Posts Tagged ‘Kent Hovind’

Why Darwin Matters

August 24, 2008

On a shopping trip with my girlfriend south of the border (a common excursion for Canadians, given the recent relative strength of their dollar), I picked up two books I’ve been anxious to read: Why Darwin Matters, by Skeptic Magazine publisher Michael Shermer, and Your Inner Fish, by paleontologist Neil Shubin. I finished the former in less than 24 hours, and though I’m a couple years behind the game, I’ll be writing my impressions here.

Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design is at its heart a book of persuasion. shermer divides the world into three types of people:

True Believers, Fence Sitters, and skeptics. Religious True Believers will never change their minds no matter what evidence is presented to them, and science-embracing skeptics already accept evolution. The battleground is for the Fence Sitters – those who have heard something about a claim or controversy and wonder what the explanation for it might be.

Thus, from the start, the book is not really directed at me, as I whole-heartedly accept evolution. However, I quite enjoyed reading it, as evidenced by the fact that I could hardly put it down. Here’s why.

First, Shermer presents an entertaining history of intelligent design and creationism in the United States, and why they persist in the face of overwhelming evidence for evolution. In so doing, he provides riveting accounts of William Jennings Bryan’s boisterous prosecution of the Scopes trial, and most memorably of all a debate between he and the namesake of the Hovind Scale, the fast-talking creationist and current jailbird Kent Hovind. His account of this debate can also be found on the website of Skeptic Magazine.

In the meat of the book, Shermer systematically dismantles the arguments for Intelligent Design, finding them all unequal to rigorous standards of science. He then exposes the real agenda behind the ID movement, most memorably by recounting the words of Discovery Institute fellow William Dembski at the annual conference of the National Religious Broadcasters:

…intelligent design opens the whole possibility of us being created in the image of a benevolent God… The job of apologetics is to clear the ground, to clear obstacles that prevent people from coming to the knowledge of Christ… And if there’s anything that I think has blocked the growth of Christ as the free reign of the Spirit and people accepting the Scripture and Jesus Christ, it is the Darwinian naturalistic view.

To close as Shermer does throughout the book, Q. E. D.

Finally, and most challengingly for me, Shermer devotes a large portion of the book to explaining why evolution is perfectly compatible with both Christianity and conservativism. The reason for the first is obvious: most Americans and virtually all American creationists are Christian, and to sell evolution to doubtful Christians is to convince them that it does not contradict their faith. The need for the second is less obvious. What reason would a conservative have for doubting evolution, except that most conseratives in the United States are Christian? Still, Shermer cites poll data showing that some 60 percent of Republicans are creationists. Clearly something is at work here. To woo conservatives to the side of evolution, Shermer cites 19th century economist Adam Smith, whose posited “invisible hand” works in precisely the same way as Darwin’s natural selection. (In his review of Expelled for Scientific American, he recounts memorably his reminder of this fact to Ben Stein, during his interview for the film.)

I say that this part of the book was challenging for me because I have difficulty with the arguments for the compatibility of religion and evolution. It is certainly true that there is nothing in evolution, or in science in general, that precludes the existence of a god, but this is because nothing in science could do so; God is by definition not a part of the natural universe, and so not amenable to empirical observation. God is therefore superfluous, unnecessary, a cheap rhinestone pasted on the scientific edifice to increase its appeal to the religiously-minded. Still, as long as God is technically compatible with science, and as long as most humans believe in one god or another, the smartest tactic may be to stress the compatibility point, and confront creationists on their so-far successful ploy of equating evolution with atheism.

Having said all this, by far the most entertaining part of the book for a scientific True Believer like me is its coda, Genesis Revisited, in which Shermer rewrites the book of Genesis to fit in with creationists’ insistence on its literal truth. Here’s a representative excerpt:

And God saw that the land was barren, so He created animals bearing their own kind, declaring Thou shalt not evolve into new species, and thy equilibrium shall not be punctuated. And God placed into the rocks, fossils that appeared older than 4004 BC that were similar to but different from living creatures. And the sequence resembled descent with modification. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Q. E. D.

