Sean B. Carroll is frustrated so many still deny evolution, but he shoots his own argument in the foot.
Carroll, portrayed as wandering around the Smithsonian in ecstasy at all the exhibits showcasing evolution, was given ample space in a press release from Tufts University (echoed on PhysOrg) to rant about all the fools who disagree with him. He can’t believe that people enter the museum and continue to carry their God bias even after sights like these:
The sign in front of the tall display case at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History lures visitors to “meet one of your oldest relatives.” Inside stands a morganucodon, a mouse-like animal from the Late Triassic period, 210 million years ago. “A close relative of this tiny creature was the first mammal on earth,” the sign says. “Its DNA was passed on to billions of descendants, including you.”…
The facts of evolution may be written in stone and bone and DNA, but close to half the American public “accepts a biblical creationist account of the origins of life,” according to the Pew Research Center for People & the Press. Evolution is just one front in a broader conflict between science and individual belief.
Much of the essay about “science denialism,” is buttressed with the views of fellow Tufts graduate Paul Offit. Offit and Sean B. Carroll (not to be confused with Sean C. Carroll of Caltech) positioned themselves as the promoters of reason and evidence. “All I have on my side is reason,” Offit said. “We are about evidence and weighing evidence,” Carroll said. They portrayed the “science deniers” as impermeable to evidence, being swayed instead by theistic bias or general distrust of experts. This is the either-or fallacy, overlooking the fact that science depends on belief and that many evolution skeptics are keen on scientific evidence, pointing to key evidences that evolutionists and advocates of consensus science ignore or re-interpret due to their “individual belief” (e.g., 10/12/2012, 10/08/2012, 9/26/2012).
Freelance writer Phil Primack brought in two authorities who claim that science deniers follow instinct rather than evidence. “We like to think that we’re smart, rational beings, but most of our perceptions are subjective and powerfully influenced by instinct and emotion,” said David Ropeik, a former TV journalist who wrote a book about confirmation bias – a human tendency to believe statements that confirm their biases and disbelieve statements that do not. Carroll and Offit agree that confirmation bias can affect scientists, too: “There’s good reason to be skeptical about information we get. But you have to be discriminating in the authorities you’re going to doubt,” Carroll wisely suggested but without supplying criteria for discrimination.
Much of Primack’s article, which first appeared in the summer 2012 issue of Tufts Magazine, concerned public fear of vaccines or fluoridation of water, and doubts about anthropogenic global warming. Carroll lumped in skepticism of Darwinism with these. Surprisingly, he gave a revisionist view of evolution’s recent history in biology:
But the wages of science denialism are not always obvious. According to Carroll, Americans’ resistance to the theory of evolution, while less noxious than measles outbreaks or climate woes, has had a real impact.
“Thirty years ago,” he says, “there was not much interest in evolution within the life sciences community. Life scientists were interested in biological mechanisms, but they were studying them without an evolutionary context. Now it’s a different ballgame. As we’ve leaped forward and conquered biological frontiers on so many fronts, all of life science now sees that evolution is the fundamental thread that holds together the whole picture of life on earth.” But public education has not yet caught up to that reality. Evolution is still “under taught and underemphasized.”
Thirty years ago would be 1982, when evolution had had complete dominance in both schools and scientific labs for some 25 years since the space race and the 1959 centennial of Darwin’s Origin of Species – a dominance that has remained unmitigated to the present day, despite court cases and the rise of the modern intelligent design movement.
In addition, Carroll committed card stacking with the “biological frontiers” that he claims support evolution, ignoring the falsifying evidences from the Cambrian explosion (10/11/2012), the genetic code, the epigenetic code, and the discoveries of molecular machines in the cell. This is also a besetting sin of the global warming consensus (7/22/2012,
Third, he did not support his allegation that evolution is under-taught and under-emphasized, when in fact school boards across the country have had difficulty allowing even factual criticisms of Darwinism to enter science classes, let alone presentations of intelligent design or creationism, which have long been suppressed. For 60 years, textbooks, when it comes to questions of origins, have been 100% Darwin dogma – some with overt factual errors about Haeckel’s embryos, peppered moths and other icons of evolution.
