The Science of Evolution - Anti-Evolution Creationism: An Assault on All of Science, in the Name of God

Part 7c: Recognize, Demand, and Fight for Scientific Truth

by Ardea Skybreak

Revolutionary Worker #1218, November 2, 2003, posted at

In previous installments in this series, it has been shown, from many different angles and different sources, that evolution is a well-established scientific truth which is upheld and applied by the vast majority of working scientists in the world. But just because something is true doesn't mean it will prevail at all times, especially when people who hold false views are able to wield or influence the machinery of the state to spread and impose those false views. People don't always think about this enough. For instance, in the United States today there are some people who understand that evolution is a proven fact but who think that it's just a waste of time to worry about the crazy Creationists because, after all, they're not going to be able to change the fact that evolution is true. They seem to think that, at least in countries like the U.S., society "will never go back to a time when most people didn't know life had evolved through natural processes"--so why waste energy addressing the Creationist lunacy? But in my opinion it's a serious mistake to be complacent about such aspects of the "culture wars" in the United States. I've heard the same argument made about the anti-abortion movement. ("Don't worry, these people are nuts; women in the U.S. will never have to go back to the days when abortion was illegal and women did not have the right to determine whether or when they would bear a child.") Oh yeah? Well, look around you--one step at a time the fundamentalist religious forces have managed to chip away at women's fundamental right to control their own reproduction and in some parts of the country (especially rural areas) it has already become a practical impossibility for many women. In regard to evolution, the same types of fundamentalist reactionaries have managed to confuse a lot of people, take over school boards and even get disclaimers inserted into high school science textbooks, telling people that evolution is "controversial" and "an unproven theory (it is not !). So why is it so hard to imagine that these people could make even further headway, especially when their right-wing political programs are the order of the day in the highest reaches of government?

And it's not like there isn't still a strong material basis for lots of people to be ignorant and confused about this. Looking not only at the U.S. but at the world as a whole, it is still the case that tremendous numbers of people have never been taught even the most basic facts of evolution (many have never even heard of it!): most believe instead one or another myth or superstition about how all the plants and animals and people came to be. Furthermore, the Christian fundamentalist movement (which so far is mainly confined to the United States and Australia but seems likely to spread) is a well funded and well organized movement which gets significant financial and ideological backing from conservative and reactionary political organizations. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christian movements in the United States in particular are closely allied with the political Right and growing fascist trends and developments (think back to the Santorum Amendment discussed earlier for instance). Thanks to this support, Creationists have significant and regular access to mainstream media, where their viewpoints and activities are often reported uncritically and as straight news. They also own or control a lot of media outlets themselves: their radio and TV programs, books, pamphlets, museum exhibits, professional-looking websites (just do a web search for the word "Creationism" or look up the websites of the ICR or the Discovery Institute) now reach (and no doubt confuse) millions of people. The have money and other resources that allow them to regularly send speakers on tour to address school boards and parents' groups, to speak on college campuses and in courtrooms, and to address the Congress and other government officials. And, as pointed out before, they have powerful ties right up to the highest levels of the ruling class in American society.

Can a well orchestrated and well funded propaganda blitz in itself "reverse" the truth of evolution? Of course not. But it can do a lot of social damage by training legions of people (including the young and inexperienced) to firmly and zealously believe in completely wrong ideas and to increasingly reject not only evolution but even science more generally , as a method for learning about things and for transforming the world.

And don't think for a minute that this won't serve ongoing and increasingly reactionary political offensives coming from the highest levels of government: sure the government, military and big corporate sectors themselves have to regularly make use of actual science to carry out their objectives (they need science to help them wage their wars or develop new pharmaceuticals, for instance) so they are not about to throw all science out the window. They will need to allow some people to continue to be trained in actual scientific principles and methods and to learn some actual truths about the way things are in reality-- otherwise they could not continue to function and to enforce their rule and domination in the world. But that doesn't mean they have to let everyone in on it!

