Skeletons in the Closet of Science
Any person who has a proper esteem of genuine science cannot but feel indebted to all of those men and women who studied hard and sacrificed selflessly, thus bringing us the numerous achievements of scientific discovery by which we are so blessed today.
But the historical reality is this: along the way, that which frequently was called “science,” was not scientific at all. Rather, it was raw speculation that issued from preconceived ideas—notions that men wanted to be true or conclusions at which they had arrived without ample investigation.
There is simply no question about it: people are intimidated by those who are adorned with the credentials of “science.” The lab coat is a priestly frock of sorts, and tinkling test tubes are the music by which many are mesmerized. If “science” says it, it must be so. The news media melt in a puddle at the feet of those who wave their diplomas. People hesitate to dispute matters that are beyond their areas of knowledge.
The truth is, however, “science” has often been wrong. It frequently speaks when it ought to be listening. History is littered with the skeletal bones of the theories, hunches, speculations, and pontifications of the scientific community. A brief survey of some of these makes for fascinating reflection.
An Eternal or Self-Created Universe
It once was in vogue to contend that the universe has existed forever. Not many years ago, skeptical philosopher Bertrand Russell was suggesting that there is no reason why one should not accept the notion that the universe has “always existed” (1957, 7).
It is now known that this view is utterly false. Dr. Robert Jastrow, who classifies himself as an agnostic and is one of the nation’s prominent scientists, has argued that “modern science denies an eternal existence to the Universe” (1977, 15).
Another view, advocated by “science” in the not-distant past, was the notion that the universe is in a state of constant creation. Popularly known as the steady state theory, the advocates of this ideology suggested that matter is continuously coming into existence—from nothing—somewhere in the remote regions of space.
This view, of course, contradicts the first law of thermodynamics, and it has been abandoned by virtually all cosmogonists. Jastrow confesses: “The Steady State theory, which suggests that fresh hydrogen is continually created throughout the Universe out of nothing . . . has become untenable” (1978, 109-10).
Moreover, the current view of the origin of the universe, known as the big bang theory, is ill nigh unto death (see The Big Bang Theory vs. God’s Word). Sir Fred Hoyle, a British astronomer—and certainly no friend of the Bible—has stated that a “sickly pall now hangs over the big bang theory” (1984, 84).
The Support and Shape of the Earth
The “science” of the antique world postulated strange ideas about the undergirding of the earth and its shape. In his textbook on astronomy, Professor Arthur Harding refers to the ancient belief (complete with illustration) that the shape of the earth was that of a half-sphere, which rested upon the backs of four elephants. The elephants stood on the shell of a giant turtle, which was positioned in mud, mud, mud—all the way down!
In India, the notion was that the earth is a flat disc, supported by twelve pillars. This left room beneath for the sun and moon to move around the earth! (Harding 1940, 5-9). It is rather well known that when Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 many of the “scientists” of his day believed he would never be seen again—he would float off the edge of the planet! They were wrong.
The Origin of the Solar System
For many years, scientists have sought some naturalistic, i.e., non-supernatural, explanation for the origin of our solar system (the sun and its revolving planets, along with moons, asteroids, comets, and meteors). The history of this inquiry is strewn with the “bones” of discarded theories, one after the other.
One view, called the planetismal theory (which has older and newer versions), suggests that eons ago the sun collided with another star, hurling large amounts of matter into space. This matter cooled, finally forming the planets. The newer version suggests the sun and star did not collide, but merely came close together—the latter, by gravity, pulling the material from the sun. These theories are now in the bone yard.
Another idea, equally obsolete, is the exploding star view. This concept argued that the sun once had a companion star that exploded and left behind residue from which the planets formed. The nebular theory proposed that the sun and planets were formed from a large whirling cloud of hot gas and dust which began to spin faster and faster, throwing off matter from the outer edge which became the sun and our planets. But as one school text now says, “mathematicians do not believe it is possible for rings of material to collect into balls of matter large enough to form the planets” (Victor 1975, 255).