Primack says that Carroll was recently named vice president for science education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “It’s his job to find ways of fostering public respect for, understanding of and enthusiasm about science.” Carroll is so discomfited by deniers of evolution that he wants to get into the storytelling business on film:
Carroll aims to give vivid form to such lessons in the educational videos he is overseeing on evolution and other topics. The Hughes film production unit will spend $60 million over the next five years. (“I’m putting Howard’s money where my mouth is,” Carroll deadpans.) Under his creative stamp, he promises there will be no talking heads, no dull graphics, just great storytelling. “Teachers deserve all the help we can give them,” he says.
They need help, he thinks, because Bible believers have a much better “story” than evolutionists:
Something else tilts the playing field toward those untroubled by an allegiance to scientific rigor: “What if the message of one story is more appealing than another?” Carroll asks. “If you have been told that you have been specifically created by a higher being with some plan for your life, that can be a bit more reassuring than thinking that you’re just one of billions of genetic combinations that has come about at this moment in time after millions of years of hominid evolution, with no plan and no explicit purpose.”
Like Bill Nye the Science Guy (see 8/26/2012), Carroll expressed the non-sequitur that denial of evolution will negatively impact America’s leadership. “If we don’t value science and education, there is not a lot of incentive for people to pursue those fields, which means we will see less implementation of knowledge in our public policy,” he said. “We’ll have forfeited an edge in science that the world has envied for sixty years.”
Surprisingly, the article was decorated with a photo of a dinosaur in the pervasive “death pose” indicating suffocation in water (11/23/2011, 2/15/2012) . Then Carroll ended with a reference to the Scopes Trial, during which evolutionists were clamoring for academic freedom – the very thing that is being denied to critics of evolution. And while Primack stipulated that “doubters of evolution are often linked to the political or religious right,” he did not ask if the converse is true: i.e., whether supporters of evolution are often linked to atheists and the political left (8/22/2012, 7/26/2012, 12/02/2004). He did state, though, that skeptics of vaccines and fluorine tend to be politically left, unlike their anticommunist forebears in the 1960s.
First off in our commentary, let’s list some points of agreement – all in a spirit of fairness and cooperation with dear Dr. Carroll, our fellow created human being. We agree that much public unreasoning folly is regrettable; look at the scads of sick souls at slot machines who, against all probability or logic, lose their shirts in the vain hope they will get rich quick. We also would disparage those who fear vaccines and fluorine based on flawed reporting and science, though our own reporting from mainstream journals suggests some justification for questioning the consensus about anthropogenic global warming (e.g., 9/26/2012, 8/02/2012, 7/22/2012, 5/30/2012).
We also agree that “you have to be discriminating in the authorities you’re going to doubt.” That advice alone is good reason to doubt Drs. Carroll and Offit themselves. Would you follow the advice of someone who committed multiple logical fallacies? In this one article, Carroll and Offit and their prophet Primack committed the either-or fallacy (scientists vs individual belief), fear mongering (denialism forfeits an edge in science), non-sequitur (criticism of evolution decreases knowledge for public policy), association (Darwin skeptics associated with vaccine/fluorine deniers), card stacking (ignoring evidences that falsify evolution), glittering generalities (evolution equated with reason and progress), loaded words (“science denialism”), and many of the other fallacies and tricks listed in the Baloney Detector.
But the fallacy that really undermines their whole case is the self-refuting fallacy. Their personal bias led them to shoot their own feet of reason and evidence. How? For one thing, Carroll said one must be discriminating in in the authorities to be doubted, but then he denies the right for intelligent, informed skeptics of evolution to do just that: to doubt him. For another, as an evolutionist, Carroll must stay within the circle he drew around himself: “just one of billions of genetic combinations that has come about at this moment in time after millions of years of hominid evolution, with no plan and no explicit purpose.” How, then, can he explain his own plan and purpose to make films to fight the creationists? Where did plan and purpose evolve from?
To stand on a soapbox of self-righteousness with a plan and a purpose, Carroll had to reach outside of his own worldview and steal from the goods of Bible believers, who ground righteous plans and purposes in the nature of the Judeo-Christian God. He therefore exposed himself as a de facto believer in Biblical values in spite of himself – a disobedient one at that. We can therefore ignore his advice, not only for the fallacies, but for the fact that he left himself with no feet to stand on. With Tufts University sending out graduates like that, don’t send your kids there if you want them to keep their feet.