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[anecdote 2004] Nobel Laureate given standing ovation after slamming Darwinism during a graduation ceremony


In preparing a letter to the editor of UVa magazine, I was researching the case of 1996 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Richard Smalley. I was astonished to discover that he delivered an anti-Darwinian speech during a graduation ceremony and apparently received a standing ovation. I also thought it an appropriate time to remember this extraordinary scientist.

Here is the account of Smalley’s speech:
Tuskegee University 2004

Smalley mentioned the ideas of evolution versus creationism, Darwin versus the Bible’s “Genesis.” The burden of proof, he said, is on those who don’t believe that “‘Genesis’ was right, and there was a creation, and that Creator is still involved.

Smalley also commented here:

Evolution has just been dealt its death blow. After reading Origins of Life with my background in chemistry and physics, it is clear that [biological] evolution could not have occurred.”

–Richard Smalley, Ph.D., Nobel Laureate-Chemistry, 1996

Bill Dembski’s account of Richard Smalley:

Richard Smalley Dies

Rick Smalley, a Nobel laureate in chemistry at Rice University, died earlier this week. You can read about his scientific contributions and passing here. I had the privilege of having lunch with Rick this summer. The meeting was arranged by his pastor at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, my friend Ben Young. Rick had in the previous year become a Christian as well as a member of Second Baptist Church, and begun to express his doubts about Darwinism publicly (see here and here). I reported on my lunch meeting with Rick here, though to spare him harrassment I did not mention him by name. Rick’s prediction at the end of his life was that ID would be mainstreamed in five years and that evolution in its conventional materialistic sense would be dead within ten. It will be interesting to see if his predictions are borne out.

Hugh Ross gives an account of how some of this came to be:

Eulogy for Richard Smalley by Hugh Ross’s

I am here because pastor Ben Young called me sixteen months ago to ask if I would be willing to fly to Houston to answer a Nobel Laureate’s questions about science and the Christian faith. I knew ahead of time that Rick was a stickler for scientific credibility and integrity. I expected him to besiege me with questions about biological evolution or about Bible passages he presumed conflicted with science. What I learned was that Rick loved to research frontiers of knowledge that few before him had ever probed. The thrill of Rick’s life was to explore and to invent.

Others had asked me about God’s purpose in creating the universe. Rick already had perceived that if God exists He must have more than one purpose in creating. So, we talked about God’s seven different purposes in creating the universe. In light of these seven purposes, Rick wanted to know exactly what we humans are supposed to do. He wanted to know why God would grant us free will. He had already concluded that no resolution of human free will and divine predetermination was possible within the dimensions of length, width, height, and time. He asked if the extra dimensions implied by string theory and general relativity provided possible resolutions. (By the way, they do.) We discussed God’s plan for ridding His creation of evil and how we humans presently benefit from our exposure to evil. He asked about the purpose of mass extinction events in the fossil record, the purpose of death, the reason for our short life spans, and what life will be like in the new creation.

Most scientists I know allow peer pressure and their specialized research endeavors to divert them from exploring the most important issues of the cosmos and life. I have found this to be especially so for Nobel Laureates. But, Rick was different. He had the humility and the courage to pursue the big truth questions regardless of personal cost to his reputation.

Later, Rick and Debbie attended my evening lecture at Rice on “Dark Energy and the Destiny of Humanity.” They sat in the second row with Rick furiously taking notes. I remember that he asked by far the most insightful question of the evening.

A couple of weeks later, I got an email from Rick where he described how he used those notes to craft what I knew to be a much superior talk that he gave before a thousand students at Tuskegee. Those students gave Rick a rousing standing ovation. Rick made an important discovery that day. (Let me give you some background.)

As many of you know, Rick is not only famous for discovering the buckeyball and for developing nanotechnology, he is even better known in political and educational circles for alerting our leaders to America’s science education crisis. Rick and I were both children during the sputnik era. At that time, America spared no expense in raising up an army of scientists and engineers, I recall that my high school physics teacher was paid twice as much as the other teachers. Thanks to a Texas millionaire, I and a few other high school students in Vancouver got to spend every Thursday hearing seminars and many Saturdays doing experiments with the leading science faculty at the University of British Columbia.

