Evolution and Entropy, Pharyngula Style

November 11, 2008

A quick update:

The second law of thermodynamics is frequently brought up as a problem for evolution by Creationists who aren’t very intelligent. It’s an easy myth to debunk, but someone has gone one step further and actually attempted to do the math on entropy’s effects on evolution (or evolution’s effects on entropy, I guess). Head on over to Pharyngula for some (mostly) non-technical commentary.

If I Believed in God

November 6, 2008

(I’ve been quiet on the blog front for a while now, mainly because I have an insane number of essays to write for college. On top of that, I’ve been continuously ill for going on two weeks now – I’m coughing my lungs up as a I type. There’s plenty I want to write on, but unfortunately it will have to wait for a while.)

Theists frequently assume that belief in God will inevitably lead to belief in a particular religion. (Very often it’s their religion.) why they assume this is beyond me, since believing in God as a philosophical proposition certainly does not automatically lead one to believe that, say, Jesus Christ died and came back to life. I’ve had many people attempt to convert me in my time, and they frequently begin with one of the traditional arguments for the existence of God as laid out by Aquinas (the ‘five ways’), or some modern variation thereof. What they fail to realise is that convincing me or any other atheist of the existnce of an unmoved mover or an uncaused cause is not the same thing as convincing us that the Bible is true or that a whole host of associated supernatural entities exist. With that in mind, I give you a brief, hypothetical look at how belief in God would change my opinion on other, related matters.

If I believed in God:

I would not believe in the divinity of Jesus, Mohammad, Noah, or any other figure from a sacred text. There is no reason to assume that because some sort of god exists, the various stories and myths found within any particular holy book must therefore be true.

I would still accept the theory of evolution, unless the argument which convinced me of the existence of God was based upon said theory being flawed or otherwise completely unable to explain the diversity of life. (Note that such an argument would have to do two things for this scenario to come about: convince me that God exists and convince me that evolution does not occur; the latter does not necessarily imply the former.)

I would still accept that the universe is billions of years old and that the Earth most likely came to be through entirely naturalistic forces, unless the argument which lead me to believe in God was based upon the age of the universe or the Earth being wrong. (This one carries the same warning as above.)

I would still not believe in the soul or that humanity is inherently ‘unique’, unless the argument which convinced me of God’s existence was based upon proving that this is the case.

I would still not believe in any sort of afterlife.

I would still believe that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are concepts created entirely by humans, and that they are inherently subjective.

I would probably not ascribe to God some of the traditional ‘divine attributes’ (personhood, perfect goodness, simplicity etc.) popularised by Aquinas and others, although this of course would depend on the kind of argument that would convince me of God’s existence in the first place.

I would almost certainly need some sort of scientific backing for a belief in God. In other words, I am more likely to be swayed by a teleological or cosmological type argument than an ontological one.

I would still not hold my beliefs (religious or otherwise) dogmatically, and would be perfectly willing to revise my belief in God if I discovered new evidence that contradicted it.

In short, my life really wouldn’t change all that much.

Expelled – Revised Edition

November 4, 2008

It may not have come through well in my review, but Expelled is so chock full of lies that correcting them all would be a truly herculean feat.

Or so I thought. A few dedicated enthusiasts have decided to create ‘lie-correcting’ subtitles that you can superimpose over Stein’s misinformation-spewing mug. I haven’t tried it out yet, but I imagine it makes the movie a lot more bearable.

Expelled – The Review

October 26, 2008

Three hours ago I finished watching Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the infamous anti-evolutionary documentary by the equally infamous Ben Stein. It markets itself as a hard-hitting expose on the censorship of Intelligent Design Creationism in the academic community, but in reality is just another cog in the anti-evolutionary propaganda machine. It fails on almost every level.

First, the good: there’s some nice music at the start and camerawork is occasionally decent. That’s the good over. The bad is going to take a while.

Let’s get the central flaw of the movie out of the way first: nobody talks about the evidence. A few of the interviewees briefly mention the micro/macroevolution and information fallacies in a very superficial way, but for the most part the evidence for or against evolution is irrelevant. It’s assumed from the outset that the Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) point of view is worthy of serious attention simply because it exists. The movie is very obviously pandering to an audience already convinced that evolution is wrong and equally convinced that IDC is right.

