Troubles in Paradise: an amazing pro-science resource by James Downard (summary and interview)

adam-and-eve-cast-out-of-paradise-after-eating-from-the-tree-of-knowledge-in-the-garden-of-eden.pngI would like to introduce everyone to James Downard, and his website Troubles in Paradise (TIP). TIP is available at or

James Downard is an activist with decades of experience tracking the creationists, stretching back to encounters with Stephen Meyer in Washington state in the early 1990s. In 2010, he did a guest post for PT, “An Ill Wind in Tortuca”, available at:

Troubles in Paradise is a massive review of the creationism/ID movement, its people, and its arguments, along with a similarly massive review of relevant scientific evidence and literature. TIP primarily covers the movement up to about 2004, which of course was just about the peak of the ID movement, leading up to the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

I think it is extremely valuable to the pro-science community to have such a historical review available: the ID movement actively tries to conceal what it was saying pre-_Kitzmiller_, and of course the “intelligent design” label itself was an attempt to disguise connections to creation science. (And, “creation science,” particularly the whitewashed version put forward for the Edwards v. Aguillard case, was its own attempt at obscuring connections to religious fundamentalism.) (On this, see especially: Matzke, N. (2009), “But Isn’t It Creationism? The beginnings of ‘intelligent design’ and Of Pandas and People in the midst of the Arkansas and Louisiana litigation.” In: But Is It Science?: The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy, Updated Edition, eds. Pennock & Ruse, Prometheus Books, 377-413; google Scholar)

Today in 2015, it is not uncommon for commentators new to the creationism/ID debate to start producing writings almost totally ignorant of the history of the issue. Hopefully Downard’s effort will help correct this problem, and will serve as a resource that science fans can link to and cite.

Troubles in Paradise is really several books’ worth of work, so if you’ve ever gone to the bookstore and bought a science book, please think about making a similar donation so that Downard can continue his efforts.

Below, I post Downard’s short description of the project, which includes a Q & A email interview I conducted with him, and links to his GoFundMe page, Please reblog, retweet, and spread the word! PS: James Downard’s Twitter is: @RJDownardNick Matzke


Short description of Troubles in Paradise, by James Downard:

Welcome to TIP, a new open access resource for defenders of sound science who get really unsettled by the claims of antievolutionists (be they Young Earth Creationists or the newer brand of Intelligent Design) but may not have all the best science information ready to drop on their claims.

The TIP files (all in pdf format) cover all aspects of antievolutionism (from paleontology and biology to the social and political ramifications of antievolutionism as they play out in schoolrooms and school boards or in state legislatures, Congress, or even candidates for President.

The Old TIP files form the base of the project, drawing on over 5500 sources, and step by step I am updating that material with a much larger set of newer data (over 36,000 sources and counting, including over 14,000 technical science sources aimed at claims popping up in over 6000 antievolutionist works) to keep TIP constantly current. The new modules also have an index to help locating all specific topics and people covered.

There are more pdfs & offsite web links in Other Stuff, including the 3ME illustrated guide to the Cambrian Explosion, and the origin of birds and mammals, the perfect heavy brick to lob at antievolutionists who make the mistake of claiming “there’s no evidence for macroevolution.” 3ME not only shows how wrong that is, it also pulls back the curtain to see just how antievolutionists manage to evade all that evidence (not a pretty picture, but has to be done).

Check out all the material here on TIP, all open access to download and share freely with anyone you think needs evens stronger evidence to counter the claims of antievolutionists.

Q & A with James Downard:

Q: Why did you decide to call your project “Troubles in Paradise” (TIP)?

A:Troubles in Paradise” alludes to the twin aspects of creationism: its troubling methodological failures and the overt religious component to the antievolution demographic. Most notable antievolutionists are “culture-war” conservative Christians seeking to return an imagined state of devout certainties. This demographic reality of the creationist movement cannot be ignored, and the persistent role of Young-Earth Creationism (YEC) in creationism means that there is hardly an area of human inquiry that doesn’t get tramped on in their worldview. This is the “Troubles” part.

Q: The website is What’s a “tortucan”? What’s the significance of this term?

A:Tortuca” is Latin for “turtle”. I coined the term “Tortucan” around 2009 to refer to someone whose brain curls up inside a protective shell that is otherwise impervious to evidence, to describe the behavior I was seeing all through the antievolution literature, and which connects to many other terms for similar issues (e.g., cognitive dissonance, conformation bias, or Pete Boghossian’s hard to pronounce or remember “doxastic closure”). There are postings of the 2009 lecture & link to a new short video on the Tortucan concept at

Q: What’s Matthew Harrison Brady Syndrome (MHBS)?

