History teachers have it relatively easy

With all due respect to James McGrath, historical skepticism never gets quite this bad.

Courtesy of SMBC (click image for original)

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  • Luke Holzmann

    [sigh] I get frustrated by Creationists who completely misrepresent the claims of evolution, but I also get frustrated by those who critique Creationists by misrepresenting their stance.

    “States change over time.” No one–who has taken even a moment to consider–disagrees with this. This is biblical (Noah’s Ark). This isn’t something that is actually contested. And if it is, it shouldn’t be [smile].

    I find it plausible that people would use the “put here by Satan” argument… but that is ludicrous. The larger point is that the evidence is contested to say what it says. It’s mainly the interpretation of what those “documents, weapons, uniforms” mean that is contested. It’s the story we create based on the information we have (I believe I borrowed that line from Perry Marshall).

    “Every historian believes” is a logical fallacy. It may be correct, even important, but appeal to majority/authority isn’t a good argument. Especially when the thing in question isn’t true (not every scientist believes in Evolution… depending on how you define it). The larger issue here, of course, is poor definitions. As we see in the next panel, this guy agrees with “descent with modification” (after claiming not to believe in it; frustrating, I know) but has been led to believe that “revolution” means a complete change in human leadership through tiny rebellions that lead to a new governance system that is more complex and better adapted than the one before… something that doesn’t happen in revolution (an outright overthrow of that which was before). Were this frustrated teacher to acknowledge this miscommunication, things would be much, much better. The same is true if people were to speak more clearly of abiogenesis, descent with modification, common descent, natural selection, and so on.

    The panels on “where states come from” is a clear indication that the “State-ist” is talking about something akin to abiogenesis and the Historian is talking about overthrowing government (descent with modification).

    Intro to Biology is hard to teach. Why? I believe that, apart from the politics/theological “implications” of the YEC movement, the second biggest contributor is unclear definitions of terms. If we were to clear upfront that Creationism embraces descent with modification, that abiogenesis has nothing to do with natural selection (and has very little science behind it… as the historian above admits), that mutations require some form of structure… then we could talk about the evidence for common descent and such without these elephants in the room. It would make things go much more smoothly.

    Sadly, it wasn’t until well after college that I started to figure all this out. The YEC community certainly didn’t try to enlighten me to this. But neither did the materials from scientists deeply entrenched in evolution.

    My two cents.


    • Luke,

      I value your input and I’m not used to getting this much pushback from you, so let me make sure I understand your points.

      The limitations of all analogies and the cartoonish parody aside, I am trying to see where you think the science teacher substantially “misrepresented” the creationist stance. I see how you think the proper response to the “anti-revolutionist” argument would have been to define terms better (“descent with modification”), but teachers have as much of an excuse for not being aware of the creationist’s specific definitions as the latter do with the former. And even if they did come to terms (so to speak), the creationist would still object to all changes except minor, species-level changes because of the “no new kinds” argument derived from Genesis. But maybe I’m missing your point. 🙂

      And just a side note…the argument from authority is only a “fallacy” when used as logical proof: it’s regularly used to show the credibility of an argument. Proof or not, credibility and majority consensus are factors in our critical evaluation of novel assertions. So yes, although the “every historian” response of the history teacher is an overwrought generalization (when applied to science at least), I thought it was an accurate representation of the reaction anyone has when discovering that a small group of people dissent from something that is practically universally accepted, especially when the individual is aware of sufficient counter-evidence.

      Please let me know how off-base I am…I confess that I didn’t altogether catch the drift of your comment! 😛

      • Luke Holzmann


        Sorry, my pushback is mostly in length, not severity [smile].

        Misrepresentations I see:
        1. “Creationists don’t believe in evolution.” While this is absolutely something a YEC would say, this isn’t actually true. In fact, a YEC wouldn’t even disagree with descent with modification (what they call “microevolution”). Thus, to make the conversation more helpful, we would need to better define. Whenever someone says, “I don’t believe in evolution,” I want to know what they mean. So, I start running down the list: Abiogenesis? Fair. Common descent? Okay. Natural selection as mechanism for diversity? Eh. Descent with modification? Seriously?

        Evolution is a broad term that is rarely properly/specifically defined.
        a. I have no problem when people reject abiogenesis. There is little to no science behind that field of study, and Miller/Urey don’t count because of the Chirality of life… unless there has been a breakthrough in the 10+ years since I wrote a paper on that in high school (totally plausible).
        b. Common descent makes sense (somewhat), but I can see why people are wary. In fact, it’s only been fairly recent–to my knowledge–that the growing evidence for this is coming into general populace knowledge.
        c. Natural selection is a great idea, but it doesn’t actually describe what it is often touted to. Again, I’ll borrow–based on my understanding–from Perry Marshall who discusses random mutations and information theory (http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/read-prove-god-exists/).
        d. Again, “everyone” believes this… and those who don’t haven’t considered the Flood.

        I saw a video where scientists of all stripes said that “evolution is the single most important idea of modern medicine.” …but, I’m guessing, they weren’t talking about abiogenesis. And, the minute you get that off the table, things become much easier to talk about.

        2. “Creationists reject evidence.” No, they don’t (well, okay, many do, but those aren’t actually studying this). They disagree about the meaning, the interpretation of the evidence. Just as I dislike Ken Ham’s insistence that his interpretation is the only right way to look at the Bible, so I cringe when scientists say that their interpretation is the only right way to see data. They may be right–and, little ol’ me can’t honestly judge that–but I don’t think it’s entirely true. There are smart (fringe?) people who think their interpretation is a little off.

        3. “Creationists reject what can be seen right now.” Nope (okay, again, many do… but they aren’t actually engaging). I know of very few people (even high school biology teachers) who actually know what scientific studies have shown about evolution… common descent and abiogenesis [the hotly (rightly?) contested ideas]. To just accept it because “everyone who’s anyone does” feels disingenuous. And, I’m pretty sure there isn’t that much abiogenesis happening right now. So, for a YEC to deflect saying that it’s “microevolution” should instantly trigger a reminder for a need to define what the teacher is talking about.

        4. “Creations are wrong to reject evolution on the grounds of what it does not explain.” Absolutely… as long as we know what we’re talking about. When teachers complain that the origin of life/DNA/information is outside the scope of their theory, that begs the question: What is this evolution you are teaching? If not abiogenesis, then what? Descent with modification? Cool, we agree. Natural selection as the mechanism for diversity? Eh, not exactly. Our amazing DNA that appears to be pre-programmed to adapt does that… which is much more than pure natural selection and begs the question of where DNA/information came from. So, depending on what you are talking about and what implications you are trying to draw… it is a limited theory and does not address what you may be thinking it is addressing.

        On the other hand, I think every YEC should learn about these differences and be able to discuss them. So when a teacher says that evolution is the most important discovery of the last century or so, they can nod because they know what the teacher is talking about (descent with modification).

        Make more sense?