February 17, 2009

Answering peudoscientific claims against evolution

I've contributed to an article rebuking pseudoscientific claims on major Swedish news commentary/opinion website newsmill.se - Pseudovetenskaplig evolutionskritik (Pseudoscientific criticism of evolution). It's an answer to an article published on the same website a week ago by three fellows of the Christian think tank Claphaminstitutet - Evolutionsteorien får allt svagare stöd ju mer vi vet om universum (Evolutionary theory gets less and less support the more we know about the universe). The main author is a physician, docent in anesthesiology and intensive care medicine, and the two contributors are a physicist and a docent in numerical analysis.

It's telling that the authors, despite their advanced degrees, don't know better than to express themselves with authority in a subject that they don't master. The piece is nothing but religious fanaticism thinly veiled behind ridiculously faulty and misleading conceptions about evolution and genetics. It's the same teleological arguments and argumentum ad ignorantiam that we've come to get used to from creationists and evolution denialists. Astonishingly they also present facts that are in perfect concordance with evolutionary theory, in fact predicted by it, as if they were evidence against evolution. For instance the fact that advantageous mutations are less frequent than deleterious mutations, the fact that so called "junk DNA" is expressed even though it doesn't have a function and the fact that artificial selection (breeding) works faster than natural selection.

What makes this outburst even more noteworthy is that the first author was given space on the debate page of a nationwide evening newspaper to claim that "alternative views" to evolution are being unfairly withheld from the public and that many of evolutionary science's claims are the result of forgery and scientific fraud.

Creationism is widespread in the Swedish evangelical "free church" movement, in particular within their youth and student groups which is how they sneak their way into the educational system. But relatively speaking, Sweden is spared from the more outspoken and mass-appealing strains of creationism that you get in the US. This doesn't mean that there aren't smaller organizations that sometimes do act out and demand public attention. I've blogged before about a representative from the literalistic evangelical organization Genesis, and now then we hear from this so called "Christian think tank".

My position on the rebuke of pseudoscientific claims is generally that one should try to avoid directly countering their proponents. I don't particularly enjoy doing it or reading about it. It's simply too exasperating and often leads nowhere. I'm more interested in the dissemination of scientific information to the general public and correcting or amending the misconceptions or gaps in knowledge that might be out there. But I think that in this case both things coincided and given the potential for attention that this media outlet has, I was only happy to contribute.

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  1. Såg att Clapham hade svarat på ert inlägg. Kommer ni att skriva ytterligare ett svar?

  2. Självklart! Svaret är på gång och är planerat att komma både på Newsmill och i nästa nummer av Humanisten.

  3. Many of these creationists that try to counter evolution claim to be doing meta-science, discounting science while claiming to do science. This is often ridiculous and as you pointed out trying to directly argue against their premises is almost futile. Good post.


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