Would You Sign It?

Should creationism be banned from schools?  Intelligent design?

That’s the question posed by a new petition on the White House’s website.

As of this morning, the petition has garnered 7,662 signatures.  It only needs 92,338 more by July 15 to earn an official response.

The language seems mild to an evolution believer like me:

Since Darwin’s groundbreaking theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, scientists all around the world have found monumental amounts of evidence in favor of the theory, now treated as scientific fact by 99.9% of all scientists.

However, even after 150 years after the establishment of evolution, some schools across the US are “teaching the controversy,” including Creationism and Intelligent Design. Both of these so-called “theories” have no basis in scientific fact, and have absolutely zero evidence pointing towards these conjectures. These types of loopholes in our education are partially to blame for our dangerously low student performances in math and science.

Therefore, we petition the Obama Administration to ban the teachings of these conjectures that contradict Evolution.

I agree with these sentiments.  Though there are legitimate scientific questions about evolution, such questions do not merit teaching evolution as merely a “controversy.”  Evolution is a fundamental idea about science and deserves to be taught as such in public schools.

However, I think this talk of a “ban” misses the point.  The religious notions of creationism and intelligent design are already banned in public schools.  This kind of anti-creationist activism only antagonizes the substantial number of Americans who sympathize with religious explanations of the origins of life.  Antagonizes without purpose.

In the pages of the Christian Post, for example, young-earth creationist Ken Ham correctly pointed out that the petition could never have any real impact on the teaching of creationism.  The petition only proved, Ham insisted, “the intolerance of evolutionist activists who do not want to see any challenge to their deeply held secularist worldview.”  Since the petition did not specify public schools, Ham argued, this petition can be seen as an aggressive attempt to dictate the teaching even of religious private schools.

Similarly, John West of the Discovery Institute, an intelligent-design think-tank, called the petition “ill-informed, confused, and beside the point.”

I don’t want to see creationism of any sort taught in public schools.  But I agree here with West and Ham.  This petition looks like another well-meaning but ill-considered scheme by overzealous anti-creationists.

Would you sign it?

Science at the Creation Museum

Thanks to the ever-watchful Sensuous Curmudgeon, we came across a recent article in Scientific American in which an evolution-believing science teacher journeyed to Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum outside of Kentucky.

Image Source: Answers in Genesis Creation Museum

Image Source: Answers in Genesis Creation Museum

For folks like me and the author Jacob Tanenbaum, the scientific claims of the museum are impossible to accept.  A science teacher, Tanenbaum recoiled at the misleading scientific claims made by the museum.  “What disturbed me most,” Tanenbaum reported,

“was the theme . . . that the differences between biblical literalists and mainstream scientists are minor. They are not minor; they are poles apart. This is not to say that science and religion are incompatible; many scientists believe in some kind of higher power, and many religious people accept the idea of evolution. Still, a literal interpretation of Genesis cannot be reconciled with modern science.”

Fair enough.  During my trip to the Creation Museum, though, what struck me most powerfully was simply how plausible it all seemed.  For those who did not set out to debunk the information, the museum seemed just as authoritative as Chicago’s Field Museum or any other natural-history museum.

But what Tanenbaum wrote makes sense: the Creation Museum presents a misleading picture of the differences between creation science and mainstream science.

My beef with Tanenbaum is with his own misleading conclusion.  The problem with such creation science education, Tanenbaum argues, is “that 40 percent of the American electorate seems to have forgotten what science is. Considering that our nation put a man on the moon and invented the airplane and the Internet, this development is extraordinary.”

Tanenbaum may be a gifted teacher of mainstream science, but this conclusion suggests that he is not deeply versed in the culture of creation science that he condemns.  For those of us who want to understand creationism, we need to get beyond this naive assumption that creationists don’t know what science is, or that they are somehow hypocritical in their use of technology.

As I argued in a recent commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education, simple ignorance does not explain American creationism.  Many creationists have studied mainstream science.  In many cases, such as that of leading creation science author Henry Morris, they have earned advanced technical degrees.  And, beyond such stand-out leaders such as Morris, many rank-and-file creationists have extensive science educations.  As political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer discovered in their National-Science-Foundation-funded study of high-school biology teachers, of those teachers who espoused a belief in young-earth creationism (i.e., the Creation-Museum type of creationism), fully 55% had earned college degrees in science.   Furthermore, Berkman and Plutzer’s review of other such surveys led them to the following conclusion: “the overall evidence suggests that the high support for creationism in the classroom cannot be attributed primarily, or even substantially, to overall scientific illiteracy in the United States” (pg. 52).

Also, as creationists often remind themselves and their evolutionist foes, belief in evolution is not necessary for sophisticated engineering.  Dobzhansky’s claim that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution may be true, but that would not stop creationists from traveling to the moon, perfecting airplanes, or inventing the internet.

In the end, I think it makes a big difference whether Americans with creationist beliefs have “forgotten what science is” or if they have a distinctly different definition of science.  Building an anti-creationist argument on the foundation that creationism disables technical education, as does Tanenbaum and other prominent pro-science voices such as Bill Nye, is both a false claim and poor strategy.

Please don’t misunderstand me: this is not a brief for creationism.  However, if those of us, like me, Bill Nye, and Jacob Tanenbaum–who stand outside the borders of creationism looking in–if we really want to understand creationism, we must abandon our own naive assumptions about the meanings of that creationist belief.

Getting It Wrong at The Atlantic

Watch out!  A couple of recent articles in The Atlantic dish out some misleading histories of Fundamentalist America.  It would be easy for those of us trying to understand FA to be confused.

First, let me say that I get it: Fundamentalist America is not easy to understand.  As Kevin White has noted recently on Mere Orthodoxy, this is true even for those who consider themselves FA citizens.  Even among only conservative evangelical Protestantism, we can be dazzled and confused by what historian Timothy L. Smith called the “kaleidoscope” of American evangelicalism.  Once we add conservative Catholics, cultural traditionalists, Burkean conservatives, free-market ideologues, etc. etc. etc…., mapping out a sensible understanding of Fundamentalist America can seem like an overwhelming task.  For those raised in the traditions of Tradition, this kaleidoscope can be bewildering.  And it can be even more so for those of us trying to understand Fundamentalist America from the outside.

