Fox News host Glenn Beck has denounced the theory of evolution, saying that he knows it is false because he has never seen “a half-monkey, half-person.” Beck coming out against evolution is hardly surprising, but his not-so-persuasive scientific analysis has drawn the usual round of mockery and revulsion. Scientists say that our closest living ancestors are not monkeys but apes, with which we share a common ancestor.
In addition to failing to understand what the science of evolution is and what it really says, Beckie-boy also falls headlong into the trap of a common fallacy:
[Beck said,] “How many people believe in evolution in this country? I’d like to see. I mean, I don’t know why it’s unreasonable to say this.”
For the record, Glenn, it is, in fact, very “unreasonable” — not to mention illogical and irrational — to use popular belief to bolster a claim. This is a fallacy that’s known by many names: appeal to the many, appeal to consensus, the bandwagon fallacy, appeal to the masses, the democratic fallacy, appeal to popularity, the fallacy of the many, or — more formally — argumentum ad populum.
In case anyone needs an even better understanding of the illogic and failure of argumentum ad populum, look here, here, and here, and here.
Put as simply as possible, veracity is not up for a popular vote, as Beck seems to think it is. The truth doesn’t care what anyone thinks of it, not even what millions or billions of people think of it. The truth is what it is. It’s there for us to discover … if we only will look for it.
But Beckie-boy doesn’t want us to look for the truth! He just wants us to settle for what “seems to be” and what satisfies the most people emotionally. Sorry, Glenn, but since humanity is collectively stupid, the last thing I’m going to do is use popular polling data to decide whether something is true or not.
Some Australian Pentescostalists have absconded with education in Queensland, and have begun a laughable effort to swindle school children there into believing absurdities, such as that humans and dinosaurs had once coexisted. News.Com.Au reports on their campaign of ignorance (WebCite cached article):
Primary school students are being taught that man and dinosaurs walked the Earth together and that there is fossil evidence to prove it.
Fundamentalist Christians are hijacking Religious Instruction (RI) classes in Queensland despite education experts saying Creationism and attempts to convert children to Christianity have no place in state schools.
Students have been told Noah collected dinosaur eggs to bring on the Ark, and Adam and Eve were not eaten by dinosaurs because they were under a protective spell.
The Pentecostalists stooped to incredible absurdities in order to withstand any objections that might be thrown at them, such as in the following story:
A parent of a Year 5 student on the Sunshine Coast said his daughter was ostracised to the library after arguing with her scripture teacher about DNA.
“The scripture teacher told the class that all people were descended from Adam and Eve,” he said.
“My daughter rightly pointed out, as I had been teaching her about DNA and science, that ‘wouldn’t they all be inbred’?
“But the teacher replied that DNA wasn’t invented then.”
Really, these people have no shame … and no minds of their own, either.
I blogged a couple times already about the case of Christina Comer, erstwhile head of science education for the Texas Education Agency. She’d sinned unforgivably — in the agency’s eyes — by forwarding an email about a pro-evolution seminar. This apparently violated the TEA’s enfroced “neutrality” concerning anything which is “controversial.” The AP (via Google News) reports on her appeal’s progress (WebCite cached article):
The former director of the science program for Texas’ public schools asked a federal appeals court Monday to revive a lawsuit over her firing for forwarding an e-mail about a forum opposed to teaching creationism.
The agency that runs Texas public schools argued that Christina Castillo Comer’s e-mail broke its policy of neutrality toward any potentially controversial issue, including creationism. A lawyer for Comer says the agency has an unwritten, unconstitutional policy of treating creationism as science.
A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard arguments Monday in Comer’s lawsuit against Robert Scott, commissioner of the Texas Education Agency.
The idea that all things controversial must be treated “neutrally” may sound good in theory, but in practice, it’s ludicrous. Lots of things are “controversial,” yet the facts about them are known, and there’s no question what the truth of them is; what controversy exists lies in the failure of everyone to accept or understand those facts.
If the TEA’s policy of being rigidly “neutral” toward all controversies is to be obeyed unflinchingly and applied strictly in all cases, this means that TEA personnel must be “neutral” about such matters as:
Whether or not the Holocaust happened (there is a “controversy” here which is in the form of irrational, delusional, and anti-Semitic Holocaust denials)
Whether it’s compression or friction that causes meteors to vaporize as they fall into the Earth’s atmosphere (it’s frequently said that friction is the agent here, but it’s not)
Whether or not the Priory of Sion exists (author Dan Brown and his readers insist it’s real and its existence is “fact,” but the truth is that it was a hoax)
Whether or not the attacks by Ottoman Turks against Armenians around the turn of the 20th century constitutes a “genocide” (it’s agreed these attacks took place, that they were systemic, and claimed the lives of over a million Armenians; but the Turkish government and a few wingnuts deny it)
I doubt there are any rational Texans who seriously consider the facts of these — and other issues — to be genuinely “controversial.” But does the fact that there are controversies surrounding them, mean TEA personnel must act as though these facts are not known?
