Jan 27 2012

Genesis Weak

I advise you to please turn off your irony meters before reading further or clicking the link to the video I will be discussing today. You may also want to take a couple of deep relaxing breaths to help preserve your neurons from the irrational assault they are about to suffer.

I was recently asked to take a look at Genesis Week with Ian Juby (Wazooloo), a slick YouTube series in which Juby takes us on a mystical journey through the looking glass of creationist nonsense. In his world science and reason are flipped completely upside down. It is, as they say, a “target rich environment” – too rich for any one blog post, so I will pick out a few gems.

The title of this episode is “I’m hooked on a feeling,” referring to new research showing that acceptance of evolution is strongly influenced by a gut “feeling of certainty” that people have about the theory. Juby makes much of this study (without, of course, putting it into any context) concluding that people believe in evolution despite the evidence (what he describes as overwhelming evidence for creation) rather than because of it.

The study itself reviews prior research on this question, summarizing it:

Despite the variety of studies that have been reported, there are no convincingly clear findings about the relationships among knowledge level, beliefs, and acceptance level regarding the theory of evolution. While some studies have provided evidence for a robust relationship between knowledge level and level of acceptance (Paz-y-Miño & Espinosa, 2009; Rutledge & Warden, 1999), others found no evidence of a straightforward relationship (Sinatra et al., 2003), and little evidence that instructional treatments affect acceptance levels (Chinsamy & Plagányi, 2007), even when learning gains have been substantiated (Nehm & Schonfeld, 2007). It has also been suggested that the nature of relationships change when acceptance of evolutionary theory is framed in the context of macroevolution rather than microevolution (Nadelson & Southerland, 2010).

So – it’s complicated. Results of research seem to depend upon how the study was conducted, meaning that confounding variables have not adequately been controlled for so they determine the outcome of individual studies, which therefore have conflicting results.

However, at least so far there does not appear to be a clear relationship between teaching students about evolutionary theory and their acceptance of it. This is actually not surprising and in line with the consensus of psychological research, which shows that people form opinions largely for emotional and ideological reasons, and then cherry pick the facts they need to support those opinions.

The findings of the current study are therefore nothing new, and there is no reason to think that this phenomenon is unique to belief in evolution.

But to put this study into its proper context – this is about affecting the opinions of students by confronting their emotional reactions to  evolution. It is not about how scientists form their opinions about evolutionary theory.

This is a common logical error that creationists make – confusing public opinion with expert scientific opinion. Juby tries to make it seem that this study shows that acceptance of evolution in general (including among scientists and educators) is about feeling rather than evidence.

He then goes on to another common claim of creationists that reflects their astounding intellectual dishonesty. He lists a few biologists who are creationists – as if their opinions are evidence based, and contrasting them with the emotion-based acceptance of evolution.

Among scientists, however, >99% accept evolutionary theory – a relevant fact that Juby failed to mention. This is also in line with other research, showing that only at the highest levels of science education do facts trump emotion in forming our beliefs about controversial or emotional topics. Among the experts there is a strong consensus – the evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that all life on earth is related through an evolutionary process. Juby, however, rattles off a couple of creationist exceptions as if they are the rule.

It is hard to imagine that Juby is not aware of these facts. We are left to conclude that he is either living in a creationist bubble or is flagrantly dishonest in dealing with the question of scientific acceptance of evolution.

Eventually Juby gets around to listing some of the alleged overwhelming evidence for creation, including irreducible complexity and lack of a mechanism for increasing genetic information. He lists a bunch of old long-discredited creationist canards, and that is his “overwhelming evidence.”

Creationists proposed the notion of irreducible complexity over a decade ago, and really it was just a reformulation of arguments they have been putting forward for a century and a half – since Darwin proposed his version of evolutionary theory. It has been debated and discussed among scientists, and found to be a fatally flawed idea. It’s flat out wrong – disproved by numerous counter examples. I first wrote about it myself in 1999,  and the arguments haven’t changed.

The alleged lack of a mechanism for generating new genetic information is nonsense – not a serious scientific or even philosophical argument. (I first debunked this one in 2002.) The combination of random mutations and selective pressures, combined with gene duplication and other genetic mechanisms, are fully capable of increasing overall genetic information and creating new information.

Creationists like Juby have no counterarguments to the scientific consensus clearly demonstrating that irreducible complexity and creationist abuses of information theory are false. They simply trot out the same discarded claims over and over again with arrogance and casual dismissiveness of the scientific consensus – a consensus slowly built on a mountain of evidence.

I’m not bothered by the fact the people like Juby can promote their nonsense on an open forum like YouTube. He is unlikely to change anyone’s opinion. He also provides yet another opportunity to point out the terrible logic and questionable honesty of the creationists. They do make it easy in that they have nothing new to say. Science changes and new ideas and new evidence are brought to bare. Creationism is stuck in its prescientific conclusion, and continue to rely upon long discredited arguments – even when dressed up in a slick YouTube video.


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