Viewpoint: Evolution denialism is back. This time it’s coming from the left

(Lucas Weeks) #1

The author is an evolutionary biologist who denies the historicity of the Genesis account of creation. Still, he has noticed the insanity of the LGBTQ+ social justice warriors who deny there is any biological distinction between the sexes.

I found it refreshing to read someone from academia state the case so bluntly and honestly, despite my disagreements with him.

When he spoke about Creationism and Intelligent Design as social movements, though, this line jumped out at me:

Since then, however, Creationism and Intelligent Design have lost a tremendous amount of momentum and influence. But while these right-wing anti-evolution movements withered to irrelevancy, a much more cryptic form of left-wing evolution denialism has been slowly growing.

Is it true that Creationism and ID have “lost a tremendous amount of momentum and influence?” I don’t watch that stuff closely, and I’ve wondered. I feel a little bit that I’m in a bubble on this question and don’t know how to judge it well.

(Joseph Bayly) #2

It’s not dismissed here in Cincinnati. As an example, I saw the Answers in Genesis magazine (journal?) on the table in the waiting room at the mechanic a year or two ago.

However, I do think that the fighting over it was mostly connected to public schools, and that battle is basically over, having been lost by proponents of ID.

(Christopher Thomas Miller) #3

I agree that this was a refreshing read. The entire trans movement really is deeply unscientific at the core (by any standard), and the rate at which it’s hurtling forward is not going to do it any long term favors. People are bound to notice, like this guy.

At the same time, we should pause to note the rather delicious, ironic failure of self-awareness on display here:

But it seems clear to me that academia now is not as it was advertised a decade ago when I started down this path. It is no longer a refuge for outspoken, free-thinking intellectuals. Instead, it seems one must now choose between living a zipper-lipped life as an academic scientist, or living a life as a fulfilled intellectual. Currently, one cannot do both.

But wait, remember when he said this earlier?

Back when evolution was under attack from proponents of Biblical Creation and Intelligent Design, academic scientists were under no pressure to hold back criticism. This is because these anti-evolution movements were almost exclusively a product of right-wing evangelicals who held no power in academia.

So essentially, he’s fine with using the bludgeon of academic hegemony on his enemies but becomes uncomfortable when others use it on him. He drew the wrong conclusion. It’s not that the trans activists are the Christians, it’s that evolutionists are the trans activists. Academic evolutionists are as vigilantly opposed to “free-thinking intellectuals” about their pet subject as the most rabid SJW.

(Henry Milewski) #4

Is it true that Creationism and ID have “lost a tremendous amount of momentum and influence?”

On ID I’m not sure, I stopped following it closely quite a while ago, though do still get the CSC newsletters. My impression is that it is actually quite a simple point they were making - basically trying to convince people in a sophisticated way that machinery (albeit biological) is designed (duh). They made their point well, but I wonder if there is really anything fundamentally new to say, apart from just showing the same truths which keep showing up in different places. Although I see Mike Behe has his 3rd book out soon.

On creationism, a lot of thinking Christians have been put off YEC by some of the more simplistic and cheap front that it still sadly carries in many places. But my observation is that, in recent years especially, there has been some good winnowing of the movement in terms of recognising this and there is a good group of more responsible and honest types like Kurt Wise (palaeontology), Art Chadwick, Leonard Brand, Steve Austin (Geology), Todd Wood (biology), Gordon Wilson, Paul Garner, Danny Falkner (astronomy) etc, who aren’t afraid of talking more openly and with a bit more humility about the movement in terms of the scientific challenges it still hasn’t solved and needs to work on etc, instead of presenting a triumphalistic front with all the answers that is less than honest. This has been encouraging to those that have seen it, I think, as it holds promise for the future. The recent film Is Genesis History? tried to bring together more of these better guys, not sure how popular it was but I though I saw a fair bit of buzz around the place.

(Lucas Weeks) #5

I did see that documentary, “Is Genesis History?” and I do commend it to others here. It tries to cover a lot of ground, and maybe too much. Still, I found its discussion of geology especially interesting.

(Tim Bayly) #6

Always found it distressing, but have never said so publicly. Thanks.

(Nathan Smith) #7

I echo your sentiment regarding’Is Genesis History.’ I found it informative on a conceptual level. It helps you think differently. If creation points to God, then what’s up with these fossil records and such? IGH really looks at those questions and provides a different intellectual scaffolding than the modern Western academy.

(Joel Norris) #8

I have technical expertise in the geosciences and out of experience no longer spend time reading/viewing YEC material, but I watched IGH at the urging of my mother-in-law and found the arguments quite weak. I’d have to go back and read my correspondence with her to get specifics.

(Joseph Bayly) #9

I’d be interested in reading your thoughts.

