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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

The Creator in the Courtroom: Scopes II - Chapter Five

Excerpted Chapters from:


Norman L. Geisler's (1982) The Creator in the Courtroom: Scopes II, Mott Media Inc. 

Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright (c) 1982. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. 

Please note: This is not an official record of the trial and may, in part, reflect the views of the author who was a witness for the state of Arkansas in favor of Act 590. 

See Participants page for links to more information on Dr. Geisler.

Chapter Five

Record of Plaintiffs’ Science and Education Testimony

Summary of Plaintiffs’ Testimony

    Tuesday, in the early afternoon, the thrust of the plaintiffs’ testimony turned to the scientific case against creationism. The first scientist was called to the stand.

Dr. Francisco J. Ayala

    The first science witness called by the ACLU was Dr. Francisco J. Ayala, professor of Genetics at the University of California at Davis. He testified concerning the scientific validity of creation-science.

    Dr. Ayala testified that creation-science, as expressed in the Act was not science, because it was neither naturalistic nor was it falsifiable. He gave as an example the creationists’ assertions that there are limits to evolutionary change. Creation-scientists make use of the term “kind,” said Ayala, to delineate the limits of change, but this word is “religious,” not scientific.

    Ayala then explained the significance of the phrase “natural selection,” the idea that, because of the harshness of nature, animals with physical and genetic weaknesses will die younger and have fewer offspring. This, according to evolutionists, would have the effect of encouraging useful genetic change. Ayala said that creationists do not dispute the action of natural selection, but do give limits to the amount of change it may generate. Ayala said, however, that there was nothing self-limiting about natural processes. Ayala’s testimony became increasingly technical as he spoke of the role of genetics in evolutionary science. He explained several ideas concerning the mechanisms of evolution and said that the Act’s definition of evolution-science was inadequate. He said that evolutionary theory does not include the concept of life from nonlife, but that it presupposes the existence of life. Ayala said that evolutionists do not accept “the sufficiency of mutation and natural selection,” (Section 4(a)(2)) but recognize the existence of other mechanisms, such as recombination, genetic drift, and the founder effect. Ayala then discussed the importance of mutation in evolution. He said that while most mutations are harmful to the organism, many are beneficial, and the harmful ones are almost immediately eliminated by natural selection. He said that although creation scientists often assert that mutations must present immediately beneficial results in order to be successful, in so doing they ignore the fact that latent genetic traits can be retained, and become useful later.

    Ayala said that “the emergence of life from nonlife,” (Section 4(b)(1)) is not actually part of evolutionary theory. He said that the theory of evolution deals only with existing processes such as mutation.

    He also objected to the Act’s contention that there were only two models of origins. He said that one can never claim that there are only two models. Instead, he said that the creation-science model is not a scientific model at all, and that there are several evolutionary models.

    He spoke of the scientific validity of evolution, and explained some of the evidences for evolution. He said that the similarities between human and animal proteins implied evolution. At one point, he handed Judge Overton a chart showing these similarities. Ayala said, “It’s simpler than it looks.” Replied Overton, “I sure hope so.”

    Ayala contended that it was not necessary to observe evolution directly and said that it is not possible to observe macroevolution. He noted, however, that “speciation,” the splitting of one species into two, has been observed in the laboratory. Ayala said that evolution does not presuppose the nonexistence of a creator, but that “a creator, a God can create the world any way he chooses.” He said that God might “establish the laws by which the world evolves. God may have created the mountains. He may have created the processes by which the mountains are formed. Science is neutral.” Ayala said that a creator would be a personal God by necessity.

    During cross-examination by Defense attorney David Williams, Ayala agreed that he had been president of the Society for the Study of Evolution, and had formed an educational committee, with the purpose of countering movements which were opposed to the teaching of evolution. He admitted that the creation-science movement was one of these movements. He also admitted that he had been instrumental in the attempts of two other organizations, the National Academy of Science and the Committee of Correspondence, to limit anti-evolution movements.

    Williams asked Ayala whether it was true that there either was or was not a Creator. Said Ayala, “The law of contradiction still holds.”

    Ayala said that “testability,” not “observability,” was a necessity for a scientific model, and said that some of the most interesting aspects of science were not observable. He called science “a creation of the mind,” and said models could be used to make predictions, which could then be tested. He agreed that conclusions based on such a technique would be inferences.

