Friday, February 6, 2009

Ken Ham--unsurprisingly--gets it wrong about evolution

Ken Ham, the founder and CEO of Answers In Genesis, a creationist organization, recently wrote an article that appeared on It may be found here. This is my reply to it, since it would not fit in the comments section, and I like to share.

As usual, Ken Ham displays his ignorance of how science works and does his best to defame evolutionary biologists in the process.

The first point Ham attempts to make is that evolution leads to moral relativism. I say we have it anyway, regardless of worldview. For example, people who call themselves Christians have as many different different views on what is sinful and what is moral as there are sects of Christianity, if not as many as there are individual Christians. Christian moral relativity is great enough to have divided Christianity among approximately 35000 sects worldwide, each with its own unique background and doctrine. They have different versions of the Bible, from the King James to the Catholic version to the New International--they can't even agree on which anthology reflects their beliefs, let alone whether to interpret each literally or contextually.

The reason why I don't kill people, steal from them, or otherwise harm them is because I have empathy (it's also why I'm likely to help them). I can put myself into their situations and understand how the consequences of my actions will affect them. Humans would not have thrived as a species without empathy and cooperation.

His second point about what is being taught in science classrooms is poorly supported by a plaque in Darwin's house and a vague reference to how evolution is taught, but that wasn't my experience in high school biology, or even college biology. Religion was not discussed because it requires faith, and faith is not within the scope of science, by definition. Science is about what can be observed, not about what people accept as true without evidence. We couldn't possibly bring religion into a science classroom (or any classroom, for that matter), since there is so much division among religious people about origins. Origins are not a discussion in a classroom involving evolution anyway, since evolution is about changes in species over time, and not how they came to be in the first place. It's an obvious progression from learning about changes to inquiring about origins, but since nobody really knows exactly how life began on Earth, origins aren't typically the subject of high school biology texts.

Ken Ham's next point represents his transition from ignorance about evolution and how it is taught to defamation of those who teach science and those who learn it. His example of the killer in a 2007 Finland school shooting (I have not researched this incident) fails, because clearly, the killer did not understand evolution at all. If by killing people he believed that he was a "natural selector", he clearly did not understand what is meant by "natural selection". In natural selection, sentient purpose does not drive the process; when purpose enters into it, it is artifical selection. Ironically, this killer selected himself out of the gene pool by being caught (or killing himself; again, I haven't researched the incident), thereby eliminating his chances of mating and passing on his genes. Of course, ideas aren't heritable traits, but perhaps his urge to kill other people and his apparent lack of empathy toward others might be.

In his fourth attempt to defame evolution, Ken Ham again uses an example of people misusing evolution to promote an agenda that displays their ignorance of how it actually works. Evolution is not progressive; there is no species "more evolved" than any other. What one might say is that a species is more specialized (i.e., has adaptations more suitable) for a given environment, but to claim superiority in evolution would be folly. In any case, scientists today do not subscribe to the idea of racial superiority in relation to evolution; the human genome project should have erased any such idea. The idea of "survival of the fittest" isn't even Darwin's; in natural selection, the heritable adaptations that are passed to the next generation that allow it to survive, in its turn, to reproductive age are what matter most.

None of the examples Ken Ham presents of how people misuse and misunderstand evolutionary theory have any bearing on whether or not evolutionary theory is valid. The theories regarding the mechanisms of evolution find validity in their predictive power and in the evidence that reinforces them. The validity of any scientific theory is independent of public opinion.

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