Turning back the tide at Dover

I’ve got a Google News Alert set for “dover evol­u­tion”, fol­low­ing the accept­ance of cre­ation­ism (known in America by some people as Intelligent Design) onto the cur­riculum of a school in Pennsylvania. The plan is/was to write up a short piece on event for TUP, along with the car­toon below from a site which offers hours of juven­ile fun. The art­icle hasn’t been writ­ten yet because it is a con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject and I thought it a good idea to read a little around it on both sides of the sub­ject. I still haven’t writ­ten it a few months on because there’s a lot to read. It seems the big issue most people con­cen­trate on is whether an altern­at­ive to Darwinism should be taught at high school. In fact it could be much more serious.

It’s going to be a dif­fi­cult sub­ject to tackle. I can see three ways of approach­ing it. One is to tackle the obvi­ous Irredeemable Stupidity in the argu­ment for Creationism. It does sound a simple task There’s not one shred of evid­ence Creationism. So Creationists try and muddy the waters with a grab bag of non-sequiturs. The idea is that if they cast enough doubt on Natural Selection the Creationism becomes reasonable.

Imagine meet­ing a Creationist on a blind date:

Hi, is your name Mary?

Umm… no sorry.

In that case you must be Sue Weston of Manchester, because my min­is­cule ima­gin­a­tion can­not con­sider there could be another alternative.

Actually no, I’m someone else. I think you’ve made a mistake.

I don’t think so, you did say you weren’t Mary didn’t you?

Yes, but…

Then logic­ally you must be Sue Weston of Manchester. By the way that’s a bible in my pocket, but I am pleased to see you.

Frankly the Creationists could prove that Darwin got it wrong, but no amount of evid­ence against Darwin will prove Creationism right. There’s another side issue that Creationists haven’t got any evid­ence against Darwin. The best they can do is try and void evid­ence for evol­u­tion like the entire fossil record as a con­spir­acy. It is a prob­lem, but this angle has been done to death (or rather I wish it had died a death) and done a lot bet­ter by other people. Also I won­der really how import­ant sci­ence is to creationism.

It’ll prob­ably be this second tack I take. The cre­ation­ists clearly have no interest in sci­ence. I’ve recently been told that the cre­ation of sub­atomic particles in super-colliders proves Creation. Clearly fact-based reas­on­ing has left the build­ing. I think that ana­lys­ing the meth­ods and reas­on­ing of the Creationists could be use­ful. Why do they reject Natural Selection, and also why do they feel the need for Creationism to be acknow­ledged as a Science? There’s a lot to read and it will take time. I’ve got Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design by Barbara Carroll Forrest and Paul Gross to read. From the bit I have read it’s fas­cin­at­ing. It argues there is a con­cer­ted polit­ical effort called the ‘Wedge’ to intro­duce cre­ation­ism into the classroom, using Intelligent Design to smuggle Christianity into sci­ence. I stuggle with the san­ity of this.

William Dembski argues that Intelligent Design is not cre­ation­ism, but a ser­i­ous sci­entific chal­lenge to Darwinism.

the nature of [the] cause–whether it is one or many, whether it is a part of or sep­ar­ate from the world, and even whether it is good or evil–simply do not fall within intel­li­gent design’s purview.

He’s wrong. By his own logic he’s wrong. If life is irre­du­cibly com­plex then let’s say design is nat­ural. What of the designer? If she was designed, then what of her designer and so on. Turtles all the way down is not an explan­a­tion. If she was not designed by simply sprung into being then she exists as a super­nat­ural force. Intelligent Design there­fore can­not be sci­entific either offer­ing the explan­a­tion “That’s just the way it goes”, or else “The Magic Pixie did it.” Explanations invok­ing Pixies are rarely con­sidered sci­entific. So sci­en­tific­ally Intelligent Design poses no prob­lem. But theo­lo­gic­ally it’s a poison.

