Pharyngula

Creationists are history denialists

My upcoming visit to Houston to join Aron and others in protesting Texas creationism is smoking all kinds of interesting characters out of the woodwork. Meet Dr. David Shormann (the “Dr.” must be his first name, he sure flings the title about), who has apparently been a person of some influence in shaping the Texas Board of Education policy. He’s also a flaming young earth creationist who has drunk deeply of the Answers in Genesis kool-aid, and is very, very angry at the vicious, intolerant atheists who are coming to his city to argue against his nonsense.

The freethoughts activists are protesting the freedom of Americans to trust God’s word as true in every aspect, including historically true. For some reason, they are particularly concerned about dinosaurs. They are upset with how Christians like myself interpret dinosaur history!And historical interpretation is what they are protesting, not testable, repeatable science.

Note the insistence that we differ only in “interpretation” and that history isn’t science, which is the most common argument you’ll get from acolytes of AiG and Ken Ham. His argument against historical sciences is complete nonsense: of course you can test historical inferences, and while you can’t repeat singular events, if you’re studying processes and principles, you certainly can do experiments and repeat them. For instance, the science of taphonomy is all about making observations and doing experiments to test mechanisms of preservation that allow us to then interpret fossils on the basis of a body of scientific evidence (evidence that creationists pointedly ignore).

But for sheer hilarity, you have to savor a creationist’s attempt to understand what biologists are thinking. Here’s Shormann’s argument for humans and dinosaurs living together:

The fossil record shows many things lived at the same time as extinct dinosaurs, including extant (meaning still alive) starfish and coelacanths. Apparently, the so-called freethoughts activists say we’re lying about the human-dino coexistence thing because we have yet to uncover a fossil of a human riding a dinosaur while holding a coelacanth that ate a starfish. Unless this fossil grouping is found, then atheists will claim the Bible is a book of lies and Christians who believe it are liars. Therefore, since freethoughts activists apparently never lie, and possess a perfect understanding of history, we can trust them over God’s word! And if we don’t buy into their belief that freethoughts activists are the source of historical truth instead of God, they will make laws to suppress our skepticism. Of course, I’m joking here, but are the atheists? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.

His first premise is false: there are no species of Mesozoic starfish or coelacanths still extant. Ancient coelacanths were different animals from the ones now dredged up from the sea around Madagascar!

We don’t regard the absence of a particular fossil grouping for evidence that those particular species existed concurrently. What we do have is an understanding that species exist in an environmental context, and that those environments change over time. There is a basic principle called “faunal succession” that was worked out in the 19th century: it was the discovery that fossils weren’t a hodge-podge, but that a particular stratum was associated with a community or whole eco-system of organisms, and that that community would change its constitution over time in the fossil record.

We’ve worked out the big picture of many species’ evolution — we are relying on positive evidence about the distribution of that species in time, not simply its absence. We know, for instance, that hominins evolved over the last few millions of years; we have the molecular evidence that shows the timing of divergence from other apes, we have the fossil evidence that shows their emergence in East Africa, and we can also see in the fossils that hominins of 3 million years ago were different from hominins of 1 million years ago.

Dinosaurs, on the other hand, are a very diverse group that were found in a broad range of time, over almost 200 million years, and we can find many different ecosystems represented — and the Triassic has different fossil assemblages than the Jurassic than the Cretaceous. Again, not a jumble: there’s a pattern to their distribution. And one thing we know is that there was a major faunal transition at the KT boundary, about 65 million years ago.

So we have two (well, many more than two, actually) coherent groups that don’t overlap — and they don’t overlap by more than 70 million years. It’s not simply that we don’t find dinosaurs and humans coexisting, it’s that we have found patterns and contexts for the two groups, whole vast collections of concordant data, that support the idea of a wide temporal difference between them…data that the creationists deny exists.

As for the Bible, it’s a book of self-serving legends and stories that an ancient people used to identify themselves. I wouldn’t consider it a book of lies if people accepted it for what it is: a collection of myths, poetry, metaphor, and garbled history. It’s when they try to promote it as something more, a detailed and perfectly accurate history of the world, in defiance of all of the evidence, that it becomes a tool for spreading lies.

Freethinkers don’t consider themselves perfect. We are open to the evidence, and we’re willing to use all of the evidence, not just the bits that reinforce our preconceptions. Meanwhile, believers like Shormann hide behind the claim that their knowledge is perfect because it comes from a perfect omniscient being — but I say that that has not been demonstrated. The totality of the evidence, including the ever-shifting and contradictory claims of the faithful, shows that their “knowledge” always seems to be an echo of their biases and ignorance.