What I most remember about that era, though, was that scientists and others saw science as a potent tool–a tool that not only could probe the secrets of the cosmos, but also solve many of the outstanding problems in sociology, philosophy, and theology. This aggressive application of scientific research captivated the general public and attracted swarms of promising youth to pursue science careers.

Today, we have sanitized science. We have made it impotent by pretending science has no capacity to put to the test important questions of sociology, philosophy, and religion. Consequently, we are making science boring, and this to a large degree explains our science education crisis.

I know from my conversations with Rick that the last year of his life was his most thrilling as a scientist. In his words, he learned that “he need not throw his mind away when reading the Bible.” The Bible made him an even better scientist and a more inspiring science educator.

Three months ago, my wife wrote to a theoretical physicist and a chemist on our mailing list who had heard Rick lecture to ask them to pray. She wrote, “We want Rick to live, but more importantly we want what God wants.” Rick was only 62. With another thirty years he could have done great things for his newfound Savior. But, like the young prophet Stephen in the book of Acts, could it be that Rick’s untimely death will bring about an unimaginable spiritual breakthrough? Consider that the death of Stephen led to the conversion of Paul and Paul’s authoring of thirteen books of the Bible. I believe in this auditorium are dozens of men and women with the courage and the humility to take up the baton that Rick at the end of his life has passed on–a baton of being willing to seriously ask the big questions of life, of having the humility to submit to the truth about God revealed both through the record of nature and words of the Bible, and of having the courage to make science exciting again by publicly standing up for the multitude of new scientific reasons to believe that there is a God who has created, a God who knows our fallen condition and desires to rescue us if only we would ask.

Now, I recognize some may not be in agreement with the views expressed by Smalley and Ross, however, I offer these articles as a point of news and information and discussion. I can’t see how someone like Dawkins can be seen as inspirational for science. Smalley is far better role model and source of inspiration for the scientists of tomorrow, imho.

