News is slow today, and I’m not feeling great, as my insomnia has returned. Let’s look at a new reader’s comment, which was meant to be put up after the post below but of course was trashed by moi. If you reply, though, I’ll alert the religious Paul Polster to your comments.
Think about this, and pass it along to all your fellow atheists: if you are right, you die, it is all over, no harm, but if God does exist, and the Bible is true, when you die, you will appear at the great white throne as a lost soul. You will hear a list of sins that you have committed since you were aware of right and wrong, you will bow a knee to Jesus Christ, however, it will be too late to repent and you will be cast into Hell for eternity. You evolutionists are thinkers, think that one through in your quiet time and add this to it: have I lied? stolen?looked at the opposite sex with lust? Cheated on a test? Give some thought as to why these things happen as well as why good and evil exist. Evolution has no answer to these questions. One final thought: are you willing to risk possibly going to hell in order to hold to your faith in evolution? (it requires faith to believe it). Or are you willing to give true science ( discovery of the truth) a chance with an open mind? I hope you can ,your eternity depends on it.
Well, we’re all going to hell, including Jimmy Carter, who has looked on women with lust. He’s close to the end, and I bet he can feel the flames now. . .
A few comments:
Why is “believing in evolution” a sin? Did God put the evidence for evolution everywhere to deceive us? (And if you think it takes “faith” to believe in evolution, read my article dispelling that bit of stupidity.)
Which moral dictates are we supposed to believe? If we’re Jews, we can’t mix meat and milk in one meal. If we’re Catholics, we have to go to confession. If we’re Muslims, we have to observe Ramadan. I presume that Mr. Polster somehow knows that the Christian god is the REAL god. But how does he know?
What kind of God would send someone to hell who has lived a good life even if he didn’t accept the existence of God.’
The absolute certainty of Polster—about the falsity of evolution, about God being the Christian god, and about liars and the lustful going to hell—is breathtaking.
The kind of God that Polster paints is the ruler, as Hitchens used to say, of a celestial North Korea. He’ll toss into the fire anybody who doesn’t accept Jesus Christ (even those who were faithful before the time of Jesus Christ), he burn anybody who accept the evidence for evolution that God supposedly put all around us, and he’s not in the least merciful. Why did he design our bodies to lust after members of the opposite sex if you’re going to hell for it?
CORRECTION: This article mistakenly said the bill was in Wyoming. It’s really in West Virginia.
It’s always been my fear, since the U.S. Supreme Court became hyperconservative, that they would rule to allow creationism to be taught in the public schools. It’s been effectively outlawed, but there’s one loophole to be closed: a Supreme Court ruling about whether Intelligent Design (“ID,” sometimes described as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo”) can be taught in the schools along with evolution.
There are three relevant court cases, two of which involved the Supreme Court.
Epperson v. Arkansas (1968). In this landmark case, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that an Arkansas state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution was unconstitutional, for it violated the First Amendment by advancing religion.
Edwards v. Aguillard (1987). Another landmark case. This time the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 (Scalia and Rehnquist dissented) that a Louisiana “equal time” law, requiring that creationism be taught whenever evolution was, was unconstitutional. The majority again cited First Amendment grounds: creationism promoted a particular religious view.
Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005). Many of us remember this one. A federal judge in Pennsylvania, the late John E. Jones III, ruled on a case in which 11 parents in the city of Dover objected to a Dover School District policy requiring that whenever evolution was taught, Intelligent Design must also be taught, and stipulated the odious textbook Of Pandas and People as the ID text. I wrote my first article for The New Republic about this case, ostensibly a review of the ID text but really a critique of ID. It’s nearly disappeared online but is archived here, and I’ll be glad to send anyone a lovely pdf of the original article.
At any rate, after a six-week bench trial in which scientists and philosophers like Ken Miller, Barbara Forrest, and Robert Pennock appeared, while ID advocates like Michael Behe crumpled on the stand, Jones (a George W Bush appointee) issued a 139-page ruling asserting that ID was “not science” and forbidding the district’s new proposal. Judge Jones also chastised the school district for wasting time and money on an unwinnable case (I believe the school district, which had to pay court costs and attorney’s fees for the plaintiffs, was out over a million dollars). Two notable statements from Jones’s decision. The bolding is mine, but those four words were the headlines in many newspapers:
After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.
. . . To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.
Since the Kitzmiller case, no state or school district has dared pass a “teach ID” law, knowing that it would likely be overturned and cost the state/school a lot of dosh. But note that this federal case wasn’t appealed to the Supreme Court. Had it been at that time, Jones’s decision would have been affirmed. But times have changed now, and it’s possible that the new right-wing court could allow the teaching of ID on two grounds:
a. It could imply nullify Edwards v. Aguillard as it nullified Roe v. Wade, or
b. It could decide that ID is not creationism (or a form of religion) but actual science, and thus could be taught in schools.
Of course any fool who has studied ID knows that it is gussied-up creationism. It has not permeated the biology community (despite their promises it would), and clearly grew from religious roots. But who knows that this Supreme Court will do?
