Report by Paul Garner
Since BCM was established in 2002 I’ve had the privilege to visit Poland on many occasions. These visits have given me the opportunity to speak alongside many other creationists, including Drs John Peet, Geoff Barnard, Sylvia Baker and Werner Gitt. I’ve just returned from my latest trip where I was speaking alongside Professors Andy McIntosh (Leeds) and Steve Taylor (Liverpool).
We flew into Gdańsk on Tuesday 26th May, where our first meeting was organised by the Polish Biblical Creation Society and held in a scientific institute whose (shortened) name translates roughly as the Chief Technical Organization. Andy spoke first on the extraordinary design of human hearing. I followed on catastrophic plate tectonics and the global Flood and Steve concluded on dinosaurs and dating methods. The audience was mostly comprised of Christians from local churches, but with some others in attendance. The following day we remained in Gdańsk to record some interviews for a small Christian production company, which will be featured in its regular web-based broadcast called “Antidotum”. Steve and I also spoke to students in a couple of local schools — where we were asked to give our talks without translation and the students asked to give their questions in English! At the school I visited I was invited to have tea afterwards with the School Principal and a member of staff who was a plant cytologist. Things are much more open there than here in the UK.
On Thursday 28th May we made the long drive to Lublin, where a local Christian organisation called Twój Ruch (“Your Move”) had set up a debate between Andy and Steve and two university academics, Professors Michał Ginter (a palaeobiologist) and Konrad Talmont-Kamiński (an evolutionary psychologist). We had discovered the day before that there had been a change of venue after the university disallowed the use of the room that had been booked; fortunately, an acceptable alternative was found right next door. At the last moment Professor Talmont-Kamiński also chose to withdraw from the debate. It was difficult for us to get to the bottom of precisely what had happened, but the media had certainly been stirring things up. We also had a series of mishaps on the journey to Lublin, which meant we arrived half an hour late. Nevertheless, the debate went ahead, with Steve debating Professor Ginter and Andy giving a hastily modified version of the talk that he had originally prepared for his debate with Professor Talmont-Kamiński. The speakers then interacted with one another and with questions from the audience.
One of the main arguments to which Professor Ginter appealed in the debate concerned “transitional forms” in the fossil record, especially Tiktaalik, the Canadian “fish-tetrapod” unveiled in 2006. After the debate, the organisers invited us to dinner with Professor Ginter. Over the meal I asked him what he thought of the tetrapod tracks that had been found in Poland and which pre-dated Tiktaalik by at least 18 million years according to conventional dates (Nature 463:43-48, 2010). Professor Ginter told me that one of the co-authors of that paper was one of his PhD students. I asked whether he accepted they really were tetrapod tracks, and he said he had no doubts about it. I asked whether he thought the dating was secure, and he confirmed that it was. He agreed that it presented a very confusing picture for the standard evolutionary story!
The following day (Friday 29th May), Steve left us to return to the UK, but Andy and I had an evening meeting where we each gave presentations followed by “cross-examination” by three doctoral students from the university. Andy spoke on design in flight (birds and insects) and I gave a talk on geological data and the age of the earth. Knowing that we were in the same venue as the previous evening and that many people would attend both meetings, I also included a response on Tiktaalik, drawing attention to the tetrapod footprint discovery. This seemed to create a bit of a stir with some expressing puzzlement as to why it had been left out of the evolutionary story the previous evening.
There was a lively but courteous interaction with the students and with questions posed by the audience. After the first debate Andy spoke to a young man who respected the Bible but had not really read it. He had not realised that Genesis recorded the creation of birds before land creatures so that it was not possible to accept both evolution and the Bible. Andy gave him a copy of his book, Genesis for Today. After the second debate, one of the doctoral students, who has Christian parents but who has sadly turned away from the faith, came to the meal afterwards, and admitted that the presentations had given him much to think about.
On Saturday 30th May we made another long journey to Wisła, for the European Leadership Forum (ELF). The ELF is a large meeting of Christian leaders and opinion formers from all across Europe and is held annually. Almost 800 people attended, not including the volunteers running it. There was a packed programme of plenary sessions and seminars, plus meetings held by different “Networks” (for scientists, theologians, philosophers, evangelists, youthworkers and so on). I had signed up for the Scientists Network, whose general theme this year was the environment and geology. On Monday 1st June I contributed to a discussion on climate change with a talk summarising both consensus and sceptical positions on anthropogenic global warming, setting the debate in the context of climate change in the recent geological past and different models of the ice age (young-age versus old-age). On Wednesday our session was devoted to the age of the earth, with me defending the young-age position and a German oil geologist invited to defend the old-age position. Unfortunately, for reasons of ill health, my “opponent” wasn’t able to attend but her paper and accompanying Powerpoint slides were presented on her behalf by one of the Network organisers.
In my talk, I set out a methodology of interaction between science and the Bible, then presented a couple of case studies showing the explanatory and predictive power of young-age theories (catastrophic plate tectonics and the Coconino Sandstone). Then I addressed some potential challenges for the young-age position (radiometric dating, fossil succession and geological formations apparently requiring long time spans). I concluded with some challenges for the old-age position (the strong mismatch between rates of sedimentation and radiometric dates, formations requiring the collapse of geological time and theological issues surrounding the global flood and the link between sin and death). My opponent’s presentation included a short history of how geologists came to believe in an old earth, outlined a variety of radiometric and non-radiometric dating methods and concluded with an appeal to Christians to keep science and belief in God separate — an approach she described rather controversially as “scientific atheism”.
We want to record our thanks to our translators, Stasiek Sylwestrowicz and Anna Wiśniowska. In addition, Stasiek was our driver and covered many hundreds of miles during our visit. We are also very grateful for all those praying for us during the trip. There were many encouragements, even if all did not go exactly to plan! The evangelical churches in Poland are more firmly creationist than here in the UK – and we were told that our visits over the years have been very influential in this regard. A growing number of creationist resources are available in the Polish language, including the Set in Stone DVD. It is likely too that personal contacts made at the ELF will open up future opportunities in other European nations.
You can see some clips of our debates in Lublin on YouTube and a number of photos from the trip have been posted to the BCM Facebook page.