usually were imaginary.
During the spring semester of 1960 at my first year at Rutgers, I entered a ‘bombshell’ graduate course titled ‘History of Zoology’. It was taught by the master, Dr. Boyden! This was an origins course, and all we studied was ‘evolution.’ But, to the amazement of all of us graduate students it actually was an ‘anti-evolution’ course, at least as most of us understood the word ‘evolution’. Defining evolution as ‘change’ the professor distinguished between microevolution (small change) and macroevolution (large change). He emphasized that it was bad science to extrapolate from the small changes (for which there was plenty of evidence) to large changes which usually were imaginary. Those in the class were stunned at first. Yet as the weeks went on nobody could doubt the force of his arguments. Most evolutionists think that small changes eventually lead to large changes. So this whole process simply is termed ‘evolution’ even today by a majority of the scientific community. Dr. B, however, called these evolutionists “ancestor worshipers”, or “people with a backward look.”
Professor Boyden later published some anti-evolution thoughts in a book titled History of Zoology (Pergamon Press). Dr. Boyden considered this book to be the sequel to a 1960 publication, Implications of Evolution (Pergamon-Elsevier) by Dr. G.A. Kerkut. In that book, Professor Kerkut, a well-known British invertebrate authority, distinguished the “special theory of evolution” (microevolution) from the “general theory of evolution” (macroevolution), arguing that the latter is conjectural.
My research at Rutgers involved reptiles with an emphasis on turtles. In my investigations I focused on classifying the close to 300 different types of living turtles, and unraveling their diversification from the time they first appeared on the earth. Authorities on the fossil history of turtles do not agree on their evolutionary origin. The picture is exactly as Dr. Kerkut had found exists for the invertebrates, and it is generally true for other groups. That is, it is difficult to fit the facts into an evolutionary pattern.4
Evolutionary arguments are not convincing
The various evolutionary arguments that seemed so convincing during my early months of studying biology have consistently yielded to contrary data. The similarity of blood fluid to seawater is not indicative of any evolutionary relationship. Careful studies have shown that the various constituents that were being compared are not in the same proportions in blood as in seawater. I pointed this out to one professor! He then simplistically proclaimed that the proportions would have been the same for the sea water and blood fluid in the first ‘fish’ leaving the water. This was prior to continuing evolution on land. When asked what these figures were, he dogmatically declared that we would have to know proportions in the seawater and in the fish at that time—which of course we do not know. Clearly this whole scenario is vacuous because there is no evidence for it! It is interesting, however, that some fish today can propel themselves on land by using their fins. Yet these creatures certainly are fish and not intermediates between fish and terrestrial vertebrates. So why should there be similar constituents in both blood and sea water if not because of an evolutionary connection?
The simple answer is that our bodies (and bodies of animals generally) have the same substances that are found in the soil (dust of the ground). This is true because all creatures obtain these from the soil. Animals eat plant tissues produced from chemicals in the soil. Or they consume tissues from other animals which are linked in a short or long series of a food chain or web back to plants. Wherever an animal (or person) is in a food web, the source of its body chemicals (including blood) is terrestrial. The oceans contain these substances because they have washed down in the rivers and were deposited in oceans. So we would expect similarities (but also differences—see Red-blooded evidence) between blood and seawater.
Many studies have revealed that all living things have highly integrated parts, similar to a well functioning automobile motor. Did cars evolve from wagons, rickshaws, bicycles, roller skates or something else because they have similar parts (wheels, for instance)? Of course, one type of car often precedes another, but they both are the products of intelligent design—not the evolution of one into another by some naturalistic process. Does the fact that we can compare the hearts of various animals point to a naturalistic evolutionary series? The two-chambered fish heart functions perfectly well in the fish with the blood cell types and other aspects of the hemodynamic physiological characteristics of fish. This is consistent with a design perspective without regard to evolution.
