A Review of Martin Gardner=s Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? Discourses on Reflexology, Numerology, Urine Therapy, and Other Dubious Subjects (New York, London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000)

 

Review by Dale Essary

 

Introduction

 

Martin Gardner, whose career as a scientific journalist spans nearly five decades now, has of late become a favorite source of entertainment for skeptics the world over.  The learned octogenarian apparently gets great satisfaction out of drawing attention to other peoples’ folly, using his sardonic wit as arrows of incredulity that are relentlessly and mercilessly shot toward his intended target, usually with deadly accuracy.  Sometimes, however, Gardner’s journalistic skills and keen sense of humor are directed toward prejudicial ends, his aim not so sure, and the tips of his arrows not so sharp.

 

All but one of the chapters in Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? (DA&EHN?), Gardner's fifth anthology of what he considers “far-out cases of pseudoscience” (p. 1), are reprints of recent articles from his column “Notes of a Fringe Watcher,” a regular feature of Skeptical Inquirer.  This bimonthly magazine serves as the official mouthpiece for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the self-anointed rectory for the preservation of right thinking, co-founded by Gardner, philosopher Paul Kurtz, magician James Randi, psychologist Ray Hyman, and sociologist Marcello Truzzi back in 1976.

 

Granted, CSICOP does a bang-up job whenever they cast their gimlet eyes upon the harbingers of all variety of skewed notions pertaining to quackery and pseudoscience.  Gardner particularly likes to focus on those phenomena that have a particularly cultic or occultic flavor (including, as he sees it, that specific branch of theism known as “young earth creationism”).[1]  His Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, written over 40 years ago, served to expose movements such as Flat Earthers, Dianetics, and Reichian orgone energy.  And to their credit, CSICOP has been known to expose several hoaxes perpetuated within the field of medicine and other disciplines where it matters, their efforts having managed to prevent needless suffering or perhaps even death through informed decisions.  Thus Gardner hides behind this “noble cause,” investing his talent to said efforts even when the stakes are not so high, no doubt feeling it his duty to debunk the fanatics of the world and accepting this responsibility without apologies to whosever's toes he may step on in the process.

 


But there is one particular field of knowledge in which Gardner, because of the resoluteness by which he clings to his naturalistic world view, never fails to insert foot in mouth whenever he attempts to broach the subject.  Gardner is a fideist, a particular kind of deist who believes that God, though he exists, is unknowable and has not bothered to make himself known to mankind through any means of divine intervention or revelation.  The topic for which Gardner exposes his amateurish grasp is biblical exegesis, for which his sophomoric approach should be an embarrassment to a man of his tenure.  The title alone of the book under discussion lets us know that Gardner cannot help but take a few cheap shots at that lunatic fringe sect known as “fundamentalist” Christianity.

 

Case in point: Martin Gardner wrote the introduction to Steve Allen’s Steven Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality, a rather weak diatribe that pokes unwarranted fun at those Bible-thumping “fundamentalist wackos.”  Apparently, then, Gardner seeks fraternity with an author whose posthumous prowess in matters exegetic is questionable at best, laughable at worst (see Jeffrey Stueber’s review of Allen’s book at http://www.tektonics.org/JS_SA.html).  In the late Steve Allen’s book, and as reaffirmed in Gardner’s introduction, no distinction is made between a “fundamentalist” and your average practicing Christian.  The distinction is purposely blurred in Allen’s and Gardner’s view by propping up the more controversial personages within Christendom as target practice.  This tact is taken in order to more readily dismiss the Bible as mythical mumbo jumbo or whatever derogatory description fits the mood.

 

Gardner’s DA&EHN? is divided into ten parts, the headings of which outline the subjects covered (including “Evolution vs. Creationism”, “Astronomy”, “Physics”, “Medical Matters”, “Psychology”, “Social Science”, “UFOs”, “More Fringe Science”, “Religion”, and “The Last Word”).  To his credit, Gardner exposes the religious background from which his anti-supernaturalistic mettle was forged:

 

“I’m not sure why I became interested in debunking bad science.  It may have been my disenchantment with the views of George McCready Price.  Price was an uneducated Seventh-Day Adventist whose many books defending a six-day creation and the flood theory of fossils I took seriously for a very brief period in my boyhood.  It was not until I attended classes in biology and geology at the University of Chicago that I finally understood where Price went wrong and what an amusing dunce he was.” (p. 3)

 

Much more about Gardner’s loss of faith after walking the hallowed halls of liberal academia can be gleaned from his two “confessionals,” The Flight of Peter Fromm and The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, but perhaps another time.  Suffice it to say that Gardner’s is a familiar story that was elucidated by the Master some two thousand years ago, in that some seeds fall on stony places and immediately sprout forth because they have no depth of soil, but when the sun comes they wither away (cf. Matt. 13:5-6).

 

Among the more notable exposés of societal ignominy, Gardner cites such commonly held beliefs as the existence of angels and that evolution is an unverified theory as evidence that the general public is woefully ignorant of the “facts.”  Gardner finds that the evidence for organic evolution is as overwhelming as the “theory” that the earth goes around the sun, and in fact declares that the “theory” of evolution should be elevated to the rarified air of “fact” that it so richly deserves (see p. 3).  Even before pulling out of the chute, Gardner here is already exposing either his woeful ignorance of, or his abject refusal to acknowledge, the hundreds of scientists who beg to differ.

 

Are You an Inie, or an Outie?

