by David C. Wise
For me, the story started on the evening of 28 September 1985, when I went to Long Beach to see Henry Morris and Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research debate Frank Awbrey and William Thwaites (frequent contributors to NCSE's Creation/Evolution Newsletter and who together taught a Two-Model class at San Diego State University in which half the lectures were given by the ICR -- it was in this class that Gish's false claims about the bombardier beetle were exposed). In all, it went almost exactly as I had come to expect from the debates reported in Creation/Evolution Newsletter.
In Dr. Morris' rebuttal, he responded to the criticism that creationists quote out-dated sources and ignore new findings by telling of a recent NASA document, written "well into the space age," which shows that if the moon were really as old as we think (about 4.5 billion years), then there should have been much more meteoric dust on it than we had actually found. Since I had myself been very impressed (negatively) with the ICR's typical lack of substantial evidence for their claims, I was very curious to learn more about this "recent NASA document" that Morris had touted.
I wrote to the ICR asking about this claim and received a response from Dr. Gish. He sent me a copy of a letter (see links section below) written by the originator of the NASA-document claim, Harold Slusher, in which he cited and quoted from his source, the "1976" NASA document Meteor Orbits and Dust (NASA SP-135, Smithsonian Contributions to Astrophysics Vol. 2), and used it to support his calculations of the annual influx of meteoric dust onto the earth (214 million tons). After rescaling his figures for the moon, he concluded that a 4.5-billion-year-old moon would have to be covered by a layer of dust 284 feet thick.
Then while browsing through the NASA documents in the university library (fortunately, we have open stacks), I spotted Meteor Orbits and Dust, pulled it off the shelf, and immediately saw that it was dated 1965! Not wanting to jump to conclusions, especially since it was "Volume 11", and not "Vol. 2", I doublechecked the presence of the quoted passages; they were right there. Slusher had misrepresented the date by 11 years! Upon further examination of the referenced text within the document, I found that his single direct quote was a gross misquotation (on the basis of which he had included one factor), that he had badly misused the basic mathematical procedures for handling that included factor, and that he had included another factor which his referenced text clearly stated did not apply. In all, he had inflated his figures for the earth by a factor of one million (which when corrected yields an infall of a measly 214 tons -- far too little) and for the moon by a factor of 10,000 (which when corrected yields a layer of dust 1/3 inch thick -- far thinner than we found).
I wrote to Slusher about my findings, but never received any response (in five years). I later learned that Slusher never answers his mail, at least mail that questions his findings or methods. I then wrote back to Gish to warn him of the dangers of using Slusher's claim; I sent him photocopies of my letter to Slusher and the pertinent pages from the NASA document. Gish responded that the document was indeed dated 1976 and that I should wait to hear from Slusher first (fat chance of that! -- have you heard of any frost warnings in Hades?). I answered right back with more photocopies of the document and a direct request that, since I had submitted my evidence for the document's date to him, Gish should respond in kind with photocopied evidence for his claimed date of the document. That letter and the three that followed were all completely ignored by Gish.
Another researcher, Thomas Wheeler, reported having made the same discovery while following up on a footnote in Morris' Scientific Creationism (2nd ed., page 152) which cited the very same "1976" NASA document (Creation/Evolution Newsletter, 7:4, Jul/Aug 87, pp 14-15). When his partner, Frank Lovell, searched the literature, he found the same document as I did dated 1967 (the actual date of publication). When Wheeler wrote to Morris with their findings and asked if Morris could be in error, Morris said that was possible and that he would try to obtain a copy of his source and notify Wheeler of the results (no mention was made of whether Morris had done so).
Morris had included a copy of the calculations (apparently taken from the same Slusher letter sent to me by Gish), so Wheeler took them to an astronomer for verification. The astronomer also found Slusher's calculations to be erroneous and greatly inflated through the inclusion of extraneous factors that clearly did not apply.
