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reader comments: Creationism and Creation Science

Was Darwin a racist?

18 April 2008

I would like to challenge your comment, "The view that Darwin’s theory of natural selection implies racism or inequality is a claim made by one either ignorant of Darwin's theory or by one who knows the truth and thinks a lie spread in the name of religion is a morally justified lie." It seems there is lots of information available from evolutionist that connects Darwin's theory to racism.

Much has been written about one of fascism’s more infamous sons, Adolf Hitler. His treatment of Jews may be attributed, at least in part, to his belief in evolution. P. Hoffman, in Hitler’s Personal Security, said: “Hitler believed in struggle as a Darwinian principle of human life that forced every people to try to dominate all others; without struggle they would rot and perish … . Even in his own defeat in April 1945, Hitler expressed his faith in the survival of the stronger and declared the Slavic peoples to have proven themselves the stronger.”1

Sir Arthur Keith, the well-known evolutionist, explains how Hitler was only being consistent in what he did to the Jews—he was applying the principles of Darwinian evolution. In Evolution and Ethics, he said: “To see evolutionary measures and tribal morality being applied vigorously to the affairs of a great modern nation, we must turn again to Germany of 1942. We see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produces the only real basis for a national policy … . The means he adopted to secure the destiny of his race and people were organized slaughter, which has drenched Europe in blood … . Such conduct is highly immoral as measured by every scale of ethics, yet Germany justifies it; it is consonant with tribal or evolutionary morality. Germany has reverted to the tribal past, and is demonstrating to the world, in their naked ferocity, the methods of evolution.”2

Leading evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould claimed, “Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1859, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.”3

Benny

1. Peter Hoffman, Hitler’s Personal Security (Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press, 1979), p. 264.
2. Sir Arthur Keith, Evolution and Ethics (New York: Putman, 1947), p. 28.
3. S.J. Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Belknap-Harvard Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1977, 127–128.

reply:

Benny,

I'm not going to waste my time with someone who hasn't read Darwin and takes quotes out of context to support a point that is just this side of moronic. Scientific theories try to explain the way things are, not the way they should be. Hitler may have tried to justify his racism by claiming he was applying the theory of evolution. So what? Anyone who understands natural selection knows that racism is in no way implied by the theory. There is a whole history of social Darwinism that tried to justify all kinds of things by claiming that things should be in society the way they are in nature. That is not good logic, but don't waste any more of my time until you have made an honest effort to understand how Darwin's ideas have been abused by people like yourself who try to justify their positions by distorting and misusing the ideas of others.

Please don't write me back.

I know you and people who think like you won't read Darwin but you might at least read something like Paul Crook's Darwin's Coat-Tails: Essays on Social Darwinism

p.s. Of course Benny could not let me have the last word. He wrote back to say he'd honor my request, which, of course, he didn't or else he wouldn't have written back. Anyway, he informed me that he has read Darwin. In fact, he claims he was required to read Darwin in school. Furthermore, says Benny: "The quotes are not out of context as you know Darwin believed that races evolved out of different species of apes. He also believed that a lower form of ape evolved into the black race. As we know science has proven that theory to be incorrect." And he wonders why I won't engage him in a dialogue? Could there really be a creationist version of Darwin that says that Darwin claimed the races evolved from different species of apes? that there are "higher" and "lower" forms of apes? and that the black race evolved from the lower form of ape? Did you hear that on the History Channel, Benny, or from Ben Stein? How can anyone so ignorant be so arrogant?

I wrote Benny back:

Do you really have a version of Darwin (we're talking Charles Robert Darwin) that says races evolved out of different species of apes? and that a lower form of ape evolved into the black race? If you read this in Darwin, then you either can't read or you were given an edited version that falsifies his work. Tell me the edition of Darwin and page numbers where you think these claims exist. No wonder you sound like an idiot. You either can't read (and are relying on what some moron or liar told you) or you haven't read the real thing!

You and your creationist allies who are hell-bent on distorting Darwin's views and the science of evolution to bring about some perverted notion of support for your Biblical fetishism should be forced to stand on street corners and recite part one of Chapter 8 (pages 215-251), "Of the Races of Man," from The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. Any of you or your army of  liars for God who pull out quotes and mangle them like the apologist for Brad Harrub, will be sent to Guantanamo Bay for rehabilitation. In addition to the usual intensive interrogation as to your motives and behavior, you will be required to read that part of Christian history where your missionaries used the Bible to justify slavery. You will then be forced to write one billion times on the blackboard: The Bible is a racist book.

postscript

Unbelievably, Benny sent me a collection of quotes taken out of context from the very chapter I would have him read out loud on a busy street corner.

Of course, none of Benny's quotes are even remotely related to his claim about different races evolving from different species of apes. Still, some of them indicate a problem that other creationists might have if they don't read something carefully.

Darwin makes it very clear at the beginning of his chapter "On the Races of Man" that he does not intend to describe the "so-called races of men, but to inquire what is the value of the differences between them under a classificatory point of view, and how they have originated." Unfortunately, 'they' is ambiguous. It might refer to races and thus Darwin might be concerned with how varieties of men originated. Or, 'they' might refer to differences between the races and how they originated. He could be referring to both. But, whatever he means, Darwin makes it clear that he is going to be reviewing the ideas of others who have classified men as belonging to different races, as is evident in the chapter summary section that refers to "Arguments in favour of, and opposed to, ranking the so-called races of man as distinct species." The use of the expression "so-called races" indicates that Darwin does not think much of the term 'race' as a scientific designation. The common meaning of the term among naturalists in Darwin's day was 'varieties.' The question he seems to be taking on is whether the various races of men are members of the same species or whether some of them are distinct species. Darwin does take up the idea of not being able to breed as a sign that individuals make up distinct species. He also takes up the idea that ability to crossbreed would not preclude categorizing races as distinct species. There is nothing racist about such considerations, nor does any particular conclusion follow from natural selection. Benny ignores the fact that Darwin is looking at human races (the expression is not redundant: Darwin and other naturalists would write of the races of cabbages, as well--race means variation) from the perspective of a naturalist. As such, humans are described and observed as any other group of mammals might be. Also, throughout the chapter Darwin takes up various views and evaluates their pros and cons, as any good scientist would.

Anyway, in this chapter Darwin states that the analysis requires him to look at man as a naturalist would look at any animal. The first problem he notes is that Europeans have to overcome the fact that their own race is the one they are most familiar with and which they will naturally tend to measure others by. "We must make some allowance for our nice powers of discrimination gained by the long habit of observing ourselves." (He is not talking about racial discrimination, Benny! He is talking about the ability to perceive distinguishing features.)

Here's the first quote Benny sent me to support his claim that evolution is a racist science:

“The sole object of this work is to consider, firstly, whether man, like every other species, is descended from some pre-existing form; secondly, the manner of his development; and thirdly, the value of the differences between the so-called races of man.”

I won't comment on this quote but I will note that Darwin says immediately after it:

As I shall confine myself to these points, it will not be necessary to describe in detail the differences between the several races—an enormous subject which has been fully discussed in many valuable works.

Darwin names several of the authors of the "valuable works," none of whom is known as a racist: Boucher de Perthes, Sir Charles Lyell, and Sir John Lubbock.

Darwin adds:

Nor shall I have occasion to do more than to allude to the amount of difference between man and the anthropomorphous apes; for Prof. Huxley, in the opinion of most competent judges, has conclusively shewn that in every single visible character man differs less from the higher apes than these do from the lower members of the same order of Primates.

Benny's second quote out of context is this one:

“….the most distinct races of man are much more like each other in form than would at first be supposed; certain Negro tribes must be excepted…” [p. 173, says Benny]

The first edition of the Descent of Man went through several printings and Darwin notes that he was able to correct some errors. The printing posted online reads:

Even the most distinct races of man, with the exception of certain negro tribes, are much more like each other in form than would at first be supposed. [pages 215-216]

I have a copy of the second edition. There Darwin writes:

Even the most distinct races of man are much more like each other in form than would at first be supposed; certain negro tribes must be excepted, while others ... have Caucasian features. [p. 223]

Darwin is either correct or he has made an error of fact. But there is nothing racist about the claim, which, in any case, is not an inference from natural selection. Nor is it predicted from natural selection that some races of men will differ in form from others in ways that other races of men don't differ.

Benny's next quote is a hoot. I have no idea how he thinks it supports his erroneous beliefs:

“…negroes, apparently identical with existing negroes, had lived at least 4000 years ago”

Darwin was correct, of course, because we now know that Negroes lived in Africa for tens of thousands of years and that some African races today are descended directly from one of the earliest African groups. Of course, we now measure lineage by genetic markers, a practice unavailable in Darwin's day.

Benny's next quote:

“..so that it can hardly be considered as an anomaly that the Negro differs more, and the American much less from other races of man, than do the mammals of the African and America continents from the mammals of other provinces.”

This quote occurs in a passage where Darwin is considering what a naturalist studying human races would expect in terms of geographical distribution based on what he would expect were he studying some other mammal. If other African mammals differ more than American mammals, it should be no surprise to find the human mammal evolved in similar fashion. But, even if Darwin is wrong, it is irrelevant to Benny's claim that natural selection implies racism.

Some of the quotes Benny puts forth are about ideas put forth by others that Darwin considers but does not assent to, e.g., the idea that because different races suffer from distinct parasites they ought to be considered as different species or whether some races should be designated as sub-species. To the latter, Darwin notes that only those who deny evolution see this as an issue. "Those naturalists, on the other hand, who admit the principle of evolution, and this is now admitted by the greater number of rising men, will feel no doubt that all the races of man are descended from a single primitive stock." Furthermore: "In each great region of the world the living mammals are closely related to the extinct species of the same region. It is therefore probable that Africa was formerly inhabited by extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee; and as these two species are now man's nearest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere."

There is a section where Darwin discusses arrested development and reversion that Benny thinks prove Darwin's racism. Again, Benny doesn't understand what he is reading. Darwin tries to reconstruct what might have occurred in the early stages of human evolution by examining individuals of any race who have specific defects that occur with some frequency. His example is microencephaly. Remember, Darwin knew nothing about genetics. He did not know that microencephaly is a chromosomal disorder, but he did know that it occurs in all races. Benny writes:

To take this in context, idiots represent the aberrations among civilized white men, but the norm among Negroes.

This is Benny's perverted twist on things. He's wrong, wrong, wrong. Darwin says no such thing and to think his words imply such is to misread the text.

Benny does correctly note that Darwin uses the expression 'savages' to refer to African tribes. Like others of his day, including the philosopher John Stuart Mill, he referred to some peoples as civilized as some as savages or barbarians. You can make what you will of such language, but it has nothing to do with natural selection or implications from the theory of evolution. If this is the thread on which you hang your accusations, you are hanging by a gossamer wire. Today, we talk politely of "hunter-gatherers," "indigenous people," "pre-industrial society," or "third-world" societies. Rousseau talked of the "noble savage." There may have been an air of moral superiority associated with the distinction between civilized and savage races, but Darwin makes it clear that as far as evolution of species went, no species was morally superior to any other. Why some species went extinct and others prospered is not a moral issue. Benny and his anti-Darwinian creationist friends fail to recognize the difference between the science of evolution, which describes how species evolved and makes no moral judgments regarding the processes or the outcomes, and the natural human tendency to ethnocentrism. Is Benny going to tell us that were he an English gentleman sitting in the parlor of his country estate while reading his Bible, he would not feel the slightest bit superior to the Trobriand islanders he heard about at his London club? In any case, whatever else 19th century scientists and philosophers meant by contrasting civilized with savage races, the terms were also descriptive. (For more on the use of the terms 'savages', 'barbarians', and 'civilized' see the comments below from Keith J Fitzpatrick-Matthews of Bad Archaeology.)

Benny goes on:

Charles Darwin himself was convinced of white racial superiority. He wrote:

"I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit.... The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world."

Charles Darwin: Life and Letters, I, letter to W. Graham, July 3, 1881, p. 316; cited in Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, by Gertrude Himmelfarb (London, Chatto and Windus, 1959), p. 343.

Darwin predicts in The Descent of Man that both the higher apes and the savage races will be wiped out by "the civilized races." Well, he was wrong about the higher apes...so far. Without protection, though, one wonders how long the apes could survive the dealings of men. Darwin was right about the civilized races wiping out the savage races. But again, this has nothing to do with natural selection or with implications from his theory of evolution. It has to do with projecting to the future from what had already occurred and was continuing to occur in his own day. Darwin spends many pages reviewing the data regarding what happened to various 'savage races,' like the Maori in New Zealand, when 'civilized races' arrived. The decimation of indigenous peoples from disease and fertility problems, as well as weapons, is dutifully detailed by Darwin. His dismal prediction was based on a long history of dismal facts.

Benny concludes with the comment: "Racist sentiments ... were held by all the 19th century evolutionists." I would grant him that racist sentiments were probably held by most evolutionists, as well as by most Christians, most politicians, most dock workers, and most white housewives in Europe and the United States in the 19th century. The fact is that racists, like believers in just about anything, have tried to use to their advantage whatever ideas others put forth for whatever reasons. Evolutionary ideas are no exception. But, just as some people tried to justify enslavement of Africans by appealing to passages in Aristotle or the Bible, some tried to justify their racism by perverting the scientific ideas of Darwin and others. Social Darwinism is not natural selection, not a biological theory, not something Darwin advocated, and not implied by natural selection. Some, like Michael Shermer, even go so far as to argue that if natural selection is applied to social systems the result is actually fair, just, and equitable rather than dog eat dog. In any case, Darwin was a naturalist not a sociologist or economist.

As Benny well knows, since he has read Darwin, after going through numerous proposed explanations for the physical differences among the various races of men, such as diet, climate, immunity to disease, etc., Darwin is about to give up hope of finding a satisfactory explanation when he brings up sexual selection as a promising area of investigation. But even there, while it might explain much, he doesn't think it can explain all the differences that distinguish the various races.

As Benny undoubtedly knows, in the second edition of The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin included an essay by Huxley on the similarities and differences in human and ape brains. This essay is sandwiched between Part I on the descent of man and part 2 on sexual selection. Huxley does not distinguish human brains by races. He concludes that the comparison shows "exactly what we should expect to be the case, if man has resulted from the gradual modification of the same form as that from which the other Primates have sprung."

Benny may wish he was created special by God but the facts show he is the result of gradual modification of species over a long period of time that also gave rise to the gorillas and chimpanzees that stare back at him when he visits a zoo.

_____

* Regarding the terms 'savage,' 'barbarian,' and 'civilized':

In your response to Benny's reply to you about Darwin's alleged racism, you mention that Darwin refers to different groups of people as 'savages', 'barbarians' and 'civilised'. These were perfectly acceptable anthropological definitions for his time and derive ultimately from the work of Karl Marx. Under this scheme, 'savages' are what we would now tend to classify as 'hunter-gatherers', in other words, human groups that have a loose social structure, do not cultivate plants or herd animals and do not live in permanent settlements. 'Barbarians' are human groups that have a tribal social organisation, are agriculturalists ('lower barbarians' are pastoralists, 'higher barbarians' are mixed agriculturalists) and live in village-like settlements. 'Civilised' humans have complex social organisation (from kingship, through feudalism and capitalism ultimately to communism, according to Marx), depend on the agricultural products of peasants and live in towns and cities; they also have writing, various forms of state-controlled infrastructure and so on.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, this was an important insight into what was seen as social evolution. (Marx wrongly thought that the progression was immutable and inevitable, although some societies might get stuck in one particular phase for centuries or even millennia.) It fitted in well with the recently established Three Age system (Stone Age = 'savagery', Bronze Age = 'barbarianism' and Iron Age = 'civilisation') and continued to be used by prehistorians into the middle of the twentieth century (V Gordon Childe's influential What Happened in History uses the scheme as his basic framework). It was seen not in the value-laden way that we came to use the terms by the end of the nineteenth century in derogatory ways (the labels were applied first as descriptions by anthropologists and ethnographers, later to enter common parlance and be matched with the racist attitudes towards the peoples so labeled) and was intended by Marx to be a scientific, neutral scheme. It's unfortunate that the terms later took on their racist connotations, which weren't there originally but which can now be used to make people like Darwin appear to use what we would now consider racist terminology.

Of course, prehistorians have now moved on from this sort of fairly gross classification. Human societies are much more complex than Marx's scheme will allow and his ideas of evolutionary social progression remain controversial (to say the least!). By the 1950s, these terms were falling out of favour and more nuanced schemes were being proposed, although there are still some hardcore Marxists (or Marxians) out there who continue to use ideas of social evolution.

Keith J Fitzpatrick-Matthews
http://www.kmatthews.org.uk
http://www.badarchaeology.net

_______________________

22 Jan 2008

Under creationism, you state:

The view that Darwin’s theory of natural selection implies racism or inequality is a claim made by one either ignorant of Darwin's theory or by one who knows the truth and thinks a lie spread in the name of religion is a morally justified lie.

As you well know the title of his infamous work was "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life."

My desire is not to be contentious, but you are being dishonest by ignoring this plain fact. I assume you have read it. If not, I advise you do so.

Have a good day.

Fred

reply: Maybe in your neighborhood referring to Darwin's masterpiece as "infamous" isn't being contentious, but around here those are fighting words.

The title of Darwin's book was reduced to "Origin of Species" in the 6th edition. The book does not discuss human evolution, much less the evolution of different human races, in any of its editions. The term "race" does not refer to Negroid, Caucasoid, etc. Furthermore, if you've read the book, you know that Darwin insists that being favored by nature does not imply any moral superiority and that what favors a species at one time in history might lead to its doom at another time.

Darwin does discuss human evolution in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex but he doesn't put forth any racial superiority theories there, either. He considered the natives of Tierra del Fuego, whom he met while on the Beagle voyage, as being at an early stage of civilization. If you can tear yourself away from your Bible, Fred, you might read Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. There does seem to be a set of stages that have led from our ancient ancestors to civilizations. Neither Darwin nor Diamond, however, had to resort to a view of racial superiority to explain anything. When Darwin discusses racial differences, he distinguishes himself from those American Christian ministers who defended slavery by appealing to racist ideologies. You really shouldn't judge a book by its title, Fred, especially when you don't know what the title means.

Lucky for you, Fred, arrogance is not a fatal trait, just an unattractive one that makes people like me want to ridicule you for entering the arena unarmed.

Fred replies:

You said "The title of Darwin's book was reduced to "Origin of Species" in the 6th edition"

Are you actually trying to prove something by that? His beliefs didn't change - the title was just too honest.

"favored by nature" is in of itself a bigoted and racist phrase and the term 'race' is straight of [sic] of eugenics. There is one race - the human race.

I was hoping for a little more from you. If you want to trade insults, you won't that [sic] that from me. Jesus said to bless them that curse you. I would rather follow his example.

You have a good night.

reply: I always have a good night when I've pissed off an anti-evolutionist creationist whose head's been pressed in a vise. I'm an old man. It doesn't take much to amuse me these days. Anyway, thanks for proving my point.

My editor, John Renish, informs me that Darwin wrote, inter alia, about the various races of pigeons and cabbages. Modern biologists sometimes speak of races as identical with species, whereas Darwin and his contemporaries meant varieties by the term.

_______________

26 Jan 2006

I've just watched an interesting episode of the BBC science series Horizon on the subject of Intelligent Design this evening:

http://tinyurl.com/gvjth

I'm not sure if you get Horizon in the US (possibly on PBS?) but it may be worth looking out for.

What did intrigue me is that the BBC conducted an opinion poll into the views of the British public on this:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4648598.stm

According to this survey, 17% of respondents chose ID as their favoured explanation of the origin of life. What surprises me is that 17% of the UK public even knew what ID was! I'd be interested to know what were actual questions asked. By and large, people who stress the supernatural side of religion in Britain are usually regarded as either cranks or at least a little eccentric.

Best regards,

Rod Maxwell

reply: The forces of superstition are very strong and show no sign of subsiding.


02 Feb 2004
Dr. Carroll, I just stumbled across your website and wanted to make a few comments. First, I think your sections on New Age, Alternative Medicine & Junk Science were just fabulous! It seems there are so many people out there that get swept up in all this new age hocus pocus without critically thinking about whether or not its legitimate logically and/or scientifically.

Apart from much of the great content on your site I think there is something that requires some tweaking. Regarding the section on what is popularly referred to as "young-earth creationism" I would point out that this is a relatively recent movement (post Darwin). Being a recent grad in theology (from Chicago) I've studied this issue of science and the bible and have dug up some very interesting facts.

First, the historical position of the Church has been pretty consistent, especially amongst theologians, regarding the interpretation of the Hebrew term 'Yom' ("day" in English). Great theologians such as Origen (AD 185) & Augustine (AD 354) interpreted Yom as not being a literal 24 hr day, but an 'indefinite period of time' as noted in the Hebrew itself, although they thought that each Yom may have been a millennium. This is also consistent with much evangelical scholarship (i.e. Dr. Gleason Archer, Dr. Norman Geisler, & Dr. Hugh Ross to name a few). I'm really not attempting to nit-pick the issue but I honestly don't feel that in light of academic integrity that its proper to imply young earth creationism has been the general, historical position of the Church. Typically people point to someone like archbishop James Ussher’s chronology date of wed. 2pm 4,004 BC (which failed to take into consideration that Genesis I & II are meant to be taken as highlighted accounts not exhaustive; adding up exact years of people lifespans fails to recognize generations of others in between, etc), or CRI (creation research institute with Morris, Gish, Ham, Hovind, etc) as a way to 'discredit' the biblical position; if this was the general view of both the Hebrew grammar & biblical scholarship I would be overtly skeptical myself, but obviously it isn’t.

As I dug on this issue I quickly realized that it was both theologically inconsistent, as well as scientifically inconsistent. Theologically because in Hebrews 4:4-11 that states that the seventh day of creation (or 'day' of rest) still continues and will continue until the end of the church age, certainly this can not be a "24 hr" day as young earthers would argue, furthermore it would be heremeneutically sensible to assume that the other 'yom'/days would be the same, namely an indefinite period of time, etc. Scientifically there is an inconsistency. Even young earthers agree there are stars billions of light years away coupled with the fact that we know the speed of light has not shown an inconsistency in its speed of 186,000 mps. It’s quite clear that it would have taken billions of light years to reach us, ergo the universe must be at least that old.

Young earthers sidestep the issue of star light travel time by citing Philip Gosse (in 1857) who popularized the notion of the "appearance of age" in his "Omphalos: an attempt to untie the geological knot"; therefore they would argue God created the light close to the earth, as well as making trees with rings of non-existent years (deceptively at that); however, this creates an obvious theological contradiction since God Himself abhors deceit in Psalm 5:6.

Clearly the Hebrew definition of an indefinite period of time is the most consistent choice both theologically and scientifically. For more on this particular topic you might want to check out Dr. Hugh Ross' site: www.reasons.org. He's both a Christian and an astrophysicist who did his post doctoral work on quasars at Cal Tech. I would highly recommend his DVD entitled: "Journey Toward Creation" where he takes the viewer from the present back to the infinite curling of the other 6 dimensions of time & space, etc. Thanks again for all your hard work on your site it is appreciated!

~Sincerely,
Corey S.

reply: The problem with people who stumble across my site, read one or two entries, and then feel compelled to set me straight is that they often don't understand my purposes. I have no interest in whether yom means eon, millennium, day, or fortnight. I have very little interest in debating the age of the earth or the universe with creationists. What I do have an interest in is the notion that the ancient mythology of the Jews should be the standard against which claims in modern science should be judged. To me, that is just plain stupid.  Yes, that's right; I find it stupid to believe that the God of the ancient Jews dictated science lessons to Moses or other chosen ones. I'm not saying that the people who believe this are stupid. Many of them are very intelligent and knowledgeable. But smart people sometimes believe stupid things. I have tried to understand why this happens and have written a few entries with my observations.

A good place to start, if one is interested in reading what I have to say on this issue, would be my entry on the hidden persuaders. Here is a sample:

Many skeptics have noted that the hidden persuaders sometimes seem to affect people in proportion to their intelligence: the smarter one is the easier it is to develop false beliefs. There are several reasons for this: (1) the hidden persuaders affect everybody to some degree; (2) the smarter one is the easier it is to see patterns, fit data to a hypothesis, and draw inferences; (3) the smarter one is the easier it is to rationalize, i.e., explain away strong evidence contrary to one's belief; and (4) smart people are often arrogant and incorrectly think that they cannot be deceived by others, the data, or themselves.


29 Dec 2000 
Dr. Robert Gentry, Geophysical Scientist and author of
Creation's Tiny Mystery. Read the book then take up his challenge. Or do the laws of Empirical methodology only apply when they support your accepted belief system and not when they can seriously challenge them. How do you make a lie its most deadly.... Mix it with a little Truth. (Spiritually discerned)
David Taggart

reply: The real mystery is why Gentry continues to have followers such as yourself, David.

For those who may not have heard of Gentry's big mystery, here it is in a nutshell:

Evidence that something is drastically wrong [with the scientific theory of the origin of the universe] comes from the fact that this basic evolutionary premise [viz., that the universe evolved to its present state only by the unvarying action of known physical laws] has failed to provide a verifiable explanation for the widespread occurrence of Po halos in Precambrian granites, a phenomena which I suggest are in situ evidences that those rocks were created almost instantaneously in accord with Psalm 33:6,9: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast."

Several geophysicists have taken up the bait and studied the sites where Gentry got his granite samples and the specific type of granite Gentry used. They were not impressed. I refer you and other readers to an article by Curtis Severns of the North Texas Skeptics, where he cites the following:

  • Ellenberger, C.L., with reply by Gentry. R.V. 1984. "Polonium Halos Redux," Physics Today. December 1984. p. 91-92
  • Hastings, R.J., 1987b, "Commentary on the polonium halos of R.V. Gentry," unpublished. 
  • Hunt, C. W., Collins, L. G., and Skobelin, E. A., 1992, Expanding Geospheres, Energy And Mass Transfers From Earth’s Interior Calgary, Polar Publishing Company, pp. 128-140: "POLONIUM HALOS AND MYRMEKITE IN PEGMATITE AND GRANITE" by Lorence G. Collins February 3, 1997 
  • Osmon, P., 1986, "Gentry’s pleochroic halos: Creation/Evolution," Newsletter, Feser, Karl D., Editor, v. 6, no. 1, Concord College, Athens, West Virginia
  • Schadewald, R., 1987. "Gentry’s tiny mystery, Creation/Evolution" Newsletter, Fezer, Karl D, Editor, v. 4, no. 2 & 3. Concord College. Athens. West Virginia, p 20.
  • Wakefield, J. R., 1987-88, "Gentry’s Tiny Mystery - unsupported by geology," Creation/Evolution, v. 22, p. 13-33.
  • Wakefield, J. R., 1988, "The geology of 'Gentry’s Tiny Mystery,'" Journal of Geological Education, v. 36, p. 161-175. 

Wakefield (1988) concludes:

The geology of the sites at which Po halos are found clearly shows that Gentry’s proof of instantaneous creation and a young Earth is nothing of the sort. Gentry's Po halos simply do not occur in primordial granites, but instead were formed in relatively young dikes that demonstrably crosscut older sedimentary and igneous rocks. Gentry claims to be an objective scientist but he has, in fact, ignored the very extensive published evidence that disproves his hypothesis. In addition, when confronted with this evidence he simply denies its existence. Such behavior is not characteristic of scientists, but of pseudoscientists.

In short, others more knowledgeable than I have already read the book and taken up the challenge, only to be ignored by the creationists. Apparently, you are correct. The creationists seem to think that, as you say, "the laws of Empirical methodology only apply when they support your accepted belief system and not when they can seriously challenge them." Gentry must have an abundance of spiritual discernment, for he seems to know well your formula: "How do you make a lie its most deadly.... Mix it with a little Truth."


30 Aug 2000
One question for you: If you are so positive that evolution is a fact and that you know (or have a theory) of how it happened, why are you afraid to introduce students to differing ideas? I thought the whole point of becoming a "critical thinker" was to weigh all the sides of an argument and decide for yourself what you believe to be the truth. By not introducing students to creation science along with evolution, you are implying that either 1) they are not able to make a wise decision for themselves, or 2) you are afraid that they might believe in a theory that is not your own. Why not give them the opportunity to make the choice?

Jennifer

reply: What makes you say I'm afraid of introducing students to differing ideas? Just because I wouldn't give cooking instructions in my philosophy class doesn't mean I'm afraid of introducing my students to cooking. Cooking belongs somewhere else. So does religious instruction. So does the teaching about different creation stories. In fact, I think children should be instructed in public schools about the creation stories of many different cultures, but such instruction should be done in a world religions or cultural anthropology course, not a science course.

Jennifer replies

I thought that the origins of life on earth falls under the category of biology, which, if I am not mistaken, is a science.

reply: Well, you have part of it right. Biology is a science and the study of the nature and origins of living things falls under the category of biology, but the idea of special creation by a "Creator" is not scientific. You are making a false assumption when you assume that any theory about the origins of life is a biological theory. Only scientific theories about the origins of life are biological theories. Non-scientific theories about the origins of life are metaphysical theories. (You might take a look at the entry on science.)

To make this easier to see, consider a metaphysical theory of, say, electricity. This theory might claim that invisible beings from another dimension carry electrical impulses on their invisible backs. They read our minds and carry electricity as if our belief in electrons, etc., were true. Thus, to us the world looks like there are electrons, etc., but in fact, the whole realm of electrical phenomena functions according to the will of these invisible beings. Such a theory should not be taught alongside the theory offered by modern physicists. Just because it is a theory of electricity doesn't make it a scientific theory of electricity. In science class, we should teach science. In the philosophy class we teach metaphysics.

Just because you don't agree that there is any "scientific evidence" for creation doesn't mean there is none. 

reply: The notion of "scientific evidence" is not a simple one. You might think that you have scientific evidence if you can point to many things in the universe that seem to you to be (a) consistent with the theory of special creation, and are (b) explainable only by assuming a Creator. However, being able to fit facts to a theory is very easily done for almost any theory (see my entry on confirmation bias) and is no indication that the theory in question is scientific. Furthermore, being scientific does not mean that a theory explains everything. If we gave up on a scientific theory every time something seemed puzzling to us and seemed "miraculous" or "a result of divine intervention", we wouldn't have any scientific theories left standing.

Scientists didn't think that the world was round for hundreds of years, but that didn't make them right, either. 

reply: The fact that scientists err is irrelevant to the issue. It is not a matter of either (a) the way a particular group understands the Creation story in Genesis must be true or (b) some current scientific theory must be true. Both could be wrong, but that fact does not make them both scientific. Furthermore, the vast majority of those who believe God created the universe do not find the creation story in Genesis to conflict with the theory of evolution. But they recognize the difference between divine revelation and scientific discovery.

It would be somewhat hard for students to equate what they learn in a comparative religion class to what they learn in biology class about the origins of life. Why not teach them together?

reply: Why assume the students should "equate" what they learn in comparative religion and in biology any more than they should learn to equate what they learn in history and what they learn at Sunday school or at home? Don't tell me you would want children to study history and religion in the same class?

If you are concerned about the children being confused by being taught contradictory things in biology and comparative religion, you shouldn't be. The children will recognize that the one is taught as a science and represents the most reasonable beliefs at a given time, while the other represents the various faiths of many different peoples.

I would be more concerned about teaching my child that a story in Genesis says there is no evolution and that that story was given by God directly to the Jews who didn't even recognize Him when He came to save them. Why were they smart enough to get the first story right but not the second? If God had been talking to the Hebrews for thousands of years, how come they couldn't recognize Him when lived with them? That would confuse any child, to believe that such unreliable people could be the recipients of infallible truth.

Besides, some would argue that religion is taught in science classes already...the religion of humanism.
Jennifer

reply: True, some would say this....and they'd be wrong. To not teach the viewpoint of one particular religion alongside science, history, etc., leaves it open for the student to pursue any religion in the universe. Only those who believe that theirs is the one and only true religion would think that one is promoting humanism (by which I suppose you mean atheism) when one is not teaching that religion alongside everything else.

Jennifer replies again

4 Sep 2000 
There is only one statement in your answer worthy of a reply. The rest are proof that you, along with most "non-creationists" are simply unwilling to introduce students to alternative theories on the origins of the earth and life on it. The one statement is this:

"Don't tell me you would want children to study history and religion in the same class?"

Of course religion (or at least as it pertains to the cultures and history of the world) should be taught in a history class. Are you going to tell me that King David was not a historical figure? How about Nebucadnezzer and the other kings of Babylon? Pontius Pilate was a historical governor of Judah, and proof has been found that the Israelites did indeed pass through the land of Midian (now Saudi Arabia) in vast numbers. Even secular historians agree that Jesus was a real person. Not only Biblical figures, though. Confucius was a real person. Zoroaraster was a real person. All these people and events are a part of history. Just because some hold them to be religious, doesn't mean that students shouldn't be taught who they were, what they taught, and how they affected the history of the world.

As for the rest, I realize that your site is for skeptics. But just remember, God himself calls you a fool for your beliefs: "The fool has said in his heart there is no God."

I feel pity for you and all your readers.
Jennifer

reply: You're too kind.


04 Sep 2000 
Re Jennifer's argument that if you're not teaching creationism in science class, you're teaching humanism:

I know some people who believe little pink unicorns hold up the clouds (well, OK, not really). Now, if teachers refuse to teach this in meteorology class, does this mean they are really teaching the religion of non-little pink unicornism? What about ignoring the science of astrology in astronomy class? Or reincarnation science in medical school? If I'm not a Kabbalarian philosopher, am I practicing the religion of non-Kabbalarianism? Do I have to fit my non-Kabbalarianism with my non-little pink unicornism into some religious world-view?

Atheism is not a religion. Creationism is not science.

Evelyn (blasphemous non-little pink unicornist)

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