Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Are Creationists Liars?

Update: this post is now also featured at Skepticblogs.

Over the weekend, I was chatting with a good friend of mine, and he brought up the very interesting biographical story of Mary Schweitzer who started as a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) as a child, but because of interest in science became an influential paleontologist, showing how dinosaurs were likely warm-blooded and the ancestors to modern birds (which means when you eat chicken, you are eating a dinosaur!). I also added the interesting tangent that YECs have tried to use Schweitzer's work on blood cells found in dino bones as proof of a young earth (or at least that fossils are not millions of years old), my friends had heard of as well. But this then got into the conversation of misinformation and if creationists are liars or simply misinformed.

Now, I definitely think that the vast majority of average folks that believe in YEC are not dishonest, nor do they think what facts they have are lies. They are two things: suffering confirmation bias (only hearing that which reinforces their beliefs) and misinformation (perhaps even propaganda). That will cause many people to truly and honestly think the science is on their side. It just has the irony factor that science can explain to a large degree why they don't believe the science (something articulated in Chris Mooney's The Republican Brain).

However, I think it better to focus on the people that make the claims to support creationism, from the creation scientists of old to the modern Intelligent Design proponents. Are they all liars? Some? Just a few bad apples?

In the opinion of one person that has dealt with creationists a lot, YouTube user (and now blogger) Aronra in his Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism along with subsequent videos tries to make the case that creationist proponents actively try to pull the wool over people's eyes either for ideological or monetary reasons (or both). He even argues that biochemist Michael Behe, best known for defending irreducible complexity as evidence against evolution, was at least intellectually dishonest in his testimony at the Dover, Pennsylvania trial on Intelligent Design.

However, I won't simply post the opinions of others, no matter how well-founded. Let's consider this from two points: the prior probability that creationism is advanced by dishonesty, and examples of it in action.

First, how likely is it that good, Christian leaders could promote things that are positively false yet peddled as absolute truth? Isn't there a significant disconnect between defending a system of morality and violating the 9th commandment?  Well, that is something that can be overcome with a bit of rationalization, and not much really. In the minds of YEC leaders, evolution is not simply a scientific theory, it is a force trying to undermine the whole of society. As is seen in this illustration from creationist literature, evolution supports Nazism, abortion, sexual perversion, racism, radical feminists, and more things seen as terrible. And Creation "Science" is the remedy, or so it seems. So whatever tool it takes to take down evolution is given great moral weight. Such a precedent can be seen in the Church historian Eusebius, who advocated (from the idea in Plato) it is sometimes necessary to use a lie for medicinal purposes, sort of speak. In another context, there is pseudo-historian David Barton who is now too widely considered a liar to be publishable by anyone with a reputation (which is why he has gone to Glen Beck). He really was a liar for Jesus, making up quotes and making claims such as the Founding Fathers had settled the evolution vs. creationism issue back in the day... even though they were most all dead before Charles Darwin could even read, let alone publish his Origin of Species.

Moreover, there is the point to consider of how a position such as YEC can survive when it was been falsified since the early 19th century. How can a position be supported by educated people, given the information resources of modern times, when each and every claim said to be indicative of a young earth and against common decent are not only proved false, but even nicely sorted against the claims? There are no facts one can point to that actually indicate the earth is less than 10,000 years old, while there are a significant number in favor of an earth million and billions of years old. Can someone, let alone numerous people research a topic and get their facts wrong time and again without intellectual dishonesty?

The problem becomes all the worse considering that many YEC organizations proudly put up their statements of faith. For example, Answers in Genesis (AiG) has a Statement of Faith that includes the following:
By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.
(And no, this is not the only example.) Such a statement indicates that from the start, no evidence can go against what is already believed. If you already "know" the "answer", then the research becomes farcical. And while scientists can indeed fall into cognitive traps and fail to see evidence that undoes their own pet theories, they don't make statements in advance of what the evidence must be.

So, initially we can see that there are potential motivators for being dishonest for the sake of taking down evolution. But what about actual cases where this happens? Let's start early in history.

