Young Earth Creationists’ sneaky strategy to be scientifical

Earth magazine has an intriguing and disturbing article by Steven Newton describing how geologists, who actually represent the Institute for Creation Research, the Discovery Institute and Christian universities, subtly promote the view that Noah’s flood was responsible for geological observations in the American West. Their new strategy is to give talks, posters and guide field trips at a premier geologic conference.

How can this be? Well, if you’ve ever been on one of these field trips, you know they can be a jargony nightmare. Even as a professional, when it comes to very specialized terms and labeling used in petrology and sedimentology, vocabulary is wicked tough to learn and remember. If this is your introduction to a particular feature or region, you look to the expert guiding the trip to provide you with information. You likely do not have enough background yet to form good questions or recognize some dubious interpretation.

The article’s author, a director for the National Center for Science Education, went on the trip run by five co-leaders. The Creationist content was not openly disclosed. Instead, he notes, one could pick up on certain odd phrasing that he says, “…was telling, if you knew what to listen for.” The phrasing distinctly avoided describing the geological consensus about the age of a rock unit or endorsing an established interpretation. A worldwide flood interpretation was couched in technical terminology. Newton writes:

“If the 50 or so field trip participants did not know the subtext and weren’t familiar with the field trip leaders, it’s quite possible that they never realized that the leaders endorsed geologic interpretations completely at odds with the scientific community.”

If you submit an abstract for a conference, such as the Geological Society of America conference, odds are you get in. I’ve given one myself for a GSA Region meeting. Conferences are a rather open opportunity to present your views as you wish. But an important point is your peers in the audience should question you. Skepticism is a virtue for a scientist. Newton describes a confrontation that occurred as part of a past meeting where a Creationist was bluntly called out by someone in the know. That’s what has to be done. Each time. We must be active participants.

Nevertheless, the Creationist scientists return from these conferences to their institutions with a new item for their resumes and, thus, deliver smug satisfaction for their supporters. By standing on the same stage as other geologists with credible science to share, they now can claim a professional presentation at an academic event. It does not matter that they were NOT influential. They accomplished their goal – to appear equal, scientific, credible. In their own realm, they succeeded.

There is a fair argument to be made that they should NOT be kept out. I agree – science must be about the exchange of ideas. They also ought to play by the rules but they don’t. They only come clean with their 6000 year old assumptions when called out. Meanwhile, they lead an unknowing observer to believe that they promote a view justified by science. The public gets duped. They paint themselves with a veneer of scientific credibility that is unequal to that earned by a researcher who publishes in a peer reviewed journal. Creation scientists can claim that they presented to their “peers” and that’s good enough for now.

As long as the public has no insight or understanding of how science works and what is truly important in the process (and what is not), then they will unquestionably accept the trumped up claims of the Creation scientist who cheat the system and make an end run around a fair critique.

About idoubtit

Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news.

0 thoughts on “Young Earth Creationists’ sneaky strategy to be scientifical

  1. I find this post a bit disturbing. Not because I disagree with you, but because it makes me realize that there is very little that can be done when Creationist scientists are bent on disingenuously propagating their own theories. I think what irritates me the most is that, in order to remain fair an unbiased, Creationists must be continuously allowed to participate in these conferences. “There is a fair argument to be made that they should NOT be kept out. I agree – science must be about the exchange of ideas.” Exactly. And Creationists will incessantly count on this impartiality in order to appear more credible. I don’t really know what my point is. I guess I’m just venting…

  2. I think there is. Debunk what they’re doing. Expose their real agendas. Remind people of this. Show their ties to political groups. And so on.

    Look, I think the model here has to be what biology finally woke up and did when ID came a-calling. There was a lot of “let them hang themselves” or “the truth will out.” But then there was Kansas, and then Dover. And Dover I think needs to be the model. Dover wasn’t just defeated on the science, the real defeat there happened because the dishonesty was carefully demonstrated with the various editions of their textbook. That, and the larger attitude cited by the judge, is really what hurt them. Yes, they hung themselves, but not on the science (though that was also taken apart), it was their other behaviors.