    When asked to define the term “religion,” Ayala, who holds the equivalent of a doctorate in theology, quoted from the writings of theologian Paul Tillich. Ayala said that religion was a concern for the ultimate reality, which would require religious convictions, but not belief in a creator. He agreed that humanism could be a religion. He said that evolution might cause some students to reject their religious beliefs.

    Ayala said that he believed that life arose from nonlife through naturalistic processes. He said that this was a testable theory, and that it should be taught in the public schools. He agreed that to the extent that there were scientific evidences for creationism, they should be taught in the classroom. Ayala said that while academic freedom is “a right and a privilege,” a teacher need not agree with an idea in order to teach it.

Senator Jim Holsted

    The next witness for the ACLU was Senator Jim Holsted, an Arkansas state senator, and sponsor of the bill which became Act 590. Holsted testified concerning the source of the bill and his own motivations in introducing it.

    Holsted testified that he received the bill from a business associate, Carl Hunt, and later learned that the bill had been drafted by Paul Ellwanger. (Ellwanger formed the South Carolina-based creationism organization, Citizens for Fairness in Education.)

    He testified that the bill was passed in the Senate without being referred to a committee, and said that the bill received “fifteen to thirty” minutes of discussion on the Senate floor. Holsted said that no one spoke against the bill. In the House, the bill was sent to the Education Committee, where it received a short hearing before being returned to the floor.

    Holsted testified that his motivation in introducing the bill partly involved his personal religious convictions. Of the bill, he said, “Certainly, it would have to be compatible with something I believed in. I’m not going to stand before the Senate and introduce something I don’t believe in.”

    He admitted that the bill was strongly supported by religious fundamentalists, and agreed that the Act favored Biblical literalists. Hoisted admitted that the term “creation” presupposes a creator, but said that the Act did not violate the First Amendment, because “it doesn’t mention any particular god.”

    The cross-examination of Holsted was very brief. Hoisted agreed that because of the nature of the Arkansas legislature, which meets for only 60 days every two years, it is not unusual for a bill to be passed with little or no debate.

Dr. G. Brent Dalrymple

    The next witness to be called, late Tuesday afternoon, was Dr. G. Brent Dalrymple, a geochronology expert and geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. His testimony concerned the age of the earth and the relevance of geochronology to creation-science as expressed in Act 590.

    Dalrymple testified that, though creationists usually claimed an age for the earth of about 10,000 years, there was no evidence that the earth was young, but rather that the evidence indicated that the earth was about 4.5 billion years old. Dalrymple indicated that on this point, at least, creation-science could be falsified, and that indeed it had been falsified. Dalrymple said that theories which have been shown false should be discarded, and said that the theory of a young earth was “in the same category as the flat earth hypothesis and the hypothesis that the sun goes around the earth; all are absurd hypotheses.”

    Dalrymple explained that in order to date the age of the earth, scientists must rely on measuring the action of some process which is constant over time. He discredited several arguments made by creationists, saying that they were based on processes which are not constant. He gave as examples the measurement of the earth’s cooling, the small amount of dust on the moon and the supposed decay of the earth’s magnetic field, each of which, according to creationists, point toward a young earth.

    Dalrymple said that more widely accepted values for the age of the earth were based on a technique known as radiometric dating. This technique relies on the decay rates of certain radioactive elements, which, he said, are known to be constant to within a few percent. He said that one creation-scientist, Harold Slusher, of the Institute for Creation Research, had argued that the decay rate of iron-57 was not constant. Said Dalrymple, “The problem with this is that iron-57 is not radioactive.”

    The court adjourned at the end of Dalrymple’s direct testimony.


Wednesday, 9 December 1981

Plaintiffs’ Witnesses Dalrymple, Morowitz, 

Gould, Glasgow


    The third day of the trial opened with the cross-examination of Dr. Dalrymple by Defense attorney David Williams. Williams questioned Dalrymple about the validity of radiometric dating. Dalrymple testified that “as far as we know,” the radioactive decay rate of an element is constant, but in response to a ‘question by Williams, said that it didn’t make any difference whether the decay rate was constant before the formation of the solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago.

