Evolution – Distortions & Misconceptions by Creationism Supporters

Creationism as a Distortion of Reality

Some while ago, on another forum, I joined a discussion about creationism titled The Controversy About Evolution .  A writer I’ll call Denial was one of those who actively denied basic concepts of evolution. Let’s take a closer look at  Denial‘s arguments. (Please note, there is nothing personal in these attacks. I am just using her writing to illustrate some of the problems that occur over and over in these discussions.)

Denial:What scientific community are you referring to that is virtually unanimous? I am not a scientist by trade, but my degree is in physics, and I personally know a whole lot of people who are scientists (as in, with PhDs and careers in the hard sciences) who believe things happened as Genesis says, and without having to make complicated explanations about how time was expressed in language.

There are few biology scientists who do not support evolution, and those few, such as Michael Behe, have not published their objections in peer reviewed journals. Behe’s professional work in biochemistry does not address evolution at all. Instead he and other creationists use public media to make their arguments rather than presenting actual research in support of their spurious and unsupportable claims.

It’s sad, but true, that there are a number of non-biology scientists who are ignorant of modern biology, and who take a creationist view. But just as biologists are not quantum mechanics, physicists are not automatically qualified to comment scientifically on evolution. [Of course they have every right to proclaim their religious or philosophical beliefs.]

Denial:Look, if you start with the assumption there is an all-powerful God, He could make things any way He wanted, including the way things are. There is nothing irrational about that. On the other hand, if you start with the assumption there is no God, you have to start inserting huge amounts of time to get around the real life evidence in front of all of us, that nobody ever sees things getting better on a large scale.

This paragraph illustrates the dangers of of mixed metaphors. First the concept of an all powerful god is, by definition IR-rational – that is, it is beyond rational understanding, aka ‘supernatural’. That’s why god has no place in scientific discussions or science classrooms. Beyond this, her claims in this paragraph fall apart on geological, biological AND physics misstatements. First, we know from overwhelming physical evidence that the earth is billions of years old, and the hundreds of millions of years that life has existed has been more than adequate to produce the variety of life we see. It’s only young earther’s who have a problem here.

Second, the ‘nobody ever sees evolution’ is a straw man argument — we shouldn’t expect to see processes that takes thousands of years to happen in our lifetimes and therefore science does not claim that evolution is fast enough to be witnessed overnight. But, in actuality, there are cases where we can see evolution in action, such as the Galapagos finches and cichlid fish of Lake Victoria. Of course, the ‘enlightened’ creationist response is to accept these examples of what they term microevolution while continuing to deny ‘macroevolution’. In fact, there is a continuum of evidence that demonstrates evolution over the course of millions of years.

Denial:Everything runs down. It’s one of the most fundamental laws of physics.

This is the statement that jumpstarted my need to write a full rebuttal since it encapsulates the problems I warned about before. This is an ancient, yet perpetual creationist canard – invoking the 2nd law of thermodynamics. [It’s interesting how creationists chose only the pieces of science that support their view]. It illustrates the danger of moving from one area of science to another . But there was a very important caveat that was ignored here – the 2nd law, aka entropy, only works in CLOSED systems. Earth and its life forms are not a closed system, since we’re continually bombarded with solar energy. Under these conditions, there can be local areas of decreasing entropy (that is, the organizing involved in growing living organisms), even though entropy is increasing in the entire system. So the argument that life could not make complex forms from simple ones is not supported by the 2nd Law. To say otherwise is to willfully ignore the facts of science.

As an aside, one of my favorite mnemonics for the 3 laws of thermodynamics:

  • You can’t win
  • You can’t break even
  • You can’t get out of the game

Denial What is really going on, is that the majority of scientists in universities say they believe in evolution, because their jobs are at stake otherwise. If you look at scientists in other careers where there is more freedom to think, you will find a whole lot of scientists who believe in everything along the spectrum from intelligent design to just plain what the Bible says.

First, this is pure speculation, unsupported by any evidence . The majority of scientists believe evolution because it is a FACT, not because their jobs depend on it. There is no evidence for this alleged conspiracy and no one has ever presented evidence of job loss because of these religious beliefs. Second, there is no evidence that biologists have less freedom to think than other scientists. Third, the ‘spectrum from intelligent design to just plain what the Bible says‘ is in fact an extremely narrow band, and is entirely outside the realm of science. And finally, ‘a whole lot’ is, at best, a nebulous term – I’ll close by throwing out my own unsupported claim that, in fact, we find very few creationists among scientists.

Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution

 

How the Renaissance contributed to the Scientific Revolution

Unintended Consequences of the Renaissance

The re-birth of learning during the Renaissance had many unintended consequences. Historical fiction if well done can demonstrate this.  Dorothy Dunnett while re-telling the story of Macbeth in ‘King Hereafter’describes what Phillip Bobbitt calls the transition from Princely states to Kingly states where the ‘monarch’ might actually hold little land, and whose power relied on holding together an amalgam of territories that had no natural borders (Eg, the widespread and disjointed Hapsburg Empire). Her Nicolo and Lymond series are excellent portrayals of politics and economics in these times. These states were supported by concepts from Greek Philosophy such as Plato & Aristotle’s ideas of government, and especially Aristotle’s ideas that nature could be deduced from first principles. No need for experiment. This reliance on revealed truth rather than observation and experiment gave way first with the Protestant Reformation, then with the experiments of artists and proto-scientists like Leonardio da Vinci and Vesalius artists and proto-scientists like Leonardo da Vinci and Vesalius.

Ultimately, the Renaissance started a series of revolutions – First , Copernicus and Bruno rejected the received idea that the earth was the center of the universe. Later scientific exploration showed that even the sun was only a tiny star amid vast galaxies. Finally, Darwin, standing on the shoulders of early scientists like Hooke, Galton, Newton, and Leibniz, knocked human beings from their pedestal as god’s primary focus, by showing that we are but one species in the sprawling network resulting from evolution.

Teleology, if not theology was dead.

Science & Democracy evolve from the Renaissance

Another consequence of Renaissance ideas was the concept that man might make his own rules, not being ruled from above. Venice had a constitution that was more republican or oligarchical than democratic. Various smaller experiments in city-state communes of medieval Europe followed, including the long struggles against Medici domination in Florence described by Machiavelli in The Prince. The 17th century saw further concepts democracy in philosophy and practice, especially in England and the new Dutch Republic. But it was the enlightenment of the 18th century that gave violent birth to the major democratic revolutions in America and France. What had started with Kings employing painters to glorify their reigns ended by replacing those dynasties with modern democracies.

Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy

Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy is a magnificent journey through 17th century Europe. Politics, and especially economics, are major foci, as the characters learn and adapt to the evolving capitalist system of venture capital and stock markets, Kings and Princes take a back seat to merchant traders and entrepreneurs.

 

Fernand Braudel – Civilization and Capitalism
15th-18th Century.

Fernand Braudel’s epic 3 volume work is Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th Century. These are heavy lifting,
both physically and mentally, but well worth it, and you can see the influences he had on Dunnett and Stephenson when they prepared their fictional narratives. Braudel’s scope is phenomenal, touching details across centuries of history and different civilizations. Fantastic maps and charts illustrate the concepts, along with period pictures.

Starting with human life in the centuries before industrialization, he examines the machinery of exchange as a whole, from barter to the most sophisticated  capitalism. After a survey of the instruments of exchange, he then moves on to look at the effects of markets on the economy. Eventually, traders cease to be mere movers of goods from one place to another and start to build production facilities in far off places. Again echoed by  Dunnett & Stephenson

• Vol. I – The Structures of Everyday
• Vol. II – The Wheels of Commerce
• Vol. III – The Perspective of the World

Books – Democracy Through the Ages

Everyone speaks of democracy as if there’s a common understanding of what this word means, but it’s one of the harder of political labels to actually find in the world. With perhaps the exception of a few New England town meetings or other small groups, true democracy has never been in place for long, and in the US, it really was never considered and actually opposed by most of the Republican founders.  So, despite Bush’s arrogant claims to ‘bring democracy’ to Iraq, we really need to question and examine just what is being proposed.  Democracy is actually a fairly recent concept in terms of actually being used; flowering a few times in history, but only setting
solid roots in the 18th century, and the question is still open as to whether it will thrive.

