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Science Promotes False Dichotomy That Disallows Darwin Skeptics from Being Scientific

A recent issue of the journal Science has an article entitled, “Evolution: Crossing the Divide,” which discusses the “painful transition from creationist to evolutionist” of paleontologist Stephen Godfrey. The article tells of the many difficulties Dr. Godfrey faced when he told his fundamentalist Christian family, which taught him to believe in young earth creationism, that he had become an “evolutionist.” The article portrays Darwin-skeptics as young earth creationists, painting a false dichotomy between religion-based creationism or science-based evolution. To elaborate, the false dichotomy goes something like this: Darwinists obviously say that one can accept evolution and religion, but they force a false dichotomy upon Darwin-skeptics by claiming that if you challenge evolution, then you have abandoned science and your view is purely religious. Just like creationists who have promoted a false dichotomy that forces supporters of evolution to abandon religion, Darwinists like the people at Science print articles promoting a false dichotomy that forces would-be Darwin-skeptics to abandon science.

The Science article focuses almost entirely upon efforts to promote young earth creationism. In the one sentence where it mentions intelligent design, it casts it merely as religious “creationism.” Darwinists are promoting a false dichotomy. If you want to have a scientific view about origins, they tell you that your only choice is neo-Darwinism. Otherwise, they tell you that you must believe in religion-based creationism. This is harmful because it tells people that if they want to be both religious and scientific, their only choice is to accept neo-Darwinian evolution. That’s a false dichotomy because it tells people that if they dissent from Darwinism, their only option is a religious view–it willfully ignores scientific skepticism of evolution or science-based ID. While religious persons can of course accept neo-Darwinism if they so choose, this false dichotomy ignores the fact that there are some alternatives to evolution that are scientific (i.e., intelligent design).

The article is also deficient in that many of the young earth creationists mentioned in the article are sadly portrayed as highly intolerant of those who accept evolution. This out-dated caricature goes back to the days of the Scopes trial, and it is commonly called the Inherit the Wind Stereotype.

But what about paleontologist Stephen Godfrey? It seems that he probably would disagree with Judge Jones’ finding that it is “utterly false” to believe that “evolutionary theory is antithetical to belief in the existence of a supreme being.” Here’s what happened after Dr. Godfrey’s “painful transition from creationist to evolutionist”:

He has flirted with atheism but found it too depressing. Several years ago, he stopped attending church for a year before returning. He believes in God today, he says, but tomorrow may be different.

(Jennifer Couzin, “Evolution: Crossing the Divide,” Science, Vol. 319:1034-1036 (February 22, 2008).)

Judge Jones told us that it is “utterly false” to believe that neo-Darwinian evolution poses any form of challenge to belief in God. It sounds nice on paper, but something tells me that in the real world, many people, including scientists like Stephen Godfrey, would disagree.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



aaasAmerican Association for the Advancement of SciencescienceStephen Godfrey