Yesterday, I ripped into Gordy Slack and the NY Times for bad articles on creationism. Now Slack has responded, and in the interest of fairness, I urge you to look at that comment and browse down to several others he has also made.
He’s still wrong, and I still find his article incredibly bad.
Slack’s article is titled “What neo-creationists get right: an evolutionist shares lessons he’s learned from the Intelligent Design camp“. I chewed him out because nothing in his list is anything that creationists got right — it’s a litany of common scientific arguments and complaints — and all he’s doing is falsely pandering to their self-esteem. He says he didn’t try to claim that the creationists came up with these common questions first; OK, he didn’t. He says he wasn’t trying to give creationists credit for being right; OK, I think he’s on shaky ground with that one, but I’ll concede the point to him. Now we’re left with a problem: what the heck was his article about, then? It’s reduced to a shallow attempt at finding coincidental similarities, with no thought put into them.
For instance, his first point of similarity is that creationists say that we haven’t answered the big questions of abiogenesis, and scientists say the same thing. Gosh, we’re in agreement! But no, we’re actually not. Creationists like to point to places where we don’t have all the answers, because they see that as a flaw, as a way to discredit evolution — they like to pretend that they have absolute, perfect knowledge in their holy book, even if all they do is fill the gaps with an unsatisfying and pathetic “god did it.” Scientists are comfortable with uncertainty and change, and they see those gaps as research opportunities — places where information is admittedly deficient, but where new work can be done. What Slack treats as a similarity is actually a fundamental philosophical difference.
And this is precisely where Slack is most unsatisfying. He claims to be trying to understand the creationist mindset, yet all he offers is credulous tripe in which he demonstrates that he hasn’t thought things through. Here, for example:
It surprises me that PZ is so pissed off by my efforts to understand why so many Americans reject evolution. If you ask them, and I have bothered to ask hundreds or thousands over the past two years, many will tell you that more than anything else, it’s the arrogant zealotry of cocksure ideologues that turns them off to evolution. They see people calling their intuitions and worldviews retarded and corrupt, and they march the other way. That’s one reason why we evolutionists have done such an abysmal promotions job even though we’re armed with the most delightful and seductive and potent theory ever. If we can’t sell evolution, we must be doing something wrong. Right? I’m just saying that we might start by resisting the urge to spit bile in the face of potential buyers.
Slack has chewed out most supporters of evolution as doing so without much depth of understanding — they don’t know about genetic drift, for instance. Yet here he is discussing a group who believe the earth is less than ten thousand years old, who are abysmally ignorant of all of evolutionary theory, including drift, who believe with the utmost certainty that Darwin is burning in hell and that all scientists will be following him, and he accuses the scientists of arrogance, on the word of the creationists.
Here’s a clue: Slack got it backwards. It is simply absurd to claim that they are turned off by “the arrogant zealotry of cocksure ideologues”, since that is a more apt description of their own than of scientists. Creationists love arrogance. Their whole schtick is about obedience to the precepts of meddling, pushy busybodies, either the phantasmal kind of their imaginary deity or the sadly real kind of the ranting big-haired zealots who lead their churches. You have to learn fundie-speak to understand what these informants are actually saying.
To them, “arrogant” means “competing authority with an intimidating amount of real-world evidence”.
And of course they resent that. They believe in irrelevant nonsense that requires them to constantly descend deeper and deeper into lunatic rationalizations to maintain that willful suspension of disbelief. And we come along with that “delightful and seductive and potent theory” that they have to close their eyes to, and which merely demands that they reject the temporal authority of their leaders, who threaten them with hellfire and the loss of their children’s love and morality if they accept the evidence. That really is a serious problem, and I know how difficult many people find it to abandon those beliefs, but to call our side “arrogant” while treating their side as humble is not helping. It is reinforcing falsehoods. It is also not going to resolve the problem, because it is a simple fact of the matter that scientists are a competing authority, and they do have an overwhelming amount of evidence that the creationists are wrong, wrong, wrong. Those are not points that we will surrender.
Slack is also unhappy that he has been vigorously criticized and insulted and shredded up one side and disemboweled down the other, all without regard for his genuine appreciation of good science. That’s all true. Comment threads here are not for the temperamentally delicate, that’s for sure, and everyone gets the rhetorical knife all the time (and that includes me: if Slack is appalled that he is being insulted, he ought to spend some time in my shoes. At least no one has threatened to shoot him over this argument yet.) Complaining about that is pointless. It’s like whining that the crucible is hot; of course it is, that’s what they’re for.
As for the complaint that we’re an angry, hostile bunch here: in a country where the enterprise of science and education are seriously threatened by the activist religiosity of ignorant creationists, where politicians defer to religious lunacy, where the craven media has abandoned the concepts of adversarial and investigative journalism, we’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore*. I propose that there is something wrong with you if you aren’t angry.
*That’s a quote. Look it up, it seems rather appropriate here.