Why would there be change in a fish heart, and many concomitant changes in other body parts, that would allow the fish to convert into a well-integrated amphibian? Since there still are plenty of fish in a great variety of environments, it appears very unlikely that the integration of fish body parts could be modified in ways that would disrupt the integration and still have improved survival value. The three-chambered heart works well in the amphibian, but it wouldn’t work well in a fish. A certain motor works well in a car but not on a wagon. All parts of machinery or of living things must be designed to function together as a unit.
When the heart of the reptile is drawn in evolutionary diagrams, the septum usually is portrayed as vertical so that it only partially divides the ventricle into two compartments. Thus, it looks like an evolutionary intermediate between the three-chambered amphibian hearts and the four-chambered avian or mammalian hearts. However, a researcher named Holmes reported careful studies of these so-called partial septums and found that when there were elevations of tissue in the large chambers (ventricles) of the hearts, they characteristically were horizontal and not vertical.5 This orientation functions best in directing blood flow through the ventricle. Here again, we recognize aspects of dynamic design and not an evolutionary intermediate condition.
But doesn’t the concept of homology point to evolutionary relationships, as I was taught when I was a university freshman? Professor Owen, who coined the term in the 1800s, was not thinking in evolutionary terms. My Rutgers advisor studied the whole issue in depth and concluded that most evolutionists are misusing the term homology. Doesn’t similarity mean common descent, as most evolutionists claim? The answer is ‘no’ except when we are discussing variation or microevolution—those small changes that occurred, for example, when plants or animals (such as turtles) diversified.
The English scientist, Gavin de Beer, recognized more than a half century ago the currently-well-known fact that similar structures often do not have similar developmental patterns, and that similar embryological pathways can lead to different types of structures. Modern biochemical genetics (including Hox genes) has shed much light on many of these issues. The problems are not all solved from either a limited-change (creation) or unlimited-change (evolution) perspective, but as I continue to examine the issues I am more and more convinced that the facts fit best into an abrupt appearance, limited change (kinds) model. Understanding of the collected facts continues to be perfectly consistent with belief in intelligent design by the Creator.
Research at The King’s College
In my own laboratory we examined the red blood cells (rbc) of the largest turtles in the world today, the sea turtles. An interesting result emerged! The larger the sea turtle, the larger the rbc. This does not appear to be true for other turtles, but for marine turtles we believe that this is connected with their physiology and behavior.6 While studying these animals I surveyed the rbc literature among all the vertebrates (amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles). Evolutionists postulated that, as organisms climbed branches of the evolutionary tree, their rbc became smaller and thus more efficient at loading and unloading oxygen. But I found many exceptions to this general concept.
Fish would be expected to have the largest rbc and birds and mammals the smallest. But the largest rbc are found in certain tailed amphibians, not fish. Birds and mammals would be expected to have small cells because they are warm-blooded and need to load and unload oxygen more rapidly in the maintenance of their relatively constant body (especially high) temperatures. This generally is true, but some birds have even larger rbc than some fish. It seems that many scientists endeavor to present their observations in an evolutionary context, not because the evidence is in any sense compelling, but for other reasons, which in many cases are most consistent with their atheistic philosophy.
The position that I feel is most consistent with Scriptural and scientific data today is that God created certain basic kinds or types which, over time since the creation, have varied to a limited extent, producing the many varieties presently found as fossils and living forms.
- Frair, W.F. and Woodside, G.L., Effects of 8-azaguanine on early chick embryos grown in vitro, Growth 20:9–18, 1956. Return to text.
- Marsh, F.L, Evolution, Creation and Science, Review and Herald, Washington DC, 2nd ed., 1947. Return to text.
- This happened in 1959. In 2008 I contacted NYU and its archives for copies of the two letters, but (along with other records from the 1950’s) they had been destroyed. Return to text.
- Bergman, J. and Frair, W., Evidence for turtle evolution? Journal of Creation 21(3):24-26, 2007. Return to text.
- Holmes, J.B., A reconsideration of the phylogeny of the tetrapod heart, Journal of Morphology 147:209-228, 1975. Return to text.
- Frair, W., Turtle red blood cell packed volumes, sizes, and numbers, Herpetologica 33:167-190, 1977. Return to text.