[…] More details about Professor Smalley’s change of heart are available here. […] Hyper-skepticism and “My way or the highway”: Feser’s extraordinary post | Uncommon Descent
OEC may seem convincing, but I would urge a reconsideration based on evidence alone.
As a YEC'er, one must hold that the arguments in [i]The Privileged Planet[/i] are garbage. Oh, the irony. This is not the first time I've pointed out this little bit of cognitive dissonance. Mung
Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that Kurt Wise states that the evidence is against his young earth views. And that he takes them on faith. I admire that kind of honesty. For me, I can't find a good reason to doubt the word of the majority of professional geologists. They are the experts, and I am not. They have no axe to grind, and are not involved in the kind of metaphysical debates as are some biologists. So, I can't believe in a young earth and worldwide flood. Though I think it matters that we come out right or correct in all things we believe, I have many friends who are YEC, global flood folks. They are very, very good people and seem to get along just fine in life with these beliefs. bj
Gentleman, Whatever theories we may hold, science should welcome skepticism and even be willing to ponder outrageous ideas. An Old-Earth view of physics and geology is in light years better shape than Darwinian evolution, however, it still should not be given a free pass. Skepticism is a good thing. The question Jerry poses are reasonable, but one might look at Sullivan Mountain in Walter Brown's writings and the bent sedimentary rocks with marine fossils embedded in the sedimentary rock and decide whether Brown has a better explanation for bent sedimentary rock than someone else. I also pointed out basic thermodynamics is at variance with prevailing explanations for volcanoes. This is well documented in peer review. I encourage the reader to see my debate with Darwinist Geologist Joe Meert. That said, the topic of this thread was Old-Earth Creationist Richard Smalley. I would appreciate a few more comments on him as this thread is in tribute to him. Sal scordova
I do not challenge (most of) geology as taught in the schools, only the timescales associated with the processes, which come from philosophical presuppositions rather than the evidence. The evidences you cite have large timescales assigned to them, but are not themselves evidences of large timescales. Just because I disagree with the assumed timescales, does not mean I disagree with the geology. StephenA
StephenA, I suggest you start explaining the Atlantic ridge, the nature of the Atlantic ocean floor, mountain and island formation, and all the volcanos in the world as starters. A very slow but relentless process is visible all around the world. Geology has a very coherent theory that explains nearly all of non organic world around us and geologists admit there are many things they don't know but these have little to do with the age of mountains, rocks, ocean floor etc. Hey, they admit they do not know for sure what caused the Grand Canyon. I do not see many around here supporting a challenge on geology as taught in the schools. The reason is that it wouldn't pass the laugh test whereas the attack on Darwin has hit home with millions who would think absurd that the earth is only a few thousand years old. jerry
StephenA, i'm not trying to debate a YECer. That's about the biggest waste of time I can think of. My main point is that by being a YECer, you have the ability to test your claims. It seems to me that you believe the world was covered in water at some point, perhaps the flood described in the Bible. Off the top of my head, I can think of all sorts of predictions you'd expect to find, and I can think of all sorts of things that would falsify a WW flood. I'm leaving it at that. If you wanna pursue the actual scientific method in testing your belief in a flood then you're lucky that you have the ability to do that. (unlike a I.D.ist) Fross
Proclaiming victory without answering the counterarguments seems almost like... well, a darwinist. StephenA
well unlike the ID ist who halts making any claims beyond "design" a creationist does propose things and not all of them propose the same thing, but they do suggest events, orderings and even time frames that can be tested. They have failed all tests obviously. There was without doubt no world wide flood. The earth was never covered with water at any point in earth's history. There was no firmament, people living to be hundreds of years old, etc. Fross
from Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck
Gould on David Raup: Lyell encapsulated his philosophy in a doctrine later called "uniformitarianism"---a complex set of beliefs centered on the catechism that "the present is the key to the past."....Lyell viewed this principle as a methodological reform to eliminate fanciful (and quasi-theological) "catastrophic" causes and to render the full magnitude of past change by the slow and steady accumulation of ordinary small changes (deposition and erosion grain by grain) extended over vast times. The idea sounds so sensible and right-minded. Even the greatest modern revolution in geology, continental drift and plate tectonics, embodies the uniformitarian view in its vision of the efficacy of continental motion at a few centimeters per year extrapolated to great cumulative change over the immensity of geologic time. And yet, from two different standpoints (theoretical and empirical), Lyell's credo makes little sense, and its status as dogma can only reflect our social and psychological preferences. First, what is the probability that our tiny slice of observable time should include the full range of potential processes that might alter the earth? What about big, but perfectly natural, events that occur so infrequently that we have only a remote chance of observing even one occurrence in historical time? Second, how can Lyellian gradualism account for the fundamental fact of paleontology--extensive, and appparently rapid, faunal turnovers ("mass extinctions") occurring several times in the history of life? (Traditional explanations over at least a few million years and attributing them to over intensification of ordinary causes--changes in temperature and sea level, for example--but the arguments have always seemed forced.) ... Yet, until recently, extinction received much less attention than its obvious prominence warranted. In an overly Darwinian world of adaptation, gradual change, and improvement, extinction seemed, well, so negative--the ultimate failure, the flip side of evolution's "real" work, something to be acknowledge but not intensely discussed in polite company. This odd neglect has been reversed in the last decade...the primary architect of this shift is my brilliant colleague David M. Raup....Dave Raup is the best of the best.
