googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Fear Tactics

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fear Tactics

In my last post, I cited Bill Nye who said,

[T]here are more people in the world — another billion people all trying to use the world’s resources. And the threat and consequences of climate change are more serious than ever, so we need as many people engaged in how we’re going to deal with that as possible. And we have an increasingly technologically sophisticated society. We are able to feed these 7.2 billion people because of our extraordinary agricultural technology. If we have a society that’s increasingly dependent on these technologies, with a smaller and smaller fraction of that society who actually understands how any of it works, that is a formula for disaster.... My biggest concern about creationist kids is that they’re compelled to suppress their common sense, to suppress their critical thinking skills at a time in human history when we need them more than ever.... There are just things about evolution that we should all be aware of, the way we’re aware of where electricity comes from, or that you have cells with mitochondria.

Nye certainly paints a bleak picture. We live a world, supposedly becoming over crowded, where billions of people have to compete for limited resources. We need new technologies. We need alternative sources of fuel – cleaner burning fuel. We need new medicines. We need science! But if kids are being taught creation, they won't be able to contribute anything to science. We're loosing our best resource – the potential of the next generation – at a time “when we need them more than ever!”


First, let me point something out. There is a logically fallacious argument known as an appeal to consequences (argumentum ad consequentiam) which basically argues that a hypothesis is either true or false based on whether the premise leads to a desirable or undesirable consequence. Even if Nye were entirely accurate in his assessment, it doesn't make evolution true or creation false.

But regardless of that, implicit in Nye's comments is the idea that one cannot understand science unless he believes evolution. His concern, as stated overtly here, is that kids who believe creation, will not be able to contribute to any advances in technology or help solve any of the world's problems. It's a flawed premise which likely stems from his seeming inability to distinguish between the terms “evolution” and “science.” I know he's a somewhat intelligent person so he must be intentionally conflating the terms.

As I said in my last post, there is no relationship between a belief in evolution and the ability to engage in science. Nye's point is entirely non sequitor. I asked before for a single example of any life improving technology made in last 20 years whose invention hinged upon a belief in evolution. I don't care – make it any example from any time for the last century. I will say again, I don't think such a thing exists. However, even if someone should surprise me with an example, I won't be phased. Think about all the other incredible new inventions we've seen in just the last few decades: computers, phones, satellites, etc. Even if some small token of technology was inspired by evolution, it is dwarfed by all the other advances that we have made which have nothing to do with it.

To this point, one visitor to my blog said,

I think [Nye's] point is not so much "you can't believe the Earth is only 6000 years old and design perfectly good aircraft engines or solar panels." Rather, his point is that if you reject evidence,... you can dismiss any scientific conclusion you find objectionable.

Curiously absent from this response is an example like I had asked for. Instead, it's merely more of the same appeal to consequence. In this case, it's a slippery slope argument that since a creationist rejects “evidence” (I assume he means “rejects the evidence for evolution”), he's prone to arbitrarily reject any evidence so ultimately wouldn't make a good scientist. Besides mere bald assertions, I'd like to see any scientific study or survey that suggests people who believe creation understand science any less than the average evolutionist? Again, I don't believe such a thing exists. Most scientific disciplines were founded not only by Christians but by creationists. Their beliefs did not hinder their scientific inquiry in any way.

Let me make one final point. There is virtually nothing within the theory of evolution that is agreed on by all evolutionists. Not every biologist, for example, believes dinosaurs evolved into birds. Some believe in gradual evolution like Darwin described; others believe in long periods of stasis interrupted by rapid bursts of evolution. Most evolutionary scientists believe life began in the sea then evolved onto land but a few believe the opposite occurred. There is constant reassignment of where certain animals belong on the tree of life. Sometimes, scientists are “certain” about when some particular species lived only to find fossils dated much older than they originally believed. The entire theory of evolution is plastic and is reshaped every day as new discoveries overturn previously held notions. In other words, you can be wrong about

how something evolved or
where something evolved or
when something evolved

but in order to be a “real” scientist, you still must believe that it evolved.

Nye said we need to understand evolution just like we need to understand electricity! What a joke. At best, evolution would only be ancillary to science but I don't think it's even that. Let me be clear – molecules-to-man evolution isn't even real. How then could it be fundamental to science? To suggest that accepting creation threatens progress is a cheap scare tactic.


Steven J. said...

Nye's argument is an argument from consequences. Your response, interestingly, seems to be an argument from lack of consequences, although I'm not quite clear on whether you're arguing that creationism is true because one can still do organic chemistry or solid-state physics while believing it, or that we shouldn't worry over whether it is true or not, since the effects of believing this particular falsehood are so trivial, scientifically.

