Duping the Educated.

Duping the Educated. August 23, 2014

I couldn’t wait another moment. We have to take a look at this news story and talk about it a little today. Yes, it’s that awesome.

The piece is called “Dallas researchers out to scientifically prove biblical version of creation,” but what it really proves is that people who think they’re educated can be terribly ignorant and gullible.

Institute for Creation Research in Santee, CA
Institute for Creation Research in Santee, CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I admit, I’m still just amazed and dismayed to hear that people who stress over and over again how educated they are, who present themselves (almost defensively, it seems to me at least) as intelligent people, can be this ridiculously and mind-bogglingly incompetent when it comes to thinking critically. But creationism (which I will use here to mean both creationism and Intelligent Design, since the latter is simply the former renamed to better sneak it illegally into public schools) isn’t famous for its adherents’ ability to think critically. Even people who are really smart can fall for something this ridiculous.

English: Textual analysis of the various draft...
English: Textual analysis of the various drafts and precursors of the Intelligent Design book Of Pandas and People showing the frequencies of the terms “creation or “creationist” versus “intelligent design” and “design proponent”. Based on data from the Barbara Forrest’s testimony in the court case Kitzmiller v. Dover.. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Yes, it really is just renamed.

Articles like this one won’t help clarify just how contemptuous real scientists are toward creationism or why; the whole thing sounds like its writer is hedging his bets to avoid angering his paper’s fundamentalist readers. Though he does make fairly clear that creationists are distinctly in the minority, he doesn’t spend much time dwelling on just how overwhelming the evidence is against their quackery. At one point he mentions almost insultingly inaccurate and incomplete information about how the ages of the Universe, the Earth, and the human species were figured out, which tells me that he is just as ignorant and uneducated as the people he is interviewing for his article (pro-tip to the writer if he sees this: we didn’t split from chimpanzees and gorillas; we share a common ancestor that is not a chimpanzee, gorilla, or human, and according to that Wiki page, the timeline cited in the piece isn’t even correct).

After reading it, one might be forgiven for thinking that creationism is just a new, fledgeling sort of science that just needs a little time to take off, and not a thoroughly-debunked, discredited fringe bit of blithering pseudo-science fakery done purely to promote forced-indoctrination of schoolchildren and to enforce and entrench Christian privilege in society. I find this whole piece to be utterly irresponsible, and if I, as a layperson who just puts on her robe and wizard hat for science, can see through this weasel-wording, I can’t even imagine how frustrated real scientists are about it. And it was utterly unnecessary to give it that much undeserved credit; as just one example, I pulled up this Tufts University writeup debunking one of the books this group thinks is admirable, The Genesis Flood, in 30 seconds on Google. No real scientist takes the idea of the Great Flood seriously, and nobody reputable thinks that book is anything close to credible. But you’d never know that from reading this article.

Here is what education and real science are fighting, my friends: this kind of gullibility, this kind of ignorance, this kind of total inability to really think. But don’t take my word for it. The writer himself makes perfectly clear why creationists buy into this bullshit. Without further ado, here are the reasons he unwittingly cites:

1. Sympathy and defensiveness for their creationist-leaning parents.

Henry Morris III, the CEO of the Institute for Creation Research that is profiled in this bit of hackery, said: “I remember being upset that my father was — I’m not sure ostracized is the right word — but knowingly distanced by the rest of the scientific community. It became clear his stand on creation was the source of the conflict and I was just always defensive for Dad.”

Look. I totally understand feeling defensive and sympathetic about one’s parents’ shenanigans. I had the same feelings myself about some of the stuff my own parents did when I was growing up. A bully at my school felt that way too, and once threatened to beat me up because I said that her grandmother was wrong about cats stealing babies’ breath. But that Mr. Morris felt this way doesn’t mean that what his father was saying was really true. And as an adult, he is no longer required in any way to buy into a parent’s tinfoil-hat weirdness.

On that note, I find it terribly sad and pathetic that Mr. Morris’ sympathy for his dad has blinded him to just what he’s gotten involved with here.

2. A feeling of faux-persecution.

The piece says, “Jason Lisle, an astrophysicist and the research director at ICR, said he has no chance of winning a Nobel Prize, even if he makes a groundbreaking discovery. Secular scientists, he said, would never bestow the field’s highest honor on a creationist.”

English: Student table at the Nobel Prize Banq...
English: Student table at the Nobel Prize Banquet 2005 with menu and the special Nobel service (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Not shown: Creationists.

Mr. Lisle is either lying here to himself or to readers in general. He doesn’t know that at all. He’s just hoping desperately that this is the case, because then he’ll have the excuse he needs to believe for why he hasn’t gotten anywhere near that award. The truth–that he has done nothing worth getting it and is virtually guaranteed never to do so because of how he conceptualizes science itself as a creationist–would be very upsetting to him.

The problem is that creationists don’t use real science. They don’t test their theories and indeed largely cannot test them; they don’t publish in accredited journals; their “findings” can’t be peer-reviewed or objectively verified or duplicated. For the most part, creationists spend their time trying to find inventive and creative ways to deny actual science because they are convinced that if they can debunk the idea of evolution, then their idea wins by default. It’s not that the scientist in question is persecuted and oh-so-maligned just because he believes something goofy, but because that scientist’s methods are sloppy and have no place in the march forward. Jason Lisle’s association with creationism marks him as someone who puts theology and ideology over reality, which isn’t awesome, but that’s not what would stop him from ever getting a Nobel Prize.