If we look to the beginning of the fight against Darwin's theory, we ought to consider Sir Richard Owen, a brilliant anatomist and founder of the British Museum and the coiner of the word "dinosaur." However, he was a staunch opponent of Darwin and a supporter of a theological interpretation of life's past rather than the mechanistic account of Darwin and his bulldog Huxley. And so it seems that Owen invented the claim that a brain structure (the hippocampus minor) was only possessed by humans and not other primates, thus undercutting common ancestry. But investigations by others showed Owen to be wrong, and considering Owen's prowess in anatomy, it becomes hard to believe he could make such a mistake. There was Huxley's book written for those unexposed to advanced anatomy that these structures were indeed in both humans as well as monkeys, so the feature was rather obvious to all observers (including scientists such as Charles Lyell). That Owen evaded this, along with creating inaccurate drawings to hide other features of primate brains, had to further claim that the hippocampus minor was not only missing in lower primates and "idiot" further indicates his stubbornness to the obvious, and having been caught he finally admitted that the structure was in other primate brains (though with caveats), all indicates he was protecting other interests. This is detailed in the book Owen's Ape and Darwin's Bulldog and this rather good Wikipedia page on the subject. Also, this video:


In addition, Owen tried to discredit the usefulness of Archaeopteryx (discovered in 1861) as a transition between reptiles and bird by comparing the fossil to pterosaurs rather than dinosaurs. Again, hardly an innocent mistake since Owen had been the definer of dinosaurs, so this made it easy for Huxley to expose him again. (Obviously there wasn't much love between these men.) Owen also was not a terribly moral man who squished those that got in his way, wrote letters in the third person to papers attacking his enemies and praising himself, and was also accused of plagiarism.

So, it seems in the case of Owen, he was willing to present falsehoods in order to advance his career and attack evolution, and he was widely considered towards the end of his life to have been a dishonest man. But he is hardly the only case to present. If we move on to the Scope Monkey Trial of 1925, we can see another case there it was seen as useful to take a position believed to be false in order to attack evolution. Here we had a titan of American politics, William Jennings Bryan, fighting for Christ and society against the great agnostic Clarence Darrow (though they were in fact friends and Darrow helped Bryan in his bids for the presidency). Now, an interesting fact that the movie and stage performance of the trial, Inherit the Wind, doesn't properly represent is that Bryan was not a YEC, but instead he did not disagree with the geologists. However, when on the stand, he did try to argue for a young earth, citing the "research" of George McReady Price, the effective founder of Young Earth Creationism. Price was not a geologist or trained scientist, and also on the stand Bryan admitted the antiquity of the earth (see The Creationists, pp. 58, 89, 116-7). So again, we have a person willing to use research that was not only outside of the scientific mainstream but even at odds with his own beliefs, all for the sake of fighting Darwinism because of its perceived moral issues. Not unlike that seen in the illustration above: using "science" that supports creationism to stop some other evil.

However, these figures are long dead and do not promote things today, obviously. What about living proponents of creationism? As another case example, consider Duane Gish, a founding figure in creation "science" and a trained biochemist. So he ought to know basic biology and chemistry. As one of his famous cases against natural selection and the piecemeal origins of biological systems, he pointed to the bombardier beetle, a bug that can squirt a boiling liquid at predators for protection. Gish claimed that the chemicals in the liquid used by the beetle, hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone, explode without an inhibitor; thus, the beetle could not have existed without the inhibitor, giving nothing for nature to select, thus meaning the creature had to be formed the way it was, otherwise Kaboom! But what happens if you do mix these chemicals together? Actually, no boom. At all. You can test this yourself with store-bought supplies.

Now, Gish made this claim in a book from 1977. In 1978, he was informed of this, and though he still thought it impossible for the beetle to have evolved, he agreed that the chemical combo was not explosive. And yet, in 1980, he still made the same argument. He should have known better before making the argument (he was a chemist), and he admitted to knowing better two years before making the same claim again. And to this day, it is still made by creationists without fixing the errors (though elsewhere they do agree the description is wrong). So we have here another example of dishonesty and knowingly so.