Intelligent Design, done prop­erly, becomes a theo­lo­gical dis­cus­sion of how little evid­ence there is for the Christian god. There is, based on the evid­ence, not more reason to believe in the Christian god than a singing Rainbow Snake in the Australian out­back as the ulti­mate cre­ator. It is not a tool for put­ting spir­itu­al­ity into sci­ence, but for extract­ing Jesus from Christianity. Christians are not uni­ver­sally stu­pid people. If Intelligent Design is get­ting sup­port from the Christian fun­da­ment­al­ists then it must be based on Christian theo­logy. Which brings us back to the ‘Wedge’.

Introducing Christianity into schools is, from an American per­spect­ive, a Bad Thing as it flouts the con­sti­tu­tion regard­ing the sep­ar­a­tion between church and state. There’s not a major puzzle about why reli­gious fun­da­ment­al­ists want to over­turn the con­sti­tu­tion. Religious fun­da­ment­al­ists of any stripe are eager to estab­lish theocracies.

Another issue which is per­haps less fre­quently raised is why intel­li­gent people in gov­ern­ment are happy to tacitly sup­port this. This applies to the UK too where Tony Blair is happy with Emanuel College, Gateshead teach­ing Creationism. Why?

Politicians want to get re-elected. The more options they have to pur­sue to do this the bet­ter. Science is poten­tially is a bar­rier to this. If you take it ser­i­ously it can stop politi­cians from doing whatever they choose. How do you deflect that? You reduce sci­ence from a ques­tion of fact to opin­ion, belief and feel­ing. Politically in the short-term curb­ing sci­ence is an excel­lent strategy. There are imme­di­ate gains in doing what you want and the charge is fois­ted onto the next polit­ical gen­er­a­tion. In the longer term there will be a price to pay. Nature doesn’t care what fun­da­ment­al­ists think. Creationists are rather like King Canute try­ing to hold back the tide. Are a bunch of Canutes the best people to set a sci­ence syllabus?

I don’t have a solu­tion, but I should note that I did go to a school that taught an altern­at­ive to Darwinian Evolution and there was never any ten­sion between sci­ence and non­sense. The altern­at­ive I was taught was Lamarckian Evolution. The les­son as I recall went some­thing like “Lamarck thought gir­affes evolved by stretch­ing their necks and passing the longer neck to their off­spring. Can any­one explain why this is rub­bish without refer­ring to Three Blind Mice?” Can we teach Creationism as a sci­ence and demon­strate why as a sci­ence it is an utter fail­ure. The prob­lem and it’s a big­gie with this is that it opens Christianity to ridicule, which requires brave teach­ers in a land where fun­da­ment­al­ists are either armed or worse, law­yers. On the plus side it would lead to fun­da­ment­al­ists cam­paign­ing to have Creationism removed from school syl­labi.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

3 Responses

  1. Athena says:

    Hi Alun, love the new look. Everything looks so neat and organ­ized… could you do some­thing ’bout my desk?:-)

    Re Dover, glad you men­tioned it, I belong to the Yahoo group debunk­cre­ation, which tackles many such issues. Recently, a bunch of people from the list sent Dover a chunk of sci­ence books after hear­ing that the school had accep­ted many cop­ies of “Panda’s Thumb”. This caused a stir and the school was forced to accept the real sci­ence books. Give the group a go, post­ing is volu­min­ous but the owner, Lenny Flank, is extremely know­ledge­able on the whole Cre-ID charade.

    Correction: Creationism and ID are *meant* to be dif­fer­ent. The IDer argu­ment is that life is too “com­plex” not to have been the res­ult of “intel­li­gent design”. It’s basic­ally reli­gious apo­lo­get­ics dressed up as sci­ence, to try and get this crap in the sci­ence classroom. Not every cre­ation­ist is an IDer, staunch cre­ation­ists see no reason why god should now be termed the un-named intel­li­gent designer.

