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Sep 27 2011

Creationists blame evolution for poor US science showing

Writing in a guest column for dnj.com, a certain Ned Myers blames Charles Darwin for Americans’ poor scientific literacy.

…American public school students place 23rd in scientific literacy when compared to 34 other developed nations.

A strong case can be made that one reason for this poor showing is that we teach evolution as science. Webster’s dictionary defines science as, “Knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws, especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.” Macro evolution, whereby one species evolves into another, falls short of this definition. Evolution cannot be considered a general truth because it cannot be experimentally tested or proven by using scientific methods.

Hmm, chicken and egg problem here: is Myers’s scientific illiteracy due to his study of evolution, or are his conclusions about evolution due to his scientific illiteracy? He blames scientific illiteracy on the fact that evolution is taught as science, but then leaps straight from there into a laundry-list recital of standard creationist talking points about why evolution must be false. Not only does he fail to show any connection between evolution and the illiteracy level, he fails to even try.

I mean, suppose it were true, suppose evolutionists like Richard Dawkins were scientifically illiterate, and only “scientists” like Jonathan Wells (cited in the article) were scientifically literate. Myers is “up” on all the creationist literature. He’s done his homework. He ought to be scientifically literate by now. So shouldn’t he realize that his claim (evolution causes scientific illiteracy) needs to be supported by valid studies? Shouldn’t he be conducting (or at least citing) studies that compare students of creationism with students of evolution (plus a neutral control group of, say, physics students) to see which population scored higher on scientific literacy tests?

Myers, it seems, is living in a glass house. But more than that, he shoots down his own argument without knowing it.

Make no mistake the argument isn’t about natural selection or descent with modification. These processes are scientifically observable within individual species. The argument is whether these mechanisms brought about the vast diversity of plant and animal life, including humans, from a single living ancestor. Many think not.

Scientifically-literate people know that the same observations which allow us to confirm descent with modification within a species are also the kind of observation that allow us to confirm descent with modification from ancestor species. “Macro” evolution is not biologically different from “micro” evolution (except in a specialized technical sense of the term), it’s just descent with modification over a larger number of generations. There was a time when creationists would not admit that even micro evolution was true, but I guess they’ve given up on trying to deny those facts.

Nor will they be able to deny evolution between the species for much longer, since their own dogma claims that Noah’s ark contained only a representative number of “kinds,” from which all modern species are descended. In other words, different canine species—wolf, dog, dingo, jackal, etc—are all descended from a “dog-kind” ancestral pair. That’s descent with variation between species, just like Darwin said.

If creationists were scientifically literate even within their own arbitrarily-selected dogma, they would realize that the principles of Darwinism describe actual real-world processes that even a Global Flood can’t wash away. It is pointless and misleading, therefore, to try and blame Darwinism for scientific illiteracy. As Ned Myers demonstrates, that particular chicken has a creationist roost to call home.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    Richard Simons

    So, is he saying that countries that perform better at science literacy than the US do not teach evolution in the schools?

    1. 1.1
      Mary D

      So, is he saying that countries that perform better at science literacy than the US do not teach evolution in the schools?
      Naw, he’s saying that no matter what other countries teach, America would be number one if evolution wasn’t taught as science.

  2. 2
    unbound

    …American public school students place 23rd in scientific literacy when compared to 34 other developed nations.

    A strong case can be made that one reason for this poor showing is that we teach evolution as science.

    And the 22 nations did better because they don’t teach evolution as science? o.O

  3. 3
    Kiwi Sauce

    This post had me wondering, because I’m not even a biologist, let alone a specialist in evolution. Is the single common ancestor even a living thing, or would it be more like a container of amino acids and not yet at the RNA phase of evolution?

    1. 3.1
      Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

      The last universal ancestor must have had DNA, was probably technically a colony of bacteria (or proto-bacteria) rather than a single organism (because of horizontal gene transfer). (Disclaimer: I’m not a biologist either.)

