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.

41 responses so far

41 thoughts on “Dumb Things Creationists Say”

  1. “There is no one evolutionary strategy.” – excellent point to hammer home. There is only differential survival and reproduction, so whatever strategy that gives an edge will evolve, within the possibility space offered by genetic mutations.

    It’s worth pointing out the cost versus benefit of basically any or all adaptions. Yes, it’s often “beneficial” for many males to be stronger, more powerful, more violent than the others and to evolve in this direction as one strategy. It’s also dangerous (you might be in lots of other fights with other strong dangerous males who are also attempting to survive and reproduce); it’s expensive (you are larger and so must consume more calories, so you must hunt/forage more often, placing you at greatest risk of starvation if food sources dwindle); you are likely to need a larger brain to control a larger body (which adds even further to bodily infrastructure and caloric needs).

    The point is that there are lots of negative trade-offs for any “positive” adaptation; no free lunch in nature, lots of different possible strategies to pursue, and there is no such thing as the “one” successful survival/reproduction method.

  2. tmac57 says:

    Am I the only one who gets a bit leery of a group who claims that the only safeguard to society to prevent all manner of criminal and murderous acts is a book? I have to presume that they see in themselves the capacity to do these horrible acts,and only their belief in god is holding them back.
    Kinda scary.

  3. Bruce says:


    You are definitely not the only one. It is scary that when these people are presented with no external moral compass they will immediately revert to assuming the worst of human behaviour. I am almost grateful that they have found religion because without it who knows what they would be doing to other people…

  4. nybgrus says:

    It’s actually shockingly bad argumentation. Particularly coming from someone who claims to have studied enough evolutionary theory to take him to a “dark place.” I call BS – he never studied it. He only picked random parts to fit the narrative he already had.

    If he had studied it, he would have known that Darwin himself wrote a book on sexual selection, that altruism, pair bonding, and multiple ways to have sex occur in the natural world, and that there are well described reproductive strategies in evolutionary theory called r/K selection which was subsequently modified slightly and improved by life history theory. Either way, K selection or life history theory completely and utterly undermine Isaacs inanity and further prove that he in no way, shape, or form has ever actually studied evolutionary theory.

    And, of course, he is making an attribution error in trying to say that evolutionary theory is prescriptive rather than descriptive. Which yet again proves he did not study evolutionary theory.

  5. I think these believers *say* all humanity is morally lost without Their Book, but I don’t think they would actually turn into murderous rageaholics without the book…they would just be themselves. They don’t even follow what’s in Their Book anyway, or we’d all be getting stoned to death or burned at the stake for heresy; they arbitrarily and selectively pick and choose what to follow in Their Book, based on society’s morals (then misattribute their morality to Their Book).

    Pinker talks about this issue in his latest book on the history of human violence, which if you haven’t read yet, its mind-blowing. Very difficult to read in places due to the sheer gruesomeness, but eye-opening for sure.

  6. mindme says:

    Creationists also have a hard time understanding saying what “is” is not the same as saying what “ought” to be.

  7. DanDanNoodles says:

    Those arguing that morality comes from the Bible are left with quite a dilemma, since the “morality” of the Bible is squirm-inducingly uncomfortable — from approval of slavery to exhortations to kill disobedient children to justifications for rape, its safe to say that no one in a modern society follows the Biblical code of morality exactly.

    But that’s the dilemma: if you only follow parts of the Bible, then where is the moral sense that allows you to discern the “right” parts come from?

  8. Teaser says:

    I don’t understand how any rational adult can consider the bible anymore than an allegorical text. To take it literally in any fashion is truly delusional. To pass that delusion onto children under the pretense of fact is criminal. That brings us to the laws of the state. How far can the state go, and by what means, to prevent the willful brainwashing of innocents?

    Clip from “Inherit the Wind”

  9. worlebird says:

    If entropy is true, then we need to ask hard questions, like well is vandalism wrong?

  10. mumadadd says:


    I completely agree. I also think that people in secular societies who think they derive their morals from their faith have it wrong; they get their morals from society. Where you then have societies that draw upon scripture for their values, you then run into situations like the recent episode in Pakistan where a woman was stoned to death by her own family for marrying against their wishes. I’m pretty sure most American Christians would not do this, even through their own holy book advocates much of the same barbaric punishment for trivial crimes.