The bill passed by a vote of 27-6, which shows you how ignorant West Virginia lawmakers are (or, perhaps, savvy but disdainful of science). It hasn’t yet been
Here’s the NCSE’s take:
West Virginia’s Senate Bill 619 — which would, if enacted, allow “[t]eachers in public schools, including public charter schools, that include any one or more of grades Kindergarten through 12, [to] teach intelligent design as a theory of how the universe and/or humanity came to exist” — passed the Senate on a 27 to 6 vote on February 25, 2023, according (PDF) to the legislature’s website.
Before the bill passed, Dale Lee, President of the West Virginia Education Association, described it as a “solution in search of a problem,” according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph (February 25, 2023). He added, “We teach WV College and Career readiness standards” — which, like all state science standards across the country, include evolution but not creationism (including “intelligent design”).
A columnist in Charleston’s MetroNews (February 24, 2023) previously, if unsuccessfully, reminded the legislature about the case law establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching creationism in the public schools, including Kitzmiller v. Dover andEdwards v. Aguillard, explaining that the government is not allowed “to instruct school children on a faith-based creation story and pass it off as science.”
The bill still hasn’t passed the state House, and even then must be signed by the governor to become law. If it does, there should be an appeal to the federal courts, which could wind up in the Supreme Court. And that could become biology’s biggest setback since John Scopes was convicted in 1925.
Reader Barry sent me a link to an article in BoingBoing reporting briefly that a freshman state Senator in Montana, Dan Emrich, has introduced a bill that would ban the teaching of “scientific theories” in secondary schools and allow only the teaching of “scientific fact”. According to the article, the object of this bill is the “theory” of evolution, and since he doesn’t see evolution as a fact, then bye-bye Darwin. You can click below to see the short bill, and I’ve put the relevant bits of the bill below the screenshot (bolding is mine):
WHEREAS, the purpose of K-12 education is to educate children in the facts of our world to better prepare them for their future and further education in their chosen field of study, and to that end children must know the difference between scientific fact and scientific theory; and
WHEREAS, a scientific fact is observable and repeatable, and if it does not meet these criteria, it is a theory that is defined as speculation and is for higher education to explore, debate, and test to ultimately reach a scientific conclusion of fact or fiction.
They later clarify: “As used in this section, ‘scientific fact’ means an indisputable and repeatable observation of a natural phenomenon.”
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MONTANA:
NEW SECTION. Section 1. Requirements for science instruction in schools.
(1) Science 18 instruction may not include subject matter that is not scientific fact.
(2) The board of public education may not include in content area standards any standard 20 requiring curriculum or instruction in a scientific topic that is not scientific fact.
(3) The superintendent of public instruction shall ensure that any science curriculum guides 22 developed by the office of public instruction include only scientific fact.
(4) (a) The trustees of a school district shall ensure that science curriculum and instructional 24 materials, including textbooks, used in the district include only scientific fact.
Why are they doing this? Apparently because Emrich is after the “theory” of evolution and this is his way of banning it from being taught. (This won’t fly, of course; it’s hopelessly confused.) And I can tell without looking that Emrich is a Republican. From BoingBoing:
Montana Public Radio reports that more than 20 people testified against the bill to voice their concern “that it could keep teachers from including gravitational theory, evolution and cell theory in curriculum.”
In his testimony, Emrich “If we operate on the assumption that a theory is fact, unfortunately, it leads us to asking questions that may be potentially based on false assumptions,” Emrich said.
We know what Emrich is up to. He wants to ban the teaching of the theory of evolution, which is a well-substantiated explanation based on a large body of factual evidence, not assumptions. His dangerous and misguided bill creates a false dichotomy between science and scientific theories, and undermines the principles of academic freedom and the separation of church and state.
This plays on the public confusion, promulgated decades ago by Ronald Reagan, who said this in 1980 (my emphasis):
I have a great many questions about it. It is a theory, it is a scientific theory only. And in recent years it has been challenged in the world of science and is not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was. I think that recent discoveries down through the years have pointed up great flaws in it.”
That’s all bullpucky, of course, especially the claim that evolution is becoming less accepted in the scientific community. My book Why Evolution is True dispels that claim, but it also shows that yes, evolution is a scientific theory, but it is also a scientific fact. Organisms evolved, they did so slowly rather than instantaneously (except for polyploid or hybrid species), lineages split over time, producing new species who evolved further, creating a branching evolutionary tree showing that any two living species have a common ancestor, and that the remarkable “adaptations” or organisms evolved via natural selection. (There are also other ways of evolving, like genetic drift, but they don’t produce adaptations). All five of these bits of evolutionary theory are also facts, supported by mountains of evidence.
I would reproduce my discussion of why evolution is both a fact and a theory from the book, but you can read it from pp. 14-19 and it’s too long to put here. (You do have the book, don’t you?)