Shormann goes on into ever more ridiculous claims — here’s his judgment on biology textbooks.

Also, in the 21st century, high school and college biology textbooks are becoming bloated monsters. Something has to go to make room for teaching 21st Century advances in biology, including epigenetics and bioinformatics. Many chapters have way too many pages devoted to speculative historical claims about origins, dogmatically asserting only one interpretation (evolutionism). A pro-science person would want to reduce or remove the history to make room for 21st Century science. An anti-science person would reject the 21st Century science in favor of page after page about origins. Ask the atheist which they would choose to include in an already oversized biology textbook, new science or history? If they would rather keep the history, then they are anti-science, which contradicts their claims of being pro-science.

Yes, the biology texts are huge…but that’s because we have so much information to share. I am amused, though, that he wants to throw out evolution to make room for bioinformatics. Bioinformatics makes no sense at all without evolution — I can’t even imagine the subject being taught without an understanding of the concept that genes and genomes change over time. In epigenetics, the primary focus is going to be on developmental change, but even there — does he realize that human epigenetics is analyzed in the context of experimental information done in mice and other animals?

That closing babble is pretty damned offensive, too. Everything is the way it is because of how it got that way: you can’t do biology by treating it as static and fixed. Everything in biology is a dynamic process. Denying history is denying science.

Comments

  1. #1 Dodgy Geezer
    July 31, 2013

    Of course, since the dinosaurs evolved into birds, we can say that in a sense, humans and dinosaurs co-exist…. :)

  2. #2 Saphroneth
    July 31, 2013

    “And one thing we know is that there was a major faunal transition at the KT boundary, about 75 million years ago.”

    75 million years ago? Not 65?
    Wow, my Geology degree went out of date fast…

  3. #3 Kevin Sanders
    July 31, 2013

    evolution is a crock dreamed up by some bitter hairy old man with nothing better to do.

    man did not evolve from monkeys or apes. they were created by the same God. evolution is a satanic lie.

  4. #4 makeinu
    August 1, 2013

    Okay, all together now, 3… 2… 1…

    Shut up, Kevin!

    @Dodgy Geezer – I had dinosaur for lunch on Monday :yes:

  5. #5 Ethelred the Almost Ready
    August 1, 2013

    Kevin,

    Before you make silly statements about evolution, learn what it is.

  6. #6 Saphroneth
    August 1, 2013

    Well, that’s an improvement… but you still have “don’t overlap by more than 70 million years”.

  7. #7 Gustav Rennick
    August 1, 2013

    Kevin Sanders

    I am a Christian and am not a scientist but I can read. No where in ‘Origin of Species ‘, or any other writings of Darwin did he say mankind evolved from monkeys or apes. [It was Huxley who argued that point.] That was actually an argument made by ‘fundamentalists’ to discredit Darwin’s, and Wallace’s, ideas.

    And that ‘hairy old man’ was a young man who took the time to explore the world during which he discovered the wonders of the this world God wrought — evolution of species included.

    Why is it so many creationists want to put limits on the wonders of God by denying evolution?

  8. #8 Gustav Rennick
    August 1, 2013

    Sorry, I meant to include that Darwin did most of his studies as a young man but only published when he was older. The delay was, in part, his internal debate between what his religion taught him and what the science and his observations taught him. Darwin was a very religious man before and after publishing his studies/theories.

  9. #9 jrkrideau
    August 1, 2013

    Well, I have had the suspicion that a lot of text books are bloated. There seems to be a lot of not-very-useful diagrams and coloured bars and so on in some of the science textbooks.I’ve flipped through in the last few years.

    I don’t advocate dropping evolution from the curriculum but a bit of the fluff could go–maybe get rid of invertebrates?

    Seriously though, I suspect that too often the publisher is producing eye-candy and could drop off a few dozen pages per book.

  10. #10 doodlebugger
    Austin
    August 2, 2013

    Go get ‘em PZ. But remember, you’re dealing with liars and denialists with zero morality. and the intelect of a sack of hammers.
    But there are enough humans with a sense of logic, that every time you challenge creationism, they lose a few acolytes. They’re sinking by the polls.

  11. #11 doodlebugger
    Austin
    August 2, 2013

    intellect

  12. #12 Walton
    August 2, 2013

    Of course, since the dinosaurs evolved into birds, we can say that in a sense, humans and dinosaurs co-exist…. :)

    Indeed! I love contemplating the fact that the plump specimen of Columba palumbus who lives in my garden is, in fact, a theropod dinosaur.

