Adam Laats is an assistant professor of education and history at SUNY Binghamton, and he is the author of Fundamentalism and Education in the Scopes Era: God, Darwin, and the Roots of America’s Culture Wars. Over at his blog, he has posted a review of Among the Creationists. So, what did he think?
Rosenhouse’s book is required reading for any outsider who hopes to understand the world of American creationism in the twenty-first century. Rosenhouse deliberately eschews the simple, satisfying approach of most outsiders. He does not belittle or deride these ideas or their adherents, though he does forcefully argue against them.
Score! Anything else?
So stop reading this tripe and go get yourself a copy of Rosenhouse’s book. For those of you who are creationists or recovering creationists, the volume will give you a sense of how the movement appears to a socially pleasant but intellectually hostile outsider. To us outsiders—liberals, scientists, and others who have only tangential knowledge about American creationism—this book is an absolute must read. It joins other indispensable books in this field, such as Ron Numbers’ The Creationists, George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture, and Edward Larson’s Summer for the Gods as starting places to understand this durable culture war battlefield.
The comments thread makes for some interesting reading as well. A creationist troll calling himself ChazIng showed up to spew some venom in my general direction. Normally I would ignore such a thing, but in this case his criticisms are so amusingly demented that I thought it might be worth providing a few counterpoints.
He seems to have based his opinion of the book on a few pages he found at Google Preview. That leads him to say things like this:
Ch 2 contains the term “superficial sophistication” without explanation of the specifics and he seems to conflate ID with YEC and then YEC with fundamentalism.
Actually, Chapter 15, which bears the subtle title “Intelligent Design vs. Young-Earth Creationism,” is all about the distinctions between the two. Even taking Chapter 2 in isolation, however, shows that ChazIng is making stuff up. I describe ID as a softer form of creationism, which it is. Later I imply, but do not explicitly state, that YEC is one part of “the strongest forms of fundamentalist beliefs,” which, again, it is. There are no false conflations to be found here.
Here’s something else that made me smile:
Ch 5 shows Rosenhouse relishing in gross theological ignorance. He makes no attempt to obtain more first-hand information about the views he disparages or to engage the wealth of scholarly theological books and articles which he can easily source from his library.
Chapter 5 addresses a few general problems I have with religion. It is from the book’s introductory section, in which I was merely setting the stage for the rest of the book. Just so that there could be no reasonable misunderstanding of what I was doing, the chapter includes the following paragraph:
Let me stress at the outset that it is not my intention here to develop a comprehensive philosophical argument for the views I profess. Some of the issues I raise shall be dealt with more carefully elsewhere in the book, but this chapter’s main purposes are simply to tell you what I believe and to give some indication of why I believe it.
Since Chapters 14, 18, 24, 26 and 27 are all specifically about the scholarly theological and philosophical literature on science and religion, I’d say ChazIng’s criticism falls a bit flat. My book of barely 200 pages has more than 300 items in its bibliography. A quick perusal of my references will show that I discuss every major theologian and philosopher of religion that has discussed the evolution issue, and quite a few minor ones as well.
But ChazIng is especially incensed by my lack of respect for Werner Gitt, a prominent YEC who has made some very dubious claims about the concept of information. ChazIng writes:
Rosenhouse’s chapter on Gitt is a rehash from a 2005 post here (is that legal?): [ http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/07/report_on_the_2_4.html]. He claims that Gitt stated that (1.) “mutations ALWAYS degrade information” and (2.) he would be refuted if someone were to “produce a single natural mechanism that could increase the information content of the genome” and (3.) that a main creationist argument was the same as point (1.).
First, point 3 is incorrect unless he is talking about pop-creationism [ http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab2/mutations-engine-of-evolution]. Second, Gitt (2000) states: “This idea is central in representations of evolution, but mutations can only cause changes in existing information. There can be no increase in information, and IN GENERAL the results are injurious.” He said this in the year 2000, some 5 years BEFORE meeting Rosenhouse. Third, I have sent an email to creation.com for a response from Gitt. I hope he responds.
