Prothero on Among the Creationists

Over at Amazon, paleontologist Donald Prothero has posted a review of Among the Creationists. (The review will eventually appear in Skeptic Magazine as well.) Prothero is a familiar name to people with an interest in this issue, since he is the author of the magnificient 2007 book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, among many other books. So what did he think?

Rosenhouse's approach in this book is to recount vignettes and anecdotes of his experiences at various creationist conferences and venues, intermingled with his dispassionate and extremely lucid dissection of the logical, philosophical, and scientific issues raised by creationism. He went, among other places, to the Creation Mega-Conference at Liberty University, the Darwin vs. Design Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. He's a mathematician by training, so he is personally offended when he hears creationists abuse math or statistics, just as I am when they lie about paleontology and fossils. In his words, “I am not saying that creationists had interesting points to make, but had misunderstood some difficult, technical detail. I am talking instead about errors indicative of a total incomprehension of the subject.” For a mathematician, his level of philosophical sophistication is very advanced. In chapter after chapter, he runs circles around many of the specious arguments of creationists and theistic evolutionists, who try to squirm out of the problem with weak arguments or special pleading. It comes as no surprise that he is also a ranked chess champion as well--he sounds like someone who is brilliant, cool, analytical, and dispassionate. Through all of his sacrifices spending time listening to the creationists, he is still honestly seeking answers to who these people are and what motivates them.

Oh, pshaw! Modesty forces me to admit that “chess champion” is stretching things. (Though I did once represent the state of New Jersey in a high school match against New York. New York won the match pretty decisively, but the really important thing is that I won my individual game!) In chess, though, I'm just a decent amateur player.

Everything else in that paragraph? Spot on!

And Prothero's conclusion?

Among the Creationists is a very insightful book that allows the skeptic and scientist alike to better appreciate the forces that we are up against in the United States. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the creation-evolution wars as a valuable resource for dealing with the never-ending battle with the forces that deny science.


More like this

Can you make some book recommendations for this creationist who doesn't want to deny science? Thanks for your sacrifice.

To be a creationist, the first thing you have to do is deny science.

By Dan Chamney (not verified) on 05 Jul 2013 #permalink

@1 Karen: JR already made a recommendation - Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters is simply excellent. It's an easy read too; despite English being my second language I didn't have any problem understanding him.
But yeah, what DC writes - after reading it you either have to give up creationism or have to deny science.
You don't necessarily have to give up religion though.

You'll have to give up literal interpretations; most European christians have done that many decades ago.
Some atheists will tell you that science and religion are incompatible. Despite being an atheist, hardcore materialist and skeptic myself I'm far from convinced of this, exactly because I try to be especially skeptical about my own views. Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller are examples of religious evolutionary biologists. The common argument that they suffer from cognitive dissonance is too easy for me.

Sorry Karen, but Dan is right; creationism cannot be reconciled with science. If you want to hold to your religious beliefs and accept science you will have to move to a position something like that found in Finding Darwin's God. The book is by Kenneth Miller a staunch "evolutionist" and practicing Catholic.

Karen, we can compromise. A creationist should at least deny the very best science. It is shameful to see a Creationist arguing against some outdated, thoroughly disproven notion and pretending that they have toppled the entire scientific enterprise.
An example: maybe you've heard the argument about how improbable it would be for a protein of 100 amino acids to assemble randomly. Well, so what? What science thinks proteins assemble randomly? Rather, they are put together by ribosomes, which are enzymes built primarily from RNA. Which leads directly into the RNA World theory. If a creationist is arguing about the origins of life but can't say anything about the RNA World theory, then they are irrelevant and misguided.
In order to deny the very best science, first you're going to have to learn the very best science. I will warn you in advance that not many people are capable of learning the very best science and still retaining a belief in creationism.

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 05 Jul 2013 #permalink

About book reviews: I checked out some of the reviews on for the latest Stephen Meyer book. I noticed one by David Snoke (of Behe and Snoke). It was rather sad, since in the review Snoke made it apparent that he is operating well outside his own area of expertise and got some things horribly wrong. I haven't read the book yet, so I don't know whether he misunderstood Meyer's book, or whether the wrongness came from Meyer himself. Neither option speaks well for the book.

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 05 Jul 2013 #permalink

To Karen,

You might want to try 'The Great Partnership. Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning' by (Rabbi) Jonathan Sacks. Though I have no doubt that Jason would disagree (Sorry, Jason. Don't want to hijack your wonderful blog) (Jason's book is great, too!)

