Popular Science

The blog is going to be a bit neglected at the moment, mainly because I’m spending my time scouring the NUIM library for books that can tell me what the actual differences between New Historicism and Cultural Materialism are. It’s all very exciting.

Rather than debunking a particular Creationist myth, I’d like to point out a common problem in Creationist methodology, an area that doesn’t receive as much attention as it should. It’s no secret that many (or even most) Creationists don’t actually have a huge amount of scientific education, just as many Holocaust deniers know little about the actual history of the holocaust. Instead they have a stock of pre-packaged arguments against evolution, most of them taken directly from the major Creationist sources and parroted over and over again.

A lot of these arguments have been floating around for decades, but new stuff does crop up as well, and it’s usually taken from bizarre interpretations of new developments in science. Unfortunately, Creationists tend to bypass the actual scientific literature (remember, a lot of them wouldn’t understand it) and go for popular science sources instead. This is a mistake, for several reasons.

To illustrate why, I’ll point to the September 2008 issue of NewScientist, which carries a story about how some of the more complex or unusual components of certain species may have actual evolved because natural selection stopped being a factor for that particular species. To your average reader, that sounds like a fundamental shift in how scientists think about evolution. The Discovery Institute articles practically write themselves: “Darwinists finally admit they were wrong!”, “Natural selection ‘no longer a factor in evolution’, admits former Darwinist”, “Start burning textbooks!”.

What’s the problem? Well, keep in mind that NewScientist is not a scientific journal, it’s a popular magazine. As such, it’s aimed at a ‘lay’ audience, one that is primarily not composed of proffesional scientists. Anything they write about will be relatively simplified, which means that it’s easy to get the wrong idea about how groundbreaking these new developments really are. As well as that, they have a tendency to report on tentative or controversial ideas as if they were already widely accepted by the scientific community (newspapers are particularly bad about this), which probably explains some of the more hasty cries of victory from Creationists in the past.

Another excellent example of this effect is the now infamous ‘Altenburg 16’ meeting, in which sixteen scientists met to discuss whether or not evolutionary theory should be changed to accomodate new discoveries about genetics (among other things), similar to the way it was modified into the ‘neo-Darwinian synthesis’. The Creationist media had a feild day with it, claiming that a cabal of scientists were secretly meeting behind locked doors in a desperate bid to protect evolutionary theory from its enemies. As one of the members of the actual meeting pointed out, this is complete nonsense.

For starters, these ‘workshops’ take place several times a year and are in response to new developments in science, not in response to whateve drivel the DI has been putting out. The proposed Extended Synthesis itself has also been twisted out of shape by Creationists, who claim that it’s a reworking of fundamental aspects of evolution – presumably a move made necessary by their cogent and blistering attacks on the current model – rather than an addition to the theory based on new information. Scientific knowledge is not a static entity that never changes, and it’s absurd for Creationists to suggest that the Altenburg meeting was anything more than the ordinary workings of the scientific community.


One Response to Popular Science

  1. jeffsdeepthoughts says:

    While I agree that most of this is quite silly, I think it was poor PR on the part of the scientists. When Mendel’s work was synthesized with Darwins, it was probably the most significant re-thinking in the history of Darwin’s idea. To allude to this synthesis in their work is to imply that they are making changes as significant as that original synthesis.

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