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Academic Article Correcting Misconceptions about Evolution Promotes Misconceptions about ID

Photo: Galápagos marine iguana, by Datune at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s good to be back at Discovery Institute. Even after my nearly five years away, I see that some things remain unchanged. Recently I awoke to an email notifying me that a new article in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, published by BMC Springer Nature, had cited my work. This journal is dedicated to improving evolution-advocacy, and has long had close ties to lobby groups including the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Curious about what it had to say, I downloaded the paper, which is titled “Biology teachers’ conceptions of Humankind Origin across secular and religious countries: an international comparison.” 

At first blush, the title seemed a bit strange coming from an academic journal. I was not aware that it is acceptable to stereotype entire nations as “religious” or “secular.” The language in this academic article was even stranger. Phrases like “creationist ideology,” “Evolution Wars” (italics in the original), and the touting of “countless evidence [sic] of the evolutionary process that led to human origin [sic],” had a rhetorical edge one would not expect from careful intellectual discourse that at least wants to present a veneer of objectivity. 

The Creationism Gambit

As is typical in this genre, I found that the authors repeatedly conflated intelligent design with “creationism” — citing, for example, “followers of the intelligent design movement, a form of creationism” — showing no recognition that ID proponents have long offered principled arguments as to why their model is different from creationism. As another example, the authors explain their deep concern that:

American creationist groups like the Discovery Institute have published articles portraying Brazilian creationism as “flourishing” and “shining” (Wells 2017), and celebrating the collaborative launching of a research centre for creationist science in a leading university in Brazil (Klinghoffer 2017).

Paul Nelson once called this tactic the “creationism gambit.” Yet they struggle to explain an important observation: why many scientists become “creationists” who doubt Darwinian evolution. Their initial hypothesis suggested a deep prejudice against Darwin-doubting scientists: they propose ignorance of science. However, to their credit they acknowledge that studies have shown that scientific ignorance isnt the answer. Here’s how they put it: 

It would seem reasonable to expect individuals who are knowledgeable about science and who have science-related professions to fully subscribe to evolutionary views (i.e., creationists simply lack the necessary knowledge). However, research shows that this is not necessarily the case. In a comparative study of life scientists in the UK and Brazil, Falcão (2008) found that Brazilian scientists believed in the supernatural more strongly than British scientists despite their common advanced scientific training. Brazilian scientists shoed [sic] to retain a firm attachment to a belief in God regardless of their university training level, e.g., scientific knowledge did not necessarily lead them to give up their belief in God.

So what is the explanation for why scientists abandon Darwin? They don’t explicitly offer one, preferring to leave the situation in a state of the unknown, writing: “the relationship between scientific training / knowledge and religious belief is far from simple and straightforward. Being a knowledgeable and experienced member of the science profession does not necessarily guarantee one’s full embracement of evolutionary views or dismissal of creationist ones.” Perhaps there’s a simple explanation but they don’t see it due to a blind spot: scientists doubt Darwin because of the evidence. Tomorrow I’ll address my specific citation.