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13 April 2012

Creationism Makes for Antisocial Networking

A few weeks ago, Nathan Hatton, a friend of mine from the Winnipeg Skeptics, posted a link to an article that discussed a Tennessee bill that aims to promote "critical thinking" with regard to evolution, global warming, and other scientific subjects that "can cause controversy". Anyone with a passing familiarity with creationist propaganda should be able to spot the red flags a kilometre away. (This is HB 368/SB 893, which recently passed into law through the cowardly inaction of Governor Bill Haslam, in case you're wondering.)

Image by Randall Munroe from the ever-awesome xkcd. (CC BY-NC 2.5)

Nathan quoted from the article: "Science is rigorous... Scientific theories must provide natural and testable explanations. Creationism and intelligent design provide neither." Many of his friends were rather upset by this, as it turns out, and the comment thread began to rapidly balloon in size. At his request, I took the time to respond to several of the claims made by pro-creationist commenters.

Comments are full and unedited (I have screencaps to settle any disputes that may arise), but are in some cases rearranged slightly to allow responses to directly follow claims, making the conversation a little easier on the reader. I won't reproduce every one of the 108 comments here, but I'll present both sides of this argument as fairly as I can. Spelling and punctuation as in the original.

Commenter 1: wow, Nathan! There are some serious statements in there like teaching creationism is likened unto child abuse?!?! ! really? There are many scientists that have found Christianity to be the actual answer while trying to prove evolutionism. To think that teaching children to have faith in things that humans may not be able to "scientifically prove" is child abuse doesn't leave much hope for us, does it? Sorry brother, I can't say that I agree with that whatsoever..

Nathan: The "actual answer" to what? Whether a person is converted to Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, or any other faith while investigating evolution (I am sure that there are examples of each) is irrelevant to the point that "creationism" is not science and should not be part of a science curriculum. When it comes to the origins of species, a person does not need "faith" because it is something that we can "scientifically prove." Evolution is one of the most robust scientific paradigms we have. I'm all for religion classes and actually feel that students should be MORE educated on religion than they are now, but the place is not in the science classroom.

Commenter 1: You don't think there may be a small, even tiny possibility that science as we know it may actually opne day findc the truth to be that Creationism has a place? To ignore any path is to render ourselves ignorant of what it could possibly bring. We shouldn't take anything off the table if we are truly open to whatever the truth may hold. We all know my take on faith in God, but wouldn't it be silly to totally ignore the millions of people and artifacts that we have? Science should be embracing this to grow so we can all grow in understanding, I would think. Then again, who am I?

Gem: In response to [Commenter 1]'s early comments, I'll quote Stephen Jay Gould, as I think that he said it best: "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." Scientists aren't denying the possibility the universe may have been created, but there is overwhelming evidence in support of evolution, and a dearth of evidence to support creation. In science, we keep an open mind, but that doesn't mean that, given our current state of knowledge, all possibilities are equally likely, or merit equal consideration.

Commenter 1: we're debating theoretical data that, as far as we know, the government has altered so as not to alarm us of catastrophic events that have already begun to take place. This debate could easily go on forever. We're debating theories derived from findings, whether correct or not, based on man and his/her interpretation, and limited to what we believe we can or cannot prove according the the knowledge and understanding we have as of now. Something I learned from a very wise man was this. What I learn today will be wrong tomorrow. We're always discovering new things. The fact is, Christianity is what the new world known as the western hemisphere has derived it's laws and foundations upon.

Commenter 2: What that very wise man was describing was science. The book on religion never changes.

Gem: I would also dispute that the laws and foundations of the western hemisphere are derived from Christianity. I would argue that instead they are founded in the European Enlightenment. Regardless, this is irrelevant. We're talking about science, not law.

Commenter 1: That man was referring to something that had absolutely nothing to do with this topic at all. Do you seriously believe we have discovered all the secrets? That we truly understand everything? Not possible my friend. Unless you have a time machine it simply seems ridiculous to discount anything that offers us substancial information and there is an unbelievable amount of information to support faith.

