Dave Thomas, Peralta, on
"Creationism's 'Scientific Evidence' Against Evolution:
Not Scientific and Not Evidence."



Years ago - in the 1980's - most creationists used to be forthright about their motives and agenda. They demanded equal time for Biblical creation, plain and simple. They wanted schools to teach a recent creation (6,000 years), Adam and Eve, Noah's flood, and all the rest. Anything else, they said, was the work of the Devil. While most mainstream religions found ways to accommodate modern science, and even embrace science (including the mountains of evidence for biological evolution), it was Biblical literalists who carried the creationist flag.

After years of losing court battles, however, creationists gradually adapted to the judicial landscape. In the 1990's, the new "Intelligent Design" (ID) breed of creationism emerged. It is led by Seattle's "Discovery Institute," which receives millions in funding from Christian fundamentalist leaders like Howard Ahmanson, Jr., who has stated "My purpose is total integration of biblical law into our lives." ID spokesmen started saying it was no longer about the age of the earth, or Genesis, but simply about evolution being scientifically impossible. It wasn't about the Judeo-Christian God, they said, just some generic all-powerful Deity who happened to create the universe and all of its creatures. Structures like the bacterial flagellum are put forth as being just too darn complicated (or "irreducibly complex") to have evolved naturally. Experts that disagree with anything having to do with any aspect of evolution are often quoted out of context, and represented as critical of evolution itself. (By "evolution" I mean descent with modification, the interconnectedness of all species, the core of modern biology, and the guiding principle of fields from paleontology to genetics.)

Creationists employ a growing variety of "scientific arguments" against evolution: observations of light and dark moths, rates of evolution in the Cambrian period, drawings of embryos, and so on. They also try to pass modern biology off as a "Darwinist" religious cult, and say that "Darwinism" is compatible only with atheism, while only "Design" is properly respectful of religious beliefs. Numerous scientists have analyzed ID's claims, and made many detailed responses, but the ID movement doesn't take criticism well, and moves ahead relentlessly, using the same discredited arguments.

Recently, however, creationists have started evolving yet again. The "ID" ruse is a hard sell for the general public, and school boards were beginning to use phrases like "These standards do not mandate the teaching of 'Intelligent Design'…" Biologist Ken Miller of Brown pointed out the obvious when he realized that to get any use from a "design," you must assemble the components, thus creating the designed object. "ID" is creationism - the only difference is that in ID, the Creator is not named in public.

The newest incarnation of creationism avoids mention of "design" altogether, and instead focuses completely on bashing evolution. The Neo-Creationists think that if evolution can be apparently toppled (or at least challenged) in class, then students will be forced to accept the "only alternative, creation" (and thus "religion").

The most alarming recent appearance of this new Creationism was in Ohio in March of 2004. When ID promoters recently managed to infuse an official Ohio science lesson plan with ID "evidence" against evolution, moths and all, they were careful not to reference the words "intelligent" and "design" together. When scientists rightfully pointed out the lesson plans used the same tired old ID arguments, Ohio state board vice president Richard Baker called them "a bunch of paranoid, egotistical scientists afraid of people finding out (they) don't know anything." And Jonathan Wells, Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, described a March 4, 2004 Cincinnati Enquirer editorial as "…mistaken, however, in calling my Icons of Evolution a 'pro-Intelligent Design book.' Except for a few paragraphs describing how biology texts misuse scientific evidence to argue against design, and two brief references to the history of the controversy, the book doesn't even mention Intelligent Design, much less advocate it. …" (Cincinnati Enquirer, March 7, 2004)

The new creationism is all about "teaching the controversy," or "just presenting both sides," or "presenting evidence for and against the theory," or "critically analyzing" evolution. What's so wrong about that? The problem is that creationism's "Scientific evidence against evolution" isn't scientific, and isn't evidence. This essay explains why.

Evolution is not a "theory in crisis"…

Anti-evolutionists like to portray evolution as a "theory on crisis," but the truth is that evolution is a thriving and robust part of modern science. In the words of the National Academy of Science, "Progress in science consists of the development of better explanations for the causes of natural phenomena. Scientists can never be sure that a given explanation is complete and final. Yet many scientific explanations have been so thoroughly tested and confirmed that they are held with great confidence. The theory of evolution is one of these explanations. An enormous amount of scientific investigation has converted what was initially a hypothesis into a theory that is no longer questioned in science. At the same time, evolution remains an extremely active field of research, with an abundance of new discoveries that are continually increasing our understanding of exactly how the evolution of living organisms actually occurred." (National Academy Press, 1998, Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, Chapter 3).