This bias is evident in every aspect of the movie. Pro-evolution scientists (PZ Meyers and Richard Dawkins among them) are allowed only short sound bites for the majority of the running time, while pro-IDC scientists and ‘the expelled’ (people who supposedly lost their jobs in academia or journalism for daring to mention IDC) are interviewed at length. Dawkins gets a sizeable section to himself near the end, but it’s mainly used to make it seem as if he’s seriously suggesting that panspermia happened. In fact, the only pro-evolution scientist to get a decent amount of face time throughout the movie is a guy who comes across as slightly unhinged and doesn’t believe in human free will.

Whoever edited Expelled thought it would be a good idea to splice clips from old movies into virtually every scene (this is about as obnoxious as it sounds, and it goes on constantly), and here again there’s some pretty clear bias. When one pro-evolution scientist suggests that early life could have grown on crystals, we’re treated to a brief scene of a mugging fortune teller waving his hands over a crystal ball. This, along with Stein’s sneering ‘He’s being serious’, is apparently enough to debunk the idea entirely.

The creative editing doesn’t stop there, of course. Several interviews with pro-evolution scientists are blatantly truncated, so that one man’s annoyed assertion that he’s explained abiogenesis several times already is made to seem like a senseless outburst. Dawkins, Meyers and most other pro-evolutionists or atheists are given virtually no introduction and are interviewed on a dark background with (I kid you not) eery, occasionally threatening music playing in the background. This becomes truly unbearable by the three-quarters mark, when Stein stands in front of a statue of Darwin and honestly looks as if he’s about to weep.

Of course, his faux-tears might be justified by the fact that he’s Jewish. By way of a long (long) section on eugenics and Social Darwinism, Stein firmly establishes that the theory of evolution is directly responsible for the Holocaust. Or not; it’s the usual tripe, and doesn’t really bear repeating here.

Godwin’s Law is invoked in more ways than this, however. There’s a running metaphor throughout the movie which compares scientific thought in American to post-WWII Germany; the ‘censorship’ of IDC is apparently a lot like the Berlin wall…somehow. This point gets belaboured in predictably hyperbolic fashion: giving serious consideration to IDC is apparently a matter of freedom, that all-purpose buzzword. Here again is the assumption that IDC is ignored and attacked by the scientific community based on fear or ideology rather than the fact that it’s crap science, and we’re assured that breaking down this ‘wall of censorship’ is a matter of the utmost urgency.

But what of the much-touted ‘expelled’? Don’t their stories prove that there’s systematic supression going on? Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that it’s not exactly unheard of to fire people for supporting psuedo-science; I’d say it’s a pretty good policy for most academic establishments to have. The second thing to keep in mind is that there are more than a few holes in what we see in the movie. I’m not going to go into it all here, because others have already done that at length, but suffice to say that the ‘prejudice’ claim doesn’t fly.

Worse than all of the above is the fact that the movie contradicts itself. Early on we’re told that IDC does not make any claims about who the ‘designer’ is, yet the entire second half of the movie is focused on the conflict between religion (implicitly Christianity) and modern science, with the word ‘God’ suddenly thrown around casually. I’m not sure who Stein is trying to fool here, but he’s not doing much for the IDC movement’s pretences at secularity. Atheists are predictably treated like Satan incarnate; Dawkins and Meyers are both upfront about how studying evolution pushed them to become atheists, and it’s taken for granted that this is a bad thing. Things become almost farcical when the pro-IDC interviewees begin to complain that they’ve been locked out in the courts, shutting down communication before it starts. Stein even says something along the lines of ‘Shouldn’t it be about the evidence rather than lawsuits?’ Anyone familiar with the IDC movement’s activities over the last twenty years will realise what’s wrong with this, and Stein conveniently fails to point out that those lawsuits were necessary to stop IDC (which is, at the very least, untested science) smuggling its way into high schools via the back door. Worse, the movie implies that the trial was actually about whether evolution is suported by the evidence or not, when this wasn’t actually the case at all.

