Jun 12 2014

Dumb Things Creationists Say

Having read deeply into the creationist literature and having had countless discussions with creationists, one thing is clear to me – creationists do not understand evolutionary theory.

To be fair, most people don’t really understand evolutionary theory, but creationists have a particularly poor understanding. Their problem goes beyond generic scientific illiteracy. They primarily learn about evolution from secondary hostile sources – other creationists. What they learn is creationist made-up nonsense about evolution, which they confuse for the science of evolution. This condemns them to mostly attack pathetic straw men rather than what scientists actually claim about evolution.

For example, Michael Egnor (remember him?), the creationist neurosurgeon who blogs for the Discotute, claimed that if evolution were true, then brain cancer should evolve a better functioning brain.

Today I am going to pick on another example of “if evolution were true, then…” creationist nonsense. This one comes from Creationtoday.org, in a Youtube video Derek Isaacs, a young-earth creationist, claims that:

“If evolution is true and it’s all about the male propagating their DNA, we had to ask hard questions like, well is rape wrong?”

It’s a little disturbing that Isaacs finds this a hard question, but let’s break down the many fallacies in this statement.

First, it is completely incorrect to say that evolutionary pressure is all about the male passing on his DNA. What about the female? Last time I checked they have DNA also, and it takes two to tango. The obvious assumption here by Isaacs is that primitive people were brutish thugs – animals. And animals would have not motivation other than to take something they want by force.

It’s a childish, cartoonish image of how “primitive animals” behave. It is thinking based more in the 19th century than the 21st century.

Any biologist can tell you that in many species, including many primate species, females play a large role in selecting their mates, often with more power to select their mates than males have. In any species where males expend a great deal of energy and resources putting on impressive displays for the female – guess who is doing the selecting?

In fact, evolutionary biologists have a name for this phenomenon – sexual selection. The large and pretty tale of a peacock was created by the female peahens choosing their mates. Brightly colored male baboons are another obvious example.

Isaacs also claims that selective pressure would favor a dominant male spreading his genes far and wide, with as many females as possible. There is a kernel of truth here, in that some species do indeed follow this strategy. In some species dominant males control a large harem of females and are responsible for a majority of the next generation.

Flying foxes, for example, maintain a harem. In such cases, however, males don’t simply rape females. They maintain their harem by being “attractive” – displaying traits that attract females by signaling health and other evolutionarily advantageous traits. Sometimes males compete with other males in order to win the right to reproduce.

This, of course, is not true of all species, which is something else that creationists consistently miss. There is no one evolutionary strategy. There are many. Some species have harems, some mate indiscriminately, others pair-bond for a season, and still others pair-bond for life.

Humans pair-bond for life. This strategy seems optimal for having few children and investing a great deal of time and energy into those few offspring. Females no longer display their estrus in order to advertise fertility to other males, and remain perpetually sexually available to the male, in exchange for the male investing their time and energy into the family.

Yes, this is overly simplistic, and I am not offering this as a model for modern human behavior, just as an example of one evolutionary strategy involving mating. There is also evidence for a range of approaches within human societies, and for various substrategies within this framework, etc.

The larger point here is that having as many offspring as possible is not always the best evolutionary strategy. Sometimes it makes sense to have fewer offspring but then invest heavily in them to ensure their survival and success. This may require monogamy and trust.

Isaacs simplistic caveman argument only demonstrates his profound ignorance of biology and evolutionary theory – an apparent prerequisite for being a young-earth creationist.

Another big problem with Isaacs’ argument is that he is assuming that morality must derive from nature, and therefore if evolutionary pressure favors a certain behavior, then the behavior (according to evolution) must be morally OK. He is setting up a false dichotomy – the morality of evolution (which says that rape is OK) vs the morality of God.

His rape premise is biologically naive and simply false, and his logic is also fallacious. While he is wrong to suggest that evolution would favor men raping women, it is also irrelevant. Animals in nature do many horrible things. What happens in nature, however, does not dictate the morality of our society.

This is part of the denial on the part of some religious apologists of secular morality and ethics. Philosophers, literally over thousands of years, have developed a fairly thoughtful system of ethics, based on first principles, carefully considering implications, consistency, and internal validity, and informed by scientific evidence where applicable.

In short, we can reason our way to the conclusion that rape is morally wrong and that such behavior should be condemned, even punished, in our society. We don’t have to comport our behavior to the hypothetical evolutionary pressures of our ancestors, nor do we need to enshrine the ethics of primitive pre-scientific societies as if they were the word of an almighty deity.

Isaacs claims that his study of evolution led him to a “dark place.” That dark place, however, exists only in the minds and mythology of creationists. It is their bogeyman, created to scare good people away from evolution. “If you believe in evolution, then you think rape is OK.”

Creationists resort to such cheap and demonstrably false arguments because scientifically and intellectually creationism is completely bankrupt.

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