Wheeler wrote back to Morris with these findings and asked him whether he had an active astronomer verify that the calculations had been performed correctly and produced reliable results. Morris wrote back that he had not followed up on the reference and that he would correct the error in future editions. Then he went off on a tangent with a variety of young-earth claims (similar to what Gish had done to me). Another letter from Wheeler to Morris on the same subject was never answered.
What I would really like to find out is if Gish, Morris, and the ICR continues to use this NASA-document claim; I have encountered other creationist writers who continue to cite it. Gish knows that there's a problem with it at least from my correspondence with him, even though he denied it in writing. Morris also knows that there's a problem with it and has admitted it. Any letters that I write to them on the subject are ignored, so I need somebody else to innocently enquire about the NASA-document claim (preferably directly to either Gish or Morris) and we can see what their response is. Also, does Bird make use of it?
If they are trying to be honest, then they should have abandoned this claim or changed it to reflect, at the very least, the correct date. But if they are not interested in its veracity but rather only want to use this claim to influence public opinion, then they should still be hawking it the same as when I got my copy. Unfortunately, my experience with and knowledge of the ICR lead me to expect the latter situation. But we still need a volunteer to write to the ICR.
A year or two after I had written the above, I showed it to a fundamentalist friend who then wrote to the ICR asking about this moon-dust claim. The response he received was written by one of their graduate students who did not reference the matter of the NASA document (to be honest, I forget whether my friend had mentioned it in his letter), but stated that they no longer use that claim because they have found the results to be unreliable. For documentation, he included a xerox of a page from Henry Morris' "Science, Scripture and the Young Earth", 1989, which basically said the same thing.
Fine and good, but where does the matter stand now, twelve years after the ICR brushed that moon dust off their sandals? If you visit a Christian bookstore and pick up one of their books off the shelf, you will almost invariably find in it an appendix, "Uniformitarian Ages for the Earth", which still contains the moon-dust claim. The source for that claim, as well as many of the claims in that list, comes from an "unpublished manuscript" by Harold Slusher -- doesn't take much to figure out where that claim came from. Furthermore, the ICR is still selling the edition of Henry Morris' "Scientific Creationism" which contains the moon-dust claim referencing the NASA document (verified through Amazon.com and the ICR site).
So more than a decade after they had "dropped" the moon dust claim, any new creationist reading ICR books "fresh" off the shelf will still have the claim presented to him as if it had never been refuted or recanted. Anti-creationists refer to this as "having to slay the slain," as creationists continue to use claims that have already been proven to be bogus. I first saw this effect when a young creationist (18 to 22) tried to blow away the "evolutionists" with brand-new irrefutable news: Setterfield's claim that the speed of light has been slowing down. He was totally shocked and baffled when they blew him away by repeating the decade-old refutation of that long-discounted claim.
That illustrates one way in which creation science sets its followers up to fail. It keeps circulating bogus claims that sound convincing, especially to its followers, but that had been refuted long ago. A newbie creationist picks up the "latest" books, reads those old claims, and, thinking that they are the newest thing, uses them on the street or in a newsgroup, only to get ripped apart by a more experienced opponent who knows the history of that claim, including its refutation. The effects on that creationist are described in a "Answers in Genesis" article, What About Carl Baugh?, by creationist Dr. Don Batten:
It is sad that Carl Baugh will 'muddy the water' for many Christians and non-Christians. Some Christians will try to use Baugh's 'evidences' in witnessing and get 'shot down' by someone who is scientifically literate. The ones witnessed to will thereafter be wary of all creation evidences and even more inclined to dismiss Christians as nut cases not worth listening to.
Also, the Christian is likely to be less apt to witness, even perhaps tempted to doubt their own faith (wondering what other misinformation they have gullibly believed from Christian teachers). CSF ministers to strengthen the faith of Christians and equip them for the work of evangelism and, sadly, the long term effect of Carl Baugh's efforts will be detrimental to both.
BTW, a similar case of a "recanted" ICR claim that continues to be used as well as the ICR's questionable handling of it is described in The ICR and Lucy: Bearing False Witness Against Thy Neighbor.