What, then, is remaining? After an extensive discussion of the various theories, Paul Steidl stated:
The conclusion of the world’s experts on planetary formation is that they know nothing about the evolution and early history of the solar nebula . . . . Despite volume after volume and year after year in solar system research, scientists have not made even a significant step in explaining how the solar system could have formed by natural processes. What they have done instead is to show the impossibility of natural formation and to leave special creation by the living God as the only explanation (1979, 123).
An edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published some years ago, characterized astrology as “the ancient art or science of divining the fate and future of human beings from indications given by the positions of the stars and other heavenly bodies” (1958, 575; emphasis added). The earliest astronomers were, in fact, astrologers.
Astrology is the belief that the heavenly bodies form patterns that can reveal a person’s character or future. Further, it is contended that the stars and planets actually influence what transpires on earth. Though millions of people still believe in astrology (consulting their horoscopes daily), modern science has completely debunked this ideology as a silly superstition. But astrology is another of those relics that adorn the history of science.
The science of chemistry has an interesting background. In the early days of the Christian era, there were scientists who believed that all matter was composed of a single, formless substance. They contended that this substance became four major elements: earth, air, fire, and water. A major thrust of their work was an effort to manufacture gold from metals of lesser value. They believed they could change one substance into another by altering the balance of the elements mentioned above—a process they called transmutation.
They further believed in the existance of the “philosopher’s stone,” a magical substance which would facilitate the transmutation process. Alchemy and astrology were closely associated, united by the belief that the heavenly bodies not only influence people, but metals as well. And while some of the advocates of this theory were mystics, others were sincere scientists—scientists who were misled (see Ihde 1979, 318).
Spontaneous generation is the notion that biological life, in and of itself, may be “jump-started” from inorganic materials. This view of the origin of life has prevailed for centuries.
In the fourth century
B.C., Aristotle held that fleas and mosquitoes arise from rotting matter. Others contended that maggots spontaneously develop in decaying meat. It has been alleged that a horse hair, soaked long enough in water, will turn into a worm. But due to the scientific labors of men like Francesco Redi (1627-97) and Louis Pasteur (1822-95), we now know, of course, that these “scientific” theories were patently false.
Evolutionist George G. Simpson, together with his colleagues, confessed that “spontaneous generation does not occur in any known case” and that the scientific evidence indicates that “all life comes from life.” After reading such a confident statement, one cannot but be shocked to further note, from the very same page, that “most biologists think it probable that life did originally arise from nonliving matter by natural processes” (Simpson, Pittendrigh, and Tiffany 1957, 261).
But why would such a contradictory position be entertained? Because, as Dr. George Wald of Harvard indicated, the other alternative—special creation—simply is not acceptable.
Most modern biologists, having reviewed with satisfaction the downfall of the spontaneous generation hypothesis, yet unwilling to accept the alternative belief in special creation, are left with nothing. I think a scientist has no choice but to approach the origin of life through a hypothesis of spontaneous generation . . . . One has only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation (1954, 46; emphasis added).
Yes, here they are, clinging to a theory that has no scientific basis—embracing a corpse that Pasteur and others sent to the graveyard, yet desperate for something by which to explain the world of living things.
Ernest Haeckel (1843-1919) was a German biologist and philosopher who asserted that the entire universe, including man, is solely the result of material processes. He was a devoted follower of Charles Darwin and was dubbed “the apostle of Darwin in Germany.”
Haeckel received most of his fame as a result of popularizing the so-called recapitulation theory. This is the notion that the successive stages of embryonic development in the human being repeat the major evolutionary phases of one’s animal ancestry. The concept is known as “ontogeny [the development of the individual] recapitulates [repeats] phylogeny [the development of the species].”