Of course not.
This is why the TEA’s fierce demand of unthinking “neutrality” toward any and all “controversies” is foolish and laughable on its face. Some things are not “controversial” enough to merit being “neutral” toward them … and educators in Texas or anywhere else have no business acting as though they are.
The basic premise of Ben Stein’s movie Expelled, released a couple of years ago, is that mainstream scientific institutions have conspired wickedly against a minority of scientists and others, whose conscience tells them that the science behind evolution (which is both a theory and a fact) must be ignored in favor of “intelligent design” (aka creationism). The movie claims these vile institutions have mercilessly and relentlessly oppressed sincere but innocent people whose only crime is that they fervently believe that the theory of evolution led to fascism, Nazism, communism, Satanism, pedophilia, necrophilia, split ends, and pretty much everything they see as “bad.”
All of this, of course, is 100% pure, grade-A, unfiltered bullshit. However, that hasn’t prevented proponents of creationism from cloaking their desire to proselytize public school children behind the supposed veil of “academic freedom.” (That cloak is necessary, now, because their previous facade, “intelligent design,” was ruled by federal courts as a fraudulent cover for their religion, in 2005 in the Kitzmiller decision. So these people have had to jump from one fraud to another. Nice.)
At any rate, their weeping and wailing about “academic freedom” — and “freedom of conscience” and any number of other similar euphemisms — has not, apparently, been something they’ve been willing to extend, themselves. An example of this very phenomenon was reported recently by USA Today (WebCite cached article):
When it comes to incriminating videos these days, the one of Bruce K. Waltke might seem pretty tame. It shows the noted evangelical scholar of the Old Testament talking about scholarship, faith and evolution. What was incriminating? He not only endorsed evolution, but said that evangelical Christianity could face a crisis for not coming to accept science.
“If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult … some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness,” he says, according to several accounts by those who have seen the video. Those words set off a furor at the Reformed Theological Seminary, where Waltke was — until this week — a professor. (The seminary is evangelical, with ties to several denominations.)
The statements so upset officials of the seminary that Waltke had to ask the BioLogos Foundation, a group that promotes the idea that science and faith need not be incompatible, to remove it from its website (which the foundation did) and to post a clarification. The video was shot during a BioLogos workshop. But even those steps weren’t enough for the seminary, which announced that it had accepted his resignation.
The Reformed Theological Seminary is not making any excuses and is not conceding any wrongdoing:
Michael Milton, president of the seminary’s Charlotte campus and interim president of its Orlando campus, where Waltke taught, confirmed that the scholar had lost his job over the video. Milton said that Waltke would “undoubtedly” be considered one of the world’s great Christian scholars of the Old Testament and that he was “much beloved here,” with his departure causing “heartache.” But he said that there was no choice. …
Asked if this limits academic freedom, Milton said: “We are a confessional seminary. I’m a professor myself, but I do not have a freedom that would go past the boundaries of the confession. Nor do I have a freedom that would allow me to express my views in such a way to hurt or impugn someone who holds another view.”
In other words, Milton is asserting that it is fine for a religious educational institution to restrict academic freedom among its faculty. This stands in opposition to the Religious Right’s claim that “academic freedom” must be rigidly enforced in secular institutions.
It turns out that my home state of Connecticut’s regional school district 17 — made up of the towns of Killingworth and Haddam — has a creationist on its school board, named Chester Harris. The Hartford Courant recently profiled him (WebCite cached article):
Chester Harris, newly elected to the Region 17 school board, is a Republican with a standard conservative outlook: He distrusts government bureaucracy, believes in fiscal restraint and thinks kids today have too many advantages and too few responsibilities.
But it is his answer to fundamental questions about the origins of life that sets him apart.
Harris, 53, rejects evolution. To him, the idea that humans and apes share a common ancestor takes “a whole lot more faith than believing there was a creator who set all these things in motion and allows us to operate under free will.”
