How Creationists Do History

John Lynch has an important essay in the current issue of the Newsletter of the History of Science Society. I’m sure we are all familiar with creationist abuses of science and philosophy (not to mention their abuses of common decency and basic integrity), but their comparable abuses of history often fly under the radar. Mind you, the problem is not simply that creationists routinely get their facts wrong. It is that their whole approach to the subject is rather blinkered:

In short, anti-evolutionist historical scholarship accurately mirrors creationist scientific work in being directed at the true believers rather than the academic community. The temptation may thus be for professional historians to ignore their claims – a temptation that I feel must be rejected. As historians, we have a social duty to correct error and over-simplification where it is foisted on the public by politically and religiously motivated individuals, and this responsibility goes beyond what sociologist and ID sympathizer Steve Fuller has dismissively seen as “catching the errors” of the creationists. There is something far more fundamental at stake. At a time where historians have eschewed Whig or “Great Man” histories, anti-evolutionists are presenting their “Not-So-Great Man” view of Darwin. They misrepresent the very nature of historical enquiry; they manipulate history until it risks becoming a mere shadow of the rich and intricate tapestry that it is.

The immediate context for this is the several recent attempts by ID folks to draw simplistic, straight-line paths between Darwin’s ideas and the actions of the Nazis.

It really is impressive how creationiss manage to get everything wrong. I recommend reading the whole essay.

Comments

  1. #1 NewEnglandBob
    November 10, 2009

    “It really is impressive how creationism manage to get everything wrong.”

    This is because when they have no case, then lies, obfuscation, malicious intent, deceit and arrogance are their tools of choice.

  2. #2 Pierce R. Butler
    November 10, 2009

    To expand on a comment left at Lynch’s site: the distortions of history employed by creationists are (like creationism itself) a relatively trivial subset of the lies spread quite liberally by the hyperchristian movement as a whole.

    Historians have generally neglected to counter the ever-growing myth of “Christian America“, just as the medical profession has said too little about the blatant lies of the anti-abortion/abstinence only movement.

    It’s like criticizing GW Bush for sending troops to fight without sufficient body armor, while swallowing the rest of his crimes and failures without a blink.

  3. #3 Explicit Atheist
    November 10, 2009

    Religiously motivated tampering with history appears to be more widespread than is commonly known. As an example, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies website claims that George Washington’s inaugural featured a bible opened to Genesis 49:13. The Library of Congress website, attributing its information to the “the Office of the Curator from contemporary accounts and other sources in the files of the Architect of the Capitol”, makes the same assertion that the inaugural bible was opened to Genesis 49:13, citing “Bowen, Clarence W. The History of the Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington, N.Y. 1892, p. 72″. Well, that isn’t exactly a contemporary account, its over 100 years later. None of the contemporaneous accounts assert that the bible was open, let alone that it was opened to any particular page, either while it was on the cushion on the table or while it was lifted for George Washington to kiss. The inaugural bible being opened to Genesis 49:13 isn’t U.S. inaugural history and it is irresponsible for our government institutions to be asserting otherwise.

  4. #4 Tex
    November 10, 2009

    … but their comparable abuses of history often fly under the radar.

    Many creationists think the whole world is only 6ooo years old, and they have been saying so at the top of their voices for years. How the hell is this distortion/compression/monumentally fucking up of ALL history ‘flying under the radar’? It is not even ‘lying’ under the radar.

  5. #5 Tex
    November 10, 2009

    The immediate context for this is the several recent attempts by ID folks to draw simplistic, straight-line paths between Darwin’s ideas and the actions of the Nazis.

    Even if a straight line could be drawn between Darwin and Hitler, it would not invalidate his ideas. (Darwin’s, I mean. Hitler’s ideas can be invalidated on their own ‘merits’.)

    There is a very straight line from Einstein’s theories to the deaths of over 100,000 people already and the potential anhilation of the entire human race, but no one uses this connection to argue against relativity.

  6. #6 Tyler DiPietro
    November 10, 2009

    If you ask creationists you’d get the impression that the very idea that the strong tend to prosper originated with Darwin. David Klinghoffer has used that superficial interpretation to claim that Darwin was responsible for everything from Nazism to robber-baron capitalism to revolutionary Communism. And although he’s only the most blatant in his dishonesty, if you look at most attempts to link Darwin to history’s evils, you’ll find that there isn’t much more to them than that.

