James J. Lippard
Gish and the bullfrog
Organization: University of Arizona
From: email@example.com (James J. Lippard)
One of the most serious criticisms of Duane Gish's honesty and integrity
was raised by Robert Schadewald in "Scientific Creationism and Error,"
_Creation/Evolution_ vol. 6, no. 1 (issue 17), 1986, pp. 1-9. In this
article, Schadewald discusses Gish's claim that when you examine some
proteins, human beings are closer to bullfrogs than to chimpanzees, and
when you examine other proteins, human beings are closer to chickens than
to chimpanzees. Gish replies to this criticism in _Creation Scientists
Answer Their Critics_, pp. 96-101. I put before you the section of
Schadewald's article (pp. 2-5) which discusses these claims, followed by
Gish's reply. Judge for yourself whether or not Gish has adequately
defended himself. (Keep in mind also that Gish does NOT cite
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 other certain
proteins, you'll find that man is more closely related to a
bullfrog than he is to a chimpanzee. 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 chimpanzee.
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
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 tabloid.
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. Skeptical, 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 and me.
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, he said. For instance, an erroneous
translation by another creationist (Robert Kofahl) once led him to
believe that hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone, two chemicals used by
the bombardier beetle, spontaneously explode when mixed. This error
led him to claim in a book and in his presentations that the beetle had
to evolve a chemical inhibitor to keep from blowing itself up. When
he learned that hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone do not explode when
mixed, he said, he corrected the error in his book.
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 in Ames, Iowa, in response to
a challenge by John W. Patterson. I will discuss its substance,
relevance, and potential for deception after dealing with the
Gish neglected to mention certain details of the bombardier beetle
Early in 1978, Bill Thwaites and Frank Awbrey of San Diego State
University mixed hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone in front of their
"two model" creation-evolution class with a nonexplosive result
(Weber, 1981). Gish may have corrected his book, but he continued to
use demonstrably false arguments about the bombardier beetle in debate
presentations. I personally heard him do so on January 17, 1980, in
a debate with John W. Patterson at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa.
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 latalbumin 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
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 130 amino
acids (Awbrey and Thwaites, 1982). To one unfamiliar with
biochemistry and, especially, Gish's apologetic methods, 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 deceivd
(Gish, 1985). 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
referred 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 (Morris, 1984)!
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 statement. 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 Curtiss) 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 [bullfrog -jjl]
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.
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 Rapids
Morris, Henry M. 1984. _History of Modern Creationism_ (San Diego: Master
Book Publishers), p. 316.
Schadewald, Robert J. February 14, 1985. "The Gospel of Creation: The Book
of Misinformation." _Minnesota Daily_, volume 86, number 112, p. 7.
Weber, Christopher Gregory. Winter 1981. "The Bombardier Beetle Myth
Exploded." _Creation/Evolution_, issue III.
On March 4-6, 1977, I attended a symposium on human origins at the
University of California, Davis. The symposium was jointly conducted
by the Foundation for Research into the Origins of Man, and the University Extension, University
of California, Davis. The faculty included Richard Leakey (son of Louis and
Mary Leakey) who has gained much fame in the past decade and a half as a fossil
hunter in Africa; Donald Johanson, the discoverer of "Lucy"; Alan Walker, now
of Johns Hopkins University, who has worked with Richard Leakey; David Pilbeam,
then of Yale University; Garniss Curtis, of the University of California,
Berkeley; Owen Lovejoy, of Kent State University; and Glynn Isaac, of the
University of California, Berkeley.
Curtis is a radiochronologist who has dated a number of samples for
anthropologists. He presented a lecture at the symposium on the technique of
radiometric dating. He and other radiochronologists, using radiometric dating,
had obtained dates for certain events that are quite divergent from the dates
suggested for those events by those who employ the "protein clock" hypothesis
developed by A.C. Wilson, Vincent Sarich, and others at the University of
California, Berkeley. Before development of the "protein clock" hypothesis, it
had been suggested, for example, that the divergence of man and the apes from
their common ancestor had occurred sometime between 20 and 30 million years
ago. Wilson and Sarich, however, on the basis of their "protein clock," have
suggested that this divergence had occurred no more than four or five million
This divergence of opinion, between the radiochronologists and the "protein
clock" people, naturally had created tension between those holding strong views
on each side. Curtis therefore wished to put down the "protein clock"
hypothesis and the dates that might be obtained using this technique. He
mentioned that, according to comparisons based on the structures of certain
serum albumins, humans were nearly as similar to bullfrogs as they were to
apes. Using the "protein clock" idea, then, one could assume that man had
split off from the amphibians about the same time he had split off from the
apes--clearly a ludicrous suggestion, according to evolutionists.