 


With this biographical sketch in mind, let us peruse Gardner’s latest diatribe.  Chapter one begs the question of the book’s title, offered as a Bible-thumper-stumper that is guaranteed to confound all your fundamentalist friends.  The “conundrum” goes like this: if Adam and Eve did not have navels, then they were not perfect human beings, according to Gardner.  If, on the other hand, they did sport belly buttons, then the navels would imply a natural birth that they never experienced, having been special creations by God according to Holy Writ.  The chapter waxes historic on how Christianity has “struggled” with the issue since Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel showing Adam with a navel.

 

But this rather trivial issue becomes a “conundrum” only if one allows it to become one.  Gardner provides no elaboration whatsoever on his statement that Adam and Eve would have been “imperfect” human beings had they been created without navels.  Perhaps he is thinking that Christians are required to believe that Adam and Eve were created as physically perfect specimens of humanity.  But such is not a litmus test for orthodoxy, since nowhere in Scripture does it say that they were born with (what we could call) "perfect" bodies.  They may or may not have sported belly buttons for all we know.  My guess is that they probably did not, since they would have had not gone through the process of being conceived and nurtured in the womb.  On the other hand, they might have had belly buttons without having necessarily gone through the gestation process.  Perhaps God, having created the prototypes Adam and Eve to serve as the templates for all future generations, incorporated the navel in His design (though we can then hear critics crying about how this might be taken as deceptive!).  To be sure, Adam and Eve were created sinless, but having “perfect” bodies (whatever that implies) is not a requisite for sinlessness.  Gardner’s biblical “conundrum,” the very basis of which belies the theme of his book, is therefore moot and baseless.

 

Counter-Intelligence

 

With the title of the second chapter (“Phillip Johnson on Intelligent Design”), one would expect that Gardner has provided a stimulating challenge to one of the more prominent proponents of the Intelligent Design movement (IDM).  Not so.  Instead, the chapter is a classic example of how one goes about rigging the jury by declaring an adversary’s position to be in error, then calling upon a parade of henchmen to gather the “facts” to this end.  Gardner correctly characterizes the IDM as asserting that the extremely fine-tuned complexities of both the cosmos and of organic life on earth imply a transcendent Designer of enormous (perhaps infinite) intelligence.  But instead of providing any salient rebuttal to these testable claims, Gardner borrows from his cronies to poke fun at Phillip Johnson, focusing most of the attention on Johnson's book Darwin on Trial.

 

In keeping with his belief system, the most obvious “duh” factor in Gardner's book is to be found in the following statement, in which he postures himself with evolution and declares its tenets to be gospel: “. . . [T]oday’s evolutionists all agree on the fact of evolution . . . .” (p. 17).  Of course, this statement no more makes evolution a fact than the statement that “today’s creationists all agree on the fact of creation” makes creation a fact.  But there we have it, folks; the deck has been stacked, and we can bet Johnson is likely to be dealt a losing hand.

 


Gardner begins by chastising Johnson for his “mistreatment” of the ongoing debate among naturalists as they attempt to explain the reason for missing evolutionary gaps.  Gradualists such as Richard Dawkins contend that evidence abounds for these transitionary gaps and continue to be discovered.  The problem with such “evidence,” however, is that it merely points to subtle transitions within a species (microevolution), which creationists have no problem accepting as evidence of genetic variation within a species.  On the other hand, “jump” theorists such as Stephen Jay Gould explain away the missing gaps by evoking the punctuated equilibrium hypothesis.  This popular loophole proposes that it is when species’ populations reach their lowest levels in the most isolated habitats that natural mutations work most efficiently to enable new species to emerge.  Thus, new species appeared through brief episodes of relatively rapid mutations that occurred between long periods of stasis (hence, the lack of evidence for transitional species).  The problem with this hypothesis is that it has no evidentiary basis.  Contrary to the hypothesis, empirical evidence indicates that the odds of more advanced species appearing decreases in direct proportion to the number of mutations and the window of time allowed for mutations to occur.  Recent research confirms that the smaller the population and habitat, the greater the likelihood of extinction.[2]  Other field studies have provided the first direct evidence that inbreeding brought about by habitat and population reduction is, quite literally, a dead end.[3]

 

As do all creationists, Johnson contends that special acts of creation can better explain the diversity of nature, rather than natural processes.  Gardner tries to poke fun at one of Johnson’s more salient features of ID--that complicated structures such as eyes and wings have no survival value unless they appear suddenly and fully formed.  Says Gardner: “Intermediate stages, [Johnson] falsely insists, are not in the fossil record and simply did not exist” (p. 18).  In a footnote to this sentence, Gardner fills the reader in on Johnson's “folly”:

 

“There are thousands of ‘missing link’ fossils, and every year more are found.  Examples are the stages between reptiles and mammals, between reptiles and birds, between land mammals and whales, between horses and their progenitors, and between humans and their extinct apelike ancestors.  The so-called fossil ‘gaps’ are partly due to the rarity of conditions for fossilization and to the relatively rapid series of mutations emphasized by Gould and his associates.” (fn, p. 18)

 


