Recently in War on Science Category

By David MacMillan.

8. New perspective. I think there are several different varieties of creationism activists. Some are obsessed with the presumed negative effects of evolution and secular humanism. Some are driven by suspicion for science and the certainty that a conspiracy must be afoot. Some use creationist apologetics to make themselves feel smarter and better-informed than the general public. Some are genuinely interested in science and want to know the truth.

I’d be lying if I said my motivations for arguing creationism were firmly in the last camp. I wasn’t much of a conspiracy theorist, but I certainly believed that there were inevitable negative consequences from the acceptance of evolution. I was definitely stuck-up about my “special” expertise. But deep down, I really did want to know the truth about the world. I loved being right, but I loved learning new things more.

By David MacMillan.

7. The religion of evolution.

The final set of creationist misconceptions about evolution surrounds its supposed religious, moral, and ethical implications. These objections prove difficult to address, simply because they have little or no objective basis and are almost purely philosophical or religious. This section will concentrate mostly on explaining the relationships and connections between these arguments, as systematically refuting them would delve deep into philosophy and theology and is far beyond the scope of a single post.

By David MacMillan.

6. Genetic evidence.

Revised July 4, 2014.

Perhaps one of the clearest and most obvious confirmations of evolution is the convergence between the evolutionary paths of descent determined by fossil evidence and the phylogenetic tree generated by algorithms analyzing genetic information. Because the tree of universal common descent is real, not invented, it leaves the same fingerprint in every part of nature that life touches. Matching trees can be found in global fossil distribution, in analysis of skeletal morphologies, in chromosome length, count, and banding, and in numerous common genetic sequences.

Not every genetic sequence yields a perfect branching tree. Evolutionary theory would not predict perfect branching trees, because random mutations scramble the relationships over time. Even though mutations provide the variation needed for diversification, their accumulation throughout that diversification can eventually obscure the evidence needed to reconstruct those relationships.

By David MacMillan.

5. Evolution of evolution.

Most creationists believe that the theory of evolution was developed out of an ideological commitment to explaining life apart from God. Explanations of the history of evolutionary theory often point out personal struggles in the lives of prominent scientists – Darwin most often, of course – in support of this belief. “Secular scientists wanted a way of explaining a world that didn’t require God, so they invented this ridiculous theory.” To creationists, this foundation offers an easy way of dismissing all the theoretical and observational bases of evolution. If evolution is just wishful thinking born of anti-theistic extremism, then all the “evidence” is reduced to ad hoc speculation.

Because of this misconception, creationists rarely understand the actual history of how geology, paleontology, and biology built upon each other to provide us with our understanding of the world. Mainstream geology emerged significantly ahead of Darwin’s work; many early geologists were Christians. Studying the distribution of rock layers around the globe allowed geologists to construct a complete geologic column and begin appreciating the incredible amount of time the column represents. Moreover, the regular progression of extinct species fossilized throughout the geologic column had been well-catalogued.

By David MacMillan.

4. Transitional fossils.

One of the most common and most frustrating creationist objections to evolution is the claim that there are no “missing links” or “transitional fossils” required by evolution. This claim is made without qualification, particularly in presentations to lay or church audiences. As unthinkable as it might seem, creationists really do believe that transitional fossils simply do not exist. On this basis, they conclude that evolution must be false.

They maintain this completely erroneous view by consistently misrepresenting what a transitional fossil actually is. Creationists don’t deny that Archaeopteryx, Pakicetus, Tiktaalik, Australopithecus, and similar prominent examples of transitional fossils exist; they rather argue that these are not “true” transitional fossils.

By David MacMillan.

3. You don’t evolve, your species does.

Creationists often conceptualize evolution as something which is purely vertical: successive changes from parent to child to grandchild to great-grandchild accumulating over time. They can hardly be faulted for this misconception, because this view seems to be shared by the general public and even reinforced by the sometimes-imprecise explanations and depictions of evolution by museums and science educators.