The idea that it takes “more faith” to believe in evolution than to believe in creationism, is — of course — pure bullshit, and always has been. Even though it’s a standard line that creationists always seem to like to use. (They do so because they are completely ignorant about the scientific method, about the details of evolution, and even about their own religion, because Christianity does not actually demand a complete rejection of evolution!)
The article mentions that he attempted to evangelize for his views with a few teachers and administrators:
About three weeks ago he met with several high school science teachers and school administrators in the district, which serves the woodsy, Connecticut Valley towns of Haddam and Killingworth.
Harris subscribes to the notion known as “teach the controversy,” which of course is also bullshit. There is no “controversy” about evolution. It is both a fact and a theory. There is nothing indefinite about it, and no credible scientific alternative to it exists. That said, if people like Harris really believe that science is “controversial,” I suggest that he test the “controversy” over whether a cinder block held above his foot, will fall and crush it, if someone lets go of it.
Kirk Cameron and his mentor, preacher Ray Comfort, have come up with a roundabout way to condemn the teaching of evolution. They’re distributing copies of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, but with their own introduction, which essentially says that the rest of the book is evil, racist, sexist, Holocaust-promoting crap.
Given that Darwin himself died many decades before the Holocaust, Comfort and Cameron’s position that Darwin somehow supported it, is absurd on its face. It’s safe to say that pretty much no one living in Darwin’s time could even have dreamed of such a thing ever happening.
As for Darwin being a “racist,” that’s an anachronistic interpretation.
And I’m not sure that Biblical literalists such as Comfort and Cameron should even be going anywhere near the issue of Darwin — or anyone else for that matter! — being “sexist.” The Bible itself is chock-full of outrageous sexism, as anyone can find out just by opening it up. (Here’s a fairly comprehensive catalog of scriptural passages which clearly call for women to be treated as inferior. So on that score we have yet another example of the pot calling the kettle black — which is hypocritical, of course, but then, fundamentalist Christians like being hypocritical, in spite of Jesus’ clear injunctions against it.
Creationists are deeply enamored of the fossil record, because they have been taught (by each other) to repeat, over and over, the mantra that it is full of “gaps”: “Show me your ‘intermediates!’” They fondly (very fondly) imagine that these “gaps” are an embarrassment to evolutionists. Actually, we are lucky to have any fossils at all, let alone the massive numbers that we now do have to document evolutionary history—large numbers of which, by any standards, constitute beautiful “intermediates.” We don’t need fossils in order to demonstrate that evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution would be entirely secure even if not a single corpse had ever fossilized. It is a bonus that we do actually have rich seams of fossils to mine, and more are discovered every day. The fossil evidence for evolution in many major animal groups is wonderfully strong. Nevertheless there are, of course, gaps, and creationists love them obsessively.
Essentially Dawkins goes on to explain that the “gaps in the fossil record” that Creationists wail about so often, do not actually refute evolution. Fossils — any fossils at all — are merely “frosting on the cake,” and even if there were none at all, evolution would still be borne out by the evidence. Dawkins goes on to explain what might weigh against it:
What would be evidence against evolution, and very strong evidence at that, would be the discovery of even a single fossil in the wrong geological stratum. As J.B.S. Haldane famously retorted when asked to name an observation that would disprove the theory of evolution, “Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian!” No such rabbits, no authentically anachronistic fossils of any kind, have ever been found. All the fossils that we have, and there are very very many indeed, occur, without a single authenticated exception, in the right temporal sequence. Yes, there are gaps where there are no fossils at all, and that is only to be expected. But not a single solitary fossil has ever been found before it could have evolved. That is a very telling fact. A good theory is one that is vulnerable to disproof, yet is not disproved. Evolution could so easily be disproved if just a single fossil turned up in the wrong date order. Evolution has passed this test with flying colors. Skeptics of evolution who wish to prove their case should be diligently scrabbling around in the rocks, desperately trying to find anachronistic fossils.
Dawkins also addresses the fallacy of looking for “transitional forms,” as well as Creationists’ other unreasonable expectations of evolution, which is that it cannot be true, since monkeys do not give birth to homo sapiens:
The silliest of all these “missing link” challenges are the following two (or variants of them, of which there are many). First, “If people came from monkeys via frogs and fish, then why does the fossil record not contain a ‘fronkey’?” And, second, “I’ll believe in evolution when I see a monkey give birth to a human baby.” This last one makes the same mistake as all the others, plus the additional one of thinking that major evolutionary change happens overnight.
