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Where the Denial Really Lies

Donald McLaughlin


In 2011, Dr. Alvin Plantinga, the foremost living Christian philosopher, released his book Where the Conflict Really Lies. Plantinga argues that the real conflict is not between Science and Religion, as commonly thought, but between Naturalism and Science itself. In the same spirit, I want to examine the current trend of denialism among promoters of Darwinism and critics of intelligent design. In that context, the real conflict lies not between science and skeptics like us, as you often hear, but between ostrich-like defenders of outdated scientific orthodoxy and the reality of scientific controversy.

Recently, I wrote about the new Science League of America blog over at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) where they use identifying tags on their articles for "science denial," "evolution denial," and "climate change denial." The message is that anyone who questions "official" science is not only misinformed, but in denial. Worse, this emotive language is intended to place honest skeptics on Darwinism and climate change in the same basket as Holocaust deniers.

If anyone is guilty of being "in denial," it’s not the skeptics. The NCSE has a long history of denying scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution. Now to their repertoire they’ve added denying the climate change controversy.

Of late the NCSE has published several blog posts about the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) They accept the conclusions of the report unconditionally. For example, Programs and Policy Director Mark McCaffrey writes that "…there’s an inherent question of whether or not we will do what it takes to prepare and protect ourselves, and especially young people, from the changes underway." Even as he’s sounding the alarm in the name of the children, there’s not a hint of questioning any of the IPCC’s data .

Programs and Policy Director Josh Rosenau could hardly contain his own enthusiasm. The day of the report’s release, he wrote:

The release of a new IPCC assessment, or even a new Summary for Policy Makers as we have at hand today (PDF), is legitimate cause for excitement. In no other field does a global body gather regularly to summarize the state of scientific research in a discipline, nor does one usually get to see the sausage-making as scientists hammer out that consensus.

However, his effusiveness is tempered — not by any concern that the IPCC’s conclusions might be up for debate, but only because the process required to get a study into the report takes so long. Since the conclusions lag behind what may be the actual current situation, things are probably much worse than stated: "Bear this in mind as you read IPCC’s Fifth Assessment report, that things are likely to be worse than IPCC is prepared to state, and that the next report will surely be even more worrisome."

NCSE blogger Steve Newton, a geology professor, expressed the same worry:

Noting that "the IPCC is not built to do quick work," the Scientific American editors bemoan the length of time between assessments (the fourth assessment was released in 2007 and the fifth is about to be released). The editors cite research results "that you won’t find in the new report," claiming these make the fifth assessment "already out-of-date" and "like yesterday’s newspaper."

Finally, NCSE blogger Minda Berbeco sees the release of the report as a great tool for educating children about climate change. She gushes:

The IPCC took 259 authors from 39 countries and over 54,000 comments. We at NCSE are as excited as you are about this new report; the hard work of all those researchers, the compilation of all that great science, and the implications for using it in classrooms starting this fall.

True to her word, she offers several subsequent blog posts about how teachers can use the IPCC report to teach students about climate change.

All this would be unremarkable but for the fact that other significant studies contradict the "official" story in the IPCC report. The Heartland Institute’s Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, for one, has repeatedly challenged those findings. In the week just before the new IPCC report came out, they published the report by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), "Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science," with conclusions directly opposite those of the IPCC. More than fifty renowned and highly credentialed climate scientists from around the world endorsed that study.
Does the NCSE mention any of this in their effusive praise of the IPCC report? Not a word!

We see the same pattern of denial when it comes to Darwinism and the scientific challenges to it. I have highlighted some of the recent blogs by Josh Rosenau where he tosses the tag "evolution denial" at anyone who dares to question the official Darwinian story. Then there is the incessant stereotyping of what proponents of ID say, as John West points. What all this stereotyping and name-calling obscures is that there is indeed genuine scientific controversy — not just in the intelligent design movement, but in evolutionary biology itself.

No one has done a better job of making that clear than Stephen Meyer in Darwin’s Doubt. Dr. Meyer has shown undeniably that the scientific case against Darwinian evolution as an explanation for the origin of biological information has been made thoroughly by evolutionary biologists themselves. But you won’t hear a word about that from the NCSE.

Seventeen years ago, Discovery Institute Fellow Dr. Michael Behe published his controversial book Darwin’s Black Box. He observed at the time that there were no peer-reviewed scientific studies anywhere to be found that provided the step-by-Darwinian-step explanation of how evolution built any of the irreducibly complex biological systems that Behe discussed in the book. Plenty of time has gone by since then for at least a few such studies to be published, but none has been. That inconvenient fact, however, does not prevent the NCSE from labeling anyone who points it out as an "evolution denier" or a "science denier."

Who, then, is truly in the business of "denial"? When fifty to a hundred of the world’s renowned climate scholars release a report challenging the official IPCC story, that’s a controversy. When leading neo-Darwinian evolutionary biologists fail to provide a single research study demonstrating a Darwinian model of how undirected causes can account for the origin of biological information in the Cambrian explosion, that’s a controversy. When leading evolutionary biologists call for a new model of evolution because they recognize the orthodox version isn’t cutting it, that’s a controversy.

Admit it, NCSE. I would say it’s time for the real deniers to deal with scientific reality.

Image credit: pluckytree/Flickr.

Donald McLaughlin

Donald McLaughlin joined Discovery Institute in August 2013 as a Development Officer and Regional Representative in the upper Midwest and Northeast regions. Donald is currently on staff with Ratio Christi as Senior Director of Advancement as well as Chapter Director for Indiana University – South Bend.