I’d also like to point out that Mr. Lisle makes another big mistake here too–did you see it? He conflates “non-creationists” with “secular scientists.” Not all top scientists are secular; many are religious–a lot more than we’d expect, as I saw Neil deGrasse Tyson say in a lecture once. To Mr. Lisle, though, anybody who doesn’t buy into the inane theories of the ICR is obviously “secular.” And that is where he makes his biggest error in judgement.

Creationism really isn’t “atheism versus religion.” It’s “reality versus a very narrow-minded and surprisingly new fringe movement in Christianity.” Creationism is a symbol of a much bigger problem: the culture war that fundagelicals kicked up thinking it would win them back the heart of a nation that is rapidly moving away from their control. This culture war isn’t just about what religion everybody will pay lip service to, but rather it hits to the core of about how we know what’s real and what’s not real, how we sift opinion from fact, and how much control we’re going to grant religion in the public sphere.

So maybe Mr. Lisle should produce some Nobel-worthy work, and let the scientific community get their hands on it and critique it. If it’s really worth a prize, then that’ll become glaringly obvious and we’ll hear about it in short order.

I won’t hold my breath on that one though. No, Mr. Lisle and his cronies will just continue to bleat and whine and moan about how meeeeeeeeeean everybody is to them while not actually producing Nobel-caliber work. They’re like the Nice Guys™ of the scientific world, whining that the Nobel committees won’t see past their scientific awkwardness and reward their niceness with a medal. They’re busy blaming those committees for their inability to win the award rather than themselves.

3. They don’t understand big words like “evidence” and “science.”

The author of this article writes near the end:

For example, Lisle cites the “spiral winding problem” as evidence that galaxies cannot be billions of years old. Essentially, he says if stars had been swinging around galactic centers for billions of years, they’d look more like massive phonograph records than what we see through telescopes, which are loose, hurricane-shaped spirals. Or oceans — if they’d been around a billion years, they should be more salty. Or genetic mutations — if humans are hundreds of thousands of years old, there should be more genetic wrinkles in our DNA. Or dinosaur bones — if they’re millions of years old, scientists should not be recovering soft, protein-based tissue in them.

But if you’re expecting some kind of citation about how Mr. Lisle knows anything about this “spiral winding problem” or some inkling that it’s not quite the problem he imagines (and hopes) that it is, you’ll be waiting a long time. This whole thing sounds like the infamous immune system testimony that creationist professor Michael Behe so foolishly put all his hopes on during the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial–one tiny little thing that creationists think is some kind of slam-dunk that real science dealt with a long time ago. And we do remember what came of him doing it, right? That was one of the more dramatic parts of the trial–when the opposing lawyer dropped over FIFTY peer-reviewed books and journals on his desk that talk exclusively about how evolutionary processes could have produced the human immune system.

In the same way, nothing in Mr. Lisle’s Gish Gallop there is any kind of problem to science; some of it’s stuff we’re still working on, but most of it’s stuff we resolved quite a while ago. And the reporter who wrote this piece would know this simple truth if he just would only spend about 30 seconds on a good search engine. You just don’t hear about any serious scientists shaking their poor widdle heads and going “Yeah, we’re just totally baffled about this one and we’ll never figure it out–MUST BE THE CHRISTIAN GOD! We just don’t want to admit it.” But Jason Lisle is totally okay with pretending that’s what’s happening. His “paycheck” in both a literal and spiritual sense depends upon him buying into this thought-stopping act; he needs this nonsense he spouts to be true for a number of reasons, and nothing is going to get in the way of his belief–not even simple facts.

I wonder what he could really discover–maybe even a Nobel-worthy discovery!–if he weren’t so shackled down with this baggage he carries. Every educated scientist the ICR employs and indoctrinates is a scientist who is not actually reaching his or her full potential and contributing as much as he or she could be contributing to the world’s store of knowledge. And folks, we’ve got some problems on this planet that we need all hands on deck to fix. We can’t be screwing around like this. Even studying duck penises is more worthwhile (and hilarious) than trying (and failing) to prove that an ancient body of mythology is reliable history.

Alas for creationists, sheer numbers are on the side of reality. Any ten-year-old with a smartphone can debunk creationist claims with a simple search engine nowadays, and more and more American states are rejecting creationism and cracking down hard on pseudo-science bibble-babble in public-funded classrooms. Scientists are learning to engage the public to dispel the myths and lies that creationists are spreading. In the end, you could say that creationists’ own efforts to sneak their pseudo-science into schools spelled their own undoing; it forced the rest of us to wake up to what they had been doing for years already in more religious settings.

One could also add, if one were feeling uncharitable, that fundagelicals’ inability to embrace real science is one of the reasons they are losing members so quickly–along with their inability to heal themselves of their sexism, racism, and anti-LGBTQ bigotry. But that’d hardly be charitable, more like rubbing salt in a wound. (Though let us not forget after rubbing in that salt that Germ Theory is after all “just a theory.”)

This battle will be won eventually. But you can count on creationists to make a lot of fuss till it’s all over, and a lot of reporters to write irresponsible puff pieces about them.


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