I recommend the book heartily, whether you are a skeptic or a Fence Sitter; it will entertain either variety. Hell, I recommend it to the creationist True Believers as well. Shermer was such at one point, and you never know when a tendril of truth will sneak through a crack in the stone wall of denial.

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Why do creationists fight for creationism?

June 11, 2008

A blogger styling himself Sirius Knotts (if that’s his real name, then he is awesome) left a comment on the Hovind Scale main post a while back. Today I followed it to his blog. I almost regret it now. Almost.

In this post, he makes the claim that the real reason we “evolutionists” don’t like Kent Hovind is that he is able to trounce us in debate after debate (I choked a little when I wrote those words, it’s just too funny), despite not holding an accredited degree. Well, he’s half right. The really real reason we don’t like Hovind is that he is charismatic enough to convince the credulous that he trounces real scientists in debate after debate, despite doing nothing of the sort. He is also a liar.

But enough of that. I didn’t begin this post to deconstruct Mr. Knotts’ nonsense; plenty of commenters have already done so. (In fact, I was amused to find not a single favorable comment on theh posts I read.) I wanted to highlight his blog to illustrate some idle speculation of mine on the title question: why do creationists fight for creationism? I’ve already intimated why I think it’s important to fight for evolution, so this is the other side of the coin.

Two things are obvious about Young Earth Creationists (YEC). One is that they arrive at the YEC viewpoint not by careful consideration of science, but by first declaring that the Bible is the inerrant, literal word of God. Indeed, it has to be this way, since all the evidence from science runs directly counter to the YEC perspective. The other obvious characteristic of YECs is that they feel their worldview threatened by the historical sciences, by evolution, abiogenesis, historical geology, cosmology, etc.

They feel threatened because they believe that the universe and all in it was created for our sole use. They feel threatened because they believe that humans were made in God’s own image. They feel threatened because evolutionary theory, and the other sciences listed above, run counter to those ideas. The believe all of the above, yet many of them have the gall to call supporters of legitimate science arrogant!

The fact is that the universe revealed by science, is vast, wonderful, and largely indifferent to human life. The Earth we live on has supported uncounted different species of organisms in its long history, and all of them arose the same way, including us. When we are gone, which may not take too much longer, it will all go on as it did when we were here. We are not the centerpiece of creation.

We live in an enormous universe, populated with untold wonders, of which we are an infinitesimal part. Creationists prefer to live in a small universe, made entirely for the benefit of one species. Why limit yourself to a universe so tiny, so bereft of imagination, when science has revealed something so much more wonderful?

Benchmark statements for Hovind Scale variables

May 26, 2008

Thanks again to qbsmd for the idea of creating tables that provided examples of statements corresponding to each value of the variables that make up a Hovind factor. Over the next few days I will be compiling such tables in this post, so watch this space!

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German Hovind Scale Calculator

May 23, 2008

Forodrim of the RichardDawkins.net forums has posted a German version of the Hovind Scale Calculator. This will be handy for refuting all those German creationists. Here it is.

The Hovind Scale

May 9, 2008

I spend what most would probably consider an unhealthy amount of time discussing and arguing in favor of (and mostly learning about) evolution at the RichardDawkins.net forums. Because it’s a pretty high-profile site, a lot of creationists try to argue their “case” as well. This is fine, of course, and I actually came to anticipate them, as they provide good practice for arguing the unassailable side of science. As I read the creationists’ posts, however, and saw the same tired misunderstandings of science and the same egregious quotemines of respectable scientists, I came up with the idea for a method of objectively categorizing just how scientifically inaccurate, just how mendacious, just how wrong creationist arguments are. I came up with the idea for the Hovind Scale. (You may need a membership at the forum to see it there.) It’s named of course, for Kent Hovind, and for scales.

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