I am inclined to think your are arguing the latter (even though you close by asserting the former), since you aren't arguing that creationism actually has provided technological benefits. Your point, presumably, is that "origins science" is inherently faith-based, untestable, and technologically sterile, and hence the positions one takes on it are irrelevant to other fields of research.

I have a sneaking suspicion that scientists understand evolutionary theory better than random members of the general public. And there are polls showing that scientists accept evolution in far greater numbers than the general public (95% vs. 49%, according to a 1997 Gallup poll), at least in the United States. There is a weaker but significant correlation between acceptance of evolution and income level (which in turn correlates, though not perfectly, to education, which in turn correlates, though not perfectly, to scientific literacy).

You've mentioned that many eminent scientists were creationists. It surely would seem at least equally relevant that so very few are today -- and probably not irrelevant that, e.g. Newton or Boyle did not reject evolution so much as never heard of it. As I implied in the previous thread, it is unlikely that the men who picked the motto nullius in verba" for their motto would have endorsed the principle that "by definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record."

Punctuated equilibria versus gradualism is a poor choice of disagreement, since Gould argued that P.E. occurred in some cases but not all and "rapid" means over thousands of years rather than millions, not over days -- it's still step-by-step evolution over periods humans would regard as "long" (for that matter, Darwin himself said that he thought most lineages spent most of their time not evolving).

The dispute over whether birds or dinosaurs (itself limited to a handful of holdouts) occurs within a general agreement that birds are modified archosaurs; the dispute is over which branch of early archosaurs gave rise to birds. Such disputes give no more reason to dispute that common descent with modification is true than do disagreements over the address of some particular building give reason to doubt that a city exists; evolution is an inference from the overall pattern of immense amounts of evidence.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

I'm going to address your points in order but I'm not going to include your quotes since that unnecessarily pushes my comment up to Google's character limit and my responses are sometime long enough on their own merit.

I'm not arguing that creation is true from the lack of consequences. I'm demonstrating that Nye's fear of consequences is pointless because one's belief in origins has no consequence on his pursuit of science. It's a lie to say that the popularity of creationism threatens the progress of science. I notice that you STILL haven't provided a single example of a life improving technology whose invention hinged on a belief in evolution. Don't worry though, though, none of your cohorts have either.

I will say, however, that one's belief on origins does indeed have an effect on his attitude toward the Bible and, consequently, his willingness to trust Jesus as his Savior. If believing evolution were as benign as believing in Big Foot, I wouldn't waste my time blogging about it. Jesus told the Pharisees in John 5 that they don't believe His words because they don't believe the words of Moses. The words of Moses, of course, include Genesis.

Certainly scientists do believe evolution in greater numbers than the general public. I'm sure they also better understand the supposed mechanisms that make it work. However, the fact that it's believed by a large number of scientists is not evidence that it's true just like the pioneers of science believing in creation does not make it true. I only cite them to demonstrate, again, that a person's belief on origins does not retard his ability to conduct science. By the way, I've cited Gallup a few times on this blog. I think you're wrong about the “95% of scientists believe evolution” stat. I know that Talk Origins often cited Gallup as saying 99.9% of scientists believe evolution but they failed to ever provide a link to a survey showing this. The only link I ever saw was to Gallup's home page. Even if it were true, it's not evidence for evolution. However, the stat isn't even true.

If you don't like my examples of disagreements within the scientific community over sub-theories within evolution, please feel free to provide your own. I'm sure there are no shortages of disagreements. My point is that scientists are still at odds over nearly every detail of when things evolved, how things evolved, and where things evolved, yet still turn their noses up at people who question IF things evolved. It doesn't make any sense. If they still are uncertain about the how, where, and when, why don't more of them question the IF? It's more of a dogma type think, isn't it?

And scientists often discover they're wrong when some new find upsets their previous conclusions. How does that change the world? Do airplanes suddenly start falling out of the sky because a fossil of species X was discovered on another continent in rock layers dated 10 million years older than we previously thought that species evolved? If scientists were wrong about engineering as often as they were wrong about where species belonged on the tree of life, science would indeed be in trouble. Fortunately for us, evolution has no real impact on science.

God bless!!


Steven J. said...

Regarding poll results: the only place I can find comparing results of scientists' views on evolution with those of the general public is a summary of a 1997 Gallup Poll at the Religious Tolerance site. According to that, 40% of scientists think that life developed over millions of years with God's guidance, and 55% believe that it evolved without such guidance. I suppose that 40% may contain some old-earth creationists, but I'd say that well over 90% of scientists accept that you have monkey ancestors and goldfish cousins. Granted, this is 1997 data, but the polling results for the general public are pretty consistent over the last three decades, and I suspect the same is true among scientists. It would be interesting to see results broken down by specialty, but I know of no source for such statistics.