Jason, are you at the World Open right now? If so, good luck. I couldn't make it this year.


Hi Doug!

I also could not play in the World Open this year, but I did visit the tournament yesterday to check it out. Played in the daily blitz tournament, bought a few books, watched a few GM games. Fun!

Thanks for the recommendations. If I might make one as well…? I don't think you should include snark or heads ups about what will inevitably HAVE to be believed/rejected in your next sell. That approach didn't work out so well for us.


Another very good book is The Bible, Rocks and Time by Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley, two Christian geologists. It's a thorough account of the evidence for an ancient Earth, and also discusses a number of Christian perspectives.

By David Evans (not verified) on 08 Jul 2013 #permalink

I have the Young and Stearley, it's good but a bit too kind to creationists, they pull their punches rather a lot, you have to read carefully to spot the good bit. In general though the best defenses of an old earth were written by Christian geologist who were often ant-evolution but cared about truth in geology. check out Dan Wonderly's books available for FREE down load at The IBRI is the Bible research institute, I was no kidding when I said these guys are Christians

By Ted Lawry (not verified) on 08 Jul 2013 #permalink

@9: You're welcome. Concerning your recommendation - does the approach of telling you that you can be an armed pacifist in the end work better for you?

We are the Internet. We live for snark.

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 08 Jul 2013 #permalink

Neil Shubin's "Your Inner Fish" is excellent science; the beginning chapter discusses some evolution vs. creationism material but for the most part the book focuses on science, and how useful evolution has been to understanding numerous things about the world.

If you want something more philosophical (and more dense, and longer), I'd recommend Robert Pennock's "Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics." It collects essays from leading creationists and ID proponents together with responses to those essays by mainstream scientists, plus Pennock's own introductions to each set of essays.

And hey, look at that, Amazon tells me they are often bought together. I don't know whether to be proud or horrified that Amazon's analytic engine mirrors my own recommendations...

@#12: Not really. My point is, what I take away from what I learn is my own to decide. It's silly and slightly offensive to think that any person reading the same material can predict where I will end up. Like I wrote, if that approach worked, the lot of you would probably be batting for our team.

@#13: Those who live for snark don't represent the whole of the Internet but I get what you're saying.

@15: and the point of the remarks you think slightly offensive is that a scientific creationist belongs to the same category as an armed pacifist.

@16: If you insist. I perceived the idea that as a creationist, I must be such a simpleton [or fill-in-blank] that it's perfectly reasonable to be able to predict that I will renounce my perspective after reading the material, to be offensive. It's silly to provide these recommendations if the assumption is that I'm (and those of my ilk are) too much of a simpleton to understand what will be discussed.

But yes, I can see how equating something as nonsensical as an armed pacifist to a scientific creationist would be offensive. I don't agree that they belong in the same category.

By Karen (not verified) on 09 Jul 2013 #permalink

In reply to by MNb (not verified)

"I perceived the idea that as a creationist, I must be such a simpleton"
Oh no. That would be a grave underestimation. Btw I respect simpletons - one of the most important characters in a favourite opera of mine, Boris Godunov, is a simpleton.

"I don’t agree that they belong in the same category."
The scientific method excludes a priori supernatural explanations. There is a very simple reason for this: introducing an immaterial entity like a creator leads to statements that can't be empirically tested and often can't be described in a meaningful way.
"X created the Universe" begs the question: how did X do it and how can we observe how X did it? The scientific method cannot answer these questions. Hence creationists by definition reject the scientific method.

I don't think it's accurate to say that anyone who supports a theory which cannot (at this time or ever) be proven using the scientific method must reject the scientific method everywhere forever.

An armed pacifist is unable to make use of their weapon to solve conflicts. Being a creationist doesn't automatically exempt me from being able to use science as a tool to resolve conflicts, something with which many, for example, vaccinated creationists can agree. This is why I don't agree that they belong in the same category.

Furthermore, "God created the universe," doesn't always beg the question because the point of being a believer is to have faith: "because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29) On a more personal level, I'm simply not interested enough to try and work through, scientifically, how it must have occurred as it was written down. God didn't inspire that need within me. He did in other people so figuring that out is their journey, but I'm not haunted by the question of, "how?"