I understand this difficulty.  I sympathize.  In the case of the recent articles in The Atlantic, neither author set out to mislead.  Unfortunately, each of them got it wrong.

First, Jonathan Merritt reflects on the thirty-third anniversary of the Christian Right.  Merritt pegs the founding of the “modern” religious Right in America to Jerry Falwell’s founding of the Moral Majority in June, 1979.  As Merritt argues,

“Previously, Evangelical Christians had been reticent to engage in partisan politics. But the cultural revolution of the 1960s brought on a blitzkrieg of social changes that left many religious conservatives feeling as if their way of life was being threatened. In response, the faithful flooded the public square — millions of them under the Moral Majority’s banner — to influence national elections and legislation. Standing tall at the helm of the movement was the silver-haired Falwell, a man whose presence could silence a room and whose rhetoric would often rouse it to raucousness.”

There is some truth to this, but only if we understand it in a very limited way.  Only if we put the emphasis of this entire paragraph on the word “partisan” does this give an accurate impression of the history of activism by religious conservatives.  A sensible reader might read this paragraph and conclude that it was not until 1979 that religious and cultural conservatives “flooded the public square.”  A reader might think that only the “blitzkrieg of social changes” from the late 1960s and 1970s spurred religious conservatives to public action.

This is a woefully misleading impression of the nature of conservative religious activism in America.  Even if we leave out the enormously important “long history” of Great Awakenings, abolitionism, and temperance, we have a twentieth century chock-full of religious activists working to maintain a traditional Godly public square.

And this activism did not differ in essence from that of later, post-1979 religious conservatives.  In the 1920s, for instance, the threat of evolution in public schools and the weakening of Biblical morality in public life spurred conservatives to action.  In the 1940s and 1950s, conservatives’ perceptions of a rapidly changing social order gave rise to new organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals, and culture-changing revival campaigns like those of Billy Graham.

It is true that these cultural campaigns did not seize on partisan politics with vigor until the late 1970s.  Most conservative Christian activists did not see themselves as working within the confines of the Republican Party until that time.  But the implication that conservative religious folks had been somehow quiescent in earlier decades gives a very misleading impression of the history of Fundamentalist America.

Atlantic Editor Robert Wright offers up the next flawed history.  Wright suggests that the recent aggressive atheism of prominent evolutionists has led conservative religious people to turn away from science altogether.  He argues,

“I do think that in recent years disagreement over evolution has become more politically charged, more acrimonious, and that the rancor may be affecting other science-related policy areas, such as climate change.

“My theory is highly conjectural, but here goes:

“A few decades ago, Darwinians and creationists had a de facto nonaggression pact: Creationists would let Darwinians reign in biology class, and otherwise Darwinians would leave creationists alone. The deal worked. I went to a public high school in a pretty religious part of the country–south-central Texas–and I don’t remember anyone complaining about sophomores being taught natural selection. It just wasn’t an issue.

“A few years ago, such biologists as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers started violating the nonaggression pact. I don’t just mean they professed atheism–many Darwinians had long done that; I mean they started proselytizing, ridiculing the faithful, and talking as if religion was an inherently pernicious thing. They not only highlighted the previously subdued tension between Darwinism and creationism but depicted Darwinism as the enemy of religion more broadly.”

I take Wright’s point to be less about the history of creationism and more about evolutionists’ strategy.  I agree that it will continue to be counterproductive for evolutionists to insist that evolution and religion must be eternally at odds.  As Wright concludes, “if somebody wants to convince a fundamentalist Christian that climate scientists aren’t to be trusted, the Christian’s prior association of scientists like Dawkins with evil makes that job easier.”  Fair enough.

But his admittedly conjectural assertions about a “non-aggression pact” between creationists and evolutionists suggests a dangerously false understanding of history.  As I’m sure he would readily admit, the evidence from his own high-school career does not adequately sum up the American experience.  The notion that Dawkins and Myers represent a new element in the creation/evolution debates underestimates the importance of the long history of activism by the likes of Robert Ingersoll and Thomas Henry Huxley.  Both promoted “freethought,” what a later age would call atheism or agnosticism.  And both were associated firmly in the public mind with Darwinian evolution.  Indeed, Huxley relished his nickname, “Darwin’s Bulldog.”  As Huxley wrote to Darwin,

“And as to the curs which will bark and yelp — you must recollect that some of your friends at any rate are endowed with an amount of combativeness which (though you have often & justly rebuked it) may stand you in good stead — I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness.”

Such aggressive evolutionism has been associated in the public mind with a combative anti-theism for as long as the public has wondered about creationism and evolutionism.  In addition, Wright’s suggestion that creationists had tacitly agreed to “let Darwinians reign in biology class” until recently woefully misses the historical boat.  Since the 1920s, conservative activists have worked energetically and consistently to make sure Darwin did not so reign.  Most famously, the 1920s saw the issue come to a public head with the Scopes “Monkey” trial in Tennessee.  But unlike the persistent Inherit-the-Wind myth suggests, creationists did not crawl back to their isolated hollers after that 1925 trial.

It is notoriously difficult to know what goes on behind closed classroom doors, but the available evidence suggests that anti-evolution sentiment remained both powerful and polticially active in every decade of the twentieth century.  One large-scale study in 1942, for example, asked thousands of high-school biology teachers about their teaching.  The survey authors concluded that evolution was taught in “notably less than half of the high schools of the United States.”  And of those schools in which evolution was taught, the study authors concluded that it was “frequently diluted beyond recognition,” either by pairing it with the teaching of special creation, or by the separation of human origins from the idea of organic evolution.  Other studies found similar results.

