At the NPR website, Barbara King, an anthropologist at the College of William and Mary, recently addressed Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter, stating that we could use more “explicit pushback to anti-science creationist discourse” (“There’s No Controversy: Let’s Stop Failing Our Children on Evolution“). She recommends that readers speak to local school boards and media, educate their children on evolution at home, and ask politicians about their views on origins. Deluged with comments and emails, King sought to address readers’ concerns in a follow-up article (“When Science Stands Up To Creationism“).
Unfortunately, she frames skepticism on evolution in the familiar but mistaken terms of religion vs. science. Her narrow critique focuses on things like whether dinosaurs and humans coexisted — “‘walked hand-in-hand’ a few thousand years ago” — rather than grappling with peer-reviewed research that questions neo-Darwinism.
King eschews the term “scientism” — but does she advocate for it? Describing comments she received on her first article, she notes there was “genuine concern that evolutionary scientists, including me, advocate forcing children to learn one way and one way only.” Her response does not alleviate that concern.
She does not bother to rebut intelligent design. After quoting responses that talk about the freedom to believe and about learning all of the evidence, she notes, “So in response to these remarks and others like them, let me say it loud and clear: Freedom to believe anything one wants in the religious sphere is incredibly important.” But she goes on to state: “Science isn’t about belief.” King buys into the simplistic equation of science, whatever it may say at the moment, with “truth.” She accordingly dismisses the scientific controversy over neo-Darwinism.
Her description of how science works fits the current state of the evolution debate quite well. She notes, “[Science is] about testing hypotheses, and always seeking out both alternative explanations and data-driven corrections to previous conclusions.” King quotes one of the comments left on her article:
Science is the process of learning what is where in the world of knowledge; and we are constantly developing better tools to make better measurements. We are constantly re-drawing the stuff that we suspect might be out there, slowly getting closer and closer to getting the stuff beyond the boundaries of knowledge successfully mapped out, and firmly within the boundaries of what we know. This means there will be a new frontier, and new questions, and maybe some corrections along the way.
If King really believes science is about continuous corrections and questions, she should be friendlier to teaching the scientific controversy over evolution, which attempts to do just that. A growing number of scientists hold that natural selection acting on random mutations cannot fully account for the diversity of life.
In The Edge of Evolution, biochemist Michael Behe examines mutations necessary to develop chloroquine resistance by malaria parasites, and concludes that two simultaneous mutations is the most evolution can accomplish. Furthermore, based on population sizes and frequency of mutations arising, he says, “No mutation that is of the same complexity as chloroquine resistance in malaria arose by Darwinian evolution in the line leading to humans in the past ten million years.”
Engaging with the evidence is important — and so is freedom to discuss dissenting ideas.
King quotes a response from John Ellis, writing at PJ Media, who suggested that her reasoning points to the worldview of scientism. But she opts not to quote the end of his response, which makes clear that objecting to scientism isn’t tied to any particular religious belief. A couple of sentences she left out are quite insightful:
You don’t need to believe that the earth is only six thousand years old and that dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as humans in order to see the danger in surrendering the control over education to Barbara King. Regardless of what you think about Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, it’s important to guard the freedom of ideas for all.
Gee, I wonder what Professor King would say in response to a book like Axe’sUndeniable, which explores many of the serious, scientific objections to Darwinian evolution. We’ll probably never know. Dodging the evidence seems to suit her much better.
Photo credit: lcr3cr, via Pixabay.