What Controversy?

When exploring the creation/evolution controversy, one often hears the objection: "But how can all those scientists be wrong?" Let's just ignore the logical fallacy involved here and examine the question.

Recently, I took an anthropology course at my university. I read ahead in the book and discovered that we would be talking about the peppered moth as an example of natural selection later on in the semester. I had read only days earlier that the peppered moth illustration was a fraud; not only were the pictures faked (peppered moths don't rest on tree trunks), but the original scientist's findings were not verified by other scientists. So for that class, I came prepared with a photocopy of the article. When the instructor brought up the story about the peppered moth, I raised my hand and asked, "Isn't there a controversy surrounding this example?" The instructor paused, and then said, "I am not aware of any controversy. For the purposes of this class, there is no controversy."

I was not satisfied with this answer, so after class, I went up to speak with him. I showed him the article (from Nature, vol. 396, November 5, 1998, pp. 35,36), and his first words were, "This is one of those creationist articles, isn't it?" It was not, however, so I said, "No, this is an article from Nature magazine." The instructor then said, apparently in an attempt to ease my worries, "If it is not in the textbook next year, I will not use the example."

Much can be learned from his statements. His first statement was, "I am not aware of any controversy." Many times, the scientific community is unaware of controversies in fields other than their own. Since the peppered moth example is more in the field of biology, it is not particularly surprising that my anthropology instructor would be unaware of the controversy.

His second statement is even more telling. It shows a total disregard for the creationist perspective. No matter what the evidence, it will not be heard, because it is assumed to be lacking.

Finally, his assurance to me that he would no longer use the example IF it no longer appeared in the textbook speaks volumes about his total devotion to evolutionary theory, despite the facts. My instructor was willing to teach something he knew to be a lie, just because it illustrated his point about natural selection.

So how can all those scientists be wrong about evolution? There are a number of explanations. Scientists are human. They have biases just as we do. No scientist can be an expert in all fields. And finally, yes, some of them are willing to support what they know to be a lie, simply because they are devoted to the theory.

A better question might be why evolution has such a stronghold on the minds of the scientific community. When one creationist theory is shown to have flaws, the entire theory of creation is discarded. However, when an evolutionist theory is shown to be false (such as Lamarck's Use-Disuse Theory ), the theory of evolution keeps its prestige and the devotion of scientists.