The Creationist Obsession with Darwin; from Louisiana to Discovery Institute to Glasgow

From Louisiana through the Discovery Institute to Glasgow, examples of the creationist obsession with Darwin (and inability to quote him correctly) continue to accumulate.

You may have heard of the Louisiana Science Education Act (how’s that for protective colouring?), which allows creationism to be taught in the State’s publicly funded schools in the name of “academic freedom.” The law was apparently suggested to State Senator Ben Nevers by the Lousiana Family Forum, whose upcoming Leadership Academy, to be addressed by Governor Bobby Jindal, promises to “teach you how to defend Conservative principles within policy!” (Exclamation mark in original. I set the last two links at “No-Follow”)

And now here’s the bit that’s relevant to my theme, courtesy Zack Kopplin. To quote Sen. Nevers, the Louisiana Family Forum “believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin’s theory.” So there are scientific data relevant to creationism (what, I wonder?), but a century and a half of evolutionary science are merely “Darwin’s theory”. As in, the Earth goes round the Sun in an elliptical orbit is “Kepler’s theory”, and stuff is made out of atoms is “Dalton’s theory”.

Stephen Meyers’ Darwin’s Doubt uses similar tactics, from the title on in. The contents give us three references to Darwin in its 23 chapter and section headings; “Darwin’s Nemesis”, “After Darwin, What?”, and “The Post-Darwinian World and Self-Organisation”. Darwin’s name also occurs seven times on the book’s front flap. This (free view on Amazon) presents one short argument, to introduce one very long book, based on compressing the Ediacaran and Cambrian radiations, ignoring everything we know about the events leading up to them (see Robert Hazen’s Story of Earth for a good brief overview), and comparing the resulting mystification with the problem of the origin of life. The index gives ten subheadings and 21 page references for Darwin, and sixteen subheadings and 43 page references to “Darwinian evolutionary theory”. These include six to “Agassiz’ challenge”; that’s Louis Agassiz, who was generously acknowledged by Darwin for his discovery of the Ice Ages, and died 1873. And I nearly forgot: twentysix subheadings and 38 page references for “neo-Darwinism”.  For comparison, Carl Zimmer and Douglas J. Emlen’s Evolution; Making Sense of Life (one of the few textbooks I have come across that is actually a pleasure to read) has 16 subheadings and 33 page references to Darwin. And for “Darwin’s theory”, “Darwinian theory”, or “neo-Darwinism”? None at all. Indeed, I cannot recall when I last came across those expressions, other than from a historian or a creationist.

And of course Glasgow’s own Centre for Intelligent Design, a Discovery Institute echo chamber, has done its poor best to support Stephen Meyer. How? By mangling Darwin to totally shift his emphasis, and refocus it on Meyer’s chosen pseudoproblem. You will find the full gory details here on my friend Robert Saunders’ blog, Wonderful Life. There is also more about Meyer’s book on the BCSE website; I discussed it here, but think Nick Matzke’s dismemberment may be impossible to improve on. Disclosure: I lectured about “Dalton’s theory”, though I didn’t call it that, to Alastair Noble, now the Centre’s Director, many years ago. I like to think my teaching has improved since then. But at least I wasn’t responsible for teaching him about biology, or geology, or complex systems theory, or elementary logic, so perhaps I shouldn’t blame myself too much for what he’s been up to since.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on July 5, 2013, in Creationism, Education, Politics, Religion, Scotland and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I had no idea there was an institute of this type in Glasgow, I’m embarrassed.


  2. darwinsbulldog

    Some Darwin quote-mining in Meyer’s latest. Luskin responded to my post and I responded to him within the post:


  3. Dear Paul,
    It seems to me that you are not unbiased in your critiques of ID publications, but that you have an alternative agenda that leaves you blinded to the possibility that evolution may be wrong. Isn’t empirical science supposed to be totally rational in its investigations, and open and honest in its debates about scientific interpretations of data? In other scientific disciplines, theories come and go and scientists just get on with their lives. But evolution seems to be in a special category of its own, ring-fenced from debate. Considering the fervent responses to objectors, I would even go so far to say that evolution has reached the status of a religious dogma in science.
    Therefore, instead of just trying to ridicule Stephen Meyer’s by mentioning how many times he refers to ‘Darwinism’ and the like, maybe you could write a constructive critique of his book?
    And one final question – if empirical science eventually showed sufficient evidence that evolution should be discarded as a viable theory to explain life, would you still dogmatically hold onto it?


    • I am not sure what would count as a “constructive critique” of what I consider an enterprise at once error-laden, ignorant, and misguided. However, if you want a detailed discussion of the issues, the links in my posts will take you to detailed evaluations of Meyer’s work by genuine experts, some of whom I know personally.

      The accusation that evolution is ring-fenced from debate is only matched in its absurdity by the parallel claim that evolution is a theory on the point of collapse, as shown by the fact that evolution scientists are so noisily debating.

      “Explain” is an ambiguous word. Evolution does not explain the origins of life, just as chemistry does not explain the origins of atoms. But of course, like any theory, if facts are found that do not fit, then the theory must be modified (like Newton’s theory of planetary motions), added to (like the germ theory of disease), or discarded (for a discussion of what might in principle make this necessary, google “rabbits in the Precambrian”).


      • Paul,

        is your assessment that Darwin’s Doubt is ‘error-laden, ignorant, and misguided’ based on your own careful assessment, or is it based on your prejudices and what have read elsewhere? I would appreciate understanding your reasons for dismissing this book so out of hand.

        Secondly, I would also be interested to know why you are so ardently committed to the cause of suppressing all discussion and investigation of the possibility of an intelligent designer. I hope you have a sound scientific basis for this and that it is not just your bias as an atheist that is clouding your judgement.



      • 1) It is based on detailed evaluations, to some of which I have given links, by internationally recognised experts in their field, some of whom I know personally. FWIW, I do know enough to understand the force of their arguments, independent of their authority.

        2) I am not “ardently committed to the cause of suppressing all discussion and investigation of the possibility of an intelligent designer”; see my earlier post, Theologian pwns physicist. But at what cost? 29 Aug 2012/ But I do point out, as there, just what invoking such a designer does or does not explain, unless we enter the intellectual vacuum where it explains everything.

        Finally, I have decided to let creationists have two bites only at a post. So that’s your lot.


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