How does an Ivy League biology major become a creationist? By moving to Louisiana.
In 2008, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the horribly misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act. While it employs meandering and nonspecific language, the law essentially allows public school biology teachers to discount evolution and potentially offers them legal cover if they violate a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and teach creationism. In 2013, Jindal said he would be OK with a public school biology teacher doing so.
I have never spoken to Jindal, and that’s probably best for both parties. But if we had an honest conversation, I really doubt that a man with a biology degree from Brown would own up to believing that the geologic column, transitional fossils, and radiometric dating are hoaxes or demonic trickery. Nor do I think he believes humans were created in their present form 5,000 years ago. He’s saying what it takes to thrive in a state that ranks 49th in education and where 90 percent of residents are Christian. But this political expediency no more lets him off the hook than it did Orval Faubus for having the same incentive when trying to keep black students of Little Rock Central High School.
In the same way that Faubus would deny black teenagers access to an equal school, Jindal is willing to sacrifice the science education of Louisiana students for his political ambitions. On Monster.com, there are 416 jobs for biologists and zero for creationists.
While points for evolution may be interspersed throughout this writing, arguing this position is not the purpose of this post. Rather, I want to highlight that Jindal, Ben Stein, and Pat Robertson complain about creationism being shut out of science class without citing one piece of scientific evidence for it.
If I ever met Jindal, my first challenge would be the same as I give all creationists: “Describe the Scientific Method and use it to explain how creationism works.” Only two creationists have ever responded to this, and neither answered the question. The president of the Quad Cities Creation Science Association conceded he could not do this, while the Facebook page “Atheism is Impossible” cut-and-pasted a lengthy portion of its “about” section, none of which addressed the Scientific Method or evidence for creationism. As we will see, it was instead one run-on logical fallacy. In fact, I have looked into a dozen creationist sites and Facebook pages and found only the logical fallacies of circular reasoning, the appeal to ignorance, the appeal to personal incredulity, and most frequently, negative evidence.
Let’s define the terms:
Circular reasoning, AKA begging the question. This is where one assumes what one is claiming to prove, or where one’s premise and conclusion are the same.
Appeal to ignorance. Where lack of evidence for an alternate position is touted as proof your position is true.
Appeal to personal incredulity. Where an inability to conceive of something is presented as evidence it never happened.
Negative evidence. Pointing out a supposed flaw in an opposing argument without bolstering your position.
Now we’ll look at how these are sprinkled liberally throughout creationist writings. Tiktaalik was a major evolutionary find because it had features of both fish and tetrapods. Committed creationists, while allowing that an animal can adapt over time, are fond of insisting that it is always the same animal. They will borrow from the Mr. Ed theme and declare “a horse is still a horse,” or perhaps, “a spider is still a spider.” They tried this with Tiktaalik, declaring it to be just a fish. Well, it was not just a fish because it had a neck, a horizontally flat head with a skull akin to an amphibian’s, and it lacked a dorsal fin.
Creation.com attempted to counter this by saying that four-legged animals existed 18 million years before the Tiktaalik fossil did. It also argued that Tiktaalik’s pelvis could not bear its weight on land. These could be legitimate points as to what they mean to one portion of one animal’s evolutionary history. But here, they are in the form of negative evidence. Despite its URL, creation.com presents no evidence of Tiktaalik having been created. By the way, its point about 18 million years is an argument of extreme convenience, as a portion of its website is dedicated to proving the universe is only a few thousand years old.
As to the points raised, the fact that four-legged animals may gave predated Tiktaalik does not mean the latter was not a transitional creature. The tree of life has many side branches and twigs, 99 percent of which have died out. Fossils are seldom descendants of other fossils, they are just related to them. They are probably not a 1,000-greats grandson, but rather a 300th cousin, 50 times removed. So a similar, earlier four-legged creature would not lessen the significance of Tiktaalik.
Its pelvis, meanwhile, is consistent with a species in transition from a fish to a land dweller. Not good enough, declared creation.com: “The larger pelvic girdle in Tiktaalik is a sideshow to the main event that evolutionists need to demonstrate what happened between Tiktaalik and Acanthostega.” This is a common creationist ploy, where when a transitional fossil is found, they insist it is no such discovery, but rather another gap to fill in. And again, it is presenting no evidence for its side.
When Atheism is Impossible responded to my query, they did not delve into this type of thinking, but rather chose to affirm the consequent: “A stronger argument for a transcendent and intelligent designer exists than for the instantiation of life as the result of random unknown stimuli affecting a random unknown set of chemicals to create life.”
