The Geological Society of London uses bully tactics
Creationists not even ‘worth the expenditure of our contempt’
Published: 13 May 2008 (GMT+10)
One good outcome of the current atheists’ outrage against God is the way they reveal their condescending dogmatic attitude. One such recent attack against young earth creationism and intelligent design comes from the Geological Society of London, the oldest such professional geological association in the world. It’s published in the January 2008 issue of their magazine Geoscientist.1
Ted Nield is the editor as well as being the author of Supercontinent, a book that sets out his long-age geological ideas on how he thinks our planet evolved over billions of years. He is also chair of the British Association of Science Writers and Chair of the Outreach Programme of the International Year of the Earth, a UN-backed venture.
This attack has been prompted by recent calls for the publicly funded interpretive centre at the Giant’s Causeway,2 Northern Ireland, to include the young-earth creationist view. This possibility has concerned the Geological Society of London greatly, and they have launched a counter offensive.
I reproduce here Ted Nield’s editorial1 on this issue. It reveals something of the intensity of the battle of ideas being waged in our culture, and how geological ideas are at the forefront of the battle. You can see for yourself the strategies and tactics being used by the academic institutions in our countries to intimidate and silence alternative scientific views.
Fighting the fight, or slaying the slain?
Are Young Earth Creationists, Intelligent Designers and other adherents of long-exploded ideas even worth the expenditure of our contempt?
Beneath ‘contempt’? What does Ted Nield imagine these YE creationists and IDers doing? Blowing up trains? (He may be thinking of another religious group which the establishment media are too cowardly to criticize). Threatening geological meetings? Why would members of an austere professional association like the Geological Society of London be filled with contempt for people? Surely not because they disagree with their geological views?
Geoscientist 18(1), January 2008
Woody Allen observed, when discussing neo-Nazis during a cocktail party in his film Manhattan: ‘A satiric piece in The Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really get to the point.’ And that point is, arguing with the closed-minded only serves to dignify their unacceptable dogmas.
Oh, so creationists are as bad as Nazis, are they? He should educate himself about the evolutionary basis for Nazi racial and eugenical policies. And Ted thinks geologists should not waste their time arguing their case but use ‘bricks and baseball bats’ instead? Is this the normal professional attitude of members of his academic association? Yet Ted accuses creationists of being ‘closed-minded’ and ‘dogmatic’!
Attentive readers of Geoscientist will know that it is the policy of this magazine not to engage in public debate with young-Earth creationists (YECs) because to do so lends them, and the mere notion that there is any ‘debate’ to be had, a credibility they don't deserve.
On the other hand, a debate would mean that geoscientists would need to think outside the box and give reasons for their view. Shock! Horror!
Tempting though it may be, in PR terms it is a tactical error to engage YECs in this way, because the very act of doing so hands a victory to the opponents of reason.
Or Nield and Co could be scared of losing, so it’s much easier to declare that the ‘debate is over’. But we will allow people to judge for themselves with Australian Skeptics vs CMI Australia, Wieland v Willis, Wieland v Farmer and Carter v Pierson.
This is so because the only result YECs desire is to foster in the minds of gullible people the illusion that they and their misguided notions are taken seriously by anyone who should be taken seriously.
Does the geological society not want people to take the society’s views seriously? In the US the polls show that over 40% of the public hold creationist views. Are these the people Ted means when he speaks of ‘gullible people’?
President Robin Cocks, writing to The Times in 1999, established the Geological Society's position on faith and science. He wrote: ‘Science and religion coexist quite happily in the minds of all but the most strident fundamentalists (scientific or religious). Whereas science explores the empirical constitution of the universe, religion is the search for ethical values and spiritual meaning … Neither can trespass competently upon the domain of the other.’
‘Strident fundamentalists’. Insults and name-calling seem to be this editor’s stock in trade.
‘Neither can trespass competently upon the domain of the other.’ Geologist A.A. Holmes, a former member of the society admitted that the idea of separate domains is not correct. It depends on what religion you are talking about. Holmes recognized that long-age geology is compatible with Hindu philosophy but incompatible with biblical Christianity.3
Sherwood Taylor, Curator of the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, said in 1949:
‘In England it was geology and the theory of evolution that changed us from a Christian to a pagan nation’4
So, why is the Geological Society trespassing and telling Christians how to interpret their Bible?