The most underhanded example of deception in Expelled, though, is also the most subtle. Too often, pro-evolution reviews forget that the movie’s target audience is not going to know much about evolutionary theory or about IDC. They are not going to have any idea what’s going on during the 3D animation of the inner workings of a cell, nor are they going to realise why the inevitable ‘factory’ analogy is so fallacious. Fence-sitters are likely to forget the scarcity of real scientific discussion being presented here and focus solely on Stein’s ham-handed attempts at demonising first evolution and then all of science.

The movies second great failing (or should I say its second group of failures) is how unbelievably boring it is. I’ll be hard pressed to remember much of what happened during its short running time a week from now, and my brain seems to be trying to flush every memory of Stein into oblivion as quickly as possible. I’ve seen this thing described as some sort of devastating blow to scientific ‘dogma’, but it’s hard to imagine even the most ardent supporter of Creationism honestly recommending a movie this bad. Even Wells, one of the best known IDC proponents in the world, looks faintly embarrassed when Stein insists on bringing up abiogenesis.

Don’t bother watching Expelled. If you really want to see what kind of dreck being churned out by the IDC machine, buy Icons of Evolution or, if you really want to do some slumming, Godless. Otherwise just look up some interviews with Richard Dawkins or PZ Meyers on YouTube and simulate what this movie would be like with all of the crap taken out.


October 26, 2008

The Expelled review is in the works (short version: it sucks), but until that’s finished I direct you towards this fascinating essay about the Discovery Institute’s attack on materialism.


October 23, 2008

Things are pretty busy in college at the moment, so I haven’t had time to update here much. I do want to do a comprehensive post on radiometric dating, but it will require some research.

In the meantime, I’m in the process of getting a copy of Expelled (through entirely legal channels, I can assure you). Expect a full and extremely sarcastic review soon!

AndromedasWake Welcomes You To The Universe

October 20, 2008

I’m a big fan of Youtube videos. Specifically, there’s been a relatively recent surge in channels dedicated almost entirely to combatting creationism and promoting science. One of the newest members of this endeavour is AndromedasWake, an astronomy student who sky-rocketed to popularity with only a handful of videos from his excellent seres, CrAP (Creationist Astronomy Propoganda) Debunked.

AW has announced a new series, titled Welcome to The Universe, that aims to be a professional-quality Youtube documentary series, containing music composed by AW himself, about cosmology and the scientists and discoveries that have shaped it. Today he released a trailer and asked people to spread it around as much as possible, so here it is:

Check out his other videos as well, and be on the lookout for some of the other excellent stuff on Youtube. Maybe I’ll do a post about it later.

Addition from forknowledge: I’ll second PF’s recommendation; AndreomasWake makes some excellent videos, and this new documentary looks like it could be fantastic. Best of all, it will be free, without copyright and available to anyone. The best way to combat Creationist stupidity is to have educated people like AW put out this kind of material in a format that us ‘ordinary’ people can understand. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a trend!

Theistic Evolutionism – Questions

October 18, 2008

A few days ago I wrote about what I see as some of the fundamental similarities between holocaust denial and Creationism, without mentioning the one area in which they differ completely: the Bible. Although White Nationalists and others who hold strongly racist views can be astoundingly dogmatic at times, they don’t claim to have in their possession the revealed truth of God. (Actually, some of them do, claiming that either Norse pagan religions or Christianity are explicitly racist in nature. I’m ignoring them because they’re just too crazy to consider.)

I bring this up not to address an oversight on my part, but to ask a few questions of so-called ‘theistic evolutionists’ – theists who have the good sense to accept evolution and not pretend that every word of the Bible or Qur’an must be literally true. Feel free to reply if you’re a theistic creationist yourself or if you used to be one.

  1. How do you reconcile those parts of Scripture which appear to require a literal interpretation of the entirety of Scripture? (I’m being a bit vague here, I know, but I’m simply echoing a question that I’ve seen posed by Creationists both on WordPress blogs and elsewhere.)
  2. Does accepting evolution make you less likely to believe in God because of some sort of teleological argument? If so, does that ‘weaken’ your faith (interpret as you wish) or do you think that God reveals his existence via some other aspect of the Universe?
  3. Can you imagine a hypothetical situation where some sort of scientific discovery leads you to becoming an atheist? Or is your belief in God (as opposed to your religious views about Scripture) entirely separate from scientific knowledge?