Commenter 2: Now you're describing science. If in the very minute chance that the beginning of existence is ever traced back to an omnipotent higher power, it will be science that proves it, not the bible. And it will be the working theory of evolution that gets there.

Commenter 1: and if it all points back to the Bible? what then, would your argument be?

Gem: To ask, repeatedly, if we "seriously believe we have discovered all the secrets" is a ridiculous straw-man. You are disingenuously misrepresenting our position, for no scientist or science enthusiast would propose such a thing. Instead, we recognise the limits of our understanding. We teach that which is established on a strong theoretical and empirical foundation. As we collect more data, we further fine-tune the models to ensure that they reflect reality as best we can.

Gem: You ask, "and if it all points back to the Bible? what then, would your argument be?" Then we would gladly reevaluate! Science is not ideologically dedicated to any conclusion; belief in a proposition should be proportional to the evidence that supports it. But you're proposing contrafactuals, here—there's no reason to believe that "it" will ever point back to the Bible.

Commenter 1: you can't disprove it and that information has been around longer than most of the things that we can date and use as fact. it's hypothetical to say the world has been here for millions of years, theoretical at best. Proof has not been provided except for what we can fathom.

Gem: [Commenter 1] keeps harping on about "proof": that's a red herring. Science doesn't deal in proof: it deals in theory and evidence. While some scientists may use "proof" colloquially, I would refer you back to the Stephen Jay Gould quotation that I posted a few minutes ago. All conclusions are provisional.

Nathan: The thing is, no matter how much evidence is put forward for evolution, the answer will never be "revealed" to theists who refuse to look at what overwhelming evidence there is. Same as the people who say the earth is flat. Or that rabbits don't chew cud.

Nathan: Above it should say "Or that rabbits chew cud."

Nathan: Evolution provides models that can be tested and falsified.

Commenter 1: To return to the point that began this conversation, I think we should be worrying about much more pressing matters than whether or not faith is introduced to the science classroom as we've already conceited, it may well be the truth that science is looking to prove in trying to discover how we came to be who and whaty we are today

Commenter 2:But... it's not. There's no evidence of it. And evidence is the root of all facts, and science. So it doesn't belong there, until there's something that leads it in that direction. That's like saying the flying spaghetti monster should be taught in classrooms, because you can't prove it wrong. The flying spaghetti monster MIGHT be the answer. But is it? Well no, probably not. So science wouldn't work with that theory.

Commenter 1: Prove to me that you love your parents...

Commenter 1: proof of what has happened, especially if it be by an all-knowing God as I and many others believe cannot be proven by a single train of thought. To discount things outside of what we know would be to prove ourselves ignorant

Gem: That old canard of "you can't prove love" was brought up. Again, this is absurd. I could provide you with ample evidence that I love my wife, and that she loves me. If my wife had no evidence that I loved her, I would hope that she would investigate the issue, and if she discovered sufficient evidence that I had been unfaithful (for example), I would hope that she would leave me.

Commenter 1: So when science opens our eyes to understand that 2000 year old book, after having to go through the trials and failures, what then will you say?

Nathan: Right. So the next time someone gets sick, I won't suggest anti-virals (developed with the help of evolutionary theory). I'll kill some doves and burn them on the altar. one works just as well as the other, right?

Commenter 1: prayer heals my friend...

Commenter 1: Faith healing, not as seen on tv, but true fith healing does exist. Ahh, but it takes absolute faith

Nathan: Again, no evidence for that. And they've done tests.

Gem: The proposition that faith healing works (but only for those whose faith is pure!) is clearly designed to be unfalsifiable. It is therefore scientifically useless.

Commenter 1: plenty of tests that cancers have disappeared, but with no explanation. Mysteries out there that we will all be happy to see

Nathan: Even if they have disappeared with no explanation, it does not mean that prayer did it.

Commenter 1: I've seen and been witness to healings that couldn't scientifically be proven

Commenter 1: Doesn't mean that faith in God and His work didn't heal, either, my dear friend

Nathan: healing could have come from many things. Why attribute it to the prayer?