  11. Yeah, go ahead, just blame the damn sea otter!

  12. Johnny says:

    “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.”

    Have they really developed “A” system of ethics? What does it look like? Does it have a name? I see several groups of philosophical ethical systems, chief among them being consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics. Different political ideologies (liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism etc) are also based on different viewpoints about what is morally acceptable or right.

    I don’t share the creationist viewpoint (I’m an atheist) about the supposedly dire moral consequences from accepting the scientific theory of evolution for the reasons you outline. But I’d like to know more about the moral system you refer to which apparently has passed me by.

  13. nybgrus says:

    Oh Johnny. Pedantry for pedantry’s sake. If you’ve read any of Dr. Novella’s writing you’ll know he knows that. Drop the “a” and add an “s” after system and you can untwist your knickers.

  14. Bronze Dog says:

    This sort of Creationist nonsense reminds me of one annoying thing in Star Wars: From what I’ve watched, when a Jedi falls from the light side, they always seem to turn into Sith megalomaniacs who want to conquer the galaxy, like it was the most natural thing to do, rather than, say, retiring from the Jedi Order and settling into a quiet civilian life.

  15. Johnny – yes, that was unclear. I was thinking of all of the various ethical systems as one metasystem, since philosophers generally talk to each other, are knowledgeable about all the various systems, and discuss them in the context of each other.

    Bronze – I think the idea is that the dark side corrupts the fallen Jedi. The power of the dark side is an inherently corrupting force, and it exploits the worst aspects of sentient nature. There is no middle ground – once you start the slide down the dark side, forever will it dominate your destiny.

  16. Bruce says:

    Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good critical thinking blaster at your side.

  17. hardnose says:

    Ray Kurzweil’s opinion of eugene was similar to mine. The bot is obviously not intelligent and is easily fooled by anyone who knows anything about computers. It does not remember the conversation at all — even though it easily could have been programmed to. Even for a computer program, it is unintelligent.


  18. Bill Openthalt says:

    Bronze Dog

    …when a Jedi falls from the light side, they always seem to turn into Sith megalomaniacs who want to conquer the galaxy, like it was the most natural thing to do,…

    Maybe it is Jedi nature? I’ve always seen it as a metaphor for the behaviour of human politicians, who quite often get corrupted by power, no matter their original idealism.

  19. gravitationalist says:

    If gravity is true, then we have to ask ourselves hard questions like, well is pushing someone off a cliff wrong?

  20. It’s possible there are plenty of Jedi who fall to the dark side–but no one writes stories about them.

  21. Bill Openthalt says:

    Ori Vandewalle —

    That is a very astute observation. No-one is interested in the banal.

  22. grabula says:

    “The power of the dark side is an inherently corrupting force”

    Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
    Through passion, I gain strength.
    Through strength, I gain power.
    Through power, I gain victory.
    Through victory, my chains are broken.
    The Force shall free me.

  23. Cyto says:

    Actually, rape is one of the many reproductive strategies that life has employed. Some insects have elevated this to an art form.

    These animals have taken forcible copulation way past anything you would have imagined and actually inject the sperm directly into the abdomen.

    So if you want to argue from a morality point of view, then I’d say the evidence is that there is no morality from on high guiding the creation of reproductive strategies. If there were, then vaginas that rip of penises and giant penises with wicked bladed edges and barbed points would not exist.

  24. Aardwark says:

    I agree, of course, with all Steve said here, and with all comments above. In addition, I would like to place some emphasis on the male-female aspect of this highly educational example of flawed reasoning, that Steve nailed spot-on, and most comments missed (or rather took for granted).

    I think the very wording of Egnor’s sentence we are dissecting is truly indicative to the point of being a diagnostic sign of the thought process underpinning the whole structure of the argument in question.