    And it is on display here. Look at this quote:

    ““Millions of years” was a phrase that also appeared in Ross’ talk on Late Cretaceous marine stratigraphy; many of his slides used normal geologic time, with millions of years clearly labeled on axes. Nothing in his 15-minute talk hinted at nonstandard geologic thinking. Because most of the audience probably did not know Ross’ background, it must have been puzzling to them when the first question following Ross’ talk challenged him on how he could “harmonize this work with [his] belief in a 6,000-year-old Earth.” (This question came from University of Florida geology professor Joe Meert, who blogged about the exchange.)

    Ross answered the question by saying that for a scientific meeting such as GSA, he thought in a “framework” of standard science; but for a creationist audience, he said, he used a creationist framework.”

    There is being wrong, and then there is this. Would you accept peer review from someone who said this? Would you want your book reviewed by someone who said this. Heck, would you want someone who said this to come over and take care of your cat while you’re away for the week?

    At some point, there is a line. Honest but flawed research or ideas are not over that line, nor should they be. But other actions are over that line, and I do not believe in extending every benefit of the doubt to everyone all the time.

    1. In other words, you expect a certain standard in such an exchange ( a sanctioned scientific meeting)? This guy is being duplicitous.

  3. And if he has a pattern of such, then you start taking it to the organizers, and to the members. Do people want to boast on their CV about giving talks at meetings known for duplicity?

    1. It seems clear it does not matter to ICR folks and the like. They are fine with appearances of being scientific. This serves their supporters (and the Biblical literalists) just fine.

  4. To put it another way, I’ve had major organizations/conferences begging me to sign up and attend. To the point of one cold calling me on my cell phone and telemarketing me to do so (I don’t know if members of the organization, volunteers, or a telemarketing company) did it. Not some obscure one, but a major player in my field. They need people (and their fees) to attend.

    I’ve seen pseudoarchaeology once at a meeting, but at least it was open about what it was. If a pattern of less-than-open pseudoscience became established, at a particular meeting, I think that would be enough for me to write them off, and make it clear to my colleagues why I had.

  5. idoubtit :
    It seems clear it does not matter to ICR folks and the like. They are fine with appearances of being scientific. This serves their supporters (and the Biblical literalists) just fine.

    Sure. I’m talking about the people willing to host them. They want to rent some hotel somewhere for their own little shindig, fine. But they’re not the problem here. The problem here is the people in the scientific community who will continue to extend the benefit of the doubt after behavior that goes beyond a difference of opinion.

    Go ahead and do research based on a Biblical hypothesis, but do it honestly. I think that applies to any topic which is considered outside mainstream science. If a research design is credible, then by all means go with it.

    But if someone says thousands to one audience, and millions to another, and tries to justify it with “I can speak in two paradigms,” sorry, no, you can’t. Well you can, if someone will listen. And that is the problem, the people who will listen. Otherwise, what is the difference between science, and the Bigfooters who entertained the Georgia Bigfoot body, even when it was being offered by a guy who had been previously involved in something equally ridiculous?

    It’s not a matter of prejudging. It’s a matter of, after the cards have been laid out on the table, judging, and acting accordingly.

  6. There is an historical, almost ironic, reason for this tendency. Protestantism is often referred to as the egg laid by Erasmus that Luther hatched. Biblical literalism, as we know it, is a product of early modern humanism, and in that sense, a sort of sibling to modern science (although seldom, if ever, discussed as such). Their shared pedigree is visible in the biblical literalist’s reliance on evidence, or proof, for his theories–namely the Bible, as a textual authority. Once you begin to challenge this authority, the typical literalist begins to get very uncomfortable. The search for corroborating evidence is a logical one.

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