While I’m at it, I also have a question for Creationists, one that has recently been posed in the comments section of this blog:

  • If your belief in a young Earth and your rejection of evolution are based on Scripture, why does it matter whether the scientific evidence agrees with you? Why bother to make these pathetic attempts at undermining established science? (I’m not going to pander to you and pretend that the body of Creationist ‘work’ is anything other than pathetic.)

Punctuated Equilibrium, the Cambrian Explosion and Falsifying Evolution

October 17, 2008

Creationists will commonly claim that evolution cannot be falsified and therefore should be disregarded as science. To ‘prove’ their point, they insist that the theory is capable of being reworked to absorb any and all new evidence, oftentimes citing the neo-Darwinian Synthesis or the Cambrian explosion as examples of evolution’s infinite malleability in action. This recently came up in the comments section here, and has lead to this post by Eric Kemp.

Before I go any further I’d like to object, as Penfuinfactory already has, to the use of the phrase ‘molecules-to-man evolution’. While I can see the childish alliterative appeal it might hold for some people, it’s a massive oversimplification and implicitly misogynistic. Kemp has given a bizarre defence of using the word ‘molecules’ by pointing out that the first living organisms were likely some sort of very basic prokaryotes (I’m confused too), while also stating that ‘man is the highest form of evolution’. This is not how evolution works, and it’s a very common misconception among Creationists. There is no reason why the evolution of humans from ‘molecules’ is any more difficult to explain than the evolution of other extant animal species.

Anyway, on to the debunking:

The Cambrian is a geological period that began somewhere around 570 million years ago. Most people know of it only because of the famous ‘Cambrian explosion’ (sometimes referred to as the ‘Cambrian radiation’), a major evolutionary event during which almost all of the modern phyla appeared. ‘Phylum’ is a fairly loosely defined taxonomic term that means, roughly, ‘body plan’. As an illustrative example, spiders and crabs are both members of the phylum Arthropoda, while the phylum Chordata comprises fish, reptiles, birds and mammals – including, of course, humans. Note that the definition of ‘phylum’ and its relationship with other taxonomical rankings change depending on whether one is discussing morphological similarity or evolutionary relatedness.

The Cambrian period has long fascinated scientists, in part because it contained creatures that, compared with modern animals, looks absolutely bizarre. Opabinia is a good example of what I mean. However, that fascination has long been haunted by a certain amount of unease, as the Cambrian explosion is unlike anything else in the fossil record and appears to have been much less ‘gradual’ than subsequent evolution (although I should point out that Creationists frequently exaggerate how ‘sudden’ it actually was). Is it really an example of scientists ‘moving the goalposts’ and ignoring what should be evidence that directly contradicts evolution?

Unfortunately, the late Stephen Jay Gould often gets wheeled out when this topic comes up, a practice that he has actually asked Creationists to refrain from (keep this in mind, as some YECs in particular like to act as if Gould tacitly agreed with them). The story goes that he came up with the idea of ‘punctuated equilibrium’ in order to ‘save’ evolution, which is complete nonsense. I actually read some of Gould’s work, and in The Structure of Evolutionary Theory discovered a sustained and blistering assault on the scientific community for assuming the truth of gradualism. (Misconception alert: As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, when Gould says criticises ‘gradualism’ he is not implying that saltation or special creation are true.) But wait, you might ask, wasn’t Gould supposed to be acting as the theory’s saviour by suggesting punctuated equilibrium? Why then is he so critical of the scientific community, and why has punctuated equilibrium had such an enormously hard time getting the attention he feels it deserves?

As always, the Creationist brigade has offered a woefully simplistic version of the real story. Gould believed that punctuated equilibrium (or something like it) should have been realised by Darwin himself and that the entire fossil record is ample evidence of it. Not because the fossil record isn’t evidence of evolution – he obviously agrees that it is – but because it is evidence of evolution happening in a less gradualistic fashion than is commonly believed. I cannot stress this point enough: Gould was not making a knee-jerk reaction to the realisation that the fossil record disproves ‘gradual’ (as in slow) evolution, he was proposing a different type of gradual evolution. The factuality of evolution in its most basic conception has not been under serious threat of being deposed by the evidence for many years.

