The Creationist Monkey Defense Against Contradictory Evidence:
Don't Hear it, Don't See it, Don't Speak of it
(Or if you can't ignore it, then fold, spindle, and mutilate it beyond recognition.)
Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. – Aldous Huxley
Pastor Peddles ID Propaganda
On 2/4/05, an article by a local evangelist, Randy Hohf*, appeared in the Pastor’s Corner section of the Sandpoint, Idaho Bonner County Daily Bee. This article, entitled “What evolutionists fear the most,” repeated the oft-refuted assertions (associated most prominently with propaganda from the intelligent design [ID] school of creationism ) that the theory of evolution cannot explain the existence of “irreducibly complex” structures nor can it account for the formation of new genetic information. The article ended with the usual creationist twaddle claiming that “Darwinism” is not science but a “faith that is upheld solely by the power of authority.” (A more perspicuous example of the pot calling the kettle black is difficult to imagine.) According to Mr. Hohf, what evolutionists fear the most is that the purported “flaws” in the theory, such as those dutifully exposed in his article, will become public knowledge. Furthermore, Mr. Hohf is encouraged because, according to him, the “authority [which upholds the faith in evolution] is beginning to crack.”
In fact, it is Mr. Hohf’s credibility that has suffered substantial damage as consequence of his article. If he had done any serious research on the subject, he would have found that none of the points raised in his article against evolution are factually supported by reliable evidence. Instead, like most creationists, it appears he is content to ignore any evidence that contradicts his beliefs and to put his faith in the baseless claims of any fringe group that supports them. (See here and here for refutation of Mr. Hohf’s claims that so-called “irreducibly complex” structures and new genetic information cannot be generated by evolutionary processes. See here for refutation of his claim that support for evolution among reputable scientists is beginning to falter.)
Contrary to Mr. Hohf’s assertions, scientists do not fear that the theory of evolution will crumble under the pressure of honest scientific scrutiny. The theory of evolution has weathered some 150 years of rigorous scientific examination and has emerged stronger with each and every discovery that has tested its validity. The evidence on which the theory of evolution is based is abundant and ever increasing. (See here for some examples of this confirmatory evidence.) It is for these reasons that every mainstream science organization in the world endorses the theory of evolution as the only scientific theory that adequately explains the diversity of life on earth.
Contrary again to Mr. Hohf’s assertion, there are no “flaws” in theory of evolution that raise any serious doubts about its scientific validity. Nonetheless, reputable scientists are concerned about the rising volume of anti-science rhetoric that is now emanating from the creationist camp. What scientists fear is that a largely scientifically illiterate public will be suckered by creationist smoke and mirrors into making decisions that will further jeopardize the quality of an already mediocre public school science education in this country. In his article, Mr. Hohf correctly stated, “True science does not fear open investigation and critical examination.” What concerns scientists is that most people do not have the basic scientific wherewithal to differentiate “true science” from the pseudoscientific nonsense that is being peddled by the creationist/intelligent design aficionados. If this gang of anti-evolutionists is so insistent on “open investigation and critical examination,” then why, when they go before school boards, do they go to such lengths to conceal their clandestine religious agenda that calls for replacing the teaching of evolution with supernatural (i.e., Bible-based) creationism in the science classroom. (See here.)
I responded to Mr. Hohf’s article by submitting a brief letter to the editor of the Bee that appeared on 2/10/05. It read (with the exception of a few corrected typos) as follows:
“A number of creationists (e.g., Randy Hohf, Pastor’s Corner, Feb.4, 2005) are now promoting so-called “intelligent design” as a replacement for the theory of evolution.
To learn why intelligent design does not qualify as a valid scientific alternative to evolutionary theory, see the article, “Intelligent Design: Argumentum ad Ignoratium Masquerading as Science."
Mr. Knapp Writes to the Rescue
Shortly thereafter, the following commentary appeared on Mr. Knapp’s homepage.
“(2/14/05) I recently submitted this article for the daily be[sic] opinion section.”
“Jack DeBaun, (Bee, Feb. 10th, ') argues that "intelligent design" does not qualify as a valid scientific alternative to evolution. This is only true if we buy into the self serving[sic] materialistic "rules of the game" the evolutionary community chooses to play by. Evolutionists insist science can only invoke observable natural mechanisms to explain the natural world no matter how silly and ludicrous some of the explanations may seem. As one scientist put it, "This is not a tenet deducible by the experimental method, but a philosophical assumption from outside science." They insist that no scientific evidence may be interpreted to point to a designer/creator.-Even if all the data point to one! Intelligent design is rejected by the evolutionary establishment because of their[sic] religious commitment to a materialistic or naturalistic philosophy. Not because of the scientific evidence."
Setting the Record Straight Again
In anticipation of the publication of Mr. Knapp’s letter above, I prepared the following response to send to the Bee:
In his letter of xxx, Mr. Knapp insinuates that “evolutionists” are the only scientists that categorically reject supernatural causation in formulating their theories. In doing so, he displays a profound lack of understanding of how the scientific process actually works. The truth is, in all branches of science, all legitimate scientists abide by this basic tenet of the scientific method.