    The big issue is not to teach an altern­at­ive, they want to teach some­thing that is plainly NOT sci­ence in the sci­ence classroom. Cre-IDers have lost each and every court battle and yet they keep at it. It is actu­ally illegal to peddle that crap in school. For more info I really sug­gest you join the DC group and speak to Lenny.

    You said: Frankly the Creationists could prove that Darwin got it wrong,

    No they couldn’t. Evolution has been observed count­less times.

    See http://​www​.antiquity​of​man​.com/​p​s​e​u​d​o​s​c​i​e​n​c​e​.​h​tml — it’s my other half’s site and there’s plenty of info in that sec­tion. Also see http://​www​.talk​ori​gins​.org, which neatly and beau­ti­fully des­troys every cre­ation­ist argu­ment. Also see NCSE’s site: http://​www​.ncseweb​.org .

    There is simply no sci­ence in Cre-ID. I am appalled that both Labour and Tories are encour­aging the Vardy Foundation. See here: http://​www​.black​shadow​.co​.uk — a DC list mem­ber and a tire­less cam­paigner against this flum­mery. If you need more info/feedback for your TUP art­icle, feel free to drop me a line.

  2. Alun says:

    On the issue of prov­ing that Darwin got it wrong, the point I was try­ing to make was that unless cre­ation­ism (of any type) has a pos­it­ive research pro­gramme that makes use­ful pre­dic­tions it will not be a sci­ence and have no use. If /when I write it up I’ll phrase it as Even if the Creationists could prove that Darwin got it wrong…

    Thanks for the links. If I write it up I’ll prob­ably look at it by ask­ing why Creationists feel bib­lical cre­ation has to be a sci­ence. Many Pagans I know who reject sci­entific find­ings are simply happy to state that sci­ent­ists are wrong and faith is cor­rect. For a “cre­ation sci­ent­ist” faith doesn’t cut and a Christian fun­da­ment­al­ist with no faith is a fas­cin­at­ing concept.

    Tied to this is the accept­ance of cre­ation­ism by the polit­ical estab­lish­ment. Why are they will­ing to pre­tend it’s a sci­ence? I’d love to know why. I can’t accept it’s the long arm of Opus Dei. The easy answer is that it’s a vote-grabber with a well organ­ised sub­cul­ture, but that doesn’t really work as an explan­a­tion either. There is a small but vocal vot­ing block among the racists, but these people are usu­ally left to the BNP, UKIP and Veritas.

    Note for non-UK res­id­ents. Veritas is a party ded­ic­ated to remov­ing for­eign influ­ences from the UK. I assume they called them­selves Veritas because they didn’t know the Latin word for ‘irony’.

    As for the sub­ject of the new look, Athena caught me test­ing a new style sheet. The site still isn’t print-friendly. Possibly because half the code is in German and the other half English, but it’s mid­night and I can’t ima­gine there are many people want­ing to print out material.

  3. Athena says:

    You wrote:

    On the issue of prov­ing that Darwin got it wrong, the point I was try­ing to make was that unless cre­ation­ism (of any type) has a pos­it­ive research pro­gramme that makes use­ful pre­dic­tions it will not be a sci­ence and have no use.

    Creationism has not one shred of sci­ence, as the NCSE and oth­ers have poin­ted out. Many times.Even courts have told cre-IDiots that they have no science.

    You wrote:

    Thanks for the links. If I write it up I’ll prob­ably look at it by ask­ing why Creationists feel bib­lical cre­ation has to be a science.

    Religious apo­lo­get­ics. You are deal­ing here with ser­i­ously fun­da­ment­al­ist folks — they’ve often been com­pared to the Taliban and when you’ve spent years fol­low­ing them you’ll under­stand why. I’ve only been into this for the past three/four years. Lenny, on DC, has been doing it since the 80s, he is far more qual­i­fied to provide answers.

