Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Creationists Go to Smithsonian and Learn Nothing

I just read a truly awful article in the Yahoo News entitled; "At evolution exhibit, creationists are unswayed". The article wasn't awful because creationists were unswayed, that's to be expected. It was awful because the author, Virginie Montet, was incredibly ignorant about evolution and wrote as if evolution and creationism were equally scientifically valid.

The article is about a group of biology students and instructors from Liberty University in Tenn. who traveled to the (presumably Smithsonian) Natural History Museum in Wash DC to view an exhibit on evolution and came away from it thinking that the national museum of the United States (and all other legitimate natural history museums in the world) were wrong because they differed with the teachings of a podunk fundy xian school in Tennessee. The creationists quoted in the article regurgitated the usual ID claptrap, including the odious, misleading assertion that they use the same evidence to reach different conclusions, to support their views.

The folks from Liberty U can't help the way they are. The instructors are paid to deliver fundamentalist dogma and students, or their parents, choose the school specifically because they are guaranteed to be insulated from all those inconvenient facts that might tempt them to choose reality over religion. I don't, however, understand how they can ever learn any science. Science is about assessing ALL the available evidence to reach the best conclusion. These guys treat scientific evidence like the bible in that they think they can pull a statement or 2 out of context and use it to support their position and disregard everything else. If the students don't understand the most fundamental thing about scientific method, they can't possibly be any better at physics and chemistry than they are at biology and geology, yet at least one of these kids is planning to be a doctor (stay the hell away from my pancreas).

As I say, the students can't help it, as for the writer of the article, getting the facts straight is only her job! She refers to creationism as a theory, as if it had the same scientific weight as the theory of evolution. There should be a rule that no person can write about evolution until they can recite the definition of "scientific theory".

The writer goes on to say "But Darwin's explanation for why giraffes have long necks -- that they evolved over time so they could reach higher foliage -- ...failed to sway them." This is not Darwin's explanation for anything, nor does it represent any aspect of Darwinian evolution. This is the most commonly used example of Lamarck's "inheritance of aquired characteristics" where Lamarck got evolution wrong; animals don't evolve characteristics to fulfill a desire for something. Darwin's explanation would be more like -- a random genetic mutation caused part of a proto-giraffe population to have a longer neck. The longer necks allowed the animals to exploit a niche, higher foliage, where there was less competition and, as a result, reproduce so the long-neck-mutated-gene was carried into later generations -- or something like that.

I have mixed emotions about other parts of the article. Virginie Montet writes for AFP, a world news service based in France, so people all over the world will read about these creationist collegiates, that 44 to 46% of Americans believe the world is 6 to 10,000 years old, and that the Smithsonian Institute is apparently so lame that it can't present enough evidence to change the minds of the ignorant.

At the end of article Marcus Ross, who teaches at Liberty U, was quoted as saying, "The attitude is when you are a creationist you are ignorant of the facts." That's not quite true for me. I believe they are willfully ignorant; that is, they actively avoid and disregard any facts that don't fit their preconceptions, rather that analyzing all available data before reaching a conclusion.

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