Like all sciences, good scraps exist…

Of course, thousands of eager scientists keen to make a name for themselves rarely agree on everything. Aspects of evolution are vigorously debated all the time, from rates of speciation, to details on ancestries, to mechanisms of change. Anti-evolutionists portray such debates as proof that the very idea of evolution is being challenged, when it is not. Misrepresenting the significance of such debates is poor instruction for our students.

"Alternate Scientific Views" in school must be about accepted scientific alternatives

Of course, science is all about critical thinking, inquiry, testing of presuppositions, and more. New Mexico's new science standards embrace this spirit of inquiry. But, when presenting "alternate views," are there limits? Is every "alternate view" worthy of consideration? Obviously, no! Science is not decided by popular vote, but by repeated and rigorous testing.

Just as evolution is opposed by a special interest group, Creationists, a similar phenomenon exists with a lobby of believers who claim that the moon landings were faked by NASA. Apollo-deniers have a collection of scientific-sounding "evidence against the Apollo landings" involving shadows on official photographs, claims of radiation dangers in space, and so on. Hoaxed-landing proponents can claim legions of scientist followers, books, television shows, and movies (Capricorn One). Should science teachers be required to spend hours and hours explaining their reams of supposed evidence against the moon landings? Clearly, no! Only accepted scientific alternatives deserve to be presented in science classes. If an "alternate view" is being discussed in mainstream journals like Science and Nature, it's probably fine to use in class. But, if the "alternate view" is culled from a non-mainstream, special-interest book or website (say, ID's Discovery Institute, or Apollo denier Bart Sibrel's site), it may be unsuitable for use in class.

"Alternate Scientific Views" in school must be appropriate to students' knowledge base

Sometimes the arguments espoused by anti-evolutionists involve advanced concepts suitable for graduate students, not high school sophomores. The time to explain such subjects adequately far exceeds that available. And it would take as much or more time to present the detailed rebuttals scientists have made for almost all of the ID "evidences." There is only so much time for science teaching; it should not be wasted on grade-inappropriate material.

Isn't it "Fair" to teach "Both Sides"?

First off, the "two sides" in the creation-evolution debate are defined politically, not scientifically. In science, the debate is over how evolution works, not whether it even happens. It's only in politics that "sides" wanting to be heard form up on this question. As far as science is concerned, there are not "two sides" to be taught; evolution is the only scientific theory of the origin of species.

As far as being "fair" goes, it's not fair to teach concepts that have not passed the rigors of scientific testing. No one likes waiting a long time in line, only to have someone take cuts in front of them just as they're finally at the head of the line. It's just not fair. In our situation, the patient people waiting in line are mainstream scientists who have to publish their ideas, win consensus for them, see them verified by independent scientists, and eventually see them become accepted findings worthy of being taught. Just as these scientists are approaching the head of the line, where their work gets into school classes, we could imagine an ID creationist cutting into the line. The ID person's information isn't mainstream, has been rejected by scientists, and can be shown to be invalid; no matter, they take "cuts" and promptly put their "evidence" into lesson plans. Taking cuts is not fair. It's not funny, either. This has already happened in Ohio.

Why not "Teach the Controversy"?

If the "controversy" is real - say, debated in journals like Science and Nature - then it might be a part of an excellent class discussion. But if the controversy is manufactured by a political or special-interest group, it may well be unworthy of class time. Just because a special interest group can create a "controversy" about the moon landing, or evolution, does not mean that it merits serious classroom consideration. Again, mainstream is the key.

Can't ID arguments be presented as "critically analyzing" theories, as the standards call for?

If "critical analyses" present genuine scientific arguments and debates in their actual scientific context, they are probably fine for classroom use. But, if "critical analyses" are based on misrepresentation of mainstream thought - for example, saying that science can't begin to explain the "Cambrian Explosion" - then they are inappropriate for the science classroom.

Misrepresenting evolution as "atheism" is subtle religious indoctrination

In the end, creationism, Intelligent Design, and their newest variant, "evidence against evolution" are all about religion and God. Anti-evolutionists of all stripes preach the same mantra against teaching evolution in schools: they try to convince the public that evolution is part of an atheistic, anti-religious agenda. The truth is, however, that students do NOT have to choose between science and faith. Numerous religions accept the findings of modern science, including evolution. Many believers, including theologians, find that knowledge of science expands and enriches their faith. As New Mexico Conference of Churches Executive Director Rev. Barbara Dua, one of the endorsers of New Mexico's new pro-evolution science standards, said during hearings on the standards: "There should be no fear of conflict between religion and science." Anti-evolutionists are trying to force a "wedge" between students' appreciation of science and their personal religious beliefs, and nothing else so well reveals the sectarian and political nature of this manufactured "controversy."

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