Well, for one thing, we can see that Gardner suffers from Gould fever, for he recites the all-too familiar mantra that the reason no transition fossils can be found is that they are so far and few between!  Abracadabra, the no-god-of-the-gaps has waved its magic wand!  How deeply satisfying this circular doctrine must be to naturalists the world over (never mind the huge blind leap of faith required to get there).  But more importantly, Gardner asserts that “thousands” of “missing links” exist, yet provides no specific examples thereof.  It may be because contrary or inconclusive evidence inevitably appears which inhibits the scientific community at large from drawing the conclusion that any bonafide transitional species has ever been discovered.  Reptiles and mammals?  Mammals co-existed with reptiles as early as the Triassic, under the usual classification scheme.  Reptiles and birds?  Archaeopteryx, once hailed as the quintessential transition between dinosaurs and birds, was eventually classified as a bird upon further study (without the same degree of avid celebration enjoyed by the original discovery, I might add).[4]  The more recently sensationalized “dino-bird” discoveries (Caudipteryx and Protoarchaeopteryx) have been subsequentially determined to be hybrid fossils.  A specimen of Archaeoraptor, hailed by National Geographic in November 1999 as the definitive missing dino-bird link, was later exposed as a clever forgery consisting of a dinosaur tail glued to the body of a primitive bird.[5]  Land mammals and whales?  According to what we all have been taught since grade school, certain large land-dwelling mammals (the mesonychids) evolved into the ancient freshwater-drinking whales, which evolved into ancient saltwater-drinking whales, which evolved into intermediate whales, which evolved into modern whales.  Evolutionists present this “progression” as their strongest evidence for “transitional forms” and the viability of natural selection and mutations as the driving forces behind evolution.  Yet a potent challenge to this conclusion has come from recent speciation models based on the established rapidity in which changes in whales took place.[6]  These speciation models set the parameters within which natural selection and mutations can work to advance a given species.[7]  According to the established criteria, the whale has virtually no chance of advancing by natural evolutionary mechanisms.

 

Regarding our ancestry with extinct apelike creatures, Gardner needs to broaden his reading horizons a bit.  Even under their own paradigm, evolutionists have all but conceded that Neanderthal, the closest “link” to the so-called homonids, is not genetically linked to modern man.[8]  Naturalists are now sounding the retreat, propping homo erectus up as our direct link to the homonids at some as-yet unspecified time period.  And it is no wonder that no specified timing is given for the divergence of modern man from homo erectus, since it is widely believed that the latter went extinct long before the former appeared!  But even morphological (fossil) evidence strongly suggests that homo erectus and homo sapiens are two distinct, independent species.

 

Gardner does at least acknowledge many of the tenets of ID without argument, such as how big bang cosmology points to a transcendent Creator and how the strong anthropic principle is gaining renewed strength through modern scientific discovery.  Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box is given honorable mention as one example of the many “impressive” books on ID, but its influence is casually dismissed based solely on the premise that evolution is fact.  Gardner even acknowledges the existence of old-earth creationists apart from their young-earth counterparts, if ever so briefly (p. 16).  However, his apparent intent in doing so is not to debate old-earthers, but to further demonize the creationist movement at large by pointing out the ongoing feud between the two factions.  On the other hand, one of Gardner’s objections to Phillip Johnson’s strategy is how Johnson points to the ongoing feud between gradualists and punctuated equilibrists.  To this end, Gardner can’t have his cake and eat it too; he cannot dismiss the creationist movement just because there are rival factions within, while at the same time invalidating those critics of naturalism who turn their attention to the mutually exclusive ideas among evolutionists.

 


Another strategy of Gardner’s is to render Johnson’s arguments impotent by way of association.  Gardner brings up the fact that Johnson’s Darwin on Trial fails to mention one of Darwin’s earlier foes, the British biologist St. George Mivart.  One of the first theistic evolutionists, Mivart spent his life trying to persuade the Catholic church that its opposition to evolution was as futile as its earlier opposition to Galileo’s promotion of the Copernican heliocentric model of the solar system.  (Of course, the driving mechanisms behind the Copernican revolution are much different than those of the evolution “revolution,” and a comparison of the two is not valid; but that’s a different story altogether.)  Because similar arguments offered by Johnson can be found in Mivart’s On the Genesis of Species (1871), Gardner infers that Johnson’s arguments are “moth-eaten objections” (p. 19) and are therefore rendered invalid.  Mivart was the first to argue that eyes and wings are too complex to have evolved through gradual stages, and that such structures must appear suddenly because earlier primitive stages would have no survival value.  Gardner rightly affirms that creationists have argued this point since Mivart’s day (much to the consternation of evolutionists, I might add).  In Gardner’s words, “creationists of all stripes have monotonously asked, ‘What use is half a wing?’”  To which one of Gardner’s able assistants responds:

 

“In his popular book The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins answered as follows:

 

‘There are animals alive today that beautifully illustrate every stage in the continuum.  There are frogs that glide with big webs between their toes, tree-snakes with flattened bodies that catch the air, lizards with flaps along their bodies; and several different kinds of mammals that glide with membranes stretched between their limbs, showing us the kind of way bats must have got their start.  Contrary to the creationist literature, not only are animals with “half a wing” common, so are animals with a quarter of a wing, three quarters of a wing, and so on.  The idea of a flying continuum becomes even more persuasive when we remember that very small animals tend to float gently in air, whatever their shape.  The reason this is persuasive is that there is an infinitesimally graded continuum from small to large.’” (p. 19)

 

Excuse me a minute, while I try to compose myself.  Apparently, Dawkins is unaware of the old adage that the sum of the parts does not necessarily equal the whole.  So far as my amateur mind can recall, there are no known incidents in the record of nature, past or present, of frogs with fully-developed wings between their toes, winged snakes fluttering about the trees, stealthy lizards who take flight (with the exception, perhaps, of Puff the magic dragon), or flying squirrels (gliding squirrels, perhaps, but none that can take off from the ground--not even Rocky can do that!).  In other words, none of the examples that Dawkins cites are transitions to fully-functional wings.  That bats must have gotten their start via the squirrel method must have been amusing to watch over the ages.  Think of all those poor rats who, for some reason unbeknownst to them, struggled to stretch their one-eighth wings and catch the cold, damp, and still air of the caves in which they sought refuge!  At the same time, they would have had to willingly sacrifice perfectly good vision for blindness and worked up the aptitude for sonar.  But who knows: perhaps by the time I am 80 years of age, my flabby armpits will permit me to take to the sky, and my waning eyesight will grant me x-ray vision, just like Superman!