This leads me to the second important point, one which Creationists frequently ignore: the evidence in favour of evolution is so strong at this point that, despite their simple-minded protests, it will take something thar directly contradicts evolution to throw it into serious doubt. Again, I need to make the distinction between evidence which raises questions about how evolution happens and evidence which raises questions about whether it happens. The basics of evolutionary theory – common ancestry, change via mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, etc. – are in no way threatened by the Cambrian explosion. (Somebody is inevitably going to claim that, even if  punctuated equilibrium explains the Cambrian explosion, it requires spontaneously rapid mutation rates. This is not the case, and I suggest you read Gould’s own writing on the matter.)

Rather than enter into a discussion on how to explain the Cambrian explosion, I’ll link to the Wikipedia article (for convenience sake – obviously there are far more authorative works out there), along with an interesting list of discredited hypotheses. The existence of the latter is one source of evidence that scientists will not simply latch onto any explanation for an apparent deficit in their precious theory.

What I’m trying to say with all of this is that the Cambrian explosion does not contradict the vast amounts of evidence which suggest that evolution has occured, even if it does raise some questions over its methods. With that settled, I’ll go into more detail over some of the specifics of Eric Kemp’s argument:

The Cambrian Explosion represents the rapid appearance of most forms of life on Earth with no evolutionary predecessors.

In about a 5 million year period, most of the life as we know it suddenly appeared with no evolutionary ancestors.  As few as twenty and as many as thirty-five of the worlds’ forty phyla (the highest category of the Kindom Animalae) appeared out of no where (J.W. Valentine Development 126, 1999).  This means that entirely novel and highly complex body plans shows up in the fossil record with no ancestors.  If we compress all of the Earth’s history into twenty-four hours, the Cambrian explosion would last only about one minute.  Put another way, seventy-five percent of all life shows up in about .07% of the time the Earth has existed.

Firstly, the term ‘phylum’ is not tied only to the Kingdom Animaliae. Every kingdom is divided into one or more phyla (although the word ‘division’ is more frequently used in certain Kingdoms).

Secondly, the ‘clock’ analogy is one that should be avoided; it gives the impression that every phyla differentiated only during this period, ignoring entirely all of those were either pre- or post-Cambrian.

Thirdly, the fact that many phyla have no fossil ancestors prior to the Cambrian explosion is not surprising, given that hard body parts are generally thought to have first developed during this period.

The claim that ‘seventy-five percent of all life shows up in about .07%  the Earth has existed’ is incredibly misleading. The Cambrian period contains no land plants at all – indeed, the majority of species during the Cambrian were entirely aquatic. It certainly did not contain ‘all life’.

Finally, Eric is ignoring the very real debate over how sudden the Cambrian explosion actually was and how many of the extant phyla first evolved during it.

The fossil record literally goes from fungi and simple worms to the trilobite with an articulated body, complicated nervous system and compound eyes, fully formed and novel, in the blink of an eye!  The most astounding thing about the Cambrian explosion is that it’s followed by stasis.  That is, zero new body plans have evolved in the 500 million years since the Cambrian.

This is a good example of a red herring. Although the majority of phyla appeared during the Cambrian, that is not the same as claiming that the majority of speciation or differentiation occured during it. As I’ve pointed out, most Cambrian-era life was aquatic and land plants were entirely absent; clearly, life has been doing a lot of ‘evolving’ in the last 500 million years. I suspect that the word ‘stasis’ here is co-opted from Gould, in which case it is mis-used.

There is nothing in evolutionary theory which states that new phyla must contiously appear. Although the relatively sudden appearance of all major phyla certainly raises some interesting questions about early evolution, it does not invalidate the theory.

The Cambrian Explosion is evidence of ‘top-down’ differentiation.

Neo-Darwinian theory predicts a “bottom up” pattern where small differences develop before the large differences in form and body plan are seen much farther down the line.  For instance, pre-Cambrian sponges should have produced a myriad of varieties and those varieties would then eventually lead to different species, forms and body plans.

However, the fossil record from the Cambrian shows a completely different “top down” pattern.  Massive differences in form and body plan appear suddenly with nothing simpler preceding them.  Then, after the Cambrian, only minor variations arise within the framework of the body plans set down in the Cambrian.

