​An Anomaly in the Paradigm

An unfunny thing about political revolutions (the ones that succeed, anyway): those who “rage against the machine,” the revolutionaries, upon taking power eventually become the establishment, the powers-that-be, the “machine” (even if another model) that they once raged against. And with rare exceptions, the new machine becomes as dogmatic and intolerant of dissent as what they replaced (sometimes even more so).

This motif doesn’t happen only in political revolutions, i.e., the French, the Cuban, the Bolshevik, etc. Arguably, the most consequential revolution ever, the scientific revolution, is a powerful case in point.

Because of science’s overwhelming epistemological and intellectual dominance today (“But it’s science!”), few realize that science and scientists were once iconoclasts, outcasts, troublemakers, even revolutionaries. After all, it wasn’t called the scientific revolution for nothing.

In many ways the scientific revolution was the final expression of the Renaissance, and another manifestation of the Enlightenment. From the sixteenth century onward, in Europe, what occurred wasn’t a change just in what people knew but in what it meant to know something. “Natural philosophers” (the word “scientist” was a nineteenth-century invention) were rejecting the old authorities, seeking to study the world on its own terms. Breaking free from the stranglehold that Aristotelianism held on intellectual thought for centuries, they began to see the world quantitatively, mathematically, instead of qualitatively, with its Aristotelian “perfections” and the like. Such men as Francis Bacon, Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and René Descartes slowly but surely broke the noosphere free from the old intellectual regime. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), in trouble for rejecting Aristotelianism, declared in one of the most revolutionary lines ever: “I cannot be called on to abide by the sentence of a tribunal which is itself on its trial.”

By the nineteenth and twentieth centuries science’s intellectual dominance had become all but absolute. And, like all absolutists, the scientific-industrial complex brooks little dissent or tolerance for those who challenge its canon and creeds.

And just how little can be seen in the story of Mark Armitage.

The Microscopist

Mark Armitage, now in his 60s, is a microscopist, a microscope scientist, having served as the president of the Southern California Society for Microscopy, which describes itself as “dedicated to increasing interest and information in all areas of microscopy and microanalysis, including, but not limited to: transmission electron, scanning electron and electron microprobe, ion probe, microbeam analysis, optical and confocal microscopies, and microspectroscopies.”

In 2009 Armitage had been hired, part-time but permanent, by California State University Northridge (CSUN) to install and run the electron microscope and confocal microscope suite of laboratories in the Biology Department at CSUN. He was to set up a $l million electron microscope laboratory for the Biology Department and to make sure that all the microscopes were running to specification. He was also to acquire and install a $350,000 confocal microscope and was to be the point man in the Biology Department for the training of the confocal microscope. He was also to train the professors and undergraduate and graduate students in the art of microscopy. Over the next two years he trained six professors and 44 students on the use of the system, and in 2012 Armitage was asked to teach a graduate course for the department in biological imaging.

In 2012 he was characterized by top department personnel as a person who is “tops” and was called a “superb microscopist with many decades of experience.” In May of 2012 the department had him produce a 12-hour training video complete with examinations to prepare students for further training on the confocal microscope—a video series still in use today.

At the same time all this was happening, a subtext existed: Mark Armitage was a creationist, whose views were known when hired. “During the interview,” he testified in a deposition, “we discussed my being a creationist. In fact, I told the panel that Lorence Collins, in the CSUN Geology Department, published a critique of my creationist research on the CSUN Web site. (It remains there to this day.) My creationism was also apparent from the list of my publications (30 or more), which I provided to the interviewers on my résumé. My résumé also identifies my having obtained a master’s degree from the Institute for Creation Research.”

Nevertheless, probably given the mechanical-technical nature of his work, he got the job, and, from all indications, Mark Armitage was very good at it.