But there is another issue that the moon-dust claim raises: the shoddy scholarship that is all-too-prevalent in creation science. I will be writing about this at greater length elsewhere, but basically what it boils down to is that creationists don't do their homework -- they don't research their claims as they should nor to the extent that scholars and scientists do. They're not looking for valid or truthful sources as a scholar or scientist would; they're just looking for something that will sound convincing to a "lay" audience (ie, to people who lack sufficient training in that field of science). And, since the best place to find those convincing-sounding claims is in the creation science literature, that is where they do most of their "research" and they end up passing these bogus claims back and forth between each other without ever bothering to check any of them out. One side-effect of this is that they keep long-dead and refuted/recanted claims in circulation, making them appear to new audiences that these are the latest findings. Another side-effect is a form of natural selection within creation science, in which the more sensationalist (and more bogus) claims enjoy far wider distribution than the more truthful and cautious, and hence less convincing, statements of creationists trying to do serious and honest research.
That is what has happened with the moon-dust claim. The first instance of it that I had found was as I have described, from Dr. Henry Morris of the ICR who used it both in a debate and also in his book, Scientific Creationism. Morris had gotten it from Harold Slusher, who appeared to be the originator, Patient Zero, if you would. However, I have developed the suspicion that he had gotten it from somebody else, because it is very difficult to explain some of the mistakes he made unless he had never seen the original document himself (eg, mistaking an Arabic numeral "11" for a Roman numeral "II"). However, the indictment would be the same for both men: failure to research their claim back to the original source. The punishment is as we have seen: both men were entrapped by the hoax (that the document dated well after the Apollo landings, which is the basis of the claim).
The next instance that I found was in Paul Ackermann's book, It's a Young Earth After All. He devoted an entire chapter of his book to the moon-dust claim and he based almost the entire chapter on one single source, that "1976" NASA document, Meteor Orbits and Dust. By citing the document itself, he made it appear that he had gone to that source. Yet if he actually had physically picked up that volume (remember, this was before the Web was available for on-line research), then he would have immediately seen the truth for himself. Since he perpetuated the hoax, that means that he had never researched back to the original document.
The other "source" that Ackermann used was his personal recollection of a TV interview he watched just before the Apollo 11 landing and how since this was the "first" landing everybody was worried about the lander sinking into the dust. But what he had forgotten is that we already knew what to expect because that was really the sixth successful US landing on the Moon. We had already landed seven Surveyor probes on the moon from 02 Jun 1966 to 10 Jan 1968, five of which were successful (Surveyor 2 crashed and we lost radio contact with Surveyor 4 2.5 minutes before touchdown). My own personal recollection was of the first picture Surveyor 1 sent back. It made the front pages. The camera looked down at the color wheel mounted on a landing pod so that NASA could calibrate the images and we could plainly see just how deep that dust was. So we already knew what to expect when Apollo 11 landed. Yet again, Paul Ackermann had failed to do his research.
Of course, I have seen a number of postings of the moondust claim on message boards and on personal web pages. Most of them just repeat the same old claim, though without mentioning the NASA document. In the early 1990's, the Bible-Science Association's newsletter carried the moondust claim on its front page and included Meteor Orbits and Dust in its bibliography, but in this case they had done enough of their homework to cite its actual printing date of 1967, so good for them on that point.
The next major sighting came years later, in 2000, on "Dr."1 Kent Hovind's site, Creation Science Evangelism. He has recently (ie, circa September/October 2001) started re-organizing his site and some material I will reference has either been removed or moved elsewhere on his site where I could not find it. If a link I provide you fails, you should start at his home page given above and look for the article from there.
On his old site Hovind claimed that he researched all his claims carefully. It is important that we take note of that claim, because, from what I've seen, he does not do proper research and he keeps falling for nonsense and hoaxes that he shouldn't and that he wouldn't fall for if he did the research as he claims to do.