Haeckel passionately defended his theory, which he called “the fundamental biogenetic law.” To support his idea, the professor actually faked some of the evidence. He not only altered the illustrations of embryonic drawings, he also printed the same plate of an embryo three times, labelling one of them as a human, another as a dog, and the third as a rabbit—“to show their similarity” (Bowden 1977, 128).
Haeckel was exposed, charged with fraud by several university professors, and convicted in a university court. He defended himself during the trial by confessing that biologists perpetrate this sort of deception all the time!
It is now known, of course, that the whole recapitulation concept is bogus. Simpson and associates wrote: “It is now firmly established that ontogeny does not repeat phylogeny.” They then proceeded, however, to modify Haeckel’s views, suggesting that he was not “wholly wrong” (Ibid., 352-53). A more recent work, however, does not even mention the name of Ernest Haeckel (Boyd and Silk 1997). And so, another “scientific” notion has gone belly-up!
Acquired Traits and Inheritance
Jean Baptiste de Lamarck (1744-1829), a French zoologist, was one of the pioneers in advancing the theory of organic evolution. He is most well-known for his advocacy of the dogma of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. This was the notion that organisms acquire adaptive adjustments by means of exercise and experience in general.
Lamarck’s major example was that of the giraffe’s long neck. This neck of unusual length was alleged to be the result of long-continued stretching (after leaves on trees). The increasingly lengthened neck was then passed along to offspring; thus, the long-necked giraffe of today.
Charles Darwin, in his later years, argued similarly in attempting to explain how humans have lost their long tail, which, supposedly, “grandma monkey” had (even though earlier he had described Lamarckism as “nonsense”). He wrote: “Finally, then, as far as we can judge, the tail has disappeared in man . . . owing to the terminal portion having been injured by friction during a long lapse of time” (1874, 58).
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), a British philosopher, and a militant defender of Darwinism, was so confident of the acquired-characteristics position that he, writing in the March, 1893 issue of The Contemporary Review, asserted, “Either there has been inheritance of acquired characters, or there has been no evolution” (Nelson 1967, 91).
Again, though, evolutionary scientists have had to bow their heads in shame. Ashley Montague has acknowledged: “[A]rtificially acquired characters are simply not inherited no matter what the trait may be that is in question” (1960, 232).
Simpson and friends argued strongly against the Lamarckian theory. One example cited was the ability of an insect to imitate a leaf for protection. The authors sharply comment: “An insect which so appropriately simulates a leaf in form or color cannot possibly do so by dint of exercise and effort; at least nobody has discovered how to practice becoming green!” (Ibid., 443). And so, another “biological fact” is deposited in the crypt of science history.
When H. G. Wells and his colleagues (Julian Huxley and G. P. Wells) produced their book, The Science of Life, they had an entire section of the volume devoted to vestigial organs.
Vestigial organs are alleged to be those features of the human body that now are useless; but supposedly they once served a purpose in some former phase of our “animal” past. The section was titled, “Man’s Body: a Museum of Evolution.” It was affirmed that the human body “is an affidavit swearing to the evolutionary history of our race.” It was claimed that the body of man contains no less than 180 organs which are vestigial, i.e., wholly or mostly useless to us, though useful in other animals; each of these, they charged, is a “stumbling block to the believer in special creation” (1934, 415).
Consider, for example, the pineal body, a small gland located in the brain. Wells and friends argued that it represents the remnant of a “third eye” which once was located in the middle of the forehead. Eventually, it is claimed, the eye went blind and so was turned to another purpose—a ductless gland (1208).
In modern textbooks dealing with human anatomy, the so-called vestigial organs are scarcely mentioned. Professor William Beck of Harvard, for example, in discussing the pineal body in the brain, while mentioning that it has an “interesting evolutionary history,” nonetheless confesses that it is not useless:
Despite these views [about its evolutionary history], its epithelioid structure has suggested that the pineal body is capable of hormone synthesis, and investigators have at last isolated a pineal hormone, melatonin, which affects skin pigmentation (1971, 630).