Minor variation? In what sense is the evolution of virtually all land animals and literally all land plants ‘minor’? Eric is once again applying the concept of the phylum across the board, as if it’s the only way to categorize the different types of living organism. Life in the Cambrian era was very different to what exists today, as even a casual examination of the fossils will reveal.

Eric goes on to make the erroneous claims about Gould and puncuated equilibrium that I’ve already covered, before giving us this gem:

To explain how life as we know it evolved from a single cell, evolutionary theory says, “It had billions of years to do it”.  The fossil record contradicts this by telling us it did most of the work in only 5 million years.  To explain the contradiction, Stephen Jay Gould comes up with punctuated equilibrium, which STILL doesn’t explain the fossil record.  Then to explain why life went into body plan stasis after the Cambrian, evolutionary theory goes back to “well, evolution IS really slow”.

Eric, you directly contradict yourself here. You say that evolution ‘did all of its work’ in 5 million years, implying that it all life differentiated over the course of the Cambrian explosion. Not only have your claims about what the event actually is steadily grown more exaggerated, but you’ve (yet again) confused ‘phylum’ for ‘all categories of life’. Immediately after this you go back to talking only about body plan ‘stasis’ – should I assume that your earlier comment about evolution doing all of its work in 5 million years was also referring only to phyla?

Before I wrap this up, I’d like to bring things back to where they started: the question of whether evolution is falsifiable. As I’ve spent the last while explaining, the Cambrian explosion does not represent a threat to the veracity of evolutionary theory and so is not an example of something that scientists have simply swept under the rug. But what about Penguinfactory’s example of ‘rabbits in the pre-Cambrian’? Would such a find represent a contradiction to the theory of evolution in its entirety? I’ll quote PF on the matter (keep in mind that ‘bunny’ here is a stand-in for any modern mammal):

A few other observations that would invalidate evolution if a pre-Cambrian bunny was discovered:

a) How would a mammal survive in a world with no plants? Unless pre-Cambrian plant fossils were found as well, the most likely explanation for this fossil would be that the evolutionary model is incorrect and that the seemingly chronological sorting of the fossil record is an illusion.

b) If pre-Cambrian plants were found, that would still leave the issue of time. How could life have gone from almost microscopic soft-bodied marine organims to land-dwelling mammals in such a short space of time, given our estimates of when life on Earth began.

c) There’s also the issue of the later fossil record- why would our Pre-Cambrian bunnies vanish abruptly off the face of the Earth for over a billion years and then re-appear in more recent times?

If any Creationists reading this could provide a hypothetical scientific response to these questions that makes even the slightest amount of sense, I’d love to hear it.

Holocaust Denial and Creationism

October 16, 2008

Yesterday I raised the issue of parallels between Holocaust denial and Creationism, which is something I’d like to expand on now. I’m certainly not the first person to notice the striking similarities between these two movements, but I’d like to think that I’m in a good position to talk about those similarities, as I spent some time in the past debating with holocaust deniers and spend some time now debating with Creationists.

Holocaust denial shares many similarities with Creationism in methodology, ideology and consequences, which I’ll go through point-by-point. These will be based on my somewhat outdated knowledge of holocaust denial, but I’m assuming that things haven’t changed much in the few years since I last looked into it.

Ideological bias. Both Creationism and Holocaust denial spring from strongly held ideological biases. Creationism is the product of fundamentalist religious views (primarily Christian and Islamic ones), while Holocaust denial is the product of anti-semitism, White Supremacist views and White Nationalist views, and is almost ubiquitious among those who subscribe to these worldviews. (The differences between ‘White Supremacism’ and ‘White Nationalism’ aren’t important here.)

White Nationalism (WN) in particular hinges on the idea that ‘the White Race’ (always capitalised) is under threat from multiculturalism, which has been pushed upon predominantly white nations by ‘the Jews’. Who exactly these Jews are is generally not elaborated upon, but the entire Jewsish race is frequently implicated. The story behind this supposed attempt to eradicate the white race is complex and internally inconsistent; Jews are said to have a knowingly parasitic relationship with white people even as they attempt to destroy them – this despite the fact that they are also said to be cunning and intelligent. However, the Holocaust is said to be one of the primary means by which ‘the Jews’ have gained influence over ‘white’ nations.

