Questionable Motives

January 11, 2012

Why is being called an ignorant creationist redundant?

I like the Catholic Encyclopedia definition of ignorance in the sense I am using here, namely, a lack of knowledge about a thing in a being capable of knowing rather than the standard notion of it meaning merely a lack of knowledge, education, or awareness… for which one may not be responsible. Creationists here in the West have no such similar excuse; instead, they are perfectly capable of knowing why genetics and the geologic time scale and evolution are not just true in some theoretical sense but true in the fact that they inform our technologies and practices that work consistently and reliably well for everyone everywhere all the time. We are populated by large numbers of people who doubt specific scientific inquires in order to maintain a belief in some kind of religiously motivated ‘creative’ agency… something I call divine POOF!ism. This is intellectually bankrupt and teaching it is as if it were compatible and supportive of science is simply not true. It is religious selfishness in action.

What excuse beyond selfishness do we find for so many Protestant pastors from this Southern Baptist Convention survey? Consider the following:

America’s Protestant pastors overwhelmingly reject the theory of evolution and are evenly split on whether the earth is 6,000 years old, according to a survey released Monday by the Southern Baptist Convention.

When asked if “God used evolution to create people,” 73% of pastors disagreed – 64% said they strongly disagreed – compared to 12% who said they agree.

Asked whether the earth is approximately 6,000 years old, 46% agreed, compared to 43% who disagreed.

A movement called Young Earth creationism promotes the 6,000-year-old figure, arguing that it is rooted in the Bible. Scientists say the earth is about 4.5 billion years old.

The Southern Baptist Convention survey, which queried 1,000 American Protestant pastors, also found that 74% believe the biblical Adam and Eve were literal people.

“Recently discussions have pointed to doubts about a literal Adam and Eve, the age of the earth and other origin issues,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention, in a report on LifeWay’s site. “But Protestant pastors are overwhelmingly Creationists and believe in a literal Adam and Eve.”

Not only do so many of these people not keep their bizarre beliefs private but actually promote them through congregational teachings. And what many are teaching, even though they are beings quite capable of knowing differently, is if not factually wrong then grossly misleading because it is incompatible with what we do know based on what works consistently and reliably for everyone everywhere all the time. In addition, these teaching are pernicious in that they cause intended harm through the promotion of willful ignorance contrary to the teaching of knowledge.

How can I say such things?

Well, consider the incompatibility of belief in an historical and literal Adam and Eve. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understanding of genetics. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about how genetics work in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand heritable diseases and crop sciences, as but two examples. In fact, this belief is in direct and uncompromising conflict with our understanding of genetics that works for everyone everywhere all the time. There is very strong genetic evidence unaccounted for by such a belief that the smallest human population from whom we come was no smaller than about ~10,000.  To believe in a literal and historical Adam and Eve means that believers really do reject this part of science we call genetics.

Consider the incompatibility of belief that the world is fewer than ~10,000 years old. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of the term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understanding of geology. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about the age and formation of rock strata and the forces that have affected them over time that works in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand resource exploration and extraction and erosion and tectonics, as but four examples. In fact this belief in young earth creationism is in conflict with our understanding of geology (and radioactive decay) that works for everyone everywhere all the time. There is very strong geological evidence unaccounted for by such a belief that we live on planet that has undergone significant change over a great deal of time. To believe in a created earth means that believers really do reject this part of science we call geology (and, by extension, the age of other planets).

Consider the incompatibility of belief that our biological heritage is from divine creation by an interventionist agency. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of the term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understand of evolution. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about biological development and change over time by what is known as natural selection (it would not be ‘natural’ if traits were selected by some interventionist agency) that works in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand biology and medicine, to name but two. There is very strong evolutionary evidence unaccounted for by such a creationist belief that life on earth is related yet differentiated by natural selection over a great deal of time. To believe in creationism means that believers really do reject this part of science we call biology.

So what’s the harm maintaining such a dismissive belief? After all, we are assured repeatedly by many earnest religious believers and apologetic accommodationists that ‘science’ and ‘religion’ are actually compatible… and even mutually supportive! So my question is – as always – Is this claim true?

