From the archives: A hole in the head – Creationists and APEmen in Lowestoft Jean N Dorricott The Skeptic

This article originally appeared in The Skeptic, Volume 4, Issue 5, from 1990.

Perhaps you don’t know that when ancient man (ably assisted by Raquel Welch) roamed the earth, his life was made more perilous by fire-breathing dinosaurs. Evidence for this lies in an unexplained cavity in the skulls of some dinosaurs, and the widespread legends of dragons from Europe and Asia.

This gem of information was related to a small but fascinated audience in Lowestoft public library lecture room in June, by Dr Rosevear PhD, C Chem, FRSC, Chairman of the Christian Science Movement. Outside the rain poured down and the great winds blew, as if in support of his theory of the year-long Flood of Noah, during which all the Earth’s sedimentary rocks (including those formed under desert conditions) were laid down. So inclement was the weather that only 18 people struggled damply through the wet streets to hear him speak on the downfall of modern science due to the infallibility of the bible.

Lowestoft had been promised this intellectual treat since January 1989, when a local optician stated in the weekly Lowestoft Journal that evolution is rubbish, not logic. I leapt to the defence with a short letter – and the ensuing correspondence from many different writers carried on for three months (it was a dull winter for news in Waveney that year!). The outcome was a promised visit from Dr Rosevear in March, which had to be cancelled due to illness.

Reasoning the Creationists would have another bite at the cherry, I joined the CSM to keep informed of personnel movements and to collect some of their literature. I also read up a selection of books on the American experience. Various queries resulted in helpful contacts with the Association for the Protection of Evolution, and a meeting with one of the APEmen.

When Dr Rosevear informed us the postponed visit would take place this June, I went into action and contacted by previously prepared letter all the science departments in our local High Schools and College of Further Education, and the various mainstream churches. Interest was very small – but enough, as it turned out. The mainstream churches were indifferent on the whole as they find no problem in assimilating evolutionary theory into Christian teaching, and have no truck with the CSM literature produced for Sunday Schools (Our World, published by Creation Resources Trust). One of the High Schools showed particular concern as the staff had experienced pupils querying evolutionary theory at GCSE level because it ‘contradicted the bible’. There are a couple of large fundamentalist free church groups in this area which attract young people.

So, on this wet June evening, we few gathered together to hear why Science is Wrong. The presentation of the talk was poor, partly due to a mislaid slide projector, but the general style was the usual one of casting doubt on radiometric dating methods, and making out that scientists are all at each other’s throats, quite incapable of coming to rational conclusions about anything. Mention was made of Barry Setterfield’s work on the decrease of the speed of light which changes the age of the universe from several billion years to a few thousand. This intellectual tour de force seems to have been conceived by Setterfield working on his own at home, and due to family illness he is unable to reply to the various criticisms of his figures.

From CSM pamphlet 262, we learn that by using values for the speed of light, c, from Roemer’s time (1675!) to the present, and by using a graph whose y axis starts at 299800 (no units given), Setterfield can draw a curve, in which c, when extrapolated back to 4000 BC, reaches infinity. (In the actual graph it merely approaches a very large number). A recent lecture given to the Stanford Research Institute is reported by CSM to have received warm applause, careful and lengthy discussion and no protests. However, SRI have now withdrawn their initial support due to pressure from ‘certain quarters’.

Furthermore, discussion with astronomers (unnamed) indicated that the curve did not follow a cosec2 formula, as Setterfield initially deduced, but would take the form of the square root of an exponentially damped sinusoid, ie at some periods of time the speed of light would be zero. I assume this is astronomer’s code for ‘rubbish!’, which is printed in the CSM leaflet in error.

