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In the belly of the beast

by Donald Prothero, Jul 31 2013

A Review of Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Lines,

by Jason Rosenhouse

(Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012, 256 pp.)

I’ve spent over 40 years of my life wrestling with the problem of creationism, while trying to maintain my research career, keep up with book deadlines, teach my classes, and take care of my family. As I described in my 2007 book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, battling the evolution deniers seems to be a thankless, never-ending task because no amount of effort in science education or good science in the media seems to make any difference. Their numbers (around 40% of Americans) have remained constant in the polls over many decades, no matter what approaches are tried. This is an endless source of frustration for many of us, since creationism is like the many-headed Hydra in the labors of Hercules: every time you cut off one head, it grows back two more. Science never seems to make any progress in blunting their efforts to contaminate schools with their religious dogma. At the end of my 2007 book, I tried my best to delve into the psychology and motivation of creationists, and to understand why they can deny obvious reality and tell outright lies over and over again without any guilt or self-awareness.

But I rarely spend much of my precious time reading their literature any more (I’ve read much of it over 40 years, and it never changes), let alone paying my hard-earned money to hear them speak day after day. Listening to the way they lie and distort the facts, and call professional scientists evil, is too much for me to sit through without getting upset. But Jason Rosenhouse has a much stronger stomach for their garbage than I. He attended one creation conference after another, calmly listening to their preaching and talking to the attendees while maintaining his cool. For that alone, I am in awe of him.

Rosenhouse is Associate Professor of Mathematics at James Madison University in Virginia, having previously taught at Kansas State University, so he is close to the epicenters of much of the creationist movement in this country. He regularly discusses the topic on his EvolutionBlog. As he describes, he is culturally Jewish but became an atheist, yet he has the patience of Job to sit through days and days of creationist drivel and read their atrocious books without getting angry. He is genuinely interested in understanding who they are and what motivates them, and why they can shut themselves out of so much of scientific reality and believe so much that is patently false.

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Creationist flim-flam

by Donald Prothero, Jan 09 2013

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how creationist “baramin” taxonomy was an example of amateurs aping what scientists do without actually understanding the science, all couched in the trappings of real science and in “sciencey”-sounding language. Almost as soon as that post came out, another example came to light that was noted by bloggers on Panda’s Thumb and Pharyngula and elsewhere. It starts with a silly video (complete with fancy production values and dramatic opening music) featuring ID creation “scientist” Ann Gauger, talking in front of what looks like a conventional biochemistry lab.

As Larry Moran, Ars Technica, and numerous commenters over at Panda’s Thumb pointed out, her discussion is complete gibberish that shows she had no understanding of evolution or genetics. She talks about “population genetics” and “common descent” as if they had something to do with one another. Even a second-year biology undergraduate knows the difference! Population genetics is the field that simulates the changes in gene frequencies through time in natural populations, with models of how changing selection pressures, mutation rates, etc. might affect gene frequencies over time. It is largely a mathematical modeling exercise, although its predictions have been abundantly tested and corroborated by many lab experiments. Population genetics is only a population-level process. It says nothing about the common ancestry of organisms, or their similarity in gene sequences, which is what Ann Gauger seems to think. Apparently, Gauger doesn’t know the difference between population genetics and phylogenetics, the field that does deal with the evidence of common ancestry. What the heck, if it begins with a “p” and ends with “genetics”, it must be the same thing, right? Continue reading…

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Alfred Russel Wallace was a Hyper-Evolutionist, not an Intelligent Design Creationist

by Michael Shermer, Jan 31 2012

A couple weeks ago, I participated in an online debate at Evolution News & Views with Center for Science & Culture fellow Michael Flannery on the question: “If he were alive today, would evolutionary theory’s co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace, be an intelligent design advocate?” The following is my opening statement in the debate. A link to Flannery’s reply can be found near the end of this page.

The double dangerous game of Whiggish What-if? history is on the table in this debate that inexorably invokes hindsight bias, along the lines of “Was Thomas Jefferson a racist because he had slaves?” Adjudicating historical belief and behavior with modern judicial scales is a fool’s errand that carries but one virtue—enlightenment of the past for correcting current misunderstandings. Thus I shall endeavor to enlighten modern thinkers on the perils of misjudging Alfred Russel Wallace as an Intelligent Design creationist, and at the same time reveal the fundamental flaw in both his evolutionary theory and that of this latest incarnation of creationism.

Wallace’s scientific heresy was first delivered in the April, 1869 issue of The Quarterly Review, in which he outlined what he saw as the failure of natural selection to explain the enlarged human brain (compared to apes), as well as the organs of speech, the hand, and the external form of the body:

In the brain of the lowest savages and, as far as we know, of the prehistoric races, we have an organ…little inferior in size and complexity to that of the highest types…. But the mental requirements of the lowest savages, such as the Australians or the Andaman Islanders, are very little above those of many animals. How then was an organ developed far beyond the needs of its possessor? Natural Selection could only have endowed the savage with a brain a little superior to that of an ape, whereas he actually possesses one but very little inferior to that of the average members of our learned societies.

(Please note the language that, were we to judge the man solely by his descriptors for indigenous peoples, would lead us to label Wallace a racist even though he was in his own time what we would today call a progressive liberal.) Continue reading…

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Coulter Mangles Science

by Steven Novella, Aug 29 2011

It probably comes as no surprise to any reader here that Ann Coulter is not a scientist, nor does she give any evidence of scientific literacy. Why, then, is she writing about science?

In a recent article entitled The Flash Mob Method of Scientific Inquiry, she repeats claims she made in a prior book that evolution is pseudoscience – the demented belief system of atheist liberals. I am not interested in Coulter‘s politics – she is just another polemicist rallying the troops. In fact, evolution has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative, except that some conservatives want to make it about this.

Evolution is a solid scientific theory backed by a mountain of evidence. It not a political or religious issue. It is only the political or religious ideology of some that attempts to make it so. And that’s what Coulter is doing.

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Discovery Institute vs. Skeptoid: Round 2

by Brian Dunning, Feb 26 2009

A listened wrote recently to inform me that 980 KKMS, a Minneapolis-St. Paul based Christian radio station, brought on Dr. Jonathan Wells from the Discovery Institute, the nation’s leading proponent of Biblical Young Earth fundamentalism. They played several segments of my 2007 Skeptoid podcast How to Argue with a Creationist for Dr. Wells, and had him respond to it point by point. The web page is here and the free MP3 file is here. Continue reading…

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Louisiana, We Have a Problem

by Steven Novella, Jan 19 2009

In my recent post on the battle between science and creationism, I noted that the current strategy of the intelligent design (ID)/creationism movement is to push for academic freedom. They don’t really care about academic freedom, they just want to erode academic quality standards so as create a back door through which they can squeeze their religious beliefs into science classrooms. This strategy is playing out in Louisiana.

Last year Louisiana governor Bobby Jindahl signed into law an academic freedom bill that was part of this strategy. Now, just last week, the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education passed the Louisiana Science Education Ac. Casey Luskin, one of the worst apologists for anti-science over at the ID “think tank”, the Discovery Institute, characterized this bill as a “victory for Louisiana students and teachers.”  If Luskin in happy with this bill, we should be very worried.

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