Sons of Light
A Visit to the Sixth European Creationist Congress
by Bart Koene
Scientists think that our earth and the universe have existed for billions of years. But a small group of people continues to dispute such scientific results, because it contradicts their interpretation of the Bible. They call themselves creationists. From August 16 to 19, 1995, 120 creationists met during the Sixth European Creationist Congress in the Netherlands. The congress theme is ‘For thou hast created all things’ (Rev. 4:11). Except for getting acquainted with each others’ work the congress serves as a meeting place ‘to speak and encourage each other.’
Creationism is (according to the press report) ‘the practice of natural science versed in scripture in which creation, the Fall and the flood are taken as starting-points.’ It has three core beliefs, based upon a literal interpretation of the Bible:
- The earth and the universe were created a short time ago, perhaps 6,000 to 10,000 years in the past.
- All life forms were created by God in a miraculous act, in essentially their modern forms.
- The present disrupted surface of the Earth and the distribution of fossils is primarily the consequence of a great catastrophic flood (Trefil en Hazen, 1995).
An important goal of creationism is disputing the validity of the theory of evolution. It claims to offer a scientific alternative. In the Netherlands it is a current political question whether the theory of evolution should be included in the state biology examinations. This gave rise to sharp discussions in the media (See for instance NRC Handelsblad 1995, March 3, April 6, 20, July 29, 31, August 3, 7, 8, 15, 18, Parool August 19, and about two dozens of contributions in Trouw during the same period). Creationists are against: ‘Christian children need protection from indoctrination by teachers who teach evolution as a proven fact.’ (Lang in: Andrews, 1986, p.8).
The congress is organized by the Evangelical College (EC) in Amersfoort (NL). One of the founders of the EC, the creationist J.A. van Delden, does not hesitate to criticize people with different opinions in his book Schepping en Wetenschap (Creation and Science): ‘The history of God’s way of acting is a revealed historical fact, which must be believed. Anyone who does not believe this closes his eyes to reality. Those who do not account for the contents of the Bible ignore facts. Such a person can acquire much knowledge, reach much technically and theoretically. But there is no insight into the connection and meaning of phenomena.'(p.52) and ‘The unbeliever does not know God by means of the study of nature, for his heart is evil and he holds the knowledge he acquires in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-32).'(p.127)
On Wednesday 16 August I enter (with an English Bible) the congress centre in Soesterberg. Mrs. Verboom, who manages the reception of visitors, is relieved when I speak Dutch. I receive the congress proceedings, a copy of the (29 page) contribution of the Greek Fangos and some other papers. After showing my press card, I have to justify myself personally to the organiser, Mr. Plattel of the EC, and I obtain a red ‘Press’ badge. Other visitors obtain green badges. Inspection of the list of participants shows that most Dutch participants live in the so-called bible-belt.
‘Seat of the Pants Estimate’
At 3 PM the congress is opened by the chairman Dr. J. Bruinsma, a retired professor of botany from Wageningen. He is editor of the magazine Bijbel en Wetenschap (Bible and Science), which is versed in scripture. In his introduction he tells among other things about his work at the Agricultural University. The laughter when he calls Charles Darwin a genius is striking. After a short word from the theologian Prof. Dr. J. Broekhuis they sing ‘We are all one in the Spirit’ and pray. At a quarter to four starts the first lecture by the German Dr. Joachim Scheven (1932) about ‘Flood geology’. About thirty years ago he became converted to Christianity and found his belief feebly supported intellectually. He owns a museum, in which he displays fossils. He thinks the lood took place 5,000 years ago and proof can be found in earth layers geologists associate with the Permian Epoch (which is conventionally dated to 225 to 280 million years ago). Then follows the presentation of Steven Robinson from England, who is co-editor of the Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum. This lecture too is about the Flood, but Robinson refers to the Bible abundantly. One of his conclusions is remarkable: the theory of Morris, one of the founders of creationism, is falsified: Flood geology is as wrong as evolutionist geology! One can hear a pin drop. Robinson also brings positive news: in January 1996 he will publish an alternative. Neither Scheven nor Robinson mention a word about the obvious historical explanation of the Flood story: it originates from Mesopotamia that was struck by many floods (Pleket, 1983). The evening lecture of professor Kuelling, a Swiss theologian, is entitled ‘Were the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 historical and without gaps?’ I do not attend. The same holds for the other evening contributions: on Thursday another Swiss, Roger Liebi, a teacher of biblical and modern Hebrew, speaks about the origin of languages and on Friday the Dutch Benjamin, who has studied biology and philosophy, about creation and evolution in the Christian philosophical perspective.