I do think evolution is interesting enough to read about, which is why I asked for book recommendations. My father, also a creationist, loves to talk about natural selection and how God used it in humans and how evolution relates to that, even if he doesn't agree with Darwin about how humans originated. I'd like to be able to have informed discussions with him so I'm grateful for recommendations coming from those who are very invested in this subject.

By Karen (not verified) on 10 Jul 2013 #permalink

In reply to by MNb (not verified)

"I don’t think it’s accurate to say that anyone who supports a theory which cannot (at this time or ever) be proven using the scientific method must reject the scientific method everywhere forever."
But that's not what I wrote. One example suffices.
Jonathan Sarfati is a creationist, a YEC even, who claims that the Great Flood and the Ark of Noah must be taken literally. When he writes about this he rejects the scientific method.
He also has a PhD in chemistry, so I'm pretty sure he knows how to use the scientific method in this field. Sideline: he isn't a simpleton either - he would beat both JR and me at chess with closed eyes without much effort.
It's telling that creationists stop doing relevant scientific field research as soon as they start defending creationism. The people from Discovery Institute are good examples.

"because the point of being a believer is to have faith"
Exactly. The point of the scientific method is not having faith.

"My father, also a creationist, loves to talk about natural selection and how God used it in humans "
That's not creationism, at least not in the usual meaning of the world. Creationists typically reject natural selection as a mechanism for evolution. What your father describes is theistic evolution, similar to the view the Roman Catholic Church has since 60 years ago.

If I understand the view of the RCC correctly (not too likely as I'm far from an expert) its theology even anticipates on a scientific theory of the development of consciousness, something we don't have yet.


Furthermore, “God created the universe,” doesn’t always beg the question because the point of being a believer is to have faith:

Isn't faith undermined by creationism itself? If you believe that the physical evidence supports the special creation of species and does not support darwinian evolution, then you are not basing your belief in a special creator on faith: you're making an argument for empirical support for such a being.

Lots of atheists ask why God remains hidden, and the classic theist answer is that if clear evidence existed, faith loses meaning. Our free will to believe is tainted. I'm not sure I buy that, but if you do, you have to recognize that it would apply to creationism, too. Leaving evidence of a special creation for humans would cause faith to lose meaning just as popping down on a cloud and working direct miracles in front of cameras would. If you think God must remain hidden for good, faith-related reasons, you should reject creationism because its a claim that God is not in fact hidden.

People, let's face it, of all the thousands of gods that have been worshiped over the centuries by many different cultures, many before Christianity even existed, and those still worshiped today, who can rationally believe any gods truly exist let alone that they've got the "right" god. Most are just reflection of their parents indoctrination and that is a fact born by the evidence.

One must have "Religious Faith" to remain shackled to the irrational, illogical, deluded mindset that religion imposes on the rational mind for those that wish to remain willfully ignorant.
People believe in the god(s) they believe in to simply to appease their emotions, their fears, hence the long history of their praising by cultures across this planet. Granted science doesn't have all the answers but it sure trumps the god of the gaps.

Some people prefer to believe in fantasies that "require" faith to be maintained, others are very content and rather enjoy facing reality.

Best Wishes...

Another thing Karen should be aware of before she undertakes her study of evolution is that it may change her understanding of religion; some coming from creationist backgrounds lose their faith when confronted with the evidence for evolution. This is why, in part, organizations like Biologos and the NCSE's Science and Religion section exist - to prevent individuals from losing their faith when accepting evolution. Some people reject evolution after studying it, some accept evolution and remain religious, and some accept evolution and reject religion - results may vary.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 11 Jul 2013 #permalink

Here is one example:
Crossing the Divide
Jennifer Couzin
Science 22 February 2008: 1034-1036. [DOI:10.1126/science.319.5866.1034]

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 11 Jul 2013 #permalink

Wow, some interesting comments out there. What strikes me is that creationist believe because their existence by purposeful design means something to them - evolutionist believe because their accidental occurrence defies God. Belief in evolution is as significant as belief in Christianity.

Why we believe what we believe is the striking fact.

@#26: I don't know that I agree with you there about believing in creationism because it means I'm special. If we're going with that argument, the chicken I eat is just as special as me since it was created with intent. And hey, I have a soul and a spirit, Mr. Cluckers does not. Although, in all fairness, I may not be a creationist. I believe in creationism because it's what I was brought up to believe, the New Testament, where you can find my covenant, seemingly inextricable from the Old in my mind. At this point in time, I don't know enough about other perspectives to make a proper decision like "this is definitely why I'm pro-creationism." Although, I have to assume that there are SOME Darwinists whose views have nothing to do with God. But I can agree that the two perspectives seem to create a deep divide.