The Anomaly

In the summer of 2012 Armitage participated in a dig at the Hell Creek Formation, in Montana, a world-famous dinosaur graveyard. On the dig he and others uncovered the largest Triceratops horn ever found at that location. It weighed 18 pounds. He coauthored a peer-review paper in a scholarly journal about the find. The abstract to the paper read:

“Soft fibrillar bone tissues were obtained from a supraorbital horn of Triceratops horridus collected at the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, U.S.A. Soft material was present in pre- and post-decalcified bone. Horn material yielded numerous small sheets of lamellar bone matrix. This matrix possessed visible microstructures consistent with lamellar bone osteocytes. Some sheets of soft tissue had multiple layers of intact tissues with osteocyte-like structures featuring filipodial-like interconnections and secondary branching. Both oblate and stellate types of osteocyte-like cells were present in sheets of soft tissues and exhibited organelle-like microstructures. SEM analysis yielded osteocyte-like cells featuring filipodial extensions of 18-20 μm in length. Filipodial extensions were delicate and showed no evidence of any permineralization or crystallization artifact and therefore were interpreted to be soft. This is the first report of sheets of soft tissues from Triceratops horn bearing layers of osteocytes, and extends the range and type of dinosaur specimens known to contain nonfossilized material in bone matrix.”

In layman’s terms, what that meant was soft tissue existed in the Triceratops horn. The problem? If the Triceratops is 68 million years old, as it is supposed to be, then it would be highly unlikely, if not impossible, for soft tissue remains to have been found there. But it was, which meant that this discovery was a classic example of a “Kuhnian anomaly in the paradigm.” A Kuhnian anomaly in the paradigm?

What is that, and why did it get him fired?

Thomas Kuhn’s Challenge

The words “anomaly” and “paradigm,” though long existing in the English language, took on a new significance with a book by scientist Thomas Kuhn. Published in 1962, Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions became a phenomenon that has impacted the way people have thought about science, and the claims of science, ever since. Loved, hated, emulated, and reviled, Kuhn’s book still reverberates today.

According to Kuhn, science doesn’t work in anywhere near as rationally or objectively as the hoi polloi are led to believe. Instead, science and scientific research are, really, just another subjective way that humans can view the world that they are part of and interact with. It’s often a fruitful interaction, for sure, but fruitfulness isn’t synonymous with correctness or truth. The conclusions of the scientist are, Kuhn wrote, “possibly determined by his prior experience in other fields, by the accident of his investigations, and by his own individual makeup? . . . An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time.”

Kuhn made the word “paradigm” a household term (at least in households interested in the philosophy of science). For Kuhn, a paradigm is the background, the assumptions, the framework or model, in which scientific research takes place. The paradigm determines the questions asked, the places to look for answers, and the methods considered legitimate in looking for those answers. Paradigms are kind of the supertheories or metatheories that sustain an entire tradition of scientific research and theorizing.

In the National Football League, when a play is challenged by an opposing team, the referees examine the play itself, but only in the context of the rules of the game. The rules are not being challenged, or questioned; instead, the rules are what determines if the challenge or question is valid. For Kuhn, the paradigm is, simply, the rules of the game.

When a scientist works within a paradigm, they are doing what Kuhn famously referred to as “normal science.” When engaged in “normal science,” the scientist is not questioning the paradigm; on the contrary, the paradigm is what questions everything else. The framework is not judged by what unfolds within it; no, the framework judges what unfolds within it instead. The truth or falsity of a hypothesis is determined by how it jives with the paradigm.

Enter the “anomaly.” As normal science progresses, Kuhn argued, over time “anomalies”—phenomena that don’t do what they are supposed to (at least according to the paradigm)—might arise. Anomalies are data that don’t seem to be reading the scientific literature; they are experiments producing results that shouldn’t be there. According to the paradigm, X should occur when you do y, but z does instead, and z does so over and over. When enough anomalies occur, persist, and can’t be explained away within the paradigm, science reaches a “crisis,” and the paradigm that dominated that branch of science is called into question. When it’s overturned, that’s what Kuhn called a “revolution.”

And if anything ever qualified as a Kuhnian anomaly in the paradigm, soft tissue in a dinosaur fossil supposedly 68 million years old would, indeed, be one.

The Termination of Mark Armitage

The implications of Armitage’s findings were not lost on his employers. Not long after Armitage returned from the dig, and word got around about the soft tissue, one of the biology professors confronted him in the lab and shouted, “We are not going to tolerate your religion or your pet creationist projects in this department!” According to Mark, he never, in the context of the find, talked about his religion. He didn’t need to; soft tissue in a fossil dated 68 million years ago said it all for him.

Armitage wasn’t the first one to find soft tissue on dinosaur fossils, and scientists have been wrestling with the challenge of how to explain this anomaly ever since. There appears to be only three options. First, it’s not really soft tissue, but even hard-core evolutionists agree that’s what it is. Second, there must be some unknown mechanism that can preserve the tissue, including remains of red blood cells, for millions of years. That’s what some scientists are trying to do, find some way to “save the phenomena,” and explain how soft tissue could be preserved for millions and millions of years. The third is to question the paradigm itself—an unthinkable option for the scientific-industrial complex, which so readily explains what followed for Mark Armitage.