 

Gardner thinks he’s got Johnson on the ropes by this time, chiding him for categorizing Dawkin’s belief in the gradual development of eyes and wings as mere fables.  As Johnson imputes that no empirical confirmation can be made that eyes and wings evolved gradually, Gardner slams his trump card down in strong disagreement, citing an entire chapter from Dawkins’ A River Out of Eden (1995) that provides what he deems an “eloquent chapter on the multiple evolutions of the eye” (p. 19).  Let’s get an eyeful of Dawkin's eloquent chapter right now, shall we?

 


The chapter to which Gardner so gleefully refers is called “Do Good by Stealth” which, among other things, provides an “answer” to creationists’ “hopeless defiance” toward the evolutionary hypothesis.  On page 76, Dawkins props up a false analogy, citing how a human eye, through the process of natural aging, is still capable of providing useful functions even at ever-increasing levels of deficiency (what Dawkins refers to as the continuum of age).  Now, is it just me, or does the degeneration of an organ speak absolutely nothing of how a particular species adjusts to its changing environment through genetic mutation?  The range with which a particular species’ eye can perform is not an argument for the presumed range of eye evolution among different species.  Dawkins cites his own ophthalmological demise as an example of how, without the aid of prescription glasses, his deteriorating vision does not permit him to see the computer screen before him, but a person of his condition can still play tennis with a sufficient degree of visual acumen.  (Reverse logic ad adsurdum.)  But what do prescription eyeglasses and tennis courts have to do with survivability when, say, a member of the human species is placed in the unenviable position of finding his way home after a long chase through the jungle on the hunt?  The analogy Dawkins attempts to draw is that dragonflies’ eyes are poor by human standards, but useful nonetheless.  However, this fact has didly squat to do with eye evolution, since the same argument could be used for intelligent design: all creatures endowed with some form of vision have just the type of eye they need, nothing more, nothing less.  Dragonflies are not quite as concerned with the location and direction of a charging bear as a human might be!

 

The next “argument” Dawkins attempts to use is that of the “sheer magnitude of time” (p. 78).  Surely any creationist would quake in his or her boots upon realizing that all the time in the world was available for the eye to evolve into the several models that we see today.  But I must caution the good doctor that availability does not equal inevitability.  We would respectfully ask him to kindly provide us with some empirical evidence that shows evolutionary processes are precisely how these changes took place.  What sort of evidence does Dawkins rely on?  Because neither field nor lab evidence are available, he opts for a computer model!  But as anybody familiar with computer modeling knows, the outcome of a model is only as good as the assumptions that are put into it.  Models are notorious for providing a desired outcome, and are not necessarily the "objective stewards" that their proponents claim them to be.  What sorts of assumptions were put into this computer model?  Why, the very same untenable assumptions that we are always hearing about: that the natural selection of random mutations is how it all happened, of course!  Shazam!

 

Such is the extent of Dawkin’s “masterful” defense of the evolution of eyes.  Having perused A River Out of Eden, it appears to be nothing more than the speculative ruminations of a dyed-in-the-wool naturalist.  Dawkin’s book regurgitates the arguments that have been offered since Darwin’s day, thus keeping the discussion on a superficial level, rather than delving into the complexities of the molecular machinery that modern science has discovered.  (For a technical description of the biochemical complexities of the human eye, see Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, pp. 18-22.)

 


But enough about professor Dawkins; we are here to pay homage to Mr. Gardner.  In a profound irony, Gardner also chides Johnson for his failure to make mention of the Dutch botanist Hugo de Vries (1848-1935), the person who coined the term mutation in the first place near the turn of the twentieth century.  De Vries had argued that all new species appeared “suddenly” as a result of a single mutation in one generation, with no apparent transitions.  Gardner here is implying that Johnson should have given De Vries due consideration if he were worthy of his academic credentials.  However, Gardner himself is to be chided for not mentioning why De Vries is often dismissed in contemporary discussions of evolution in an age of modern scientific enlightenment, as he has done in at least one previous book of his.  In his Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery, in which he is critiquing The Urantia Book’s shameless dependence on De Vries’ theory without proper merit, Gardner introduces the Dutch botanist as the “now forgotten Hugo De Vries” (p. 297), referring to De Vries’ evidence for his sudden mutation theory as “shaky” and “short-lived” (p. 298), and stating that De Vries’ theory is “now totally discarded” (p. 299).  So why does Gardner bring up De Vries in the first place?  I suspect it is for two reasons.  First, Gardner wants to establish to his readers that his is the superior voice on the topics he wishes to discuss, having the ability to drop more names than his targeted adversary.  Second, it is yet another dull arrow flung at Johnson in an attempt to assassinate his character, as though it is Johnson who could learn a lesson in consistency.

