Here’s What Creationists Call Anti-Science

Who is anti-science? Depends whom you ask! Recently World Magazine offered a creationist list of the real anti-science stories of 2014.

The sophisticated and good-looking readers of ILYBYGTH may be surprised to hear it, but there are still people out there who think this is a simple question. They have not read books such as Ron Numbers’ Galileo Goes to Jail. Such folks are trapped in the old notion that science and religion have been at loggerheads ever since Galileo and Giordano Bruno poked their scientific noses under religion’s intellectual tent.

Your anti-science or mine?

Your anti-science or mine?

Such naïve readers may assume that creationism is simply “anti-science.” They don’t know that creationists and non-creationists have, instead, been fighting for decades over the title of “real” science.

Karl Giberson is not one of these people. Giberson understands the complex cultural politics of creationism and science better than most people. So when Giberson published his list of top-ten anti-science stories of 2014, he knew he was making a political point, not a scientific one. Giberson blasted such creationist institutions as Bryan College, World Magazine, the Discovery Institute, and the Institute for Creation Research. He called out prominent creationists such as Ken Ham and Albert Mohler by name. Such folks, Giberson accused, led the list of “America’s flakerrati” with their “preposterous claims.”

As Giberson knows well, proving that your enemies are anti-science is good politics. In spite of some chatter to the contrary, very few Americans distrust science as an institution. Believe it or not, even conservatives tend to have more trust in science and scientists than they do in such things as big business and churches.

Sure enough, one of the institutions on Giberson’s anti-science list has taken some pains to dispute its anti-science status. At World Magazine, Daniel James Levine has offered a rebuttal. As Levine puts it,

WORLD believes good science is vital, so we want to contribute to the effort to keep research on the straight and narrow.

As we might expect, what World thinks of as anti-science looks very different from Giberson’s list. Levine offers seven top anti-science claims of 2014. Instead of creationism, Ebola hysteria, and climate-change skepticism, Levine gives these top seven anti-science ideas:

1.) “Selling abortion through euphemism;”

2.) “Denying homosexuals can change;”

3.) “Denying the dangers of the gay lifestyle;”

4.) “Searching for extraterrestrials;”

5.) “The ‘overpopulation’ crisis;”

6.) “Gender as a social construct;” and

7.) “The imaginative multiverse theory.”

Clearly, this is not simply a case of to-may-toe/ to-mah-toe. What each side views as “real” science is dramatically different. Nor must we simply shrug our shoulders and conclude that there is no way to differentiate real anti-science from false anti-science. With apologies to creationists and religious conservatives out there, I agree that mainstream science is better science than the creationist alternatives.

In the end, though, we must remember that accusations of “anti-science” are not really about science: They are first and foremost strategic moves in our continuing culture wars.

What If Stories: Creationism and World War I

Much Less than 6,000 Years Ago

Much Less than 6,000 Years Ago

What if World War I had never happened? As the centenary of the start of that cataclysmic war nears, the National Center for Science Education has asked a group of eminent historians (as well as yours truly) to speculate how things might be different.

The first post in the NCSE series was penned by the Dean of Creationism History, Ronald L. Numbers.* Numbers, the author of the definitive history The Creationists, argues this morning that World War I was central to the shape of the creation/evolution struggles that emerged in the 1920s. As Ron notes, this sort of “counterfactual” game is tricky for historians. There are so many factors at play, such a varied interplay of contingencies and possibilities, that academic historians tend to shy away from guessing what might have happened. Nevertheless, Ron makes a strong case that the 1920s would have looked very different—in terms of creationism—had there been no big war. But does Professor Numbers think there would still have been a creation/evolution battle in the 1920s without a war? You’ll have to read his full post to find out.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the posts in this series. My own humble offering will come at the end of the series, I’m told.

* Full disclosure: Ron was my PhD mentor at the University of Wisconsin and is still a personal hero and friend of mine.


Science and “The Question”

In a recent scathing review of Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing, science writer John Horgan argues that science will never answer “The Question.”  That is, Horgan thinks that science–the way we usually understand science–will not be able to explain why there is something rather than nothing.

For those following the creation/evolution debates, “the Question” has long been a central bone of contention between creationists and evolutionists.  Creationists have always rested their arguments on the notion that science could not explain the fundamental creation of life ex nihilo.

As Horgan insists, one does not have to be a fundamentalist anti-evolutionist to doubt the ability of science to answer such fundamental questions.  In fact, Horgan concludes his review by warning scientists that they must not overextend.  If mainstream scientists claim to be able to answer “The Question,” Horgan warns, “they become the mirror images of the religious fundamentalists they despise.”

I imagine many of those fundamentalists will take solace from the fact that prominent scientists dispute Krauss’ ex nihilo argument.  There is a vibrant tradition among anti-evolutionists of following evolution debates among scientists.  Anti-evolution writers and activists have always used such debates to demonstrate to their audiences that scientists do not agree on the science of evolution.  As Ronald L. Numbers demonstrated in Darwin Comes to America and The Creationists, anti-evolutionists have long celebrated disagreements among mainstream scientists.  My hunch is that some pundits from Fundamentalist America will cite anti-Krauss arguments as evidence that science will never be able to answer “The Question.”

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.