An HDR image with the full Messier 42 view of the Orion Nebula, also showing the NGC1999 region at lower right and Running Man Nebula (SH2-279) at the left. Keesscherer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are many interesting conclusions to be drawn from Setterfield’s work. From E=mc2 creationists can deduce that if c was faster in the past, then radioactive decay would also be faster, so allowing us to alter all our radiometric dating to fit in with an earth created about 6000 BP. However, according to Alan Lewis and Michael Howgate of APE, stellar energy production would have raised by a factor of at least 5 x 1022, resulting in super pyrotechnics just as God said ‘Let there be light’. And the poor newly formed plants and animals would have died immediately from radiation sickness, bombardment by super-dense molecules, intense solar radiation and having bones too thin to hold their own weight. The CSM assure us the world was very different before Eve spoilt it with her Sin of Disobedience – and if Barry Setterfield is right, it certainly was completely different from today.

The liveliest part of the evening was the constant interruption of the speaker by Alan Lewis of APE, who kindly came up from London with his partner for the meeting. He has had considerable dealings with CSM, and they were dismayed when he turned up. (However did he find out about their meeting?) When Dr Rosevear made a false statement or misrepresented what scientists put forward, then Alan interrupted him – there were a lot of interruptions! At one point he even corrected Dr Rosevear’s misunderstanding about animal feeding habits, and was thanked by the highly embarrassed speaker. Eventually Mrs Rosevear left to phone the police, but she had no support from our Lowestoft force who have better things to do than sit in on creationist meetings.

The APE strategy had two valuable effects. First, it put Dr Rosevear off course, and the talk became even more wildly muddled. Secondly, it ensured that the tape recording made by the faithful would be completely useless in spreading the creationist gospel.

Unfortunately the 10 non-scientific church members present accepted everything the speaker told them, reasoning that as he is a scientist and a Christian, he would relay accurate scientific information. They assumed Alan was a godless sinner out to destroy God’s kingdom – and at similar meetings in less peaceful surroundings, Alan has received physical rough handling. It was valuable to have seven other scientists present, who could raise more issues, and question time was dominated by their objections. One inquiry was whether Dr Rosevear discounted all the work done by thousands of scientists over the past hundred years, and he actually admitted this was so.

After the gathering broke up in some disarray, the supporters of evolutionary theory retired to the nearest local for a far more interesting conversation with Alan Lewis about the problems of dealing with these odd groups of religious fanatics. He has followed their fortunes for some years so is conversant with all their theories.

While one cannot open closed minds, one can at least raise doubts, and it may be worthwhile emphasising, when dealing with this sect, that any organisation which takes the moral high ground, as the CSM claim to do, should be extremely careful that they do not deliberately misrepresent scientific discoveries. I discussed this with Dr Rosevear. Both he and his wife are charming and courteous people, and how they can countenance deception I cannot understand.

I pointed out that in their literature they claim that those who support evolutionary theory also support racism, pornography and lawlessness; that they still publish a pamphlet reporting that Dr Colin Patterson, a senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in 1981, holds anti-evolutionary views, although Patterson has strongly denied their interpretation of his talk; that in their children’s literature they produce drawings of dinosaur and human footprints in Cretaceous rocks in the Paluxy river bed, while admitting to adults both sets of footprints are dinosaurs. If readers of the Skeptic come across creationist literature, it may be worth while writing to the CSM asking for further explanation, as a useful time-wasting device.

We should also be aware that while mainstream churches are unlikely to support creationists, in Britain at any rate, they may not be prepared to make active protest. Their attitude would be that the job of refuting creationists lies with scientists, and that by highlighting these events the creationists may receive too much media coverage. Professor Derek Burke, the Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, who has had considerable dealings with the American creationists over the years, wrote to me that it may be better to boycott such events as they tend to lead to public controversy and such groups are unimportant fringe movements of no consequence. They have a more active following in the USA and Australia – and some connections in Germany and parts of eastern Europe.

We are pleased the importance of CSM in Lowestoft is minimal, in spite of the interest shown last year, and we hope the hostile reception they received will discourage their return to this area.

The post From the archives: A hole in the head – Creationists and APEmen in Lowestoft appeared first on The Skeptic.

From the archives in 1990, Jean N Dorricott investigates the Christian Science Movement and their belief in Creationism
The post From the archives: A hole in the head – Creationists and APEmen in Lowestoft appeared first on The Skeptic.