 

Finally, Gardner enlists the two harshest criticisms of Johnson’s Darwin on Trial he can find for the general amusement of his fellow skeptics: Stephen Jay Gould’s review in the July 1992 issue of Scientific American and one offered by anthropologist Eugenie C. Scott that appeared in a 1993 issue of Creation/Evolution (Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 36-47).  Gould’s review is presented from a predictable standpoint: “Science can work only with naturalistic explanations; it can neither affirm nor deny other types of actors (like God) in other spheres (the moral realm, for example).”[9]  Thus, like all good naturalists worth their weight in salt, Gould cordons off the realm of science from the Creator, as though His “influence” has no bearing on the record of nature whatsoever!  Once again, for all you evolutionists out there who think Gould=s point is indefatigable: Proving the existence of God is one thing, which scientific inquiry alone admittedly cannot provide.  But to hide behind the rubric that the noble knights of science are under obligation to keep God in a box labeled “for moral considerations only” is a bit like having an election with only one candidate to choose from!

 

Space does not allow the comprehensive critique that Eugenie Scott’s review deserves.  Suffice it to say that her main gripe against Johnson (which she repeats ad nauseam) is that Johnson “confuses the necessary methodological materialism/naturalism of science with philosophical materialism/naturalism” (pp. 41, 43).  In other words, Johnson does not know the difference between the cold, hard, factual basis upon which the scientific method is founded and the subjectivity of a philosophical premise.  But the fact remains that, in the case of organic evolution, the intended objectivity of the scientific method has indeed been overshadowed by a philosophical assumption, that of naturalism.  This coloring of the scientific enterprise is precisely what Johnson has spent his literary career shouting about!  Methodological materialism has been tainted by philosophical naturalism.  He obviously has not confused the two, but instead has shown the degree of their entanglement.  Johnson wants to see a return to the scientific method in the area of natural history, free of the naturalistic fetters that currently bind it.  It’s too bad that neither Dr. Gould nor Dr. Scott get this poignant message.

 

The Cutting Edge?


In an addendum to the chapter on Phillip Johnson and ID, Gardner mentions a “thoroughgoing attack on intelligent design” in Robert T. Pennock’s Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism (1999).  Pennock voices the disbelief typical of evolutionists that any true scientist can actually hold creationist views.  He asserts (as Gardner echoes) that among biologists “there is no controversy about whether or not evolutionary theory is true” (p. 38).  Such statements, however, do not take into account numerous creationists who are practicing biologists.  While the stated purpose of Tower of Babel is to attack old-earth creationists, it attempts to altogether discredit the creationist movement by pitting young-earther against old-earther and presenting the movement as a befuddled mob engaged in a sordid power struggle (hence, the book’s title). [Ed. note: See a review of Pennock's book here.)   In the end, however, books such as Tower of Babel written by naturalists can do little more than reaffirm the naturalistic philosophy, and they tend to do so without any truly scientific grounds to go on.  Such treatises will typically point an accusatory finger at creationists for leaning on their God of the gaps to explain the inexplicable, while all the time it is the naturalists who rely on a stacked deck that decries naturalism must explain everything.  When naturalistic explanations are unable to provide answers to observed phenomena or discoveries, the god of naturalism is evoked as that which will inevitably prevail, given enough time.  The problem with this presumption is that time has allowed for the discovery of increasing complexity in the working of the natural world, such that known natural mechanisms do not provide satisfying answers as to the complexities of nature.

 

The Chinese Connection?

 

Also in the addendum to Gardner’s chapter on Johnson is his reference to a column in the 16 August 1999 edition of the Wall Street Journal, in which Johnson referred to a “Chinese paleontologist” who “lectures around the world saying that recent fossil finds in his country are inconsistent with the Darwinian theory of evolution.”  David E. Thomas, a physicist and contributing editor of Skeptical Inquirer, wrote Johnson and requested that he reveal the name and credentials of this mysterious Chinese scientist.  Gardner reports that Johnson refused to name the person, but had indicated that he had not as yet published anything in English.  Gardner reports Thomas’s astonished reply:

 

“‘My jaw dropped,’ said Thomas.  ‘I’d expect a Deep Throat in politics--but not in science.’” (Gardner, p. 25)[10]

 

What Gardner does not report is that Johnson had told Thomas that “he’s not releasing the scientist’s name in case someone wants to make trouble.”[11]  In his book Icons of Evolution, Jonathan Wells reports siting the same “non-existent” Chinese scientist on American soil, and provides a few details as to the person’s credentials:

 


“In 1999, a Chinese paleontologist who is an acknowledged expert on Cambrian fossils visited the Unites States to lecture on several university campuses.  I attended one lecture in which he pointed out that the ‘top-down’ pattern of the Cambrian explosion contradicts Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Afterwards, scientists in the audience asked him many questions about specific fossils, but they completely avoided the topic of Darwinian evolution.  When our Chinese visitor later asked me why, I told him that perhaps they were just being polite to their visitor, because criticizing Darwinism is unpopular with American scientists.  At that he laughed, and said: ‘In China we can criticize Darwin, but not the government; in America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin.’”[12]

 

In the “Research Notes” portion of his Icons of Evolution, Wells explains that it was he who first told the story about the mystery scientist, and why he has kept his identity a big secret:

 

“The Chinese paleontologist story has been making the rounds since I first told it to some colleagues in 1999.  Sadly, the principal reaction from dogmatic American Darwinists has been to demand his name.  I refuse to give it to them, knowing what their colleagues have been doing to critics since at least 1981, when British paleontologist Colin Patterson, in a famous lecture at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, openly questioned whether there is any evidence for evolution.  Afterwards, dogmatic Darwinists hounded him relentlessly, and Patterson never again voiced his skepticism in public.  I fear they would do the same to the Chinese paleontologist in my story, an excellent scientist who deserves to be protected from heresy-hunters.”[13]

 

In retrospect, one of Gardner’s talking heads resorts to the time-honored practice of outright denial, who in turn is suspected to be in league with verbal thugs.  Wonderful credentials these colleagues of Gardner’s have.