A: Matthew Harrison Brady was the fictional character who stood in for William Jennings Bryan in the play/movie Inherit the Wind. People with “MHBS” seem to be able to selectively not perceive internal contradictions. In a nutshell, they “don’t think about things they don’t think about,” to paraphrase Brady (and William Jennings Bryan himself). People whose cognitive landscape is largely governed by MHBS are putative Tortucans.

Q: When and how did you first get interested in the evolution/creationism issue?

A: The rise of Creation Science in the 1980s appalled me. The 1990s saw rise of the ID movement and I happened to get spurred on because of Steve Meyer’s local activities at Whitworth College (now University) before his decamping to his current Discovery Institute (DI) DI environs. I cover some of my own gestation of the TIP project in the old TIP Introduction and the new TIP 1.1 module.

Q: What’s your background on this topic?

A: I have a 1970s BA in history from Eastern Washington State College (like Whitworth, now a full blown University), main area of Antebellum/Civil War/Reconstruction era, but my polyglot interests spilled over into Roman Empire as well as science topics (plate tectonics was just entering geology at that time, dates me). In retrospect the most influential teacher on my thinking was Prof. Barnes, my historiography professor, now passed on alas, who ever so gently drilled into us all to never confuse a primary and secondary source, which ultimately became the methods seed for the whole TIP project.

Q: How long have you been working on the issue?

A: I started Troubles in Paradise in 1998 after I encountered Kent Hovind (well before he became notorious) and Richard Milton (still a minor blip on antievolution scene, as the odd bird of a non-religious young earth advocate) and realized I had some new slants to offer on the scene and have been at it ever since. Lacking a conventional academic connection meant it was difficult to publish TIP as a book project (Eugene Scott valiantly batted on my behalf a decade ago, I should note, and somewhere in the NCSE archives are the old hard copies of TIP draft chapters now visible on the website). I put the project on hiatus in 2004 but never stopped gathering data, resuming work in 2009 with vastly expanded computer & Internet resources (no longer having to restrict chapter files to under 1.4 megs because that was the limit on floppy disc backup storage at the time).

Q: What is your current goal (a) intellectually (what do you want people to understand/learn), and (b) in terms of writing (what is your end product – a book, a database, papers, etc.)

A: The TIP project seeks to become a go-to online resource that summarizes all the relevant information on the modern creationism movement (over 37,000 sources so far, including over 6000 antievolutionist ones and some 20,000 science citations, technical & general). This includes who all the antievolutionists are, what their claims are, and what science resources are needed to explain why their views fall apart.

It is physically impossible to do this sort of thing with print-based venues, obsolete the moment they are printed, especially since the scale of the problem is far beyond the size of any marketable book. Part of the problem with older resources like Talk Origins is that they aren’t updated faster than their opponents (AiG has postings current, not a decade old). And even the largest file in TIP (the 12 meg main bibliography) is a quick download these days but would choke a printer for all 1700+ pages of it.

Second, TIP is a methods-based analysis, and I want everyone to realize what a killer app this is. As I built up the old TIP work it became painfully obvious that proper source usage is a game antievolutionists can’t play at all. From a methods perspective the issue is not the dogma or philosophy of the claim, but the sources they try to use to support their claims.

Beyond the text-based TIP info I have analytical spreadsheets to document the major patterns of creationist source usage, and will find various ways of telling that side of the story as the work proceeds. Here are some findings so far: 95% of antievolutionists don’t bother with source citation at all, and the 5% who do often simply copy the views of other antievolutionists. Half of all antievolution material is generated by only around 70 people, and they draw on only 5% of the available data set of relevant scientific publications (which TIP is gathering in one giant resource base, remember) and mangle even the little they do mention. TIP 1.3 illustrates the “deal with 100%” approach, and the plan is to do that for all the antievolution literature (check the main reference bibliography to see how very serious I am about this).

Q: What are you seeking in terms of funding, “ideal case”?

A: Ideally, I’d love for TIP to be sustained by genuine crowdsourcing. The numbers are both encouraging and depressing. I’ve already had over 6000 visitors to but they’re largely just looking and wandering off. Had each of them only plunked down $5 each, TIP’s initial target would be met and the project sustained for the next couple years. I’m a new retiree on limited Social Security and seeking only to supplement that income with enough to keep me eating, and buying the odd ink cartridges and paper actually print up hard copy as needed. And it is needed.

