Representative Paul Broun, R, GA, has said that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of Hell.” He also noted that he believed that the universe was no more than 9,000 years old. This was reported in the Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2012, and one can watch the campaign speech in which he said it on You Tube. Representative Broun is a 1971 graduate of the Medical College of Georgia and practiced medicine, mostly just making house calls, before he entered politics. Perhaps because of Broun’s MD, John Boehner, Speaker of the House, has appointed him to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on which he continues to serve. This is in spite of Broun’s acknowledgement that the Holy Bible is the chief reference on which he bases all his votes.
Let us examine Rep. Broun’s comments and beliefs critically, keeping in mind how they reflect on his suitability to serve on any science , space and technology committee.
First, evolution. Evolution is the central organizing principle of the science of biology. The evidence for evolution is accepted by the vast majority of biological scientists all over the world, religious or not. Those who do not accept the evidence for evolution are usually fundamentalist Protestants in this country although Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Muslims here and overseas also tend to side with Rep. Broun. In their minds ancient texts trump modern evidence. Evidence for evolution ranges from molecular biology, shared genes with gradual mutation among organisms from bacteria through humans, shared structures with gradual modification such as fish fins to arms and legs in all mammals including man, and fossils that show the gradual changes that evolution predicts as well as the existence and extinction of intermediate forms. Physicians see evolution in action every day as they contend with bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics and cancer cells developing resistance to radiation and chemotherapy. Evidence for evolution did not come from the pit of Hell but from careful scientific investigation over a hundred and fifty years since Darwin and Wallace first proposed descent with modification as an explanation for speciation.
I find it perplexing that an MD would say that embryology is a lie from the pit of Hell. There are two possible aspects of embryology that might offend one who uses the Bible as his chief guide for all his votes in the House of Representatives. The first is that the science of embryology, particularly as it relates to development of the fertilized egg into a blastocyst in the first few days, may challenge the dogma that the soul enters the body right at fertilization and that abortion for any reason is therefore murder. We know that monozygotic twins, triplets, and so forth result from separation of the cells of the dividing egg into two or more genetically identical individuals. This occurs well after fertilization and therefore after “ensoulation.” Does the soul also split? Do identical twins have only half a soul? Perhaps the soul really doesn’t enter the embryo until much later? Could it be that there is no soul? In Genesis 2: 7, we read, “Then the Lord God fashioned a human, dust from the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.” From this the Jews (the folks that wrote this part of the Bible) have always considered that life begins at the first breath, or when the kids leave home and the dog dies, if one is a Reform Jew. In Exodus 21:22 one can clearly see that causing a miscarriage by irresponsible conduct is not a capital crime but one that merely results in a fine levied by a court. This idea preceded the Biblical case in both the Sumerian and Babylonian literature hundreds of years before the Bible was written. The idea that life begins at fertilization is a later pre-Christian Greek idea, one that was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church. It was debated for centuries until the Church finally decided on the current dogma.
Rep. Broun may also object to the science of embryology because of the 19th century concept “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” This was stated in its most complete form by Ernst Haeckel in a paper accompanied by drawings of mammalian embryos at various stages. Haeckel interpreted his observations to indicate that the developing embryo went through all the stages of evolution as it developed into its final fetus. Much subsequent research has shown that Haeckel’s drawings were in error as was his interpretation of their significance. In this sense then, embryology is not evidence for evolution as Haeckel originally argued. This might be scored for Rep. Broun if he has ever heard of Ernst Haeckel.
The Big Bang was first proposed as a theory of “Creation” in 1930 by Georges Lemaitre. It has been examined critically for over eighty years. Observations that are consistent with the idea of a Big Bang are: the ratios of the elements found in the Universe with Hydrogen dominating, Helium second and all the others making up only a few percent, the cosmic background microwave radiation at a temperature that is consistent with the cooling that would be expected in a Universe of our calculated age, the large scale structure of space and all the galaxies moving away from each other at velocities that increase with increasing separation, and the relative brightness of Type 1a supernovas in distant galaxies that confirms the ongoing expansion. Extrapolation of all these observations supports the idea of a Cosmos that expanded from an infinitely hot, infinitely dense beginning about 13.7 billion years ago. What did or did not exist before the current universe began its “Big Bang” cannot be defined by our current data and understanding of it. Our solar system and the Earth came along about 4.5 billion years ago because the sun is a second generation star according to its elemental composition. The Bible has the sun being created on the fourth day, after the Earth. An Earth aged billions of years is supported by the relative abundances of extremely long-lived radioisotopes such as uranium and thorium and their decay products. Evidence from microfossils and stromatolites led archaeobiologists to propose that life started about 3.5 billion years ago then evolved to the current diversity that we see today. This is a little different than the six days that Rep. Broun states with certainty.
Speaking of the age of the Universe, Rep. Broun also reveals his ignorance of both Biology and Biblical Scholarship as well. He said that he believed that the universe was 9,000 years old. First, the tree ring record of Bristlecone Pines is more than twice that long. With regard to the Bible, the Jewish calendar, which supposedly begins with the Biblical Creation, counts the current year as 5773. The age of the Universe, according to the folks who wrote the Creation story, is not quite 6 ,000 years. In contrast, Bishop James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, proposed in 1654 that the creation occurred the evening before October 23, 4004 BC. Today the Universe would be 6016 years old. This is a closer agreement with the Jewish calendar than Rep. Broun’s 9,000 years. Bishop Ussher’s calculations were based on a chronology determined by careful addition of the ages of Adam, Methuselah, and various prophets and Kings of Israel as well as kings such as Nebuchadnezzar and others who interacted with ancient Israel at specific times up until the birth of Jesus which he placed at 4 BC because that was the only time that Augustus was Emperor of Rome, Quirinius was Governor of Syria, and Herod was King of the Jews. These requirements are all specified in Matthew and Luke as the time of the birth of Jesus. Of course Rep. Broun did not present his evidence either to contradict the science of the Big Bang, Bristlecone Pine tree rings, the Jewish Calendar, or Bishop Ussher’s calculations, but it is safe to say that his timeline of 9,000 years for the age of the universe is not supported either by science or the Bible.
So what are we to make of Rep. Broun, his beliefs and his suitability to sit on any science, space and technology committee? One of the facts that Rep. Broun should have learned in medical school was that the human intestinal tract is usually half full of shit. In Rep. Broun’s case it would appear that he is totally full of it. Thank God he is no longer practicing medicine.
Stephen Baird, M.D. October 8, 2012