February 08, 2008

What Planet Are They On: Creationists in Severe Denial

I honestly wonder sometimes what planet the evolution denial crowd is on, particularly the ones who run about spouting off that evolutionary biology is on its last legs or, even more deludedly, that evolutionary theory has been abandoned by scientists. Witness this rather bizarre epistle to Highlands Today:

Evolution Of Species

Charles Darwin's Evolution of the Species philosophy, based on single-cell macrobiology, has been categorically rejected by all qualified biologists, even those who profess to be atheists.

Why would any school board approve the teaching of Darwinian evolution of the species as a scientific fact, when it does not even qualify as a theory or a hypothesis.

If evolution of the species is taught, the curriculum should at least state, "This is a philosophy, a religion or a theology."

— Jim Rahenkamp
Avon Park, FL

What exactly is "single-cell macrobiology"? Is this the same thing as cell theory, which states that the simplest unit of life is the cell? Is it some cross between part of a scientific theory and macrobiotics? I have never heard before of "single-cell macrobiology." A search for the term on Google turns up nothing about it but a link back to this very letter. I can only conclude that it's another one of those bizarre terms that one Creationist or another makes up from time to time that tells us only that we are hearing the voice of yet another ignoramus pretending to have some special insight into science.

Of course, what Mr. Rahenkamp is upset about is the turn of events in Highlands County. This was yet another Floridian county in which the local school board considered a resolution demanding that new science education standards in the state be watered down to make way for religious instruction in classrooms under the guise of teaching the controversy. Unlike a number of other counties, however, the school board in Highlands has dropped their effort. At their meeting, Dr. James Broen of South Florida Community College spoke (among others) in what sounds like one of the best exchanges of the evening:
James Broen said he has a Ph.D. in microbiology and is a parent of three students in the school district.

"There is a lot of distortion, misrepresentation and misinformation about science and biology circulating about this community and apparently it permeates this board to some degree," he said. "Clearly there is a deficiency in science literacy and it would be a shame to see it perpetuate with students in this county."

The evolution of all organisms that live on earth today from ancestors that lived in the past is at the core of many science disciplines, Broen said.

Concerning the proposed resolution and the teaching of alternative theories, he asked the board, "what theories are you advocating being presented in the scientific curriculum?"

After a pause, Hancock replied, "I don't think you are going to get that answer."

Broen said, "since the resolution states there are other theories to be presented to the student, yet the board members have failed to produce them, then it seems this resolution must be discarded."
And discarded it was, for the simple reason that all these people who beat their chests and rend their clothes over teaching students real science don't actually have another viable and informative theory to replace that of evolution. What they have are objections that the theory isn't in keeping with their beliefs, but when you get right down to it they come up with either nothing (as in the case of Superintendent Hancock) or sheer gibberish in soundbytes like "single-cell macrobiology," as is the case with Jim Rahenkamp.

And who is Jim Rahenkamp? Here he is explaining a bit about that. Note that word in the middle of the bottom line of the sign he's holding up: "preacher." What we've got here is yet another religiously-motivated wingnutter proclaiming his superior knowledge of not only science but of scientists.

Because, as anyone who hasn't had his/her head stuck up their Bible-hole for the last 75 years or so knows, "qualified biologists" have not come anywhere near abandoning evolutionary theory. With each year that passes, we find more corroborating evidence and new ways in which to apply what has shown itself to be one of the most useful and explanatory theories in all of science. To call it a philosophy, as Rahenkamp does, is to completely miss the point. We can look at philosophies and see whether they have ever been applied to an empirical problem successfully. How much has research in Existentialism provided in new technology and clarification of mechanisms? Has Stoicism yielded any great finds in agricultural technology recently? What has Objectivism revealed to us about the virulence of disease that we didn't know before? Evolutionary theory is a theory about organisms that can be applied to organisms and, to a fair extent, to things that behave like simple organisms in particular ways. Calling it a philosophy is a bit like calling a scalpel a shoelace; it's a category error. If you can make a better scalpel or a better shoelace, it will work better in the role for which it's intended, but you can't arbitrarily switch those roles as Rahenkamp is trying to do here and as others have tried to do as well by conflating evolutionary theory with abiogenesis or moral instruction. Moreover, if you have come up with a better theory (or a scalpel or shoelace, for that matter), it is incumbent upon you to demonstrate how that theory works better than the one you're proposing it replace. To date, not a single person has been able to do this when it comes to the underlying principles of modern biology.

Call it a hunch, but I don't think Jim Rahenkamp is going to be the guy who does it.

Trying to call evolutionary theory a "religion, or a theology" is, I think, largely the product of some form of neurological disorder of the same sort that might cause one to confuse one's wife with one's hat. Evolutionary theory has nothing at all to say about any deities or how man and the divine might relate to one another. It's about how the diversity of life we see around us came to be here and how it continues to change over time. That's it. In the broadest terms, it's quite simple.

No, Jim Rahenkamp, evolutionary theory has certainly not been discarded by "qualified biologists," whatever that means in the head of someone who comes up with "single-cell macrobiology." Instead, it has been demonized by crotchety fundamentalists and blathering would-be politicians who don't even know what it actually says and, in all likelihood, have never once met a biologist.

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