I’ve had much more support from the few who have begun reading the work, including just recently Richard Lenski (who knows the scorn IDers dump on his bacterial evolution experiments) and Peter Reilly, who’s been covering the Kent Hovind legal mess for Forbes Magazine, but now has additional context from my coverage of Hovind’s “science” and his subculture in the old “Dinomania” chapter and new TIP 1.7 module.

I don’t have any objections to big donors, but I know there are more than enough science fans and/or secularists out there to sustain TIP, if they just contribute pocket change. People in their daily lives often spend $5 on a latte, $20 on a T-shirt, and $20 & up on a book. I would like people to check out the Troubles in Paradise resource, and contribute whatever they think it is worth.

Equally importantly: I know many people are students, academics struggling to get permanent jobs, or otherwise not in a position to contribute, so another way to help is to spread the word about Troubles in Paradise and Blog about it, post the link to Facebook and Twitter, post quotes if you find passages that you like (its all open access remember), and always feel free to give feedback to me on the work, questions and comments.

Q: What historical period does the current TIP cover, and where is it going?

TIP 1.6 covered the rise of Creation Science in the 1980s and TIP 1.7 the ID movement, up to the Dover case into 2005. If I can keep at it, that module will be expanded to bring it up to 2015 and beyond, TIP intending to be constantly updated. TIP 1.8 would finish out the remainder of the old Introduction, laying out the frame for what issues will be covered in the work to come (including the now rising international antievolutionism efforts, feeding off American YEC and, less so, the dissembling ID wing). All the old TIP chapters would be revamped in the new modular format, through 23 more chapter sets to come.

Q: What are the most important things that readers will learn from visiting your website and reading your essays?

A: Big-picture take-home messages: (1) no (as in none, total failure rate) antievolutionist operates using sound careful scholarly analysis, and this is how they manage to muck things up so consistently in the first place (making the dogmatic philosophy just a veneer over what is at root an inherently flawed method). And, (2) that there is nothing at all obscure or wussy about “sound careful scholarly analysis.” It’s just how everyone is supposed to do reasoning: pay attention to as much as you can, think through what you think happened, and have standards for what sufficient evidence really would be, so you are accepting or rejecting positions based on something other than an arbitrary sliding standard.

Q: You state the material at TIP is open access; what do you hope people will do with it?

A: No work on the creation/evolution debate is worth it if it doesn’t get used (or is structured in a way that makes it hard to use), and hope the best data can be used more often. Most notably, I have been surprised how little the critical reptile-mammal transition data gets used in the evolution/creationism issue (by both sides). Likewise for dinosaurs and cognitive literature. Its also the case that many current antievolutionists (creationist geneticist Jeffrey Tomkins for instance) haven’t been covered adequately in the response literature, which is often slow to update, so people should be able to find what they need by checking the main index and getting whichever modules needed to cover it rather than having to launch some major google searches if they want to respond to someone in a debate or conversation. In the future, I may be doing video summaries of some of the major themes in TIP, probably reflecting the FAQ approach. That will happen best in response to feedback from TIP users, to see what needs to be done to focus the content and how to use it most effectively. The upshot is that no evolution defender in the 21st century should go out without all the best available science data effectively at their disposal, and I offer the TIP project as a place for that to happen.

Q: Do you want other people to participate? If so, how? Or is it basically a personal project that is intended as a resource?

A: For good or ill, TIP is my own statement of the case and not a collective effort of others when it comes to the finished text. However, as Isaac Newton once remarked, I’m definitely standing on the shoulders not only of giants (from NCSE and TalkOrigins), but also a vast network of everyone who writes or posts on the issue. I have already benefited from this range, as a Twitter comment or Facebook posting calls to my attention work which then gets worked into the TIP project, things I might never have spotted on my own. I have repeatedly been inviting feedback/questions/comments in all those venues (not much so far alas) to find out how the material is getting used or how to make it better.

Eventually I will have to pass the torch to one or more people to keep the TIP work going, since we must never be in a position again of pausing for breath, while the antievolutionists keep up their head of steam. TIP should always updated to keep track of all aspects of the case, but for the time being I’m a one man band trying to play the instruments supplied by a planet-full of scientists and writers on the evolution science field.