God, Bones, and Nessy

http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2012/jul/05/loch-ness-monster-evolution

This article in question tells the story of a textbook in Louisiana, one aimed toward Christians, advancing the creationist agenda by explaining that not only does the Loch Ness Monster exist, but that it is alive and well, and, perhaps strangest of all, a living, breathing, dinosaur. This textbook believes that the existence of Loch Ness as a dinosaur completely invalidates the fossil record, and by extension, because it is one of its tenets, utterly disproves the Darwinian theory of evolution.

The writer, Dr. Dave Hone, explains as in a somewhat agitated, albeit goodhearted, rant, that this presumption concerning Loch Ness is incorrect in a myriad of ways: first, that there is currently no scientific evidence of the existence of a plesiosaur or even plesiosaur-like creature residing in Loch Ness, second, that while the fossil record is a tenet of evolution, is neither the sole foundation, nor would in anyway truly compromise the entire structure of the theory if it was compromised, and third, that even if a living, breathing dinosaur did walk out of Loch Ness, or the Amazon, or some other section of our planet that little to nothing is known about, it would not invalidate the fossil record.

I believe that the real problem here (other than the fact that a Louisiana textbook company is once again attempting to put creationist ideals in a biology textbook, something which, as we’ve noticed in class, doesn’t exactly go over very well in the court system, even if it is in a highly religious county) is that the idea of the Loch Ness Monster being real caters almost exclusively to the uneducated. But worse than that, the issue of the Loch Ness monster is so trivial to the theory of evolution, that it appears that whomever wrote this particular part of the text book is either in full knowledge that what they are writing is completely and utterly wrong, or poorly-educated themselves.

Neither of these possibilities is particularly flattering to the writers of the textbook, and yet both are equally telling as to the reason that 60% of people in the United States deny the validity of the theory of evolution. Oddly enough, to me, it’s almost as if the first of these two is the more comforting. Dishonesty amongst the scientific community is far more easily remedied than the blind leading the blind.

But more than this, there is the far greater, over-arching problem of the fact that the religious community would stoop this low, in a seemingly desperate attempt to poke a hole, any hole, in a scientific theory that is not by definition incompatible with religious origin stories.

So you tell me: What is worse; scientific dishonesty or uneducated education? Why? How would we remedy it? And why is it that the religious community is so hell-bent on disproving evolution that it will attack it, relentlessly, at the source: children?

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9 Responses to God, Bones, and Nessy

  1. setollo says:

    Apologies to the reader: 60% is a typo. 46% is the correct percentage, as affirmed by a recent Gallup poll.

  2. theotherhemingway says:

    I’d like to echo setollo’s sentiments: I find it appalling that the battleground over our origins is in our primary and secondary schools. The portion of Christians that fuel, fund and lead this fight truly frustrate me. From a historical perspective, debates of this nature–those fundamental to humanity–should occur at colleges and universities. According to a Gallup Poll (1), there is a significant increase of belief in evolutionary theory and disregard for creationism among those with some college, graduates and postgraduates. Now, momentarily disregarding the Guardian’s typically leftward-leaning on American and European social issue, the original blog post raises a great point that our society has facilitated the creation of the very communications gap creationists are using to advance their goals. Without a major discussion in a lengthy paper (which my claim likely warrants), I would argue that barriers to higher education which increase yearly are facilitating this gap and giving creationists their “edge”.

    It becomes more expensive to attend any post-secondary institution each year. A portion of the increase is inflationary and normal, however inflation only accounts for a third of the increase in public university costs and and a seventh of the increase in private university costs. This financial barrier keeps children out of the higher educational system. This topic even hits close to home with the revelation of GW’s controversial “need-aware” policy, essentially barring the bottom 10% of applicants who meet admissions standards but would not be able to “afford GW” (a tentative and likely loosely defined concept) from acceptance. While it is likely this policy just meant these applicants attended second-, third-, or fourth-choice schools, a policy like this at many institutions could very well mean a student doesn’t get to attend college. That is where creationists can supplant themselves. Institutions’ seeking of profits or general revenue has granted creationists a segment of the population that is less educated than they intended and statistically some of them are open minded enough to accept their ideas.

    Again, warranting a much longer discussion, in order to close this gap, I would recommend instilling a culture of post-secondary mobility in schools. The question, “What do you want to do after high school?” doesn’t have to have the two definite answers of college or work which may have been social norms forty years ago. There are a wealth of opportunities in our country outside of work and college and a general culture of embracing those–fostered at an early level–will keep students focused on enriching their minds and not shuttering them with close-minded arguments solely relying on creationism.

  3. jps591 says:

    I would first like to point out that the evidence of Nessie’s existence is unreliable. While there have been pictures and stories, none of them have been confirmed to be 100% accurate or real. Until then, it is bold to assume that a creature like that has coexisted with humans this long without us discovering it. Despite this, let us address the argument that the existence of the Loch Ness Monster contradicts the theory of evolution.

