Creation or Evolution…the Logical Fallacies

Some interesting advertisements have been showing up on scienceblogs lately:

 Pharyngula Creation Evolution

Is evolution true? The mounds of evidence show that yes, it is. But The Good News Magazine (“A Magazine of Understanding”…claiming understanding and actual understanding are not the same thing) is taking advantage of the economic downturn:

 “There are a couple of things to know about this. One is that the economy sucks, and the media, in particular are struggling. Science media especially are suffering, so everyone is scrambling to scrape up whatever revenues they can. The other thing to notice is that in a down economy, faith-based lies and wishful thinking are cheap to produce and continue to sell, so that’s what’s happening.” – PZ Myers, Pharyngula

Rather than pouting about it, PZ Myers has called for bloggers everywhere to order their free creationist literature (they’ll ship to any country), and critically dissect them on their blogs. This way, when someone googles the organization, they’ll get a long list of reasons not to buy into the bullshit they’re peddling.

So like the good little minion that I am, I’ve put in an order for their “Creation or Evolution” booklet. While I’m waiting to get it in the mail, I’ve downloaded the free copy of that they have on their website and written up my own dissection (below the fold). I’m not an evolutionary biologist so I’ll leave it to people more educated than myself to deal with the nitty-gritty of the booklet. Rather, I’ll be picking out the logical fallacies to point out how intellectually dishonest these people have to be to get people to think they actually have a valid position.

False Dichotomy: The entire premise of this booklet is built on the idea that either evolution is true, or the Bible’s creation story is true, but this dichotomy is just made up. If evolution is not true then it may be true that we live in the matrix or we were planted here by aliens etc. The writers need you to believe that the Bible is the only possible alternative, and rather than providing evidence that the Biblical account is true (could it be because there isn’t any?), they attempt to discredit evolution:

“We’ve seen that evolution cannot explain many of the facts we see in the world around us. We’ve seen that the book of Genesis doesn’t conflict with science and that, when we consider the evidence, it actually offers an explanation far more sound than Darwinian theory. So where do you go from here? The choice is yours as to how you view the evidence.”Page 71

Appeal to Authority: The anti-evolution propaganda is kicked off in this booklet by presenting a quote from a well-known scientist who doubts the theory. This would be fine, except that in this case the scientist is Wernher von Braun, a rocket scientist, andnot an evolutionary biologist. Despite von Braun’s impressive credentials, he is not an authority on evolution, and thus including his words on evolution is dishonest.Page 3-4

Sanctimony: Creationism is  positioned in this booklet as being the morally superior position:

…the world languishes in the sorrow and suffering that results from rejecting absolute moral standards. With no absolute standards, we have no reason to care about what happens to our fellow man. We might as well seek only our personal gain regardless of the cost to others—acting exactly as evolutionary theory expects.Page 5

They assert that people need the absolute moral standards of religion to be good, yet they provide no evidence to support this claim.

Equivocations: The writers of this booklet have made the common creationist mistake of calling evolution “just a theory”:

Can the theory of evolution be proven? After all, it is called the theory of evolution in acknowledgment of the fact that it is not a confirmed scientific law.Page 19

They are equivocating the popular use of the term “theory” with the scientific meaning of the word. explains it well:

In everyday use, theory means a guess or a hunch, something that maybe needs proof. In science, a theory is not a guess, not a hunch. It’s a well-substantiated, well-supported, well-documented explanation for our observations.2 It ties together all the facts about something, providing an explanation that fits all the observations and can be used to make predictions. In science, theory is the ultimate goal, the explanation. It’s as close to proven as anything in science can be.

Some people think that in science, you have atheory, and once it’s proven, it becomes a law. That’s not how it works. In science, we collect facts, or observations, we use laws to describe them, and a theory to explain them. You don’t promote a theory to a law by proving it. A theory never becomes a law.

This bears repeating. A theory never becomes a law. In fact, if there was a hierarchy of science, theories would be higher than laws. There is nothing higher, or better, than a theory.

Doubting the theory of evolution is as illogical as ridiculous as doubting germ theory or the theory of gravity.