Legend has it Raup wrote the letter of recommendation for his YEC student Kurt Wise to Stephen J. Gould. In that sense the YECs are in debted to Raup. Raup was also at ID's famous Pajaro Dunes conference (seen in Unlocking the Mystery of Life). As Gould said, paleontology is making "catastrophism respectable" again. Further in regard to Natural Selection, we have some rather odd perplexities like Sharks, Cockroaches, coelacanth fish, ginko, and horsetails, certain bacteria, etc. that haven't ever seemed to evolve much that survived these cataclysms. So we can't take Darwinian principles and explain in plausible detail why ape like creatures became human, but cock roaches remain cockroaches even though both we and cock roaches live in practiaclly the same happy environments, sometimes in the same houses. Further, we have rather odd survivors of the cataclysms. Why would entire plant species die out immediately and not certain mammals? Raup calls it Wanton Extinction, and defines it as:
selective extinction, where some kinds of organisms survive preferentially but not because they are better adapted to their normal environment
The notion that slow, gentle pressure produces extinction is part of the Darwinian paradigm....This idea is appealing and has been learned by generations of biology students. But its verification from actual field data is negligible.
Probably the most strange issue is the creatures that survived cataclysms. Why would certain land creatures live while entire species of plants over vast streatches of land wiped out instantly in the same cataclysm that wiped other species of plants? The little critters seemed fortuitously protected. :-) scordova
I don't know if the work of J Harlen Bretz is common knowledge or not, but living in the inland northwest US, I am reminded of him every time I go outdoors. The Columbia River Plateau has many unusual geologic features that Bretz (in the 1920's) hypothesized were caused by a cataclysmic flood. This, of course, flew in the face of the uniformitarian principle of geology, which says that the natural processes operating in the past are the same as those that can be observed operating in the present. He was ridiculed for almost four decades, but eventually Bretz's theory prevailed and it is now generally accepted that the geologic features seen over thousands of square miles of the Columbia Plateau were caused by a large flood (or floods) roughly 10,000 years ago. Erosion features for which conventional theories would require millions of years are now believed to have occured quickly as a result of catastrophic flooding. If here, why not elsewhere? The world is full of evidence of floods, like the "bathtub rings" of Nevada's Black Rock Desert (home of the annual Burning Man festival). Of course Science™ "knows" that these were all just "localized floods". But how many localized floods (covering thousands of square miles each) does it take to add up to a global catastrophe? sagebrush gardener
Fross, Formally speaking the issue of a Genesis interpretation and the scientific hypothesis of a Young Earth and recent special creation are not synonymous. You can't take one interpretation of the firmament (which not all YECs agree on) and then say, "no water in the sky, therefore Genesis is wrong". The proper approach to the question is to take scientific first principles, and work from there. The IC argument is a powerful case for special creation. It was exactly one of the question Darwin sought to overcome. You might give a good argument against YEC, but the way Darwin framed the question had little to do with YEC but whether it was more reasonable the biological forms first appeared complete or not. For the sake of argument, let us say the Earth is Old, the assumption of Old Earth does not imply automatically an evolutionary origin for all life. In fact, polyphyletic origins is back on the table. Darwin did not argue the details of Christian theology, he merely posed the idea of special creation in almost purely theoretical terms. That is the appropriate approach to addressing the issue. Begin with science, not theology. scordova
OEC may seem convincing, but I would urge a reconsideration based on evidence alone. I was an OEC, but I would not be too quick to give the geology of Charles Lyell (Darwin's inspiration) a free-pass. The strata do not agree with being laid down over long periods of time. A few centimeters of erosion every 1000 years would wipe out the continents in 100 million years. Even if the Earth is old, the current interpretation of geology just based on this is scientifically unsustainable. So let's grant the Earth is Old, the interpretation of the strata is likely wrong. I myself have studied the racemization profiles of the amino acids in fossils and found systematic errors. 4 months before Reiner von Protsch was caught in the dating scandal of 2004, I could see the data points he submitted in a PNAS article in the 70's were pulled out of the air. The fact he was discredited and shown living a lie for 30 years came as no surprise to me. In the fall of 2003, the issue of volcano geology and mantle plume heating became an extreme issue of contention. Current geology does not hold together, plate tectonics will go into crisis. I point you all to this discussion with Darwinist Joe Meert: Origins of Lava, Mantle Plumes and the fine work of Walter Brown scordova
Sorry I was unclear. I meant that those observations did not specificly prove an old earth. I said before that what I mainly disagree with is the time scale. What observation proves those things were formed over millions of years rather than in the last few thousand, and how do they prove it? Note: are you familiar with Catastrophic Plate Techtonics? Basically, it is the idea that the continents broke up during the flood (though that is a gross oversimplification). StephenA
