Recently in What motivates creationism 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.

Stephen Dilley’s new book, Darwinian Evolution And Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension, is now available, at least on Kindle. Chapter 12 is by me; it’s entitled, somehwat dully, “Classical Liberalism And Evolution.” In it, I argue that evolution, far from undercutting the premises of classical liberalism, is at least compatible with them, and, as I think, provides a stronger foundation for them than any variety of creationism. But, as I contend at the outset, it doesn’t much matter, because evolution is true. So if it’s incompatible with libertarianism, then so much the worse for libertarianism.

Chapter 11 is by my friend Shawn Klein; it’s called, somewhat more interestingly, “Volitional Consciousness and Evolution.” Other contributors include Roger Masters and Michael J. White.

Todd Wood has just announced that Bryan College is discontinuing support for the Center for Origins Research (CORE). I am actually kind of sad about this. Wood was almost the sole representative of critical thinking in the creationist movement. He also had the virtually unique trait of understanding what modern evolutionary biology actually said before opening his big mouth about it. I can’t think of a time when he quote-mined Gould’s punctuated equilibrium quotes or blamed Darwin for Hitler or used the other careless, bottom-of-the-barrel tactics ubiquitous with creationists of the ID or AIG varieties. And I can think of many times when he called shenanigans on creationists engaging in those sorts of sins.

Jerry Coyne pwns Paul Nelson


I’ve had my disagreements with Jerry Coyne over a few things, but this is freakin’ genius. Bonus points for the Marshall McLuhan/Annie Hall reference.


Jason Rosenhouse moved from the east coast to Kansas for a postdoc. He had studied a bit about creationism while a graduate student at Dartmouth, so it would be an exaggeration to say that he was surprised to learn that not everyone in Kansas was a liberal Democrat (even by today’s standard of liberalism). Nevertheless, for reasons that are not made completely clear, he humored his inner anthropologist and attended a handful of creationist conferences over a period of several years. The result is the splendid book Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line, which both shows creationists as regular people, just like scientists, and also takes them seriously, without condescension or sarcasm.

Not that Rosenhouse cuts them any slack. He gets up to the microphone and asks pointed questions, and he is completely open about who he is and what he believes. He mingles with the conference attendees and is impressed by how very pleasant they are; he is pleasant in return, except for one apparently unfortunate interaction with Ken Ham. Nevertheless, however pleasant the creationists may be, Rosenhouse makes clear that he and his interlocutors are always talking past each other, and his critiques have virtually no effect - except occasionally, when he sees a young student listening intently and thinks he may have planted some seeds of doubt.

Today on the DI Media Complaints Division blog, William Dembski writes,

I recall posting on my blog a gorgeous picture of wildflowers, hinting at the wonders of God’s creation, and seeing comments by atheistic evolutionists who dismissed it as merely “sex” run amuck.

I actually remember this post. It was a post Dembski put up on May 14, 2005 at Uncommon Descent. Quoth Dembski:

Barnosky_etal_2011_Nature_Fig1.jpgThis isn’t exactly about creationism/evolution, but it’s still pretty cool. And I will find a way to tie it in, since I haven’t blogged on PT in, I think, months.

Contrary to what creationists believe, evolutionary biologists don’t sit around in biology departments plotting to overthrow God and morality. We spend our time doing things like statistics and programming and specimen preparation and experimental manipulation and DNA sequencing and field observation, and then give and hear talks and discussions about this research. The main thing we are interested in is not “proving evolution”, it is discovering cool facts and devising hypotheses to explain them, and then devising tests of those hypotheses (typically, statistical tests, something which creationists almost always ignore). In short, it’s like any other science.

This paper is a case in point:


Barnosky, Anthony D.; Matzke, Nicholas; Tomiya, Susumu; Wogan, Guinevere O. U.; Swartz, Brian; Quental, Tiago B.; Marshall, Charles; McGuire, Jenny L.; Lindsey, Emily L.; Maguire, Kaitlin C.; Mersey, Ben; Ferrer, Elizabeth A. (2011). “Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?” Nature 471(7336), 51-57. (DOI - Link)

Some of our more recent trolls have reminded me of an article, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments, by Justin Kruger and David Dunning of Cornell University. Briefly, Kruger and Dunning demonstrated that college students who scored in the lowest quartile on several tests grossly overestimated their own abilities compared to everyone else’s, probably because they did not know enough to know that they did not know. Oddly, students in the highest quartile slightly underestimated their own abilities.

