The Delayed Fate of the Dade Debate

Great numbers of students at Miami University and other Dade County, Florida, residents were thrilled when the announcement was made of a forthcoming debate between famed evolutionists Sidney W. Fox and Sheldon Greer and ICR creationists Duane Gish and Henry Morris, scheduled originally for mid-March, 1979. This would be a historic confrontation that should go a long way toward clarifying the relative scientific merits of the two models of origins, with a guarantee of extensive television and newspaper coverage, probably nationwide.

Especially illuminating would be the interchange between biochemists Fox (Ph.D., Cal Tech, 1940) and Gish (Ph.D., Berkeley, 1953). Dr. Fox is one of the world's leading evolutionary spokesmen, Director of the Institute for Molecular and Cellular Evolution in Miami, famous for his experiments supposedly supporting a naturalistic origin of life. Dr. Gish has lectured and debated widely on university campuses in recent years, frequently referring to the Fox experiments as scientifically irrelevant. Dr. Greer is Professor of Microbiology at the University of Miami. He studied evolution under top evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky, calls evolution the leitmotif of his course in molecular genetics, and is one of the most popular lecturers at the University. If anyone could successfully defend evolutionism against the creationist spokesmen, Fox and Greer could do it.

The debate was first arranged by John W. Chalfant, a prominent Miami real estate broker, an active Christian and creationist, first with Dr. Greer, and then with Dr. Fox. The precise date and format were to be determined, but the debate as such was accepted, assuming it would be limited to science, with no theological "cop-outs" by the creationists. All this was agreed on early in January, with the tentative date set for March 19 or 20 (Drs. Morris and Gish were scheduled to hold their creation seminar in nearby Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church on March 16-19—see May Acts and Facts). Dr. Fox agreed to write to the creationist debaters outlining the precise format he preferred.

Instead, however, he contacted the Miami News, which responded with a scathingly sarcastic editorial in its January 20 edition, presenting the issue as one of Dark-Ages religious fundamentalism versus enlightened and open-minded modern science. Furthermore, he informed Mr. Chalfant that the debate would have to be postponed until October. The News editorial did confirm, however, that the evolutionists had agreed to debate.

Dr. Morris responded to the misleading editorial through a letter-to-the-editor, published February 2. The complete letter is as follows:

Editor, Miami News:

The editorial appearing in the News on January 20, entitled "Evolving Debate," needs clarification. It is correct that Dr. Duane Gish and I have been scheduled to participate in a creation/evolution debate with Dr. Sheldon Greer and Dr. Sidney Fox of Miami University.

It is not true, however, that this will be a religious debate. Dr. Gish (Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Berkeley) and I (Ph.D. in Hydraulics, Minnesota) are scientists, not theologians, and we will be discussing only the scientific evidences showing creationism to be superior to evolutionism in explaining the origin and history of life.

If anyone talks religion in the debate, it will be the evolutionists. It does require much faith to believe in such a completely unobservable and unreasonable process as the naturalistic evolution of living systems from non-living chemicals, or of complex organisms from simple organisms.

Furthermore, we are not proposing that the book of Genesis or any other religious material be taught in the public schools, nor do we want evolution to be excluded from them. It does seem wrong, however, for young people to be systematically and exclusively indoctrinated in evolutionism, as has been the case in almost all our public schools for two generations.

The scientific arguments and evidences for and against both creation and evolution can be discussed objectively with no reference whatever to the book of Genesis or to religion. This can be done in the schools, just as we propose to do in the debate.

What is wrong with giving people a free and informed choice on this vital issue, instead of what amounts to religious brainwashing in evolutionary humanism?

The editorial noted that, "Science is responsible for most of the great discoveries of modern civilization," but missed the important point that evolution is not science! The greatest scientists—the ones most "responsible for the great discoveries" were creationists (e.g., Newton, Hooke, Pascal, Faraday, Maxwell, Pasteur, Kelvin), not evolutionists.

Even today, after decades of exclusive evolutionary teaching in the schools and colleges, there are thousands of scientists who have become creationists, and the number is rapidly increasing, as more and more tough-minded people are taking a careful look at both sides of the question.

The Miami News editorial did mention one possible evidence of evolution—"fragments of a jaw and teeth" which Dr. Louis B. Leakey once believed to be an evolutionary ancestor of man.

I do hope that Dr. Fox and Dr. Greer can come up with better evidence than this! Half a dozen different proffered evolutionary lineages of man have come and gone since Leakey, and modern evolutionists are still much in disagreement about the true sequence.

The real reason why—after multitudes of fossil fragments have been examined and sorted by evolutionary anthropologists for over a hundred years—there is still no agreement as to man's evolutionary ancestry, is because he had no evolutionary ancestry!

All the real evidence indicates that man was true man right from the start. If our modern educators really believed in civil rights, in academic freedom, in scientific objectivity, in religious freedom, and in simple fairness, they would at least allow both sides of this important question to be discussed openly in our schools and universities.

Henry M. Morris
Director
Institute for Creation Research

At the same time, Dr. Morris wrote both Dr. Fox and Dr. Greer, after first talking with Dr. Fox on the phone, outlining a suggested debate format, stressing an objective and strictly scientific interchange. It was also stressed that any other format preferred by them would be agreeable.

Instead of replying, however, Dr. Fox countered by a letter to the News, published February 20, in which he indicated that the proposed debate topic was unacceptable ("Resolved that the evolution model is more effective than the creation model in correlating and predicting scientific data relative to the origin and history of life on earth"). He accused the creationists of shifting the debate topic from dealing only with evolution to evolution versus creation, which he considered to be bringing theology into the debate.

