Terry Mortenson at Butler University

I went today to hear the lunchtime talk by Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis. The title was “Was Darwin Right?” The title reflects the classic young-earth creationist tactic of focusing attention on individuals and work done in the past – quoting Darwin on gaps in the evidence a century and a half ago, without ever mentioning someone like Francisco Ayala, a contemporary Christian geneticist who points out that there are no longer any gaps thanks to the availability of genetic evidence, allows the young-earth creationist to give a twisted impression of the science. (Of course, some more recent individuals are quoted – but only selectively, when it serves their interests).

His thesis, as he summed it up early on, were that natural selection and mutation occur, but that they are the opposite of evolution. Ironically, this point illustrates how young-earth creationism has evolved, conceding points it used to dispute, and cross-pollinating with Intelligent Design.

Mortenson then discussed the assumptions that control science: naturalism, that matter is all that exists. Scientists do science as though matter is all that exists, and assume that chance plus the laws of nature can explain everything.

Since at one point he showed a picture of clouds as an example of chance and the laws of nature at work, at the end of the talk, I asked why he buys into such atheistic assumptions of meteorologists, who consistently ignore God when reporting on the weather. I quoted some lines from Job 26. Ironically, Mortenson was happy to say that God creating laws of nature, which then work, was good enough. And so this illustrated another point I made, which is about the excluded middle – the fact that he is contrasting young-earth creationism with atheists’ views of science. But there are plenty of Christians who would say the same thing about biological evolution that Mortenson said about the weather – even though the Bible’s language gives a different impression in both areas.

Selective quotations, together with misleading images and analogies, offered an overall depiction of evolution that was far from what biologists actually talk about. One example was a picture that envisaged evolution moving from a modern microbe to a modern fish to a modern frog and so on, rather than dealing with common ancestry in an accurate way.

Some points were more annoying than others. He mentioned a picture drawn by one Dr. Gingrich of the ancestor to modern whales, based on a fossil skull when that was all they had discovered at that point. Of course, when a fuller fossil was discovered, the reconstruction changed. Depicting such progress in knowledge as though it were evidence of something wrong with science is thoroughly deceptive.

Likewise with the Piltdown Man hoax, instead of honestly indicating that the hoax was exposed by scientists, he gave the impression that the hoax was covered up by scientists.

Even though he treated abiogenesis and evolution as though they were synonymous, he did say that “natural selection is a fact.” But he then went on to say (rightly, but misleadingly) that natural selection is not evolution. He depicted it as a conservative process, one that does not produce different kinds (Biblical kinds now being defined as above the level of species in the modern sense). Slides were shown with changes in dogs – a process which, in the young-earth system, involves faster evolution than modern science posits! Mortenson claimed that a “loss of genetic information” occurs to produce a Chihuahua. There were catchy phrases, such as that “natural selection explains survival of the fittest, but not the arrival of the fittest.”

Mortenson also acknowledged that “mutations are a fact” but (once again borrowing from Intelligent Design) said that mutations do not increase information. Directionless, mindless changes only harm and do not improve. He even claimed that bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics is not evolution, since “they survive because of less information.”

I was pleased to hear Mortenson honestly come out and say, having talked about mutations that causes illnesses, that “Mutations are the God-ordained consequences of God’s curse.” Some young-earth creationists still seem to think otherwise, and that it is only or moreso in positing God creating through evolution that mutations and suffering are a problem.

The entire things was one big presentation of a false antithesis: mindless atheistic evolution vs. creation without evolution.

Towards the end, Mortenson asked “Does it really matter?” In response, he mentioned William B. Provine, and the view that, according to evolution, “We’re just animals, the result of an accident.” But that isn’t something that evolution can say. Whether we are the result of the laws of physics at work or a direct creative act, neither diminishes who we are. But by associating evolution with this illogical corollary, it helped support the appeal to people to reject evolution and choose meaningful lives – again going back to the false antithesis.

Mortenson quoted Romans 1:20 – and yet that verse says that God is testified to accurately by creation, something that is incompatible with young-earth creationism, which has to deny and argue against much of the evidence.

The conclusion was an invitation to buy books and DVDs.

Here is the main question I had for Terry Mortenson at the end: since he mentioned that he himself became a Christian without having evolution challenged, and since students who study biology having previously been steeped in young-earth creationism often lose their faith when they are presented with how extensive the evidence for evolution is, while well-informed people are driven away from the Christian faith by its association with young-earth creationism, and since even Mortenson’s own organization says that acceptance of evolution is not something that determines whether one is truly a Christian, then why do they spend so much time and money promoting a viewpoint that hinders the spread of the Gospel and harms the reputation of the Christian faith?

I didn’t find his answer to that any more satisfactory than the rest of his presentation.
I’m not sure who most of the people there were. Some were definitely from outside the university. I included in my question a statement that I hope those present will fact-check the claims made in the presentation.

 

  • Kyle Greenwood

    I’m happy to hear you were able to raise meaningful questions. Jon Sarfati of Creation Ministries International (an offshoot of AiG) spoke at my church about 6 months ago. While attempting to ask a question about the history of interpretation of Genesis 1, he cut me off, moved to a powerpoint slide, and took ancient interpreters out of context. Sounds like your situation was more academically engaging.

  • Michael Roberts

    Elsewhere Mortenson argues that geological time is based on 18th century philosophy of an athesitic kind rather than science. A pure assertion without evidence.
    James, are you saying that Mortenson is , er um, not quite honest?


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