Jonathan Kane is a science writer who has written three previous posts for Panda’s Thumb: Creationist classification of theropods, Five principles for arguing against creationism, and General intelligence: What we know and how we know it. He is the editor and primary author of God’s Word or Human Reason? An Inside Perspective on Creationism, co-authored with Emily Willoughby, T. Michael Keesey, Glenn Morton, and James R. Comer, published December 2016 by Inkwater Press. Matt Young is this post’s moderator.
In the August 2018 issue of the Journal of Creation, John Woodmorappe published a negative review of my book: “A detailed rehash of all the canned anti-creationist shibboleths: A review of God’s Word or Human Reason? An inside perspective on creationism (Jonathan Kane, Emily Willoughby, and T. Michael Keesey)”. Journal of Creation 32.2: 42–47. Pierre Jerlstrom, the editorial coordinator of the Journal of Creation, has invited me to write a letter replying to Woodmorappe’s review in that journal, and my letter is scheduled to appear in the the journal’s next issue (volume 32 issue 3). However, my reply is restricted to 1,000 words as per the journal’s standard guidelines for letters. Since Woodmorappe’s review is several times that length, it isn’t possible for me to adequately respond to it in that amount of space, so I’ve decided to write a longer response here as a supplement to my letter.
Existing YEC responses
As is suggested by the title of his review, the central theme of all Woodmorappe’s criticisms is that my book’s arguments are not actually new and that creationists have already dealt with most of them. He gives three examples: the book’s discussion of desiccation mudcracks in Glenn Morton’s chapter about stratigraphy, the discussion of nylon-eating bacteria in a sidebar of my own main chapter, and the criticism of the RATE project in Emily Willoughby’s chapter about radiometric dating.
Before examining these criticisms in detail, I should clarify that as a general principle, I don’t have a problem with creationists making the sort of complaint that Woodmorappe is making, if an argument against creationism really is ignoring the existing creationist literature about its subject matter. As I mentioned in my “five principles” article, I’m aware that this flaw has existed in numerous other books that criticize creationism, and I put a lot of effort into avoiding it as the lead editor of my own book. I ended up leaving out a few arguments against creationism that I would have liked to include, due to deciding that the creationist literature on their topics was so extensive, the difficulty of addressing all of it outweighed the value of bringing up these points. More than anything else, what I object to about Woodmorappe’s claim is his unwillingness to acknowledge the effort that I and the other authors put into avoiding this problem.
Reprinted from the Lexington Herald-Leader with permission of the author. Photographs courtesy of Dan Phelps.
In June 2018, 35 public middle and high school students from Bell, Harlan and Letcher counties were taken by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College on a “college preparation” field trip that included the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter.
This was documented in the Middlesboro Daily News on Aug. 7. Information I received via an open-records request indicates the community college spent more than $1,300 for tickets to the Ark and Creation Museum plus additional travel expenses.
Both the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter are run by the young-earth creationist organization, Answers in Genesis. It is a fundamentalist Christian apologetic ministry with the stated aim of instructing Ark and museum visitors that the Bible is literally true, and converting them to their version of Christianity.
By taking students to these venues, the community college’s program, which is a public, state-supported institution, unconstitutionally used tax monies to promote a specific religious message.
Moreover, the Kentucky Constitution forbids the use of taxpayer dollars to support a ministry.
Perhaps more importantly, the exhibits at the Ark and Creation Museum are scientifically unsound and go against the idea of preparing high school students for college-level work.
I have a vague recollection of reading a short article by a psychologist, in which the author and his colleague separately performed meta-analyses on certain parapsychological data. Meta-analysis involves, among other things, rating the studies under discussion as to their quality. The psychologist gave low ratings to many studies to which his colleague gave high ratings, and vice versa. The result: the psychologist’s colleague concluded that the data supported the existence of whatever phenomenon they were studying, whereas the psychologist concluded the opposite. In other words, each evaluated the data subjectively and performed a meta-analysis that was more or less stacked to come to the conclusion that they wanted or expected. If I remember correctly, the psychologist concluded that meta-analyses must not be particularly useful.
I cannot find that article, if it exists, but I suspect that the author was Ray Hyman. Professor Hyman discusses meta-analyses and parapsychology in a longer article here. In that article, Prof. Hyman notes that he and the statistician Jessica Utts evaluated a certain data set regarding parapsychology and came to opposite conclusions.
Notably, Prof. Hyman once performed a meta-analysis on the original ganzfeld experiments (never mind what those experiments involved), and concluded, in essence, that the experiments had been performed poorly. The parapsychologist Charles Honorton famously performed his own meta-analysis and drew the opposite conclusion. As Prof. Hyman notes, he and Mr. Honorton obtained results consistent with their preconceptions. They agreed that the database had enough problems that they could fairly draw no firm conclusions. The ganzfeld analyses failed because the two experimenters could not agree as to the quality of the data. Other meta-analyses fail, for example, because of what is often called the file-drawer effect, that is, that unsuccessful experiments are not published but rather are left in the file drawer.
I have just related almost everything I knew about meta-analyses, until the other day when The metawars by Jop de Vrieze appeared in Science magazine. Now I know that meta-analyses are burgeoning because they are relatively inexpensive to perform – yet they are still inconclusive, partly because of the way researchers choose or rate the studies they include or how they try to correct for the file-drawer effect.
The Science paper is long, and I do not want to recapitulate it. It appears, though, that meta-analysts agree that, if they cannot make meta-analyses objective, at least they can make them transparent, so that they may be criticized. Others argue that protocols should be published in advance of the meta-analysis, and in particularly controversial cases “rival researchers” should get together and set up a meta-analysis of their own, if they cannot perform wholly new studies and analyze them. Mr. De Vrieze describes a protocol in which researchers at 23 different laboratories performed the same standardized experiment and then performed a meta-analysis. The result was very close to zero and settled a long-running debate as to whether self-control can be depleted (as muscles can be fatigued).
As for me, I will accept the results of all meta-analyses that conform to my preconceptions and take the rest with a grain of salt. On second thought, maybe I had better take them all with a grain of salt.