The following is from the Creation/Evolution journal, Issue XVII (Vol. 6, No. 1) pp. 15 +q
The following is from the _Creation/Evolution_ journal, Issue XVII
(Vol. 6, No. 1) pp. 1-5
"Scientific Creationism and Error" by Robert Schadewald (1986)
Ironically, creationists make much of scientific errors. The
"Nebraska Man" fiasco, where the tooth of an extinct peccary was
misidentified as belonging to a primitive human, is ubiquitous in
creationist literature and debate presentations. So is the "Piltdown
Man" hoax. Indeed, creationist propagandists often present these two
scientific errors as characteristic of paleoanthropology. It is
significant that these errors were uncovered and corrected from within
the scientific community. In contrast, creationists rarely expose their
own errors, and they sometimes fail to correct them when others expose
Duane Gish, a protein biochemist with a Ph.D. from Berkeley, is
vice-president of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and
creationism's most well-known spokesperson. A veteran of perhaps
150 public debates and thousands of lectures and sermons on creationism,
Gish is revered among creationists as a great scientist and a tireless
fighter for the truth. Among noncreationists, however, Gish has a
reputation for making erroneous statements and then pugnaciously
refusing to acknowledge them. One example is an unfinished epic which
might be called the tale of two proteins.
In July 1983, the Public Broadcasting System televised an hour-long
program on creationism. One of the scientists interviewed, biochemist
Russell Doolittle, discussed the similarities between human proteins
and chimpanzee proteins. In many cases, corresponding human and
chimpanzee proteins are identical, and, in others, they differ by
only a few amino acids. This strongly suggests a common ancestry for
humans and apes. Gish was asked to comment. He replied:
"If we look at certain proteins, yes, man then -- it can be assumed
that man is more closely related to a chimpanzee than other things.
But on the other hand, if you look at certain other proteins, you'll
find that man is more closely related to a bullforg than he is to a
chimapanzee. If you focus your attention on other proteins, you'll
find that man is more closely related to a chicken than he is to a
I had never heard of such proteins, so I asked a few biochemists. They
hadn't either. I wrote to Gish for supporting documentation. He ignored
my first letter. In reply to my second, he referred me to Berkeley
geochronologist Garniss Curtis. I wrote to Curtis, who replied
Some years ago, Curtis attended a conference in Austria where he heard
that someone had found bullfrog blood proteins very similar to human
blood proteins. Curtis offered an explanatory hypothesis: the "frog"
which yielded the proteins was, he suggested, an enchanted prince. He
then predicted that the research would never be confirmed. He was
apparently correct, for nothing has been heard of the proteins since.
But Duane Gish once heard Curtis tell his little story.
This bullfrog "documentation" (as Gish now calls it) struck me as a
joke, even by creationist standards, and Gish simply ignored his
alleged chicken proteins. In contrast, Doolittle backed his televised
claims with published protein sequence data. I wrote to Gish again
suggesting that he should be able to do the same. He didn't reply.
Indeed, he has never since replied to any of my letters.
John W. Patterson and I attended the 1983 National Creation Conference
in Roseville, Minnesota. We had several conversations there with Kevin
Wirth, research director of Students for Origins Research (SOR). At some
point, we told him the protein story and suggested that Gish might have
lied on national television. Wirth was confident that Gish could document
his claims. He told us that, if we put our charges in the form of a letter,
he would do his best to get it published in _Origins Research_, the SOR
Gish also attended the conference, and I asked him about the proteins
in the presence of several creationists. Gish tried mightily to evade
and to obfuscate, but I was firm. Doolittle provided sequence data for
human and chimpanzee proteins; Gish could do the same - *if* his alleged
chicken and bullfrog proteins really exist. Gish insisted that they exist
and promised to send me the sequences. Skeptically, I asked him
pointblank: "Will that be before hell freezes over?" He assured me that
it would. After two-and-one-half years, I still have neither sequence
data nor a report of frost in Hades.
Shortly after the conference, Patterson and I submitted a joint
letter to _Origins Research_, briefly recounting the protein story
and concluding, "We think Gish lied on national television." We sent
Gish a copy of the letter in the same mail. During the next few months,
Wirth (and probably others at SOR) practically begged Gish to submit a
reply for publication. According to Wirth, someone at ICR, perhaps
Gish himself, responded by pressuring SOR not to publish our letter.
Unlike Gish, however, Kevin Wirth was as good as his word. The letter
appeared in the spring 1984 issue of _Origins Research_ -- with no
reply from Gish.
The 1984 National Bible-Science Conference was held in Cleveland, and
again Patterson and I attended. Again, I asked Gish for sequence data
for his chicken and bullfrog proteins. This time, Gish told me that
any further documentation for his proteins is up to Garniss Curtis
I next saw Gish on February, 18, 1985, when he debated philosopher
of science Philip Kitcher at the University of Minnesota. Several
days earlier, I had heralded Gish's coming (and his mythical proteins)
in a guest editorial in the student newspaper, _The Minnesota Daily_.
Kitcher alluded to the proteins early in the debate, and, in his final
remarks, he demanded that Gish either produce references or admit that
they do not exist. Gish, of course, did neither. His closing remarks
were punctuated with sporadic cries of "Bullfrog!" from the audience.