For one thing, reactionary political forces have always found it useful to try to pass off as genuine "science" all sorts of completely false and non-scientific beliefs when it helps them to justify a reactionary political agenda: it should be enough to think for a minute about all the phony "scientific" theories of supposed racial or gender inferiority (phony "science", which rested on absolutely no legitimate scientific evidence!) which were used repeatedly to buttress and justify such things as the horrific enslavement of Africans, the Nazi extermination of Jews, the countless forcible restrictions and coercion of women, and so on. So just because an idea is not true, and a whole lot of people know it is not true, doesn't mean it can't be put in the service of concretely aiding some very bad things!*

In short, don't underestimate the damage that can be done by the unchallenged promotion of wrong ideas, especially when they are being presented as "scientific." What the Creationists of different stripes are doing by packaging their religious beliefs as "science" is not just trying to make their beliefs more acceptable to a somewhat scientifically oriented public, or trying to get their religious teachings into the public schools even though the Constitution is supposed to guarantee that people in the U.S. are not subjected to the imposition and tyranny of religious clerics and diktats. What the Creationist program is also doing (at least objectively) is working to undermine science itself --the whole method of science and the whole way science trains and encourages people to learn about everything in the world (and also how to change it) through a process of systematic and repeated observations and interactions with the material world as it actually is.

If the Creationist frontal attack on science itself were ultimately successful it would set science back literally centuries and limit us to trying to understand and affect the world (or passively accept the way it is) on the basis of superstition and belief in the supernatural.

So what can people, in particular those who are not professional scientists, do to better understand what is wrong and untrue about what the Creationists put forward? The accompanying box, "Some Things You Can Do to Learn More About Creationist Lies and Distortions," offers some suggestions and indicates important sources of information.


The world of the Creationists these days is a real zoo, characterized by a significant amount of factional infighting. They usually don't reveal the rifts that exist between them when they are addressing the general public and attacking the evolutionists, but among themselves arguments rage, including in their often vehement on-line exchanges. Here's a quick guide to the main Creationist trends in the United States today:

1) The Young Earth Creationists (YECs):

These Creationists tend to revolve around Duane Gish and the San Diego based Institute for Creation Research (ICR) which describes itself as "promoting the truths of scientific creationism and inerrant biblical authority in all fields of study and in all areas of life." These people are some of the most traditional of the Creationists in that they claim that everything in the Bible is the Word of God and therefore none of it could possibly be wrong (that's what "inerrant" means). In their view the Bible must be accepted in its entirety as literal fact. Since a strict interpretation of the Bible (for instance, calculating the number of generations which have supposedly passed since Adam and Eve) leads to the conclusion that the earth can only be a little over 6,000 years old (or 10,000 at the most) the YECs automatically reject all the modern scientific evidence that this planet is actually about 4.5 billion years old and that life-forms have been around (and evolving) for roughly 3.5 billion of those years. The YECs take literally everything that is said in the Bible, including that God created all life in 6 days (six literal days, of 24 hours each). They also believe as literal truth the story of Adam and Eve (including that God made Eve out of Adam's rib), the story that Jonah lived for days in the stomach of a whale (a mammal which the Bible mistakenly refers to as a big fish), the story of Noah's Ark and the Flood which covered the entire Earth for 40 days, or the story that Methuselah lived to be, literally, 9,000 years old! And just in case you're wondering: these Young Earth Creationists and people like Duane Gish and others associated with the Institute for Creation Research are not some kind of isolated lunatic fringe elements in the broader world of Creationists--these are the very same Creationists who have spearheaded the campaigns to take over school boards and get the courts to force teachers to teach "creation-science" in the public school science classrooms in states such as Louisiana, Arkansas and Ohio, among others. Duane Gish toured the country for years "debating" evolutionists on college campuses, and the well-funded ICR runs a "museum of Creation," publishes books and pamphlets, runs a slick website, etc. So this may be lunacy (and in fact it is) but it is dangerous lunacy.