(Lucas Weeks) #10

Yes, Joel. Please do share. I have no expertise at all in this area.

(Joel Norris) #11

First, a bit more on my background. I am a working scientist in the area of weather and climate. My knowledge of geology comes from undergraduate coursework, reading material pitched to scientists who aren’t geologists, and from interacting from time to time with geologists over the years.

One weakness of IGH is that it treats the secular view and YEC as the only two options such that any hit against the secular view is counted as a score for YEC. But in reality there are more options available, and any hit against the secular view might boost an alternative view more than YEC.

IGH also creates a straw man by characterizing the secular view as strictly slow uniformitarianism and then tearing it down by showing geological evidence of catastrophic events. But secular geologists accept that catastrophic events do occur; they just believe the geological record arises from many events with long years in between rather than a single Flood.

IGH also gives itself special privileges in argumentation that it does not allow for the other side. For example, it is posited that radioactive decay occurred at a much more rapid rate in the past, thus causing radioactive dating to overestimate age. No evidence is presented for this, and even if radioactive decay has not been uniform over time, isn’t it just as possible for decay to have been slower in the past, thus causing radioactive dating to underestimate age? But a faster rate of radioactive decay is convenient for IGH, so it grants itself that undemonstrated assumption. But when the secular view wants to grant itself an undemonstrated assumption to explain why there are no transitional fossils, IGH slams it. Note that I am not defending evolution here – I am just saying you don’t win arguments by giving yourself a special pass that you don’t allow to the other side.

Also, it is not enough to poke holes in the arguments of the other side. To win, one must have fewer holes in one’s own arguments. And perhaps the biggest hole for IGH is that there are many distinct geological formations all around the world with different minerals, rocks, layers, folding, and fossils. How could a global flood create all these distinct and different formations rather than just creating a big jumble? And this is not just book learning I am repeating – I have personal experience from geological field mapping that is too long to share here, but if there is interest I can explain in a different comment.

(Lucas Weeks) #12

I’m definitely interested. I’ve heard second hand that even a secular geologist professor here at Indiana University has stated in front of his class that geologists can’t make sense of evolution by studying the rocks alone. So when I saw IGH focus on geology, it seemed to be keeping with what I had learned from other sources.

(Jonathan Drinkwater) #13

To answer your point about Radioactive decay, I’d check out the RATE experiment. They’re the ones who originated this idea of radioactive decay being much faster relatively recently. I’d need to go back to the results for the details, but basically the amount of decay seen in rocks was a lot, but there was signifigant amounts of trapped helium still present while helium escapes fairly rapidly from said rocks suggesting a much more rapid rate of decay at some point in the relatively recent past. Pretty fascinating honestly and worth having a look over.

The full results are available through Creation ministries international alongside some fairly detailed analysis of them on their website. I’d recommend them for the science over AiG anyway

(Alistair Robertson) #14

I’d second the recommendation to look at One of the appealing characteristics of their work is the many writers who acknowledge weaknesses in various creation theories. Unfortunately some come across as more arrogant than others.

I checked out what they had to say about “Is Genesis History” after reading about it here, and one review gives a fairly detailed response to similar comments you have made Joel.

I am NOT a scientist and they may not be right, but my perspective is that they hold their theories more loosely than you’d think. They take the Bible as history, but the mechanics of how everything happened is subject to critique and revision.

Love John Hartnett’s articles in particular (totally different area to geology, though).

(Joel Norris) #15

Yes, I think the age of the Earth is a definitely a different issue than evolution.

(Jonathan Drinkwater) #16

CMI is packed with scientists, I’ve interacted with both AiG and CMI over the years and each side seems to have a slightly different focus
AiG is heavily focused on apologetics, they’re heavily presup and so can provide very good layman apologetic arguments for use in the field
CMI are dominated by scientists and tend to be heavily focused on defending YEC from a scientific standpoint
Generally I’d recommend AiG for laymen and non scientists as an entry point as they’re fairly accessible, and CMI to scientists and anyone who wants to thoroughly dig into the theories

(Joel Norris) #17

Laboratory analysis of radioactive dating is beyond my technical expertise to evaluate, so I can’t comment on the merits of this study. Rather, I am convinced by the many independent lines of evidence pointing to an old earth, or at least an earth that looks old.

(Joel Norris) #18

Here is my personal experience with geology. In college I took a field mapping course and spent every Saturday one spring bushwhacking through a couple square miles on the other side of the mountains from Los Angeles at a location called the Devil’s Punchbowl. It was in the foothills of the mountains, but the flat desert floor was also close.