Considering that a lot of water (although not all the floodwater) was supposed to have fallen from the sky during the flood, it is not surpising that we do not find it there now. BTW the land was not created at that point so much as allowed to appear. The preserved footprints and slither prints you cite are actually proof the strata was laid down quickly. Think about it. In order to preserve such prints they must be quickly filled in before they are erased. (even in the middle of a desert, how long do footprints last?) Also, I am not dogmatic that all sedimentry strata was formed in the flood. Remember that the earth was coverd by water before Adam. It is also quite possible that subsequent layers were (quickly) laid down by post-flood processes. I take things on a case-by-case basis. StephenA
The Hawaiian Islands are fairly specific and the chain of islands in a straight line for over a thousand miles is easily observable, so is the new island currently being formed along the same line. So is the mid Atlantic ridge easily observable and parts of Iceland currently being torn apart are easy to see. So are the continental shelfs observable. So are the alternating symmetrical magnetic fields observable. So are the gradual differences in rock as you get further away from ridge. What counts as an observation if these are not observations? I am not a geologist but have had a basic course in geology and these are some of the top of the head findings that are in sync with plate tectonics and volcano formation all taking place at a very slow but steady pace. This is not like evolution where all the problems with the mechanisms of life change have been put under the microscope and then shown wanting. Geology pretty much all holds together. jerry
People interpret Genesis a thousand different ways, so it all depends on the specific claims of whatever creationist is making them. For instance, Kent Hovind's claims make exact predictions that have been falsified. I think he represents the epitome of a YEC, and YECism is so easy to falsify. So here are some examples: The first creation story says earth was made of water first and that sky divided water below from water above. Then it says land was created. There is no water above the sky and we know that land came before water. Easy to disprove. Genesis says there was a world wide flood. If there was truly a WW flood, then there would be a world of evidence for it. There's a world of evidence against it. For instance, all layers of strata show signs that it was laid down slowly over long geological periods of times. We see preserved footprints, slither prints, nests, etc. all down the geological column and these types of preservations would not exist if strata was laid down over a period of one year. (like some creationists say) Fross
I'm no geology expert, but about the only thing I, and as far as I know the majority of creationists, disagree with is the time scale (and possibly some of the ordering of the events). I much prefer to deal with specific examples. It's far too easy to talk past each other otherwise. That's why I asked for experiments or observations. StephenA
For the record, as far as I know, both Hugh Ross and Richard Smalley were Old Earth Creationists (OEC), not YECs. That is, they accepted that life was the product of a divine special act. I suspect because of Smalley's OEC affiliation, many of the YECs did not herald Smalley's conversion. Also, Charles Darwin's Origin of Species was devoted to arguing against special creation. In fact he used the phrase in Chapter 14. So Darwin thought the case for creation a scientific question. I think he totally and utterly failed to make a legitimate scientific case Natural Selection was the mechanism of design. Universal common descent might be a reasonable conclusion given the DNA evidence (though I personally disagree, it is not unreasonable), Natural Selection as the means of change I think is completely inadequate as the cause of biological design. scordova
As a starter for falsifying creationism, I would try the mid Atlantic ridge and the creation of new ocean floor which is a constant on going process at a known rate and symmetrical about the ridge. The dating of the rocks close to the ridge versus those far from the ridge. The alternation of the magnetic fields on the ocean floor on both sides of the ridge indicating changes in the magnetic field of the earth at various times in the past. The almost perfect match between the South American continental shelf and the African continental shelf. The formation of the Hawaii islands as the Pacific plate gets moved slightly to the northwest each year with an observable new island being built as we speak 4ooo feet under the ocean surface just southeast of the Big Island. You really have to have the blinkers on to think the earth is a few thousand years old after reading about the geology of volcanoes, mountains and water erosion. jerry
It's nice to encounter someone who thinks creationism is scientific, even if you don't think it is true. May I ask what experiments/observations have falsified it? StephenA
i think creationism based on the literal reading of Biblical text is very easy to verify or falsify scientifically. I agree that if someone wants to say that the Genesis account isn't correct, then the burden of proof is upon them. In this sense, I think that Biblical creationism is a theory more than I.D. because it makes very specific predictions and descriptions of what should be found. Unfortunately for creationists like these, literal Biblical creationism has been falsified about as much as you can falsify any theory/hypothesis. Fross
If I'm not mistaken, Tusekee University is an historically black college. As such, it is immune from attacks by the ACLU on the issue of religion/creation. They're members of the same politically liberal coalition. russ
"The burden of proof, he said, is on those who don’t believe that “‘Genesis’ was right, and there was a creation, and that Creator is still involved." Awesome! jpark320
Wow. Thanks for sharing Sal. jwrennie

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