Thursday, December 10, 2009

Open Letter to The Pastor of Northside Church of Christ

I have written this open letter to the pastor of the church that hosted the creationist conference in my town last weekend.

I am horrified that Dr. Harrub could so blatantly misrepresent science. I can't say whether it was out of dishonesty or negligence. Doesn't matter. A man with his credentials should research his claims about his opposition's claims, before writing a presentation based on them. I think anyone is obligated to do that.

I wonder if anyone at the church has checked up on the facts that Dr. Harrub has presented. Duh. I know better than that. They were not there to learn about scientific claims and to discuss why and if the claims were wrong. They were there to have their beliefs confirmed. Heck! I can't blame them for that.

Wanting beliefs confirmed is something that every human being I know of wants. But, how far do you take it? Is having a belief system confirmed so important that the honesty and accuracy of the claims take a backseat to having someone say that what you believe is right? Maybe, for others, but not me.
Dear Pastor,

I attended the conference that was hosted by Northside Church of Christ on Friday, December 4th and Saturday, December 5th featuring Dr. Brad Harrub. I feel that I have a moral obligation that I must inform you that Dr. Harrub misrepresented current accepted scientific knowledge. Whether this was done intentionally or unintentionally, I do not know. However, because of Dr. Harrub's credentials, I expected his research and information to be accurate and to faithfully represent his opponents actual position. However, this was not the case. I recognized at least ten times, during the lectures, when Dr. Harrub was not correctly describing the current accepted knowledge of the subject he was refuting.

I am not writing this letter to argue whether your position is right or wrong. I am writing because I feel that your church did not get the quality of lecture and accuracy that should be demanded of a man with Dr. Harrub's credentials. I even suspect that he may have intentionally misrepresented the opposing position, in order to make his refutation easier. This is what is known as a Straw Man Argument <>.

I consulted my father, who is pastor like yourself, before writing this letter. He informed me that if Dr. Harrub was intentionally misrepresenting the opposing position, then he was bearing false witness, which is a violation of one of the ten commandments. In other words, "It's easy to prove someone wrong, if you lie about him." Of course, I can not say whether or not Dr. Harrub was being purposefully deceitful and I have no idea as to what his motivation would be.

I can imagine that the members of Northside Church of Christ pay tithes and that those tithes were used to hire Dr. Harrub to speak at the conference. Speakers with his credentials do not usually come cheap. I feel that your church deserves a higher quality of information, considering the amount of money that speakers with such credentials often ask for.

The following four paragraphs are just two examples of several instances, that I noticed during the lecture, where Dr. Harrub misrepresented the scientific position. I am including links to the Wikipedia pages that present a more accurate depiction of the actual scientific position.

In the lecture Genesis vs. Darwin, Dr. Harrub claimed that the planet Jupiter is radiating more heat than it receives from the sun. He further claimed that if the universe is 14 billion years old (I think he said 23 billion, but that can be forgiven), then Jupiter should have cooled completely and should no longer be radiating heat.

Dr. Harrub is probably right that Jupiter would have completely cooled by now, if it was 14 billion years old. However, it is not the current accepted theory that Jupiter (for that matter, the entire Solar System including The Sun), is as old as the universe. As far as I know, it has never been the scientific position that the solar system is as old as the universe. The current understanding is that The Solar System formed from a condensing cloud of dust and gas about 4.5 billion years ago, give or take. This includes The Earth, and Sun, and all the other planets that orbit The Sun, including Jupiter. Dr. Harrub is either confusing the age of the universe with the age of The Solar System, or deliberately misrepresenting the position of cosmologists on this subject. Either way, it is Dr. Harrubs responsibility to research the opposing position so that it can be accurately represented in his presentation. The information is freely available on the internet, so in my opinion, he has no excuse. <>

In the lecture The Dinosaur Dilemma, Dr. Harrub claims that a fossil skeleton of a mammal was found that has parts of a dinosaur in its stomach. He then claims that this fossil contradicts the theory of evolution, because science claims that dinosaurs preceded mammals and that these two classes of animals did not co-exist.

It is absolutely true that a fossil mammal was found with a dinosaur in its stomach <>. I agree that this is very good evidence that some mammals preyed upon small dinosaurs. Dr. Harrub, however, misrepresents the scientific position again. It is, in fact, accepted science among paleontologists that mammals did in fact co-exist with dinosaurs. The theory is that mammals and dinosaurs evolved around the same time from two different types of reptiles, respectively. True dinosaurs appear in the triassic evolving from a class of reptiles called archosaurs <>. Primitive mammals also appear in the triassic, evolving from a class of reptiles called synapsids <>. True mammals appear later in the jurassic. It is the scientific position among paleontologist that dinosaurs and true mammals co-existed from about 180 million years ago until the extinction of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago, give or take. As a matter of fact, later in the same lecture, Dr. Harrub presents a slide that includes a timeline from a science text book. The timeline correctly places mammals first appearing in the triassic. The fact, that Dr. Harrub actually has the correct information concerning the accurate position of scientists on the co-existence of mammals and dinosaurs on hand, yet still misrepresents the scientific position, is very suspicious to me.

Again, it is not my purpose, in writing this letter, to argue whether your position is right or wrong. My purpose, in this letter, is to accuse Dr. Harrub of either intentionally or negligently misrepresenting the opposing position. By misrepresenting the opposing position, Dr. Harrub's arguments are invalid, because the scientific community does not actually hold the position that Dr. Harrub refuted. If he had represented the scientific position faithfully, I would not be writing this letter. I feel that the members and ministers of Northside Church of Christ have been short-changed and deserved to have a speaker that can make his arguments and still correctly represent the beliefs of his opponents.