It is immediately obvious from this why the Holocaust being a hoax is so important to WN. Having set up the Jews as every white person’s sworn enemy, White Nationalists cannot then admit that it was a predominantly white nation, acting under a predominantly racist ideology, which was responsible for the murder of millions of Jews.

Creationism is much the same. The myth of the worldwide conspiracy by atheistic scientists to undermine the Word of God is the lynchpin of the Creationist worldview. Without this vital component, much of Creationism stops making sense; it would be ludicrous to suggest that the vast majority of proffessional scientists could be wrong about evolution while the likes of Kent Hovind and Ken Ham have stumbled upon ‘the truth’. Evolution must be a conspiracy, for this reason and in order to supply Creationists with an enemy to fight against.


The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because the Nazis did not have the infrastructure to transport, gas and burn the bodies of six million Jews.

The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because Zyklon-B cannot kill humans efficiently; it was used merely as a de-lousing agent.

The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, beause some eye-witness reports of the Holocaust are contradictory.

The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because Auschwitz had a swimming pool and even a brothel at one point! Clearly, it was a much more comfortable place than the Jews claim.

The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because there is no historical evidence whatsoever to suggest that it did.

These kinds of claims are the bread and butter of the Holocaust denial movement, and they strongly echo similar claims made by Creationists about evolution. In all cases, the conspiracy theorist (for that is what these people are) either takes an accepted piece of historical or scientific evidence and interprets it in a bizarre fashion or else outright lies. All of the above arguments are an example of this: six million Jews were killed in World War II in its entirety, not just in concentration camps and certainly not just by gassing; Zyklon-B was first used as a delousing agent before being turned to its more infamous application, and is fully capable of killing humans (confusion over this rests upon the different methods by which it kills humans and insects); nobody expects all eye-witness reports to be 100% accurate, and this claim ignores the many reports that don’t contradict each other; Auschwitz-Birkenaudid indeed have a makeshift swimmign pool and even a brothel at one point, but it was always somewhat segmented – these relatively ‘luxurious’ aspects were never seen by those who were executed there.

Perhaps the most informative claim made by Holocaust deniers is that the changing of the estimated number of Jews killed in the ‘Final Solution’ has changed quite a bit since the end of WWII, thus ‘proving’ that historians are desperately attempting to prop up the Holocaust as a real event. This is very similar to what Creationists do when they complain about the theory of evolution changing over time as new evidence comes to light. Here the conspiracy theorist mistakes (out of ignorance or by design) the ordinary business of history or science as ‘smoking gun’ evidence of a hoax. It is usually implied that these evasive measures have been taken in repsonse to deniers rather than new evidence coming to light.

Holocaust denial also has its own semi-professional organisation (the Institute for Historical Review) which pretends to be interested only in historical and scientific truth but in reality is strongly wedded to WN ideology.

I should point out that there is one area in which Holocaust deniers have a strong case: their opinions are illegal in several countries, something that I and a lot of other people disagree with.

Consequences. Holocaust denial is thankfully a fairly rare phenomenon, and has so far not transcended the bounds of WN groups (in the Western world, at least; it’s far more common elsewhere). However, much like Creationism, it acts insidiously in that it implants the idea of a massive hoax perpetrated by ‘the establishment’ in the public consciousness and sows the seeds of anti-intellectual distrust in the historical community.

Creationism has been the success that Holocaust denial can only dream of. It is not limited only to those who would refer to themselves as Creationists, but has become disturbingly common among ‘ordinary’ Christians and conservatives in the USA and (to a lesser extent) Europe. In some Islamic countries it appears to be even more widespread.

Unlike Holocaust deniers, Creationists have actually succeeded in getting their conspiracy theories taught in public schools, and are doing their utmost to have it re-introduced. The fallout from such a Creationist victory would be devestating for education and science worldwide, and Creationists have already managed to bring about an anti-scientific culture in some areas (I doubt I need to point out why this isn’t a good thing).

Holocaust denial and Creationism are both the products of extreme worldviews and are exactly in alike in how completely they fail to make their respective cases. Despite this, they still exist and, in the case of Creationism, are thriving. This is a situation that should be deeply disturbing to anyone interested in actual scientific advancement and in particular to those whose children’s education might one day be undermined by conspiracy theorist nonsense.