Alternatively, you can read Steve Gould’s well known essay on this issue, “Evolution as fact and theory“, online for free. Here’s the bit that most of us know, written with Gould’s characteristic flair:
The basic attack of modern creationists falls apart on two general counts before we even reach the supposed factual details of their assault against evolution. First, they play upon a vernacular misunderstanding of the word “theory” to convey the false impression that we evolutionists are covering up the rotten core of our edifice. Second, they misuse a popular philosophy of science to argue that they are behaving scientifically in attacking evolution. Yet the same philosophy demonstrates that their own belief is not science, and that “scientific creationism” is a meaningless and self-contradictory phrase, an example of what Orwell called “newspeak.”
In the American vernacular, “theory” often means “imperfect fact”—part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is “only” a theory, and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is less than a fact, and scientists can’t even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): “Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science—that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was.”
Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.
Moreover, “fact” does not mean “absolute certainty.” The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
This bill will not pass, not only because it would prohibit the teaching of atomic theory, germ theory, and the theory of gravity (what Emrich is saying, falsely, is that “theory” = “speculation”), but also because many “facts” of history itself are not established with 100% certainty. It’s best to regard all truths as provisional, but some, like evolution, are sufficiently established that you’d be safe betting your life savings on them.
If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lectures, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After while, your honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.
Ignorance and fanaticism are still at play, as you can see in this bill.
I’m not sure who John B. Andelin is, but he appears to be a pathologist in North Dakota. Certainly his 16-minute anti-evolution video below is pathological, for it simply takes quotes out of context, cherry-picks quotes, omits all the really good evidence for evolution, and mocks those Christians, like Ken Miller, who accept evolution. He also uses video clips of me to makes his points, but in the clip he shows (from the British Humanist meetings), I do note that the supernatural was once part of science, but was discarded. In other words, I contest the quote from Lewontin that Andelin uses to open this video.
Now I could go into detail refuting the stuff in the quotes or the data he cites, but why waste my time? I presume that most readers here have read Why Evolution is True, accept evolution, and are smart enough to realize that evolution doesn’t (as Lewontin implied) come from an a priori commitment to atheism. (Darwin, after all, began his studies as someone who accepted the Biblical view of life.) We don’t invoke God in evolutionary studies for two reasons: there is no empirical evidence for a creator God, and because we no longer need God to explain anything. The history of science is one of discarding one God-based explanation after another (e.g., lightning and infectious disease) as we discovered the true, naturalistic causes. Yet there could have been empirical evidence for God, and in Faith Versus Fact I give some evidence that would have convinced me that the Christian God existed. Needless to say, no such evidence has appeared.
The lighting is not good here, as it makes Andelin look somewhat Beelzebub-ish, and his angry demeanor doesn’t help. Oh, and, Dr. Andelin, the name of evolutionist Ernst Mayr is pronounced “Ernst MIRE”, not “Ernst MAYr” with a long “a”.
How many errors or deliberately misleading claims can you see in this 16-minute video? I disagree, however with John van Wyhe’s claim that Darwin’s Origin “didn’t have that much evidence” for evolution. It sure did: read the book for yourself!
To rebut this nonsense, I decided to just leave a comment on the YouTube video site, which I’ve put below (click to enlarge it). I hope that Andelin is better at diagnosing diseases than he is at understanding scientific data.
The Wedge Document, the manifesto written by the Discovery Institute (DI) to outline the future proliferation of Intelligent Design (ID), was composed in 1998. It was leaked a long time ago, and you can see it here. If you read it, you’ll find that they’ve missed their temporal “goals” by a long shot. Below are the document’s goals for five years after the document (2003) and for twenty years after (2018). We’re now five years past their twenty-year mark, and, as you see, nothing much has happened. (Bolding is mine.)
Five Year Goals
To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory
To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.
To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.
Twenty Year Goals
To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science
To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.
To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.
Ooops! We’re now 25 years in, and they haven’t even reached their five-year goals! In fact, Intelligent design has been discredited, and in the 2005 Kitzmiller decision in Pennsylvania, Judge Jones declared ID “not science” so that teaching it in public schools was prohibited as an incursion of religion into government. ID pretty much died after that, and there have been no further judicial decisions, so banning ID from public schools is the law. (Fingers crossed that the new, religiously conservative Supreme Court doesn’t change that.) ID sure as hell isn’t “the dominant perspective in science.”
I often wonder if ID’s proponents, like Wells, Behe, Dembski, and Meyer, who still act as if they triumphed, ever lie awake at night and think about how badly theyt failed. For this is science, and the truth will out. But they’re still at it, like a cow walking in circles forever even after it’s been disconnected from the water mill.
Over at The Panda’s Thumb site, ID opponent and biology professor Nathan Lents summarizes a year of dismal failure for ID and the Discovery Institute. If you’ve followed the DI, you’ll know that they founded a “Biologic Institute” to do “research” on ID, but to get their work publicized they not only had to found their own journal, BIO-Complexity, but they hardly published anything. (Most of the articles were written by the editors.)
Lents announces in the article below (click on screenshot), and Matt Young in another Panda’s Thumb post (click on screenshot), that the Biologic Institute was more or less a nothingburger, and has finally closed down (see my post on its fakery here). No more ID research! Oh no—how will they make it the “dominant paradigm in science without research?