Exaggerated Conflict: The writers of this booklet attempt to discredit evolution by pointing out the conflicts within the theory. In particular, they pick on the differences between what the understanding of evolution is today, and Darwin’s understanding. They are dismissive of evolution because scientists disagree over certain points of the theory, but really this is its strength. Science does not adhere to doctrine,  rather scientific theories are constantly tweaked and strengthened in the light of new evidence. When scientists are in disagreement over elements of evolutionary theory, they are forced to use evidence to prop up their claims, until the truth is discovered.

The writers want people to dismiss evolution on the basis that scientists do not all agree on its particulars, when in reality this conflict is the process by which the theory is improved and refined.

Strawman: These proponents of creationism continually misrepresent the theory of evolution. They make up a weaker version of the theory and then refute that one, without ever dealing with what evolution actually is. An example:

Professor Phillip Johnson observes, “To suppose that such a random event could reconstruct even a single complex organ like a liver or kidney is about as reasonable as to suppose that an improved watch can be designed by throwing an old one against a wall” (Darwin on Trial, p. 37).

They prentend that evolution is a random process and that evolution asserts that everything is how it is by sheer accident. They are being willfully ignorant of what evolution actually says, which is that traits gradually become more common in a population by the process of natural selection.

Hitler Fallacy: Creationists love to use this one:

Adolf Hitler indeed applied the Darwinian concept of the “survival of the fittest” to the human race. During World War II the Nazis forcibly sterilized more than 2 million people and began systematically exterminating people whom Hitler considered to be inferior. The Nazis justified their atrocities by rationalizing that they were doing mankind a service with “genetic cleansing” to improve the races.

In fact, the idea of ethnic cleansing existed well before Darwin was born, and it is ridiculous to blame the holocaust on evolutionary theory. The holocaust happened because Hitler was a racist sociopath with too much power. The theory of evolution is counter to what Hitler was doing; the Nazis were imposing selection on the population, the opposite of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Argument from Final Consequences: Further to the Hitler Fallacy above…even if evolution were to blame for the holocaust, that wouldn’t be evidence that evolution isn’t true. The negative consequences of any scientific theory have no bearing on the validity of the theory.

Special Pleading: The writers of this booklet dismiss the blatant inconsistencies in creationism by saying that there are some things that we just can’t understand:

Can the Bible explain the fossil record, evidence pointing to an ancient earth and divine creation at the same time? Yes, it can. We don’t know the details of what happened before man’s time. But Jesus Christ has assured us that when He returns “there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light” (Mark 4:22).

Instead of wandering through the chaotic, confused maze of the theory of evolution, we should look to God’s Word for assurance. It is there—directly from our Creator—that we find the truth of man’s origin.

They pretend that creationism is a valid scientific theory, but they provide no evidence. Instead they assert that some things are just unknowable and will be revealed to us by god in time. They are dismissing evolution’s cohesive theory and replacing it with the vague claim that it is god’s will and we aren’t meant to know yet.

Simple-Minded Certitude: I’ve learned most of what I know about logical fallacies from the podcast Hunting Humbug 101, and I think their explanation of Simple-Minded Certitude beautifully describes the writers of this booklet:

The advocate has an unshakeable belief which remains unchanged even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

The evidence for evolution is indeed overwhelming, yet the people at Good News Magazine believe so strongly in the god of the Bible that they overlook the evidence and clutch on to anything that appears to lend credence to their religious beliefs.


1 Response to “Creation or Evolution…the Logical Fallacies”

  1. 1 Global Villager August 7, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Not only was Braun a rocket science with little insight into evolution etc he was a member of the Nazi Party and then the SS. Though he claims he had to join to continue his work (true) the assertion that he went dragging his heels is debated. So…according to a Nazi evolution is false. Case closed I guess lol. To think they crap all over Hitler yet they use one of his minions!

    As for your point on sanctimony it always amuses/scares me when religious zealots claim society needs the legal and moral codes offered by religion. I guess if it did not exist we would all murder, rape, and pillage. People are basically good and only want a modest degree of comfort in their lives. It is the rule of secular law and the police that maintains order for those of us who are not, not God.

    There is nothing wrong with eugenics or social darwinism in theory. Here is an interesting quote from Darwin:

    “Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
    The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. … We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected”.

    The problem arises when fallible people (like Hitler) base their decisions on their own beliefs and not rational thought or science. It is a tricky moral thing obviously but it makes sense.

    Anyways, excellent job, I enjoyed reading your critique and you illuminated the logical fallacies very well for me. Thanks!

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