February 24, 2010

The creationist stupidity has no end, even in Sweden

Darwin's finches from Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world..." 1845.

We have our share of creationist loonies here in Sweden. I know it's not comparable to the situation in the US, and the sort of religious fundamentalism that breeds creationism is not widespread here, but they do exist and they do raise their weaselly heads from time to time. We have the Christian think-tank "Claphaminstitutet" whose director used to be a member of parliament for the christian democrat party and a candidate for the European parliament in the latest elections; the creationist association "Genesis" which also publishes a magazine; and the "RIL Network" which is behind a sort of Swedish version of Conservapaedia. These organizations are mostly tied to the diverse Swedish pentecostal/evangelical free churches, but there are ties to the old state church Church of Sweden as well.

I have on two occasions participated in the rebuttal to members of Claphaminstitutet on the "come one, come all" op-ed/social media site www.newsmill.se - Answering pseudoscientific claims against evolution, Answering pseudoscientific claims against evolution, again. It's exactly the sort of outlet you'd expect creationists to use: the process of editorial review is very poor or non-existing and they pride themselves on being "pluralistic" and "wide", meaning that they'll let almost any opinion receive prominence regardless of validity. Previously climate-change denialists as well as 9/11 conspiracy theorists have been given space without any sort of editorial critique or fact-check. It's a sort of "laissez faire" approach to journalism I guess. Luckily the comments to these articles have usually been devastatingly critical.

This bring us to yesterday when a third article by fellows from Claphaminstitutet entitled "It must be allowed to question Darwin" was published on Newsmill. The authors rant and rave that evolution is not evidence-based and that the "Darwinian dictatorship of opinion" needs to be stopped.

What then do they present as their argument? It's a doozie. They have dug up Icons of Evolution, a book published eight years ago by known creationist Jonathan Wells, and they present it as if it's somehow news. It's laughable. Icons of Evolution has been refuted times over since it was published in 2002. (Note: Wells first presented his arguments in print as far back as 2000.)

For those who are interested I can recommend this review by none other than Jerry Coyne originally published in Nature, and this review by Kevin Padian and Alan D. Gilshlick from the National Center for Science Education. For those who really want to dig into the subject there's a chapter-by-chapter rebuttal on the NCSE website, also by Alan D. Gilschlick, and another one on talkorigins.org.

Icons of Evolution is structured around ten examples, the "icons" mentioned in the title, that are commonly used in teaching to demonstrate evolutionary processes. In their article, the fellows from Claphaminstitutet select three of these examples - "Heackel's embryos", "Darwin's finches" (see image above) and "four-winged fruit flies" - to argue that evolutionary science has cheated its way into prominence, that's it's not evidence-based and that it doesn't hold up to modern standards of science. This argument is deceptive because these examples were never used as evidence for evolution. They are simply well-known and easy to understand examples of evolutionary processes.

Jerry Coyne wrote in his review:

Wells's book rests entirely on a flawed syllogism: hence, textbooks illustrate evolution with examples; these examples are sometimes presented in incorrect or misleading ways; therefore evolution is a fiction. The second premise is not generally true, and even if it were, the conclusion would not follow.

I really recommend the critical sites I linked to above if you want to learn more about the specific examples, what they really demonstrate and why they are useful when teaching evolution.

Jonathan Wells has published a number of creationist books and is active as a speaker, although obviously he's not a particularly well-received one among scientists. Wells is a fellow of the well-know creationist loony-bin the Discovery Institute and he is also, I assume, the only member of the Unification Church (aka "the moonies") with two PhD:s in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley. Obviously some central tenets of his education didn't quite get through. This is an unsurprising but lamentable fact: people will often lack objectivity and hold contradictory views when religion is involved. I know of and I have met several creationists pursuing a higher education in science.

It seems then that Claphaminstitutet has once again drawn a blank. By bringing forward long-refuted claims as news and by ignoring the significant critique against the arguments they present, their efforts appear as nothing else but laughable and self-aggrandizing attempts at agitation, intended for those who are already "believers". Luckily that sort of thing doesn't fly very well in Sweden. They may pat their own backs and think they've dealt a crushing blow, and it's not impossible that they turn a few fence-sitters who have little grasp of the subject. In the end though, they are a pitiful little organization headed by a bunch of aged gentlemen who are not up to date with the reality of scientific findings.

Of course it's justified to rebuke their dishonest and untruthful arguments, but the real fight lies in preventing them from driving their "wedge" into the school system and influencing young students through superficially benevolent christian student organizations and youth groups, a process that is well under way also in Sweden...

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  1. RIL Network-länken skall man undvika om man vill behålla maten.

  2. Thank you! Very informative and interesting. These Creationists really scare me and I´m so happy that there are few of them (at least in our part of the world). I also think its important to take the debate and there prove them wrong. Its easy to point out the errors in their "evidence" and overall logic but to do that we need to take the debate. Even though it might seem ridiculous. Just like with the racists these people play the underdog card and claim to be excluded because the establishment are afraid of their evidence and that everyone will find out the truth. I would laugh but I really think they are scary.
    Good job and thank you again!

  3. Wow. That's a very kind comment. Thank you.

  4. Often times atheists confuse "Manipulated cellular engineering" for proof of abiogenesis.

    The work that has been conducted past and present is clearly proof of Design, not time chance natural processes. If you look at and study biochemical systems and biochemical reactions in the cell, they require precise information folding and arrangement code. RNA forming on a prebiotic earth is laughable! Life only comes from life!

    Abiogenesis is chemically impossible!


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