    So, the two premises are clearly stated: If evolution is true – the claim that Egnor is trying to reduce to absurdity (or to moral inacceptability, although, I agree, this would be irrelevant for establishing what is true and what is not); and: If evolution is all about MALES propagating their DNA. Now this is a very interesting proposition – one that, apart from betraying a hidden (perhaps even subconscious) mysoginy and male supremacy ideology, completely ignores the fact that there are, as such, no male or female genes. There are just genes. True, a particular gene, or a group of them, may work toward determining – or supporting the development of – one or the other sex in an individual, but even this is not necessarily universal across species for a given gene. Genes are coded instructions to be read and realized (or not) in a particular context. Even the existance of separate sexes in not a necessity, but one strategy of assuring a long-term useful trade-off between hereditary information stability and evolvability (by “shuffling the deck”).

    I’d say the shortest route to disprove the discussed claim (by logic + empirical observation) is to point out that the second premise does not hold true in Nature, and therefore the proposed conclusion does not either.

    I also find the Jedi parables very interesting, perhaps from another angle: evidence shows that various forms of symbiosis are crucial in evolution, including human evolution (i.e. our microbiome appears to play a great role in who we are). It may even turn out that our most precious abilities are no less dependent on our microbiome than a Jedi’s union with (whatever side of) the Force is dependent on his or her “midichlorian count”.

  25. Aardwark says:

    P.S. I meant Isaacs, of course, not Egnor. My apology. Perhaps my midichlorians are still asleep. 🙂

  26. Cognoggin says:

    There’s something about this that’s bothered me for quite some time.

    I’m not an especially bright person – I work in retail, left school with barely any qualifications, I’m approaching 50, have no savings, no pension – so by any reasonable measure I’m a very ordinary person, a working class guy perhaps less smart than most.

    But I can see all this Creationism stuff is bullshit. I don’t see how anyone would believe it. Growing up with the nature documentaries of David Attenborough, Carl Sagans Cosmos, James Burkes’ various shows and Horizon on the BBC between the age of 8-16 was more than enough for me to see the real beauty that is the universe. That and Star Trek 🙂

    I was also strangely addicted to The Waltons as an 8 year old – maybe I’m just weird?

    Anyway, what I’m trying to say is – surely these guys are just in it for the money? doing various circuits just to earn a buck? a spin on the televengelist model?

    Am I missing something here, because it feels to me these guys are trying (and often succeeding) in selling 2+2=5…

  27. Cognoggin – I agree that it is extreme that someone can believe such obvious nonsense. One explanation is certainly that they are not sincere.

    However, it is also possible they believe this. Do not underestimate the power of motivated reasoning. People are generally good at rationalization, and smart people are even better at justifying their own nonsense.

  28. BillyJoe7 says:


    No, by and large, they do believe this stuff. For the large majority, they just don’t think too much about it. Their indoctrinated belief system needs defending and just about anything will do. For the more intellectual amongst believers, there is obscurantist “sophisticated theology”, which no one, including the sophisticated theologian, really understand though they make a great display of doing so. No doubt there is the occasional individual who takes advantage of the gullibility of believers for personal gain.

  29. traversp says:

    Cognoggin – I think that most creationists are genuine in their belief as are those who claim to follow the teachings of the bible. My feeling has been that this is due to several factors, the most notable is that some people cannot accept that we live in a random universe and adhering to a religion or dogma is their way of trying to cope with that. Now those who believe in UFO’s, Ancient Aliens and conspiracy theories, and spend their days speaking about these unsubstantiated things are in it for the money, for sure!

  30. jayarava says:

    Sadly I don’t think refutation changes anything. We know that pieces of information are important to us by how we feel about them (according to my reading of Damasio anyway). Strong emotions are like masses that warp the intellectual space around them. The kind of arguments you put forward rate high emotionally for you, and me, and your readers, and thus we (unconsciously) feel it is important and take notice. But the fundamentalist feels very differently and judge the salience of facts very differently.

    Same is true of the glyphosate issue – its not about facts, its about all kinds of other things, not least of which is feeling that we have no control over our lives. One way to get control back is simply to disrupt the system with disinformation. It’s not about being right!

    So anyway, good job, I’m totally convinced. But I was before you started. And the moron you are contradicting is not listening anyway. There’s a certain amount of futility in the enterprise. To appeal to a person, an argument must be consistent with their values, more especially if they disagree with it and require convincing. Sad but true.

    And most of us have no interest in empathising with fundamentalists; no interest in appealing to their values; no interest in communicating in terms they might understand. So we choose a strategy and a style for communicating that we feel comfortable with and then express surprise when we fail to connect.