By Karen (not verified) on 12 Jul 2013 #permalink

In reply to by Craig P (not verified)

@#20: But that is what you wrote: "The scientific method cannot answer these questions. Hence creationists by definition reject the scientific method." Am I misinterpreting here when I read that you're saying I must always reject the scientific method because I cannot use it in this one instance? It's unfortunate that person could not defend their position with credibility to satisfy you but I am not that person. I do not need to react the same way they do simply because we share a perspective.

@#21: I do agree, the point of science is the opposite of faith. Hmm, I've probably come across this term but had no context to place it in. I have a question, from the wiki pages, I couldn't tell, does theistic evolution support the idea that we evolved from apes? The reason I've so far labeled myself as a creationist is because I am in line with the Bible's description of events, even if I do believe that natural selection cannot be denied. Is there a more suitable term for my perspective?

"If I understand the view of the RCC correctly (not too likely as I’m far from an expert) its theology even anticipates on a scientific theory of the development of consciousness, something we don’t have yet." Can you elaborate?

@#22: I don't believe that I'm even close to educated enough to be able to say one way or the other although I don't see why evidence available couldn't support the Darwinian perspective. I'm not making any argument for anything, like I wrote, that's not my journey. However, I do believe that perhaps someday an argument and sufficient evidence could be gathered for my perspective.

I can't agree with those theists that say God remains hidden. I see evidence of his influence in my life everyday. One might also easily point to the Bible and say that is evidence left for us. If you're asking whether smoking gun type of evidence exists, I don't know of any that does. I do agree that type of evidence would make it much harder to believe through faith. I don't know why God withholds a smoking gun, you'd have to ask Him but I can guess that what you mentioned may be a big reason. However, any evidence He may have left behind, such as the Bible, isn't incompatible with creationism. He cleverly created this evidence in such a way that I may know how the universe was created but would still be expected to believe through faith. I don't think the Bible is a smoking gun and should we ever get smoking gun type evidence, which won't happen until the second coming, He will have His reasons for doing so. I don't see why I should reject Him or creationism in either case. Whether or not we can prove creationism empirically, my faith is what will seal the deal.

@#23: I'm surprised that your ostensibly rational, logical, and clear mindset allows you to make sweeping generalizations. I am also surprised that you believe that a person cannot be irrational, illogical, and deluded without religious faith. Surely you can think of a few examples on your own which make that statement patently false.

@#24: Of course learning about evolution will change the way I view religion! Doesn't every learning experience you have change the way you see things? But what I want to emphasize here is that results may vary. Presuming that any other person is able to predict what my results will be says something very unflattering about me. Please understand that I believe that God led me to this point. He has promised not to bring me to a challenge that I am not ready for. He wants me to learn about other perspectives so that I may grow in my faith. I am the only person who is able to predict where I will end up since I know myself best. I don't see warnings that I will need to give up my religion as well-meaning since those giving the warning should hope that I do so. Which atheist here would warn me away from giving up religion? Their malicious, snarky intent offended me.

@27 Karen: "Am I misinterpreting ..."
Yes. Blame it on me being Dutch. I hope nrs. 20 en 21 make clear what I mean.

"does theistic evolution support the idea that we evolved from apes?"
If you mean with apes that homo sapiens and chimps have common ancestors yes.

"Can you elaborate?"
No, as I'm not an expert I'm afraid you'll have to consult some official RCC website. I have glanced once through it as I'm not really interested.

"because I am in line with the Bible’s description of events"
So is the RCC - at least that's its claim. I don't really know what "in line with the Bible" means. Remember: I'm a hardcore atheist and materialist.

evolutionist believe because their accidental occurrence defies God.

I'm not sure if your wording is intentional or sloppy: "defies God" implies that those who understand evolution is the correct explanation (your word 'believe' is also loaded) believe there is a god and that they are somehow influenced by how evolution 'defies' that god. That is a rather foolish statement.

Belief in evolution is as significant as belief in Christianity.

Hardly. There is a huge amount of data, observation, and experimentation, that support evolution. It explains much of what we see in the living world around us. I realize a good percentage of people choose to ignore all of the data, and the science, but I cannot understand why that choice is made.
On the other hand, there is no hard data, nor are there observed actions, which support a god. You are forced to take a god on faith and nothing more.

