Section Three: Logical Fallacies

Creationist Logical Fallacies

Let us proceed then to take a look at some of the major logical fallacies of creationism. This is not intended as a laundry list (which would have to be much longer) but as an illustration of the conceptual errors embraced by evolution deniers.

Certainly one of their most widespread and dangerous misunderstandings is the equation between evolution and immoral behavior. You can easily find creationist publications with a picture of a tree representing evolution, from which all sorts of “evil fruits” are produced, from abortion to sex education, from hard rock to genetic engineering. The logic of such comparison is, of course, flawed. While evolutionary theory, especially in the guise of “social Darwinism” can be (and has been) invoked to justify all sorts of bizarre social and political ideologies, the link is tenuous at best (in fact, philosopher Peter Singer has argued for a liberal and ethical life based on the fact that humans evolved as social animals).

On similar grounds, one would want to condemn genetics simply because Hitler wished to implement a eugenic program, or abolish the study of physics because we built the atomic bomb. While scientists are certainly not exempt from moral choices and the responsibilities that come with them, science as an enterprise is indeed morally neutral (a-moral, not im-moral). We wish to know about the structure of the atom, and such knowledge is not good or bad per se. It is up to humans (and usually politicians, the military, and religious authorities more than scientists) to decide what to do with that knowledge.

As a related point, notice that most of the evils attributed to evolution have actually been around since well before Darwin, and cannot therefore be logically blamed on evolutionary theory. Others, such as sex education, moral education, and humanism are hardly “evils.”

Another common claim of creationists is that evolution is a theory in crisis. Of course there are plenty of areas of active research in evolutionary biology, and there consequently is disagreement among scientists on many specific topics. This, however, does not constitute a crisis.

The major (unwilling) culprit here is Stephen J. Gould (photo), who – together with Niles Eldredge – in 1972 proposed the theory of punctuated equilibria. According to this theory, evolution may occur rapidly around the time of origination of new species (punctuation). After that, not much happens for most of the time (stasis, or equilibrium). While it is true that this theory has stirred much controversy and very fecund new lines of inquiry, not even Gould himself considered it a challenge to Darwinism, so it is not clear why the creationists would.

Notice that the “sudden” changes theorized by Gould and Eldredge do not happen overnight, but during the course of hundreds of thousands of years. They appear instantaneous only from a geological perspective. It is in the nature of science to proceed by continuous open discussion of new ideas. This does not mean that every time somebody disagrees we are about to witness a revolution.

Creationists love to say that evolution is “just” a theory. They are using the word theory in its vernacular (and diminutive) sense of a guess, a half-baked idea. In science, however, theories are complex and well substantiated explanatory models of major aspects of nature. That does not guarantee that they are correct, but it means that we cannot dismiss them by shrugging our shoulders at them. It is peculiar that nobody refers to the Copernican or relativity theories as “just” theories.

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