First, their “impressive year”, in which the journal BIO-Complexity published a total of three—count them, three—articles
Lents describes a new paper in the journal about how the human ankle is so complex that it must have been designed (ergo Jesus), and makes a few point about that paper and the journal itself. I’ve left out some points, but the indented ones below are in Lents’s words:
1). This is just the third and final article published in in the journal in all of 2022. Their original ambitious goal was one article per month (lol), but they have yet to exceed four articles in any calendar year. In 2017, they published just one manuscript in the “research article” category and one “critical review.” This year, the three published articles are in the “critical focus” category, meaning they did not publish a single “research article” in 2022.
2). The article above was written by someone who is also on the editorial board of the journal. In fact, nearly all of the contributing authors in the history of the journal are also editors and most are also Discovery Institute fellows or contributors. In 2010-2011, the journal published a total of seven articles across all article types, four of them co-authored by editor-in-chief Douglas Axe. Of course, it is not unheard of that a journal occasionally publishes original work by someone on the editorial board, but this practice is usually kept to a minimum for obvious reasons.
3). 2022 was exceptional, however, because the three articles published in BIO-Complexity [sic] are all by different authors! In most years, to reach the impressive feat of 3 or 4 articles, they publish multiple articles from the same author or team of authors, essentially by cutting articles into pieces. For example, the entire published work of the journal in 2021 is three articles, all by the same author, with titles ending in “part 1,” “part 2,” and “part 3.” In the year before that, two of the four published articles were by the same trio of authors and cover the same topic. The exact same was true for 2016.
4.) The article above was written by someone who is also on the editorial board of the journal. In fact, nearly all of the contributing authors in the history of the journal are also editors and most are also Discovery Institute fellows or contributors. In 2010-2011, the journal published a total of seven articles across all article types, four of them co-authored by editor-in-chief Douglas Axe. Of course, it is not unheard of that a journal occasionally publishes original work by someone on the editorial board, but this practice is usually kept to a minimum for obvious reasons.
It’s hilarious that ID “research” is coming out in only one to four articles per year, but also that there were seven articles in 2020-2011, four of which were couthored by the “journal’s” editor Douglas Axe, who, as you see below, was the only employee of the Biologic Institute. Most of the other articles were written by journal editors, which of course shows that ID research is not taking over the field, but is limited to a small band of God-fearing zealots.
The second post, put up in May of 2021 by Matt Young, announces the closing of the Biologic Institute, and also gives some interesting info from its tax returns. (The last paper they list under their published research came out in 2014.) This is from Young’s piece:
Appears the Biologic Institute [An enterprise of the Discovery Institute] is history, green screen and all. On their 2019 990, Director Axe will no longer draw a salary, but will be a prof at Biola “Univ.” Office space is for rent. Location is listed as “permanently closed.” Their final 990 showed a loss of $133,000. [Emendation in original.]
I checked Guidestar for their latest IRS Form 990-EZ, which is dated 2019 and covers the fiscal year 2018 (Charity Navigator is a year behind). Sure enough, it contains the following statement on line 28:
DR. AXE ENTERED INTO AN AGREEMENT WITH BIOLA UNIVERSITY TO SERVE AS THE MAXWELL VISITING PROFESSOR OF MOLECULAR BIOLOGY DURING THE 2018/2019 ACADEMIC YEAR, WITH REGULAR VISITS TO CAMPUS. IN AUGUST 2019, DR. AXE BECAME THE MAXWELL PROFESSOR OF MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AT BIOLA, WORKING FULL TIME ON TEACHING AND WORKING TO HELP BUILD A COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH ENVIRONMENT AT BIOLA THAT INCLUDES ADVANCED UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS. ALTHOUGH HE NO LONGER DRAWS A SALARY FROM BIOLOGIC INSTITUTE, DR. AXE CONTINUES TO SERVE AS THE DIRECTOR AND IS EXPLORING WAYS IN WHICH BIOLOGIC CAN PARTNER WITH BIOLA.
The “Dr. Axe” in question is Douglas Axe, the president of the Biologic Institute. His salary of $133,333 in 2018 was the bulk of the total expenses of $201,873. Revenue was $68,600, leaving a deficit almost exactly equal to Dr. Axe’s salary. Inasmuch as Dr. Axe “no longer draws a salary from Biologic Institute,” it seems safe to say that they are effectively out of business, even though he “is exploring ways in which Biologic can partner with Biola.”
“Biola University,” of course, used to be known as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and is an evangelical Christian school. It’s also the Elephant Burying Ground for all moribund IDers, including Eric Hedin, who left Ball State after they refused to let him teach religious ID in his science class.
In view of this, I feel that I can declare that the Wedge Strategy has failed, that Intelligent Design’s influence in the scientific community, rather than having become the “dominant paradigm”, has shrunk to a nearly invisible nubbin, and that the Discovery Institute no longer produces research but spends its time attacking evolutionists like me (Michael Egnor seems to be obsessed with me). Since Egnor and his confrères are reading this, I’m going to give them a big fat raspberry and ask them “Where’s the beef?”