  7. #7 SLC
    November 11, 2009

    Re Tex

    As Mr. Tex points out, it matters not a fig if everything said about Darwin was correct and accurate (of course, it is nothing but a tissue of lies). From a scientific point of view, Darwin was either right or wrong and his political views are irrelevant. One could point out that Johannes Stark was a member of the Nazi Party in Germany and a leading proponent of “Aryan Science” which denied Einsteins’ theory of relativity because of the latters’ ethnic origins. That in no way, shape, form, or regard means that the Stark effect is a fraud or that Prof. Starks’ Nobel Prize was fraudulent. Of course, the ID clowns, knowing that their scientific foundation is fraudulent, have turned to character assassination to promote their position. It’s the old story, when arguments fail, call names.

  8. #8 Max
    November 12, 2009

    You know, even if there *was* a direct path from Darwin to Nazis– if Hitler himself said “I got the whole idea for everything from reading “Origin”– what does that have to do with whether evolution is true or not? Something is either true (happened) or not; whether a bad person believes in it or not is irrlevant. I’m pretty sure Hitler believed in germs and gravity too. Does that invalidate germ and gravity theory too?

  9. #9 Owlmirror
    November 12, 2009

    I’m pretty sure Hitler believed in germs and gravity too. Does that invalidate germ and gravity theory too?

    Actually, it’s been argued that Hitler and other Nazis were in fact influenced by germ theory in coming up the Final Solution.

  10. #10 Tahseen
    November 16, 2009

    There has come up a new book entitled “Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Amazing New Insights from Qur’an…” It quotes extensively from Qur’an to prove in an extremely amazing and convincing idiom that biological evolution isn’t at all at variance with the true teachings of the Qur’an. The book is also available online at HarperCollins’ website Authonomy: http://www.authonomy.com/ViewBook.aspx?bookid=11309

  11. #11 Barry Johnstone.
    November 18, 2009

    Surely “Creation Science” has to be one of the ultimate contradiction in terms!

  12. #12 charles clarke
    November 24, 2009

    As so many have said before me Darwinism until shown how the method by which it does occur. Is as much dogma as Extraterrestrial, or God. Intelligent Design can’t be questioned. I find little difference between a professor and a preacher in this field.

    In another 150 years it’s my belief that the same arguments will occur.

    I have no idea how the big bang created intelligent design, but it occurred by some method.

  13. #13 j rep
    November 27, 2009

    While taking every opportunity to call names, there has not actually been any refutation of the Nazi-Darwin connection in this commentary. Darwin’s theory of natural selection, makes it excusable to produce a “favored race” in the name of evolutionary progress and the advance of science. While this is offensive to moral sensibilities, morality has no basis without an intelligent designer.

  14. #14 tresmal
    November 27, 2009

    j rep said:

    While taking every opportunity to call names, there has not actually been any refutation of the Nazi-Darwin connection in this commentary.

    Here’s your refutation.

    Darwin’s theory of natural selection, makes it excusable to produce a “favored race” in the name of evolutionary progress and the advance of science.

    No. Scientific theories have no moral implications, good or bad, they are descriptions of how nature works. See Appeal to Nature.

    While this is offensive to moral sensibilities, morality has no basis without an intelligent designer.

    “Intelligent Designer?” You mean God. Anyway you’re wrong. Answer this question. Is murder wrong because God says it’s wrong, or did God say it’s wrong because it is wrong? Think before you answer.
    You people desperately need new material.

  15. #15 j rep
    December 1, 2009

    I definitely am trying to think! Help me out a little.

    Do you believe there is any basis for morality?

    If so, what is that basis?

    Why do you believe murder is wrong?

  16. #16 tresmal
    December 2, 2009

    Morality comes from the interplay of are ability to think, our evolutionary past and our culture.