If it weren't so pathetic and at the same time so dangerous, one could laugh at the incredible contortions these people go through to try to "prove" that the Earth's most striking geological features (such as the great mountain ranges, the great valleys and canyons, including the Grand Canyon, the shape and relative positions of the continents, etc.) have been the way they are today since the time of Creation, except for the ways they have been shaped since then by nothing more than the effects of a 40- day Flood and only a few thousand years of wind and water erosion. It doesn't matter to them at all that all modern geologists agree that there has never been a single Great Flood, covering the entire Earth all at once, at any time in the history of the earth. And it doesn't matter to them that the life's work of modern geologists is doing science that requires an understanding of the actual facts of earth's geological history.

Unlike the human authors of the Bible thousands of years ago, modern geologists now know a great deal about things like continental drift, volcanic activity, geological uplifts, wind and water erosion, the sliding and crashing movements of tectonic plates in the structure of the earth, etc. They understand, in very concrete and specific ways, how much the earth has changed over time, and how these completely natural processes (which we can still observe taking place) have shaped (and continue to shape) all the landscapes and seascapes of our planet. Most geological processes take place much too slowly for human eyes to detect, but they can still be measured with modern scientific instruments. Geologists have gathered a tremendous amount of concrete scientific evidence showing things like how different kinds of rocks formed at very different times in earth's history and how the face of the earth has changed many times in the past. For instance, they can tell that there was a time when all the continents used to be "stuck together" in just one single land mass they call Pangea, before they were (a number of different times) pulled apart and separated by shifting "plates" under the earth's surface. Look at a map of the world even today and you can still see very clearly how the East coast of South America used to fit right into the West Coast of Africa like two pieces of a jig-saw puzzle!

Geologists can also tell that the whole middle of North America was at one time covered by a shallow inland sea, which is why today we can find fossils of all sorts of sea-dwelling creatures in the middle of the landlocked midwestern United States, a thousand miles or more from the nearest modern oceans. Geologists can calculate things like how much time it has taken for high mountain ranges like the Himalayas or Andes to get "pushed up" (and how much they are still "growing" in places) or how much time it takes for the Grand Canyon or the deep canyons under the oceans to get carved out and shaped. And because they understand many of the processes involved and can actually measure the rate at which such changes take place, the worldwide community of geologists will tell you with one voice that there is absolutely no way all of this could have taken place in just a few thousand years!The natural forces and changes which have shaped and continue to shape this planet have taken millions and even billions of years to unfold.

Incredibly, none of what these scientists say (and routinely demonstrate) matters one bit as far as the YECs are concerned: they are true dogmatists, who cannot be shaken from their preconceived notions by any contrary evidence. For them, if the Bible indicates that the earth is no more than a few thousand years old, then that's just the way it's got to be! Since they want to oppose evolution (because it contradicts the Bible), that means they have to get their Creation stuff taught in science classrooms. But since a religious viewpoint isn't supposed to be imposed on anyone in the public schools, they knew they had to try to wrap their religious belief in some kind of scientific-sounding cover to get it smuggled in. So they coined the term "creation-science" and simply proclaimed that this is an "alternative scientific theory," even though they use no scientific methods and can present no actual scientific evidence to support their claims. They're deluding themselves, but they're also trying to pull one of the greatest con games in all of history. Take a good look, and you will see what they are doing is not genuine "science." The method of the Creationists is religious-inspired apriorism: apriorism is when someone starts off with an untested core assumption about the way things are, and then "works back" from that assumption, looking for "evidence" that can be made to fit the preconceived notion. The Young Earth Creationists start off with the untested assumption that there is a supernatural power that created humanity and everything else in just six days a few thousand years ago. And then they "work back from that " and try to make their supposed "facts" (which consist primarily of trying to show evolution is wrong) fit their theory. This is no way to get at the truth of things, and it certainly isn't science!