Well, of course, monkeys are not descended from frogs. No sane evolutionist ever said they were, or that ducks are descended from crocodiles or vice versa. Monkeys and frogs share an ancestor, which certainly looked nothing like a frog and nothing like a monkey. Maybe it looked a bit like a salamander, and we do indeed have salamander-like fossils dating from the right time. But that is not the point. Every one of the millions of species of animals shares an ancestor with every other one.
The fact is that Creationists and Intelligent Designers have, in fact, lied to people about what evolution is. They purposely misrepresent it, and explicitly misstate what it says, so that it appears foolish and absurd. And to be honest, if evolutionists were teaching that a monkey once suddenly gave birth to a human, I’d agree that would be wrong. But evolutionists don’t actually teach that, because that’s not what evolution says.
It’s time for religionists to grow the hell up, stop lying about things, and just accept that their metaphysics has been scientifically disproven. Their beliefs about creation do not entitle them to lie about evolution or about science in general.
One last note: Is there any particular reason the editors at Newsweek decided to denigrate Dawkins by labeling him as “angry” in their headline? Just wondering out loud.
But I think the larger point this brings up is that the mainstream—not just media, but culture—doesn‘t sufficiently take stock of the fact that within our culture, we have a subculture which is literally a fifth column of insanity, that is bred from birth through home school, Christian school, evangelical college, whatever, to reject facts as a matter of faith. And so, this substitute for authentic historic Christianity …
Stunning, yet true … Christian fundamentalists do — in fact — utterly reject all facts that even appear to have the possibility of refuting their beliefs. They do not care what it is, they just refuse to accept it — reflexively and without hesitation. They view “facts” as impediments to belief … hurdles they must jump on the road of faith, if you will, or tests of faith thrown in front of them (by God or by Satan).
But Schaeffer doesn’t just leave it at that, he continues, explaining things even better:
And when you see a bunch of people going around thinking that our president is the anti-Christ, you have to draw one of two conclusions. Either these are racists looking for any excuse to level the next accusation or they‘re beyond crazy? And I think beyond crazy is a better explanation.
And that evangelical subculture has rotted the brain of the United States of America and we have a big slice of our population waiting for Jesus to come back. They look forward to Armageddon. Good news is bad news to them.
When we talk about the “Left Behind” series of books that I talk about in my book “Crazy for God,” what we‘re talking about is a group of people that are resentful because they‘ve been left behind by modernity, by science, by education, by art, by literature. The rest of us are getting on with our lives. These people are standing on the hilltop waiting for the end.
And this is a dangerous group of people to have as neighbors, and they‘re our national neighbors. And this is the source of all of these insanities that we see leveled at the president. One way or another they go back to this little evangelical subculture. It‘s a disaster. …
There is no end to this stuff. Why? Because this subculture has as its fundamentalist faith that they distrust facts per se. They believe in a younger of 6,000 years old with dinosaurs cavorting with human beings. They think that whether it‘s economic news or news from the Middle East, it all has to do with the end of time and Christ returns. This is la-la land.
And the Republican Party is totally enthralled to this subculture to the extent that there is no Republican Party. There is a fundamentalist subculture which has become a cult. It‘s fed red meat by the pawns like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other people who are just not terribly bright themselves and they are talking to even stupider people. That‘s where we‘re at. That‘s where all of this is coming from.
Schaeffer has a little advice for the Republican party, too:
And until we move past these people—and let me add as a former lifelong Republican—until the Republican leadership has the guts to stand up and say it would better—it would be better not to have a Republican Party than have a party that caters to the village idiot, there‘s going to be no end in sight. …
Look, in the year 2000 I worked for John McCain, to try to get him elected in the primaries instead of George Bush. But John McCain sold out by nominating Sarah Palin who comes directly from the heart of this movement and carries with her all that baggage. So, he sold out. I don‘t see anybody on the Republican side of things these days who has the moral standing to provide real leadership, or who will risk their position to do so.
I agree with Schaeffer on this … unfortunately there are no serious, credible, competent Republican leaders capable of seizing the reins of the party and casting off the fundamentalist subculture. At the moment, this “lunatic fringe” of furious and often armed wing-nuts is their sole source of political power (since they no longer hold the White House, Congress, or a majority of state houses or governorships). The GOP does not believe it can afford to jettison them. Of course, if they did, they would widen their appeal immensely among the 75% or so of the US which is not enslaved to religious fundamentalism … and in so doing they might acquire political power they currently don’t have. But, to their own and the country’s detriment, they staunchly refuse to take “the leap of faith” required to find out.