I challenge Mr. Knapp to name even one universally accepted scientific theory in any discipline that invokes anything other than strictly naturalistic explanations. If he can, his argument might merit some consideration. If he cannot, then it will be contingent on him to explain why he singles out evolutionary scientists for rejecting supernatural explanations when all other scientists (when they are practicing legitimate science) play by exactly the same rules.
To learn why science excludes supernatural causes and effects from its explanatory framework, see “Supernatural Science - Fact or More Creationist Science Fiction? "
Sweeping Unwanted Evidence Under the Rug
For whatever reason, the Bee decided not to publish Mr. Knapp’s letter. Perhaps, learning from past experience (see here), they did not want to provide him another opportunity to spread the usual creationist drivel.
Be that as it may, I find it amazing that creationists such as Mr. Hohf and Mr. Knapp can so obstinately, and without any qualms, ignore any evidence that contradicts their worldview. Mr. Knapp refuses to face the fact that all legitimate science in all fields of research is constrained to the practice of methodological naturalism. During the course of our dialogues, I have provided him with statements from notable scientists and the most prestigious scientific organizations in the world that emphasize the strictly naturalistic character of the scientific process. And, as in my letter above, I have repeatedly asked him to provide just one generally accepted scientific theory in any discipline that invokes supernatural explanations. I assumed his inability to name even one such theory would lead him to rethink his assertion that evolutionists were unique in rejecting supernatural causation. I can see now that I seriously underestimated the extraordinary power of the mind to selectively ignore contradictory information that exacerbates the mental conflicts brought on by cognitive dissonance - particularly when fervently-held religious beliefs are involved.
It is this propensity to simply ignore any evidence that does not jibe with their religious beliefs that makes it so difficult to carry on any kind of meaningful debate with creationists like Mr. Knapp. After being confronted with facts that clearly refute one of their talking points, they blithely repeat the same argument again and again as if no objection had ever been raised against it. It is as if they think ignoring the evidence will make it disappear. In an honest debate, both sides are expected to examine the evidence presented by their opponents and to formulate their responses in light of that evidence. Simply sweeping contradictory evidence under the rug, as Mr. Knapp does, renders a rational exchange of ideas virtually impossible to achieve. Mr. Knapp’s continued use of the “evolutionists are the only scientists that practice methodological naturalism” argument, in the face of abundant and unequivocal evidence to the contrary, shows how exasperating it can be to engage in a discussion with those for whom faith trumps fact. It would be one thing if this were only an isolated incident of self-inflicted amnesia on the part to Mr. Knapp. In fact, it is symptomatic of the standard behavior of creationists in general. (For examples of other issues that Mr. Knapp has avoided confronting during the course of our dialogues, see here and here.)
Equally astounding is the fact that Mr. Knapp, who acknowledges that he has minimal formal training in the sciences, has the gall to dictate to professional scientists what is, and what is not, proper scientific behavior. Here we have an admitted science neophyte brazenly criticizing evolutionists for practicing methodological naturalism - a basic tenet of the scientific method. You would think that someone who lacked a formal scientific education would have the sense not to foist himself off as some kind of authority on how scientists should conduct their work. But no. Mr. Knapp has no compunction at all about telling others how to do their job – even when he has only a rudimentary (and seriously distorted) understanding of what the job entails. Has it escaped his attention that hubris is one of the seven deadly sins?
It is reasonable to assume that Mr. Knapp has obtained his misinformation about a naturalistic bias that is supposed to be unique to evolutionary scientists from reading the tripe that is cranked out by the creationist/intelligent design propaganda mill. Nonetheless, from the information I have provided him, he has to be aware (if he bothers to read any of it) that these anti-science flimflam artists constitute only a piddling fraction of the world-wide scientific community. Yet, instead of siding with the virtually unanimous opinion of all practicing scientists on earth, he opts to let a disparate band of religion-hypnotized, science-bashing, knee-jerk Darwin doubters do his thinking for him. Why would he do such a thing? Most likely because he is a religion-hypnotized, science-bashing, knee-jerk Darwin doubter himself. That being the case, it is unlikely that there is any pro-evolution evidence, no matter how convincing it might be to an objective investigator, that he would not be happy to ignore. And if for some reason it can’t be ignored, Mr. Knapp, like most of his fellow creationists, will be more than happy to twist, mangle, and garble it to suit his purposes.
Shall Wonders Never Cease
I must congratulate Mr. Knapp for one thing in his latest letter that was rejected by the Bee. If I am not mistaken, this is the first time he has spelled my last name correctly during all the times he has used it in his correspondence with me. I guess the law of averages would dictate that he would get it right sooner or later.
* Mr. Hohf and I first crossed swords on the evolution/creation issue in the early 1990’s. While some of our exchanges took place in the Bee, most of them consisted of personal correspondence through the mails. Our discussions (which were relatively civil for the most part) eventually wandered into the realm of biblical criticism, and we continued debating with one another for several years. As I recall, my last letter to him was some 70 typed pages long. After that, I received a curt, one-sentence, hand-written note from him indicating that he was no longer interested in continuing our epistolary debate. I notice that from time to time he still sponsors an anti-evolution seminar at his church. I wonder if he has ever taken a serious look at my Creationist Challenge. There is a lot for even a diehard creationist like him to ignore in that document. If nothing else, it should afford him the opportunity to practice using the creationist monkey defense.
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts. – Daniel Patrick Moynihan