Fallacy: creationists can’t be scientists!
How many times have we heard this refrain, “Creationists can’t be scientists”? When I taught freshman English as an adjunct faculty member at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, among our objectives was the development of the students’ analytical skills. To do this, I chose Philip Johnson’s book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. Perhaps you can imagine my dismay when I, a mere English teacher in this Christian college, was asked by members of the science faculty to remove the book from my required reading list! Three science professors called me to meet with them so they could set me straight concerning the origin of man.
I had become convinced of creation independently from knowledge or resources provided by the various creation ministries. Based on personal investigation and reading, I knew the subject well enough to survive the onslaught of evolutionary arguments they threw at me. Dr James Behnke, however, caught me totally off guard when he said, “Did you know that creationists like Dr Steve Austin are not real scientists. He should have his degree taken away from him, because he does bad science.” I scarcely had heard the name before, but the accusation placed a question mark over the name which lasted for years. I had become victim to a logical fallacy known as ad hominem: attack the man, rather than his arguments. Some 10 years later, I have still not discovered any of this alleged “bad science” practiced by Dr Austin, who, like me and millions of other creationists, actually believes that God meant what he said in Genesis 1–11!
Logical fallacies pop up everywhere. What is a logical fallacy? It consists of misusing arguments for or against a topic under discussion, whether intentionally, or unconsciously. For example, when the Spanish public discovered that there are people who still believe in creation: “You can’t take these people seriously. They’re all just a crowd of ignorant, religious fanatics who know nothing about science,” the university professors glibly quip, thus avoiding all need to ever examine the case personally.
One promising future scientist, José, is studying science in a Spanish university. His classmates tried to get him expelled from the science program when he told them that there was solid, empirical evidence which denies the possibility of evolution.
In 2008, after universities in León and Vigo cancelled lectures on intelligent design, a Spanish medical doctor, Antonio Martínez, was invited to debate with an evolutionist, Manuel Soler, on the nationally broadcast TV program, Espejo Público (Public Mirror), about whether creationism should be given a public hearing or not.1
The evolutionist nonchalantly cycled through his parroted series of logical fallacies, including several false accusations attacking the credentials and intentions of practicing scientists, while the doctor, on the other hand, quoted fact after scientific fact. “I don’t understand why you insist on speaking about science since you’re not a biologist,” the evolutionist said accusingly. The creationist doctor calmly replied, “What do you mean I’m not a biologist? I spent 11 years studying biology to become a doctor. I get my livelihood from practicing science precisely. You, however, are free to speculate, but if I worked by speculation, I would risk going to jail!” When the evolutionist had spent his repertoire of fallacies, he dodged for cover and said, “I didn’t come here to debate science. I came to discuss whether or not creationists should be allowed to make presentations in public universities!” He clearly stated that they should not ever be given that privilege.
So, creationists can’t be scientists? I guess that means that agnostics can’t be theologians either. Both are logical fallacies. What is wrong with the logic in disqualifying people from certain professions because of their personal convictions? Because it’s not true! In fact there are thousands of real scientists who believe in creation, just as there are plenty of agnostic, and even atheist, theologians. The logical formula, termed a syllogism, being used runs something like this:
a is not equal to b.
c is equal to a.
Therefore, c can never be equal to b.
Now read the logical formula where a = religion, b = science, c = creation.
Superficially, this argument sounds solid enough until you begin to study logical fallacies and how they work. This one can be called a non sequitur because it makes a “statement that does not follow logically from what has just been said—conclusion that does not follow from the premises.”2 For one thing, how are “religion” and “science” defined? If “religion” means something believed in without being proven through experimentation, and “science” means evolution (e.g. monkeys turning into humans), then elements a and b would become exact equivalents, since evolution is merely believed without any empirical evidence!3 The first premise in the argument is thus incorrect and should read:
a IS EQUAL TO b!
Of course, this is not usually what people mean by this argument. Usually, they want to imply that someone who believes in special creation will never be objective and honest enough to practice operational science properly. His or her faith will always skew the results of the experiments. This is clearly false when we take into account that nearly all of the founders of the modern branches of science believed that they were merely discovering the facts build into the physical world by a loving Creator God (see Scientists of the past who believed in a Creator).
What are some other logical fallacies that are typically used to argue in favour of evolution?
1) The similarity between living beings, genetically as well as morphologically (in form), shows that they are all related to each other and evolved from a single original life form.
Begging the question (petitio principii): This fallacy consists of “implicitly using your conclusion as a premise” to prove your argument.4
Here the person assumes that evolution is true and then uses genetic and morphological similarities, which can also be explained by the existence of a single Creator/Designer, as proof that evolution is true. To be a valid argument, you would have to show how similarities can only be the result of evolution, without making any prior assumptions.
