Bungling the Facts Behind Evolution

A series of images show how the horse evolved over 50 million yearsA Huffington Post article earlier this week asked, “Does Questioning Evolution Make You Anti-Science?

Yeah, pretty much.

The author notes the flak Rick Perry received for stating that evolution was “just a theory” and that it has “some gaps in it” and tried to make the case that Republicans aren’t as anti-science as they’re portrayed.  I’m not interested in the politics here, but the science (or failure to understand science) is worth mentioning.

Denial of both climate change and evolution is popular among conservatives.  The author said, “While I cannot comment on climate-change science, I do have a great deal to say about evolution.”  He lists his credentials as organizing an annual science vs. religion debate at Oxford University, which were typically about evolution, and giving Richard Dawkins a good thrashing at another debate for good measure.

But for someone who’s well versed in these matters, his understanding of science seems stunted.

What I learned from these debates, as well as reading extensively on evolution, is that evolutionists have a tough time defending the theory when challenged in open dialogue.

I doubt that, but let’s assume it’s the case.  Who cares?  Science, not debate, is where our confidence in evolution comes from.

[Attacks on evolution do not] mean that evolution is not true or that theory is without merit or evidence. It does, however, corroborate what Governor Perry said.  Evolution is a theory.  Unlike, say, the laws of thermodynamics, it has never been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to be true.

Wow—where do you start?

Evolution is an explanation.  It claims to give us the mechanism explaining how life got to be the way it is.  The best evolution can hope for is to become a theory, and it has done so.  The same is true for germ theory, another explanation, which has also reached that pinnacle and can’t become anything better.

By contrast, a scientific law is Continue reading

I Survived the Creation Conference (1 of 2)

Noah's ArkI attended the 2011 Seattle Creation Conference and made it out to tell the tale.

The slogan of the conference was, “Dedicated to glorifying God through the scientific study of His Creation and refuting the false claims of Evolutionism.”  (Is it just me or does that last phrase betray a presupposition?)  There were prayers galore, sometimes both opening and closing a single lecture.

If the speakers were confident that science will eventually support the biblical view, they could let the science speak for itself.  They could show confidence that science will lead us to the biblical answer.  The question, “If Science and Scripture diverged, which one would you follow?” came to mind, but the answer was obvious.

This was a young-earth Creationism conference.  “Young earth” means: the earth is less than 10,000 years old.  “Creationism” means: evolution is nonsense.  There were probably some old-earthers there too, but I’m pretty sure that I was the only one stupid enough to accept the scientific consensus on evolution.

The remainder of this post is about lectures by Mike Oard from Creation Ministries International, who spoke for two hours on Noah’s flood.  (Let me add that everyone was polite, including me, so I’m attacking the “science,” not the speakers.)

Oard began with a couple of Bible quotes to justify using reason.  It’s odd to need such a justification in a conference “dedicated to … scientific study,” but OK.  One quote was, “Examine carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thes. 5:21).  I suspect that the last phrase was seen as license to pick and choose.

He stressed that, while some Christians imagine this to be a local flood, it was global.  I enjoy seeing Creationists attack each other, but Continue reading

Nazi Soldiers Indoctrinated with Darwin? How Convenient.

1871 image of a monkey with Charles Darwin's headWhy were the Nazis so disagreeable?  Because they were force-fed evolution, of course!  Christian podcaster Greg Kokul thinks he’s uncovered the Nazi/evolution connection.

In a recent Stand to Reason podcast (starting at 5:00), Kokul spoke of being informed that German soldiers during World War II were issued two books, Goethe’s Faust and a German translation of The Origin of Species.  And it was Hitler himself who insisted that they get them.

(Wow—right out of the gate we’re embracing Godwin’s Law!)

About the logic behind Hitler’s assigning these books, Kokul says:

It’s because the ideas in The Origin of Species served [Hitler’s] purposes well, and if a person actually believed what Darwin taught, then they would make good Nazis.

My first complaint is that Kokul accepted the story uncritically.  This story nicely supports his worldview that evolution is both harmful and wrong, so he passes it on with no fact checking.  I do my best to take the opposite approach: when I find a delicious story that skewers an opponent (either a person or idea), I want to make sure that I have strong evidence so that I don’t look ridiculous after passing on flawed hearsay.

In doing my own research on books issued to German soldiers, the only page I came across was a post in another atheist blog (IAmAnAtheist) who’d heard the podcast and asked the very same question.  That blogger raised a great point: Why issue those two books and not Hitler’s own Mein Kampf?

That Origin was a central part of Nazi thinking seems unlikely.  The official Nazi library journal in 1935 listed twelve categories of banned books.  One category was:

Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism.

(If anyone comes across evidence for this books question either way, please add that to the comments.)

Now let’s move on to critique Kokul’s ill-informed ramblings on evolution.  One of Kokul’s favorite ploys is to try to tie eugenics with evolution.

First off, Darwin himself rejected eugenics.  In The Descent of Man, he said, “No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that [not culling the inferiors] must be highly injurious to the race of man.”  Creationists enjoy quoting just the paragraph that contains this sentence and ignoring the very … next … paragraph where he overturns this argument.

Darwin rejected eugenics, Greg.  Of course, you’ll be quick to backpedal and argue that Darwin’s own personal opinions say nothing about the validity of evolution.  Agreed!  Which is why whether or not Hitler kept his copy of Origin under his pillow says nothing about the central issue here: Is evolution the best explanation of why life is the way it is?  Which is why this entire conversation is simply mudslinging.

“Hitler was bad, and Hitler and Darwin were BFFs!  And Darwin was ugly!  And … and he probably ate babies!  And didn’t recycle!”  Whether true or not, it’s irrelevant.

This is what one does when one doesn’t actually have a real argument.

Science is not policy.  Evolution is science (the domain of scientists), and eugenics is policy (the domain of politicians).  Any scientist who advocates eugenics has left the domain of science and jumped into policy.  Eugenics isn’t science, and criticism of eugenics is no criticism of science.

Which brings up the last point: Did Hitler base his eugenics policies on evolution?  Kokul seems to imagine a kind and gentle Adolf Hitler, picking up litter and helping little old ladies cross the street, being turned to the scientific Dark Side® after reading Darwin.  But wasn’t there plenty of anti-Semitism around already?  Didn’t Martin Luther himself write the violently anti-Semitic On the Jews and Their Lies?

This bypasses the issue: Is evolution correct?  Bringing up eugenics is not only flawed but irrelevant.

It’s the white flag of surrender.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Related articles:

  • The Stand to Reason podcast archives are here.  The podcast referenced here is from August 21, 2011.
  • “Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn’t Want You to Know…” Scientific American, 2/11/09.
  • Full-text version of Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man available here.
  • “Hitler was a True Christian™,” Pharyngula blog, 10/27/11.

John Lennox Responds to Stephen Hawking

John LennoxDr. John Lennox, a math professor at the University of Oxford, visited Seattle recently to respond to Stephen Hawking’s recent The Grand Design (co-written with Leonard Mlodinow).  I’ll give a brief summary of the main points Lennox made with a few comments.

In his book, Hawking says:

Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

Christian apologists like to focus on the beginning of the universe, sensing a weakness in the naturalistic model. When asked about what came before the Big Bang, Science simply says, “I don’t know.” This is neither a weakness nor a reason for embarrassment. Instead, it points to those areas in science where more work needs to be done. But this statement by Hawking gives at least one resolution to the question.

Lennox spent much of the lecture criticizing this one claim.  Continue reading