    If I asked the question: What is the Creationist argument against evolution?, I would probably get numerous different answers. Some would claim that there is a lack of evidence and observations supporting evolution and others would use the irreducible complexity argument. The differing and ever changing reasoning poses an issue for the Creationist argument. Now they are trying to argue that the existence of a dinosaur living in a lake negates the validity of evolution, while in reality they are making their own argument much less credible. By acknowledging the existence of the dinosaur, they go against their bold claim that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, which would be impossible if there was proof of a living dinosaur. Additionally, the Bible says nothing about God creating dinosaurs with the rest of the creatures. The inconsistency in the argument makes me take their argument less seriously because it seems as if they cater their argument to be whatever is most convenient at the time.

    At this point, with the negative public opinion many religious fundamentalists have, their best bet would be to revamp their argument. It is quite apparent the teaching of creationism in school is not going to happen so long as the American government stays true to the Constitution. If I were them, I would change their campaign strategy to show how religion can complement science rather than compete head-to-head with it. An argument like this would make it more appealing to all.

  4. running95 says:

    The article presented by setello is extremely interesting to me. This is because I am actually amazed that anyone, especially a textbook company, would propose that the Loch Ness Monster’s existence is viable proof against evolution. Besides the fact that there is no conclusive evidence suggesting the existence of such an organism, if it did exist, its existence would not be substantial proof against evolution. The theory of evolution does not necessarily mean that anything deemed to be extinct according to the fossil record has absolutely no chance of being alive today. For example, in the article the author references that if creatures previously believed to be extinct did appear in the real world, it would not work to completely dispel everything that was mentioned in Darwin’s Origin of Species. In fact, it would simply provide more mediums from which evidence could be extracted to prove that evolution is fact or law rather than simple theory.

    Furthermore, these comment only prove to further illuminate exactly how ignorant and hypocritical much of the “evidence” presented by creationists really is. As jps591 brings up, many creationists base their views on the notion that evolution does not provide enough evidence to support itself. However, not only does the existence of the Loch Ness Monster lack substantial evidence, but it is ignorant to believe that because an organism has not evolved past its paleolithic era form is enough to disprove evolution. Today’s birds are modern dinosaurs and they share multiple prehistoric characteristics with dinosaurs. Moreover, it is hypothesized that today’s birds have experienced minimal evolutionary changes since the time of their prehistoric ancestors.

    The idea of evolution rests upon the notion of survival of the fittest meaning that if the organism is fit in its environment it will not change simply for purposes of keeping up with the rest of its kingdom, class, phylum, etc. If Nessie is real and alive today, then it is fit for its environment, and has been for years resulting in no need to change from its old appearance. Also, there is no proof that Nessie has not changed. Nobody was alive to see what it looked like before nor is there any fossilized evidence of its ancestors, therefore, if it does exist maybe it has evolved drastically from what it once looked like–if Kimono Dragons were rarely seen and their existence was in question people may say that they should have evolved out of their dinosaur-looking state.

    The bottom line is this–simply because something exists (especially when there is no actual proof that it exists) that the fossil record suggests should not is not proof that the theory of evolution is utter malarky. Creationists need to take a step back to figure out what they really think about evolution and they need to take time to actually think about the claims they are making because when they make erroneous statements such as the one mentioned in the is article, it does nothing but discredit them and their arguments.

  5. shoutoutjfk says:

    To make it clear, a biology textbook claims that due to the nonexistent evidence surrounding a possible living dinosaur, dinosaurs and man must have been created together proving that creationism is true. Moreover, the textbook claims that the evidence shown actually disproves years of scientific observations which support evolutionary theory. There are multiple mistakes in the logical process to reach this false conclusion. First of all, there is no scientific evidence of the Loch-Ness monster. Secondly, even if remnants of dinosaur species still existed today, as Hone maintains, this would make absolutely no changes to the theory of evolution via natural selection. In fact, for anything about evolution or creationism to even be said about the beast, an entire population of monsters would have to be found. This is because in nature, any living organism had to come from some other living organism. Classification of living organisms in this manner fits dinosaurs as well. If a population (or at least more than 1) of the beasts is not found, then the beast is probably not a dinosaur. If the creationists say that the Loch-Ness dinosaur was created by God and placed in that location for about six thousand years ago, then it must be more of a monster than we originally anticipated! Regardless, no matter how many populations of dinosaurs are found still inhabiting the earth, the fossil record would still remain intact and Darwin’s theory would do the same. As I have said on a few other occasions, a primary distinction between science and religion is that science embraces changing ideals whereas literal interpretations of religion require stagnation.

  6. drc1995 says:

    I would have to agree with setollo’s sentiments about his discomfort with the fact that creationists are stooping so low in trying to deny evolution. It seems to me at this point, that creationists are just grasping at straws trying to find some explanation that people will buy into. I mean the citing of the existence of the Loch Ness monster (even without a shred of evidence hinting towards the existence of such a beast) is only one of many explanations creationists have come up with. Other claims stretch from denying the existence of fossils (even though we have DIRECT evidence of them), to the misrepresenting scientific theory such as carbon dating or the micro and macroevolution. It’s a shame the lengths at which they will go to in order to disprove evolution.

