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Darwin Defender Daniel Bolnick Illustrates How to Market Evolution to the Public

Casey Luskin

Daniel Bolnick, a leader of the pro-Darwin only “Texas 21st Century Science Coalition,” recently published an op-ed in the Waco Tribune which provides some good lessons on how to argue for “evolution” to the public: Be extremely dogmatic and vague about the evidence.

Lesson 1: Vaguely Assert Massive Support for “Evolution” From the Scientific Literature
Bolnick writes that in the past decade, “biologists have published more than 30,000 research articles demonstrating that evolution has occurred and how it works,” further stating that “[m]ore than 100,000 published biological research studies demonstrate the fact of evolutionary change.” So just how does Bolnick define “evolution”? He doesn’t, thus introducing equivocation and vagueness into the discussion.

“Evolution” can refer to something as simple as minor changes within individual species that occur over short periods of time (Evolution #1), which no one denies. Others use “Evolution” to mean something much more far-reaching, such as claiming that all living organisms are descended from a single common ancestor (Evolution #2), or that natural selection is the driving force producing life’s complexity (Evolution #3). No one contests Evolution #1, and in fact there’s plenty of evidence for it in the scientific literature. But Evolution #2 and Evolution #3 are far more controversial. Unfortunately, Bolnick seems to be pulling the Evolution Bait-and-Switch, citing uncontroversial evidence for Evolution #1 as if it were evidence for Evolution #2 or #3.

Later, Bolnick discusses Evolution #3 and apparently the number of studies that document such “evolution” drop from “30,000” or “100,000” (I’m not sure which it is) down to “many,” as he writes: “Many experimental studies demonstrate that natural selection and related processes can produce observed evolutionary changes.” At this point, an example of one of these “many experimental studies” would be nice. But Bolnick provides nothing of the sort. All we’re left with is claims of hugely impressive numbers of studies (“100,000,” “30,000,” or “many,” take your pick) which support “evolution,” a term which is not clearly defined.

Lessons 2 & 3: Re-label Evidence Against “Evolution” as Religion and Claim That Such Evidence Doesn’t Exist
Next, Bolnick teaches us two classic Darwinist lessons in one single sentence. He re-labels any scientific challenges to natural selection as religion (particularly, special creation) and claims that any evidence against natural selection doesn’t exist, writing: “In contrast, no scientific evidence exists showing that species were created separately or that natural processes can’t account for observed evolution.”

Bolnick’s claim is easy to refute. Was the notoriously non-creationist National Academy of Sciences (NAS) biologist Lynn Margulis advocating special creation when she observed that “[the] Darwinian claim to explain all of evolution is a popular half-truth whose lack of explicative power is compensated for only by the religious ferocity of its rhetoric”? Of course not. In fact, Bolnick himself provides a wonderful illustration of the “religious ferocity” of the pro-natural-selection rhetoric that Margulis laments is bad for scientific progress.

Lesson 4: Dogmatically Assert the “Overwhelming” Evidence for Evolution (But Don’t Discuss the Evidence)
We Darwin-skeptics are continually amused with the frequency that the word “overwhelming” is used to describe the alleged evidence for “evolution.” Bolnick teaches us how to make this argument, stating, “There is virtually universal support among research biologists for the overwhelming scientific evidence behind evolution.” If it’s so “overwhelming,” why can’t he give us an example? His op-ed gives us no real discussion of the scientific evidence. He just wants us to believe the evidence for evolution is “overwhelming.” Perhaps this gives a hint of how he wants evolution taught in public schools.

Actually, Bolnick does give one example of the evidence . . . sort of. He says that “millions of fossils (yes, millions) … clearly illustrate a history of evolution.” (Millions? At this point I can’t help but imagine Dr. Evil bringing his pinky up to his chin and answering, “yes, millions.”) If there are “millions of fossils” supporting “evolution” (which again, he doesn’t define), then surely he could give us an example. Again, none is given.

Instead, Bolnick goes on the offensive against Darwin’s critics, stating that critics of evolution “claim that an incomplete fossil record disproves evolution.” Bolnick must be taking his cues from the NAS’s recent booklet Science, Evolution, and Creationism, which similarly makes the bizarre and false assertion that Darwin’s critics “cite what they claim to be an incomplete fossil record as evidence that living things were created in their modern forms.” This claim makes no sense and turns history on its head.

One would only appeal to the incompleteness of the fossil record if somehow the record posed problems for their viewpoint. Thus, it is the Darwinists who have historically used the excuse that the fossil record is “incomplete” to justify clinging to Darwinian change in the face of missing fossil transitions. After all, Darwin himself heavily promoted the argument that, “The geological record is extremely imperfect and this fact will to a large extent explain why we do not find interminable varieties.” Stephen Jay Gould wrote that many evolutionists have adopted Darwin’s excuse for the fossil record, stating that “Darwin’s [imperfection] argument still persists as the favored escape of most paleontologists from the embarrassment of a record that seems to show so little of evolution directly.”

The unwillingness of biologists to abandon the “imperfection” or “incompleteness” argument to explain away the lack of transitional forms was so severe that one of Gould’s students, evolutionary biologist David Woodruff, had to plead with other biologists to accept the fossil record at face value. As Woodruff wrote in a letter to Science, “Evolutionary biologists can no longer ignore the fossil record on the ground that it is imperfect.”

In fact, it is well known that in many instances the fossil record is quite complete–adequate enough to show that new fossil forms appeared in abrupt explosions. Bolnick, however, gives a revisionist history of the situation designed to paper over the fact that the fossil record has posed major problems for Darwinian evolution.

Lesson 5: Change the Topic from Science to Religion
Rather than giving any scientific details, Bolnick tries to frame this issue as a religious war, stating, “Opponents also argue that accepting the science of evolution means rejecting faith in God.” Contrast Bolnick’s statement the measured response of Texas State Board of Education chair Don McElroy, whose op-ed was published alongside Bolnick’s piece. McElroy wrote that people like Bolnick say that teaching the weaknesses of evolution “will inject religion into the science classroom” but then suggests “Should they be concerned? No. This will not happen.”

It sure doesn’t sound like McElroy is turning this into a religious war. And it’s amusing how it’s the Darwinists who talk the most about religion in this debate. By trying to turn this into a religious issue, Darwinists try to avoid talking about the scientific evidence and instead use religious arguments for their position.

Lesson 6: Demonize your Opponents
Bolnick’s last tactic he illustrates is how to demonize one’s opponents, making the blanket charge that Darwin-skeptics “frequently distort published research from respected scientists in an effort to mislead the general public about the scientific consensus supporting evolution.” But what we have seen is that Bolnick is the one making vague and dogmatic appeals to “overwhelming” evidence supported by “more than 100,000” papers, yet the only discussion he gives of the scientific evidence is flat wrong.

I won’t partake in Bolnick’s demonization, but a few questions must be raised: If his position that students should learn no weaknesses of evolution is so strong, why must Bolnick resort to talking about religion, puffing about “overwhelming” evidence supporting “evolution,” and demonization of his opponents? Why can’t he give any good examples of the evidence?

Bolnick’s choices of rhetorical tactics tell us much about the strength of his position. I hope now it’s a little clearer why Texas Darwinists like Bolnick use so many bad arguments to keep students from learning about the scientific weaknesses of evolution in public schools.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, 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.