In one of his articles, "The Universe Is Not 'Billions' of Years Old", Hovind repeats the moondust claim:The 0.5 inch layer of cosmic dust on the moon indicates the moon has not been accumulating dust for billions of years. (2, p. 26; 3, p. 22; 4, p. 15; 6, p. 35; 7; 9, p. 25) *Insufficient evidence to be positive (almost all estimates before the lunar landing anticipated great quantities of dust.)When I checked the bibliography of this article, the first thing I noticed was that all of his sources were other creationists! There was not one single scientific source referenced!
[from the article's bibliograpy; item numbers from the original]
2. McLean, G. S.; McLean, Larry; Oakland, Roger. The Bible Key to Understanding the Early Earth. Oklahoma City, Okla.: Southwest Radio Church, 1987.
3. Huse, Scott M. The Collapse of Evolution. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1983.
4. Ackerman, Paul D. It’s a Young World After All. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1986.
6. Petersen, Dennis R. Unlocking the Mysteries of Creation. South Lake Tahoe, Calif.: Christian Equippers International, 1987.
7. Hovind, Kent E. Creation Seminar, Parts 1-7 (most items referenced onscreen—available from Creation Science Evangelism, 29 Cummings Road, Pensacola, Fla. 32503).
9. Baker, Sylvia. Bone of Contention. Creation Science Foundation Ltd., Sunnybank, Queensland 4109 Australia: 1990.
The second thing I noticed was that one of the four sources given for his moondust claim (the only one I've been able to check so far) was none other than Paul Ackermann's It's a Young Earth After All. We already know what Ackermann's source was and that Ackermann had not researched back to the primary source, the NASA document itself, and had therefore fallen for the hoax. Now we know that Kent Hovind also did not do his homework and had failed to verify his source by researching back to the primary source. At least Hovind displayed a bit more honesty than Ackermann had, since Hovind didn't try to claim the original NASA document as a source whereas Ackermann had.
Ironically, Hovind should have known about this claim. As I noted before, Dave Matson's "How Good Are Those Young-Earth Arguments? A Close Look at Dr. Hovind's List of Young-Earth Arguments and Other Claims" is an excellent review and critique of Hovind's claims and it contains the best and most thorough coverage of Slusher's moon-dust claim that I have seen anywhere, including the ICR's hasty retreat from that claim when researchers started asking them too many questions about it -- I have included the section on the moon-dust claim here on my site. Hovind's FAQ, "How would you answer critics who have written bad things about you?", in which the first half of the article describes at great length that he refuses to respond to his critics. In one paragraph, he offers his "critique" of Matson's essay, in which he says he "went through Dave Matson’s book and circled every time he used the words 'might have,' 'could have,' 'scientists believe,' etc" instead of actually reading what was there. The irony is that, if Hovind had actually read Matson's essay, then he would have learned the truth about the moon-dust claim and about the NASA-document reference and he would have realized that the Ackermann reference was based on a hoax. If he had been as thorough in his research as he claims to be 2.
There are a few more examples of poor scholarship on Kent Hovind's part:
- Kent Hovind makes the claim that a frozen ninety-foot-tall plum tree had been found north of the Arctic Circle with ripe fruit and green leaves still on it. Former fundamentalist and young-earth creationist Ed Babinski researched that claim and published his results in "A Frozen Ninety Foot Tall Plum Tree with Ripe Fruit and Green Leaves Found North of the Arctic Circle?". Hovind's source for that claim was his personal memory of an article he had read in a creationist magazine ten years prior. Babinski tracked down that article and then tracked down that article's source and the source's source back to the original. In other words, Babinski did proper research and went back to the primary source, just as creationists almost invariably fail to do.
In the primary source, Babinski found that it was actually a 15-20 foot alder tree lying horizontally in a frozen sandy clay layer. That species of alder is native to that general area of Siberia. Leaves were still attached to the branches, though the original says nothing about their color. And blossom casings as well, though no fruit since the alder is not a fruit tree.