Re Karen @ #19

I don’t think it’s accurate to say that anyone who supports a theory which cannot (at this time or ever) be proven using the scientific method must reject the scientific method everywhere forever.

Already we see that Karen is operating from a mistaken premise. Just for her information, there is no such thing as "proof" in science. Never in the history of science has any scientific hypothesis or theory ever been proven. Proof is a concept in mathematics and symbolic logic, not science.

Science is based on evidence that either supports a proposition or falsifies it. Thus far, for instance, no one has found evidence falsifying common descent. No one has found a cat fossil in pre-Cambrian strata. Such evidence would classify as falsification evidence.

Furthermore, a scientific theory makes predictions. See the attached link about a prediction made by the theory of common descent that was fulfilled during the decoding of human and chimp DNA. Since I am not a biologist, I will link to a portion of a presentation by biologist Ken Miller, no atheist he. Note that this finding does not "prove" common descent. However, if it were not found, as Miller says, evolution would have a lot of explaining to do.

@ #31
Can anyone explain where the *other* chromosome went?
Great Apes have 48 Chromosomes
Humans have 46 Chromosomes

Dr Miller is quoted at 0:58 "we have two fewer chromosomes than the other great apes". Note that this is 2 chromosomes - not a chromosome pair.

He then discuss how the chromosomes are actually pairs, but then reverts individual chromosomes:
1:52 "so we should be able to look at our genome and discover that ONE of our chromosomes resulted from the fusion of TWO primate chromosomes".

2 chromosomes fuse as 1 (a reduction of 1 chromosome)
48-2+1 = 47 chromosomes so we should see this fusing a second time right?

Now I can understand if Dr Miller was talking pairs the whole way through - but he isn't because this isn't how it works. The best explanation I could find is on:

The diagram shows how the human chromosome 2 is identical to chimpanzee chromosomes 2p + 2q - again 2 fusing into 1 is only a reduction of 1. p & q I understand are the short and long arms of a pair, that is that they are individual chromosomes.

Happy to take advice on this but all I ask is that the your response is properly fact checked - I've done my best from Dr Miller and noted sources but simply can't explain how 2 merging chromosomes results in zero chromosomes as is needed to see a reduction of 2 individual chromosomes!

Surely Dr Miller isn't stating that one chromosome dropped off??
1:24 if a whole primate chromosome was lost, that would be lethal.

My logic check is that Dr Miller just confirmed intelligent design - but happy to listen to sound evidence that states otherwise... After all, the only thing I have to base my view on are the facts presented by the highly regarded doctor.

Humans have 23 pairs = 46 chromosomes. Perhaps you might want to read a basic biology book.....

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 13 Jul 2013 #permalink

Re Craig P @ #13

Not being a biologist, as I understand it, the references to human chromosome 2 actually refers to a pair of chromosomes while ape chromosomes 12 and 13 (as they were identified at the time Miller gave this presentation; they have since been re-designated 2a and 2b) refer to 2 pairs of chromosomes. What has happened is that the two pairs of ape chromosomes have fused into 1 pair of human chromosomes.


I think that the biggest problem those of us who are rationalists and materialists have with creationists (and I'm not intending to imply that this applies to you personally) is that most of them are not content to just believe what they believe, but instead insist on asserting that the scientific evidence favors their beliefs. It most certainly does not. There is not a shred of scientific evidence out there that indicates that the universe, the earth, life or all the diversity of species that exist were created by a supernatural being.

If creationists simply stated "I don't care about all your evidence, I believe what it says in the Bible," I think we'd have much less of an issue with them. The real problem comes about when they attack the science, and especially in the US, insist on teaching their warped science to our children in public schools, or at least attempting to do so. I personally would not agree with someone who takes the attitude that the scientific evidence doesn't matter, but there would be no basis for my arguing the matter. An omniptoent supreme being could certainly create a world in which all the evidence points to a non-supernatural origin. That's what omnipotent means. I could agree to disagree with such a person.

Re Sean T @ #35

This is the Kurt Wise position. All the evidence support evolution, he prefers to go with scriptures. This quote from an article by Richard Dawkins on Wise sums it up beautifully.

Depending upon how many Kurt Wises are out there, it could mean that we are completely wasting our time arguing the case and presenting the evidence for evolution. We have it on the authority of a man who may well be creationism’s most highly qualified and most intelligent scientist that no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, no matter how all-embracing, no matter how devastatingly convincing, can ever make any difference.