More recently, Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer confirmed the continuing tendency of American teachers to avoid teaching evolution.  Their study of 926 US public high school biology teachers found a sizeable minority (28%) who reported to teach evolution.  It also found a smaller but still significant group (13%) who reported teaching creation.  The large middle, what Berkman and Plutzer call the “Cautious 60%,” teach a mish-mash of creationism and evolution.  One important reason teachers gave for skipping evolution is an understandable desire to avoid controversy.  In other words, in twenty-first century America as in 1920s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s America, anti-evolution sentiment dictated large percentages of education policy.

Unlike the picture Wright paints, however, this is not a recent development but a generations-old cultural trend.  The suggestion that recent Gallup poll data mark any significant change in America’s enduring trench lines in this culture-war front is misleading.

My hunch is that neither of these authors hoped to use their misunderstandings of the history of Fundamentalist America as a weapon.  My hunch is that both of them sincerely believe in the historical narratives they deliver.  However, this understanding of the history of conservative religious activism in public life is not merely neutral.  It promotes a myth that religious Americans in the past did not participate in politics; it suggests that recent conservative cultural activism represents a break from American traditions.

Let me be clear: I do not object to this misuse of history for partisan reasons.  I do not hope to promote the values or agendas of Fundamentalist America.  But I do object as an historian.  If we hope to understand Fundamentalist America, we need to be honest and fair about its history.  Suggesting that an activist conservative Christianity, or a defensive creationist community, are somehow recent developments distorts that history in pernicious ways.

Further reading: Oscar Riddle, F.L. Fitzpatrick, H.B. Glass, B.C. Gruenberg, D.F. Miller, E.W. Sinnott, eds., The Teaching of Biology in Secondary Schools of the United States: A Report of Results from a Questionnaire (Washington, DC: Union of American Biological Sciences, 1942); Estelle R. Laba and Eugene W. Gross, “Evolution Slighted in High-School Biology,” Clearing House 24 (March 1950); Michael B. Berkman and Eric Pluzter, Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms (Cambridge University Press, 2010); George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, Exp. Ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).

Backstory: Creation, Evolution, Science, & Religion

Everyone interested in the longer history of the creation/evolution controversy should check out a new podcast by the American History Guys at Backstory.  Too many folks–and I plead guilty to this as well–tend to start their study of the creation/evolution controversy at 1925.  This broadcast explores the longer history, including Thomas Jefferson’s attitudes toward the subject.

Be sure to check out the longer interview with Ron Numbers.  Anyone interested in the topic should get into Ron’s published books.  This interview is a good place to start.

Anti-Evolution IV: Minority Rights

ANTI EVOLUTION IV: RESPECT MINORITY RIGHTS

 

Finally, the bar of proof here should be very low.  Anti-evolutionists these days are not trying to ban the teaching of evolution. Rather, they usually argue that both evolution and creation should be taught as viable explanations of the origins of life.  Even if all the arguments above leave you cold, even if you find the science of creationism ridiculous, you can still
admit that it makes you uncomfortable to have public schools force children to agree to an idea that their parents find religiously intolerable.

Consider the same argument from the 19th century.  Catholics in America’s big East coast cities often objected that the public schools ought not to force their children to read from the King James Bible.  In spite of the arguments of their Protestant enemies, it was not because they did not want their children to hear the truth.  Rather, the version of the Bible that was
being used contained disparaging commentary about Catholicism and the Pope.  In Philadelphia, New York, and
Boston, these disagreements led to riots in the streets.  From a twenty-first century perspective, it seems a matter
of simple bigotry.  The public schools of those cities should not have forced Protestantism and anti-Catholicism on their
students.  Many Protestant school leaders at the time did not see this as religious indoctrination.  They argued that the Bible was simply being read without comment.  The Bible itself, they believed, was not a religion per se but simply God’s book.  There could be no legitimate complaint against it.

There are other examples. Consider the spate of boarding schools for American Indian children that proliferated at the end of the 19th century and first half of the 20th.  Children at these schools were expected to be educated out of their Indian ways.  As
the founder of one of the most famous of these schools put it, they hoped to kill the Indian to save the man.
Students were forced to speak only English, to wear only Euro-style clothes, and to adopt Euro culture enthusiastically.  Some did. Some didn’t.  But the relevant point here is that such cultural indoctrination belongs in a bygone era.  American schools should be as pluralistic as American society.  The children of creationists should not have to abandon their beliefs in order to attend a public school.  They should be allowed to sustain their home culture even while learning about mainstream culture in the public schools.

Those who are not being hurt by the forced inclusion of some idea in public school curricula should not be the ones who decide if it is hurting other people.  Short hair for boys and use of the English language seemed like obvious requirements for Anglo teachers in American Indian boarding schools.  Reading from a Bible that mocked Catholicism and the Pope seemed
unobjectionable to early Protestant school leaders.  They did not see these things as offensive.  To protect against this
danger, we should offer people a low threshold of proof to claim that they believe an idea is hurting them or their children.  Otherwise, schools will continue to force majority culture down the throats of students and families who feel threatened
by it.

Consider one opinion of the US Supreme Court in this regard.  In 1981, the Court heard thecase of Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment Security Division.  The plaintiff, Eddie Thomas, was a Jehovah’s Witness who had been denied
unemployment benefits from the State of Indiana.  Thomas had worked in a sheet metal factory and had been transferred to a division that made tank turrets.  Thomas requested another transfer, or to be laid off.  Those requests were denied, so
he quit.  He did not believe he could ethically build weapons.  The case is not a perfect parallel, since one of the deciding factors for the Supreme Court was that Indiana could pay his unemployment benefits without itself supporting his
religion.  But one line of Chief Justice Burger’s majority decision is telling.  “It is not for us to say,” Burger wrote, “that the line [Thomas] drew was an unreasonable one.”

The same is true with evolution education.  Those who do not find it dangerous or offensive should not be dictating that those who do find it offensive are being unreasonable.  Such ideas are often invisible and utterly inoffensive to those who share them.  But they can be literally damning to others.  The decision should be left to those who feel threatened.

 

ANTI EVOLUTION IV: FURTHER READING

Carl F. Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780-1860 (New York: Hill & Wang, 1999); David Wallace Adams, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928 (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1995).

IS there a creation/evolution culture war?

IS there a creation/evolution culture war?