Kent Hovind has stated that he now no longer uses this claim, though that doesn't prevent this claim from living on through the recycling efforts of other creationists, just like the moondust claim.
- Hovind also believes that humans used to be a lot taller and claims that skeletons of 11-foot-tall men have been found. Babinski researched this one as well and lived to tell of it in "Cretinism or Evilution? No. 3: Men Over Ten Feel Tall". The only "evidence" of this is a "photograph" (ie, an obvious drawing) from Carl Baugh and an urban legend an audience member had once told him. The interesting thing about this one is the almost total lack in interest both Baugh and Hovind displayed at the chance to get some hard evidence to support their claims. As if they were already fully aware that their claim had no merit whatsoever, which is what Babinski found to be the case.
- In February 1999, the New Mexicans for Science & Reason (NMSR) posted an April Fool's joke, Oñate Man (specify "Onate Man" or "Onyate Man" if you use a Gringo search engine). They fabricated the government suppression of the fossil discovery of a human being eaten by a T Rex and posted the photographic evidence on www.darwindisproved.com (since moved to http://www.nmsr.org/Archive.html; read http://www.nmsr.org/april_fool.html for the explanation) and an email point-of-contact (POC). Then they sat back and waited.
They were pleasantly surprised by the creationist response. Although many were excited at the possibilities, they were also very skeptical about the claim and were looking for flaws, trying to verify the story as thoroughly as possible before accepting it. Ah, if only they would practice that same skepticism with the other claims! And a very few who saw through the hoax also found the puns; eg, the POC's names was a Mexican maldita, the hominid fossil's missing foot (a real political hot potato in New Mexico, from what I hear).
But a few creationists swallowed the hoax hook, line, and sinker. Case in point: Kent Hovind. He heard the story and immediately incorporated it into his presentation without checking it out ("An Open Letter about Kent Hovind's Seminar" ). The next day he discovered that it was a hoax and immediately stopped using it, but I doubt that he had gotten back to that congregation to let them know. The point here is that his standing operating procedure (SOP) does not include verifying his claims before using them.
Now, if Kent Hovind had researched those claims as carefully as he claims he does, then there wouldn't have been any problem. Obviously, he does little or no more "research" than simply dredging up stuff that sounds convincing and he doesn't bother to verify anything. The sad thing is that Kent Hovind is not unique in this respect. Rather, there appears to be a wide-spread practice among creationists of sloppy scholarship, of just repeating each other's claims, like urban legends, without ever researching back to the primary sources in order to verify those claims.
The sad fact is that they are not concerned about the truth; they just want to find convincing-sounding claims. Slusher's moon-dust claim is just one more case of that.
1 This is yet another one of those questionable doctoral degrees that far too many creationists have paraded about decades now. A number of them are discussed at Some Questionable Creationist Credentials, including Kent Hovind's from Patriot University.
Hovind used to explain and defend his degrees from Patriot University, but I cannot find that page on his reorganized site. In her "The Dissertation Kent Hovind Doesn't Want You to Read: A Review of Kent Hovind's Thesis", Karen Bartelt, Ph.D., includes Hovind's now-apparently-missing defense. She also cites several irregularities about Hovind's doctoral dissertation, including the fact that it was never published, as is required, and that he is continuing to rewrite it.
2 The irony is not unlike the irony of Charles Darwin's problems with inheritance. He knew that offspring inherited characteristics from their parents, but he couldn't figure out how. He thought that it was like mixing paint, which made it very difficult for a new trait to establish itself in a population. The difficulties he was having over all this finally drove him to revert back to a kind of Lamarckism and he developed his pangenetic theory in an effort to explain how something the parent's body experienced would create a new characteristic for their offspring, AKA the Lamarckian (and non-Darwinian) idea of "acquired characteristics."
The irony -- besides Darwin having effectively abandoned Darwinism over this -- is that during all that time, the solution had always been available to him in the copy of Gregor Mendel's monograph on genetics that was sitting unread in his library.
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First uploaded on 1997 July 02.
Last updated on 2017 February 01