I do have audio recording of all the lectures during the first two days of the conference and video of the lecture on the first day. If you recall, you did give me permission to record the lectures. However, I promised Dr. Harrub that I will not post any of my recordings on the internet. I do not think that I legally need his permission, but it is a common courtesy to ask. I will honor that promise. However, I do have permission to quote him directly from my footage. If you need me to directly reference the places where Dr. Harrub misrepresents scientific claims, I can. I did however notice that your church had also recorded video of the lectures. I urge you to research his claims yourselves to determine whether or not the facts and positions are accurately represented.

I was truly disappointed in the conference and the speaker. I was, at first, a bit angry and felt that the people in my community, the people I consider my friends, despite differences in beliefs, had been intentionally swindled. I have now revised my position in that I do not know whether or not Dr. Harrub was being dishonest. It could be that Dr. Harrub is just ignorant of his opponent's position. Either way, I expect a speaker with Dr. Harrub's credentials to present a lecture that faithfully represents the facts. I do not feel that the members of Northside Church of Christ received the quality of presentation that they paid for, no matter what they were charged, even if he did it for free.

Your fellow traveler down the road of life,

Robert J. Madewell
I really hope that he replies to this letter. I met the pastor. I thought he was a very nice man. He seems to be a person that you could confide in. However, I regret that I didn't learn his name. How could I be so negligent! He didn't offer his name when I introduced myself and I looked on their website (which appears to be unmaintained). I couldn't find his name anywhere. Oh well, pastor is just going to have to do in this case.


DagoodS said...

While I appreciate your discretion, Robert Madewell, after countless similar encounters, I have reached the point of calling people like Dr. Harrub liars. I see no other alternative, absent an outstanding explanation (like traumatic amnesia immediately prior to the conference.)

Imagine two scenarios:

1) “Bob” the internet blogger says he heard Darwin recanted evolution on his deathbed.

2) “Ted” claims to be an expert on Charles Darwin, having read all of Darwin’s works, numerous bibliographies of Darwin and written books himself on Darwin, as well as articles, papers, blogs, etc. Ted took college courses on Darwin, and now teaches about Darwin in seminars across the country.

Ted says Darwin recanted evolution on his deathbed.

In the first situation, we excuse Bob, because he probably heard the information and (unknowingly) is passing it on without adequately researching it. Bob is probably not lying, and merely needs to be informed.

In the second situation we are baffled how a person who claims to do that much study of Darwin could possibly make such a claim. Either they are lying about their credentials, or they are deliberately lying about the death-bed confessional.

Look at Dr. Harrub’s website. As his CV, he claims:

”Brad Harrub holds an earned B.S. degree in biology from Kentucky Wesleyan College, and an earned doctorate degree in anatomy and neurobiology from the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. He was listed in Who’s Who Among Scientists and Researchers. He is the coauthor of the books, The Truth About Human Origins, Investigating Christian Evidences, Matters of Life and Death, Diamonds in the Rough: Nuggets of Truth from God’s Word and has written many tracts and articles for brotherhood journals. He is a popular speaker on Christian evidences at lectureships, youth rallies, etc in over 45 states and five different continents. He conducts 40 “Truth About Origins” weekend seminars each year. In addition, he was an invited speaker to the International conference on Creationism, and he has appeared on the television show “Origins.””

Even more importantly, when pandering for a fee (suggested $1200-1500) he states:

“My scientific background allows me to speak on a variety of topics in the field of Christian Evidences.”

This is more than “Bob the Blogger.” This is a person who claims he is particularly qualified, and desires payment for his qualifications in order to speak. Now, I wouldn’t expect Dr. Harrub to be up on the very latest scientific developments. If something new in RNA came out, and he didn’t know it—this is understandable. But to not know the age of the Solar System? To claim mammals only came after dinosaurs?

Seriously, would you pay an elementary school teacher $60,000 annually who said that? Who was that wrong?

Either Dr. Harrub is lying about his credentials (he is NOT qualified) or he is lying in his presentation. Without a sufficient explanation, I see no alternative.

Robert Madewell said...

Dagoods, That is my dilemma. If Dr. Harrub is not lying about his credentials (I do not suspect that he is), he does have degrees from accredited universities. I feel that he is either purposefully misrepresenting his opposing position to make the refutation easier i.e. straw man argument, or that he is just negligent and doesn't really care, because he knows that his audience is there to have their beliefs confirmed and will pretty much believe anything he tells them without researching the claims, themselves. I think it's the latter case. Both cases are dishonest. But, the latter case shows some contempt for his audience.

GCT said...

Well, it's inevitable. Since the creationist position is demonstrably wrong, they have to misrepresent the science side.

Laurie said...

It's a great letter, Robert!

Kenny Celican said...

Excellent letter, and I agree completely that it had to be written.

One question about Dr. Harrub; when did he get his degree(s)?

I ask because I'm related to someone with a Bachelor's degree in "Math and Science" from Dakotah Wesleyan College. Note; that was NOT a double major at the time of his graduation. "Math and Science" was considered a single major by Dakotah Wesleyan. If Dr. Harrub got his initial degree from an insitution with similar levels of academic rigor (the similarity in names makes me suspect so), then it is possible that he's leaning on his original scientific training, and maintaining the level of academic rigor he was taught.

Which is just a long, convoluted way of explaining to DagoodS that he might actually not be lying, just deeply, deeply mistaken.

marion said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Robert Madewell said...

Still, no reply.

The phrase 'willfull ignorance' comes to mind.