There are many books to recommend, both fiction and non-fiction; history and polemic.  Historical fiction is often a superb way to show the actual workings of past societies

The earliest true attempt at democracy was in Athens in the 5th century BCE. and its lifespan was brief, emerging from resistance to tyrants and lasting only a few decades until oligarchies and tyrants regained control. The Peloponnesian War was in large part the struggle between  the Athenian Empire [ democratic, but including both slavery and subjugation of an extended collection of ‘allies’ for tribute  and resources] versus the Spartan league [ dominated by oligarchies with a feudal basis].  The final result of this long war was to weaken both antagonists and undermine their political systems.  Events in the war’s aftermath are described in,  The Trial of Socrates .   I.F. Stone places the writings of Plato in the context of  Plato’s and Socrates’ support for oligarchy rather than democracy.

The Roman Republic was a later experiment in the development of democracy, with an elaborate system of balances that worked for a time, but was again unable to respond and adapt to the needs of an expanding empire. Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series of novels is the best re-creation of the politics of the last century of the Republic.  While relying on the noblesse oblige of an aristocracy, the Republic also had democratic elements.  Often, as in Athens, democracy was usurped by demagogues.

Venice was the next state to try forms of democracy, and by far the longest lasting, although once again, its constitution was more republican or oligarchical.  Various smaller experiments in city-state communes of medieval Europe followed, including the long struggles against Medici domination in Florence.  [Machiavelli – The Prince ]  The 17th century saw renewed democracy in philosophy and practice, especially in England and the new Dutch Republic.  But it was the 18th century that gave violent birth to the major democratic revolutions in America and France.

Revolutions always need to deal with the ideas of liberty and freedom, but sometimes, these ideas themselves are not mutually understood.  For example, the American revolutionaries from different parts of the colonies had very different concepts of liberty

In Radicalism of the American Revolution, like an earthquake that turns solid ground to jello,
Gordon Wood,  tosses out idea after idea that turn established concepts into shambles

More than two centuries later, the American experiment in democracy has degenerated into a plutocracy, in which wealth and power preempt democracy’s ideals of equality and freedom [cf Kevin Phillips’  Wealth & Democracy or Isaiah Berlin – Twisted Timber of Humanity].  While Phillips gives a depressing history of the decline, and its corruption thru the centuries,  Cadillac Desert focuses on perhaps the biggest corrupter of all – the sprawling water projects of the  American West, in which water is diverted at huge cost to grow crops no one needs, all to support giant corporations that threaten to wipe out the family farms that were the rationale for the projects in the first place.  Taken together, these books demonstrate that ideology or the party in power matters little – elections become a charade, masking the control of government by capital and its corporate controllers.  Kim Stanley Robinson examines these transnational corporations in his science fiction Mars Trilogy

From the left George Orwell‘s analysis of why socialism fails is apt today, especially in re the Tea Party movement

It was easy to laugh at Fascism when we imagined that it was based on hysterical nationalism….  For Socialism is the only real enemy that Fascism has to face. The capitalist-imperialist govern­ments, even though they themselves are about to be plundered, will not fight with any conviction against Fascism as such. Our rulers, those of them who under­stand the issue, would probably prefer to hand over every square inch of the British Empire to Italy, Germany and Japan than to see Socialism triumphant.

The job of the thinking person, therefore, is not to reject Socialism but to make up his mind to humanise it. Once Socialism is in a way to being established, those -who can see through the swindle of ” progress” will probably find themselves resisting. In fact, it is their ,special function to do so. In the machine-world they have got to be a sort of permanent opposition, which is not the same thing as being an obstructionist or a traitor. But in this I am speaking of the future. For the moment the only possible course for any decent person, however much of a Tory or an anarchist by temperament, is to work for the establishment of Socialism. Nothing else can save us from the misery of the present or the night­mare of the future. To oppose Socialism now, when twenty million Englishmen are underfed and Fascism has conquered half Europe, is suicidal. It is like starting a civil war when the Goths are crossing the frontier.

Socialists have a big job ahead of them here. They have got to demonstrate, beyond possibility of doubt, just where the line of cleavage between exploiter and exploited comes. Once again it is a question of sticking to essentials; and the essential point here is that all people with small, insecure incomes are “in the same boat and ought to be fighting on the same side. Probably we could do with a little less talk about” capitalist” and ” proletarian” and a little more about the robbers and the robbed. … and that Socialism means a fair deal for them as well as for the navvy and the factory-hand.

For more on this peculiar American Empire ….. after the American Century

 

Critical Thinking

Glendower:   I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur:        Why, so can I, or so can any man 
                              But will they come when you do call for them?