That evening, Duane Gish addressed about two hundred people assembled
in a hall at the student union. During the question period, Stan Weinberg,
a founder of the Committees of Correspondence on Evolution, stood up.
Scientists sometimes make mistakes, said Weinberg, and, when they do,
they own up to them. Had Gish ever made a mistake in his writings and
presentations? If so, could his chicken and bullfrog proteins have
been a mistake? Gish made a remarkable reply.
He has, indeed, made mistakes.....
Regarding the bullfrog proteins, Gish said that he relied on Garniss
Curtis for them. Perhaps Curtis was wrong. As for the chicken proteins,
Gish made a convoluted and (to a nonbiochemist) confusing argument
about chicken lysozyme. It was essentially the same answer he had given
me immediately after his debate with Kitcher, when I went onstage and
asked him once again for references. It was also the same answer he gave
two nights later...... [bombardier beetle stuff deleted]
About the chicken lysozyme: three times in three days Gish was challenged
to produce references for chicken proteins closer to human proteins than
the corresponding chimpanzee proteins. Three times he responded with an
argument which essentially reduces to this: if human lysozyme and
lactalbumin evolved from the same precursor, as scientists claim, then
human lysozyme should be closer to human lactalbumin than to chicken
lysozyme, but it is not.
Well, although it is true that human lysozyme is *not* closer to human
lactalbumin than to chicken lysozyme, this comes as no shock and does
not make a case for creationism. Furthermore, it doesn't at all address
the issue that we raised. We were talking about Gish's earlier comparison
of human, chimp, and chicken proteins, and Gish changed the subject and
started comparing human lysozyme to human lactalbulmin!
Few of his creationist listeners know what lysozyme is, and perhaps
none of them knew that human and chimpanzee lysozyme are identical and
that chicken lysozyme differs from both by fifty-one out of the 130 amino
acids . To one unfamiliar with biochemistry and, especially, Gish's
apologetic method's, it *sounded* like he responded to the question.
Whether by design or by some random process, Gish's chicken lysozyme
apologetic was admirably suited to deceive listeners.
One who was taken in by it was Crockett Grabbe, a physicist with the
University of Iowa. As a result, Grabbe wrongly accused Gish of claiming
that chicken lysozyme is closer to human lysozyme than is chimpanzee
lysozyme. Gish then counterattacked, playing "blame the victim" and
pretending it was Grabbe's own fault that he was deceived . But if
the chicken lysozyme apologetic fooled a professional scientist, it is
unlikely that many of the creationist listeners saw through it.
Gish's refusal to acknowledge the nonexistence of his chicken protein
is characteristic of ICR. Gish's boss, Henry Morris, gave Gish's handling
of the matter his tacit approval by what he said (and didn't say) about
it in his _History of Modern Creationism_. Morris refferred to the protein
incident and took a swipe at Russell Doolittle (whom he identified as
"Richard Doolittle"), but he offered no criticism of Gish's conduct.
Instead, he accused PBS of misrepresenting Gish !
Meanwhile, Gish had been obfuscating behind the scenes. The only
creationist publication to directly address the protein affair has been
_Origins Research_, which first covered the matter in its spring 1984
issue. Then, in the fall 1985 issue, editor Dennis Wagner revisited
the controversy. However, in his article, he (1) wrongly identified
Glyn Isaac as the source of Gish's bullfrog and (2) wrongly stated
that Gish had sent me a tape of the lecture in which Isaac supposedly
made the satement. Wagner's source, it turns out, is a February 27,
1984, letter Gish wrote to Kevin Wirth, in which Gish apparently confused
the late Glyn Isaac (an archaeologist and authority on early stone tools)
with Garniss Curtis. He also claimed to have a tape and a transcript of
the 'Isaac' (presumably Curtis) lecture, and he claimed that he had
reviewed them. In the same paragraph, Gish claimed that he had sent me
his 'documentation,' and Wagner quite naturally assumed that that meant
at least the tape. But Gish sent me neither, nor has he sent copies of
said tape or transcript to others who have requested them. As with his
chicken proteins, we have only Gish's word for their existence.
For the record, it is no longer important whether Gish's original
statements about chicken and bullfrog proteins were deceptions or
incredible blunders. It is now going on four years since the PBS
broadcast, and Gish has neither retracted his chicken statement nor
attempted to justify it. (Obviously, the lysozyme apologetic doesn't
count, but it took Gish two-and-one-half years to come up with that!)
And if the Curtis story is all he knows about his chimpanzee protein,
on what basis did he promise to send me its sequence at the 1983
National Bible-Science Conference? Gish has woven himself into an
incredible web of contradictions, and even some creationists now
suspect that he has been less than candid. [rest of article deleted]
 Awbrey, Frank T., and Thwaites, William M. Winter 1982. "A Closer
Look at Some Biochemical Data That 'Support' Creation," _Creation/
Evolution_, issue VII, p. 15.
 Gish, Duane T. August 14, 1985. "Creationism Misassailed." _Cedar
 Morris, Henry M. 1984. _History of Modern Creationism_ (San Diego:
Master Book Publishers), p. 316.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank