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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Debunking creationism

I just noticed I hadn't talked much about creationism except for a few mentions in which it wasn't the central topic. My apologies. That is about to change.

Yes, it's a nice painting. No, it's not historically accurate

The following is a paper on creationism I wrote some weeks ago for a class. In the English-speaking world (most of it protestant) it's a big issue and it's always useful to know about it.

Yes, I know that the idea that everything was created as it is 6000 years ago is total non-sense. But say that and you will very likely be considered an intolerant by the idiotic creationist who prefers to believe his/her favorite fairy tale. Well, read this carefully and you'll have the basic "weapons" to demonstrate how retarded that is. Hope you enjoy it.


On Creationism

It’s impossible to deny the bible’s status as a holy text, and the influence it has over the lives of millions on the planet. What isn’t very hard to do is to deny its historical value, especially regarding its first books, more exactly, the Genesis. However, this has only been done in a recent era, considering the time Christianity and other Abrahamic religions have had. Today we can assert with certain accuracy the Earth’s age in billions of years. However, before scientific advances made that possible, the idea that the world was created in seven days, as is narrated in the Genesis was the official view. This is what we know as Creationism, an idea still widely spread across the United States and other parts of the world.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines creationism as “Belief in the literal interpretation of the account of the creation of the universe and of all living things related in the Bible." In other words, the writings we find in the Genesis (which can be found in both the Bible and the Torah) are myths that will explain the beginning of the world, the human race and the religions that take this view.

Creationism can be divided in two branches, all of them having in common the idea that a supernatural being, God, has intervened in the creation of living beings. These movements are (Scott, 66):

1. Young Earth Creationism: It postulates that the Earth is between 6000 and 10,000 years old, a number based in the Usher Chronology, a time-dating technique made by the 17th century Anglican Archbishop of Armagh James Usher, which consisted in adding up the biblical patriarchs ages, TheStar.com reports. Young Earth Creationism rejects evolution and asserts that the Flood of Noah has had great influence on Earth’s geology.

2. Old Earth Creationism: Contrary to Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism accepts the scientific consensus that the Earth is billions of years old. However, it adds the idea of a supernatural being getting involved by denying evolution on different degrees. Old Earth Creationism can be divided in four positions:

2.1 Gap Creationism: It claims that there was a big “gap” between the verses 1 and 2 of the Genesis, meaning that there was a first creation which was destroyed, and then another one that is accounted for in the second verse of the Genesis. Gap creationism was born in the 19th century as a way to accommodate Christianity to the new scientific discoveries.

2.2 Day Age Creationism: Another attempt to adapt the Bible with scientific discoveries, it claims that the days described in the Genesis are actually long periods of time. Therefore, while the Earth still is billions of years, a supernatural being interferes in it and creates living beings.
2.3 Progressive creationism: It accepts scientific findings, such as the Earth's age and the fauna and flora that lived in different eras. However, it claims that such plants and animals were created by God, first simple life forms, and then more complex ones.

2.4 Evolutionary creationism: It accepts the scientific Earth’s age and theory of evolution; however, it claims that evolution was actually directed by a supernatural being.

It is important to note that when talking about a “supernatural being” we are referring not to an unknown being, but to the God of Christianity. Given that creationism bases are found in the Genesis and this is part of the sacred texts, which are inspired by God and therefore, are the truth, they are part of a doctrine that must be followed in order to find salvation.

While creationism and the general idea that the world we know came to be as a result of a superior being’s action have declined since science made possible carbon dating, fossil registry and other evidence, the movement is far from disappearing. Creationism has found its way in the minds of many in churches and even schools under the label of Intelligent Design.

According to the Center for Science and Culture, a creationist think tank, intelligent design claims that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.” In other words, while creationism said that living beings came into existence by the works of God, Intelligent Design says that living beings’ existence can only be explained by the works of a designer. While Creationism did base its claims in holy texts, Intelligent Design argues from a scientific point of view that tries to explain the complexity of living beings in order to arrive to the conclusion of a creator.

Obviously, this creator is no other than the same Christian God that creationism used to be based on, as we can see in the Intelligent Design movement statement of faith

Intelligent design is backed up by a number of scholars, or “creation scientists” who claim hold degrees in different areas. However, the National Center for Science Education compiles the scientific community’s statements in which it is made clear that intelligent design is not considered a science. Moreover, the Association for the Advancement of Science calls it a pseudoscience. According to the National Academy of Sciences, “Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science. These claims subordinate observed data to statements based on authority, revelation, or religious belief. Documentation offered in support of these claims is typically limited to the special publications of their advocates. These publications do not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of new data, new interpretations, or demonstration of error. This contrasts with science, where any hypothesis or theory always remains subject to the possibility of rejection or modification in the light of new knowledge.” (Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, 25)

According to Dr. Eugenie Scott, Intelligent Design proponents posit that the universe, or at least, components of it, has been designed by an “intelligence.” They also claim that they can empirically distinguish intelligent design from design produced through natural processes, which is done through the application of two complementary ideas, Irreducible Complexity and Complex Specified Information (Scott, 123).

1. Irreducible complexity: In his book “Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution” biochemist and intelligent design proponent Michael Behe explains Irreducible Complexity by saying that “a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional. An irreducibly complex biological system, if there is such a thing, would be a powerful challenge to Darwinian evolution.” (Behe, 39) However, Dr. Eugenie Scott explains that “A search of scientific databases, such as PubMed or SciSearch, reveals that scholars have not applied the concept of irreducible complexity or the design inference in researching scientific problems. ID has been called an "argument from ignorance," as it relies upon a lack of knowledge for its conclusion: Lacking a natural explanation, we assume intelligent cause. Most scientists would reply that unexplained is not unexplainable, and that "we don't know yet" is a more appropriate response than invoking a cause outside of science.”(Scott, 123) In other words, the argument of Irreducible Complexity just an argument from ignorance.

2. Complex Specified Information: It’s an argument proposed by mathematician William Dembski. In his paper “Redesigning Science” he says that "intelligent causation is an irreducible feature of the bio-physical universe, and furthermore that intelligent causation is empirically detectable.” However, Dr, Eugenie Scott explains that such argument “depends on the extent of scientific knowledge of the time, failing to be a reliable predictor of design by intelligence”(Scott, 128)

The disdain the scientific community has for Intelligent Design has not stopped its proponents from pushing its teaching in classrooms as a valid scientific point of view and the fact that many Americans still believe the Earth was created according to the biblical account. According to a Gallup poll made in 2008, 44% of Americans believe that God created human beings in its present form; 36% believe that God guided the process of evolution; and 14% believe that God had no part in the process. In other words, the American people reject in great number a widely agreed scientific position, preferring to cling to their beliefs.

According to Richard Wrangham, a primatologist from Harvard University, “the tendency to accept evolutionary theory is, of course, not just judged on the merits of evolutionary theory, it's judged because it is as seen as being in opposition to religious belief. And religious belief carries with it not just the belief itself in a particular set of facts and ideas, but all of the huge social and political associations. So, in the United States, if you don't believe in evolutionary theory, or if you do believe in evolutionary theory, then it means it's harder for you to commit yourself to a religious group that has huge significance. And so I think the answer to why it is that evolutionary theory is difficult for people in the states to believe is that religious systems are so incredibly prevalent.” In other words, Wrangham argues that the significance of creationism goes beyond the dimensions of myth and doctrine, to a social that involves commitment to one’s group. A person’s social life is another variable that has to be taken into account when deciding to accept or reject creationism as a valid explanation to our origins. This might be a factor in the number of attempts to teach intelligent design as a valid science and how these disputes have been taken to court.