Now, even if a duplicated gene mutates, that shows a statistical increase in information (as Gitt himself has stated). However, does the mutation (or accumulations thereof) add novel function? If Rosenhouse has examples of this, that would be great. He states that there are “several well-known mechanisms which can lead to an increase in information content” but only lists one: “duplication and divergence.” His argument that if A mutates to B and then mutates back to A “must represent a gain of information” is a macro-evolutionary non-sequitur as A was originally coded and there is no new functionality despite informational `increase.’ This is just too silly coming from an academic and confirms (for me at least) that one should not trust a mathematician on practical science.
Gitt, W. 2000. In the Beginning was Information. CLV: Bielefeld, Germany: 127. [http://www.clv-server.de/pdf/255255.pdf]
ChazIng later went on to say:
I am confused by your answer. First off, this is about Gitt, not larger creationist claims. Second, it is unbelievable (to me) that Gitt would make the statements Rosenhouse asserts he did. Third, there is no groundbreaking notion proposed by Gitt. What gaping hole in mainstream genetics are you referring to exactly?
That’s all completely unhinged. Shall we begin?
First, yes, it’s legal to use material in a book that you previously posted at a blog (for heaven’s sake). As it happens though, if you compare Chapter 12 of the book to my earlier blog post, I think you will find that the book contains far more detail than I included in the post. My presentation of the basic facts of what happened is the same in both, for what I trust are obvious reasons. But my discussion of the scientific issues is more comprehensive in the book. Does anyone else think I behaved improperly?
Next, Gitt claimed in his talk to have discovered ten new laws of nature about information, and then used these laws to suggest that he had proved the existence of God and the soul, among other things. So, yes, I’d call that a groundbreaking notion. It’s also a ludicrous notion, which is why no one outside the creationist subculture has paid any attention to it.
Moving on, I accurately described what Gitt said during the talk and during the Q and A. He was completely unambiguous. Moreover, that little quote from Gitt is only trivially different from what I reported. (It is also completely false. Mutations are not generally injurious. They are generally neutral, meaning they have no discernible effect on the organism’s fitness.) The statement that mutations cannot increase the information content of the genome is precisely what we were arguing about. Nothing in my argument hinged on the difference between “always degrade information,” and “are generally injurious.”
The one example I gave of a genetic mechanism that can increase the information content of the genome, duplication with subsequent divergence, is both easy to understand and probably the most important such mechanism in evolution. And it is more than enough to refute Gitt’s claims, which is what I was discussing in the book. If you’re curious for more, here’s a helpful primer.
His incomprehensible discussion of my simple point about mutations reversing themselves, that if the mutation from A to B represents a loss of information then the mutation from B back to A would have to represent a gain, had nothing to do with macroevolution. The point was that as a matter of logic it is impossible for all mutations to degrade information.
Finally, ChazIng is right that I didn’t provide any examples of mutations accumulating to provide novel functionalities. That is because such examples would have been entirely irrelevant to the subject of that chapter, which had to do with information growth. But if you would care to have a look at Chapter 21, I think you will find that I provide scholarly references to several such examples.
Believe it or not, ChazIng makes a variety of other claims, all of them silly. Go have a look for yourself. He’s plainly just an idiot trolling for attention. So let me end by calling attention to a far more sensible comment, from an anonymous commenter to the same thread:
Former Creationist here… I was a homeschooled kid who was so into apologetics that I donated money for the building of the Creation Museum. I knew a few Christians who believed in evolution, but they were pretty quiet about it. I did not run into ANY “out” atheists until I was over 20, but I wish I had met some sooner. It would have done me good. I was so, so curious about why people would believe crazy things like evolution, and thought that believing in evolution naturally should lead to despair and nihilism, so it took some major crises in my life before I actually decided what the heck, I’m going to face these questions head-on.
It sucked to realize just how much I’d been lied to in all that Creationist literature over the years, but I’m really glad I did do the research. However, it took a LOT of pain to force me to do that. There is a great deal of fear driving Creationist beliefs, so if you are polite and casual in conversation with believers, while not letting them get away with fallacies, you can over time deconstruct some of the angst blocking the facts from being heard. Really, for eager young teens like myself, presenting oneself as an actual atheist (or theistic evolutionist) and simply being available for questions would go a long, long way. Nothing more needed.