I need to divert for a moment and look at ‘science’ in the larger sense and understand why this argument about creationists respecting science – but not these specific scientific avenues – is just not true.  Science, let us recall, is a METHOD of inquiry and not the results of an inquiry. In other words, exactly the same METHOD is used to investigate, say, genetics as it is germs, aerodynamics as it is astronomy. It makes no sense to suggest that it is somehow compatible and supportive to reject that METHOD here but not there in order to privilege some prior religious belief. It’s actually dishonest. It is neither compatible nor supportive to suggest that the belief in geocentrism does not stand in contrast and competition with heliocentrism when the two notions are incompatible – they are necessarily in conflict – any more than it does to suggest biblical inerrancy should be granted to the story of Adam and Eve but not biblical inerrancy to the sixty some odd reference to the earth as the center of the universe. To reject the specific science that informs genetics and geology and evolution to privilege religious beliefs incompatible with them is contrary to being supportive of the METHOD of science used to inform all other scientific inquiries. It is that identical METHOD that shows us that the geocentric model fails where the heliocentric model succeeds for everyone everywhere all the time. It is that METHOD that informs all these practical applications and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time derived from the specific scientific inquiries so vilified by supporters of creationism. By rejecting genetics and geology and evolution to favour and prejudice some holy scripture, creationists are rejecting the METHOD of science used to inform not just these specific scientific inquiries but ALL OF THEM.

This has a pernicious effect… especially in medicine.

Evolutionary theories are critical for understanding human disease. They are used to understand the origins of cancer and to better design therapies, which directly help our understanding through evolutionary history to explain modern health problems (such as type-II diabetes and obesity). It is upon these evolutionary theories that we have learned to appreciate viral evolution, which is used to design safe and effective vaccination strategies that work. For example, an evolutionary viewpoint is the only way to understand the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and to develop effective methods for stopping or slowing it. Defining the evolutionary process of cancers is leading to new, more targeted approaches in cancer treatment. How we incorporate these evolutionary ideas into medical education enhances the education of health professionals, which is in stark conflict with creationist belief (that usually blames sin for our earned deaths… such a cheerful and optimistic bunch). Our biomedical science gains from understanding human evolution and allows us to design and implement solutions to our vulnerability to disease. The evolutionary approach to medicine and public health is enormous, informing areas of research and providing predictions and guidance for novel interventions.

All of this medical knowledge and its pursuit is at dire risk when we continue to pretend that teaching creationism is somehow compatible, somehow a legitimate and equivalent alternative, with the scientific quest to know.

It isn’t. At all.

Now consider the incompatibility creationism presents as an alternative to the benefits from informed medicine and how many future doctors and medical researchers are turned away from this pursuit in the name of honouring the religious beliefs of their parents and pastors about creationism. Think of how many students are affected when creationists in all their various lying for Jesus and Allah guises try to insert this theology into science classrooms or religious students who do everything they can to remove specific scientific inquiries like evolution from their educational curriculum.

All of this medical knowledge and its pursuit is at dire risk when we continue to pretend that teaching creationism is somehow compatible, somehow a legitimate and equivalent alternative, with the scientific METHOD. It’s simply not true.

Creationism – and its gaggle of handmaidens of other necessary beliefs contrary to specific scientific inquiries – is in direct conflict with the METHOD of science that produces what works for everyone everywhere all the time. This is why such belief that sidelines legitimate and honest inquiry into reality is not a ‘different way of knowing’ or some separate but equivalent Magesterium. Creationism is a turning away from honest scientific methodology (methodological naturalism) and insisting on a return to ignorance. Ignorance is the real alternative people are choosing when they reject and ignore knowledge we have that works for everyone everywhere all the time, knowledge upon which companies invest trillions of dollars, knowledge that has the effrontery to work consistently and reliably well in reality over time. By staying faithful to beliefs that are wholly inadequate to reveal what works in reality by comparison, people are choosing ignorance over knowledge to maintain their religious belief. The sacrifice costs. Yet still many are teaching  creationism to their kids and want it taught to the general public. They want respect for this ignorance established in law and want to base public policies on extensions of it in areas like research and human reproduction and foreign aid. It’s ignorance in action, what we atheists like to call ‘turtles all the way down’. It’s a ruse, a lie, an intentional deception, a willful disregard for what is true in reality to pretend creationism is an equivalent and respectable alternative to specific scientific inquiries rather than the ignorance in action it honestly is.