Although Turkey is a member of NATO and is one of the most Westernized countries in the Middle East, its government is becoming increasingly conservative and, since the election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as President in 2014, increasingly Islamicized. By law it’s a secular state, but with 95% of the population Muslim and President Erdoğan seemingly devoted to bringing back religious values, secularism is under siege. One object of religiously-inspired government animus is evolution.
This came clear to me when the late Aykut Kence, perhaps the most famous evolutionist in Turkey, invited me to give a talk at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara on Darwin Day in 2008. Never have I seen a more enthusiastic group of students, professors, and the public (the lecture I gave against creationism had 1200 attendees!). They loved evolution, and one reason is because every student who loved evolution was pretty much drawn to this school, for evolution wasn’t widely taught. METU is also one of the best and most selective schools in Turkey. I was inspired, but little did I know that evolution was soon going to be squeezed by the government.
In an eLife article (click on screenshot below), anthropologist N. Ezgi Altınışık, at Hacettepe University (also a very good university in Ankara) recounts the increasing marginalization of evolution in Turkey.
It began in the Seventies when conservatives in the government tried to ban the teaching of evolution in schools. They lost—for a time. Then, slowly, creationism crept into government and schools.
The infamous Adnan Oktar (aka Harun Yahya) published his Atlas of Creation, a series of glossy and expensive-to-produce books that were sent to nearly every biologist in America. Then in 2009, the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, the government banned an issue of the science magazine Bilim ve Teknik devoted to Darwin:
For me, the breaking point came in 2009. To mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, the science magazine Bilim ve Teknik decided to dedicate its front cover and several articles to the famous naturalist. The government banned the issue: the cover was changed, the articles were removed, and the editor-in-chief (one of Turkey’s leading archaeologists) was fired. I still remember my outrage when I heard the news. Bilim ve Teknik is run by TÜBİTAK, a state agency that grants scientific funding. For a long time, it was the only science magazine widely accessible in Turkey. Many people in my generation, myself included, first encountered science through its pages. Massive demonstrations were held across the country in solidarity with the editor. My friends and I visited every professor in our department, encouraging them to join the protest outside of our university. Thousands of young people eagerly attended events that encouraged the defence of the theory of evolution. It was so exciting to see.
That in turn led to organized “protests,” including translating Berkeley’s “Understanding Evolution” website into Turkish, and a series of conferences named after Aykut Kence, who died in 2014. (Tthey continue, and I’ve been invited to participate.)
There is no doubt why this is happening: it’s part of the increasing Islamicization of Turkey by the theocratic strongman Erdoğan, who is increasingly demolishing the secular government set up by Kemal Atatürk in favor of Muslim habits and strictures. Besides arresting 50,000 perceived opponents, arrogating more power for himself, imposing more restrictions in alcohol, and reintroducing religious (i.e., Islamic) education in schools, Erdoğan’s now attacking science education.
And certainly did We create man from an extract of clay
Then We place him as a sperm-drop in a firm lodging
Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and we made [from] the lump bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation. So blessed is Allah, the best of creators.
. . . and because many Muslims believe the Qur’an should be read literally, teaching evolution can be seen as anti-Islam, and few Muslim-majority countries teach it in secondary schools. (I once had a Turkish cab driver lecture to me about evolution and how the Qur’an says that humans were created, though he didn’t know I was an evolutionary biologist.)
And so a Turkish student can go all the way through high school and not learn a word about evolution—the central organizing theory of biological diversity. It is banned, and since the alternative is Islamic creationism, that’s the default option. Fortunately, the ban doesn’t apply to public universities—the Turkish government is smart enough to know how that would look.
Altınışık ends on a note of hope, but the best hope for evolution in Turkey is to get rid of Erdoğan and his government, which isn’t a likely prospect. In the meantime, we in the West will continue to visit and help the local scientists fight the good fight.
As we dream of a better country, we continue to resist. Following meetings at the ministerial level, board members of the Society have managed to get some basic evolutionary concepts reinstated to the curriculum. Volunteers have been organising the Aykut Kence Evolution Conference for over 16 years now, passing it on from one generation of students to the next. It attracts over a thousand attendees every year; when they invited me as speaker, I was amazed by the ambitions of those in attendance. Together with my peers, I still join and organise online and on-site events to promote scientific thinking and enlightenment to students and the public – for example, an online series on human evolution has already received several thousand views and is still getting attention. We also do not limit ourselves to evolutionary biology anymore. As in other parts of the world, anti-vaccine movements rose in Turkey during the pandemic, aided by the recent decline in basic science education. Communicating scientific thinking is more important now than ever.
As a scientist, I believe I have a responsibility towards the people whose taxes funded my education and now fund my research. I am indebted to those who have guided me in the dark as a young student, and to those who cherish the dream of becoming a scientist in Turkey one day. I cannot say that our careers as evolutionary researchers have all been easy, but they may not have been as difficult as one could think. My journey has taught me that when oppressed people stop being alone, they also stop being afraid. To those who need hope and believe in the idea of change, you are not on your own. Our stories will also be your story.