    While cre­ation “sci­ent­ists” whinge at length that what they are doing is science,their bot­tom line is “god did it and so there”. A few things to note:

    There are two types of cre­ation “sci­ence”. The Old Earth Creationists (OEC) accept that the earth is 14 bil­lion years old, but that god cre­ated everything in seven days, everything at a go, so there were dinos and humans roam­ing around together and none is older than 6000 yrs. “Evidence” they site are the Paluxy foot­prints which are umm dino not dino and human prints.

    Young Earth Creationists (YECs) fol­low Bishop Usher’s fam­ous date, which is c 6000 yrs old and are also Biblical lit­er­al­ists. Everything, includ­ing the earth is 6000 yrs old. They are happy to ignore sci­ence and the internal incon­sist­en­cies within Genesis, noth­ing mat­ters to them in the end but their fundy crap, which they want to extend to all areas of life.

    The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and Answers in Genesis (AIG) are two of their main arms. Among other amus­ing things you will find on AIG is a list of argu­ments cre­ation­ists have been told NOT to use. Of course they use them any­way — you will quickly find that con­sist­ency is not a cre­ation­ist trait. You will also see a list of people with impress­ive PHDs — all from dip­loma mills or, in the case of “Dr” Kent Hovind, from his own, unac­cred­ited umm university.

    Questions to annoy a cret­in­ist, just for starters:

    a. what is an allele? (they won’t know?)
    b. if there was a world­wide flood, how come there are no flood lay­ers at… oh I don’t know Jericho and Klasies River Mouth among other places?
    c. If Noah had x amount of ppl on ark (for­got amount), how come there is an increased num­ber of alleles now?
    d. Speaking of Noah and anim­als… what is a kind? A spe­cies? Genera? Family? Taxa? I am will­ing to bet my secret stash of chocol­ate that none will give you an answer, at most you will hear silly things like “well a lion and a buf­falo can­not have babies so they are two kinds”.
    d. Ask how plant spe­cies sur­vived the “flood”. Did you know that trees could run? No ser­i­ously, these are the kind of state­ments you get — one creature even claimed that water ran uphill.

    You will also find that most of these loons reject things such as the germ the­ory of dis­ease. Philip Johnson (an ID dude) even rejects HIV as caus­ing AIDS. AIDS is simply caused by… sin.

    Now you’ve picked your jaw off the floor… drop it and pick it again and get used to it. This is what you will be deal­ing with.

    You wrote:
    Tied to this is the accept­ance of cre­ation­ism by the polit­ical estab­lish­ment. Why are they will­ing to pre­tend it’s a science?

    Bush is a new­born Christian who is essen­tially stu­pid and couldn’t tell a proka­ryote from a pachy­derm (neither can cre­ation­ists btw). He is keen on pre­serving the reli­gious, repub­lican, white right.

    Blair is another idiot who is keen to:
    a. Become as Americanized as pos­sible, for­get­ting that the rest of us love Britain simply ‘cos it’s Britain not America.
    b. Get money for edu­ca­tion.
    c. He har­bours reli­gious sen­tin­ments him­self and both he and his wife are very prone to altern­at­ive rub­bish. See for example the Carole Caplin fiasco, and Cherie Blair flaunt­ing heal­ing crys­tals.
    d. Education is in an abysmal state at the moment, these schools are seen as “achiev­ers”, so it’ll look good no for Labour to have a bunch of schools achiev­ing “good res­ults”. Why the Tories are endors­ing this just beats me completely.

    Not sure if the Opus Dei are cre­ation­ists, I do know that John Paul II mag­nan­im­ously accep­ted evol­u­tion — or rather the­istic evol­u­tion (everything happened as the sci­ent­ists say but of course god did it). The OD are meant to be the long arm of the RCC, they are known for their extrem­ism but I’m not sure if it extends to cre­ation science.

    Apologies for the length of the post, it’s just that this isn’t a simple sub­ject:-) One last thought to cheer you up: According to cre­ation sci­ent­ists, you and I are going to hell. Bring beer.