    As to whether or not creationists are just being dishonest or are truly just not educated enough, I would have to lean with the former rather than the latter. Again, I think creationists are just trying to latch onto something that sticks in order to try to prove that evolution isn’t real. Every time that one of their “explanations” for evolution being wrong is tackled head on, they just come up with a new idea. With all of that said, truly not being educated enough might fit into the equation of why creationists deny evolution, but I think it more so general dishonesty. My own personal theory is that somewhere in the process of combating evolution, creationists first don’t have any educational background on the theories, but once they learn of them, they are too deeply embedded in their religious convictions to change their opinions and resort to lying instead about evolution. If this theory is true, then it is even worse than just being plain dishonest.

    The last thing I want to address is the blog post author’s statement regarding who this battle on evolution hurts the most, and that is children. I personally believe that the religious community is so hell-bent on attacking evolution in schools is because it is where they are most able to influence the public. Referring to theotherhemingway’s analysis regarding how most people learn of evolution in higher learning, if creationist are able to set into influenceable children’s mind that evolution isn’t true, they might not be exposed to it later in life and would be more prone to be a creationist as well. Attacking evolution in middle and high schools is probably the most influential thing a creationist could do.

    One video I want to direct some readers to is the following, featuring Bill Nye the Science Guy (see link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHbYJfwFgOU). In this video, he talks mainly about how teaching creationism to children is just plain inappropriate. To this statement, I couldn’t agree more. Teaching creationism holds back our children, and in turn, holds back our entire future for this country. I just wonder, do creationists know what kind of impact they are having on the youth of America? I mean can they comprehend what denying them the education they deserve will do to them and this country, and do they even care?

  7. findwhatwind says:

    I firmly disagree with setollo in that I believe it is very logical for creationists to try to find some way to “poke any hole” in the theory of evolution, which is in fact by definition incompatible with the literal creation story told in Genesis. This is logical when considering just about any theory. For example, for a very long time Newton’s laws couldn’t explain how it was possible for bumblebees to fly (as is summarized in this article http://www.livescience.com/33075-how-bees-fly.html), which seems to be a very small petty thing to disprove an entire theory based on, much the same as creationists trying to use the Loch Ness monster. However, if we were to discover a species that was immune to the laws of gravity as the bumblebee seemed to be, wouldn’t that be probable cause to believe that Newton’s laws are somehow incorrect? Another rather ridiculous example I will be extremely brief about is the fact that the social theory of functionalism (the belief that a human being only qualifies as a human being and therefore has human rights if they “function” as a human being, thus excluding children, the handicapped, and the elderly) has been largely disproved based on an issue with global warming. It is very much possible to use one seemingly petty example, such as the Loch Ness monster, to disprove a scientific theory which is essentially scientific law.
    That being said, however, the article gets around this fact very simply and skillfully, by not trying to disprove the creationist’s point. The average reader’s initial reaction to the creationists would be “that’s ridiculous because everyone knows the Loch Ness monster isn’t real”, which would not go anywhere in arguing with the creationists. Instead, the article decides to assume that the creationists’ ridiculous claim is in fact true, that the Loch Ness monster truly does still exist in its original form, and point out how the reasoning based on that fact is flawed and that this fact would in fact help to prove the theory of evolution. I believe this method of argument is absolutely brilliant, as it argues not the facts stated, which would be nearly impossible to argue, but rather the analysis of those facts. Overall I think this article provides a very solid argument as to why even the Loch Ness monster follows the laws set by the theory of evolution, therefore not allowing the creationists to poke that hole that could deflate the entire theory.

  8. johnd0pe says:

    I think it’s remarkable the regard in which Dr. Hone holds the idea of creationism, while it is the overwhelmingly prevailing belief of Americans. He handles creationism as if it is a purely absurdist belief, and he is convincing in doing so. I read Dr Hone’s article first and I didn’t find it to be a fringe or extremist view, but according to the poll, most American’s would. Perhaps his article is so convincing due to the scientifically supported logical support.

    Dr Hone’s beliefs are on the far side of the spectrum, but undoubtedly there are many Americans whose beliefs lie on the other end of the spectrum. Particularly in the South and the MIdwest, people are still adamantly opposed to the notion of non-theistic evolution, so much so that they would dismiss it in very much the same way as Hone dismisses creationism.

    What’s most surprising to me though, is what a small percentage of Americans believe in non-theistic evolution. I thought there must be some bias in the poll, but after reading the Survey Methods, I couldn’t diagnose one. Perhaps I’ve just been surrounded by less religious people in my life, but I would never have guessed the figure to be so low nationally. I am curious what may have played into those numbers. I suspect that urban areas were less accounted for than rural ones due to a survey distribution based on geography rather than population. If this were the case, it would be expected to have a bias in favor of creationism. Either way, I personally would like to see those numbers shift away from creationism in the future, as would most likely be the trend which would accompany increased education rates in the US.

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