Spinning Webs of Belief: Accounting for George Price
It’s instructive to take a story and compare how evolutionists and creationists report it. A recent example can be found in the story of George Price: an ex-atheist scientist who, as a creationist, contributed original ideas to evolutionary theory. How did reviewers from both sides of the origins aisle characterize his creationist beliefs?
George Price (1922�1975) was a 20th century polymath who contributed original work in mathematics and game theory. He began as an atheist, but ended a creationist. Working with famous evolutionists like William D. Hamilton and John Maynard Smith, George Price impressed his colleagues with his insights. He employed the Nash Equilibrium and covariance theory in offering explanations how apparent altruistic behavior could arise in populations of animals, using game theory. Hamilton, Smith and others credited Price with insights for which they became famous: kin selection and the evolution of altruism.
In Science today,1 Steven Frank (UC Irvine) published a review of Oren Harman’s new book, The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness (Norton, 2010). Frank and the author no doubt appreciated the considerable contributions of Price, but Frank chose to consider his move away from atheism to creationism as a descent into a destructive mental illness. “Having scored, by pure reason alone, a triumph on biological altruism and the most abstract theories of natural selection, he loses faith in science and begins to study scripture with a zeal and analytical power that scares his religious mentors. Then even the scriptural analysis wanes, and he turns to help the downtrodden. Not just to help but to give all he has of his time, possessions, and love—to the point that he becomes as downtrodden as those he sought to help. Struggles and depression follow; at last, suicide.”
By contrast, creation scientist Jerry Bergman, writing for the Creation Research Society’s newsletter Creation Matters March/April 2007 (see PDF), portrayed Price’s conversion to creationism as a thoughtful step in his spiritual progress. He said the question of suicide was never proved, and was doubtful based on his behavior: “Although critics alleged that it was suicide, no suicide note was left, nor was there any evidence that he had talked about suicide with friends, family, or anyone else, as is common in suicide cases. He had just recently visited the Hamilton family for about a week and was in good spirits when he left.” Price was distraught about physical ailments from a botched surgery and financial problems, but underwent positive mental changes that reflected his change of heart: “After his conversion he even attempted to remarry his former wife, Julia, and reunite the family, an attempt that was unsuccessful. He also set out to make amends in his private life, such as apologizing to his eldest daughter for being a poor father when he was a militant atheist.” As for his work on natural selection theory of altruism, Bergman said Price explained to his evolutionist colleagues that he only ascribed the effects to microevolution, not macroevolution, which he made clear he did not accept.
Both accounts emphasized Price’s brilliant mind and contributions: “Thirty years after Price’s death, the importance of his work is increasingly being recognized by biologists,“ Bergman wrote. Frank, however, took, Price’s good scientific work as a phenomenon, like Isaac Newton’s achievement, that could stand alone in spite of his religious beliefs. He implied that only a madman would believe in a “god” – “One could say that Newton’s mad, lonely pursuit was all about his dreams of the glory of his Christian god. But how much does that matter?…. It is a fine part of history to reconstruct researchers’ personal dreams of glory or god [sic, small g]. Scientists may need such dreams to keep them going through the long, hard hours. But after the discovery, it is only the outed secret of nature that matters.” Frank was not discounting the value of Price’s personal beliefs and history for historians, or for Price himself, but claimed that for science, “Price’s scientific contributions had that purity of complete and rational order.”
1. Steven A. Frank, “History of Science: Belief, Reason and Insight,” Science, 16 July 2010: Vol. 329. no. 5989, pp. 279-280, DOI: 10.1126/science.1193026.
Who is calling whom crazy? Dr. Frank, presumably a naturalistic evolutionist (see his Interests page), has dismissed Newton’s and Price’s Christian work as a kind of madness, from which the “purity of complete and rational order” of their science can be rescued, rinsed off and sanitized. Work for the glory of god is living in “dream”land, he intimated. It stands in contradistinction to “reason alone” that gives rise to “science.” He portrayed Price’s “god” obsession as a descent from the loss of “faith in science” into frenetic Bible study, irrational altruism, and suicide. Were that Price were here to judge between Frank’s account and Bergman’s.
It might bear repeating the madness required to believe in evolutionary theory. To accept Frank’s work on the origin of complex phenotypes by “genetic, biochemical and cellular mechanisms” (presumably unguided) according to “evolutionary processes,” it presumes accepting the origin of the first life without design. Leading creationists and non-creationists have analyzed what that belief entails. The Wistar Institute Symposium of 1966 concluded that randomness was so out of the question for creating life, new physical laws would be needed to explain evolution (see Evolution News & Views). In 1981, Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe calculated the chance of getting the enzymes for a cell at one in 1040,000, “an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup.” (Evolution from Space, p.24). Michael Denton calculated similar probabilities in 1985 (see ICR summary). Only 1040 could have ever existed on the earth, Denton wrote, yet the chance of getting the 100 proteins for a theoretical cell are one in 102000, an “infinitely small” possibility (Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, p. 323). See our online book for additional calculations: even getting one functional protein under wildly favorable conditions is one in 10161 over the whole history of the earth – let alone the chance of getting a complete set of proteins and genes that a minimal theoretical cell requires. More recent work by intelligent design scientists continues the same story. No gambler would place a bet if the odds were worse than one in three of winning. If it would be insane to gamble on one in 100, or one in 1000, how much more to bet on one chance in 1040,000? Yet the majority of evolutionists continue to believe it after 50 years of proof that it is mathematically impossible. When those in power get to define what is insane, while rejecting design and ascribing life to chance, watch out.
For George Price to give up game-playing with game theory on the origin of altruism and become actually altruistic should be considered honorable and magnanimous. After rejecting atheism in light of the evidence for design, for Price to accept Christianity and study with enthusiasm the Creator’s word in the Scriptures, was the only logical path to take. For him to understand the limitations of reason (if reason can lead evolutionists to the insanity of believing in a chance origin of life) was the most reasonable thing he could do. For him to give his all and follow the example of Christ, even to his own hurt, is a noble act that should inspire others. Such unselfishness is unexplainable by game theory or “genetic, biochemical and cellular mechanisms.” It not only falsifies human altruism as an evolutionary artifact, it stands as Price’s real-life testament to the insanity of evolution Those who appreciate his scientific work should take a closer look at what led George Price to reject evolution and live out his life in service to others.
Price was not irrational to become an altruistic Christian. He reached for something higher than reason: wisdom. James, the brother of Jesus who became a believer because of the Resurrection, asked later in his life, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” – a wisdom characterized by “mercy and good fruit” (James 3:13-17). Imperfect as George Price undoubtedly was, as is the lot of all mortals, his wisdom as evidence in his later life exceeded that of secular evolutionists by 10x, x >> 1.