February 15, 2008

First thoughts on yesterday's creationist lecture here in Uppsala

Blogging on Pseudo-Scientific Douche-BagsWhen I first heard that Credo, an evangelical christian student organization, had invited a creationist to speak at the university on the subject of "Intelligent Creationism", I was hesitant about whether I wanted to go or not. Of course it's important to be there to counter creationist arguments, and to actually know what it is they're saying, but I suspected that it would just be the same old misconceptions and lies so I questioned if I really was going to get something out of it or if I would just get angry and frustrated for nothing.

But anyway, I decided to go, and I wasn't surprised. The speaker Anders Gärdeborn brought up little else but the same ridiculous arguments, misconceptions and misinterpretations, exaggerations, faulty logic and outright lies that you've heard over and over, just as I suspected knew. Gärdeborn comes from the fundamentalist and literalistic organization Genesis which claims to "work for a christian view of the sciences and for the biblical view to be heard in the schools and society". The biblical view being that god created earth its creatures and all of the universe in 6 days. (I won't honor them with a link, but if you really want to I'm sure you can Google them. As far as I know the organization is limited to Sweden.)

He focused a lot on "structure" and how the universe and nature was full of it, on how evolutionary theory has not been able to account for the appearance of anything new and on the intentionally misleading and biologically preposterous concept of "information", among many other things. Interestingly, and confusingly, he was prepared to accept some sort of evolution (although of course he would never call it that) "within kinds", giving rise to the variation we see for instance between races of dogs, but attributed it to "pre-programmed genetic potential". It's all terribly confusing, misleading and of course very wrong.

I did take quite extensive notes and as soon as I can take some time I'm going to go over them and write a proper and more detailed entry. But it was difficult to keep up with his sketchy logic and train of argumentation, this man was really firing out crap at an alarming speed - I just couldn't keep up, so my account of the evening is going to focus on a few of the most alarmingly bad misconceptions and lies, not only about evolution but about basic biology. I wish there would have been more physicists and geologists in the auditorium because, even though I have only very basic knowledge in those subjects, I got the nagging suspicion that there were considerable mistakes in his account of those fields as well.

It's also in its place to mention how remarkable it is that the university allows for their facilities and resources to be used for these sort of things. Certainly Credo is a student organization and as such it is affiliated to the university students' union. But the bare minimum that the university should have required was an equal presentation on modern biology and evolutionary science to refute the creationist claims. The university stands for the nurture and dissemination of knowledge, and that was certainly not upheld yesterday. A mere questions and answers session after the presentation is not enough. As my professor pointed out to me as we were talking prior to the presentation: would the university allow for an astrologer or a holocaust-denialist to come and give a lecture at the university's facilities unquestioned? Most certainly not. But under the banner of not discriminating against the christian students I guess it is entirely possible, which is telling of why we're still dealing with this particular brand of counterscientific trash at this level.

Fortunately, most of the audience seemed to be on the critical (read: sensible) side, including christians, with only a few being openly in agreement with what was being presented. The overall feeling I got was that the lecture had been arranged for the benefit of those that organized it - it was more of a statement from Credo and was never meant to add anything or shed new light on the debate. Something which makes the university's uncritical approach even more remarkable.

Ultimately, I'm glad I went. Not so much because of Anders Gärdeborn's presentation, but because during the discussion that followed I met some like-minded people, students in different fields, and started talking about getting together in a more organized way to discuss these questions. I'm always happy to make connections and if that's the least I get from yesterday's shameless display of pseudoscientific dreck, I will be very happy indeed.

Swedish blog tags: , , , ,
Technorati tags: , , , , ,


  1. Hi Daniel! I can´t understand why you find it so interesting and confusing that Anders Gärdeborn was prepared to accept some sort of evolution "within kinds". And of course he would be able to call it evolution: "micro-evolution" is oftend mentioned among creationists! They aren´t SO stupid that they deny the most obvious facts, possible to observe every day, about change "within kinds". What they, with at least a bit more sense, usually question is if those changes (in biology school books often insignificantly exemplified with white/black butterflies in rural/industrial areas!) really can be "extrapolated" into "macro-evolution" as explanation to the hole Being, to Life, Universe and Everything.

  2. I found it interesting because he took it much further than what creationists usually refer to as "micro-evolution", which is usually exemplified with different tolerant strains of bacteria or different races of dogs.

    He did talk about the races of dogs but he also suggested putting dogs, wolves, foxes and other canids into the same "kind" and that the "pre-programmed genetic potential" over time made them different. This puts him well within "macro-evolution", not the "micro-evolution" that creationists generally speak about. He went well beyond what's "possible to observe every day".

    Biologically there is no "micro-" and "macro-evolution" of course. They are the same process. With his example he just demonstrates how arbitrary and incorrect this distinction is, even within creationism. So his argument becomes very confusing: where exactly do creationists think the limit between "micro-" and "macro-" goes? Why is the difference between humans and chimpanzees "macro-evolutionary", and thus false, but the difference between a dog and a fox, which is greater, "micro-evolutionary" and therefore true? Because the distinction is completely capricious.

    And I have to correct you. Nobody except creationists say that evolutionary theory claims to be the explanation to the whole universe and everything... far from it. This is a straw man that creationists build up to make the actual claims evolutionary theory makes appear easier to combat.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.