About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Creationists launch “peer reviewed” journal
The editor of this prestigious new arrival on the scientific scene is Andrew A. Snelling, who is so unknown and apparently insecure enough that he puts “B.Sc. (Hons)” after his name, before “Ph.D.” (in geology, from the University of Sidney). The esteemed (by some) Dr. Snelling has published an astounding 24 technical papers in 30 years of research, an average that would not get him tenure at the local community college. Accordingly, in 1998 Snelling had to content himself with joining the “faculty” of the Institute for Creation Research in California. Nevertheless, in the same year he won a whopping three (!!) prizes at the Fourth International Conference on Creationism for three technical papers he submitted (my hunch is that they were only three papers submitted, but I could be wrong, there may have been four). We are not told who else is on the editorial board of ARJ, perhaps the distinguished scientists who agreed to oversee the peer review process were afraid of losing tenure at their institutions. Damn secularist fascists in charge of American universities!
I simply couldn’t wait to start reading about all these new exciting scientific discoveries informed by a Christian perspective, and I wasn’t disappointed. The current volume of ARJ features the proceedings of the Microbe Forum, where we learn that “for many years the roles of microbes as part of God’s wonderful design have been neglected. Perhaps it is because many people associate microbes as the cause of death, disease, and suffering.” I think these many people have a point: what the hell was god thinking? Well, abstracts presented at the Forum begin to tell us, as titles include such gems as a “Creationist Model of Bacterial Mutations,” “Creation Microbiology and the Origin of Disease,” the highly technical-sounding “Viral/Bacterial Attenuation and Its Link to Innate Oncolytic Potential: Implications of the Perfect Original Creation in the Beginning,” and my favorite: “Pathogenicity Tools and Mycotoxins: In the Beginning or after the Fall?”
But the rest of the current issue of ARJ is not to be neglected either. For instance, in “Microbes and the Days of Creation,” by Alan Gillen (unknown academic affiliation), we learn that “ongoing research, based on the creation paradigm, appears to provide some answers to puzzling questions” such as “where do microbes fit into the creation account? ... Were they created along with the rest of the plants and animals in the first week of creation, or were they created later, after the Fall?” In a show of pure scientific balance, the author admits that “the answers to these questions are not explicit in Scripture, so the answers cannot be dogmatic.” Gillen ends up postulating that “microbes were created as ‘biological systems’ with plants, animals, and humans on multiple days [of creation week]” because as we well know “God made His creation fully mature, and complex forms fully formed.” Amen.
No need to go any further with this nonsense, as good as it is for a chuckle or two. The real question is: why? Why do creationists feel compelled to have a “science” museum, a peer reviewed journal, or, in the case of the Discovery Institute Intelligent Design think tank, a recently established (but very secretive) research laboratory? Could it be science envy? Indeed, even more broadly, why do creationists feel compelled to argue their case at all? Isn’t faith enough? When I was living in the south of the US it often happened that someone would engage me in an impromptu debate, where they were sure that I would see the light of (their) overwhelming reason and convert on the spot. When, instead, I managed to put them on the defensive, they would play with evident pride the faith trump card: “I believe in spite of evidence.” OK, fair enough (if more than a bit moronic), but then why did you just try to argue with me? Arguing, teaching, and doing research means that one accepts the rule of rational, evidence-based discourse. And yet creationists want to have it both ways, and promptly retreat behind the all-encompassing shield of faith when things get rough.
I suspect that creationists, deep down, have internalized the much-despised secular ethos that one has to have reasons for one’s positions, and they feel that they really don’t have rationality on their side. They seek respectability through fake museums and peer review journals because they know that the Middle Ages are over, and just shouting one’s faith in god isn’t gonna cut it anymore (modern society disqualifying stoning and burning at stakes doesn’t help either). Indeed, the very progression that we have seen during the 20th century, from the Scopes to the Dover trials, from young earth creationism pretending to keep evolution teaching out of public schools entirely to so-called “intelligent design” (which accepts a lot of science, including natural selection) begging for a bit of classroom time, is a path of constant retreat, away from silly biblical literalism, inching ever closer to modern science. The most advanced of the creationist ilk, the ID supporters, have intellectually advanced all the way into the early 19th century (after Paley, before Darwin), while young earth creationists are still trying to come to terms with the Enlightenment. Perhaps if we wait another century or two they’ll enter early 20th century science and make peace with Darwin. Now, that would be a miracle to behold.