    For the last million years or so the most important fact of life for a hominin was other hominins. We have no fangs or claws. We’re not particularly strong or fast. We have no armor. We’ve succeeded not just because of our brains, but because of our ability to coordinate our brains; to work with other people. We are a social species. We need each other. Being able to function well in a social species has a huge evolutionary advantage. We have evolved the ability to imagine other people’s thoughts and feelings. This is called empathy. It helps us persuade people to take a course of action we consider desirable, to anticipate their actions, to form bonds, to imagine how they will react to our actions etc.. It also allows us to imagine the pain they feel when we do something to harm them and the pleasure they feel when we do something to help. As a result a basic moral system of not harming each other and reciprocity comes naturally to us. An individual who deviates too far from this is shunned by people. This is a terrible punishment in a modern society, in earlier societies it was a death sentence. Thus we have evolved a basic moral sense.

    In addition, we can consciously think about morality. That is we can come up with abstractions like right and wrong and good and evil. We can consciously propose moral systems that will make (we hope) for better societies. We can imagine alternate possibilities that are better than what exists and would make a society a better place to live.

    Lastly each culture is shaped by its circumstances. Its resources, its climate, its state of development, its history etc.. These cause each culture to evolve its own moral system. (Though the vast majority have something like The Golden Rule as their basis.) No Gods needed.

  17. #17 j rep
    December 3, 2009

    So, we do not do wrong to others because we have developed the ability to understand that it will hurt them. We do not want to hurt them because the society that we depend on will shun us?
    What about when it is not in our best interest to feel empathetic? Nearly everyone will choose to do what is best for them. Should we all be shunned?
    Furthermore, this system still allows for Hitlers and Germans. After all, the Germans were not a world collection of sociopaths.
    This has happened repeatedly all over the world – Chairman Mao and Stalin included. They are examples of atheism and social Darwinism in its prime. What happens when sociopaths are not shunned, but rule their environment and they have no moral compass?
    Furthermore, if evolutionary empathy guides us so effectively, why is there any need for enforcement, such as police, military, prison, etc.
    Let’s bring it closer to home – speeding is placing your needs above everyone else’s. Speed limits are assigned for the best interests and protection of all. Do you ever speed? Of course, we all do.
    Our prisons are overcrowded, genocide is rampant in the world, and they say that there is more people in slavery today than there ever has been.
    Evolution cannot account for the empathy-less majority of humans, and claiming it is still developmental stages would be conveniently dismissive.

  18. #18 tresmal
    December 4, 2009

    j rep:

    So, we do not do wrong to others because we have developed the ability to understand that it will hurt them. We do not want to hurt them because the society that we depend on will shun us?

    That’s a start.

    What about when it is not in our best interest to feel empathetic? Nearly everyone will choose to do what is best for them. Should we all be shunned?

    Here is where culture comes in. We do have our selfish interests.We want power and material success and, males at least, want to mate with every female who will sit still long enough to do the deed. We also want and need social approval and personal bonds with other people. People despise people who pursue their self interests with no regard for others.In hunter-gatherer societies (which means most of our evolutionary past) these are matters of life and death so we have evolved a moral sense and empathy and a capacity for guilt to temper our more selfish impulses. It’s in our self interest to be moral.
    Our culturally taught moral systems build on that and provide a way to balance self interest and greater good and provide morally acceptable ways to pursue our self interests. In our system,for example, it’s perfectly acceptable to pursue profit as long as you give your customers fair value for their money.
    It simply isn’t true that nearly everyone will choose to do what’s best for them. Most people, most of the time, will pursue their self interests in culturally accepted ways and limits.

    Furthermore, this system still allows for Hitlers and Germans. After all, the Germans were not a world collection of sociopaths.

    1. Godwin. You lose points and credibility whenever you play the Hitler card. Trust me you do NOT want to go there. 2.Hitler was not an atheist. His appeals were largely nationalistic and christian in nature and were addressed to a devoutly christian population. See the link I provided in an earlier comment for more. 3. I’m not entirely clear on what you mean by “allows for”. If you mean Hitlers will happen, well, Hitler did happen so God apparently allows for Hitlers to happen also. If you mean without God what Hitler did was OK you are completely wrong. Atheists loathe Hitler and Nazism just as much as christians do. If you mean under secular morality people will do terrible things, people have done and still do terrible things where religion is the basis for morality. Morality is about what people ought to do not what they in fact do. You have no evidence and no reason to believe that people will behave worse under secular moral systems than they have under religious ones. FWIW the most secular parts of Europe have more moral populations (judging by crime rates and other metrics) than “Christian Nation” America.

