February 16, 2008

Retort to a creationist lecture pt. 1

Blogging on Pseudo-Scientific Douche-BagsThis is the first post in a series examining the lecture given by creationist author Anders Gärdeborn this past Thursday at Uppsala Universitet, by invitation from evangelical christian student organization Credo.

First of all, thanks to those of you who noted my last post by linking on their blogs, on www.evolutionsteori.se and on the VoF forum. Much appreciated.

Just as I questioned whether or not it was worth going to the creationist lecture in the first place, I'm now questioning whether or not it's worth taking the time to write this essay. In my experience, no active advocate of creationism is going to be persuaded by scientific evidence no matter how logically, coherently or pedagogically it's presented. They deal in ignorance, deception, incoherence and misdirection; finding so called "evidence" for their outrageously faulty claims, always made on faulty grounds, only after they've decided what it is they want evidence for. When proven wrong on one particular point, they just coolly move on to the next piece of ridiculous "evidence", unyielded and unconvinced, leaving sound arguments either unheard or unheeded. To argue against an avid creationist is a Sisyphean task if there ever was one.

Still, I've decided that it is worth countering Anders Gärdeborn's embarrassing display, not because I ever expect or even hope to convince him, those that invited him to speak, or any creationist for that matter, but because I feel it's worth informing those who can see through the creationist dreck but don't quite have all the knowledge to understand exactly why it is dreck. Gärdeborns lecture lends itself to this purpose since it brings up almost all of the misinformed creationist arguments. Besides, I love biology and hate to see it misused and misinterpreted.

As I mentioned in my first impressions of the lecture, I did take notes the whole time. But as the fusillade of unfounded pseudoscience fired at the audience was far quicker than my pen, I didn't get everything down. Therefore, and because I fear that this essay is going to be long enough already, I'm only going to focus on the most alarmingly bad misconceptions and misinterpretations. Whether or not these are honest misconceptions or deliberate lies in Anders Gärdeborn's case is a question I leave open.

I've divided this essay into three parts: a commentary on Gärdeborn's introduction, a critical review of his so called "scientific" arguments against evolution as presented in the first half of the lecture, and finally an examination of the creationist claims made in the second half of the lecture.

Let's get started then...

Evolution as a faith-based worldview

Gärdeborn started the presentation in a decidedly evangelical tone, almost preaching to the auditorium, lamenting the fact that young people had "thrown out the bible" because the belief that science has proven the bible wrong has invaded the popular thought. One of the very first slides he showed contrasted the "evolutionary worldview" with the creationist worldview, drawing direct lines from atheism to evolutionary thought and from theism to creationism. A preposterous proposition seeing as many of those of us who accept evolution also are believers. I'm not, but that's beside the point. Even though the emergence of evolutionary thought made it possible to have a conception of the world and our existence within it that didn't require the presence of a supernatural almighty being, adopting an evolutionary point of view does not automatically make you atheist.

At one point he argued that it is no less faithful to not believe in god than it is to believe in god. I think a fair number of people could agree with him on this, only that this is not an argument neither for nor against evolution. It's a complete non sequitur. But by arguing in this way early in his presentation Gärdeborn quickly established what he structures his arguments around: he aims to equalize creationism and "evolutionism", as creationists so maliciously and misleadingly call it, as worldviews with equal grounds. This is the first monumental mistake that he makes.

Evolution is not a worldview. "Evolutionism" is a devious rhetorical trick-word creationists use to make evolutionary theory appear as a collection of beliefs and opinions, or values even. Evolutionary theory is no such thing. (At this point he is not yet talking about the supposed negative moral implications of "evolutionism", but he'll get there soon enough.) Gärdeborn's definition of evolutionary theory as the "worldview evolutionists use to interpret scientific results", is telling of his ignorance, willful or not, of the stringency that underlies the scientific process. Evolutionary theory generates scientific results and allows us to make testable predictions. He talked about "creationist glasses" and "evolutionist glasses", trying to make the point that both views depend equally on faith; you interpret scientific results based on what "glasses" you're wearing. This is just another way of falsely equating evolutionary thought, which is based on observation, experimentation and logical inference, with creationism, which is not.


What is creationism based on then? Next Gärdeborn proceeded to exalt the value of revelation as a means of acquiring knowledge. Yes, you read that right - revelation. He compared it to the knowledge that a child gets from its parents or teachers; god, of course, being the ultimate parent and teacher. A metaphor so inane it almost collapses into its own vacuum. In a logical tumble, which I'm sure he himself thinks is fully plausible but that any sensible and reasonable person finds ridiculous, he affirms that since no human being was present at the moment of creation, no human being can state anything about it, only god can, his god, the christian god, because he was the only one present. Therefore only creation can account for the origin of life, not evolution. This is a puzzling argument seeing as the matter of the origin of life is best left to biochemistry, even though evolutionary thought can inform the theories that exist.

Another problem that Gärdeborn seems to have with evolution, and with science in general it seems, is that it's changing it's damned mind all the time, making the argument that this makes science just as subjective as the interpretations of the so called revealed word. Once again he's trying to equate the scientific process to creationism using faulty grounds. I guess it's so much easier to only learn something once instead of, you know, having to be updating your knowledge as science advances. Bo-oring! He only in passing acknowledges that science is supposed to review itself as new empirical evidence is gathered while reviews of the revealed word are based solely on someone sitting down by a desk thinking really, really hard. And naturally he completely fails to observe that evolutionary thought underlies many of the advancements that have greatly improved our life quality and increased our life expectancy, while creationism has yet to come up with a any sort of testable prediction, much less one that results in direct benefits for us.

>>In my next post I will continue this essay by addressing the apparent structure in the universe, the intentionally misleading concept of "biological information" and some general creationists misconceptions about evolution.

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  1. Hej Daniel,

    thanks for your essay. I'm looking forward to the next part and I almost wish I could have attended the creationist's lecture, if only for the unintended humour it would have offered. For the benefit of those readers that have only recently (and maybe through your essay) started to look into the "debate" between creationists and evolutionists, may I suggest another link to the hilarious banana video?

  2. I just love your essays, they are always so well written. Looking foreward to part nr 2.

    By the way, any Saturday is fine by me :)



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