Rushing in—where wiser heads might not

Popular writer uses ‘AIDS evolution’ to attack creationists

by , CMI–Australia

12 April 2005

One of the more annoying habits of the vociferous anti-creationist lobby is to pontificate on matters concerning creationists in a way that demonstrates that they have not even read the leading creationist literature (or perhaps they have read it, but think that knocking down straw men is justified to promote their agenda).

A favourite ‘boo-boo’ they commit is to point to instances of changes in living things (even sometimes in ‘less than living things’, like viruses) and then, often puffed up with high-and-mighty sarcasm, they say, in effect, ‘Look at this—we’re seeing evolution happening in front of our eyes. Yet these poor religionists are so blinded by their beliefs that they are denying this obvious fact.’

One example a few years ago was the popular science writer Jonathan Weiner, who in his book Beak of the Finch waxed eloquent on the subject of ‘evolution happening’ (in Darwin’s Galapagos finches, mostly; he also gave examples like antibiotic/insecticide resistance, also refuted on our site).

Yet ‘blind Freddy can see’1 that the examples he gave are classic examples of deceptive (whether intentional or not) equivocation (see this section of the article ‘Logic and Creation’, including an example of this questionable practice by leading atheistic anti-creationist activist Eugenie Scott). The issue is not whether changes happen—the issue is whether the changes that happen force belief in goo-to-you evolution. I.e. are they in the right direction (see The evolution train’s a-comin’ (Sorry, a-goin’—in the wrong direction))? Finch beaks get a little bigger when the rains fail for a while, and then get smaller again when the weather swings back the other way. And for this, one is supposed to fall backwards in awe and accept that fish turned into philosophers, and microbes into microbiologists? Weiner’s work was reviewed in depth in an article published in TJ (see our website version).

The latest example is provided by another popular science writer, Carl Zimmer, who recently wrote Evolution at work and creationism nowhere in sight.

Zimmer refers to the way the AIDS virus is mutating and changing. Is it evolving? It depends on one’s definition of evolution. If it means ‘change’, then the answer is ‘yes, by definition’. What the reader is presumably intended to glean from this further example of evolutionary equivocation is something like this: ‘Wow, I’ve just seen that evolution [meaning change] is a fact, so that means that if evolution [meaning goo-to-you and everything else over millions of years] is a fact, then I guess frogs really can turn into princes in time.’ For more on such equivocation (switching definitions), see the article ‘Who’s really pushing bad science?’, the section Definitions as slippery as eels.

Had Zimmer checked this website first, he would have known that far from creationists ducking for cover at this ‘blinding new evidence’ (as his article, especially its title, implies), we wrote an article years ago Has AIDS evolved which, in principle, raised and dealt with the points his piece makes.

One can have compassion for their misunderstanding, but it’s hard to comprehend when such otherwise highly intelligent people burst into print in such ill-informed ways. And yes, it even provokes twinges of embarrassment for them, because it’s so blatant. (Of course, professional anti-creationists like Scott have no excuse for such misrepresentation because they clearly do read our material.)

For a great teaching and outreach tool which deals with the whole issue of changes in living things in a powerful, documentary style, I highly recommend the DVD From a Frog to a Prince. It features both creationist and evolutionist experts. This includes the famous (and ardently atheistic) evolutionist Professor Richard Dawkins, who when asked to do so, fails to provide one single example of the sort of change in a living thing which one would expect to have hundreds of examples of, if bacteria really have turned into basketball players.

Note: The Australian Skeptics complained bitterly that Dawkins had been ‘misrepresented’ in the interview. The implication was that the answer Dawkins gave in his video was another one to another question, which had been ‘doctored in’. However, this is not the case. Dawkins asked for the camera to be switched off to give him time to think, as a tape recording of the interview demonstrated, and the answer he came back with was the one shown in the documentary. The website of the Twin Cities Creation Science Association collates much relevant documentation—see ‘Richard Dawkins and the 11 Second Pause’. Perhaps even more significant is the fact that the Australian Skeptics gave Dawkins three whole pages in their magazine to ‘set the record straight’—yet despite Dawkins’ bitter attacks on creationists, the requested example (of an uphill evolutionary change) was conspicuous by its absence.


  1. A useful Australianism, the meaning of which is hopefully obvious to all. Return to text.