A letter published in Stellenbosch University’s independent student newspaper, Die Matie, 19 March 2008, Letters, Page 13 (a pdf can be downloaded from Die Matie’s archives):
Creationist’s message misleading
THE RECENT talk titled “Evolution – a Dark age for Science and Society?” by dr Don Batten is an example of a particularly worrying type of anti-science rhetoric.
We wish to respond to this dangerously misleading presentation’s message by mentioning four points, which should be relevant to all who attended and anyone who sees a conflict between science and religion:
1) Nearly every slide contained a gross scientific, logical or factual error. Worse, the talk was peppered with quotes from famous scientists who appear to slag evolution, without considering the context in which those quotes were made.
If this sounds contestable, please read a textbook on evolution, or the easily-accessible books by these authors. Most of them uniformly support evolutionary theory and such quotes should strike one as odd.
Batten twisted well-established concepts in genetics, physics and mathematics in an active attempt to undermine evolution, yet all these disciplines uniformly support it.
A completely random example: Yes, natural selection can and will decrease genetic diversity in dogs exposed to a new stimulus such as a cold environment, but it doesn’t generate that diversity – that’s the province of an entirely different mechanism: mutation. It is mutation that can lead to things like featherless chickens, long-haired dogs and variation among humans. Conflating natural selection and mutation in such a way is either deeply ignorant or actively deceptive.
2) Evolution is a fact. It has been observed multiple times. The theories about evolutionary change have been tested, altered, expanded and tested again for over 150 years by thousands of scientists from a variety of cultures and religions, yet the core concepts of evolution have never been disproven.
3) Batten argued that evolutionary theory led to the great ills of our times, including that usual gem: Hitler! Hitler misunderstood the concept and used it to justify his own megalomania. how is that relevant to the truth claims of evolution?
Of course the world was utopia before the publication of the Origin of Species. Try living without domesticated crops and animal foodstuffs, vaccination, biological control over pests and diseases or without the joy of pets and gardens. These all involve organisms modified by human-induced evolutionary mechanisms. Utopia?!
4) More than once, Batten referred to some shadowy Illuminati-type cabal of scientists (invariably atheist) who are “trying to take over the world” and are responsible for the social and moral decline that inevitably accompany evolution, leading us straight to Armageddon.
Does Batten know the actual religious beliefs of scientists? Many scientists are highly religious and see their work on evolution as an attempt to glorify their respective Godheads. The majority of Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and members of other major religions have no problem with evolution.
Why is Batten so scared of a human discipline that, by its very admission, cannot judge on the existence of God?
KENNETH OBERLANDER AND MAUD BONATO
Dept of Botany and Zoology
There was also an article on page five:
Creationist hosted by Shofar Church
Ivanka van der Merwe
DR DON Batten, a creationist research scientist, gave an interesting and controversial
speech about creation and evolution in a packed Sanlam Hall last week Wednesday.
Batten, who holds a PhD in Plant Physiology and works for the Creation Ministries International in Australia, was hosted by Shofar Christian Church. Flyers around campus proclaimed that his speech, titled “Evolution – A Dark Age for Science and Society?”, would hold “solid answers for the real world!”
He began his presentation with the famous Gerald Massey quote, “They must find it difficult … those who have taken authority as the truth rather than truth as the authority.” He subsequently criticised schooling systems for teaching the theory of evolution “as if it were factual”.
He said, “Dating techniques rely on assumptions about the past that you cannot prove and are thus unreliable as you can do experiments on the present but you can’t do an experiment on the past.” He said anyone who claims evolution is the truth is “simply daydreaming about the past.”
Batten used many examples to illustrate his views on creationism, especially man-made marvels such as Mount Rushmore in the USA. He compared them to biological things we take for granted – DNA or the seemingly “simple” nucleotide ATP, which functions as an energy transporter within cells.
He then asked why, if we can attribute an unknown intelligent designer to the former, would it be so unreasonable to attribute such a designer to the latter, a far more complex thing?
Although he produced many arguments against the theory of evolution, Batten failed to back them up consistently with scientific evidence. Flyers advertised that he would answer the questions “If God is love, why do bad things happen?” and “What’s the point of life anyway?” along with many other that he simply never mentioned in his speech.
Although he is a scientist, Batten did not operate strictly according to the scientific method, which entails (amongst others) that one aims to replace current theories with newer, better ones. His talk focused on denouncing evolutionary theory, yet he mentioned very little about how an alternative theory might look.
Many of his arguments relied on creating reasonable doubt and then presenting that as evidence. He concluded that due to the complexity of even the simplest of cells, it is “the height of wishful thinking to think that natural processes produced life” and made the controversial statement that “evolution is anti-science”.
He did not go on to back up these statements with empirical evidence.
At the end of the speech there was an opportunity for the audience to ask questions, which Batten answered one by one and in straightforward terms.
When asked what intention God could have had in creating dinosaurs (since Christianity is a teleological religion, God must have known that they would die out), Batten responded that God created them as an expression of His supreme presence “for all to marvel at”.
In a further question about where the dinosaurs fit in on the 6000 year time-scale adhered to under Creationism, he explained, “Humans did live together with dinosaurs and there had been sightings in the past, but people referred to them as ‘dragons’ at that time.”
Batten has been involved with the Creation Science Foundation in Brisbane since 1994 and has coauthored books like “15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History”. The literature on sale after the speech attracted a very interested crowd.
That is a pretty sweet article from a journalistic perspective, touching on motives, emphasizing empirical evidence and the lack thereof in the seminar, and discrepancies between the advertising for the seminar and the seminar itself.
And yet, one wonders whether publicity is a good thing or a bad thing for these people. Fundies love publicity and controversy. They typically think that means they are battling the forces of evil, fighting them around every turn. It reinforces their belief that only they are right, and everyone else is deluded: newspapers, universities, scientists…
Not that there’s much you can do for fundies without an extraordinary amount of effort. It’s the fundie-leaning (but not quite fundie yet) people that I’d be careful about. That’s the kind that PZ and Dawkins may end up pushing over the edge, potentially polarizing the landscape further.
Whether that’s good or bad, would depend on the size of each of the groups in question.
UPDATE: What happens when you don’t research your claims properly? The “Expelled” movie is finding out. By using the “Hitler was inspired by evolution” angle, they opened a whole can of worms, big fat juicy worms, long slim slimey ones… Skeptico takes them to task, picking apart the nutritional value of this particular can: Evolution Not Responsible for Hitler.