I thank Mr. Strohmaier for his excellent and well-written reply. I consider Mr. Strohmaier to be a good friend of mine, and someone whose opinions I have great respect for. However, he has made some mistakes in his letter, which I will take the opportunity to address.
Mr. Strohmaier insists on a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis, a viewpoint which I and many other members of the Christian community do not share. Remember that Christ taught by parable time and time again. Are we unable to afford God use of that method? The Bible does not require a literal interpretation to convey its essential message. The Bible itself suggests that we read it figuratively. 2 Corinthians 3:6 says, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”, suggesting that the essence of the Bible is the meaning of the message, not the verbatim transcript of it. Galatians 4:24 confirms this by stating that the story of Abraham is an allegory, and should not be taken as literal truth. A literal reading of the Bible is like a literal reading of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, and I sincerely doubt that Orwell was concerned with the threat that talking animals posed to the English countryside.
Mr. Strohmaier also makes the claim that current dating methods cannot extend back more than 400,000 years. I am curious as to where he arrived at such a number. Nothing in the scientific literature seems to agree with this limit. If such a limit existed, it would come as a surprise to Dr. Valley, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Wisconsin who two weeks ago put on display “the oldest thing on Earth”: a speck of zircon crystal which he dated at 4.4 billion years old. I find it hard to believe that Dr. Valley and thousands of other scientists like him would willfully make a mockery of their profession and risk their careers and their credibility by arbitrarily assigning great age to an object if the best tools at their disposal only allowed for accuracy up to 400,000 years.
Hominid fossils are an oft-cited topic in the debate between evolutionary science and creationism, and in reference to Fred Spoor’s study of Australopithecus, Mr. Strohmaier neglects to explain what Spoor’s conclusions actually were. Far from reporting that the ancient hominids were “all-ape”, Spoor’s 1994 paper concurs with the commonly-held belief that Australopithecus walked partially like an ape and partially like a modern human. This is exactly what has been predicted for years, and it has not come as any great surprise to anthropologists, since one would expect that a transitional fossil would show characteristics of the ancient and modern organisms it falls between.
In suggesting that because life is rare in the universe and that this provides evidence against the theory of evolution, Mr. Strohmaier confuses abiogenesis with evolution. Modern evolutionary theory starts with the first organism and proceeds to explain the diversity of life on Earth from there. Evolutionary theory says nothing about what pre-biotic Earth was like: evolution concerns itself with life, not the formation of planets. “Rare Earth” does not claim that life in the universe should be rare. Ward and Brownlee actually suggest that life should be common in the universe (with complex life being rare). They never even suggest that this rarity implies that life’s origin must have been as described in the Book of Genesis. They explain that unique evolutionary pressures that Earth’s environment had on early life account for the complex web of life we see today. Ward and Brownlee note that a similarly complex web of bacterial life is what we should expect throughout the universe, and evolutionary theory has little trouble accepting that idea.
Evolutionary theory is an extremely robust and fascinating field of study which forms the foundation of modern biology. If one wishes to replace it with something like creationism, one would do well to ensure that creationism actually can explain evidence better than evolutionary theory. Thus far, that has simply not been the case: evolution has done an exemplary job of explaining the diversity of life on Earth while creationism grasps at straws.
John Pennisi, Junior Biology Major