    Dalrymple said that all methods for calculating the age of the earth rely on the constancy of radioactive decay rates, and said that “in a certain sense,” this was an assumption of the methods.

    He said that for the rate of decay to change, there would need to be a change in the physical laws of the universe. He testified that the rate of decay is found to be constant in the laboratory, and from theoretical considerations. He also said that radioactive testing gives consistent results.

    Williams asked where in the Act Dalrymple found a figure for the age of the earth of 10,000 years. Dalrymple replied that this was not a part of the Act itself, but was a common figure given by creationists. Williams then asked whether Dalrymple would consider “several hundred million years” to be recent. Dalrymple agreed that on a geological time scale this would be recent.

    Judge Overton interrupted at this point to ask Williams just how the state intended the phrase “relatively recent” to be taken. Williams said that the state was not tied to any particular figure. Overton disagreed with Williams’ opinion that the question would not be raised in the biology classroom. “I’m puzzled as to what the teacher is supposed to say,” said Overton.

    When questioning of Dalrymple resumed, he was asked about the use of radiometric dating in conjunction with fossils. He agreed that this method was the best way of dating fossils found in a particular geological formation, and agreed that much of the case for evolution relied on this method. He agreed that because of its importance in this area, evidence about the accuracy of radiometric dating should be studied.

    Williams then asked Dalrymple whether he knew of any reputable scientist who had called into question the validity of radiometric dating. Dalrymple said, “No,” but when pressed, he admitted that one who had done so was Dr. Robert Gentry of Oak Ridge National Laboratories. Dalrymple said that, according to Dr. Paul Daymon, professor of Geosciences at the University of Arizona, if Gentry’s conclusions were correct, they would cast doubt on all of geochronology.

    Dalrymple said that Gentry had made a proposal for the falsification of his theory, but that it was not clear whether it was valid. Dalrymple said that Gentry had claimed that if a “hand-sized piece of granite” could be synthesized, then he would consider his theory falsified. Dalrymple said that this was a difficult technical problem, but that he did not see its relevance to Gentry’s claims. He admitted that Gentry was a competent scientist.

    In response to a question from Williams, Dalrymple said that he was a member of the American Geophysical Union, and admitted that he had drafted an anti-creation proposal for that organization. He said that an abbreviated resolution had been adopted by the A.G.U. on 6 December 1981, the day before the trial had begun.

    Dalrymple said that he had read “about two dozen” books and pamphlets by the creationists, and that “every piece of creationist literature I have looked into so far has had very, very serious flaws-and I think I have looked at a representational sample.” He admitted however, that while he was aware of Gentry’s work, he had not made an attempt to examine it more closely before the trial. Dalrymple said that Gentry had raised “a tiny mystery,” for which “I suspect we will eventually find an explanation.”

    Williams asked Dalrymple whether he believed in God. Dalrymple said the question was “highly personal,” but said that he was “half way between an agnostic and an atheist,” though he had “reached no final conclusions.” He said that there was no evidence for God’s existence, but that a religious person could be a competent scientist.

    On redirect examination, Dalrymple was asked further about the recently adopted A.G.U. resolution and read the resolution into the record. Dalrymple agreed that Gentry’s theory depends on supernatural causes and that his proposed test for falsification was “meaningless.”

    Judge Overton interrupted to ask for an explanation of Gentry’s theory. Dalrymple explained at some length the content of Gentry’s research and the conclusions which Gentry had suggested.

    On recross examination, the subject of Gentry’s work again arose, and Dalrymple said that the source of a theory might be important in assessing the validity of that theory.

Dr. Harold Morowitz*

    After the conclusion of the cross-examination of Dalrymple on Wednesday morning, the plaintiffs called Dr. Harold Morowitz, professor of biophysics and molecular chemistry at Yale University. Morowitz testified that because “sudden creation assumes supernatural causes” it is “outside the realm of science.”

    Morowitz complained that the “two model” approach to origins outlined in Act 590 implied that under that law, only those two strictly defined models could be taught, and no others. This, he said, would be limiting on science teachers who might want to take positions not quite identical to either of the two models.

    Morowitz said most creationists argue that the complexity of living things indicates that they could not have occurred by chance. Creationists, he said, “move from complexity to improbability,” and added, “but the fact of the matter is that we do not know the ways in which life came about,” and said science could one day learn of completely mechanistic processes by which complex living organisms first came into existence.