 

Stars in Their Eyes

 

Other chapters in Gardner’s book provide snippets of Bible-bashing here and there.  After a belaboring historical overview of how several “liberal” religionists have attempted in vain to explain the miraculous by natural means, Chapter four, entitled “The Star of Bethlehem,” informs us that the account in Matthew chapter two was “made up” to fulfill a prophecy found in Numbers 24:17—“‘I shall see him [God], but not now.  I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.’” (as cited in Gardner, p. 45).  But while some biblical scholars might contend that the Star of Bethlehem was indeed a fulfillment of this prophecy, others would say that the prophecy was fulfilled by king David.  The remainder of the prophetic verse lends support to the latter interpretation: “A Sceptor shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult.”  Second Samuel chapter 2 and First Chronicles chapter 18 record how King David had defeated the Philistines and the Syrians (the “sons of tumult”), and had subdued the Moabites.

 


There are also those scholars who, although not necessarily of the liberal ilk, do not consider the star of Bethlehem account in Matthew to be the depiction of a supernatural fulfillment of prophecy event at all.  Two such scholars are mentioned in Gardner’s addendum to this chapter: Mark Kidger of Princeton and Michael Molnar of Rutgers, both of whom authored a book by the same title in 1999 (The Star of Bethlehem).  Both authors theorize that the “star” was a natural astronomical event that the “wise men” (most probably Persian astrologers) took to be a sign that a king had been born.  For Kidger, the event was a nova that Chinese astronomers had recorded in 5 B.C. and that had followed a series of conjunctions.  Molnar asserts that Jupiter had been occulted by the moon in the constellation of Aires on 17 April, 6 B.C., the supposed date of Jesus’ birth.  Both of these theories inject fresh insight into the issue, bringing into the discussion cultural influences that help explain the mysterious aspects of the account.  But Gardner, having made up his mind that the star of Bethlehem never took place, will not stand for it.  He disparages Molnar’s book by stating that it claims “Matthew incorrectly described this astrological event as a star that moved through the sky” (p. 46).  But this is not what Molnar is saying at all.  Instead, Molnar is inferring that past interpretations of the account in Matthew have the star moving through the sky, while it does not necessarily need to be interpreted as such.  Gardner uses this misrepresentation of Molnar’s position to cast further doubt on the veracity of Scripture:

 

“If Matthew was so wrong about a star, how can we be sure he was right about a journey of wise men from the east?  Molnar’s conjecture strikes me as just as irrelevant as the other guesses about an event in the sky that could be taken as a star.  Surely the simplest explanation of Matthew’s account is that both the Star and the Magi belong among the many gospel legends that have no factual basis.” (p. 46)

 

Nice try, Mr. Gardner, but no gold star for you.  Since Molnar is not claiming Matthew’s account of the star’s movement to be incorrect, there is no need to conjecture upon other errors therein.  And despite Gardner’s attempt at appealing to Ockham’s Razor, the simplest explanation is not necessarily that the event never took place.  Granted, it may very well be the laziest explanation.  However, because both miraculous and natural phenomena can also be offered as simple solutions, a more rigorous examination is therefore called for, which Gardner is apparently unwilling to undertake.

 

Oh, the Inhumanity!

 

Nestled within the chapter on the star of Bethlehem, as Gardner rebukes those who do not take the Bible for what it is (“a grab bag of religious fantasies”), are recollections of two particular stories he finds rather “morally disgusting”:

 

“I think of the tragic legend about the rash vow of Jephtha that prompted him to sacrifice his daughter.  (Why does Saint Paul speak of Jephtha as a man of great faith?)  Or the account of how an angry Jehovah slew Moses’ two nephews with lightning bolts merely because they failed to mix the incense properly for a sacrifice.  God didn’t like the way the smoke smelled!  The Old Testament’s God is as skillful as Zeus at using lightning as a weapon of punishment.” (p. 45)

 


The account of Jephthah’s vow is found in Judges chapter 11, beginning with verse 29, where Jephthah offers up whatever comes out of the door of his house to meet him after returning from battle as an offering to God if He were to show favor toward him during his engagement with the Ammonites.  As is typical of many skeptics, Gardner is attempting to imply that the Bible and God condone human sacrifices.  But there is good reason to believe that a literal blood sacrifice was out of the question, because human sacrifice was strictly and repeatedly forbidden by God, as reflected in the Mosaic Law (Lev. 18:21; 20:2).  It would have therefore been unthinkable for Jephthah or any other Israelite to believe that he could please God by committing such an abominable act in His honor.  Rather, the manner in which the narrative proceeds points to Jephthah’s daughter being handed over to the service of the Lord as a living sacrifice, a virgin attendant in tabernacle worship for the remainder of her days.  The agony behind the rash decision was that Jephthah’s daughter was his only child (v. 34), and therefore his lineage would not continue (which was considered a tragedy in those days).  Again, the simplest explanation is not necessarily that which is hastily deduced.  (For further consideration on this issue, see J. P. Holding’s “Jephthah and Daughter: Bad News for the Firstborn?” at http://www.tektonics.org/tekton_03_02_04.html.)