    This has happened repeatedly all over the world – Chairman Mao and Stalin included. They are examples of atheism and social Darwinism in its prime.

    NO, THEY ARE NOT! There is so much wrong here that it’s hard to get a handle on it. Mao and Stalin didn’t murder anybody in the name of “Atheism”. They murdered people in the name of their particular “religions”. The Maoist and Stalinist sects of Marxism to be exact. If you’re going to count every crime committed by an atheist ruler as a strike against atheism then you’re also going to have to count every crime committed by a christian ruler as a strike against christianity. Deal? And Social Darwinism? Please. Here’s a tip: don’t use a term if you don’t know what it means. 1. Social Darwinism is a capitalist idea. It was conjured up to justify the ruthless and cutthroat methods of 19th and early 20th century industrialists. It was meant to make it seem more “scientific”. Whatever else can be said about Stalin and Mao, they were NOT Social Darwinists. They were anti-Social Darwinists, at least in theory. 2. Social Darwinism is pseudoscience and has nothing to do with either the Theory of Evolution or atheism.

    What happens when sociopaths are not shunned, but rule their environment and they have no moral compass?

    You get places like Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. That’s why we TRY to prevent sociopaths from taking over. This is easier in small hunter-gatherer groups than it is in larger more impersonal societies.

    Furthermore, if evolutionary empathy guides us so effectively, why is there any need for enforcement, such as police, military, prison, etc.

    Let me rephrase that for you and maybe you’ll understand why that was a lousy argument: Furthermore, if religion guides us so effectively, why is there any need for enforcement, such as police, military, prison, etc. See the problem? Remember America which is much more religious than Europe nonetheless has a much greater need for these things.

    Let’s bring it closer to home – speeding is placing your needs above everyone else’s. Speed limits are assigned for the best interests and protection of all. Do you ever speed? Of course, we all do.

    What are you trying to argue here? That a secular based morality doesn’t produce a society of angels? You’re right. But then I never claimed otherwise. Remember this is about whether or not there is a basis for morality without God. I’m arguing that there is. I’m not arguing that it works better or that it’s perfect. I’m just arguing that we can and do have sense of right and wrong without God.

    Our prisons are overcrowded, genocide is rampant in the world, and they say that there is more people in slavery today than there ever has been

    Actually, America’s prisons are overcrowded. The only genocidal campaign (1 is plenty bad enough) is in Dharfur. I don’t have the numbers but I would be surprised if the percentage of humanity in slavery wasn’t lower than ever. The fact that people sometimes act in terrible ways is not evidence against the idea that there is a natural moral sense.

    Evolution cannot account for the empathy-less majority of humans, and claiming it is still developmental stages would be conveniently dismissive.

    The vast majority of human beings go through their whole lives without murdering,seriously injuring, raping, robbing or enslaving another human being. They also live in systems of reciprocal help and kindness. That’s natural. Yes they sometimes do things they shouldn’t. That’s also natural. People have conflicting impulses and sometimes their darker impulses get the better of their moral sense. That doesn’t mean that this moral sense doesn’t exist, it just means evolution hasn’t produced a race of angels.
    On the subject of empathy. Ever see a sad little puppy and want to comfort it? That’s empathy and it’s natural. Ever choke up watching a movie about the Poor Little Orphan Girl Who Can’t Find Love? That’s empathy and it’s natural.
    Guilt is also natural. We feel guilty when we do things that, if discovered, would weaken the social bonds we have or would earn social disapproval or harms someone in a way that we can empathize with. That’s natural. We evolved that capacity to temper-not eliminate-our selfish impulses.
    Do you seriously believe that a majority of humanity doesn’t feel those things?

  19. #19 Addicting
    November 2, 2011

    There is a very straight line from Einstein’s theories to the deaths of over 100,000 people already and the potential anhilation of the entire human race, but no one uses this connection to argue against relativity thanks…