Similar observations could be made with reference to the other so-called vestigial organs. The vestigial-organ argument for evolution has itself become a vestige of intellectual debate in the controversy relative to the origin of humanity!
Sexual reproduction is one of the most amazing processes in the entire realm of nature. It has no analogy in the world of man-made things. A sperm cell is deposited within the female’s body, and, in a series of maneuvers that reflect obvious design, it makes its way to the ovum.
Each of these microscopic entities has already been fashioned with half the chromosome compliment of a regular cell, so that when they unite they form a perfect cell with a normal number of chromosomes, which in the case of human beings is forty-six. As these divide and multiply, they begin to “specialize,” some producing skin, others bone, eyes, ears, etc. A growing human being thus develops—according to the instructions contained in the DNA code. The entire phenomenon is quite astounding.
But it was not long ago when this process was grossly misunderstood. William Harvey (1578-1657), who is credited with discovering the circulatory system, believed that animals develop exclusively from the female’s egg. Later, Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), who invented the microscope, argued that the male sperm contained the entire “seed” of life—that there was a complete “little person” in the male sperm head. The female provided only the “hatching” mechanism, as it were.
Both of these theories were called preformation, that is, the new individual was already “preformed” in the germ cells—either the ovum or the sperm. It would be several years before the truth was discovered—the new organism is a result of the union of sperm and egg. Again, “science” was working its way from darkness into light. And the truth is, it still has a long way to go!
As an escape from responsibility to the Creator, the theory of evolution has become the popular mode of explaining the existence of earth’s biological creatures. But there is a problem: there are vast gaps between the major kinds of living organisms, reflected both in living creatures and in the fossil record. This fact is not even disputed.
Stephen Gould of Harvard says there is “precious little in the way of intermediate forms,” and that the “transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt” (1977, 24). And so, though the “links” between these groups do not exist (and never did), scientists keep looking for them. Occasionally they announce, with considerable fanfare, that they’ve discovered one. But great embarrassment has frequently followed such publicity. Note the following:
(1) In 1922, Harold Cook, a geologist working in Nebraska, discovered a single tooth, which he dispatched to Henry Fairfield Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Both agreed that it was “anthropoid,” and likely represented a newly discovered genus. Subsequently it was announced that the tooth was “that of a primitive member of the human family”—literally, a link between the ape and man (Smith 1922, 24).
This “astounding” discovery was introduced at the famous Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee (1925) by professor H. H. Newman of the University of Chicago. Supposedly the tooth proved that mankind was much older than the Bible indicated; thus the Scriptures were wrong.
Later, though, other remains of the “Nebraska creature” were found; it turned out to be an extinct peccary—a pig! A pig made a “donkey” out of some of the world’s most celebrated scientists!
(2) One of the most humiliating episodes in the “links” debacle was that of the Dawn-Man, more commonly known as the Piltdown Man. Discovered in Sussex, England in 1912, the Piltdown Man was hailed as quite the missing link. It has been estimated that the “discovery” was discussed in some five hundred publications.
Evolutionary scientists were ecstatic over the find. H. G. Wells and his colleagues wrote that the Piltdown find was “obviously a man and not an ape, but so different from ourselves as to demand being put in a new genus, Eoanthropus or Dawn-Man. His eyeteeth were large and savage, his lower jaw almost wholly ape-like, and his brain both small and primitive” (Ibid., 412).
Well, as almost everyone now knows, Mr. Piltdown turned out to be a total fraud. Scientific tests ultimately demonstrated that the skull was that of an ancient man, while the jaw bone was from a modern ape! The teeth had been filed down to make them appear as human, and chemical tests proved that the jaw bone had been deliberately stained to make it appear ancient.
