Wednesday, February 4, 2009


To the Editor,

If the creationism/natural selection (NS) “debate’s” interesting, it’s not because there’s any debate here; it’s because what the real debate’s about is who gets to control the production and dissemination of knowledge—who gets to decide what counts as knowledge. Pretenders to an expertise clearly beyond their educations, would-be experts like Terry McAfee and Robert Runyon mimic bits and pieces of scientific-sounding jargon as if putting on academic garb could magically convert them into scientists so accomplished that their “arguments” against NS will prevail over decades of research, argument, and evidence. Responding, for example, to a point I made about NS and xenotransplantation, Runyon claims that if we cannot see evolution occurring—a creature “caught in the act”—it must not be! ( But this not only betrays willful ignorance with respect to the mechanisms of NS, it demonstrates a willingness to suspend common sense in order to cling to thread bare conviction. We don’t see the erosion of mountains directly either—but we surely don’t doubt its occurrence.

Runyon then resorts to the one strategy he can count on to have some effect so long as people aren’t really looking—self-righteous fallacy-pumping. He sets up the straw claim that I’m calling him “dumb” as if name-calling would make it magically true that NS is false—as if my being mean lends his position credibility. But I’ve neither said nor implied that he’s “dumb.” He’s not; it’s worse: Runyon’s strategy is a manipulative charade motivated by the arrogant smugness of one who thinks that, having a god in their pocket, that they’re required neither to do the hard work of comprehending alternative explanations of natural phenomena nor examine their own assumptions. Similarly, McAfee’s calling his opponents “Christian-haters” is just one more cynically deployed strategy to distract attention away from the real issues: who controls the content of science education.

And that’s just the point: the world’s McAfees and Runyons aren’t interested in education; it’s not about that. This is about the lengths one religious camp will go to enforce a worldview in direct conflict with the separation of church and state. McAfee, moreover, holds two beliefs that are plainly false: (1) even if NS were falsified (as is a possibility—however unlikely—for ALL scientific hypotheses—such is the very point of testing them), this would not verify creationism. The falsity of one theory is not verification of another; insofar as McAfee can produce no positive evidence, test, or opportunity for falsification for his view, it’s not even a scientific theory. (2) He apparently thinks that what ought to be taught in publicly funded schools is a matter for public decision, as if a “debate” of the merits of NS should determine science curricula—as if knowledge were merely a product of what folks want to be true. Good thing it’s not; after all, astrology, telekinesis, talking to the dead, and alien babies have no place in science education either.

What we’re left to conclude—if we’re honest—is that this “debate’s” not about knowledge; it’s about power. No one’s being kept from believing in gods, goddesses, flying spaghetti monsters, or alien babies. The issue is who gets to say what counts as science, and what counts as good science education. My vote goes to the folks soundly trained in scientific method—not because they’re always right, but because they—utterly unlike McAfee and Runyon—are willing to be wrong. What the creationists don’t get is that “willing to be wrong” doesn’t mean “ready to sign onto superstition,” but rather willing to be guided by the application of well-honed reason to evidence—not a creationist value.

Wendy Lynne Lee

594 words.