Evolutionary adaptation, however, does not happen in a straight line from parent to child. Rather, adaptation takes place throughout a population as different genetic sequences spread outward from parents to all their offspring and are recombined and reshuffled in many different individuals each successive generation. Evolution is wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. It is the combination of changing genetic material across an entire population that makes major evolutionary adaptation possible; without this constant mixing and recombination from the entire population, evolution would grind almost to a halt. Evolution is a phenomenon that functions not at the level of the individual, nor at the level of individual lineages, but across the entire population within the species (Figure 1).


Figure 1. This hypothetical example depicts evolutionary change as an emergent property of the entire population. Both the “ABC” combinations (in shades of blue) and the “XYZ” combinations (in shades of red) offer a survival advantage and are passed on, while combinations of the two (shown in shades of purple) are detrimental and are removed from the population. No specific mutation order is required; as long as the selection pressure remains steady, the mutations accumulate together (essentially “finding” each other) and two separate genotypes emerge.

By David MacMillan

2. Variation and adaptation

The majority of modern creation science freely admits the existence of biological variation, adaptation, and speciation. Indeed, the recent-creation model – particularly the belief that all extant life descended from a small group of “kinds” present on Noah’s Ark which diversified into all families on Earth after a global flood – requires enormous adaptive variation and near-constant speciation. Creationists estimate that fewer than 10,000 pairs of land-dwelling, air-breathing animals on the Ark diversified to represent all families alive today. There are around 6.5 million land-dwelling species today, so millions of speciation events would have needed to take place over the past 44 centuries since their global flood.

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.

The National Center for Science Education will host a webinar, “Debunking and confronting science denial,” Wednesday, May 28, 4 PM EDT/1 PM PDT. Josh Rosenau of NCSE will moderate a panel that includes

Shauna Theel from the climate and energy project at Media Matters for America, John Cook of and the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, and be moderated by NCSE’s Josh Rosenau. Shauna will discuss her work addressing media misstatements and how citizens can correct the record. John will describe the debunking resource and the Debunking Handbook he co-authored, and Josh will talk about the experience he’s gained debunking science denial at NCSE.

More here; register here.

By David MacMillan

Following the joint interview with Dan Phelps and Terry Mortenson on WEKU-FM, David MacMillan wrote a letter to Dr. Mortenson. This article is based on that letter. Dr. Mortenson responded to Mr. MacMillan’s letter, but unfortunately requested that his response be kept confidential. Odd behavior, it seems to me, for someone who is itching for a debate; Dr. Mortenson is welcome to respond here any time he likes.

Panda’s Thumb recently posted a guest contribution by Dan Phelps, who was interviewed along with Answers in Genesis’s Terry Mortenson on WEKU-FM, Eastern Kentucky University’s NPR station. Dr. Mortenson, for his part, posted his own discussion of the interview on the Answers in Genesis website. As a former creationist and AIG guest author who has recently been writing about the creation-evolution controversy in light of Ken Ham’s recent debate with Bill Nye, I thought Dr. Mortenson’s comments provided a particularly good example of one of the biggest problems with the creationist movement.

That is the title of a Slate article by Zack Kopplin. But actually it is much worse (see also NCSE’s take here). Here are the first 3 paragraphs of Kopplin’s article.

Bill Nye to debate Ken Ham?!


Let us hope not, but a reader just sent me the following from Mr. Ham’s Facebook page:

Well the big news for 2014 as we begin this new year is that in February, at the Creation Museum, I will be debating the well known Bill Nye The Science Guy! In the next day or so we will post more details including how you can buy tickets to this event. It’s quite rare these days for such a well known evolutionist to publicly debate a creationist–so we do expect a lot of media interest. For now, I just wanted to let you know about this–keep watch for details!

If it is true, I sincerely hope Mr. Nye will reconsider. There is nothing to debate, and a “debate” with Mr. Nye will only give Mr. Ham credibility that he does not deserve and increase not only his visibility but also his ability to attract investors. May I suggest that Mr. Nye take his cue from the noted Holocaust scholar, Deborah Lipstadt, who told the magazine Limmud,

If Limmud’s organisers invited Lipstadt to participate in a panel discussion with [Holocaust denier David] Irving, she would refuse point blank. “I don’t debate Holocaust deniers. Putting him on a panel would mean someone lost their mind. He’s a liar – why give a liar a platform?”