I have, by the way, found in interesting that the Discovery Institute's famous "Dissent from Darwinism" does not actually express any skepticism about the idea that humans share ancestors with baboons and beech trees. It declares its signers "skeptical" that mutation and natural selection alone can explain all details of biological complexity and diversity (interesting note: so was Charles Darwin), but nowhere hints that supernatural causes are likely to be part of a more complete explanation. There's really nothing in the statement (other than the implied intent) that would prevent any of the signers of the "Project Steve" pro-evolution statement from signing the DI statement as well. The authors of that statement apparently did not share your hopes for a large creationist dissident movement among scientists.

Steven J. said...

Regarding specific disagreements about evolution combined with broad acceptance of the idea: A few years ago, comparisons of Y-chromosome DNA between known descendants of Thomas Jefferson's slave Sally Hemings and known Jefferson relatives established that some male member of the Jefferson family sired at least Hemings' son Eston. Defenders of the third President argue that it may well have been one of Jefferson's nephews, but it is agreed that someone sharing a grandfather with Jefferson did so.

By the same token, arguments over which exact archosaur group gave rise to birds is not disagreement, or a reason for disagreement, that some branch of early archosaurs did so. And so forth for a host of disagreements about the exact details of systematics and evolutionary phylogeny.

Living things are arranged in a consistent nested hierarchy -- a pattern of groups united by uniquely shared characteristics (e.g. the cat family or horse family or oak family), contained entirely in larger groups united by a smaller but still impressive suite of uniquely shared traits. Nested hierarchies are not themselves anything special -- libraries use them to classify books, for example. But depending on what traits you pick, a given book might end up in any of several different sections. Conversely, different suites of traits converge on the same or very similar nested hierarchies of living things: all animals with one bone in the lower jaw and three in the inner ear also have mammary glands and a left but not a right aortic arch. That is not something that is readily explicable in terms of special creation with common design (if common design, then why not feathers on bats or mammary glands on penguins?), but makes sense in terms of common descent with modification.

This same nested hierarchy extends to genetic features such as the shared pseudogenes and endogenous retroviruses mentioned in an earlier thread. The same sort of shared genetic quirks that link Eston Hemings' descendants to Thomas Jefferson (whether as a direct or a collateral ancestor), link humans to chimpanzees and gorillas, regardless of whether Lucy the A. afarensis was a direct ancestor or merely an evolutionary great-aunt.

Then there is faunal succession the fossil record. This does not of itself distinguish between evolution and old-earth creationism (though one might wonder why, if God was simply creating and replacing ecologies in succession, He made each successive set of creations more like the animals and plants we see around us today -- the idea that these were early concept drafts that He was refining until He came up with us seems unworthy of omniscience and omnipotence), but it poses a real problem for young-earth creationism. Why don't we find, among the fossil mammals of the Cretaceous, any membes of modern species, genera, or families? Why did paleontologists searching for fossils in rock estimated to be 400 million years old find Tiktaalik rather than a whale or ichthyosaur? The broad shape of the tree of life is clear from fossils, comparative anatomy, and comparative genomics, even if the exact detail of the branchings is fuzzy in many cases.

RKBentley said...


The link you provided doesn't work. I did my own Google search and found an article on that discussed evolution/creation surveys but it didn't cite any stats about scientists. There is the Talk Origins article that says only 5% of “scientists and engineers” in the US believe in creation but they cite a 1991 Gallup survey. They provide a link to the Religious Tolerance article that doesn't really provide any further details.

NCSE does talk about a “random survey of 1000 persons listed in the 1995 American Men and Women of Science” which uses similar percentages as you have. Later in the same article, they cite Gallup polls from 1982 and 1991 that talk about beliefs in origins by the general public but provide no links. They next cite a study reported in Nature that talked about the religious attitudes of scientists.

I could not find any poll on Gallup that breaks down a belief in evolution/creation by “scientists.” Remember that “scientists” is a broad term. I might concede if you narrowed it to practicing biologists and geologists. If you include all scientists and engineers, I think the 5% is way off.

Here is a Gallup poll that breaks down a belief in creation according to education:

You can see in the poll that 25% of all people with a post graduate degree (which would include many practicing scientists) believe “God created human beings in present form.” Among post graduates who attend church regularly, the percentage is much higher, 44%. Yet even among post graduates who do not attend church, 9% still believe in special creation.

If there is a poll out there that reports the stats as you've cited them, I have yet to see it. It doesn't prove anything, of course. I'd just like to read it. What I have read are many anti-creationism organizations spouting numbers like 95-99.9% of “scientists” believe in evolution as though it is somehow evidence their theory is true.

God bless!!