Thereupon, Dr. Morris and Dr. Gish sent the following letter to the Miami News (published March 17):

Dr. Sidney W. Fox, in his letter concerning the forthcoming debate on evolution (as recently commented on in the Miami News) asserts that we have not properly defined the scope of the debate. He prefers it to deal solely with evolution rather than with the relative merits of creationism and evolutionism as scientific models. If this is what he and Dr. Greer prefer, this is quite all right with us, making our task that much easier.

Accordingly we have now proposed the subject of the debate to be as follows: "Resolved that the theory of evolution is a satisfactory explanation of the scientific evidence related to origins." Since Dr. Fox and Dr. Greer are committed evolutionists, we assume they will be willing to take the affirmative in the debate. We, on the other hand, propose to demonstrate that the theory of evolution is extremely deficient as a scientific explanation of origins. Since it is obvious that the only possible alternative to evolution is creation, it will be unnecessary even to discuss the latter, since it would then "win" by process of elimination.

We had already assured Dr. Fox that we would not bring the Bible or religion into the discussion and would deal only with the scientific evidence and its implications. It is only by the self-serving reasoning of evolutionists that creation is arbitrarily defined as religion and evolution as science. To refuse to discuss the relative scientific merits of these two quite parallel (though conflicting) concepts, amounts to a tacit admission that evolution, after all, cannot really be defended on its own scientific merits. We do hope that Professors Greer and Fox will not take this defeatist position.

There is widespread public interest in this subject, of course, and the debate has been proposed for Miami's Civic Auditorium with full television coverage already assured for the event. We are now only awaiting the acceptance of Drs. Fox and Greer.

Henry M. Morris, Director
Duane T Gish, Associate Director
Institute for Creation Research

Dr. Morris also wrote Dr. Fox and Dr. Greer on March 7, agreeing again to use any debate topic and format they preferred, and enclosing a copy of the letter sent to the News.

In the meantime, Mr. Chalfant indicated that he had learned from Dr. Greer that Dr. Fox and Dr. Greer had been receiving much pressure from evolutionists all over the country, urging them either to withdraw from the debate or else to be thoroughly prepared, warning them of a probable defeat and a resulting nationwide setback to evolutionism in the schools.

On March 12, after receiving Dr. Morris' letter and the letter to the News, Dr. Greer wrote the ICR scientists, withdrawing from the debate, using the excuse that he would let Dr. Fox down by not being "well prepared."

Dr. Morris’ reply to him was as follows:

Dear Dr. Greer:

I was surprised to receive your letter of March 12 asking to withdraw from the evolution debate. It was my understanding that you had eagerly accepted John Chalfant's suggestion to participate and had persuaded Dr. Fox to take part also. I am sorry to hear of Mrs. Greer's illness, however, and do trust she will recover soon. If this is the reason for your withdrawal, we certainly understand and sympathize.

The other reasons expressed in your letter, on the other hand, are more difficult to understand. If anyone should be capable of giving a scientific apologetic for evolution, it should be you and Dr. Fox. Your reputation as a lecturer on evolution is exceptionally high, and Dr. Fox is known all over the world for his own studies in molecular evolution. Since you both are strong advocates of evolution in the classroom and are involved regularly in evolutionary studies, it should require very little preparation time on your part. I am quite busy myself (college president, etc.) but am willing to take the necessary time because of the great importance of the issue, and the strong public interest in it.

Also, we must take strong exception to two other inferences in your letter. The proposed debate has nothing to do with the church-and-state question. As a Baptist, I strongly believe in the separation of church and state. The debate—as well as the proposed "two model" approach in the schools—is to be conducted strictly on a scientific level, with no reference to the Bible or religion. Since we have repeatedly emphasized this fact, and since you and Dr. Fox, nevertheless, continue to say we are trying to discuss religion, we can only conclude that you either question our veracity or else are deliberately attempting to confuse the issue.

Secondly, you charge us with "cleverly distorting" some statement by Dr. Dobzhansky. This allegation, of course, we categorically deny. I am surprised you would make such a statement without any clarification or documentation.

We would urge you to reconsider your withdrawal so that this vital question of origins can be openly discussed in a public forum. Otherwise, I hope you will at least retract the two careless charges noted above. If not, would you give us permission to quote your letter and reply to it?

Finally, if you still feel you cannot participate in the debate, I would urge you to help Dr. Fox find another partner. Surely, in a great university…. there must be two scientists who are able and willing to defend evolution publicly on a scientific basis! If not, how can the University justify continuing to teach evolution as a scientific fact to all its students, never requiring that they also hear the other side?

Henry M. Morris
Director
Institute for Creation Research

To date, no reply has been received from Dr. Greer. However, Dr. Fox also wrote to Dr. Morris on March 21, firmly and finally withdrawing from the debate, in a letter which was both patronizing and insulting.

Dr. Morris and Dr. Gish had tried to be as courteous as possible in all these interchanges, as well as completely flexible in terms of the debate format and date. Unfortunately (and similar experiences have been recounted by would-be debate sponsors in increasing numbers recently), Dr. Fox and Dr. Greer, for reasons best known to themselves, have decided it best not to confront creationists on a scientific level.

Cite this article: Henry Morris, Ph.D. 1979. The Delayed Fate of the Dade Debate. Acts & Facts. 8 (8).


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