It’s high time more of us reminded creationists determined to insert their beliefs into the public domain of this brute fact, that being an ignorant creationist is in fact and deed redundant.

(h/t Pandasthumb)

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20 Comments »

  1. The Bible says “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.” If anyone reading this wants to check out a defense of Christianity in relation to these points, I recommend that they read through some articles on http://www.creation.com (try typing ‘biology needs evolution’ into the search box: the first article in the list would be a very good start). Then having seen both sides of the argument, you will be best placed to make their own judgment.

    Comment by MarkD — April 2, 2012 @ 2:23 pm | Reply

    • I find it interesting that creationists seem incapable of appreciating why reality – and not their favourite religious belief – is a much better arbiter of what is true about. If one wishes to learn about evolution, for example, why turn to a religious source rather than a scientific one? The long list of apologetic articles mentioned by MarkD does not aid in this inquiry. Of the first four articles I read, not one introduces an argument that hasn’t already been thoroughly and adequately refuted. But this won’t matter to MarkD because his religious belief MUST be correct and it’s reality’s job – as well as the job of those who study how reality operates – to fit into it. No matter what. But the problem here is that the religious belief in creationism is not only without stand-alone merit as any kind of comparable alternative or, as MarkD writes, the other ‘side’ of this argument; it stands in conflict with explanations that otherwise work reliably and consistently well, explanations upon which we have built applications that work and knowledge that is true for everyone everywhere all the time. To MarkD’s way of thinking, all of this is simply wrong because it HAS to be wrong for his religious belief in creationism to be maintained. Therefore, everyone everywhere who respects reality’s role in determining what’s true about it are misguided. What MarkD refuses to consider is what’s true: that in reality there IS NO OTHER EQUIVALENT ‘SIDE’ because this matter is not an argument but a fact of reality; there is only a faith-based belief immune from falsifiability contrary to reality. That’s why Steve in the preceding comment describes this kind of belief in creationism to be choice of remaining ignorant over gaining knowledge.

      If you want to learn some knowledge about evolution then go to TalkOrigins. At least check out the FAQs. If you want to maintain a belief in creationism, stay away from knowledge and find a comfy echo chamber because that’s all such a belief can provide.

      Comment by tildeb — April 2, 2012 @ 3:07 pm | Reply

    • If anyone reading this wants to check out a defense of Christianity in relation to these points, I recommend that they read through some articles on…

      NO. 25: ARGUMENT FROM INTERNET AUTHORITY
      (1) There is a website that successfully argues for the existence of God.
      (2) Here is the URL.
      (3) Therefore, God exists.

      http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/GodProof.htm

      Comment by Cedric Katesby — April 8, 2012 @ 11:52 am | Reply

      • But the comment I made was not seeking to prove that God exists. I was pointing out where readers could find a defense of Christianity in relation to the points raised in the article above, if they were interested.

        Comment by MarkD — April 8, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

  2. tildeb, I understand that you passionately defend your position and pour scorn on counterarguments. Your comments are consistent with your chosen worldview. But it doesn’t cause the counterarguments or their logic to disappear.

    Being a creationist doesn’t make anyone a bad scientist. All the useful science that leads to advances in technology is equally accessible to both of us. The assumptions that are made when an atheist does historical science are different to the assumptions I would make, but we can and do both work together on projects that involve operational science and are directly used to achieve working results. (I am an engineer rather than a scientist but the same applies).

    Comment by MarkD — April 3, 2012 @ 4:21 pm | Reply

    • No, MarkD, creationism and science are incompatible in methodology and incompatible in conclusions. They are incompatible ‘ways of knowing’. The scientists who can compartmentalize these incompatibilities and still produce good science are not evidence that the two methods of inquiry – belief in Oogity Boogity and confidence in methodological naturalism – are simply different perspectives, anymore than arguing that some priests are pedophiles does not mean religion and pedophilia are compatible. I do not respect science because of my ‘worldview’ or ‘perspective’ or ‘assumptions’; I respect science because the method works. Creationism is in no way equivalent; it is a position of faith alone… one that stands contrary to the method we use to gain knowledge about reality. You are being dishonest to suggest creationism has any intellectual merit; it stands contrary to everything we know about cause and effect linked by a natural mechanism that has no agency.