Dr. Gary Parker, then a member of the Institute for Creation Research staff,
had suggested another unacceptable conclusion based on comparison of the
structures of proteins. I had heard him describe this situation in a lecture.
Subsequently, he published the account. After describing the problems
evolutionists have with the hemoglobins, Parker says:
The same seems to be true for a fascinating protein called lysozyme. ...
By comparing lysozyme and lactalbumin, Dickerson was hoping to "pin
down with great precision," where human beings branched off the mammal
line. The results are surprising. In this test, it turned out that
humans are more closely related to the _chicken_ than to any living
mammal tested! Every evolutionist knows that can't be true, but how
can he get around the objective evidence? In his concluding diagram,
Dickerson slips in a wiggly line for rapid evolution, and that brings
the whole thing back in line again with his evolutionary assumptions.
But notice that his protein data, the facts that he observed, did not
help him at all with his evolutionary idea.(29)
On the basis of what I had heard from Garniss Curtis and Gary Parker, on two
occasions I stated that, following the reasoning of evolutionists based on the
similarity of certain protein molecules, one would assume that man is as
closely related to bullfrogs and chickens as he is to apes. One occasion was
during a debate with John W. Patterson on a radio station in Ames, Iowa, adn
the other was during the videotaping of a program for Public Broadcasting
Television. Evolutionists have vigorously contested that statement and have
challenged me to provide documentation.
Robert Schadewald, a free-lance writer and a virulent anti-creationist,
wrote to Garniss Curtis to check out my story after I had informed him
concerning the source of my information on serum albumins. Curtis, in his
reply, reported that he had indeed told the story the way I had revealed it.
Now Curtis claimed, however, that he had told this story with tongue in cheek,
more or less as a joke.(30) It was perfectly clear to me at the time Curtis
gave his talk that there was a joke involved, all right, but it was equally
clear that Curtis intended for the joke to be on the "protein clock" people,
and not in the nature of the data he presented. Thus, if the data were faulty
on which I had based my remarks about the serum albumins of man, apes, and
bullfrogs, the responsibility for the faulty data (if indeed it is faulty) is
due to false information provided in a public address by an evolutionist.
The documentation for the claim concerning the relationship of the lysozymes
of humans, mammals, and chickens is available in the scientific literature.
Dickerson and Geis, in their book, _The Structure and Action of Proteins_,
provide this documentation.(31) According to Dickerson and Geis, and other
evolutionists, lactalbumin, a protein found in milk, and lysozyme, an enzyme
found in most plant and animal cells and which catalyzes the digestion of
bacterial cell walls, are descended from a common ancestral protein. It is
believed that the genes for lysozyme and lactalbumin resulted from a gene
duplication about the time of the divergence of the amphibians and reptiles.
If one compares the differences in amino acid sequences of mammalian
lactalbumins (including humans) and human and chicken lysozymes, the results
pose a surprising puzzle for evolutionists. It is found that human lysozyme is
more similar to chicken lysozyme than it is to lactalbumin. As Dickerson and
Geis point out, on the basis of the usual evolutionary assumption that amino
acid differences can be used to date times of divergence, one would arrive at
the conclusion shown in Figure 1.
alpha-lact. Human Chicken
| | |
| | /
| | /
\ | /
\ | /
\ | <- 57 -> /
\ <- 82 -> | /
\ | /
^---------------- 79 --------------^
Thus, if one approaches these results in all innocence, using the commonly
accepted assumptions of evolutionists concerning the meaning of amino acid
sequence differences in proteins, humans are more closely related to chickens
than they are to the mammals, including the apes. Of course, to evolutionists,
this conclusion is completely unacceptable, even ludicrous. What makes this
conclusion outrageously ridiculous is the fact that, based on these data,
humans would be more closely related to chickens than they are to themselves!
What this really demonstrates is that amino acid sequence similarities or
differences do not reveal the degree of relatedness in an evolutionary sense.
Evolutionists attempt to explain away the contradictions these data pose for
evolutionary theory by making the ad hoc assumption that for some unknown
reason, amino acid substitutions occurred much more rapidly in the various
mammalian lactalbumins than in the mammalian lysozymes. In this case, then,
the "protein clock" notion is deceptive, because the clock is running at
different rates in these two different cases. In any case, evolutionists
should spend more time straightening up their own house, instead of hurling
accusations against creation scientists.
29. H.M. Morris and Gary Parker, _What Is Creation Science?_ Master Books
Pub., San Diego, 1982, pp. 24, 25.
30. Personal Communication to D.T. Gish from Robert Schadewald.
31. R.E. Dickerson and I. Geis, _The Structure and Action of Proteins_,
W.A. Benjamin, Inc., Menlo Park, California, 1969, pp. 77, 78.
Jim Lippard Lippard@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU
Dept. of Philosophy Lippard@ARIZVMS.BITNET
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721