In this short series, David MacMillan explains how misinformation and misconceptions allow creationists to maintain their beliefs even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. A former creationist blogger and writer, Mr. MacMillan earned his BS degree in physics from the University of North Alabama and now works as a technical writer when he isn’t frequenting the PT comment boards. Since leaving creationism, he has written several columns discussing the public dialogue between creation and evolution. This series will outline the core beliefs creationists use as the basis for their reasoning while pointing out the challenges faced in re-educating against creationist misconceptions.
Note added July 16, approx. 4:30 p.m.: I have added links to all the articles subsequent to this one at the bottom of the page.
1. Introduction and overview: Philosophy of pseudoscience
During my tenure as an active young-earth creationist, I never once heard other creationists accurately describe what evolutionary theory is or how it is supposed to work. Nor did I understand it myself. Creationists often seem familiar with a lot of scientific terminology, but their understanding is filled with gross misinformation. Thus, a host of misconceptions is believed and taught throughout creationist circles, making it almost impossible for actual evidence to really sink in.
There are plenty of comprehensive lists of creationist claims with exhaustive refutations, such as the TalkOrigins archive. Rather than try to replicate those, I will attempt to explain why creationist claims persist in the face of contrary evidence, even when individuals are otherwise well-educated. To do so, I’m going to go over the major areas where creationists get the science itself completely wrong. My list doesn’t represent all such misconceptions, of course. These are the misconceptions I personally recall hearing or using myself. I’ve chosen not to provide specific examples of each misconception from the creationist literature, though they are all easy to find. Citations for my explanations can be found online by anyone who wants to see them; this series is not about any particular facts so much as it’s about how false beliefs are used to support false conclusions.
We understand the theory of evolution to be a series of conclusions drawn from over a century of research, predictions, and discoveries. This theory allows us to understand the mechanisms in biology and make further predictions about the sort of evidence we will uncover in the future. Its predictive power is vital to success in real-life applications like medicine, genetic engineering, and agriculture.
However, creationists don’t see it the same way. Creationists artificially classify medicine, genetic research, and agriculture as “operational science,” and believe that those disciplines function in a different way than research in evolutionary biology. They understand the theory of evolution, along with mainstream geology and a variety of other disciplines, as a philosophical construct created for the express purpose of explaining life on Earth apart from divine intervention. Thus, they approach the concept of evolution from a defensive position; they believe it represents an attack on all religious faith.
This defensive posture is reflected in nearly all creationist literature, even in the less overt varieties such as intelligent-design creationism. It dictates responses. When creationists see a particular argument or explanation about evolution, their initial reaction is to ask, “How does this attack the truth of God as Creator? What philosophical presuppositions are dictating beliefs here? How can I challenge those underlying assumptions and thus demonstrate the truth?” Recognizing this basis for creationist arguments is a helpful tool for understanding why such otherwise baffling arguments are proposed.
In reality, we understand that although various philosophical implications may be constructed around evolution, it is not driven by any atheistic philosophy. The fundamental principle undergirding the theory of evolution is the same as the fundamental principle behind all science: that hypotheses can be tested and confirmed by prediction. But creationists instead insist that evolution arises out of explicitly atheistic axioms. This series will look at the arguments and objections which flow from this worldview in six different areas.
Creationists accept certain aspects of variation, adaptation, and speciation, but they artificially constrain the mechanism for adaptation to produce an imagined barrier between “microevolution” and “macroevolution” (Part 2). They conceptualize evolutionary adaptation as a series of individual changes, missing the entire mechanism provided by the population as a whole (Part 3). They make the extraordinary claim that no transitional fossils exist, simply by redefining “transitional” into something that could not possibly exist (Part 4). Creationists attempt to rewrite the last two centuries of scientific progress in order to avoid dealing with the multiple lines of evidence all independently affirming common descent and deep time (Part 5). They have far-reaching misapprehensions concerning microbiology and DNA (Part 6). On top of all this, they assign ethical and moral failings to evolutionary science in order to make evolution seem dangerous and anti-religion (Part 7). I will address each of these topics in the coming posts.
Appendix. Here are links to the following 7 articles:
1. Introduction and overview: Philosophy of pseudoscience [this post].
6. Genetic evidence.
8. New perspective.