 

Is there really a culture war between evolutionists and creationists?  Have you experienced it in your lives?

Some folks have argued that culture war talk is more the figment of politicians’ and journalists’ ambition than actual fact.  Morris Fiorina and his colleagues, for instance, cite survey data that attests to large majorities of Americans identifying themselves as centrists and moderates on religious and cultural issues.  As they argued in their 2004 book Culture War, “The simple truth is that there is no culture war in the United States—no battle for the soul of America rages, at least none that most Americans are aware of.”

Their point is valid.  Lots of Americans feel themselves to be in the middle on divisive issues.  Nevertheless, I think Fiorina
and other culture-war-deniers miss the boat on the big picture.  I think we do suffer from a culture war on the creation/evolution issue, for two main reasons.  First, I see a stark divide between believers of the two camps.  Creationists have a hard time believing that evolutionists truly believe their scheme.  Evolutionists return the favor.  Also, the feelings on both sides of this divide seem ferocious and bitter.  These are the ingredients for a durable and damaging culture war.

I’ve seen these effects in my own work.  As I’ve mentioned in these posts, I am personally an evolutionist.  I believe human life came to its present form through a process of natural selection over millions of years.  As a historian of American conservatism and conservative religion, I’ve given talks to largely evolutionist audiences in which I’ve described the ideology and theology of generations of American anti-evolutionists.  The responses I’ve received from those audiences have convinced me that many evolutionists suffer from a real blind spot in their understanding of creationism and creationists.

For example, after one brief talk about 1920s anti-evolution activism, one evolutionist audience member asked me in all sincerity, “What’s wrong with these people?”  She was earnest and sincere; she could not believe that “these people”—creationists—could really oppose the findings of mainstream science for so long.  (See a related discussion over at the US Intellectual History blog.)  There is no way this woman—a distinguished American academic and specialist in multicultural education—would ever allow herself to refer to any other subcultural group as “these people.”  But in the case of creationists, she did not mind lumping them all together in this condescending and demeaning way.  In her opinion, creationists deserved to be demeaned.

Similarly, evolutionists have often asked me if I think creationists REALLY believe in creation, and if so, how they can be so
dense.  The evidence of evolution, to evolutionists, is so self-evident that any disagreement seems either ignorant or mysterious.

Evolutionists often find themselves stumped by the vast difference between their own understandings of life and those of
creationists.  As a result, many evolutionists assume creationists must be scheming and dishonest.  Even in the pages of this blog, I have been accused of being a “lying creationist” for framing arguments in favor of divine creation.  There is a great deal of bitterness with which some people on each side of this cultural divide regard the others.  So much so that any attempt
to understand the other side is seen as stark treason, a punishable offense.

Perhaps my sense of uncertainty developed from my long exposure to other intelligent people who were serious about their religious beliefs.  For a long time I worked in Catholic schools, with a faculty that included lay Catholic and Jesuit
teachers.  Many of the serious Catholics seriously believed in transubstantiation.  They believed that a wafer and a jug of wine could really transform into the body and blood of Christ.  They believed that such things happened commonly, every time there was a Mass, all over the world.

I cannot get my head around that kind of miraculous belief.  I firmly believe that a scientific diagnosis of the wine after it had been supposedly transformed would still show the same chemical makeup that it showed before.  Yet such conclusive proof would not convince my former colleagues.  They might even agree with me that chemical tests had proven that wafers were still chemically wafers and wine was still chemically wine.  And yet they would also believe that they were not.  The wafer and wine had actually become flesh and blood, no matter what the chemical tests may show.  How could my Catholic colleagues believe that?  They were well read and intelligent.  They were good people.  Many had dedicated their careers and lives to
helping others instead of getting themselves ahead.  Yet they believed in this unlikely miracle of transubstantiation.

How?  I don’t know.
But I do respect them as intelligent people and I guess that my inability to believe might be a weakness on my part rather than on theirs.  I can’t help but see their belief as an authentic understanding of the world that differs starkly from my own.  Perhaps the same could be true for those who believe in other ideas that seem outlandish to me?

Have my experiences been unusual?  Have other people interested in the creation/evolution debate had similar experiences?  Those of you who are creationists, have you experienced a wide divide from evolutionists?  Have you seen or felt bitterness and anger toward the other side?  How about evolutionists?  Have you had a difficult experience with a creationist?  One in which he or she would simply not listen to reason?  Or, even worse, one in which he or she lied or acted dishonestly in order to promote creationism?

 

FURTHER READING: Morris P. Fiorina, with Samuel J. Abrams and Jeremy C. Pope, Culture War?  The Myth of a Polarized America (New York: Pearson Longman, 2004).

Anti-Evolution IIa: Closedmindedness (continued…)

ANTI-EVOLUTION II (a): CLOSEDMINDEDNESS (cont.)

Plus, even the commonly held notion that “all” scientists believe in evolution doesn’t hold up. Look closely the next time you hear that argument.  Notice that much of the evidence given is not about the science itself, but about the credentials of the scientist.  A scientist is supposedly closer to the truth the more accolades he or she has received.  Thus, you may see a letter supporting more evolution education in schools, signed by seventy-five Nobel Prize winners.  Signed by leading professors at Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Michigan.  But notice the circularity of that measure.  Those accolades come from within the dominant scientific paradigm.  By definition, such prizes and honors represent not some objective truth, but rather the opinion of other scientists that someone has done something praiseworthy.