After the outburst Armitage was told by his supervisor to just keep doing his job in the lab (Armitage studied the horn in his own personal lab on his own time). Then, on February 13, 2013, “Soft Sheets of Fibrillar Bone From a Fossil of the Supraorbital Horn of the Dinosaur Triceratops horridus” was published online, then in Acta Histochemica (volume 115, issue 6, July 2013, pages 603-608), a paper he wrote with biologist Kevin Lee Anderson of Arkansas State University-Beebe. Nothing in the paper mentioned God, the Bible, the Genesis creation account, Noah’s flood, or anything religious. It didn’t make an attempt to explain how the tissue got there.

It didn’t need to. The implications of the soft tissue itself, the anomaly, and the threat it posed to the paradigm, were so clear that within days of the publication, Armitage had been warned by a fellow employee that a “witch hunt” was in progress, and that Mark Armitage was deemed the witch. Later he was asked to resign, and, refusing, was fired. The given reason was that because of “lack of financial resources,” the lab was being closed (it never was).

In short, two weeks after he published an article in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal, in which he simply documented his find—never once mentioning God, faith, divinity, or creation in the article—Mark Armitage become another victim of the scientific-industrial complex’s intellectual intolerance.

The Suit

Despite the anomaly of Armitage’s find, nothing was anomalous about his firing. On the contrary, it’s the scientific-industrial complex doing another version of its own kind of “normal science”—which is shutting down whenever possible any opposition to the prevailing paradigm, especially one as fraught with the metaphysical implications of soft tissue in a fossil supposedly 68 million years old.

The commonly promoted idea of cold hard rationalistic scientists objectively following the evidence wherever it leads has long been known to be a myth, even before Kuhn made that knowledge fashionable. Science is, after all, a human endeavor, and as such it comes burdened with all the prejudices, foibles, fears, and presuppositions of anything human. However much one can respect science, and stand in awe of its achievements, scientists can be as bigoted and as prosecutorial as their political counterparts. Scientists have been known to cut each other’s throats when challenged from within a given paradigm. But when something challenges the entire paradigm itself, nothing short of the nuclear option is off the table.

Knowing the injustice of what happened to him, Armitage sued.

“I did so,” Mark said, “because the discovery of soft tissue was not about me or about dinosaurs, or about science. It was about the gospel, and the truth of God’s Word. When millennials hear about soft tissue, they short-circuit. It challenges everything they have been taught all their lives.”

His scientific colleagues short-circuited as well, which might explain the blatant in-your-face firing of a man who had done stellar work (CSUN showed no interest in talking about the case, even after it was over). The school’s various excuses for the sudden termination—that he was only a “temporary” employee, or there were “budget cuts”—rang hollow before the obvious: Armitage was fired only because of the intellectual intolerance that other scientists felt toward creationists. Whether on the advice of their own counsel, or whether the scientists saw the overwhelming evidence against them, whatever the reason, before allowing the suit to go to court, CSUN settled, paying compensatory damages, lawyer’s fees, and money for lost wages.

“My client,” said his attorney, Alan Reinach, of the Church-State Council, “got about 15 times his annual salary, the only admission of guilt an employee ever receives in these sorts of cases.”

The Scientist as Rebel?

Princeton theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson asserted that the common element of all science is “rebellion against the restrictions imposed by the locally prevailing culture, Western or Eastern, as the case may be.”

He has to be kidding. The scientist as rebel? Maybe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but not today. That idea is more outdated than the luminiferous ether, which was once deemed more certain than even evolution is now. Far from rebelling against culture, science helps shape it, and even proceeds from it.

Meanwhile, woe to anyone who dares question, much less rebel against, the scientific culture’s creeds and canons, especially when it comes to the regime’s metaphysical assumptions regarding origins. At one time the in-your-face antagonist against dogmatic authority, science has now become that dogmatic authority, and Mark Armitage the latest rebel against it.

Article Author: Clifford R. Goldstein

Clifford Goldstein writes from Mt. Airy, Maryland. A previous editor of Liberty, he now edits Bible study lessons for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.