Friday 5 September 2014

Conspiracy of Creationism

This post is a bit of fun, all of which is being poked at young earth creationists. A powerful case for evolution can be made all without ever touching the science itself, but rather by making an appeal to theistic authority.

The Pew Research Center did a study of public and scientific opinions on a number of controversial topics, some of which were evolution and religion. From the study we get a number of unsurprising, but telling statistics:
  • 97% of scientists believe in evolution (that living things, including humans, evolved over time)
  • 48% of scientists have some religious affiliation
  • 33% of scientists believe in God
These numbers shouldn't be a shock to anyone, the widespread acceptance of evolution within the scientific community is common knowledge. And it's likewise generally understood that scientists are less likely to be religious or theistic. But now that we have these numbers, we can play with them a bit. Assuming the best case scenario (that only the religious would reject evolution) we get that, at the very least, 93% of religious scientists affirm the theory of evolution. With a similar assumption we can see that, at the very least, 90% of theistic scientists affirm the theory of evolution.

These numbers dispel the myths you hear floating around about evolution in academia, like that scientists believe evolution just to save their naturalistic biases, or because those who doubt it are bullied into silence by their non-religious superiors. Sure naturalism is the majority view within the scientific community, but not by much!

The question I'd pose to creationists, then, is why do so many theistic scientists accept the theory of evolution? It seems that creationists are faced with a daunting trilemma. Are the vast majority of theistic scientists incompetent with science, in that they are rational and honest enough to follow the evidence wherever it might lead, but are simply not well enough informed to see the folly of evolutionary theory? Or are the vast majority of theistic scientists incompetent with reason, in that they are well informed and honest enough, but cannot keep this all straight in their heads and somehow succumb to fallacious reasoning? Or, finally, are the vast majority of theistic scientists well informed and rational, but simply dishonest? Do they know the truth, having made the right observations and having drawn the right conclusions from it, but for some reason or other are lying to the public about their findings? I can't think of any explanation that doesn't paint theistic scientists in an embarrassingly bad light.

The first horn is bold and foolish; surely the vast majority of scientists, people who have devoted their careers and lives to studying nature, are more informed than lay-people. The second horn is almost as rash; surely having undergone many years of education would make someone sufficiently rational. To get to where most scientists are, one must be extremely intelligent and well-versed in critical thinking. The final horn, then, is the least absurd, and yet it's still too much to accept. To think that the vast majority of scientists are lying to the public is crazy enough, but to think that such a large portion those perpetuating this deception are themselves theists is some next level conspiracy theory. I don't see how this is any better than thinking the government is hiding extraterrestrials, or that 9/11 was an inside job.

Then again, maybe the problem is that most lay-man creationists have never set foot in academia, and as such are simply unaware of the frequencies of different opinions of academics. After all, over half of them reported that there was no consensus on evolution within the scientific community.

On a final note, I'd like to put the creationists skepticism in perspective. In defending the historicity of Jesus' resurrection, the popular Christian apologist William Lane Craig wrote "In a survey of over 2,200 publications on the resurrection in English, French, and German since 1975, Habermas found that 75% of the scholars surveyed accepted the historicity of the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb."

Only 75% of scholars accept the historicity of Jesus' empty tomb. The intellectual arbitrariness required to hold to the standard creationist world view is jarring. There is not only a greater percentage of scientists, not only religious scientists, but even theistic scientists who accept evolution, than there is historians who accept such a meager claim that Jesus' tomb was empty on Easter morning. No wonder they're so skeptical of achedemia, they just can't win.