Commenter 1: If science can't prove or disprove yet recognizes things claimed to be of God, how can we turn our backs on that?

Commenter 1: there are holes in scienced, it was developed by humans

Nathan: Ah, the 'God of the gaps' argument.

Commenter 1: you can't disprove it... nor can science prove the lack of existence of God. What we do know is there is an entire world beyond our imagination that we have no idea how to understand

Gem: [Commenter 1] asks, "If science can't prove or disprove yet recognizes things claimed to be of God, how can we turn our backs on that?" Science cannot disprove the existence of leprechauns or pixies, either. That doesn't somehow make them plausible or likely to exist.

Commenter 3: I have to say also that perhaps leprachauns do exist, as was said science should be testable, I am saying Creationism is. In this life there is known fact and there is faith. both are good

Gem: I see no reason to believe that faith is good or useful.

Commenter 3: creationism in true form IS scientific, has natural and testable theories

Gem: Such as?

Commenter 3: carbon dating, a man had his tooth pulled and carbon dated it. I don't remember the exact age it dated at but it was apparently thousands of years old. There are some creatures from dinosaur age that still exist which are listed in the Bible. The Bible supports dinosaur theories. I did not see the presentation myself or I am sure I could tell you alot more

Gem: First of all, those aren't testable claims made by a "creation theory": they are attempts to poke holes in evolutionary theory. Even if evolution were "proven" false, it wouldn't make Biblical creation any more plausible.

Gem: I cannot speak to your specific tooth example, but radiocarbon dating is only accurate for items that are between 150 and 50,000 years, for several different reasons (significant increases in carbon production since the industrial revolution and atmospheric nuclear testing in the 1950s, for example). There are several other types of radiometric dating, which work for various periods of time (due to the varying half-lives of the isotopes in question). These forms of radiometric dating are calibrated to each other (the isotopes used are valid for overlapping periods of time, which allows for such calibration) and to other forms of dating, such as sedimentary dating, tree-ring dating, and the known dating of archaeological objects whose provenance is well documented. They match, within known error bars. (More info here:

Gem: I'm not sure how creatures from the "dinosaur age" that still exist (e.g., crocodillians?) are relevant. Evolution does not predict that all creatures from the Cretaceous period would now be extinct. Would you mind clarifying this point?

Commenter 3: I believe that Christians came to North America because they weren't allowed to practice their religion freely at the time. Guess what? They aren't again

Gem: No? I find that claim laughable, given the fact that 84% of Americans are Christian (2005 estimate), 73% of Canadians are Christian (2010 estimate), and 96% of Mexicans are Christian (2005 estimate).

Gem: Christians can't practice their religion freely? Of course they can! They simply aren't allowed to impose it on others quite so much as they used to be able to.

Commenter 3: Christians have scientifically studied the dinosaur age and is not just a fly by theorie

Gem: "It is not just a fly by theorie"? I don't understand what you're trying to say.

Commenter 3: for one thing it would be nice if you would give me time to respond

Commenter 3: I am done for now, look that stuff up on the computer if it interests you,

Commenter 3: and i think it was lakonian

Gem: You haven't given me anything to look up.

Commenter 3: then go away, I can't think anymore right now

Nathan: Well, whadda ya know, a "science versus religion debate" involving theists and methodological naturalists wasn't put to rest once and for all on my facebook page.

I believe that the last commenter meant "Laconian", but given that Laconia is a region of Greece, I wasn't able to determine what argument this person was trying to make. With so little to go on, Google was unhelpful. I tried!


  1. I'm not very patient. I would have told Commenter 1 and Commenter 3 "You're an idiot and a waste of time. Grow up or shut up." Trying to reason with an evolution denier or anyone who is gullible enough to believe in the Christian death cult is equivalent to trying to reason with a suicide bomber. Stupidity and insanity can't be fixed.

    1. As someone who's married to a former (liberal) Christian, I tend to be a little more optimistic. No one conversation is going to change someone's mind, so the best I can hope for is to plant a seed of doubt.