Someone had perpetrated a hoax. But the significance is this: it completely fooled the scientific community for forty years! In England, the House of Commons even passed a resolution chastising the directors of the British Museum for taking so long to note that the fossil assemblage was a fake. This really turned out to be “a skeleton in the closet of science.” (For more information about the Piltdown scandal, see Bowden 1977, 3-43.)
(3) A report published in Britain’s prestigious journal, Nature (March 30, 2000), concludes that DNA tests have now shown that the so-called Neanderthal Man, once touted as another of those celebrated “links” between mankind and the apes, was unrelated to humanity. Away, then, goes another evolutionary relic—into the boneyard of oblivion.
(4) Archaeopteryx, an ancient bird, has been touted as “the most famous intermediate [link] . . . between reptiles and birds” (Ibid., 31). In recent years, however, ancient fossils of birds that are quite similar to modern birds in many features have been found.
In 1977, James Jensen of Brigham Young University discovered a bird fossil, supposedly from the same period as Archaeopteryx, that has certain traits that are more modern than this alleged “link.” Science magazine suggested that this evidence presents “a challenge” to the Archaeopteryx-link hypothesis (1978, 284).
Even more recently (1986), two crow-size bird fossils were discovered in Texas. Significantly, though, they were found in a stratum that, according to evolutionary chronology, was seventy-five million years older than Archaeopteryx.
Archaeopteryx, therefore, could hardly have been on its way to becoming a modern bird. They were already around! For a consideration of a more recent case (the claim of a link between dinosaurs and birds) see Another Fossil Flub.
What everyone must realize is this: scientists are mere humans. They have all the prejudices, weaknesses, and limitations of any frail mortal.
They are not sacrosanct. They are not to be worshipped. Their word is not law. Many of them have drifted far from any religious inclination, and so have a vested interest in wanting to prove a position.
The billions of dollars now being spent on outer-space exploration is driven largely in the hope of finding some sort of life essence so as to prove that life can develop fortuitously anywhere, when the right conditions exist.
It is unfortunate that some scientists are so arrogant, blustering about issues upon which they are totally ignorant. One would think, in view of the history of “science,” they would be a bit more humble.
- Beck, William S. 1971. Human Design. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
- Boyd, Robert and Joan Silk. 1997. How Humans Evolved. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
- Bowden, M. 1977. Ape-Men: Fact or Fallacy. Kent, England: Sovereign Publications.
- Darwin, Charles. 1874. The Decent of Man. London, England: Rand, McNally.
- Encyclopedia Britannica. 1958. Astrology. Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.
- Gould, Stephen J. 1977. Natural History, June-July.
- Harding, Arthur M. 1940. Astronomy—The Splendor of the Heavens Brought Down to Earth. New York, NY: Garden City Publishing Co.
- Hoyle, Sir Fred. 1984. The Big Bang Under Attack. Science Digest, May.
- Ihde, Aaron. 1979. Alchemy. World Book Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Chicago, IL: World Book-Childcraft International.
- Jastrow, Robert. 1977. Until The Sun Dies. New York, NY: Warner.
- Jastrow, Robert. 1978. God and the Astronomers. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
- Montague, Ashley. 1960. Human Heredity. New York, NY: Mentor.
- Nelson, Byron. 1967. After Its Kind. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany.
- Russell, Bertrand. 1957. Why I Am Not A Christian. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
- Science. 1978, January 20.
- Simpson, G. G., C. S. Pittendrigh, and L. H. Tiffany. 1957. Life: An Introduction to Biology. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & Co.
- Smith, G. Elliot. 1922. The Ape-Man of the Western World. The Illustrated London News, June 24.
- Steidl, Paul M. 1979. The Earth, the Stars, and the Bible. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed.
- Victor, Edward. 1975. Science for the Elementary School. New York, NY: Macmillan.
- Wald, George. 1954. The Origin of Life. Scientific American, August.
- Wells, H. G., Julian Huxley, and G. P. Wells. 1934. The Science of Life. New York, NY: Library Guild.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.