Yesterday I had a strange encounter at Botany Pond. Two of us were giving the ducks their breakfast (we’re cutting down the food, preparing for the mallards’ departure), when a middle-aged woman and two young children came by, pulled out some crackers, and were about to feed the ducks and turtles.
I told her that crackers were bad for the animals, and, as I often do in these cases, offered her and the children—they turned out to be her grandchildren—a handful of duck food so they could feed them the good stuff.
She asked me if I worked at the University, and I said “yes” but that taking care of the ducks was an avocation, not a job. I then asked her if she was affiliated with the U of C, and she said no, that she had driven several hours to visit her husband in the hospital. I won’t reveal his ailment, but let me say that it wasn’t a good one, and when I asked her if he was okay, she shook her head “no” in an immensely saddening gesture. (I’ve met several people who come to the pond to seek respite when they have relatives in the nearby hospital.)
I then showed her and her grandchildren one duck that we were taking special care of, G. G. (“Gritty Gertie”), a hen that had a badly injured leg and couldn’t walk or swim well when she flew in about two weeks ago. (The good news is that extra feeding has gotten her and her leg in better shape, though she still limps when she walks.)
I’ll try to reconstruct the conversation from there:
Woman: What do you teach?
Me: I’m retired, but I taught biology—evolution.
Woman: Well, I don’t believe in evolution.
Me (stifling myself since there was no point in arguing) It’s not really a matter of believing in it, but accepting it. You know, I wrote a book about the evidence for evolution, which did pretty well. It’s called “Why Evolution is True.” If you read it and still reject evolution, well. . . .
Woman: No, I’m just a good old-fashioned creationist.
At that point I decided to let matters be, But she continued:
Woman: You know, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in creation or evolution. What’s important is that you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. That’s the only way you’ll get to Heaven.
Me: Well, I was brought up Jewish, so I’m doubly damned. No, actually, now I’m an atheist, so I guess I’m triply damned.
This was all conducted civilly, like a normal conversation. Then the woman came out with a line I’ll remember until I die:
Woman: Well, you know we love our Jews, which is why we don’t want them to burn in hell.
At that point I went back to the ducks. The phrase “our Jews” made me feel like these evangelicals regard Jews as pets. And they love us, but they think we’ll bake for eternity if we don’t choose the right Savior.
I told her and her kids goodbye (her daughter was sitting nearby in a stroller), and they all left. All day I thought about this conversation, and wondered if her husband would find solace in his religion as he neared the end. I also wondered if the kids would grow up to be creationists, which would probably be the case.
But the one thing that lingers is that last sentence: “Well, you know we love our Jews, which is why we don’t want them to burn in hell.”
Nothing gets me more angry comments or emails than when I write about transgender women in women’s sports or take apart creationism or intelligent design. In the latter case, the faithful are out there in droves, and of course 81% of Americans believe in God. If you attack their arguments for God, they see it as you attacking both them and God Himself.
Oh, and remember that Meyer’s three arguments for God from science are not new; they are the old chestnuts of the Big Bang, the “fine-tuning” of the laws of physics, and “intelligently designed features of organisms”—the old Behe argument—whose appearance apparently requires a miracle to explain.
Misspellings, poor grammar, and so on are from the original emails and aren’t typos.
Comment #1 from “Mike Cohen”:
Hmm. I wonder what caused these atheists to find it a life ambition to argue against the existence of G-d against the absence of an explanation of what caused the Big Bang. When they can prove that it is not G-d that caused the Big Bang, I will take them more seriously.
I have a Ph.D. In science and engineering, mastered thermodynamics, theoretical physical and the depth of mathematics from tensors to matrixes, to abstract mathematics. I believe in a power that causes the Big Bang. We are still in the process of reaching an equilibrium and life as G-d has designed is a transient of the process. Even people like Albert Einstein who is much smarter and more intelligent than I am by orders of magnitude believed in G-d.
To the atheists, please donate to Tom Cruises nonsense, or maybe you do belong to his church pimping a young and attractive money grabber.
Dear Mr. Cohen,
You are exaggerating when you think that atheists make it a “life ambition to argue against God and about what caused the Big Bang”. Sure, I spend time arguing about that, but only because creationists like you try to delude people with bogus arguments. Turning your words back on you, I will take you more seriously when you prove that it is God (why are you leaving out the “o”?) who caused the Big Bang? And, you know, we don’t prove anything in science; we make the best inference that we can from the evidence. That’s in contrast to religious people like you, who think God is proven because somewhere along the line they were either taught it or find the idea of God irresistible. As for your Ph.D. and lists of your studies, that don’t impress me much; they make you no more credible as a witness for God.
As for Einstein, he believed in God as a metaphor for the laws of the universe. As I show in my book Faith Versus Fact, he didn’t believe in a personal god at all, and certainly not the Yahweh you are touting above. Einstein said as much. Do a bit of research!
