Conservapedia’s “unbiased” view of evolution

Caricature of Charles Darwin courtesy of Conservapedia

Caricature of Charles Darwin courtesy of Conservapedia

Conservapedia is an “alternative” to Wikipedia created based on the idea that  Wikipedia is biased against Christianity and conservative ideals.  I have discussed Conservapedia before.  Today I am going to discuss Conservapedia’s “Evolution” entry.  Before I go into the details, here are a few little tidbits about the entry:

  • the first picture you see is of Hitler
  • not a single pro-evolution site is linked to
  • further reading is only focusing on anti-evolution websites
  • no evidences are discussed (except how there are no real transitional fossils)

As you can already tell, this is pure and simple propaganda.  For a site that is supposedly trying to fight the biases found in Wikipedia, their transparency is shocking.  Did they really think that putting up a picture of Hitler as the first thing you see on the page is appropriate or even relevant?

Speaking of unfounded conclusions that evolutionary theory causes harm to society, there is a whole section devoted to the “Effect on Scientific Endeavors Outside the Specific Field of Biology” Located within are more scare tactics designed to demonize evolution:

  • Lysenkoism – Conservapedia tries to link the practices of the Soviet agronomist Trofim Lysenko, under Joseph Stalin, to “famine and death of millions.”  However, Lysenko denied Mendelian inheritance, one of the central tenets of evolution.
  • Medical Science – all that they could come up with is that the number of vestigial organs has gone from 180 in 1890 to 0 in 1999. They do not offer any of the advances brought about by creation or intelligent design (because there aren’t any)
  • Astronomy – Astronomers use the term “evolution” when describing the formation of large scale astronomical bodies.  Therefore, according to Conservapedia, astronomy has been tainted by evolutionary theory.  The inability to describe how large scale structures form (couldn’t be because astronomy is largely a observational science, could it?!?) is due to evolutionary theory’s .
  • Origin of Life There is no specific criticism of how evolution has ruined this field of study, but I can only assume that the problem is that it is studied at all.
  • Age of the earth and universe – I will let Conservapedia speak for itself here:

“Young earth creationist scientists state the following is true: there are multiple lines of evidence pointing to a young earth and universe; the old earth and universe paradigm has numerous anomalies and uses invalid dating methods, and there are multiple citations in the secular science literature that corroborate the implausibility of the old earth and universe paradigm (for details see: Young Earth Creationism). “

I usually try not to just dismiss things out of hand, but I will make an exception here.  To believe the above quote, you have to practically through out every field of science as it is known today.

The article even goes so far as to question whether the theory of evolution can qualify as a Scientific Theory. Essentially, what they are saying in this entry is that evolution can not be falsified. As anyone familiar with the theory knows, it is easily falsified.  Find any fossil out of order (such as a rabbit during the Cambrian period) or any gene that does not have similarities with the corresponding gene from its closest evolutionary relative.

They further try to vilify evolution in a section entitled “Theory of Evolution and Cases of Fraud, Hoaxes and Speculation,”  This entire section is devoted to the 19th century German scientist Ernst Haekel and his faked embryo drawings. No other frauds are mentioned in this entry except to plug Jonathon Wells’ book.  However, another entry in Conservapedia does show other “hoaxes.”  Nearly all these examples are misidentifying fossils.  Even when there were real hoaxes (see piltdown man), it was scientists that identified them as hoaxes.  By the way, what is wrong with speculation?  Speculation (or hypothesis) is a part of the scientific method and should be celebrated.

Stein Repainting Hitler as Darwin

Stein Repainting Hitler as Darwin

So what does Hitler really have to do with evolution?  Apparently, like Ben Stein, Conservapedia believes that the actions of Hitler were based on his belief of evolution.  Does it really matter if he believed in evolution or not?  His belief does not change its veracity.  Besides, everything that Hitler espoused to is closer to selective breeding than evolution.  They post this quote from Mein Kampf:

The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel, but he, after all, is only a weak and limited man; for if this law did not prevail, any conceivable higher development (Hoherentwicklung) of organic living beings would be unthinkable

Does this sound like natural selection?  Of course not.  Besides, as Richard Dawkins points out:

There is no mention of Darwin in Mein Kampf. Not one single, solitary mention, not one mention in any of the 27 chapters of this long and tedious book. Don’t you think that, if Hitler was truly influenced by Darwin, he would have given him at least one teeny weeny mention in his book?

Conservapedia also has a section devoted to “Creation Scientists often win Creation-Evolution debates.”  I will have to admit that this is something that used to bother me,but winning a debate is not necessarily the best measure of who is right.  It is an environment conducive to talking points, not well thought out ideas that can be verified through independent resources.  Debaters can use tools and tricks to help win.  Misdirection is a classic example, as well as the infamous Gish Gallop. Debating is a sport, not a reflection of reality.

A couple other points.  A repeated theme throughout the entry is that evolutionists are often atheists. This is used to discredit the theory as many people, not just Christian Fundamentalists, believe that atheists are immoral.  It is brought up again and again even though it should be irrelevant to the issue.  Belief in evolution is also equated with liberalism.  Again, this should have no bearing on a discussion of evolutionary principles.  A large percentage of the entry is devoted to quote mining.  Its never a good sign whenever quotes taken out of context are used instead of facts and experimental evidence.

Finally, I will leave with a couple of the most humorous quotes from the entry:

Until the 1970s the scientific consensus was wrong on how lions killed their prey. The Bible was correct regarding how lions killed their prey.

19th century European naturalists were wrong about ant behavior.  The Bible was correct about ant behavior.

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Lenski vs conservapedia

No self-respecting evolution blog can go without mentioning the interactions of Dr. Lenski (of evolution in a tube note) with Mr. Schlafly of Conservapedia. Conservapedia is the religious right’s answer to Wikipedia, because they believe that Wikipedia is biased toward liberal ideas.

Mr. Schlafly (a non-scientist) sent a letter to Dr. Lenski to

request for your data underlying your recent paper….Your work was taxpayer-funded, and PNAS represents that its authors will make underlying data available. I’d like to review the data myself and ensure availability for others, including experts and my students. Others have expressed interest in access to the data in addition to myself, and your website seems well-suited for public release of these data.

For those of you unfamiliar with the process of modern science, peer-reviewed published articles are written in such a way that anyone with the knowledge and the equipment should be able to repeat the presented experiments. The articles also include enough information to prove the point that the authors are trying to make (of course interpretation is sometimes up for debate).

What Mr. Schlafly requested is completely unheard of, unless someone is being investigated for forgery (see Hwang Woo-Suk). What makes it worse is that he is nothing near a scientist. If this sort of practice was allowed to go on regularly, science would come to a grinding halt due to scientists having to constantly dig up old lab books and dust off their old 5 1/4 floppies. This is why no scientific competitor or lay person has the right to ask for this kind of data even though scientists are usually funded by public money.

Now for the good part. Dr. Lenski, after initially replying kindly, sent a scathing letter to Mr. Schlafly.  Rather than selecting specific quotes from the letter, I suggest you go read it yourself.  I promise at least one laugh.

Recently, it has come to my attention that some of the authors at Conservapedia have been using underhanded tactics and censoring people.  I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised.