Freshwater Day 10: The History of Creationism

Day 10 of the Freshwater hearing was devoted entirely to direct and cross examination of Dr. Patricia Princehouse. Princehouse is a lecturer in philosophy and evolutionary biology at Case Western Reserve University. She has degrees in anthropology (B.S.) and biological anthropology (M.S.), and earned a doctorate in the history of science from Harvard. At Harvard she studied with (among others) Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, and she also did some field work with the Leakeys in Africa.

Princehouse’s testimony covered two main topics. First she provided a detailed analysis of several handouts and a video that have been entered into evidence and were allegedly used by Freshwater in his 8th grade science class. Second, she gave a substantial overview of the history of creationism.

This report will be relatively brief because parts of my notes are fragmentary; I watched Princehouse’s powerpoints too attentively and didn’t always take good notes. Fortunately, she was good enough to send me her ‘history of creationism’ slides. So I’ll be summarizing some stuff rather than giving a blow-by-blow description ot her testimony on direct examination. See also Pam Schehl’s story in the Mount Vernon News.

More below the fold

Princehouse direct examination

Under direct examination Princehouse first walked the hearing through handouts, the “giraffe” handout, the “woodpecker” handout, and the “Dragon” handout. Analyzing each item in turn, she showed that they misrepresent evolutionary theory in that the first two in particular suggest that an animal (yes, it used the singular) had to “realize” or “decide” to evolve in order to adapt. That is, they attributed conscious intentions to giraffes and woodpeckers, and claimed that their intentions were causal variables in evolution. She identified their apparent source as the All About God site that Charles Adkins testified the day before that he and Richard Cunningham had also identified as the source. Princehouse concluded that she could see no valid pedagogical reason for using the handouts. Referring to a question on the worksheet about “ID”, Princehouse said it was a theological concept and not a scientific concept.

She also had reviewed the Watchmaker video, and quoted William Paley’s famous ‘watch on a heath’ paragraph to show the antiquity of that argument. She also concluded that it was pure creationism, and identified the source as the ‘kids4truth’ creationist site.

Princehouse also reviewed Jonathan Wells’ “Survival of the Fakest” document used by Freshwater, and came to the same conclusion, identifying it as a summary of Wells’ equally deficient book Icons of Evolution. It’s worth noting that Freshwater used the same article as part of his supporting material when he unsuccessfully tried to get the Board of Education to incorporate ID creationism into the science curriculum in 2003.

Asked by David Millstone, the Board’s attorney, what characteristics genuine scientific theories have, Princehouse testified that they propose natural causes for natural phenomena, they propose testable hypotheses, they address ‘how’ questions rather than ‘why’ questions, seek proximate causes rather than ultimate causes, and are subject to Occam’s Razor.

Princehouse testified that the apparent source of a number of the documents and videos shw was asked to review was various creationist sites. Specifically, she quoted Jonathan Wells’ Father’s words statement for why he got his biology Ph.D. She identified the author of Refuting Evolution, a book observed in Freshwater’s room, as Jonathan Sarfati, a young earth creationist. She Identified Kent Hovind, whose video “Lies in the Textbooks” was found in Freshwater’s room, as a young earth creationist.

Princehouse then gave a roughly 45 minute talk, with powerpoint, on the history of creationism. She began with the discovery of deep time, citing Hutton’s famous remark “No vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.” She outlined the two main Christian apologetic attempts to reconcile Scripture with deep time, gap theory and day-age theory. Gap theory is the view that there is an indefinitely long interval between Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”) and Genesis 1:2 (“The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”) Day age theory doesn’t interpret the “days” of creation as literal 24-hour days, but rather treats them as indefinitely long periods on the “a thousand years is as a day” mention in Peter. She also briefly noted the ‘appearance of age’ argument, better know as the Omphalos notion.

Foreshadowing a more detailed history to come, Princehouse described the the rise of young earth creationism in the U.S., describing Henry Morris’ founding of the Institute for Creation Research. Morris was heavily influenced by George McCready Price, a Seventh Day Adventist “geologist” who almost single-handedly kept the YEC fires burning during the first half of the 20th century. She noted that ICR’s dominance has been challenged of late by creationist organizations with different creationist philosophies, including the Discovery Institute, Reasons to Believe, and Answers in Genesis.

She then described Progressive Creationism and Theistic Evolution. Progressive creationism accepts deep time and the succession of species, but invokes special creation to account for the appearance of new species. Theistic evolution sees new forms as deriving from old, accepting most of modern evolutionary biology, but in various forms invokes something like front-loading, or perhaps God intervened at some point specifically in the human lineage. She noted that the vast majority of religious working scientists in the U.S. are theistic evolutionists of some sub-variety.

Finally, she mentioned the old ‘Satanic tampering’ view, which acknowledged the appearance of deep time and evolutionary progression, but attributed that appearance to the machinations of Satan. (See Lewis Black’s NSFW video for a contemporary version.)

Quoting St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great from the 4th century, Princehouse explained that theologians had long ago thought that Genesis could not be taken literally. She also quoted Martin Luther to that effect.

Princehouse then gave a capsule history of creationism from the mid-19th century to the present. She covered the accommodations reached with deep time and evolution by late 19th century Christians, the publication of The Fundamentals in the early 20th century, the rise of young earth creationism and Flood geology with its roots in Seventh Day Adventist literalism as interpreted by George McCready Price. Ellen White, prophetess of Adventism, once claimed to have had a vision in which she was supposedly transported back to creation week and claimed that it was in fact a single week of 24 hour days. Price took White’s visions nearly as seriously as he took the Bible.