    On one view the failure to communicate something as self-evident as evolution even to some moderate Christians is an indictment of the ability of scientists to communicate. It’s a failure to understand how people process information and communicate in ways that can be heard.

    PS. Peacocks have “tails” rather than “tales”.

  31. Kawarthajon says:

    Derek Isaacs was not attempting to make a cogent argument against evolution, imo. He was trying to appeal to emotions by linking evolution with immorality, as so many have done before. It is getting tiresome to hear that just because you accept an evolutionary perspective (or are an athiest), you must be immoral because you reject the bible. This guy is trying to make an association between people who accept evolution and rape. (i.e. Where does your moral compass come from? Not the bible, well, you must be pro-rape….) This is wrong is so many ways, but very clever.

    Here’s a link to the youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wv0UmnWXqQY

  32. nybgrus says:

    Hi BillyJoe! Long time! Hope all is well down under.

    Your comment made me think of this which I thought you would appreciate.

  33. RC says:

    “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?”

    To address this quote, I don’t think evolution has any input on what is right and wrong. Evolution doesn’t care.

    In fact, there are quite a few species that propagate via what would be considered rape. Ducks, for example – the males try to force all females they encounter to mate with them. The females attempt to avoid ALL copulation – mating occurs when a female can’t evade a male.

    So, in my mind, the entire question is a non-sequitor.

  34. tmac57 says:

    jayarava-“PS. Peacocks have “tails” rather than “tales”.

    I disagree.Have you ever had a peacock corner you in a bar with his boring self serving stories?
    Spoiler alert…it’s ALLLL about him!

  35. BillyJoe7 says:


    Howdy (:

    It’s a mixed grill here on several levels. Uppermost is that our first grandchild is due on 3rd July but our daughter-in-law is still in Albania following the long immigration paper trail. My son is there for the birth which we’ve organised through one of the American hospitals over there. We might not get to see him till he’s a few months old.

    “Your comment made me think of this which I thought you would appreciate.”

    Spot on, hey! (:

  36. grabula says:


    “Am I missing something here, because it feels to me these guys are trying (and often succeeding) in selling 2+2=5…”

    I know atleast one human being who definitely buys into this stuff. Maybe not the specifics above but he’s a young earth creationist who denies evolution, the whole gamut.

  37. nybgrus says:


    Congrats on the grandchild. Boo on the immigration stuff. Honestly though, I’ve delivered 4 babies myself (the minimum required to graduate and not one more… ever!) and you’re probably better off letting it dry out for a month beforehand 😉 j/k

    I thought you’d like the comic.

    Glad to hear things are overall well down under. I don’t see myself being back for at least another 6 years or so (whilst I complete my training in the US), but stranger things have happened. However, me and my better half are seriously entertaining the idea of leaving this ridiculous country after that should things go particularly bad (which I am, sadly, not hopeful that they won’t). We like the idea of just traveling around for 5-10 years and working in various countries, but homebase from Australia is certainly a possibility. We both loved it down there (though admittedly she more than I) and we still have good friends there. Funny enough my parents are in full support as they absolutely loved Aus as well. So who knows, we may get to share a schooner at some point.


  38. ljmartin says:

    Tell me the large and pretty tale of a peacock again. Please? 😉

  39. Steve,

    “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.”

    What’s more, we have reasoned our way to that perspective despite instructions found in “The Good Book.”

    Deuteronomy 21:10-14

    10 “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, 12 and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. 13 And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.”

  40. hippiehunter says:

    If the bible is true then a fair punishment for rape is a 50 sheckel fine after which you marry the victim and get to rape her repeatedly whenever you wish.

  41. BillyJoe7 says:


    “Congrats on the grandchild”

    Thanks. He came early…about 5:30pm yesterday, Albania time.
    (Middle of the night here!)

    They called him…wait for it…Leo! (OMG!)
    Oh well, I’ll have to just cast my mind away from our little paranormal friend leo, and back to my dad’s mate Leo (he and my dad died of lung cancer within a year of each other too many years ago).

    We hope to see them here within a couple of months, immigration officialdom permitting.
    In the mean time we’ll have to make do with skype.

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