      Comment by tildeb — April 3, 2012 @ 11:36 pm | Reply

    • Being a creationist doesn’t make anyone a bad scientist

      Believing in magic doesn’t make anyone a bad scientist.
      (shrug)

      I am an engineer…

      Yeah, that’s a surprise. Not.
      Salem Hypothesis

      Comment by Cedric Katesby — April 8, 2012 @ 11:56 am | Reply

      • And, I’ve noticed, dentists. Go figure.

        The engineering bent I can understand (a very common educational achievement by successful islamic terrorists, we should note) because it’s tough to appreciate the appearance of design without assuming a designer agency. But dentists? Those silly extra molars should make one seriously wonder what moron designed this stupidity, one would think.

        Comment by tildeb — April 8, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

      • My comment about a creationist not being a bad scientist was in response to tildeb’s closing comment “If you want to maintain a belief in creationism, stay away from knowledge” and therefore the comment seems relevant to me. Substitution with ‘magic’ just makes the usual invalid comparison of a logical position being equated with a trivial or illogical one.

        The Salem hypothesis hardly addresses the logic or factual content of any argument, so it’s pretty irrelevant isn’t it? In any case, the website I have referred to is staffed by scientists rather than engineers. My purpose in declaring my area of training was to make it clear that I don’t make a claim to be a scientist myself.

        Comment by MarkD — April 8, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

      • Oh, and regarding tildeb’s thoughts on dentists? It’s reasonable to conclude that problems with wisdom teeth are due to modern diets, see http://creation.com/are-wisdom-teeth-third-molars-vestiges-of-human-evolution if you really want the details.

        Comment by MarkD — April 8, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

      • But it’s still a very bad design, MarkD, if the designer failed to appreciate the human diet while designing our teeth! That’s one very poor designer who fails to take function into account.

        I’m sorry, but this opinion from the link fails utterly to account for wisdom teeth, whereas evolution does.

        Comment by tildeb — April 8, 2012 @ 10:22 pm

      • The Bible accounts for things going wrong, that would not have happened in the original creation. There are other articles dealing with this such as http://creation.com/oh-my-aching-wisdom-teeth among others.

        Comment by MarkD — April 10, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

  3. tildeb, you are making claims for science which apply to the operational science that we use to produce modern technology, and then trying to extrapolate these benefits into the area of origins theory. I say again, we share an enthusiasm and respect for operational science. It isn’t the same thing as your assumption that there is no God. Belief in the God of the Bible does not hinder a scientist’s practical work in any way. Rather than repeating myself, anyone interested in further comments on this could follow the discussion on https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/is-atheist-anger-necessary/#comment-3769.

    Comment by MarkD — April 5, 2012 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

  4. It isn’t the same thing as your assumption that there is no God.

    It isn’t the same thing as your assumption that there is no Santa.
    It isn’t the same thing as your assumption that there is no Bigfoot.
    It isn’t the same thing as your assumption that there is no Flying Spaghetti Monster.
    It isn’t the same thing as your assumption that there is no Magic Elvis.

    Comment by Cedric Katesby — April 8, 2012 @ 11:59 am | Reply

  5. But the comment I made was not seeking to prove that God exists. I was pointing out where readers could find a defense of Christianity…

    Whatever helps you sleep at night.

    Substitution with ‘magic’ just makes the usual invalid comparison of a logical position being equated with a trivial or illogical one.

    How?

    The Salem hypothesis hardly addresses the logic or factual content of any argument…

    It wasn’t meant too. Read it again. Don’t you see the delicious irony that yet another engineer is a creationist? You could have been a biologist or an astronomer or a quantity surveyor but no, you are an engineer of all professions. The only thing that would make the cliche complete is if you were not only an engineer but also 1) white 2) American and 3) retired.

