Creationists are the dung beetles of science

CreationReading that title back, it sounds rude and abrasive, but it isn’t meant to be. In fact, quite the reverse. In the wake of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about Young Earth Creationists (YECs), typically from a highly negative viewpoint. Columnists and bloggers despair of the distortions of leaders, the ignorance of followers, and the special pleading of a nakedly religious claim being presented as science.

I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I’d say the same myself all the time if it wasn’t so blindingly obvious. But despite all this criticism, and although YECs are reality-denying ideologues who are either dishonest, indoctrinated or just too lazy to check out the evidence, they do serve a purpose. If you can forget about all the lying, distortion and fabrication – and it’s a big “if” – there’s a tiny glimmer of something valuable buried deep in the bowels of YECism, something we should all appreciate. Unlikely as it may seem, they do perform a genuine scientific function.

One thing YECs love to do is poring over statements by “evolutionists” (they can’t call them scientists without admitting that YECs oppose science in general), looking for something they can use. It might be a false statement, it might be an admission that our knowledge is necessarily provisional, or quite commonly, it might be a fragment of text or conversation ripped out of its true context and held aloft like a holy relic because it appears to support YECs’ claims. It’s hardly an edifying process, but it has its uses.

Dung BeetlesWe all know that the scientific method works by continual testing and refinement in the light of new evidence. To be honest, YECs are more likely to be employing the unscientific method, but that doesn’t really matter. They reliably and persistently challenge every conceivable plank of evolutionary theory, looking for any signs of weakness, or even a crack that’s just about big enough for God to hide in. If anything’s wrong or missing, you can be sure they’ll find it, and point it out very loudly.

They are attempting to test evolution to destruction, and despite their distinctly suspect motivation, it’s a role that’s vital to scientific progress, and nothing to be afraid of. To date, evolutionary theory has held up to everything they can throw at it. In fact, ironically, it only gets stronger and more reliable as a result of their efforts, with challenges overcome, occasional gaps or weaknesses identified and explained, and the constant gaze of millions of highly-motivated ideologues offering an enduring guarantee of its coherence and explanatory power.

DarwinThe constant buzz of YECs picking over every single detail, hunting for flaws, means that evolutionary theory has been subject to as much vigorous scrutiny as almost any theory in history. And it’s also studied and understood by a far greater number of people than might be expected if it was simply accepted as an uncontroversial matter of fact. Science is strengthened by nit-picking, however desperate or ideologically motivated it may be.

So don’t be too hard on YECs – it’s all they know, and while their animal instincts lead them to spend their time on something we find rather distasteful and unpleasant, it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. Just think – without them, we’d have much more work to do in evaluating our own theories.

Images courtesy of raichinger, doc_ and Cyanocorax, used with permission

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

4 responses to “Creationists are the dung beetles of science”

  1. jasonjshaw says :

    Awesome perspective!

  2. jasonjshaw says :

    Reblogged this on Christianity Simplified and commented:
    A great perspective of how creationists are a benefit to ensuring the theory of evolution is solid.

  3. Grundy says :

    I like to think that I’m my harshest critic, but if I was a biologist, you’re right, Ken Ham probably would be.

  4. Miriam Joy says :

    The same’s true of critics of a lot of things. I’ve always found that my opinion and understanding of things is strengthened by arguing about them — the longer I try and explain to somebody just WHY I think what I think, the more I understand my own viewpoint. It occasionally feels dispiriting, but hey, it’s useful, right?

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