Facebook promises to keep an eye out for “fake news.” What would they make of this, do you think?
According to Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution Is True, “lots of biologists and scientists were sent this link by a creationist.” The link points to a petition at the website iPetitions.com titled, “A nationwide moratorium on the teaching of evolution in school.” It’s directed to “Mike Pence, Vice-President of the United States of America,” and asserts, “It is obvious to us that Evolutionism-Darwinism is an anti-Christian atheistic dogma masquerading as science.”
The petition observes, “Evolutionists, indeed, themselves speak about their ‘theory’ with an unmistakably religious fervour.” It goes on to cite the “demise of the genetic blueprint,” the “demise of cumulative selectionism,” and the “demise of the LUCA [Last Universal Common Ancestor],” before concluding with the demand that, “We therefore urge you to persuade President Trump to issue an executive order imposing a nationwide indefinite moratorium on the teaching of evolution in public schools.”
Coyne, who titles his post ominously, “And so it begins: a petition to Mike Pence to ban the teaching of evolution,” worries:
Well, the petition isn’t going to go anywhere, or so I hope, but when Trump appoints another conservative justice to the Supreme Court, that will make a 5-4 majority, one that could overturn the existing federal ruling banning the teaching of creationism and its subspecies in public schools as a violation of the First Amendment.
Another atheist biologist and blogger, P.Z. Myers, informs his readers, “I got email from a creationist today,” and he names the individual supposedly behind the petition, “Joe Hannon.” According to Dr. Myers, “Mike Pence will eat it up,” and so for the public benefit he enters into an argument with “Hannon’s” points, pronouncing them “standard creationist crap.”
Another atheist blogger, Dan Arel at Patheos, echoes Coyne, “Well, here we go. A petition has been started to urge minority-vice-president-elect Mike Pence to enforce a ‘nationwide moratorium on the teaching of evolution,'” adding, “This is the kind of activism we can expect for the next four years from the Christian Right.”
Oh really? Taking this at face value for a moment, let me state what should be the obvious, namely that seeking a “moratorium” on teaching evolution would be wrong and foolish. (It’s the exact opposite of what Discovery Institute and the intelligent-design movement advocate, which is teaching more about evolution, informing students of the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory as articulated by mainstream scientific sources.)
But there seems every reason to doubt that “Joe Hannon” is a real person or that this petition is meant in earnest. In other words, these atheist evangelists appear to have have fallen for some pretty transparent fake news.
According to Myers, the email to him accompanying the link to the petition begins:
Howdie. I thought you might be interested to read a fresh online petition which is directed at VP-elect Mike Pence calling on the incoming Trump Adminstration to impose an immediate,unconditional and indefinite nationwide moratorium on the teaching of evolution in public schools, including the threat of crippling financial sanctions on those schools that do not fully comply with this proposed executive action.
Now that, like much of the petition itself, reads like a parody to me. So does the conclusion:
Merry Christmas to y’all,
Republicans Abroad (Make America Great Again)
The first signer of the petition is indeed a “Joseph Hannon” in the “United Kingdom.” Several points, though, would demand, at the very least, a big dose of skepticism — of which our atheist bloggers show not one bit. For one thing, a brief Google search for Joe or Joseph Hannon and evolution or Trump turns up nothing relevant to substantiate that this individual actually exists.
The organization Republicans Abroad was dissolved in 2013, according to Wikipedia, although “individual chapters remain as independently operated organizations.” A search for Republicans Abroad in the UK leads to a dead web address, but a group with a different name, Republicans Overseas UK, is active.
“Hannon” or whoever writes under his name might well be a resident of the UK or Canada, however, since he spells “fervor” the British way, “fervour.” Yet that doesn’t quite fit with the phony/folksy Americanisms, “Howdie,” “Merry Christmas to y’all.” Denyse O’Leary at Uncommon Descent suggests that the writer may be “trolling” a “prolific American anti-Trump activist living in Canada,” Joseph Huff-Hannon. Who knows?
But why would a fire-breathing creationist in search of signatures direct his anti-evolution petition to evolutionist P.Z. Myers and the presumably like-minded “lots of biologists and scientists” known to Jerry Coyne? Did “Hannon” send his petition to any evolution skeptics? A quick, admittedly unscientific survey of my email contacts in that category produces zero positive responses. It makes no sense, unless the writer was more interested in generating blog posts like those supplied by the credulous Coyne, Myers, and Arel.
What about the notion that the petition, real or fake, represents a taste of things to come — “the kind of activism we can expect for the next four years” from Trump and Pence? That is hard to square with the fact that the document has only 247 signatures, of which almost all are obvious joke names (Adolf Hitler, Homer Simpson, Igno Ramus, Ima Doofus, Ima B. Stupid, etc.), many incorporating obscenities.
Everything about this would have set off alarm bells for me. It would take a reader with a tin ear for authenticity, or with an axe to grind, to fail to be immediately dubious. Coyne, Myers, and Arel aren’t stupid, but it does look like they eagerly embraced a whopper.