Finally, Scientology. It’s just another form of unevidenced delusion, like Judaism. And the beliefs of Scientologists, from Xenu on down, are just as ludicrous as the claims of the Old Testament. I’m not sure what you mean by “pimping a young and attractive money grabber,” but it’s a gratuitous remark—even a rude one if you’re implying that any atheists here belong to the Church of Scientology. I sure don’t. I’m assuming you’re a Jew, and my belief is that your own religion’s tenets are no more credible than those of Scientology.
Comment #2 from “Constance”:
I found the smug responses illogical. I’m not a churchgoer, but since science can’t explain where the anti-matter is (and it’s the scientists that insist it has to exist) that opens the door for alternative explanations. Waxing poetic about how Genisis (a book written by a bunch of guys a couple thousand years ago) doesn’t perfectly match the Big Bang as evidence of no God is beyond silly.. First, that asserts that God is Christianity or bust, second it assumes humans having any concept of God has to match what God really is.
Pro & Anti based on this kind of illogical tripe may win a published article, but serve no one.
The responses were not “illogical” (where are the violations of logic?); I simply gave alternative and plausible naturalistic explanations for observations that Meyer says are irrefutable evidence for God. The mistake you’re making is arguing that when scientists don’t understand something, our ignorance must be evidence for God. That’s not a good argument, for the history of science shows, starting with evolution, that many once-enigmatic phenomena or processes that were once seen as evidence for God were found to have plausible (and, in the case of evolution, true) scientific explanations. (Look at lightning, microbial infections like Black Death, and so on.) So I’m not particularly bothered by not knowing “where the dark matter is”. I trust that some day the physicists will figure it out.
As for the Designer being identified with the Abrahamic God or Christian God in particular, you obviously aren’t aware that I was responding to Meyer’s claim in his article that it’s not an “intelligent designer” but God himself who made the flagella spin and the blood clot. And Meyer, being a Christian, is clarly touting the Christian God. Further, As I noted in the post, Meyer mentions one scientist saying that the Big Bang and a “divine creation” matches the Bible as a whole:
Nobel laureate Arno Penzias, who helped make a key discovery supporting the Big Bang theory, has noted the obvious connection between its affirmation of a cosmic beginning and the concept of divine creation. “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses…[and] the Bible as a whole,” writes Penzias.
Finally, you say we don’t know what God really is. You are correct, but I’d go further. We don’t have any evidence that God exists. Until we do, I prefer to group him with leprechauns and Santa Claus as appealing myths supported by—nothing. As Wittgenstein said, “Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.” Meyer can’t say anything about the nature of God, and he should have kept his gob shut in Newsweek. Because he didn’t, I replied to his fatuous arguments.
By the way, “Genesis” is spelled with one “i”, not two. Have you read your Bible lately?
Comment #3 from “Lars”:
I am a fan of vigorous debate and I enjoyed reading the article. I am not a fan of name calling. When the author called the other side “wing nuts”, I truly thought that his name calling hurt his argument, as individuals from the other side would be alienated immediately by his words, and truly if the author is trying to make a point, one would hope he would try to convince the other side rather than insulting them.
My reply to Lars:
First of all, I did not call Meyer a wingnut. Here’s what I said:
Meyer has managed to con the right-wingnuts at Newsweek into publishing the article below. . .
I was referring to the editors at Newsweek who were conned, not to the “other side”, i.e., ID creationists. Can you read? Second, I made a number of arguments against Meyer’s claims, not calling him names at all. The people I was writing for are not those on “the other side,” as IDers and creationists don’t usually change their minds. I was writing for those on the fence, or those who need to know how Meyer’s arguments for God can be refuted by science. Those are the people for whom I wrote Why Evolution is True.
Finally, you’re clearly looking for any excuse to dismiss my article. Saying that I hurt my argument by calling the editors of Newsweek “right wing nuts” is a pathetic attempt to dismiss the many naturalistic arguments I advance in my post. People who say, “His argument is bad/worthless/loses force because of name calling” are people looking for an easy way to dismiss something. I am sorry I hurt your tender feelings by using a bit of sarcasm, but you got its object of that sarcasm wrong anyway. And does our withholding of sarcasm also include Donald Trump, too, when people are attacking his policies? If so, then nearly every liberal op-ed columnist in America should get a letter from you. Get busy writing them!
I may have mentioned Jason Rosenhouse‘s new book before, but I just finished it and wanted to give it two thumbs up. The image below links to the Amazon site:
This book is a withering critique of the so-called “probabilistic” arguments against evolution promoted by Intelligent Design advocates like Michael Behe and William Dembski. Jason is ideally equipped to write about them as he’s both a professor of mathematics at James Madison University and a diligent reader of creationist and ID literature. An earlier book of his, Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line, describes his many visits to creationist meetings and gatherings and his attempt to suss out the psychology of anti-evolutionists without being judgmental.
