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 certain other proteins, you'll find that man is more closely related to a bullforg than he is to a chimapanzee. 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 replied immediately.
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. Skeptically, 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.
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