Living near a university campus provides me with an opportunity to hang out with intelligent and interesting college students from time to time. I’ve made new friends and had enjoyable visits with members of the Secular Student Alliance at Eastern Washington University, formerly the Eastern Atheists club. Most of its members are college students about half my age, but they have been very welcoming toward the old fart from the neighborhood who attends meetings and shows up at some of their parties.
One of the club’s recent activities was a debate with a very decent Christian named Daniel Kim about science and theism. I volunteered to participate because I knew Daniel would be an engaging and honest debate partner, and because I enjoy spending time with the people in the club. Daniel wanted to record the debate for posting on YouTube, so if you want to see why I have not taken up a career in acting or modeling, here it is:
I do get a bit exasperated with the stock creationist arguments that bubble forth even in an environment of reasonable discourse, like foam materializing from seawater that splashes against the rocks. Whether they are repeated with nods and smiles from a thoughtful person like Daniel or spewed forth on the Internet by agenda-driven organizations like the Discovery Institute, all creationist arguments are ultimately descendants of a single common ancestor: personal incredulity.1 We humans are all too eager to believe in some invisible creator over scientific explanations that we are either unwilling (due to faith or social commitments) or unable (due to limits on time, education, or imagination) to personally understand.
Despite my occasional impatience, I certainly know how much a person’s thinking, how the boundaries of one’s willingness to learn, can be constrained by the need to think only dogmatically correct thoughts. My entire childhood religion was founded on the premise that a first human pair had been duped by a talking reptile thousands of years ago, infecting us all with Original Sin and necessitating the sacrifice of a perfect God-man to set things right.
For an abundance of reasons, there is no way to reconcile that story with the reality that science shows us, despite valiant attempts by earnest writers who want to have their disproven Pauline theology and evolution, too. Ironically, it is this very myth that is now being recited in my old church as reason to turn away from the unsettling questions being whispered among the troubled faithful. The (mythical) serpent asked, “Did God really say…?”, and we know how that worked out, so don’t you go asking, either!
I gave Daniel a copy of Evolving out of Eden, which I wrote in cooperation with Dr. Robert M. Price, and he graciously accepted it with thanks. I hope he gets something out of it. Perhaps with a bit more time, the vision that Ingersoll had over a hundred years ago will finally be realized in this country: “Science, freed from the chains of pious custom and evangelical prejudice, will, within her sphere, be supreme. The mind will investigate without reverence and publish its conclusions without fear.” 2
With some slight reformatting for web publication, here is an excerpt of the book that speaks candidly to what, unfortunately, remains as a pig-headed persistence of a thoroughly disproven viewpoint. For my own part in this co-authored writing, I speak with the zeal of the converted, knowing what an iron grip that mindset had on me, too, for such a long time.
Plagues from Denial
We [Price and Suominen], along with many of the theistic evolutionists whose writings we criticize, find it infuriating how creationists deny the reality—and wonder—of evolutionary theory. Its explanatory power is stunning; all the scientific puzzle pieces fit into place, from anthropology to zoology. It is difficult to emphasize enough just how strong the evidence is, yet most Americans doggedly persist in remaining ignorant of it. Worse, the most devout among them view it as almost a holy calling to enforce that same ignorance on their children and churches.
For those not blinkered by an outdated dogma, there is no longer any debate about the truth of evolution. The debate has been over for a hundred years. The evidence has continued to pile up, in new fields like molecular genetics that Darwin couldn’t have dreamed of. We have long since reached the point where evolution—micro, macro, human—is no more productive a topic for argument than computing epicycles in case that “theory” of Copernicus turns out to be wrong, after all.
Two of our pious scientists put it frankly to their Christian brethren: “When there is a near-universal consensus among scientists that something is true, we have to take that seriously, even if we don’t like the conclusion” (Giberson and Collins 2011, 29).3 Sure, there are some crackpots who reject what is squarely in front of their faces, even a few educated ones who ought to know better. But the “percentage of scientists who reject evolution is very small—so small that in most large gatherings of scientists you would not find even one person who rejects the theory of evolution” (p. 30).
The fact is that creationists are just parasites, living off the intellectual metabolism generated by the hard work of real thinkers while contributing nothing but the fever of the camp revival. They crave respectability for their faith, but they show nothing but contempt for the careful research of the scientists who find the hard data that they persistently ignore and deny. “There are no transitional forms!”, they whine, despite a wealth of fossils showing various types of intermediates (Prothero 2007).4
Meanwhile Neil Shubin goes to Greenland year after year to dig for a fossil evidencing the transition from water to land. And he finds it, too: Tiktaalik roseae.5 Did the creationists gather at the Field Museum to examine this extraordinary find that plugs the evidenciary hole they had been complaining about? Of course not. They just go on talking, about smaller holes.
“Intelligent Design,” as Leonard Krishtalka has memorably said, is just creationism dressed up in a cheap tuxedo. See this fine 2002 article by Adrian L. Melott in Physics Today. Melot aptly sums up the situation: “The position of an ID creationist can be summarized as: ‘I can’t understand how this complex outcome could have arisen, so it must be a miracle.’” ↩
Robert G. Ingersoll, Lecture on Gods ↩
Giberson, Karl W., and Francis S. Collins. 2011. The language of science and faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. ↩
Prothero, Donald R. 2007. Evolution: What the fossils say and why it matters. New York: Columbia University Press. ↩
See, e.g., tiktaalik.uchicago.edu (accessed January 2013). “Tiktaalik roseae, better known as the ‘fishapod,’ is a 375 million year old fossil fish which was discovered in the Canadian Arctic in 2004. Its discovery sheds light on a pivotal point in the history of life on Earth: when the very first fish ventured out onto land.” ↩