The page also leans heavily on the appeal to ignorance, as it points out the lack of evidence for abiogenesis. The author considers this to be validation of creationism. Later, he points out the staggering odds humans beat to get here, so it could not have happened by chance, which is the appeal to personal incredulity. It is also more appeal to ignorance because he again offers no scientific evidence for creation.
He’s still not done, getting in a fifth logical fallacy, equivocation. This is using two meanings of the same word in the same sequence, although this is probably more an instance of misusing a word. “It is a leap of faith to declare abiogenesis a plausible explanation for life origins. To go from there to evolutionary speciation is another leap of faith.” First, faith is a necessarily religious principle. Second, even if the more secular term “assumption” is used, that’s not where these ideas stem from. They are based on fossil records, common biological traits, and certain animals evolving only on separated landmasses. It is based on introducing a poison to a Petri dish, which kills most organisms, with the few survivors passing their traits onto their offspring. Tiktaalik was found after a predictive analysis was made that the rocks of Ellesmere Island might contain such a creature.
As to how life got started, Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “We don’t know. It’s one of the universe’s great mysteries.” This is not blind faith, this is admitting we don’t know. When we have this ignorance, searching for the answer is preferable to invoking supernatural explanations, which is appealing to that ignorance.
Atheism is Impossible drones on with still more affirming of the consequent and personal incredulity: “There is clear and convincing evidence of intelligent design. I personally say that any doubt is unreasonable given the observed facts.” Citing order or beauty in the universe as proof of God, while citing God as the cause of this order is circular reasoning. This also assumes a god is the only possible cause of this beauty and nature. It also ignores that organisms which seemed designed are the result of millions of years of incremental increases, which occurred so they could adapt. Today’s animals are winners of the genetic lottery, with the losers being the 99 percent of Earth species that have vanished.
Enough with Atheism is Impossible, we’ll move onto the Discovery Institute. In an anomalous lapse into accuracy, it declared, “Intelligent Design…seeks evidence of design in nature.” It admits to arriving at its conclusion first, then seeking evidence that supports it. This is not science. Science continually tests its ideas in an attempt to disprove them. A person wanting to do a scientific examination of creationism would need to follow the Scientific Method of defining the question, developing an hypothesis, making a prediction, testing that prediction, analyzing the results with sound statistics, and replication.
He or she should then outline the methods, explain the research, and tell how it is falsifiable, observable, and measurable. Finally, they should share data sets, explain the statistical method used, and submit the results for peer review.
Instead, the Discovery Institute gives us this: “Certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not by an undirected process such as natural selection.” I hope by now you recognize as affirming the consequent.
Also trotted out is the hackneyed argument of irreducible complexity, which demonstrates a failure to understand that evolution can work by adding a part and making it necessary. An eye without a retina would be useless, yes, but organisms change over succeeding generations, adapting in accord with their changing environments.
Onto the Institute for Creation Research, which describes its mission as “unique.” Unique means the only one, so I hope they are the only research organization with this in its mission statement: “All things were created and made in six literal days. Life exists because it was created on Earth by a living Creator.” It also lets us know that “A naturalistic explanation for a supernatural event will never be found.” This is reminiscent of the key moment in the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate, when both sides were asked what could get them to change their mind. Nye said “evidence,” while Ham said “nothing.” Biologists always adapt to the evidence and adjust positions when mandated by the science. Creationists declare they will accept no evidence, no matter how scientifically valid, if it contradicts their interpretation of a specific revision of a specific Bible version.
At creation.com, they use the watchmaker analogy, though they change it to arrowheads. This falls flat because if doesn’t account for what created the creator, and thus relies on the logical fallacy of special pleading. This is when one must carve out an exception to one’s main plank in order to make the primary point work. Creation.com does this a second time when it points out how complex even simple molecules are and insist this proves creation. Of course, whatever created the molecule would have to be more complex than it, meaning per this criteria, the creator would need to have a creator, as would that creator, ad infinitum.
Trying to use the complexity of molecules as evidence for creation is also more circular reasoning since it attributes this complexity to a god, then says the complexity proves god. It also throws in some appeal to ignorance and personal incredulity, declaring, “The chemical hurdles that non-living matter must overcome to form life are insurmountable,” and “If it’s unreasonable to believe that an encyclopedia could have originated without intelligence, then it’s just as unreasonable to believe that life could have originated without intelligence.”
These types of arguments go on for pages, the authors never offer anything but logical fallacies, such as “The complex compound eyes of some types of trilobites were amazingly designed. They comprised tubes that each pointed to a different spot on the horizon, and had special lenses that focused light from any distance.”
This is because they evolved that way, having adapted to their environment. Random mutations that were beneficial were kept, those that weren’t vanished. That’s how evolution works, whether Louisiana schoolchildren get to hear it or not.