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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Elementary, Dear Darwin

Post of the Month: December 2000

by Joe Cummings

Subject:    Profile of a Creationist Contributor
Date:       December 3, 2000

Back again after a longer than usual stay in France.

Our creationist friends are showing the same pattern of behaviour as always.

Let's examine this and see if there are any things we can learn about them.

A typical mode of behaviour is for someone to leap boldly into the group and tell (what he or she believes will be) an astonished world that science is wrong about something or other.

There follows an avalanche of postings correcting the poor soul. After that he/she is never heard from again. This is, as I say, very characteristic of many postings.

It will be interesting to see if the thread started by Erik ( follows the pattern.

Now I think it will be useful for both evolutionists and "confused Christian" lurkers to try to understand what's going on.

If we asked an ordinary person to express an opinion about maths, or chemistry, or nuclear physics, we'd most probably get an embarrassed refusal - "Sorry, I don't know anything about that." What we get in real life is a continuing attempt to explain the mechanisms of the sciences. We have even seen the emergence of a class of scientific popularisers trying to make it easier for us to understand what's going on.

But there's one area of science where even the most ignorant people claim to be experts, and that's evolution. There is a wide range of grammatical ability, and an equally wide range of writing ability too. But this range spreads from the normal downwards. One aspect of these contributions is common: they all use a very limited range of arguments, and more than that, these arguments have been discredited time and again in this newsgroup.

Let's go to 222b Baker Street to see if the world famous detective Sherlock Holmes can shed any light on this.

Our old friend Watson is sitting at the table, on which there is a heap of creationist postings.

"Now this is a great puzzle, Holmes. Is someone playing a practical joke on us? Although many of the arguments have been answered, the same argument is repeatedly posted as if there hadn't been an answer."

Holmes gingerly took a couple of letters and held them by the tips of his fingers. "There are too many different hands for this to be the work of one person. If it is a practical joke, it must involve a large number of people, and conspiracies are generally the work of a few. No, my dear Watson, it isn't a practical joke."

He puffed for a few minutes on his meerschaum pipe. "What we need to do is regard these as genuine letters coming from a wide range of individuals, and then try to work out what it is that causes them to act as self-appointed experts on evolution."

"But couldn't they have been paid to send them, Holmes?"

"Ah, Watson, think of the expense! And who would be the paymaster? Why would he lay out such a large amount of money? No, we must consider two things: what are these people's motives, and what are the effects, intended and unintended, of their campaign?

"If we examine their arguments, we soon realise that they are counterposing to the theory of evolution the Creation myth of the Christian Bible. Now as we are aware, the Bible has presented believers with serious problems of consistency for at least eighteen centuries, but there is no hint that the creation myth poses these people any problems.

"Let us take that as our point of departure. Further, I think you will have noticed, Watson, that the arguments presented seem very limited in number. This is very significant.

"We'll allow ourselves the luxury of a little recapitulation: different writers make the same arguments, and arguments are repeated by the same people even when they have been refuted."

"Why, Holmes, it's as if they were constantly emanating from the same source!" said Watson.

"Ah! Now we're getting a little closer to an explanation."

"Perhaps a club, or a society, Holmes?"

"But what about the wide range of writing skills that is evinced here?" Holmes waved toward the table. "Can you think of any society or club with such a wide social range of membership?"

"No, my dear Watson, not a society or club. Consider the preferred theory that these writers believe in. The Bible myth of Creation. It's a religious movement. This explains the wide social range."

"So we can characterise their motive as in the very first instance proselytisation. They wish other people to believe in the Creation myth. In this respect they're very much swimming against the current. The vast majority of believers find it perfectly comfortable to accept Creation as a myth and still believe in Christianity. You will note, Watson, that I said 'in the very first instance.' What seems to have happened is that in order to continue to believe in the Biblical story of creation the scientific method has to be brought into question, and in particular the theory of evolution.

"If you look through those posting on the table, you will find, I'm quite sure, that what the writers think of as attack on evolution is in fact an attack on the scientific method.

"That is the first unintended consequence of their position. But a second consequence is that it is legitimate to lie and misrepresent scientific facts. The dismal report by Aron-Ra (28/11/00) indicates the way things are going.

"Assuming the sincerity of many creationists, it is more than possible that less sincere and scrupulous people will use the same techniques. After all if science can be wrongly portrayed as partisan, with its own aims and interests, then its unique position as an impartial reference and tool is brought into question. There will exist an all-embracing relativism, in which people will adopt their own standards and criteria. A factory or plant producing noxious emissions into the environment? Find some tame scientist who will disagree with the findings. The result of an enquiry will not then be determined by a scientific investigation, but by whoever can spend the most money publicising their views."

Holmes glanced across at Watson. He had fallen asleep.

Have fun,

Joe Cummings

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