On Thursday I am present at half past nine to attend the opening of the day by the theologian Prof. Dr. J. Broekhuis. The hall is only half filled. During prayer and singing the hall gradually fills with people. At ten, chairman Bruinsma announces the lecture of Hans Hoogerduyn, cultural anthropologist and teacher of geography at a free reformed high school. In advance he tells us that his conclusions have to be regarded as hypothetical and do not have an absolute character. His lecture shows how patchwork creationism actually is. He thinks there has been a glacial period in the recent past (about this creationists agree) but in his vision the Ice Age consisted of three cold and three warm periods. Also he is convinced the Flood took place 5,000 years ago. After the congress he told me that this dating is based upon genealogies in Genesis. On this basis it can also have been somewhat longer ago. He admits that creationist datings are ‘seat of the pants estimates’. Apparently they don’t have any scientific alternative for geological dating methods. In this light it can be understood why Dr. M. Garton, who lectured at Friday in the afternoon, advised keeping an eye upon scientific datings.
The lecture of cell biologist Dr. Nigel Crompton (1959), who works at the University of Zurich as the head of a laboratory, is about the molecular biological background of aging. He thinks the old age of Methuselah (969 years) can be explained in two ways: astronomical (a change of the solar year) or biological. It is a sound lecture with interesting slides in which the biology of aging is explained and a reference to the Flood could just as well have been absent. The latter he remarks himself. He concludes with a speculation: in a perfect world there exists no fundamental reason why people could not enlarge their present life-span by a factor of eight, like in Genesis 5. He speaks about a special vitamin that could stimulate this process. ‘In our imperfect world, consumption of such a vitamin would be similar to consumption of a potent carcinogen.’ However, after his lecture Crompton does take the Bible and reads us Isaiah. The lecture of mineralogist Dr. Marie Claire Van Oosterwyck-Gastuche (1926) is about dating geological material. She is a professor of mineralogy and chemistry at the Musee royal de l’Afrique Centrale. Twenty years ago a world-famous geochronologist asked her advice about the origin of the anomalous ages that are often found in geochronological work. She proposed a number of tests, which were never performed. She does not tell what these tests actually were. After some study she reached two important conclusions: ‘1) There was not a single proof of any animal origin for man 2) The isotopic results to date eras were devoid of any chronological significance.’ All this she tells in the first five minutes of her lecture. She rejects the dating methods because of the occurrence of anomalies. For the sake of convenience she passes over scientific research in which different dating methods support the same age. Also she does not offer any creationist alternative. She concludes her lecture with the assertion that the hypothesis of the Flood of Noah is not at all absurd.
Dr. G. D. Bouw (1945) is a professor of Math and Computer Science in Berea (Ohio) and editor of The Biblical Astronomer. He is a geocentrist and refuses to believe in any movement of the earth. (Apparently neither he nor the other people present have heard of the physicist Foucault and his famous pendulum who clearly proved in 1851 that the earth rotates). His lecture is about massive superstrings (a speculative cosmological idea) and the firmament. Physics desperately needs the ether, while it resolutely abhors this medium. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is in perfect agreement with Ecclesiastes 3:11 ‘He hath made everything beautiful in his time; also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.’ He explains his ether theory and calculates that the firmament rotates with a period of two days. ‘Since Genesis 1 and other scriptures associate a rotation period of one day with the firmament, can we assume that this two day period is actually one day? The answer is yes.’. In view of the accuracies used he qualifies the agreement with the Bible as phenomenal. ‘In the realm of ‘astrophysical accuracy’ being off by a factor 100 is considered very good. In this order of magnitude analysis being off by a factor 100 amounts to being off by 2%. Being off by a factor 2 means that we are off by only 0.3%! So despite the uncertainty, our result is remarkably close to the rotational period which Genesis chapter one says we should expect.’ Bouw has been able to publish his ideas only in his own magazine and books. Someone I speak about this says that only a minority of creationists believe in his ideas. I do hope so. Professor Bruinsma is very impressed.
The 48 year old physicist Dr. David Tyler teaches manufacturing systems and technology at the Manchester Metropolitan University. His fluent philosophical lecture is about the discovery of geological time. He is vexed by the compartmentalisation of knowledge by the so called ‘two books’ approach through which geology has been separated from biblical revelation. Those two books are the book of nature and the Bible.
Sequentially he speaks about Aristotle (384-322 BC), the Italian scholastic Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and the English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626). He thinks that a thoroughly Christian world view is crucial to the development of a robust understanding of geological evidence, and this will require the abandonment of the ‘double revelation’ approach – a different term for the ‘two books’ approach – of knowledge. In this terminology he conveniently ignores that science is not based upon revelation. Moreover, nowadays science enjoys at least a relative autonomy.