Science and religion, in other words, constitute ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ (the ‘NOMA Principle’, in Stephen Jay Gould's words).
This is satisfying because although forcibly expounded by Gould (Hon. FGS) in more recent times, the concept originated with Thomas Henry Huxley, a former President of ours—who invented one of the most misunderstood words in the language to describe it. (‘Agnostic’ does not mean ‘undecided’—it means ‘unable to know’ and is meant to encapsulate the scientist's position of being incompetent to judge any propositions that lie beyond nature).
But the Bible also makes claims about nature and these can be tested in the field, as creationist geologists do. This sounds like another strategy to silence opposing views without needing to debate them.
And Huxley certainly wasn’t a NOMA advocate. Rather, he had no time for churchians who compromised the Bible:
‘I confess I soon lose my way when I try to follow those who walk delicately among “types” and allegories. A certain passion for clearness forces me to ask, bluntly, whether the writer means to say that Jesus did not believe the stories in question, or that he did? When Jesus spoke, as of a matter of fact, that “the Flood came and destroyed them all,” did he believe that the Deluge really took, place, or not?’5
‘If Adam may be held to be no more real a personage than Prometheus, and if the story of the Fall is merely an instructive “type,” … what value has Paul's dialectic.’6
But there is another problem. Too strident an approach towards YECs also plays into their hands by giving to those same gullible people mentioned earlier the impression that scientists are dogmatic and unwilling to entertain doubt.
‘Dogmatic’? Where could anyone get the impression that the Geological Society is dogmatic?
These are slippery slopes. Scientists are fully open to reasonable doubt, but see no point in being open to unreasonable doubt. That is the same as being so open-minded that your brains fall out.
Ted makes a very good geological point here: creationists’ brains have fallen out. But he might make an even better point if he could explain why reason should work at all if we are just rearranged pond scum.
Moreover, whether scientists like it or not, if people really want to believe that the Earth is 6000 years old
Most of the pioneers of science believed in a young earth, including Nicholas Steno, the father of stratigraphy. In fact, first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica tabulated young dates for the age for of the earth.
or that it sits on the back of a giant turtle flying through celestial custard, then they are free to do so.
Ted must move in strange circles if he knows people who believe that.
Theirs is the same freedom that allows scientists to go on experimenting without fear of villagers with pitchforks and flaming torches.
Yes, freedom to explore ideas is a good thing, so the Giants Causeway should include the creationist interpretation, contrary to the position of the Geological Society of London. But I thought Ted said he advocated using ‘bricks and baseball bats’ on creationists. This is a classic case of projection, i.e. imputing one’s own foibles to one’s opponents.
So, tempted though I am to use baseball bats on YECs,
I think I will stick to satire.
Here’s another idea. How about dealing with models, logic and evidence?
But, just for the record, and because the issue that really matters is what the State allows to be taught under the National Curriculum, perhaps the Society should issue a statement of its own, along the lines of that already issued by the Royal? (see Letters for more on this issue)
‘What the State allows to be taught … ’? So when Ted said ‘freedom’ he intended that freedom apply only to his crowd and not to creationists. Maybe he has taken a cue from George Orwell’s novel 1984, with its infamous ‘newspeak’, ‘Freedom is Slavery’. But Ted seems not to realize that 1984 wasn’t a work of advocacy but a warning against totalitarian governments telling us what to think.
And finally, notice that this editorial relies on insults, misinformation, stereotypes and scare tactics. Nowhere does this article address what creationists are actually saying, or use a coherent, logical, scientific argument to make its case.
- Nield, Ted, Fighting the fight, or slaying the slain? Geoscientist 18.1, January 2008. Return to text.
- Heneghan, T., Creationists claim the Giant’s Causeway, Reuters Blog, 30 November 2007. Return to text.
- Holmes, A.A., Principles of Physical Geology, (2nd ed.), Thomas Nelson and Sons, London, p. 44, 1972. Return to text.
- Taylor, F.S., Geology changes the outlook; in: Ideas and Beliefs of the Victorians, Sylvan Press Ltd, London, p. 195, (one of a series of talks broadcast on BBC radio), 1949. Return to text.
- Huxley, T.H., Science And Hebrew Tradition Essays, pp. 207, 208, 1897. Return to text.
- Huxley , ref. 5, p. 236. Return to text.