The next time you hear that all scientists believe evolution, try sampling from the list below:

  • Fred Hoyle: Hoyle has suggested that current thinking about materialistic evolution is a crock.  Most memorably, he has suggested that the
    chances of life on earth developing on its own was about as likely as the chances that a hurricane blowing through a junkyard would assemble a Boeing jetliner.  In other words, life on earth is entirely too complex to have simply happened.  It needs some source, some cause.  In Hoyle’s case, this is not an argument based on a previous intellectual commitment to the Bible.  In fact, Hoyle’s preferred explanation for the origins of life are not from divine intervention but rather through the seeding of this planet by interstellar viruses containing the basic forms of life.  And even by the standards of mainstream science, Hoyle’s credentials are hard to ignore.  He is often credited, for instance, with coining the term “Big Bang,” although he did not accept the notion himself.  He did not win a Nobel Prize
    himself, although many people think he was unfairly denied one in 1983 despite his contributions to the project that won.
  • Chandra Wickramasinghe: Wickramasinghe was a student of Hoyle, and collaborated with him.  Like Hoyle, Wickramasinghe’s  mainstream scientific credentials are hard to ignore.  He has published dozens of articles, for instance, in the journal Nature.  He holds a professorship at Cardiff University and was the youngest person ever to receive such a professorship.  Like Hoyle, Wickramasinghe is not a biblical Christian.  He does not try to disprove the notion of materialistic evolution out of a commitment to religious ideas.  He is
    simply an innovative scientist able to rest on his credentials enough to publicly doubt the orthodoxy of evolution.  His unorthodox ideas have occasionally cost him funding.  Nevertheless, he has continued to study the idea that life on earth developed from cosmic dust, rather than simply springing into existence on its own.
  • Michael Behe: Behe is a biochemist.  He has argued that some organic functions, such as the mechanism for blood clotting, demonstrate what Behe calls an “irreducible complexity.”  Such complexity cannot have been evolved by a random process, since the entire mechanism needs to have developed all at the same time in order to offer any evolutionary benefit.  In other words, the evolutionary idea that some mutations offer a selective advantage to some individuals of a species, and that those advantages can lead to new species, does not account for some of the complex organic mechanisms.  It would do a simple species no good, in other words, to mutate one part of the blood-clotting mechanism.  It would have to mutate all the parts of it at once in order to derive any evolutionary benefit.

Evolutionists will point to the shortness of this list as evidence that such ideas are the realm of the kook, the crank.  But a balloon only needs a tiny pinhole to explode.  If even a few scientists doubt the evolutionary orthodoxy, that is enough to explode the myth that all scientists agree on the idea.  It is enough to demonstrate that scientific experts, even one expert, can evaluate the scientific evidence and find compelling alternative explanations.  The fact that the great majority of working scientists agree with the idea that life evolved on its own does not prove that it is true.  Before Einstein, the vast majority of working scientists did not understand the theory of relativity.  That does not mean that relativity was not true.  It simply means that most scientists were not able to come up with that idea on their own.  They were trained in other ideas and they  conducted all their research based on the ideas in which they were trained.  The vast majority of scientists at one time worked with the  assumption that phlogiston explained combustibility.  The vast majority also assumed at one time that human races were linked in a hierarchical chain with sub-Saharan Africans at the bottom and Nordic Europeans at the top.  Such orthodoxies are not convincing simply because they can conjure up large majorities of scientists.  Such majorities are, rather, just result of such ideological dominance.  They demonstrate nothing about the fundamental truth of evolution or any other scientific idea.

Even Darwin, in a famous closing passage to his 1859 Origin of Species, invoked the notion of a Creator as the ultimate source of life.  “There is grandeur in this view of life . . . having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one.”  But wait, you might say, Darwin said that to soften the blow of his controversial book.  As he delved further into the idea, he largely discarded the notion that any Creator had been involved in any way, even to initially breathe life into the evolutionary process.  Such notions only got in the way of his understanding of life.  But look at it from a different angle.  When Darwin started, he was open to the idea of a creator.  As he explored the idea of organic evolution, it only made sense if he eliminated the creator part.  That is, once he decided there was no creator, he realized he didn’t need a creator.  Circular logic.  Not due to evidence, but due to preliminary assumptions about the evidence.  You can do the same thing in reverse.  Assume a young earth.  It will lead you to conclude that such a thing is not possible without a supernatural creator.  Also circular?  Yes.  But it is better, more scientific, to leave all the options on the table.  To examine evidence without first presuming that there are or are not supernatural causes.  Science should mean open minded inquiry, not materialistic inquiry.  If you include that possibility, nine times out of ten the best explanation for life on earth is not due to chance but to design.

When Galileo agreed to recant his support for a heliocentric earth, according to legend, he did so only with an ideological wink.  “E pur si muove,” he allegedly said, “It still moves.”  In other words, in the origins of the modern scientific project, Galileo asserted that whatever humans might say about the physical universe, that universe went on heedlessly.  It didn’t matter, to Galileo, whether or not he recanted his statement, the earth still rotated around the sun.  It seems that Galileo’s position is the one of ultimate faith: It doesn’t matter what I say or do, the truth of my position
is larger than my own being.

The fact that Galileo’s would-be successors in the modern scientific establishment can no longer muster his sense of calm confidence is revealing.  If scientists today really were as confident in their evolutionary ideology as they purport to be, they would not be as insistent that all scientists agree with their position.  In other words, if the notion that life evolved in all its forms without a guiding intelligence really had the same
intellectual weight as the notion of a heliocentric solar system, scientists should be able to muster Galileo’s calm notion that “It still moves.”  They ought to be able to allow other ideas to be considered, knowing that theirs was the truth.

But they can’t.
Mainstream scientists today enforce a rigid evolutionary ideology.  The ideological—as opposed to truly scientific—roots of this kind of closedmindedness become evident in those few cases when scholars have attempted to present alternative ideas in academic settings.  Creationist Jerry Bergman collected cases of such discrimination in his 1984 book The Criterion.  Bergman, who claimed to have been denied tenure at Bowling Green University in the early 1980s due to his creationist beliefs, describes the stories of academics such as Clifford Burdick.  Burdick was allegedly refused his PhD at the University of Arizona in 1960 for including a consideration of divine creation as an explanation for  discrepancies in the fossil record.  Bergman argued that such attitudes had no place in a university setting.  Firing a creationist for speaking to students about his or her beliefs, Bergman argued, would be like “if a black were fired on the suspicion that he had ‘talked to students about being black,’ or a woman being fired for having ‘talked to students about women’s issues.’” In a similar case, Dean Kenyon was reprimanded by his
institution for his work with the notion of intelligent design.  Kenyon had co-authored one of the most influential textbook supplements in the intelligent-design field, Of Pandas and People.  In 1992, his school, San Francisco State University, ordered him to cease teaching scientific creationism as part of his biology classes.  Kenyon had been teaching such ideas as part of his curriculum.  He had been teaching evolutionary ideas as well, but had included other notions about the origins of life.  Such open-mindedness was anathema to the administration of the purportedly open-minded university.  To be fair, the rest of the faculty voted to allow Kenyon to keep teaching such ideas, as part of their right to academic freedom.  But the sentiment in favor of muzzling such ideas was significant.