The first presentation on Friday morning is by Mats Molen (1953), a physical geographer and teacher of natural sciences at a high school, and about ‘A Post-Flood Ice age.’ In earlier times the Swede approached all those sectarians with disgust. ‘Now I am a sectarian myself.’ We laugh. Also I think that he is not a serious case. He criticises creationist ideas about the glacial period and compares his own model with the ‘European’ model. His conclusion: ‘The ‘Swedish’ model is the only one that works.’
Apostolos Frangos (1918), a Greek who studied the Philosophy of Law and Science, speaks about ‘An insight into the problem of life and matter.’ He reads an abridged version of his paper of 29 pages. Because information itself, being the ultimate constituent of life and matter is not subject to any investigation, the origin of life and matter will always remain beyond the capabilities of empirical science and investigation. ‘Thus, the assertion of the theory of evolution about the origin of life is without any scientific validity.’ He does not have a clue about science. I will give an example. The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of a closed, isolated system increases. Like many creationists (Ruse, 1982) Frangos claims this law refutes evolution theory. This is wrong because human beings, animals, plants and the earth are open systems that do exchange energy and entropy with their environment.
Philip R. Stott (1943), a civil engineer from South Africa, does not need any calculations in his lecture ‘Questions concerning the size and the age of the universe’. For he thinks mathematics is not very important. He does not want to accept human reason as the highest authority, because this leads to problems in accepting the clear statements of Scripture. Jeremiah 31:37 says: ‘If heaven above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will cast off all the Seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord.’ Stott concludes: ‘Perhaps we should not too quickly dismiss the many Biblical scholars who, over the centuries, have been quite convinced that the Bible teaches that the earth is unmoving at the centre of creation.’ In the rest of his story Stott fulminates against astronomical techniques that determine the distances and speed of heavenly bodies. Nothing is right. He concludes his lecture with: ‘I believe we can look forward to humanist scientists progressing further and further into error and confusion in the next few years. I also believe that we can look forward to continuing excellent progress by scientists who are eager to be led by the Holy Spirit and guided by God’s Word.’ Surprisingly, in the discussion hereafter David Rosevaer refers to an idea that was put forward by B. Setterfield in 1981: the slowing of the speed of light as a function of time to explain astronomical objects millions of light years away. His paper contains elementary misconceptions about the statistical analysis of data. Apparently European creationists are not very well-informed, for elsewhere this case led to such major embarrassment, that creationists were forced to admit the Setterfield hypothesis was wrong (Day, 1989).
Belief and Fundamentalism
According to a Dutch survey about secularisation and religion in 1991 there are in the Netherlands 8 percent Christian fundamentalists, defined as people with the opinion that the Bible is the word of God and has to be understood literally, word by word. This is in a population of which 55 percent believe in God. The Netherlands have, together with Great Britain, New Zealand and East Germany, only a small amount of fundamentalists. Great Britain has 7 percent fundamentalists and 69 percent of the population believes in God. West-Germany has 67 percent believers and 13 percent fundamentalists. In Norway these numbers are 59 and 11 percent respectively. All these numbers are much lower than in the USA, where 95 percent of the people believe in God and 34 percent are fundamentalists (Becker and Vink, 1994). The number of people that believes God created man in one single creation act, within the last 10,000 years, is 47 percent according to a Gallup poll in the same year (Numbers, 1992). For the Netherlands, unfortunately, no such data are known.
‘That Does Not Take Very Long’
The EC has rather boasted about Guy Berthault (1925), a former chainstore manager who studied sedimentology after his retirement. He shows during his presentation a creationist education film, in which one can just see himself and which includes a documentary of the University of Colorado about the fundamental stratification experiments of Prof. Dr. Pierre Julian. Berthault says he does not know what implications his ideas have for the geological time scale. In contrast with other lectures I attended there is here no opportunity to ask questions. I do not see anything which appears to refute evolution theory. Unfortunately I miss the first quarter of the lecture of Dr. C.W. Mitchell, the English geographer. It’s the last lecture of the congress. He thinks there has been only one glacial period. After his presentation there is a lively discussion. Characteristic is the remark that in Job 37: 6-10 and 38: 22-29 there are hints of a glacial period. Job lived in South Jordan and today’s flora and fauna differs from that in the biblical period, the speaker adds. On this last day of the congress, representatives of the different creationist organisations report about national activities: fifteen men get four minutes each. From the contribution of Mr. Torbeyns it is apparent that creationism is not so successful in Belgium (as was earlier reported in Skepter, December 1992). There exists an organisation called CreaBel, in their logo the text ‘Wij geloven in Schepping’ (We believe in Creation). The same holds for Scandinavia and Romania. Also in Greece they have little influence, but they have TV-broadcasting time and a newspaper editor who is sympathetic, enthusiastically says the philosopher Apostolos Frangos. The British show more organisation: on behalf of England two Davids come forward successively : Rosevaer and Tyler. The South African Philip Stott tells it is almost impossible to get attention for a creationist point of view in present day South Africa, which has a communist government after the last election (claims Stott). In the USA creationism is more established (see inset). Professor Bouw tells that there are three creationist universities in the USA . In the prayer before lunch on this last day it is said that we live in a world full of darkness. The speaker says: ‘We are the sons of Light’ He speaks of the battle between the sons of Light and the sons of Darkness. After lunch I talk a while with professor Bruinsma. He is in a hopeful mood. The theory of evolution theory has only 10 or 20 years to live. He compares it with the phlogiston theory and points at recent scientific discoveries among others those in computer science. ‘That does not take very long,’ he assures me. This is, in any case, a statement that can be verified.