One type of rock there was shale (fine-grained sediment). The fact that it was fine grained indicates it was deposited in rather quiescent conditions, such as in a slow moving river or lake. The layers of shale were tilted in many different directions. This indicates that more than one folding event had taken place to crumple and tilt the originally horizontal layers (think of folding a paper in multiple directions). Here’s my interpretation of the sequence of events for the shale:

  1. Deposition of sediment in quiescent conditions.
  2. Hardening of sediment into shale
  3. Folding event 1
  4. Folding event 2 and maybe more

Another type of rock was a conglomerate of coarse sand grains and rounded cobbles. The fact that there were coarse grains and cobbles indicates it was deposited in more active conditions, such as in a mountain creek. In one of the cobbles I saw fossil shells, and at a few locations I found bits of the shale rock embedded as non-rounded cobbles in the conglomerate rock. The conglomerate rock was layered, but not parallel with layers of the shale rock. This indicates the shale rock had already been tilted before the conglomerate layers were formed. The conglomerate rock layers were tilted only in one direction, indicating a single folding event. Here is my interpretation of the sequence of events for the conglomerate.

  1. Deposition of fossils in rock that later became cobbles. This rock formation was upstream from the shale formation.
  2. Erosion of rock with fossils and transport of cobbles downstream while rounding them
  3. Erosion of already folded shale (before or at the same time as (2))
  4. Deposition of sand, cobbles, and shale pieces into conglomerate
  5. Hardening of sand and cobbles and shale pieces into conglomerate
  6. Folding event

A third type of rock (loose sand really) was a single layer at the top of every hill with a base at the same elevation level. It was as if the tops of all the rocky hills were shaved off at the same height and replaced with loose sand. Here is my interpretation of the following sequence of events for the loose sand.

  1. Erosion of already folded conglomerate.
  2. Deposition of loose sand in a layer on top of the conglomerate rock.
  3. Uplift of the conglomerate and sand
  4. Erosion by creeks of the shale, conglomerate, and sand to create the ravines I hiked up and down with the sand layer left stranded on the tops of the hills

Now let’s review facts. It’s obvious that the shale rock came first since I found pieces of it in the conglomerate. The fact that it was hard rock shows that it had to come considerably before the conglomerate in order to have time to harden into rock. The fact that it was shale indicates that it was formed in a different environment than the conglomerate. The fact that the shale layers were tilted differently from the conglomerate layers indicates that a folding event and erosion had already occurred in the shale prior to the formation of the conglomerate. The fact that the conglomerate had cobbles in it indicates that some other rock formation in addition to the shale preceded the conglomerate with enough time to harden. The fact that the cobbles were rounded indicates that they had enough time after their initial erosion for the rough edges to be worn off. The fact that one of the cobbles contained fossil shells indicates that fossils had enough time to form before undergoing erosion and getting incorporated into the conglomerate. The fact that a sand layer was on top of the hills above tilted conglomerate indicates that the conglomerate had enough time to harden and be folded before erosion occurred, followed by deposition of sand, and then erosion again.

Although this comment is already quite long, here is my interpretation that incorporates all the previous partial sequences into one grand sequence describing the geological history of the area.

  1. Deposition of sediment in quiescent conditions.
  2. Hardening of sediment into shale
  3. One or more folding event that tilts shale layers
  4. Deposition of fossils and sediment in rock that later became cobbles
  5. Hardening of rock that later became cobbles. Note that (4) and (5) might precede or occur at the same time as (1)-(3).
  6. Erosion of rock with fossils and transport of cobbles downstream while rounding them
  7. Erosion of already tilted shale (prior to or at the same time as (6))
  8. Deposition of sand, cobbles, and shale pieces into conglomerate
  9. Hardening of sand and cobbles into conglomerate
  10. Folding event that tilts shale layers another time and conglomerate layers the first time.
  11. Erosion of already folded conglomerate.
  12. Deposition of loose sand in a layer on top of the conglomerate rock.
  13. Uplift of the conglomerate and sand
  14. Erosion by creeks of the shale, conglomerate, and sand, creating ravines and leaving the sand layer stranded on top of hills

Note how long the sequence of geological events is for an area spanning a couple square miles north of Los Angeles. How could a single global flood occurring over less than a year create all the different types of rock tilted in different ways that I saw, not to mention the embedded cobble with fossils? Now multiply that by the million other locations around the world with their own geological histories. This is why I am so skeptical about the Flood Geology promoted by IGH and elsewhere.

(Alistair Robertson) #19

Joel, I believe at least some of what you present is addressed by CMI scientists (some of whom are attached to secular universities). It might be worth interacting with them to see what their responses to your claims are, if the subject still intrigues you.

(Joel Norris) #20

Thanks, Alistair, I looked through their articles on geology but did not see anything really addressing the issues that I am raising.