Similarly, intelligent-design advocate Michael Behe’s university department felt forced to publish a disclaimer of Behe’s work that strayed beyond mainstream orthodoxy.  In embarrassment, apparently, that one of its faculty members could question the reigning scientific ideology, his academic department felt obliged to post the following disclaimer on its website: “The department faculty . . . are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary
theory. . . . Behe’s . . . views . . . are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department.”  Why is this sort of statement necessary?  Because evolution’s dominance of mainstream science is maintained through social, not scientific, rigidity and control.

However, there is a heavy price to be paid for such control.  Such attitudes not only enforce
the evolutionary orthodoxy, they also demonstrate its fundamental intellectual weakness.  When scientists feel they must resort to such heavy-handed ideological enforcement, it is evidence that their emperor really has no clothes.

 

ANTI EVOLUTION IIa: FURTHER READING

Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, 2nd edition (New York: Free Press, 2006); Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, 2nd edition (Haughton, 1993); Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space: A Theory of Cosmic Creationism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984).

Anti-Evolution II: The Argument against Closedmindedness

ANTI EVOLUTION II: CLOSEDMINDEDNESS

One of the most convincing intellectual weapons in the arsenal of evolution supporters is that evolution has won over scientific opinion.  This is the argument that convinces me, for instance.  I admit that I don’t really understand the deeper science behind evolution, but when I see that every mainstream scientist endorses the idea, I am willing to be convinced.  But if we step outside that consensus, it is easy to see that such a consensus can actually be an argument against the simple truth of evolution.  And for the purposes of this blog, remember that I am not trying to convince or convert committed evolutionists to the opposite point of view.  All I hope to do is to show that there are respectable reasons why people might hold that opposite point of view.  I would like each side only to acknowledge that those on the other side might not be wicked, ignorant, or crazy.  In the case of the scientific consensus about evolution, it is easy enough to see how such a consensus can be proof of the
untruth of evolution, as much as it can be proof of its truth.  Here’s what I mean:

For most regular people, science is still understood to be a matter of deducing the objective truth about the nature of life and humanity.  Something is more scientific, in this view, when it comes closer to that objective truth, and less scientific as it edges away.  Thus, if evolution is
science, then those who oppose evolution must oppose science.

But scientists and those interested in the nature of science offer a much more complex view, especially since works like Thomas Kuhn’s
influential 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Since that time, the nature of scientific truth has been understood to be more of a social construction.  To create scientific truth, scientists engage in a social process that constructs an orthodoxy.  The word Kuhn used has made it into everyday usage: scientists construct a paradigm that guides their explanations.  Those who fall outside that paradigm must be forbidden from calling their work “real” science.  However, due to the nature of this process, the next scientific revolution can only come from those at the
outer boundaries of the current dominant paradigm.  Only by challenging the existing paradigm can scientific revolutions take place.

To clarify this process, consider an example that Kuhn himself used.  In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, European scientists agreed that combustibility resulted from an ineffable substance they called phlogiston.  When something burned, it was the phlogiston in that material being released.  This concept guided their research.  They argued about phlogiston’s nature; they disagreed about the implications of experiments in which different elements were burned in the air or under glass lids; they created a scientific consensus about the nature, meaning, and  implications of phlogiston.

By the end of the eighteenth century, a scientific revolution had rejected the idea of phlogiston.  Until that time, however, any notion that contradicted the dominant scientific paradigm would have been rejected.  Why did some materials gain weight, for example, when they rusted and supposedly emitted phlogiston?  During the reign of the scientific consensus about phlogiston, such disconfirming evidence was explained within the paradigm of phlogiston.  Scientists wondered if phlogiston might have negative weight, for example.  But they generally did not consider the idea that phlogiston itself was utterly imaginary.

The implications of this understanding of scientific truth are obvious.  In the case of evolution, the fact that mainstream scientists all agree on evolution does not prove the merit of evolution.  Rather, it only proves that such evolutionary scientists are trapped by the intellectual
constrictions of that dominant paradigm.  They do not need to be wicked, ignorant, or insane to do so.  In fact, most of them would love to come up with a powerful new idea that would revolutionize scientific knowledge.  Most of them would drool at the thought of having their name ranked up there with the other scientific revolutionaries, Lavoisier, Newton, Darwin, Einstein.  It is not that they are trying to enforce an orthodoxy.  Rather, they are fundamentally unable to think beyond the restrictions of their current paradigm.  They cannot think of ideas, in other words,
that build on ideas they do not think.  It will not be until a scientific revolution overhauls current understandings that scientists will be able to see the flaws in their evolutionary thinking.

Perhaps the example of phlogiston is too far removed from current thinking, however.  It might be easy to acknowledge that scientists back in the seventeenth century would fall prey to such unscientific notions, but to take solace in the idea that more recent science would not do so.  An
example from the twentieth century, then, might be more convincing.  For a few decades at the beginning of the twentieth century, one dominant idea was that of scientific racism.  Experts explored the differences between different types of humanity.  Races were graded on a scale from robust, vigorous, intelligent Anglo-Saxons at the top, to indolent, brutish Sub-Saharan Africans at the bottom.  The qualities of each race were
scientifically delineated.  Readers were told that such notions had been agreed upon by a consensus of leading scientists.  To doubt it would be to
express ignorance and reactionary stubbornness.  The policy implications of this kind of science were obvious.  If there were greater and
lesser races of humanity, it made sense to avoid cheapening the better races with the traits of the lesser.  Breeding between different races would lead to a deadly downward spiral of stupidity and weakness.  It made sense to promote racial eugenics, the discouragement of breeding of less advanced races and the utter prohibition of breeding between races.  The people who promoted these ideas were not cranks or outsiders.  They included scholars such as Madison Grant, who testified as an expert before US Congress as they debated passing newer, stricter immigration laws in 1924.

