Creative Creationists: Can you argue creationism is scientific without lying?

Someone arguing against science while driving a car. We won't ask what they use to fuel it.

Someone arguing against science while driving a car. We won’t ask what they use to fuel it.

Just to keep it topical, in September 2012 there had been some good news from South Korea. South Korea’s government had urged publishers to ignore requests to remove examples of evolution from secondary school textbooks. This followed a campaign by the Society for Textbook Revise (a creationist organisation), which argued that details about horse evolution and that cheekiest of potential bird ancestors, Archaeopteryx, should be removed from textbooks. Thankfully for science and for the young adults of South Korea, these fascinating evolutionary tales will remain part of their education. Creationists of course will not be so happy with this inclusion of evidence. Well they wouldn’t be would they? It would be like expecting badgers to be happy about reading evidence is being ignored in favour of culling. Although you could argue a badger should be happy that it can read at all.

Creationists, for the unaware, hold the religious belief that humans, badgers, life and the universe were created by a supernatural being, usually if not always a God. The creation of all this marvellous stuff (and wasps) is described as taking place between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. In this vision, no meaningful evolution has happened. Creationists typically don’t like science. Probably only because the scientific consensus is that it is an evidence-based fact derived from multiple observations and experiments across multiple disciplines that the Earth has existed for at least 4.5 billion years with life existing for at least 3.5 billion years. In short science conclusively shows that a literalist interpretation of creationism is wrong.

Back in Bedrock I was on the university debating team. As a side-note I would like to point out that I don’t literally believe I lived in Bedrock or that the Flintstones was a historical documentary about humans living with dinosaurs. I may come to regret that sentence. Based on their past misquotations, I fully expect to see “the Flintstones was a historical documentary about humans living with dinosaurs” attributed to me in a creationist pamphlet. Or it would if I was even remotely quotable.

So the debating team. My debating partner and I had got to a national competition final. To my dismay it was announced that we had to argue that creationism was a science. After some thought I decided to take this as the challenge it was. Is it possible to successfully argue that there is legitimate science behind creationism without lying or bending the truth?

In this case it was not. I was and am aware of at least some of the evidence for evolution (vast) and the arguments for creationism (multiple but easily countered.) The arguments that I was aware of for creationism e.g. irreducible complexity, the improbability of life arising, the second law of thermodynamics and so on, have all been repeatedly deconstructed. There are no legitimate examples of irreducible complexity, the improbability of life arising has been banished because it had a long time to do so and you have to really misunderstand the second law of thermodynamics to think it’s an argument against evolution. I couldn’t think of new arguments in favour of a scientific creationism and still can’t.

Luckily and somewhat shamefully there doesn’t seem to be much of a rule in debating about the facts behind your evidence unless the opposing team comments. It is interesting to note that a lot of politicians have trained through this form of debating. You’re more than welcome to be concerned and sit down for a reassuring cup of hot beverage. So I couldn’t do it, but is it possible to argue creationism has scientific merit without lying. And does it matter?

Somewhat predictably it does matter. If the only way possible to spread creationist ideas as science is lying then some very influential people have to be held to account. It would seem that in the past creationists have been successful in convincing people their views are scientifically valid. Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view. Several schools promoting creationism have been allowed to be set up in the UK. There have been multiple campaigns by creationists to get evolution removed from science textbooks in USA schools. But the spread of creationist information as science rather than belief is the spread of information that is not factual. If someone had made me believe something that wasn’t true, influencing national policy and education by lying, I’d be pretty annoyed. And I’m not that easily annoyed. I can sit through at least 5 seconds of Britain’s Got Talent. Perhaps there is certain smugness in declaring evolution as true and creationism as false. There are even those who would say arguing against these creationist arguments is to present straw man arguments.

Unfortunately as we have seen there are a great many people believing and spreading untruths so maybe it is sometimes necessary to smugly punch a scarecrow to get to the real arguments.

It is not true that all creationists are actively lying about science. To accuse the majority of lying is not only wrong but unhelpful and liable to alienate them from real arguments favouring evolution. It is more likely that some people are unaware of evolutionary science but hear creationist views, believe them and pass on scientific distortions. We can look at this group in two ways; believers unaware of evidence against creationism and believers who are aware and won’t accept it. The latter group may be somewhat difficult to convince. Belief is usually not based on logic or evidence. That is somewhat the point we are told. But it is difficult to logically argue someone out of a position they didn’t arrive at through logic. It is fine for people to believe what they want to believe but we run into problems when beliefs clash with facts. I can believe that I can walk through walls all I want. I can take comfort from this belief. I still have to live in a house with doors. It is the former group that we can make aware of the evidence and through decent and understanding science communication, convince of the truth.

Attempts to display their own beliefs as proof can take creationists in peculiar directions. Some creationists it seems are on a campaign to “take dinosaurs back.” Creationist Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, an organisation that established the Creation Museum, said, “Dinosaurs have been held hostage for decades.” Where they’ve been taken and how is beyond me. Even an enlarged pair of handcuffs would be useless on a Tyrannosaurus. Mr Ham is determined to appropriate dinosaurs for literalist creationists and as such has included them in his museum, often shown frolicking with humans. He obviously didn’t understand the subtext of Jurassic Park. But there’s a problem. It has been shown that many dinosaurs had feathers. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Creation Museum doesn’t and refuses to feature feathery dinosaurs in their literature and museum. Creationists want to utilise dinosaurs’ celebrity but refuse to accept many of them were feathered. Feathered dinosaurs are superb examples of evolution, and must have this interesting feature removed and fitted with a saddle for an imagined prehistoric jockey in order to comply with creationist stories. These misguided displays represent another attempt to disprove science that either has to be solely based on belief or active deceit.

Regardless of whether they are consciously lying some good has come out of debate with creationists. As pointed out by geneticist Shane McKee in his blog, some of the most persuasive evidence in our possession for evolution has been perfected for clear communication to the public by scientists attempting to tackle anti-scientific claims. Claims like those made in the presentation of dinosaurs in the Creation Museum. Most people are not scientists and cannot be expected to be aware of all of the latest evidence and competing viewpoints of evolutionary science. And of course we shouldn’t just believe scientists either. Good scientists should welcome questioning and an exploration of their evidence. Those who previously believed in creationism but have engaged with this abundance of scientific evidence and changed their minds should be applauded as should those who are willing to even consider the evidence. For while technically you can believe and argue creationism has scientific merit without lying, you cannot do so without being wrong.

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