    *From this point on the account follows that of the Times (Cal Beisner) of Pea Ridge, Arkansas (Dec. 30, 1981), except supplements noted by brackets.

    He said creationists also rely on arguments based on the second law of thermodynamics. This law, he said, states that natural processes in closed systems tend toward maximum randomness, a breakdown in complexity. However, he said, creationists ignored the fact that the earth is not a closed system, but receives energy from the sun, making it an open system in which temporary, local processes can occur in a direction opposite that described by the second Law-that because of the energy the earth receives from the sun, growth in complexity and therefore the naturalistic origin of life are possible.

    “Evolution,” he said, “rather than being contrary to the laws of thermodynamics, is an unfolding of the laws of thermodynamics.” He said while science could know that the ordering effect of the flow of energy through the system had caused the origin of life, it was not clear how this happened.

    Under cross-examination, Morowitz testified that he had calculated the chance combination of elements to form life at about one to 101,000,000,000, the number one followed by one billion zeroes. He said, however, that those odds could not be applied to the surface of the earth, since the earth is not a closed system and therefore not directly subject to the second law of thermodynamics.

    Asked if anyone had yet created life by the flow of energy through various mixtures of elements, Morowitz said that in the thousands of experiments done, no one had yet succeeded in creating life.

    Asked how he would define the scientific community, Morowitz said it consists of those who make their livings within the field of science. He said science was a “social activity,” and that essentially science was, in the words of defense attorney David Williams, “what is accepted in the scientific community.”

Dr. Stephen Jay Gould

    The plaintiffs then called Stephen Jay Gould, professor of geology at Harvard University, and a proponent of a view called “punctuated equilibria,” which holds that evolution took place through fairly sudden, rapid changes in life forms, which is the reason that the fossil record contains so few plausible examples of transitions from one form of life to another.

    Gould said that creation science tries to explain the geological record, which he said shows the age of the earth in billions of years, on the basis of a single major catastrophe, a worldwide flood. Such a view, he said, is not “scientific, because it calls on a creator to suspend the laws of nature.” He said that the Act creates an artificial dualism when it refers to uniformitarianism and catastrophism. (Sections 4(b)(5) and 4(a)(5) ) Modern geology, he said, accepts both uniformitarian and catastrophic occurrences as responsible for the geological record. He said that there were two meanings for the word uniformitarianism: (1) the constancy of natural law, or (2) the constancy of the rate of sedimentation. Modern geology accepts only the first.]

    Gould said that on the basis of a flood model of geology, one would conclude that all forms of life were alive simultaneously, at least before the flood. However, he said, the fossil record preserved in the strata of sedimentary rocks in the earth shows that the animals were not mixed together, but are “rather well ordered in a sequence of strata, from the old to the new,” and this, he said, showed the flood theory to be wrong. Gould said that creation scientists account for the sequence of fossils by so-called “sorting mechanisms,” but that these mechanisms are not consistent with the observed fossil record.]

    Asked if, relative to paleontology (the study of fossils), creation science were “scientific,” Gould answered, “Certainly not, because it calls upon the intervention of a creator. . . . “The fossil record, he said, shows gaps between various types of life, but while creation science calls on a creator to explain the gaps, and therefore is not scientific, evolution can explain the gaps as resulting from the rapid, short-term changes that occurred from time to time along the branches of the evolutionary tree, and from the incompleteness of the fossil record.

    Gould said that creationists misrepresent his view of “punctuated equilibria,” claiming that he says entire evolutionary sequences can be produced in single steps. This, he said, is not what his theory says, but rather that minor changes occur suddenly. The traditional view of evolution, he said, could be compared with rolling a ball up an inclined plane-the fossil record for such a view should appear fairly smooth. His view, however, would be comparable to bouncing a ball up a set of stairs-because he postulated sudden changes, the fossil record should reflect gaps from one step in evolution to another. [Gould referred to the fossil record as “woefully incomplete.” He illustrated the fossil record as an old book in which there were few pages remaining, on which there were few lines remaining, in which there were few words remaining, of which only a few letters remained. He said that, because of the difficulty of fossilization, the “resolution” of the fossil record was probably not sufficient to show speciation - which would occur quite rapidly according to Gould. Gould then gave some examples of the transitional forms which do occur in the fossil record. Two examples mentioned were Archaeopteryx, a birdlike creature with some reptilian characteristics, (thought to be a transitional form between reptiles and birds) and “Lucy” (a fossil hominid classified as Australopithicus afarensis), apparently a human ancestor, thought to be about 3.5 million years old. He gave other examples of hominid transitional forms, such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus].