    If someone believes that truth and reality are found in Star Wars or pixies or ancient Egyption paganism, it doesn’t take any
    time to demolish this position as unreasonable. These things just don’t hold up logically. This means that there is an element
    of straw man in Cedric’s substitution method, because he tries to show that because these other beliefs are hollow, any and all beliefs must be hollow. The difference is that Baalism does stand up to an examination of its claims, using both logic and history. Arguments are made against this statement that I’m sure you enthuse over, but the fact is that there are reasonable responses available if you are willing to consider them.

    Sound like the same ol’ crap to me but go ahead. Give it your best shot. State your claim and present your evidence.

    A Caller Offers Proof of God (The Atheist Experience)

    Comment by Cedric Katesby — April 9, 2012 @ 1:37 am | Reply

  6. “State your claim and present your evidence.” Thanks for the invitation, I’d like to do that. I could just throw down some thoughts as they occur to me but this isn’t supposed to be a test of how good I am at summarising this info. Therefore please do take the trouble to read the article at the following link which states the Bible’s claim and summarises the main lines of supporting evidence: http://creation.com/images/pdfs/cabook/chapter1.pdf

    At the end of the main article, the experience of Christians is mentioned. This is not a trivial part of Christianity, it’s a living and vital part. My interest in discussing this whole issue is that I don’t want people to wrongly close themselves to a relationship with God simply because they mistakenly think that they need to reject God in order to retain their intellectual integrity.

    I agree there are plenty of wild ideas out there: don’t pick a stupid philosophy, choose the one that’s real. On that I’m sure we agree, even if we still have to disagree about which is the right one…

    Comment by MarkD — April 11, 2012 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

  7. “My interest in discussing this whole issue…”

    Link bombing is not discussion. No one will take you seriously if you continue to do that. It reeks of fail.

    …I don’t want people to wrongly close themselves to a relationship with God simply because they mistakenly think that they need to reject God in order to retain their intellectual integrity.

    …I don’t want people to wrongly close themselves to a relationship with Baal simply because they mistakenly think that they need to reject Baal in order to retain their intellectual integrity.
    …I don’t want people to wrongly close themselves to a relationship with Yoda simply because they mistakenly think that they need to reject Yoda in order to retain their intellectual integrity.
    …I don’t want people to wrongly close themselves to a relationship with Santa simply because they mistakenly think that they need to reject Santa in order to retain their intellectual integrity.
    …I don’t want people to wrongly close themselves to a relationship with The Flying Spaghetti Monster simply because they mistakenly think that they need to reject the Flying Spaghetti Monster in order to retain their intellectual integrity.

    I agree there are plenty of wild ideas out there: don’t pick a stupid philosophy, choose the one that’s real.

    Well, what was the methodology that you used?
    Let me give you a hint: Were your parents Sikhs by any chance? Oh they were not? What a surprise!

    Raising Consciousness (2/2) – Richard Dawkins @ UC Berkeley

    Comment by Cedric Katesby — April 11, 2012 @ 11:26 pm | Reply

    • I tried to explain why I thought the link was justified. I’ve claimed that Christianity does stand up to an examination of its claims and I still invite anyone who wants to examine this to follow the link – you could probably read the article in 15 minutes. I think that’s preferable to putting a lot of text in this space, and also preferable to an inadequate summary that doesn’t do justice to the importance of the subject.

      Using the parody at godlessgeeks generally isn’t going to be a valid argument. Many of the items would not be used by a thinking person, and others wouldn’t try to end with ‘therefore God exists’ but they have a valid point in terms of ‘therefore Christianity is logical, and doesn’t require you to empty your brain as is falsely claimed’ or ‘therefore Christianity is a good thing, not a bad influence as is falsely claimed’.

      I suspect that most people will get the point that my case against your substitution method is that Christianity makes sense where these other ideas don’t (i.e. see comment 4 and the bit you (mis)quoted in comment 5).

      With regard to the beliefs of our parents: I suggest that if Christianity makes sense, you should not use any failings of your parents as an excuse to reject Christianity now. Go for it and experience the real thing for yourself. I have.

      Comment by MarkD — April 16, 2012 @ 3:51 pm | Reply


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