2) The Old Earth Creationists (OECs):

This is another kind of Creationist (the dominant kind in Darwin's day actually) and they are a diverse and quarrelsome bunch. The OECs, of course, also don't believe biological evolution has occurred. But they differ from the YECs in that they are willing to accept the view that the earth really is very old--in fact much, much older than is suggested by the Bible. Now, this is a problem for them since they still want to uphold the Bible. What to do?

Well, some of them argue, the Biblical Creation story is still true--it's just that "six days" in the Bible doesn't literally mean six 24-hour days on a human time scale. They say we should interpret each Biblical "day" as referring to a whole long "era," so that each such "day" could actually have lasted millions of years (nobody ever said these people couldn't come up with some "creative twists" in the effort to solve their very real problems!). Or maybe, just maybe, they say, the six days weren't strung together all in a row --yeah, that's the ticket.... God must have spaced them out and so the six days actually cover millions or billions of years. You see? say the OECs, you can accept the modern geological evidence and keep the Bible too!

Of course the Young Earth Creationists (YECs) vehemently disagree with their Old Earth Creationist brethren: to the YECs it's nothing short of blasphemy to try to "reinterpret" the Bible just to make it fit with modern scientific knowledge and understanding. The way they see it, you can't mess with the Bible even just a little, or you'll open the door to people starting to question the whole thing , and then they'll end up rejecting the Bible as a whole, and finally God as well.

These arguments don't deter the OECs, who are only too happy to offer even more "creative solutions." How about this, they say: it looks like there's a "time gap" in the Bible between Genesis 1:1 and see, what prob'ly that God must have created the earth and things like the long-gone dinosaurs in a first act of Creation, millions of years ago, but then He must have destroyed it all and started over from scratch with a second act of Creation, and that's the one that happened in just six days only a few thousand years ago -- that's the one that's described in the Bible.

No, you don't buy this? OK, OK, then how about this, say the OECs: the earth really is as young as the Bible indicates it is (that should at least make the YECs happy); but, see, God just made it look much older! Of course, this cross between the YECs and the OECs (known as "mature- earth Creationists") has never been able to explain why on earth God would want to be such a deceiver and play such tricks on people.**

3) The Progressive Creationists (PCs) and Evolutionary Creationists (ECs):

These are two more sub-variants of the Old Earth Creationists. They accept even more of the scientific evidence which shows that the earth is much older than what is indicated in the Bible, and the modern scientific understanding of many of the natural processes that were involved in shaping the universe, the earth and even all of life. So where does God figure in? They think God must have intervened to influence these natural processes at different crucial points along the way, in something of a "progression" of divine inputs spaced out over millions of years. Still other Creationists (known as Evolutionary Creationists) add to this that they are even willing to accept the strong scientific evidence that evolution has occurred, but they just can't believe life can evolve on its own and so believe that God must still have initially created life on this planet and then actively directed how life subsequently evolved.

4) Theistic evolutionists (TEs): ***

Theistic evolutionists really try to "mesh" and reconcile their belief in God with a more complete acceptance of the scientific evidence of evolution. They still believe in a Creator God, but they also completely accept the whole of the theory of evolution and recognize that life can evolve completely without divine intervention. Because they accept the theory of evolution, the various kinds of anti-evolution Creationists see them as part of the enemy, despite their shared belief in God. The Christian scientist Howard van Till is an example of a theistic evolutionist (someone who accepts evolution within a certain framework while insisting that a supernatural creator somehow still had something fundamental to do with all this--such as, for instance, infusing life with some kind of purpose). Van Till for one agrees that all of matter follows certain rules of development--which include evolutionary processes--and also that human beings can come to understand such material processes through scientific investigation. He still thinks there's a Creator God, but that this Creator God just created the larger cosmos in such a way as to allow for the subsequent (later) unfolding of certain natural laws. This included, in Till's view, allowing living species on Earth to evolve on their own, through natural processes, in the ways that have been explained by Darwinian evolutionary theory. So God's role, in this view, was more or less to set the universe in motion at the very beginning (after which point things could evolve on their own), plus to somehow continue to oversee all that is and to imbue life with purpose (whereas non-religious (secular) evolutionists argue that there is no reason to suppose that any supernatural force has ever been involved in the unfolding of natural processes on Earth or anywhere in the cosmos, and that it is human beings themselves who imbue life with "purpose").