    Asked if evolutionary theory presupposed the absence of a creator, Gould replied, “No, evolutionary theory functions either with or without a creator, so long as the creator works by natural laws.”

    Under cross examination, Gould said science was not his only motive for opposing creation science, but that another was his political liberalism.  Asked if the term “creator” were inherently religious, Gould said, “not inherently.” He said it had some “metaphorical senses in the vernacular,” and was used that way by Darwin and Einstein. He also said that while the “best judgment of the scientific community” was that “life arose naturally,” that was “subject to question and being proved wrong, just like anything else in science.” [When questioned by Williams, Gould agreed that logically there were only two alternatives-either there was a creator, or there was not.]

Dr. Dennis R. Glasgow

    The plaintiffs then called Dr. Dennis R. Glasgow, supervisor of science education in the Little Rock schools, who coordinates curriculum development for science courses in those schools.

    Glasgow testified that creation science has never been treated in the science curriculum for the Little Rock schools, while evolution is treated under 18 concepts. He said all science courses, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, would be affected by Act 590, and that no materials of scientific merit are available to balance the two views in the state’s public schools. “There aren’t any materials available at all that I know of,” Glasgow said.

    He said the principle of evolution is reinforced by analogy at all levels of nature, and that therefore that principle provides a unifying theme of whole books in the science courses. This, he said, would require massive restructuring of the science education curriculum in his schools, and he didn’t know how that could be done since he was unaware of any legitimately scientific materials on creation science.

    Asked if he understood the term “balanced treatment” as used in the act, he said he didn’t know what it meant, but that he had made an operational definition in his own mind which was that it required “equal emphasis or equal legitimacy” to be given to each view. For this reason, he said, teachers could not give their professional viewpoints on the models, because that would be unequal emphasis and would imply unequal legitimacy.

    Glasgow testified that one sample curriculum for teaching two models, prepared by Dr. Richard Bliss of the Institute for Creation Research, would not be usable under Act 590 because it made value judgments and implied that there were only two views, while in fact there are many. The defense objected, saying that this was irrelevant, since no one had required Bliss’s curriculum to be used in the Arkansas schools.

    Asked how he would implement Act 590 as a curriculum developer, Glasgow said, “I don’t think I can implement the provisions of Act 590 to provide balanced treatment,” and added that creation science could not be taught without religion and that none of the materials about it he had seen were acceptable to him.

    He also said teaching two views without allowing teachers to give their professional opinions would “damage the security of students” and “lower the student’s opinion of the teacher,” and would lead the students to be skeptical of information in class on other issues because they would think that at least some was untrustworthy, since one of these views had to be wrong, and therefore others might be untrustworthy as well.

    He said there was no educational purpose in teaching creation science in accord with Act 590 and that such teaching would be “damaging as far as education is concerned.” He also said it would hinder the hiring of good teachers in Arkansas, because they would not want to teach where they were required to present something unscientific.

    Under cross examination Glasgow said a study of the effects of presenting two models by Bliss indicated students increased In cognitive development and critical ability when both models were presented. He acknowledged that the law would not necessarily require “equal time” to be given to the two views, and that nothing in the law specifically said teachers could not make a professional judgment to their students as to the validity of either theory. He said students should be free to question various ideas, but that they had not yet developed the capability to judge between views well before they were old enough to leave the public school systems.

    He also said that his belief that it would be impossible for teachers and administrators to devise a curriculum for balanced treatment presupposed his belief that creation science is not science but religion. He also said one reason he objected to Act 590 was that he was offended that the legislature might restrict his discretion as a curriculum advisor.

Chapter 5 continued on next page

Extracts of The Creator In The Courtroom: Scopes II (1982) by Norman Geisler, courtesy of Baker Books.

Scans provided by Jim Moore.