I sometimes bowdlerize that to “I do not debate liars,” and it is a policy I recommend to anyone who is tempted to “debate” a creationist. Whether you win or lose, you will convince no one and will only add to the prominence of your opponent, who can now say, “See, I debated a prominent scientist; I must be taken seriously now.”

Please, Mr. Nye, do not “debate” with Ken Ham or any other charlatan. No good will come of it – no good can come of it.

Update, January 2, 9:30 MST: February 4, at the Creation “Museum,” $25.00. See here.

Science on trial?


Lou Dubose reported in the Washington Spectator the other day that Eastman Chemical prevailed in a lawsuit against two small companies, and Dubose thinks that decision could have far-ranging consequences. I am not certain whether science was on trial, but as it turned out in vitro assays may have been.

I cannot find much interesting material that postdates the decision, but you can find a slightly gloating press release by Eastman Chemical here.

That is the headline of a press release printed unedited in the Sacramento Bee. The movie, by Ray Comfort of banana fame, is an excruciating 35 minutes of quote-mined sound bites, mostly from undergraduate science majors, but also from PZ Myers and a handful of other scientists (Gail Kennedy, Craig Stanford, and Peter Nonacs).

by Steven Mahone

Bruce Chapman, the Big Cheese over at the Discovery Institute, is apparently feeling a bit threatened by an interview that Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) recently did for the Seattle Times. Chapman wrote an article expressing concern that Bill’s straight talk about science literacy might somehow implicate his cherished “Intelligent Design” theory by lumping it in with young earth creationism, thereby leading some to conclude that ID is nothing more than the pseudo-scientific equivalent of those get-rich-working-from-home schemes so ubiquitous on the radio and Internet.

It’s bad enough that Kentucky has the Ark Park, but also subsidizes it - now its residents are complaining about the Next Generation Science Standards. The headline of the Courier-Journal article is “Critics: Kentucky science academic standards are ‘fascist,’ ‘atheistic,’” but that does not do justice to the sheer lunacy of some of the comments quoted in the article.

Here are two excerpts:

Science reports today that Turkey’s main science-funding agency denied a grant to a workshop on the grounds that “evolution is a controversial subject.” The purpose of the workshop was “to expose Turkish biology students to population genetics, game theory, and evolutionary modeling.” The organizers of the workshop had asked for approximately $18,000 (US) to cover the cost of students’ lodging and speakers’ travel. The workshop will go on, with private donors contributing the $18,000.

Years ago, someone gave me a book on child-rearing, and I noticed afterward that it was on The New York Times bestseller list. I mentioned the fact to my father, an expert on child-rearing, and his only comment was, “That’s not why it is lousy.” My father would no doubt feel vindicated right about now: Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt, will be on the Times‘s bestseller list this coming Sunday, July 7.

Acknowledgment. Thanks to Alert Reader for pointing out this depressing fact.

Update, July 5: As a commenter has pointed out, Darwin’s Doubt will not appear on the July 14 list. The book is evidently a flash in the pan—unless they moved it to the fiction section. Advance orders were evidently vigorously promoted, but no one is actually reading the book, which we may consider a blessing.

Died in committee


According to NCSE’s scorecard, that is what happened to most of 10 anti-science bills introduced in state legislatures. Most of the bills used the now traditional “strengths and weaknesses” or “academic freedom” ploys, but some would have allowed “teachers to ‘intelligently explore’ controversies and help wayward students ‘develop critical thinking skills,’” as NCSE puts it. Four bills attacked climate change in addition to evolution. None of the bills was enacted into law. Unfortunately, a bill to repeal the “notorious” Louisiana Science Education Act also failed.

Duane Gish dies


Duane Gish, the notorious young-earth creationist, has died at 92. You may find an obituary that is respectful yet pulls no punches here.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the War on Science category.

Theological Issues with Intelligent Design is the previous category.

What motivates creationism is the next category.

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