Despite the growing influence of anti-evolution Creationists in recent decades, it appears that one form or another of "theistic evolutionism" still characterizes the dominant view held by most Churches and other religious organizations in the United States. As an attempt to bring together and reconcile religious belief in a supernatural power with genuine scientific knowledge about the natural material world, this kind of viewpoint runs into a lot of difficulties from both ends of the creationism vs. evolution argument: On the one hand, it is considered absolute blasphemy by the traditional anti-evolution Creationists, who feel that any such concession to evolution science goes against the Bible and welcomes in the influence of godless atheism. And on the other hand, any thoroughgoing and systematic application of scientific methods will show that there is absolutely no basis in the material world (other than in the creative imaginations of human beings) to assume that any supernatural force was or had to be in any way involved in initiating or directing any of the natural processes taking place on Earth or anywhere else in the natural universe. For instance, as was discussed earlier in this series, any serious grappling with modern scientific investigations of the processes of "self-organization" of biochemical molecules shows how likely it is that the first basic building blocks of life on this planet came together spontaneously out of some of the chemical elements that we know would have been common in the "chemical soup" of early earth) and that there is no reason to suppose anything other than such natural processes were involved when life first emerged on this planet, some 3.5 billion years ago. And there are also no scientific grounds that would lead us to suppose that anything other than completely natural material processes were or had to be involved in the coming into being and subsequent transformations of that broader portion of material reality we call the known "universe": in fact, increasing numbers of cosmologists suspect that what we think of as the universe may itself be the result of a completely natural process through which a number of different universes get "sorted out" and themselves evolve (readers interested in evolutionary theory applied to the level of the universe might want to check out cosmologist Lee Smolin's interesting and provocative book The Life of the Cosmos.)

5) The Intelligent Design Creationists (IDCs)

The new breed of "Intelligent Design" Creationists (IDCs) we hear about so much these days are much more educated, polished and sophisticated than the average Biblical literalist "scientific creationists" and are rapidly surpassing them in influence. Many IDCs hold multiple university degrees, and a few of them even have a background in some fields of science. They seem to be trying to rise above the fray of all the Creationist factional disputes and come up with some kind of new synthesis that would allow people to "have their cake and eat it too." They want to appear rational and reasonable while also finding a way to hold on to God and religion. They make a point of distancing themselves from the extreme looniness of most of the Biblical literalist Creationists, and they accept much of what modern science has accomplished -- although, as we will see, some IDCs are seeking to radically recast the way all of science is done , by arguing that religious belief should be incorporated into the very methods that science uses to investigate the natural world. For instance, the leading proponent of Intelligent Design, Philip Johnson, has tried to get Congress to pass anti-evolution federal laws and has also called for the promotion of a "theistic science" (essentially science open to, and driven by, a belief in god) in opposition to the standard model in modern science of "scientific naturalism."

The standard methods of modern science seek to uncover the natural properties of matter and the natural mechanisms and processes which govern its development. This scientific approach takes as a given that actual material reality exists, and that this material reality (as opposed to some supposed but undetectable super-natural realm) is the only proper object of scientific investigation. Most modern scientists (even the ones who are themselves religious) feel very strongly that questions of gods or other supposed supernatural powers are religious matters which people should be free to address elsewhere but which have no place in the scientific process. By contrast, Intelligent Design Creationists (IDCs) like Philip Johnson and his supporters consider that the whole "naturalistic" methodological foundation of modern science--the whole way it refuses to concern itself with anything other than the natural laws governing actual matter--should just be thrown out the window. They are attempting nothing less than an overthrow of modern secular scientific methods (whose objectives are to try to discover the "truth" of things by zeroing in as closely as possible to the way things really are in objective material reality) in order to replace the standard methods of science with a "theistic" method, which would mean building religious premises and assumptions right into scientific investigation and interpretation of data!