She covered the evolution of creationism, as first prohibition of teaching evolution was struck down in 1968 in (Epperson v. Arkansas, then equal time requirements were struck down in 1987 in Edwards v. Aguillard, and finally intelligent design creationism getting smacked down in 2005 in Kitzmiller v. Dover. She showed the famous search and replace graph from Barbara Forrest’s Kitzmiller testimony.

In a very telling moment, she quoted a sentence from Judge Jones’ decision:

It is ironic that these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks.

She left that slide up for several delicious moments.

She showed Dembski’s “Intelligent design theory is the logos theology of John’s gospel rewritten in the idiom of information theory” quotation, and quoted Phillip Johnson’s quotation about the strategy of the ID movement:

The objective [of the Wedge strategy] is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to ‘the truth’ of the Bible and then ‘the question of sin’ and finally introduced to Jesus. (From Church and State Magazine, 1999.)

Princehouse cross examination

R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s attorney, first asked Princehouse if she was aware of the context in which Freshwater used the handouts. She replied that she was asked to evaluate their content. Hamilton asked if there was any other information that would have been useful to her. She replied that she had some other information, that the handouts had been used in class.

(Parenthetical note: This question, along with some others asked of previous witnesses) is apparently aimed at introducing the notion that the witnesses don’t know how Freshwater actually used the material, and – this is implicit, not explicit – that he might have been using creationist material in order to show its invalidity. That’s pretty weak on several counts, most notably that previous testimony had established that Freshwater used the handouts, which were “fill in the blanks” worksheets, as “bell ringers” – something to zoom through when there were only a few minutes until the end of class bell rings. That gives no time for any context to be established by the teacher. I suspect we’ll hear more of this when Freshwater’s case in chief is put on after the Board’s case is concluded.)

Hamilton asked if Princehouse had reviewed previous testimony in the case. She replied that she had, that she’d read some things about it. Hamilton didn’t pursue this line of questioning. (Afterward Patricia told me it was my Panda’s Thumb posts that she’d read, along with some newspaper articles on the hearing. And I can call her “Patricia”: I’ve known her for 5 years in the context of the Ohio State BOE wars.)

Hamilton asked if her presentation of the history of creationism was a red herring. She replied it was not. He asked if it is possible she doesn’t know the full context. She replied that she doubts that anyone ever knows the full context (emphasis in her vocalization).

Hamilton asked if she knows more about the issue than Freshwater. I didn’t hear her reply.

Hamilton remarked that she seemed heavily invested in this issue, and asked if one has to admit to potential personal bias in order to have a rational discussion of evolution. She responded that was the case for any rational discussion.

Hamilton asked if the several handouts could be considered to be metaphysical statements. After some back and forth about what “metaphysical” means in this context the question sort of got lost; at least I never heard it actually answered.

Hamilton asked if one’s worldview affects one’s acceptance of science. Princehouse agreed that it does. Hamilton asked if learning science can affect one’s worldview. Again, Princehouse agreed that it can. (This, of course, is the great fear of creationists: that children will learn a new “worldview” if they learn science or if science can’t be discredited. That’s Freshwater’s core strategy: discredit science so children won’t leave the fundamentalist religion of their fathers.)

We spent a little time on concrete and abstract thinking. Recall that Joseph Faber, expert witness on Day 9, raised that distinction in cross examination.

Princehouse had mentioned some time in her testimony that she had visited a creationist museum called Truassic Park with students from her history of science course at Case. Hamilton asked if direct exposure other views is educationally beneficial. She agreed that it was. Hamilton asked if she took students in her evolution course to Truassic Park. She replied only if they also happened to be in her history of science course, that she didn’t specifically take the evolution class. (I’ve been to Truassic Park. Several of us from Ohio Citizens for Science, including Patricia, went there on a ‘field trip’ several years ago. It has some of the hoariest chestnuts of creationism there are, including (IIRC) some of Ed Conrad’s “Man Older Than Coal!” claims. Old timers in this game will remember Ed and the late lamented Internet Infidels “Ed Thread” with … erm … amusement). Anyway, this question is again laying a basis for the notion that Freshwater may have been using the creationist materials merely to illustrate bad science.

Hamilton asked if the various handouts were not found on the same creationist site. Princehouse agreed that they were not. He asked if they are religious in nature. Princehouse replied that they are. He asked if they were created to attack evolution, and she replied that they were apparently designed “to discourage people from taking evolution seriously.”

Hamilton asked if Princehouse had ever considered that the materials were intended to challenge creationism or evolution or to illustrate the approach. She replied perhaps in a history or philosophy of science course.


On redirect Millstone asked Princehouse to describe the Tuskegee experiment (that had been mentioned earlier in connection with “bias”). She provided a capsule description of that case (see here for that sad and unjustifiable story).

Millstone asked whether hydrosphere theory was a young earth creationist notion. Princehouse replied that it is, that it’s linked with Flood geology.

There was no recross.

The hearing adjourned until Wednesday, Jan 14. We’re scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week, and it is certain the hearing won’t conclude Friday unless Freshwater throws in the towel, which is a very low probability event. Hence we’ll be going on past Friday of this week.