 

Gardner’s point regarding Paul’s consideration of Jephthah as a man of great faith would be well taken, except that nowhere in Paul’s epistles is Jephthah specifically mentioned.  Although Jephthah is given honorable mention in Hebrews 11:32, scholars have all but eliminated the apostle Paul as a candidate author of Hebrews.  Of course, authorship is a moot point since Gardner here is merely attempting to apply guilt by association.  But this observation does provide further insight regarding Gardner’s lack of biblical finesse.

 

Be that as it may, we still need to tackle the issue of Jehovah’s Zeus-like demeanor toward Moses’ nephews.  The account Gardner is referring to is in the first verses of Leviticus chapter 10:

 

“Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.  So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” (Lev. 10:1-2)

 

According to Gardner, God was displeased because he didn’t consider the smoke’s aroma appealing.  But said account does not indicate God’s demeanor regarding the smoke one way or another.  The second error in Gardner’s fuzzy recollection is his implication that God used lightning bolts to smite the two.  The account clearly indicates that they were devoured by fire, not lightning (perhaps by the very fire that the two had started in the first place).  But these peripheral misstatements aside, the “burning” issue here (sorry about that!) is whether or not this incident should be judged as “morally disgusting.”  Bible students will recall that these two sons of Aaron had been anointed as priests, and therefore were responsible for properly approaching God at the altar on behalf of all the Israelites.  Their death was tragic and may at first seem harsh, but keep in mind that a new era, that of the priesthood, was being inaugurated.  The community had to be made aware that compromising priestly obedience was not an option.

 

Outsmarting the Master

 

Chapter 26, entitled “The Wandering Jew,” is Gardner’s only essay included in the book that is not a Skeptical Inquirer original.  It instead first appeared in Free Inquiry way back in the summer of 1995.  Knowing the relative age of the article, I find it curious that nobody has called to Gardner’s attention the enormous errors of presumption upon which the article is based prior to it being reprinted.  The article begins by quoting from Matthew 16:27-28, which is repeated below:


“‘For the son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.  Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.’”

 

Gardner declares this to be one of the most troublesome of all New Testament passages for Bible fundamentalists, by virtue of Jesus’ Second Advent having not occurred before all those disciples still living at the time of his death had passed away.  Matthew 24:34 (“This generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled”) is also mentioned as troubling prose.  Gardner then pokes fun at all the Christian sects and individuals throughout church history (most notably, those wacky Protestant Fundies) who “find it unthinkable that the Lord could have blundered about the time of his Second Coming” (p. 276).

 

Gardner’s favorite example thereto is the legend that arose during the Middle Ages of the “Wandering Jew.”  As the story goes, some person of early first-century Jewish descent (perhaps the apostle John or another disciple of Jesus) had been cursed with immortality to wander the earth until Jesus finally decided to return, thus fulfilling the prophecy.  The legend eventually found its way into several modern poems, novels, plays, and even a movie or two, all depicting a hapless wandering Jew whose unenviable fate was necessary so that the words of Jesus could be exonerated.

 

Is the legend of the Wandering Jew yet another face-saving tactic that all of Christendom must resort to in order to defend the faith?  Not hardly.  To Gardner, such fabrications are inevitable because there is simply no other way out of this pickle.  Indeed, Gardner calls the legend a “sad attempt of Christians to avoid admitting that the Galilean carpenter turned preacher did indeed believe he would soon return to earth in glory, but was mistaken” (p. 281).  Superfluous legends notwithstanding, many Christian scholars have pointed out that Jesus was referring to the Transfiguration in Matthew 16:28 and its parallel passages (cf. Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27).  In all three Gospel accounts, Jesus’ declaration is immediately followed by the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-13; Luke 9:27-36).  Other scholars point out that another possible fulfillment of Jesus’ words is that Jesus was referring to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on a crowd of converts (Acts 2:1-4).

 

Gardner, anticipating these arguments, offers us this pretzel logic:

 

“The difficulty in interpreting Jesus’ statement about some of his listeners not tasting of death until he returned is that he described the event in exactly the same phrases he used in Matthew 24.  He clearly was not there referring to his transfiguration, or perhaps (as another ‘out’ has it) to the fact that his kingdom would soon be established by the formation of the early church.  Assuming that Jesus meant exactly what he said, and that he was not mistaken, how can this promise be unambiguously justified?” (p. 276)

 


It is from this self-serving cue that Gardner launches into his explanation about the Wandering Jew.  But Matthew 24:34, however much Gardner wants to make it so, is likely not referring to the Second Advent, but to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D.  Note carefully in Matthew 24:3 that the disciples had posed two questions to Jesus just after He had prophesied the destruction of the temple and appurtenant events: “When will these things be?” and “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  After much elaboration about the latter (vv. 4-31), Jesus answers the question to the former’s timing in verse 34.  He then answers the timing of the latter (the Second Advent) in verse 36: “But of that day and hour no one knows . . . .”  As disappointing as this may sound, Gardner has resorted to nothing more than the trusty switch-and-bait routine.  The paragraph cited above can therefore be viewed as Gardner’s glossed-over approach to two completely different issues, no doubt offered as fodder for the skeptical masses.  (See also “On the [Soon?] Return of Jesus” by Dee Dee Warren at http//www.tektonics.org/soon.html.)