Before such ideas were kicked out of mainstream science by scholars such as Franz Boas, they dominated thinking about the nature of man
and society.  It took people with a previous commitment to an alternative understanding of humanity to challenge that view.  Among those challengers were evangelical Protestants.  James M. Gray, for example, in his career as president of the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
(1904-1934), challenged the notion of scientific racism, just as he challenged the notion of human evolution.  For Gray, both ideas conflicted with the truth of Biblical teachings.  The Bible, Gray believed, described a common origin for all of humanity in the Garden of Eden.  Thus notions that some races were higher or lower contradicted God’s teaching.  The fact that scientists with impeccable credentials scoffed at Gray’s supposed
intellectual naiveté didn’t deter him.  He was able to think outside the dominant paradigm because he was committed to his understanding of an inerrant Bible.  Indeed, he was forced to think that way.  He could not have accepted the ideas of scientific racism, just as he could not accept the idea of evolution.

It is easy enough for some to reject the logic of Bible-based anti-evolutionists, but such rejectionists should be humbler in their assertions of confidence in the scientific consensus.  Such consensuses have in the past bound mainstream scholars to reprehensible ideas such scientific racism, or incorrect ideas such as phlogiston.  Simply because there is a consensus doesn’t make something true.

Those who support evolution often make another criticism of their opponents.  They point out that creationists’ claims violate the most fundamental principles of modern science by requiring a supernatural cause.  Such arguments, evolution supporters insist, go against the nature of true science, in which supernatural causes are rejected in favor of digging out the true material causes of things.  Science, at its heart, must reject such explanations, or else risk falling into a muddle in which every event can be explained away as the result of divine activity.  Take a simple example.  Thunder can be explained as the noise made when angels are bowling.  Such an idea is comforting to young children frightened by the noise of a storm.  But if adults were to seriously contend that thunder might in fact be caused that way, it would require fundamental violence to the notion of science.  Scientists know that thunder is really caused by the rapid movement of air to fill the void left by electrical discharges of lightning.  What if the Bible declared that thunder were caused by angels bowling?  Then anti-thunderists might declare that scientists arrogantly assumed that every roll of thunder was caused that way, when in fact some of the thunder might be due to angels bowling.  There is no proof, they could say, that angels did not bowl some of the thunderbursts.  No scientist could ever prove the cause of every single thunderburst.

But those who oppose the idea of evolution are not talking about thunder.  Their case is much stronger.  Thunder is observable.  Thunder can be studied as it happens.  In the case of the origins of life, evolutionists will admit that they have no direct proof of what occurred.  They infer from a body of evidence what they think makes sense, but in doing so they privilege an enormous package of pre-existing ideas about the notion of causation.  In other words, when they look at evidence from fossils and embryos, such evidence confirms their evolutionary hypothesis.  But in order for it to do so, evolutionary scientists must assume that there is only a material cause.

So, for example, evolutionists note that the basic structure of human hands is very similar to the bone structure of a bat’s wing, or a whale’s flipper.  From that they conclude that each of these mammals must have evolved from a common ancestor.  Makes sense.  But that conclusion has already assumed a material, evolutionary cause.  Consider, for instance, what can happen when you open your mind to consider a divine cause.  The conclusion of divine creation makes just as much sense.  Take a look underneath the hood at the engines of a Ford, a Toyota, and a Hyundai.  You will see very similar structures.  Each of them uses very similar mechanisms for generating power and translating that power into movement.  Each of them also has some similar additional parts, such as a reservoir for windshield-washer fluid.  Does that mean that they were not designed?  Of course not.  It means that the designers worked with structures that worked well.  If we assume a designer for life on earth, then we might conclude that the designer found that the same basic structure worked well for whales, bats, and humans.  The point is that evolutionists put the cart before the horse.  They assume a material, evolutionary cause for life, then when they look at evidence, they find their assumption confirmed.  At the very least, if we assume a divine, intentional cause for life, we can find our assumptions similarly confirmed.

ANTI EVOLUTION II: FURTHER READING

Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Jerry Bergman, The Criterion: Religious Discrimination in America (Richfield, MN: Onesimus Press, 1984); Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race (New York: Scribner’s, 1916).

Pro-Evolution II: What evolution DOES mean

EVOLUTION II: THE MODERN SYNTHESIS

Here are some of the things evolution DOES mean:

  • In its most advanced form, the modern evolutionary synthesis has been accepted by all mainstream scientists.  This modern evolutionary synthesis, briefly, contends that life on earth was not created all at once.  It developed by a series of minute changes
    over a long time.  For a long time, scientists, including Charles Darwin himself, couldn’t figure out how those changes could keep from being swamped by a larger population.  For instance, if one fish was born with fins that helped it climb up on land to eat plants that other fishes couldn’t reach, it would have an evolutionary advantage over those other fish.  It could eat more and get stronger.  It could have more offspring that would also be likely to have those leg-like fins.
    The problem for early evolution scientists was the idea that the tendency to have leg-like fins would be watered down by mating with fish that had fin-like fins.  Even if a fish had an evolutionary advantage with leg-like fins, its offspring would blend the
    characteristic of leg-like fins with the characteristic of fin-like fins.  Over time, the tendency to have advantageous leg-like fins would be swamped by the majority of fishes’ fin-like fins.  The solution to this dilemma came to scientists by the 1930s.  Scientists realized that life on earth doesn’t work that way.  Instead, the offspring of a fish with leg-like fins with a fish with fin-like fins would carry the genetic tendency to be born with leg-like fins, even if the fish itself had fin-like fins.  You may remember something like this from high-school biology. The idea was a little older, discovered in the 1800s by a monk named Gregor Mendel.  Mendel observed pea plants and noticed that there was a regularity to their characteristics.  About one in every four
    tall pea plants, for instance, was short.
    Mendel realized that the short characteristic was carried recessively even in the tall pea plants.  When two tall pea plants with that recessive characteristic produced new pea plants, every fourth offspring would end up short.  How would this work with our fish with leg-like fins?  The genetic tendency to have leg-like fins would be latent in fish even with fin-like fins.  That is, they would have the genes to grow leg-like fins, but most of their offspring would have fin-like fins.  Every once in a while, a fish with leg-like fins would be born.  When the circumstances changed and these leg-like fins became an advantage, fish with leg-like fins would have more offspring more often.  Their offspring would carry the genetic tendency to be born with leg-like fins.
    Over time, if there was more food accessible out of the water, and if food became scarcer and scarcer below water, those fish born with leg-like fins would prosper, and find more mates also with that characteristic.  Not soon, but over time, a new species of
    fish with leg-like fins would evolve.
  • Some of the most convincing biological arguments for evolution come from what scientists call ontogeny and homology.  Ontogeny means roughly the way animals develop.  Some steps of that development only make sense in an evolutionary framework.
    For instance, embryonic whales grow legs for a stage.  Why?  Especially vital for our argument here, why would whales go through a developmental stage with proto-legs if God had simply created them in their current form?  It makes no sense.  It would be an example of the kind of evidence that God would have had to have left behind in order to fool humans
    into thinking life evolved.  Because those embryonic legs make perfect sense in evolutionary perspective.  For a time, whales had been land-dwelling mammals.  They developed their ability to survive and thrive in water as an evolutionary niche developed for them.  Their embryonic history demonstrates that path.  Although early evolutionists such as Ernst Haeckel overstated their case for the importance of ontogeny as a path of evolutionary development in all animals, in some cases it still points to an
    evolutionary origin for different forms of life.
  • Scientists also note powerful homologies among very different kinds of animals.  By this they mean the underlying structure of many different forms reveals the same basic structure.  For instance, bats’ wings, human hands, and seals’ flippers share a basic bone structure.  Each of the organisms uses the form for very different purposes: flying, grabbing, and swimming.  But the similarity of the underlying bone structure makes sense if all the forms evolved from a common ancestor.  As each species developed and specialized over the millennia, the basic bone structure developed in markedly different ways to help the species take advantage of evolutionary niches.  Bats developed the ability to fly, humans to grab, and seals to swim.  But such underlying similarity is utterly confusing if we assume that each species was created as is.  Why would a designer use the same underlying bone structure for each instead of coming up with more efficient ones for each ultimate use?
    That is, if the bat was made to fly, why wouldn’t its bone structure be markedly different from the bone structure of a seal flipper?  Just as with the embryonic evidence, the only way it makes sense is if the designer deliberately set out to obscure its
    (His?  Her?) role in the design.  It only makes sense, in other words, if God not only designed the vast variety of life, but then made it look as if that variety had evolved from common ancestors.
    Which explanation makes more sense?
  • There are other specific examples that flesh out the argument.  One that Darwin used was that of the ichneumon wasp.  This is a
    type of wasp that lays its eggs directly into or on the body of a host, something like a caterpillar.  The mother wasp then paralyzes the prey.  When the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae eat the living but powerless body of the host.  They first eat the non-vital organs such as fat cells.  That ensures that the host will stay alive as they feed.  Only after they have eaten the still living flesh do they finally eat the vital organs and kill the unhappy host.  Why, Darwin asked, would a benevolent God create such implacable suffering?  If the panoply of living things were created, why create such cruelty?  It makes no sense.  Of course, Darwin could have taken refuge in the traditional answer to such questions: God’s ways cannot be known to us.  He may have reasons beyond
    our knowing.  But for Darwin and evolutionists that followed him, there was a much more obvious answer.  The reason animal life could be so cruel was because it had not been designed in such detail.  God did not create the vampiric wasp as such.  Rather, the wasp evolved to take advantage of the flesh of its prey.  It evolved in its ability to feed its young in this peculiar and revolting
    way.  In other words, if God created the wasp this way, we are presented with a moral dilemma that we can only overcome
    with a series of difficult mental gymnastics.
    But if life forms evolved to take advantage of evolutionary niches, the process makes entire sense.
  • The idea of evolution is repeatedly confirmed by new evidence.  For instance, the basic idea of species changing by a long slow process of natural selection came from Darwin and Wallace in 1859.  They had no idea about a lot of how it might work.
    But as scientists today find out more and more about the nature of life, each new piece of information confirms the basic notion of evolution.  For instance, scientists have had great success in recent years in decoding the genomes of humans and other species.  They have charted the genes that make up the recipe of the human species.  And they have found that those genes are almost identical to genes from similar species.  They are even very similar to the genes of very different species.
    Sharing so much of the same genetic make up confirms the notion that life on earth descended from a single source.
    Darwin and Wallace had no notion that this evidence would ever exist.  But it fits perfectly with their predictions of how such genes should look.  It confirms their suggestions.  There was no way that Darwin could have understood the evidence from the human genome.  Yet it confirms the idea of evolution in vivid ways.  Even during Darwin’s lifetime, he doubted the feasibility of his evolutionary scheme.  Based on the best scientific understandings of his time, there was no way that the earth could be ancient enough for evolution to have occurred.  Later scientific discoveries established a far more ancient age of life on Earth than Darwin realized.  Thus, even when his own faith was shaken in the feasibility of his notion, he was still proven correct.
  • When evidence piles up this way, the only way around it is to imagine that God created a trail of evidence meant to fool humans.  He created a universe that pointed in a false direction, to test whether humanity could overcome the evidence of reason to cling to faith.  Why would He do that?  Why would He want to fool people?  And, if He wanted to give humans a test about whether they would hold fast to His revealed truth in the face of overwhelming rational evidence, why would He give the majority of humans a non-Christian tradition to cling to?  It would mean that God wanted people to cling to a lifeboat of revealed religion instead of walking on the land that was only a few feet below them, then provided them with a lifeboat that wouldn’t float.  That does not seem consistent with a God of infinite love.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 297 other followers