The first account of evolution and creationism confronting each other in a court is the Scopes Trial. In 1925 Tennessee passed the “Butler Act”, which made it unlawful to deny the creation of man as written in the Bible. High School science teacher John Scopes was accused of teaching evolution and the trial was set. In the end, Scopes lost the case and belief in creationism grew. (Scott, 99-103)

By the 60’s few states still had anti-evolution laws. One of them was Arkansas, which saw its In 1965 Susan Epperson argued that the Arkansas antievolution law was unconstitutional because it violated her right to free speech. The trial came out favorable to Epperson, but the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision in 1967. A year later the US Supreme Court deemed the anti-evolution law unconstitutional because it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.(Scott, 111)

This aftermath didn’t mean that creationism was taken out of classrooms. In 1981 Arkansas passed a bill that required evolution and creationism to have equal time being taught in schools. According to the Act 590, “to present only evolution in the schools would create a hostile climate for religious students, undermining their religious convictions and moral or philosophical values.” The law was challenged in the McLean vs Arkansas trial, in which the Arkansas ACLU received argued that because creation science was inherently a religious idea, its advocacy would violate the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution. Act 590 was declared unconstitutional. (Scott, 114 - 115)

A similar law was passed in Louisiana that sought to give equal time to the teaching of evolution and creationism. However, the law was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 1987.
In 2005 a new case regarding creationism (this time presented as Intelligent Design) was brought to the courts in the “Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District”. In this case eleven parents of students in Dover, York County, Pennsylvania, sued the school for reading aloud a statement that argued that since the theory of evolution was just a “theory” it was not a fact, and that Intelligent Design was “an explanation of the origin of life”. After 21 days in trial, it was ruled that “Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator."

It’s important to notice that the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District based its claims in the “errors” evolutionary theory has, and makes a case trying to explain them by the interference of a supernatural being. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains this creationist methodology as “to find some phenomenon in nature which Darwinism cannot readily explain. Darwin said: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” Creationists mine ignorance and uncertainty in order to abuse his challenge. […] If the scientist fails to give an immediate and comprehensive answer, a default conclusion is drawn: “Right, then, the alternative theory; ‘intelligent design’ wins by default.”

Creationism and/or Intelligent Design have not been able to withstand the trials in which it has been put against science and have deemed them as a religious-based position. In a country whose constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” creationism has no place in schools being taught as legitimate science. While there is still a strong support for creationism, it is possible to view the future in a bright light and that science will take its right place in classrooms. As Stephen Hawking said "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."

"Creation scientists and other biographies of interest." Answers in Genesis. 22 Jul. 2010. .

"CSC - Top Questions." Center for Science and Culture. 22 Jul. 2010. .

"Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design." Gallup.com. 11 May. 2008. 22 Jul.2010. .

"Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School Disctrict." National Center for Science Education. 20 Dec. 2005. 22 Jul. 2010. .

"Statements from Scientific Organizations." NCSE - National Center for Science Education. 22 Jul. 2010. .

"The AiG statement of faith." Answers in Genesis. 29 Apr. 2009. 22 Jul. 2010. .

Behe, Michael J. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Free Press, 1998.

Borenstein, Jason. "Scientific Experts and the Courts." Professional Ethics Report XIV (2001): 7-8. American Association for the Advancement of Science. 22 Jul. 2010.

Dawkins, Richard "Creationism: God's gift to the ignorant." The Times 21 May. 2005. 22 Jul. 2010 .

Popplewell, Brett "In the beginning, not too many years ago ...." The Star 27 Oct. 2007. 22 Jul. 2010 .

Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition. National Academy of Sciences, 1999.

Scott, Eugenie C. ""Intelligent Design" Not Accepted by Most Scientists." NCSE - National Center for Science Education. 12 Aug. 2002. 22 Jul. 2010. .

Scott, Eugenie. Evolution vs. Creationism. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Wrangham, Richard . "Why Many Americans Don’t Believe in Evolution." Big Think. 2 Apr. 2010. 22 Jul. 2010. .


If you reached this point, congratulations, it was a long paper. If you want something lighter and funnier, you can check these videos, from The Thinking Atheist, and subtitled in Spanish by the team of Traducciones Herejes

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"Que esté permitido a cada uno pensar como quiera; pero que nunca le esté permitido perjudicar por su manera de pensar" Barón D'Holbach
"Let everyone be permitted to think as he pleases; but never let him be permitted to injure others for their manner of thinking" Barón D'Holbach