YEC paleontologist presents old earth research at GSA


Marcus Ross is a young-earth creationist who was recently awarded a Ph.D. in vertebrate paleontology by the University of Rhode Island. He now teaches at Liberty University, which (IIRC, according to the acknowledgments in his dissertation) partly supported his doctoral work. Ross claims that he can both be a YEC, using his credential to bolster his teaching of Flood geology, and also work honestly in the framework of orthodox geology simply by switching “paradigms” according to (audience) context.

Ross presents work at standard geological conferences, and Joe Meert, a geologist at the University of Florida and a long-time creationism watcher, recently attended a presentation by Ross on correlating Cretaceous ammonite fossils in order to more firmly date the mosasaur fossils that were the topic of his dissertation research.

At the end of the presentation Meert asked Ross how he squared his YEC beliefs with a presentation that dated fossils to millions of years ago. According to Meert, Ross answered, “My talk had nothing to do with a global flood or a 6000 year old earth so your question is irrelevant.” When Meert pressed, Ross replied (Meert’s paraphrase)

Ok, for everyone in the audience who doesn’t know it, yes I am a young earth creationist who believes the Earth is 6000 years old and a global flood took place. However, I am not speaking as a young earth creationist here. When I speak at young earth creationist meetings I use a different framework than when I speak at the Geological Society of America meeting.

What struck me was Meert’s comment that several people felt sorry for Ross for being pushed to acknowledge his YEC beliefs and wondered why Meert was so harsh with him. Meert’s response is perfect:

Marcus Ross is just one of many two-faced creationists and I’m going to call them out on this hypocrisy any chance I get.

Read Meert’s whole post as well as Meert’s earlier post on Ross. I hope the student he mentions who went on a field trip led by Ross and two other YEC geologists does a guest post on it.

This week I was invited out to Oklahoma to speak in the University of Oklahoma’s Darwin 2009 speaker series. It was quite a trip – I got to meet the Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, and breakfast with Richard Dawkins himself. The evolution issue is still hot in Oklahoma, and my visit coincided with a general cultural fracas in the state over evolution, creationism/ID, and what attention these issues should receive in public schools and in universities. I’ll attempt to give a brief snapshot of how things currently look in one of the reddest of the red states.

NY Times: Expelled from “Expelled”?


The New York Times reports in an article titled Disinvited to a Screening, a Critic Ends Up in a Faith-Based Crossfire how a critic was invited and then disinvited from attending the screening of Expelled and how the critic still attended the showing.

Shortly before he was to attend a screening in January of the documentary “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” which is about alternatives to the theory of evolution, Roger Moore, a film critic for The Orlando Sentinel, learned that his invitation had been revoked by the film’s marketers.

But Roger Moore decided to attend anyway

Oops, someone pointed out to me that this publication preceded the DI’s press tour.

Poor Discovery Institute, after spending much time and effort on trying, unsuccessfully, to generate some media interest on the Gonzalez tenure case, all they got was a cynical response from Mac Johnson at the conservative site Human

So in light of the issue’s new prominence and with a desire to improve the mental hygiene of others, I would just like to say that Intelligent Design is a really, really bad idea –scientifically, politically, and theologically. I say this as a dedicated conservative, who has on many occasions defended and espoused religion and religious conservatism. I also say it as a professional molecular biologist, who has worked daily (or at least week-daily) for years with biological problems to which the theory of evolution has contributed significant understanding – and to which Intelligent Design is incapable of contributing any understanding at all.

When everything else fails…


The Discovery Institute, after having realized that Intelligent Design is doomed to remain scientifically infertile and vacuous and after their devastating loss at the Dover trial, seems to have retreated to their fundamental opposition to materialism. Hopelessly confused by Phil Johnson’s misunderstanding of methodological and philosophical naturalism, the DI seems to be intent to blame evil Darwinists for immoral behaviors such as eugenics.

Let me start of by pointing out that any such attempt is doomed from the beginning for the simple reason that the Discovery Institute and other ID Creationists have claimed that Darwinism cannot provide foundation for morality, or in other words, Darwinism cannot serve as a principle on which to build a decision of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’. This means that Eugenics cannot have a foundation in amoral scientific concepts lest there exists an external principle on which to base the decision as to what is good and bad for society.

People should therefor not be surprised that eugenics has been a principle which preceded Darwinism. Equally unsurprised will be the well informed readers who are familiar with the eugenic history of Christian evangelicals in the United States.

But I digress. The Discovery Institute, after having come to the inevitable conclusion that Intelligent Design is likely to remain without scientific relevance has changed its approach. While I predict that their attempts will become an ever greater disaster than their attempts to introduce the concept of Intelligent Design into schools, there is an even greater concern. Namely by violating St Augustine’s fair warnings about Christians saying foolish things (about science), an observer may easily come to reject the whole teaching of Christianity as a similarly foolish enterprise.

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