2) Creationists believe in fixity (the immutability of species). Fixity has been shown to be false, therefore evolution is true and creation is false.
Straw man: Attack a misrepresentation of the target and then claim to have disproven the case.
3) Ernst Haeckel’s drawings from the 19th century, which show the similarity between various embryos of different species, are clear evidence of the common ancestry of all animals.
False analogy: Use reasoning which doesn’t really apply to the case to prove the point.
Besides the fact that Haeckel’s drawing were a deliberate fraud,5 the argument was a fallacy from the beginning. The claim was supposed to demonstrate common ancestry, but mere similarities in embryonic shapes could never demonstrate a common origin, mainly because the origin was not, and cannot be, directly observed by any scientist. It was a historic event which, whether by creation or evolution, cannot be repeated in a laboratory no matter how hard we might try, any more than Napoleon Bonaparte can lose the battle of Waterloo again. Animals either evolved originally or were created by God, so even if evolution were possible, these embryos still wouldn’t definitively prove that the origin was by evolution.
4) The geological strata, which were formed by slow processes, reveal the vast age of the earth. Thus, there was plenty of time for evolution to take place.
Suppressed evidence: Not all of the information is provided to the listener so that he or she has no options to weigh.
This argument begins by assuming, first, that evolution can take place, and secondly, that slow processes are the only good explanation for what we observe in geological settings. We are not told that, in fact, catastrophic geological events, which happen very quickly, are a much better explanation for the vast majority of cases.6
5) All real scientists agree that evolution is a proven fact.
Appeal to authority: Because the experts say so, it must be true.
Truth, however, doesn’t depend on people’s opinions, not even scientists! Vast majorities have often turned out to be completely mistaken (e.g. the Nazis in WWII). “Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written, ‘So that you may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judging’.” (Romans 3:4, NRSV)
6) The existence of many different breeds of dogs, of several species of finches, and of a range of human ethnic groups around the world all show how evolution takes place.
Equivocation: Use “a single word in more than one sense”,7 so as to confuse the issue or make the argument appear correct.
The above affirmation offers us examples of “evolution”, in the sense of speciation and variation within the same kind, and then claims this proves “evolution”, in the sense of microbes-to-man, as if they were the same thing. They are most definitely NOT the same thing. One is a fact; the other just wishful thinking.
7) Punctuated equilibrium satisfactorily explains the lack of transitional life forms in the fossil record because, from time to time, evolution occurred so rapidly that these transitional forms were not preserved in the intervening strata.
Affirming the consequent: If a is true, then b is true. b is true, therefore a is true too.
This one is tricky. Not only does it begin by assuming that microbes-to-man evolution is a fact, it argues that, if intermediary forms of life evolve quickly, they will be missing from the fossil record. In fact, they are missing from the fossil record, so they must have evolved too quickly to be preserved. It becomes a type of circular reasoning, based on the assumed truth of that which has never been proven to begin with!
Logical fallacies are all around us and they are often subtle and hard to detect, such as the accusation against Dr Austin’s capability as a scientist, which, several years back, caused me to wonder. How many fallacies are still circulating or stored in our subconscious without our even being aware of them? It behoves us to keep on our intellectual toes so that we are not taken in by the enemy of our souls. Satan “was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44, NRSV)
References and notes
- Creacionismo contra evolución, en Antena 3, 19 ene, 2008; magonia.com, accessed 2015. Return to text.
- Hodges, J., et al., Hodge’s Harbrace Handbook, Harcourt Brace College Publishers, Fort Worth, p. 418, 1998. Return to text.
- Arsuaga y Martínez, La especie elegida, Temas de hoy, Madrid, p. 57, 2001. Return to text.
- Hodges, ref. 2, p. 416. Return to text.
- Batten, D.(Ed), et al., The Creation Answers Book, Creation Book Publishers, 6th Ed., pp. 116–119, 2014. Return to text.
- Morris, H., Scientific Creationism, Master Books, Green Forest, 1996; Morris, J., The Young Earth, Master Books, 1994; Froede, C., Field Studies in Catastrophic Geology, Creation Research Society Books, St. Joseph, 1998; Woodmorappe, J., Studies in Flood Geology, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, 1999; and Austin, S., Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, Institute for Creation Research, Santee, 1994. Return to text.
- Weston, A., A Rulebook for Arguments, Hackett Publishing Co, Indianapolis, p. 85, 1992. Return to text.
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