  13. #13 Walton
    August 2, 2013

    (Aurornis xui is one of my favourite transitional fossils.)

  14. #14 Russell
    http://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com
    August 3, 2013

    Ah, but don’t you know of the Separate Creation of Richard Nixon?

    The good and great Ben Stein invokes his former employer’s supra-human powers in his latest Americn Spectator column, which puts an whole new spin on Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto ,with an obit on Peter Flanagan announcing :

    “He and I were joined by our love of Nixon, but even more so by our love for human life. “

  15. #15 Walton
    August 3, 2013

    evolution is a crock dreamed up by some bitter hairy old man with nothing better to do.

    man did not evolve from monkeys or apes. they were created by the same God. evolution is a satanic lie.

    Satan must have gone to a lot of trouble, then. I mean, on your “theory”, Satan must have carefully designed the DNA sequences of every organism to fool molecular phylogeneticists. Not to mention sneakily planting all those transitional fossils, presumably just to trick us. (From Thrinaxodon, the early Triassic cynodont who illustrates how modern mammals evolved from therapsids; to the well-known Archaeopteryx, who illustrates the evolution of modern avians from theropod dinosaurs; to Pezosiren, the “sea cow with legs”, who illustrates the evolution of modern sirenians from their land-dwelling mammalian ancestors). And somehow masterminding all those observed examples of evolution in action, like the time that E.coli bacteria in the lab evolved the ability to metabolise citrates. Then there’s the recent research on three-spine sticklebacks, which provides new and detailed evidence of how different populations of sticklebacks have adapted over time to their different habitats. But I guess that’s a “satanic lie” too.

    As for human evolution, I suppose Satan must also be responsible for the fact that chimpanzees and humans share the vast majority of our genome. And he must have planted for all the Australopithecus and Homo fossils illustrating the changes over time in early hominid populations.

    So your position commits you to the belief that Satan planted a large amount of false evidence in order to trick us, and that the entirety of modern biology is a “satanic lie”. Isn’t it a bit simpler to just accept that Satan is a myth, and that descent with heritable modification is real?

  16. #16 Green Eagle
    August 4, 2013

    ” and that that community would change its constitution over time in the fossil record.”

    See- you only are interested in “living constitution” animals, and have no respect for the original intent of…

    Oh, wait a minute. Wrong wingnut lunacy. Sorry.

  17. #17 CherryBombSim
    August 4, 2013

    “Wow, my Geology degree went out of date fast…”

    Yours and mine both, Saphroneth. It is now the K-Pg boundary, and closer to 66 million years ago than 65. meh.

  18. #18 McDoz
    Nantes, France
    August 4, 2013

    And here was me thinking that Kevin’s post was so totally way-out ridiculous, that it just had to be irony.

  19. #19 kidney function
    http://www.nexopia.com/users/cost6sushi/blog/1-the-key-for-the-kidney-explained-in-seven-basic-steps
    August 5, 2013

    I

  20. #20 Ed T
    August 5, 2013

    So, if the non-creationists are “freethoughts” can we start calling them “slavethoughts”?

  21. #21 Shannon
    August 5, 2013

    @ Comment #9:

    Why should we get rid of a section on invertebrates? For all we know, a person’s final push to specialize in entomology could be inspired by some interesting facts about bugs (haplodiploidy in Hymenoptera, for example). Surely a more sensible solution would be to get rid of unhelpful charts, utilize paper space better, and not have unhelpful standard questions built in?

  22. #22 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    August 5, 2013

    75 million years ago? Not 65?
    Wow, my Geology degree went out of date fast…

    Nope, comment 17 was right: 75 was a typo for 65, which is imprecise for 66.0.

    No where in ‘Origin of Species ‘, or any other writings of Darwin did he say mankind evolved from monkeys or apes. [It was Huxley who argued that point.] That was actually an argument made by ‘fundamentalists’ to discredit Darwin’s, and Wallace’s, ideas.

    Uh… just… no. We have evolved from apes, we are apes; the chimps + bonobos are more closely related to us than they are to the gorillas. Similarly, unless we just retire the term “monkey”, we are monkeys: the Old World monkeys are more closely related to us than to the New World monkeys.

    I don’t advocate dropping evolution from the curriculum but a bit of the fluff could go–maybe get rid of invertebrates?

    Quite the opposite.

    From Thrinaxodon, the early Triassic cynodont who illustrates how modern mammals evolved from therapsids; to the well-known Archaeopteryx, who illustrates the evolution of modern avians from theropod dinosaurs

    Both of these are parts of long series, whole trees of intermediate forms!