  4. 4
    wunelle

    Ah, yes. The way to be scientifically literate is to bypass the keystone of all modern biology. More conservative making shit up to score points with the idiots who don’t care in the first place what is true and known. Fail, fail, fail.

  5. 5
    sailor1031

    This non-sequitur conclusion seems to be based on a misreading of the OECD PISA studies. I suspect more fundie bullshit!

  6. 6
    GGS

    According to the OECD report referenced in the article that prompted Myers’ screed, the United States is outranked by China (Shanghai), Finland, China again (Hong Kong), Singapore, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Canada, Estonia, Australia, Netherlands, Chinese Taipei, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Macao, Poland, Ireland, Belgium, and Hungary. Having lived in two of the countries mentioned, I can state from personal experience that they do teach evolution as science (and more generally, science as science), and I rather doubt that China, Singapore, or Finland, say, has replaced the teaching of evolution with Creationist fairy-stories, as Myers seems to recommend. The evidence would suggest that the whole of Myers’ “strong case” has in fact been pulled from his fundamentalist fundament.

  7. 7
    Hazuki

    I…but…what…uh…what the fuck. I suppose the other countries that did better did so because they DON’T teach evolution then? Oh, wait.

    I hope the people responsible for this “conclusion” own stock in Caterpillar, because they’re going to need a front loader to move that load of bullshit from place to place.

  8. 8
    YankeeCynic

    Wow. Isn’t this article like an arsonist complaining that the decline in property values around him is related to the fire department?

  9. 9
    Mandrellian

    The efforts of creationists to hamstring proper, fact-based science education because it offends their precious, arbitrary, self-centred, narcissistic sectarian sensibilities have SUCCEEDED … but this rodeo-clown-for-Jesus is annoyed because his own success has made his country a laughing stock.

    I’m having trouble comprehending just how stupid this guy is.

    I feel the need to quote youtuber thunderf00t:

    Why do people laugh at creationists?
    Only creationists don’t know.

  10. 10
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    *stares at the screen in silence*

    *double facepalm*

  11. 11
    Didaktylos

    How creationist win arguments: say something that is so dumb-strikingly stupid that anyone hearing it is literally unable to articulate a response; then claim victory on the grounds that their opponent didn’t even try to rebut them.

  12. 12
    Francisco Bacopa

    Seems Ned has a hard case to make. The correlations suggest otherwise. We have a high rate of YEC acceptance, a low rate of understanding what evolution even is, and we suck at science. These facts by themselves are not enough to establish causation, but they certainly argue against the case that having more YEC’s and knowing less about evolution will make us better at science overall.

  13. 13
    Christina

    “Nor will they be able to deny evolution between the species for much longer, since their own dogma claims that Noah’s ark contained only a representative number of “kinds,” from which all modern species are descended. In other words, different canine species—wolf, dog, dingo, jackal, etc—are all descended from a “dog-kind” ancestral pair. ”

    That’s what I can’t understand – why they hold such a view. It seems to me that a much easier way to rationalize it away, without requiring ultra-fast evolution (whole *families* or even *orders* with a LCA a few millennia ago!) is to say that God simply re-created all the species after the Flood, and his command to Noah to gather all the animals together was simply a test of his faith. (The Bible does, after all, depict God testing people’s faith in other ways, too!) Not only does that avoid the obvious problem of gathering every species of animal into a single boat, but it also avoids the question of “If God could create the very planet and all its living things from scratch, why did he need Noah to save the animals in the first place? Is he losing power?”

  14. 14
    Archer

    I was hoping to see scientific evidences for evolution from your post but failed. :)

    1. 14.1
      Deacon Duncan

      Look at it this way: it’s not really you that failed, it’s the Creator who failed to come up with anything as ingenious as evolution. If God had only been as clever as Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins, then you might have been able to find evidence of a really amazing and sophisticated biological system that goes way beyond anything the writers of Genesis could have imagined.

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