But we still haven't gotten to perhaps the grand-daddy of the disingenuous, "Dr." Kent Hovind. As you may have noticed, I don't think him a doctor because his degree is fake, a printing from a diploma mill called Patriot Bible University (which is just this trailer house in Colorado), so his title is fake. Hovind is also currently in prison for tax fraud, so he is indeed a convicted liar. Other acts of being disingenuous include his $250,000 prize for any evidence of evolution which, upon inspection, can only be won by showing it is impossible in any way that God could have caused the evidence to be the way it appears. He also uses his own made-up definitions of evolution to further evade ever getting the evidence for the theory that biologists actually talk about.

But as an example of creating a falsehood to advance creationism over evolution, perhaps the best example is his case of a supposed conversation with a Berkeley professor while on an airplane. He never gives a name or department for this professor, and the professor's description of the Big Bang is amazingly wrong. In fact, it appears to have been manufactures by Hovind using elementary/middle school science text books (start viewing from 3:30).


If you watched, you would notice that even Hovind's slides show that he was mixing nebula collapse for star formation and the Big Bang, which he then uses for his angular momentum argument against the Big Bang. He is clearly off his rocker and is using an encounter that could not have happened unless such a person knew nothing of cosmology yet talked exactly like a children's textbook. A collection of Hovind's lies can be found using the wayback machine here. I should also include that Hovind's ministry, Creation Science Evangelism, filed many false DMCA take-down notices of videos critical of his seminars, claiming copyright infringement even though on his lectures and on his website he states none of his stuff of copyrighted to help spread it around. Perhaps then it is no wonder that he is in jail for tax fraud and trying to disguise transactions that would have tipped off the feds. However, it is unfortunate that his son, Eric, has continued in his father's line of work, selling the same bunk, just with better graphics.

And now for one last example: taken from the Dover trial about Intelligent Design (ID). In particular, consider two of the figures on the Dover school board, William (Bill) Buckingham and Alan Bonsell. These guys, and others, wanted to get straight-out creationism taught in the schools, even though it had been clearly found to be illegal by the Supreme Court in the 1987 case of Edwards v. Aguillard. So they searched for an alternative to avoid the legal issue using ID. Part of that process was the inclusion of a textbook called Of Pandas and People. After the school board had agreed to including ID, the books appeared out of nowhere, apparently, at the school for use in the library. Sixty copies, in fact. Buckingham and Bonsell both claimed in their sworn deposition that they had no idea where the books came from.

But that was a bald-faced lie. In fact, Buckingham had gotten up in front of his church to ask for donations to buy these textbooks. He then gave a check for the books to Bonsell, who gave it to his father, who then bought the books. That is a pretty amazing lie, and told under oath no less. When the judge got wind of this, he took over the interrogation of the witness and put Bonsell up for perjury charges; Judge Jones said that the two men repeatedly lied.


Here then we have a super-clear case of lying, under oath even, in order to get creationism into the classrooms.

Now, this post has already gotten long, but it is hardly complete. I haven't considered the ever-present use of quote-mining in creationist literature, especially against Darwin and Stephen Jay Gould, or the dishonest editing of Dawkins or the propaganda film Expelled which tries to say evolutionary scientists are really Nazis. I haven't touched the geologists like Andrew Snelling who gets a PhD in the subject and writes papers, but thinks all his work is false and promotes YEC to whomever he can. And I haven't talked about ID which tries to hide what it is as subterfuge, avoiding legal barriers to teaching creationism while not providing anything that can get into peer-review (and they don't even try). Heck, documentation shows that they really have the goal of doing all that they can to destroy "Darwinism" to make way for Christian scientific approaches (see the Wedge document). The blog site The Panda's Thumb has also been tracking the falsehoods and dishonest for many years now. There is a massive industry of pseudo-science, and it truly looks like it cannot be advanced honestly.

Creationism is certainly advanced by ignorance of the facts. However, there does appear to be a significant factor of dis-ingenuousness on the part of proponents. And those that were actively listening to these false prophets do feel they were lied to after they realize how wrong they were. But still, nearly half the US buys into YEC teachings.

How best to combat this? You tell me!

2 comments:

Jonathan MS Pearce said...

Nice work. Have skimmed this and will read it in more depth tonight.

Would you like to post it / get me to post it on Skeptic Blogs?

Let me know.

Cheers

JP

Aaron Adair said...

Please, go ahead and use it on your blog. All I ask is you link back to this page and attribute. Otherwise, spread the "good word." That is, if you think the facts and ligic are in order.