What the IDCs have in common with the old-style Creationists (and what immediately separates them from the overwhelming majority of working scientists in every field all around the world) is the firm conviction that natural processes and mechanisms (including biological evolution) are not in and of themselves sufficient to explain the way life came into being on this planet, or how all the living species of plants and animals, including people, came to be the way they are today. The IDCs can often be quite good at making themselves "sound" scientific; but, as we will see, they are fundamentally no different than any of the other types of Creationists. They still don't have a single shred of actual scientific evidence to support their theory of a divine designer of life, and they still don't have any actual scientific evidence which could lead us to call into question the well-established facts of evolution.

But, before turning to the more "sophisticated" Creationists of the "Intelligent Design" variety, it will be helpful, and important, to examine a bit more what the more crude old- style Creationists put forward. This will be the subject of the next installment in this series, and then we will return to the IDCs.


* Perhaps there is no clearer example of this than what has happened in recent times to scientific ideas and theories about the organization of human society: Just a few decades ago it was a broadly accepted "truth" in many progressive circles that alternatives to capitalism were not only desirable but in fact possible and realizable, that socialist and communist ideals were objectively in synch with the largest interests of humanity even if not everyone realized this yet, and that at least initial steps had been taken to implement these ideals in practice (for instance, through the early stages of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, in the days before revolutionary leadership was overthrown in those countries, bringing capitalists back to power). These social truths were actually derived from a mound of concrete scientific evidence (about all of human social history and what happens in different kinds of human social organization and what is the material basis for fundamental change to take place at any given time and so on); the possibility as well as the desirability of revolution aimed at forging a radically different socialist and ultimately communist future was "in the air" and at the same time grounded in actual material reality. But in just a few dozen years, thanks first of all to the loss of state power by genuine revolutionaries and their replacement by counter-revolutionary leaders in China (following after the same basic process of reversal in the Soviet Union), but also thanks to a concerted reactionary propaganda campaign aimed at discrediting the very idea of socialist revolution, we now have a situation where even among progressive people, a great many, especially in the U.S., firmly believe that "socialism may have been a good idea but it has been proven that it doesn't work." They lightly dismiss it as a "failed experiment" even though there is plenty of concrete evidence of real and unprecedented social accomplishments and advances made under socialism, and of the fact that the reversal of these revolutions had more to do with the remaining reserves of imperialism and the remaining antagonistic class forces within socialist society than with problems inherent to the socialist project itself. Today many people say they "have heard" that "Mao Tsetung was a brutal dictator who wantonly killed millions and millions of people and turned Chinese society into a totalitarian nightmare": but how many of these people have looked into this even just a little bit to determine whether this is really true or not? In fact, any serious and open-minded scientific investigation of the actual facts of what happened in China quickly shows this is a complete fabrication and a turning of reality upside-down. But that doesn't keep such lies from being repeated over and over again and from being picked up unquestioningly and without investigation, even by some people who claim to have an educated, sophisticated and critical approach to things and who in fact should know better than to swallow such propaganda whole).

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** I'd love to see people inspired by Richard Pryor's brilliant comedy and social satire do a skit or comedy routine about all these "inventive" Creationists -- perhaps along the lines of Pryor's wonderful routine about little kids lying about "what prob'ly happened" to try to explain away the obvious evidence of a broken lamp at their feet.

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*** "Theism" refers to the belief that God or other supernatural powers exist. It is the opposite of "atheism" which holds that God or other supernatural powers don't exist, other than in the minds and ideas of human beings.

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