                                                         –Henry IV, Part 1

Science evolves, Faith is static

As science evolves it finds better and better ways to describe the real world. On the other hand, superstition and pseudoscience continue to muddle the waters. Science is the rational, incremental pursuit of knowledge. The only real way to progress is to design and conduct studies, report the results in peer reviewed journals and proceed to the next question. Problems come in interpreting the results, of course, and journalists have a responsibility to fairly represent the studies’ conclusions – often they’re taken out of context or oversimplified

Unfortunately, as the American public becomes less scientifically literate  more people can be misled [not helped any by those who think creationism is a science]. Basic statistics should be a part of everyone’s education, probably more important for people than geometry or trig or calculus. Critical thinking is required if we’re to have an informed populace. And it matters because anyone can vote, serve on a jury, etc, no matter how ignorant [ie, lacking in facts, not stupid]. The solution is not to narrow the franchise but rather to raise the level scientific knowledge and other important information in everyone’s daily life. This involves not only information but also how we organize that information.

Critical thinking gives us the tools to evaluate information and it’s a process that can easily be learned. In a way pseudoscience and beliefs in paranormal are some of the easiest fallacies to debunk. At first many of these claims appear to be invulnerable, but once you learn which questions to ask these claims are easy to deny. I first started reading the Skeptical Inquirer when Martin Gardner talked about it in his column in Scientific American in the 1980s. By investigating claims of the paranormal using scientific methods it’s easily shown that basic scientific methods deny these extraordinary claims.

Most of these creationist canards are examples of logical fallacies, so studying them can help understand and expose fallacies in other fields, especially given the ‘alternate facts’ approach of the Trump presidency

More about Creationist arguments

Creation Myths

For example the book of Genesis can’t stand up to a rational, scientific reading – it’s actually a conflation of at least 2 earlier creation myths and the order of creation is different in each story this – in one place it says man was created after the animals, in another that animals were created first – it also says light was created before the sun which is the source of our light. These errors show problems in using an ancient text to describe the modern world.

By allowing the religious to define atheism many thinkers have been forced on the defensive. Atheism is not firm knowledge that there is no God, for who can prove a negative? Rather atheism is merely the acknowledgment that we find no evidence FOR the existence of any god. Some would call this agnosticism but there’s really no difference. It’s not an easy or comforting conclusion, but, it means we need to seek a moral basis somewhere other than “do this or you’ll go to hell!”

Skeptic Magazine and Free Inquiry are other sources for developing your critical thinking skills.
Science is under attack from many quarters these days. These books give some excellent introductions and explanations of some of the more common misconceptions and misguided attempts.

 

“The distaste for” progress” and machine-civilization which is so common among sensitive people is only defensible as an attitude of mind. ” George Orwell

Here are several books that focus on specific areas of irrational thinking and also show that the right has no monopoly on faulty thinking. These books give some excellent introductions and explanations of some of the more common misconceptions and misguided attempts.The Secret Origins of the Bible Tim Callahan

Proof of Creation

The Evolution of God

Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality
Quite a mouthful of a title, but an excellent book debunking ‘Goddess spirituality’s fraudulent promises of a newage of peace and justice.   Davis “exposes the complete want of archaeological evidence for this claim, revealing the ovement’s nineteenth century roots in radical Romanticism” (from the jacket)
cover
Higher Superstition : The Academic Left  and Its Quarrels with Science.. A thorough examination of the results of applying a confused literary philosophy to science.   Covers postmodernism, feminism, radical environmentalism, multiculturalism and AIDS activism — each of these areas has tremendous strengths, but the deconstructionist approach (aka political correctness) often leads to absurd positions.  None of these discussions can be dismissed with soundbites, and this book is heavy going in places, but essential for anyone trying to work or think within modern science and academia. cover

Life’s Dominion – Ronald Dworkin  – arguments  on deciding the taking of life – abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment
Heisenberg’s War – scientists’s responsibilities during war

Related work:

One of the more absurd and inane ideas is that of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.  ID has no scientific backing – there’s no actual research supporting it, there’s no peer reviewed articles [as Michael Behe one of its chief proponents admitted under oath in the2005 trial in Dover PA. ]  So it’s sad to see Northwest Great Books Institute  include Behe’s  Darwin’s Black Box as one of its selection for their annual meeting in Bellingham WA.