In this book, though, Jason pulls no punches, analyzing and destroying the arguments the evolution simply could not have occurred because the probability of getting organisms, proteins, or “complex specified information” is too low to be explained by materialistic processes. Ergo, the ID arguments supposedly point to the existence of the Intelligent Designer, who we all know is God. (IDers like to pretend that it could be a space alien or the like, but it doesn’t take much digging to descry the religious roots of ID, sometimes described as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo”.) The real target of ID is not just evolution, but naturalism or “materialism”, as they sometimes call it. Their ultimate goal is to sneak religion into public schools and into mainstream science. But they’ve already lost.
Still, the religious motivations aren’t important when the calculations are wrong—or rather, can’t be made. Jason’s main point in this book is that although complex-looking mathematics is often invoked to show the improbability of naturalistic evolution, IDers lack information about probability space to plug into their equations, so they can’t come to any mathematically-based conclusions. (And when we do have information, like that bearing on the claim that evolution violates The Second Law of Thermodynamics, or that the evolution of chloroquine resistance to malaria is impossible, that evidence doesn’t support the IDers’ and creationists’ claims.)
In the end, all IDers do, argues Jason, is throw sand in the layperson’s eyes with fancy equations, and then simply assert, without actually making valid calculations, that evolution by natural selection is too improbable to have occurred.
Other arguments that are less mathematical, for example that bacterial flagella could not have evolved in an adaptive, step-by-step process, are also discussed, and Jason shows how they’ve been refuted.
Another admirable aspect of the book is that Jason writes very clearly and elegantly, so it’s easy to read. Here are two specimens of his prose that also make his main point:
What about specificity? Dembski’s theoretical development of this concept essentially required graduate-level training in mathematics. He helped himself to copious amounts of notation, jargon, Greek letters, and equations. Anyone unaccustomed to wading through prose of this sort could easily come away thinking it represented work of depth and profundity just from the level of technical detail in its presentation.
However, when it came time to discuss the specificity of an actual biological system, the flagellum in this case, all of the technical minutiae went clean out the window. For all the use Dembski made of his elaborate theoretical musings, they might as well never have existed at all. He just declared it obvious that the flagellum was specified and quickly moved on to other dubious claims. At no point did he attempt to relate anything in reality to the numerous variables and parameters he included in his mathematical modeling.
As Jason shows, the lack of parameters needed to show that evolution is too improbable to have happened in a Darwinian way is a ubiquitous problem for iD. One more quote:
This pattern, of introducing difficult mathematical concepts without ever really using them for any serious purpose, is ubiquitous in anti-evolution discourse, and this fact goes a long way to explaining why mathematicians an scientists are so disdainful of it. Professionals in these areas strive for the utmost clarity when presenting their work. Used properly, the jargon and notation permit a level of precision that simply cannot be achieved with more natural language. This might seem hard to believe, since a modern scientific research paper will be unreadable for anyone without significant training in the relevant discipline. But the problem is not a lack of clarity in the writing. Rather, it is just that the concepts involved are difficult, and experience is needed to become comfortable with them.
. . . In section 2.6, I remarked that anti-evolutionist arguments play well in front of friendly audiences because in that environment the speakers never pay a price for being wrong. The response would be a lot chillier if they tried the same arguments in front of audiences with the relevant expertise. Try telling a roomful of mathematicians that you can refute evolutionary theory with a few back-of-the-envelope probability calculations, and see how far you get. Tell a roomful of physicists that the second law of thermodynamics conflicts with evolutionary theory, or a roomful of computer scientists that obscure theorems from combinatorial search have profound relevance to biology.
You will be lucky to make it ten minutes before the audience stops being polite.
If you want a clear and convincing response to IDers’ (and earlier creationists’) claims that evolution could not have happened without God or a Designer because it’s simply improbable via naturalism, read this book.
It will convince you, as Laplace supposedly tried to convince Napoleon about astronomy, that science—in this case, evolution—has no need of the God hypothesis.
My prediction is that one day evolution will be shown to ALL to be perhaps the greatest embarrassment and shame in the histories of science and of rational thought.
But I have to ask about
“An alternative approach is to flip all 100 coins, leave the ones that landed heads as they are, and then toss again only those that landed tails.”
I thought evolution was constant. Why is Mother Natural Selection keeping the heads as heads for, well, forever?
To explain: the metaphor was one way Jason Rosenhouse explained how a random process can be winnowed by a nonrandom process to produce the appearance of “design”. The randomness (mutational variation) was represented by the tossed coins, while the nonrandom process involves keeping the heads and re-tossing the tails. Eventually you get to all heads, which is the analogy to an adapted organism.
My best interpretation of this comment is that “See Noevo” is pointing out out that evolution is always occurring, so the heads won’t be kept forever. Some of the coins will get turned over when evolution occurs over the long term. Ergo a seeming contradiction; ergo God Did It.
But DUH! We’re talking about the short-term build up of the appearance of design, not the fact that any one gene sequence will remain the same until the end of time. Nobody believes that.
At any rate, this evolution critic apparently doesn’t know what he/she/they are talking about, and I didn’t allow that ambiguous and obstreperous comment to appear.
But I did allow this comment to appear, and even answered it.