The Gish - Max Amarillo Debate

None of us now on the ICR staff even thought before its founding that we would be on a public platform debating evolutionists. Very early in its history, however, people began to think it would be instructive to those interested in the question of origins to witness debates between well-informed creation scientists and evolution scientists. Since that time over 300 debates between ICR scientists and evolutionists have been conducted, as well as debates involving other creation scientists.

The accounts of these debates have been described in Acts & Facts for almost 25 years now, but it was suggested that a detailed description of one of the recent debates might be of interest and also informative as to the types of arguments in these debates. The debate described in this report took place on the evening of March 4, 1996, in the Civic Center Auditorium in Amarillo, Texas. Approximately 2000 people were in attendance. The debaters were evolutionist Edward Max and Duane Gish. Dr. Max earned M.D. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Pennsylvania.

Max insisted on a revised format. As he desired, the debate consisted of an initial statement of 18 minutes by each side, followed by four 15-minute periods by each side on subjects Max selected and a 5-minute closing statement. To gain every advantage, Max chose to go first with each period except for the closing statements, where he chose to go last. The subjects chosen by Max for the four periods were (1) the fossil record, (2) random mutation, selection, and probability, (3) thermodynamics, and (4) homology.

In his opening statement Max asserted that creation science is pseudo-science, akin to snake oil and a flat-earth belief, and that his own position embodied five principles: (1) differences in individuals are due to differences in genes; (2) natural selection results in changes in gene frequencies; (3) changes in gene frequencies may be due to changes in the environment; (4) adaptive radiation may occur due to the "founder" principle; and (5) evolution into many new kinds, such as the evolution of small mammals into a great variety of marsupial and placental mammals, has occurred. He then presented a few arguments for an old universe and old earth, including the time required for light to reach the earth from distant stars and results of radiometric dating. He challenged several of the arguments by ICR scientists that indicate a young age for the earth.

In his initial statement, Gish pointed out that the basic issue being debated is the theistic, supernatural, special creation of the universe and living organisms versus the non-theistic, naturalistic, mechanistic evolutionary view of origins. He asserted that evolution is no more scientific or less religious than creation. Evolution and creation are inferences based upon circumstantial evidence. Furthermore, a no-God postulate is just as religious as the position that involves God. Gish described the Big Bang theory on the origin of the universe. He then illustrated what he asserted was the physical impossibility, based upon the laws of probability, of a naturalistic evolutionary origin of a protein molecule, such as an enzyme, from a random mixture of amino acids in the hypothetical primitive ocean. Even if such were available, Gish asserted that there would be absolutely no tendency for these molecules to arrange themselves into the complex machinery of a living cell.

In the period assigned to the fossil record, Max claimed that the order of appearance of fossilized creatures in the geological column is in perfect agreement with evolutionary theory. He said that radio metric dating methods supply the dates for the various periods. He described the fact that the fossil record is very incomplete, having many gaps due to episodic deposition and erosion and because evolution very often occurs rapidly in small populations. He then asserted that many transitional forms are known, such as the mammal-like reptiles and the evolution of the mesonycids into whales.

Gish responded that since according to evolution, millions of species have evolved during hundreds of millions of years, this would have produced a vast number of transitional forms. On the other hand, if creation is true, each created kind would appear fully formed. He then described the fact that in the rocks of the so-called Cambrian Period there exist billions of fossils of highly complex invertebrates, pointing out that no one has ever found fossilized ancestors to even a single one of the Cambrian invertebrates, nor have any transitional forms ever been found linking these creatures to each other or to a common ancestor. This evidence, Gish asserted, is incompatible with evolution theory, but is powerful, positive evidence for creation. Gish further described the fact that each major kind of fish appears fully formed with no trace of ancestors or transitional forms linking these fishes to common ancestors. These facts, Gish asserted, establish beyond doubt that evolution has not occurred on the earth.

In his rebuttal, Max insisted that contrary to the evidence cited by Gish, "Lucy" and the australopithecines, very ape-like creatures, did walk upright like humans. In his rebuttal Gish emphasized that Max made no attempt whatsoever to explain the absence of ancestors for the invertebrates and the fishes. He asserted that the notion that a wolf-like creature, Mesonyx, ventured into the sea and evolved into a whale was the invention of evolutionists desperate for transitional forms.

In the next period, devoted to a discussion of random mutation, selection, and probability, Max claimed that creationists construct straw men relative to probability. He described a computer program that began with the sentence "Me thinks it is a weasel" with all the letters scrambled. After only 60 generations of tries by the computer selecting the cases where a letter fell in the right place, the sentence came out correctly. He claimed that there is evidence that when a person is infected, the antibodies that his body produces to fight off the disease are produced by random mutations, indicating how fast random events can produce precise results.