 

Another way of viewing this non-issue is from an alternative interpretive theory.  Gardner’s chapter on the Wandering Jew pokes fun at just one of the two major schools of eschatology, the futurists.  Futurists believe that some or all of the events described in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24) and all those in the Book of Revelation refer to events as yet to be fulfilled.  Futurists therefore maintain that the description provided in the passages discussed (Matt. 16:28; 24:34) of the coming of the Son of Man is yet to be fulfilled; hence, the potential conundrum when Jesus states that “some will not taste of death before these things are fulfilled.”  The above paragraphs adequately debunk Gardner’s contention from a futurist perspective.  The other interpretive position, known as preterism, asserts that most (if not all) of the passages pertaining to the coming of the Son of Man and appurtenant apocryphal descriptions (including those found in Revelation) were fulfilled during the times surrounding the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.  Gardner=s “pickle” therefore holds no sway for preterists, as “this generation” indeed did not pass until all things were indeed fulfilled.  Both futurist and preterist positions are considered to be within the pale of Christian orthodoxy, and neither position (save perhaps those that hold to peculiar variants thereof) is the least bit disturbed by Gardner’s red herring.

 

Parting Shots

 

Martin Gardner, who apparently admires the misconceived posturings of his fellow outspoken anti-supernaturalists, does not see why creationists and their archaic dogma have to get in the way of interpreting the record of nature from a naturalistic perspective.  Such preconceptions, when so deeply ingrained into a luminary’s conscience, cannot help but ooze out onto literary projects intended to expose the silly ruminations of the lunatic fringe, but that in the mean time go out of their way to falsely impugn a time-honored faith.  If for no other intrinsic value, Gardner=s DA&EHN? serves up yet another heaping helping of warmed over giggles and guffaws for his not-so-gentle readers, offered from one whose skeptical leanings prevent him from having developed any degree of finesse when it comes to biblical exegesis.

 


It is Gardner's fedeistic opinion, based upon “an emotional leap of faith” (p. 21), that the laws of nature (including the “fact” of organic evolution by way of natural selection) were set up by an indifferent creator and upholder of the universe who sees no need for “tweaking” his creation once its unfolding gets underway.  The Divine Clockwinder has wound the clock of the universe and has left it on the celestial bedside ever since, having drifted off into slumber.  For us to try to understand his god is to Gardner like a cat trying to grasp calculus.  Gardner goes on to describe his god as “an unconscious watchmaker” (p. 22).  But before he slips the surly bonds of flesh and blood, perhaps Gardner should begin to contemplate whether or not he can determine if his god is merely unconscious, or wholly dead.


ENDNOTES

 

 



[1].         Without debating the merits or shortcomings of the various positions within the camps that call themselves “creationists,” it is this author’s intent to expose Mr. Gardner’s ignorance of the testable and widely accepted evidence for intelligent design primarily from an “old-earth creationist” perspective.  No criticisms of other creationist views, including that of “young-earth creationism,” are implied or intended.  For a concise introductory presentation of the merits and shortcomings among the predominant views put forth by biblical creationists, this author recommends the book entitled The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation (David G. Hagopian, editor; Crux Press, 2000).

[2].      Kevin J. Gaston, “Rarity as Double Jeopardy,” Nature, Vol. 394 (1998), p. 229; C. N. Johnson, “Species Extinction and the Relationship Between Distribution and Abundance,” Nature, Vol. 394 (1998), pp. 272-274.  Cited in Hugh Ross, “Darwinism’s Fine Feathered Friends -- A Matter of Interpretation,” Facts & Faith, Vol. 12, No. 3 (1998), p. 2 (en 15,16).

[3].      Jocelyn Kaiser, “Inbreeding’s Kiss of Death,” Science, Vol. 280 (1998), p. 35; Richard Frankham and Katherine Ralls, “Inbreeding Leads to Extinction,” Nature, Vol. 392 (1998), pp. 441-442; Llik Saccheri, et al., “Inbreeding and Extinction in a Butterfly Metapopulation,” Nature, Vol. 392 (1998), pp. 491-494.  Cited in Hugh Ross, “Darwinism’s Fine Feathered Friends -- A Matter of Interpretation,” Facts & Faith, Vol. 12, No. 3 (1998), p. 3 (en 17-19).

[4].      Hank Hanegraaf, The FACE That Demonstrates the Farce of Evolution (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), pp. 34-38; Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler, 1986), pp. 203-207.  Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2000), pp. 111-126.

[5].        Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2000), p. 124.

[6].      J. G. M. Thewissen et al., “Evolution of Cetacean Osmoregulation,” Nature, Vol. 381 (1996), pp. 379-380.  Cited in the editors, “Science Switched Sides! Part 2,” Facts for Faith, 2nd Quarter 2000, p. 23 (en 33).

[7].      Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), pp. 50-52.

[8].      Krings, Matthias, et al., “Neandertal DNA Sequences and the Origin of Modern Humans,” Cell, Vol. 90 (11 July 1997), pp. 19-30; Ovchinnikov, Igor V., et al., “Molecular Analysis of Neanderthal DNA from the Northern Caucasus,” Nature, Vol. 404 (2000), pp. 490-493; Matthias Krings et al., “A View of Neanderthal Genetic Diversity,” Nature Genetics, Vol. 26 (2000), pp. 144-146.

[9].      Stephen Jay Gould, “Book Review: Impeaching a Self-Appointed Judge: Darwin on Trial by Phillip E. Johnson,” Scientific American, July 1992, p. 119.

 

[10].    As cited from “‘Intelligent Design’s’ Chinese ‘Deep Throat’?” in the November/December 1999 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, p. 7.

[11].    Ibid.

[12].    Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?  Why Much of What We Teach about Evolution is Wrong (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2000), p. 58.

[13].    Ibid., p. 278.