From the enormous variety of models and ideas presented it is apparent that creationists have no paradigm, apart from the Bible which they consider unassailable. Also no decent research programme is apparent. Creationists only convulsively try to compress world history into a period of 6,000 to 10,000 years. In this context the well known professor of theoretical physics Paul Davies writes: ‘No religion that bases its beliefs on demonstrably incorrect assumptions can expect to survive very long (God and the New Physics, 1983, p.3)’ Worse for the creationists is they can be characterized as theological anachronisms. ‘A historically interested theologian of +/- 1750 is researcher enough to discover that in the Bible itself not everything has happened as it is written down,’ writes the Utrecht professor of dogmatics De Knijff (1991). To call creationism a pathological science or pseudo-science is correct, but still deserves some amplification. A religion that tries to justify itself scientifically is at least a somewhat dubious affair. Moreover they are strongly inclined to vilify dissenters. While religious affairs fall outside the range of natural science, creationism claims to be a natural science based upon a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. In fundamentalism the use of the Bible is enormously different from other forms of Christianity. Not for nothing does the Oxford professor of theology James Barr (1977) compare the position of the Bible in Christian fundamentalism to that of the virgin Mary in Roman Catholicism: the Bible is the visible, immaculate and perfect symbol of salvation. Their speculations and discussions show that serious self-criticism and reasonableness are insufficiently present or totally absent. Also some creationists distort matters. Similar carelessness is found by (for instance) the Australian Martin Bridgstock (1995): ‘The references were hideously, grossly wrong. Quotes were often misquotes, figures were misused and evidence was torn from context to fit the creation science case.’ Moreover they try to exalt their religion over other religions and views of life by trying to put their creation story into biology education. Creationism is more than a pseudo-science: it is the true pseudo-science. Because of the emphasis on tolerance in our modern society, it seems necessary for creationism to reflect upon its own foundations.
(*) Congress Proceedings, Sixth European Creationist Congress 16-19 August 1995, Evangelical College, Amersfoort (The Netherlands)
E.H. Andrews, W. Gitt & W.J. Ouweneel (eds.), Concepts in Creationism. 1986, Evangelical Press, Welwyn, Herts.
James Barr, Fundamentalism. 1977, SCM Press, London, p.36-37.
J.W. Becker en R. Vink, Secularisatie in Nederland, 1966-1991: de verandering van opvattingen en enkele gedragingen (Secularisation in the Netherlands). 1994, Sociaal Culturele Studies 19, Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, Rijswijk (The Netherlands).
Martin Bridgstock, A Miniature Armageddon: A personal account of a battle against creation science 1995. The Skeptic, 9(3) p.8-11.
Paul Davies, God and the New Physics. 1983, J.M. Dent & Sons, London.
Robert P.J. Day, OASIS Newsletter, Vol 2.2, no. 4, Spring 1989, Beaverton, Ontario (Canada).
J.A. van Delden, Schepping en Wetenschap (Creation and Science). 1989, Buijten & Schipperheijn, Amsterdam (The Netherlands).
H.W. de Knijff in: Pieter Boele van Hensbroek, Sjaak Koenis, Pauline Westerman (eds.), Naar de Letter: Beschouwingen over Fundamentalisme. 1991, Stichting Grafiet, Utrecht (The Netherlands).
Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. 1992, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
H.W. Pleket, H.W. Singor en H.S. Versnel, Korte maatschappijgeschiedenis van de antieke wereld. 1983, Wolters-Noordhoff, Groningen (The Netherlands).
Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended: A guide to the Evolution Controversies 1982, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Massachusetts. Chapter 13.
James Trefil and Robert M. Hazen, The Sciences: An Integrated Approach. 1995, John Wiley & Sons, New York
Dr. Bart Koene (1965) is a physicist and writes regularly for Skepter, the quarterly journal of the Skepsis Foundation.