In his discussion Gish described the complexity of a single-gene system found in a bacterium, Escherichia coli, that must be activated to enable the bacterium to utilize the sugar lactose when the supply of glucose is low and lactose is available. Pointing out both the complexity of the system and its obvious purpose, and the fact that there are thousands of such genetic systems or operations in even a microscopic bacterium, the notion that life arose by chance defies all the laws of probability. He then illustrated the metamorphosis of the Monarch butterfly as it passes through fertilized egg, to caterpillar, chrysalis and finally, to the butterfly. He challenged Max to explain the origin of this incredibly complex process by evolution.

In his rebuttal Max claimed that a complex organ such as the eye could have formed through a series of mutations beginning with a simple structure, such as a light sensitive spot. Concerning the origin of metamorphosis, Max asserted that just because we cannot provide an explanation does not mean evolution could not have done it. In his rebuttal Gish asserted that the purposeful unscrambling of the letters by a computer to produce the sentence "Me thinks it is a weasel" as a refutation of his probability argument is ridiculous. A human is required, a computer is required, and the computer must be programmed to select a specific sequence. He stated flatly that a sick person would die long before random chance mutations could ever produce the necessary antibodies to fight off an infection, and that the body has a mechanism for synthesizing antibodies precisely designed to protect it.

In his discussion of thermodynamics, Max claimed that creation scientists are mere armchair philosophers. He repeatedly asserted that local increases in complexity and thus decreases in entropy can take place in spite of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. He used the illustration of ice forming on a copper ball cooled to -10° suspended in water at 0°.

In his discussion of thermodynamics, Gish documented the universal natural tendency of all systems to become more disorganized. He pointed out that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that an isolated system will always become less complex, less organized, more disordered. The reverse never occurs. Yet evolutionists believe the universe is an isolated system that began in the chaos and disorder of a big bang and transformed itself into the highly complex universe we have today. This would be a clear violation of the 2nd Law. The universe had to be created supernaturally. Since the hypothetical primitive earth, according to evolutionists, could have had no free oxygen, there would be no ozone surrounding the earth. Thus, the deadly destructive ultraviolet light from the sun would destroy any complex molecules on the earth. Without either ozone or photosynthesis, life would be impossible.

In his rebuttal, Max reiterated his claim that local decreases in entropy are possible in spite of the 2nd Law. In his rebuttal Gish pointed out that a copper ball in a water bath was totally irrelevant to the problem of evolution. Evolution would involve the origin of stars, galaxies, complex molecules, and the precise assemblage of systems to form living cells.

In the final 15-minute period, Max spent much time on the existence of so-called retroposons and pseudo genes, claiming that this "useless," genetic material is produced by mutations. Max stated that the existence of the same pseudo- gene in ape and man is strong evidence for common ancestry, since the probability of mutations producing the same pseudogene in two unrelated creatures is so slight as to be negligible.

In his discussion Gish described the predictions concerning homologous structures (similar structures in different animals) based on evolutionary theory and creation. He then documented the almost universal contradiction of every prediction based on evolution and homology related to genetics, embryology, and development. He quoted evolutionists who are experts in the study of homology who have admitted the complete failure to explain the existence of homologous structures based on evolutionary predictions. Gish also pointed out that in the majority of cases these homologous structures were not even possessed by the assumed common ancestor.

In his rebuttal, Max stated that the experts cited by Gish were all wrong and that homologous structures do exist and were inherited from a common ancestor. He asserted that the reason Gish did not respond to his discussion of retroposons is because they provide such strong support for evolution.

In his rebuttal, Gish pointed out that the scientists he cited relative to homology and evolution were recognized experts in this field while Max has little knowledge of this field. Gish stated that the idea that pseudo genes are useless DNA is simply a statement of our ignorance of their true function. Gish quoted the title of a recent article, published in Science which reads "Mining Treasures from 'Junk DNA'." The article stated that "The 97% of the human genome that does not encode protein has taken a bad rap. But now this so-called junk DNA is turning out to play vital roles in normal genome function."

In his concluding statement Gish pointed out that Max had made no attempt to explain the total absence of ancestors for the complex invertebrates and the fishes. He further pointed out that Max made no attempt whatsoever to provide an evolutionary origin for the metamorphosis of the Monarch butterfly. He stated that academic and religious freedom, good education, and good science demand that students be exposed to both sides of this vital issue. This statement received warm applause from the audience.

In his closing statement Max asserted that there was evidence for evolution from fossils, the age of the earth, mutations, and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. He again said that creationists are pseudo scientists. The debate closed with a brief question and answer interchange with the audience. The program was very long, indeed, but did provide those in the audience a good opportunity to consider the relative merits of each side.


* Dr. Gish is Senior Vice President of ICR. He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1953 and spent many years in scientific research before coming to ICR. in 1971.

Cite this article: Duane Gish, Ph.D. 1996. The Gish - Max Amarillo Debate. Acts & Facts. 25 (5).

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