Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Creationism/Intelligent Design and Holocaust Denial

Apparently, there is a controversy brewing over recent comparisons of creationists/Intelligent Design proponents and Holocaust deniers. This article is a complaint over this issue, which is critiqued over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

At Dispatches, Ed Brayton notes that proponents of creationism and Intelligent Design have long been comparing so-called "evolutionists" to Nazis, and thus those proponents have little right to complain about being compared to Holocaust deniers. But that's not the point I would like to make. The reason proponents of creationism and Intelligent Design get compared to Holocaust deniers is that they use the same reasoning errors, logical fallacies, and word games to falsely get people to believe them.

For instance, one of the similarities between history and science is that both depend not on one fact or one piece of evidence from which to draw conclusions. They both depend on a whole array of evidence all pointing in the same direction. As such, in order to disprove or falsify a historical or scientific theory, one must demonstrate that the bulk of the available evidence points toward a different conclusion than the current theory.

But creationists and Intelligent Design proponents don't do that. What they do is to try to take one or two pieces of evidence and raise doubt about them, and then act as if this makes the whole edifice of evolution crumble. Holocaust deniers use the exact same tactic. In this way, both groups ignore the vast bulk of the evidence in order to draw the conclusion that they want.

It's kind of like if your house burns down. The guy next door has been threatening to burn your house down for months. There are tracks leading from his house to yours and there's the smell of fuel along that route. When you confront your neighbor, he smells like gas and he has cinders in his hair. The neighbor says, "Oh yeah? What kind of fuel did I use?" Because you don't know, he claims that you can't possibly know he did it, despite all the rest of the evidence. That's what these guys try to pull. It doesn't matter if you know what kind of fuel he used or not! That doesn't in any way affect or change all the other evidence.

Similarly, both groups make challenges asking for someone to present "one piece of proof" that, by itself, will totally prove evolution or the Holocaust, such as a so-called "transitional" fossil for evolution or a letter from Hitler ordering the Holocaust. (We have many transitional fossils but, for creationists, a "transitional" fossil is one that is exactly have one species and half the other, which scientists never actually expect to find). They do so because they know that no single piece of evidence could ever prove something that happened over five years or millions of years, over large geographical areas. That's why science and history are both based on getting as much evidence as possible and seeing what the predominance of the accumulated evidence indicates.

The lack of a letter from Hitler ordering the Holocaust or of what creationists call a "transitional" fossil is sort of like not having a videotape of your neighbor burning your house down. Obviously, a videotape would be one piece of evidence that would make a pretty persuasive argument. But the lack of such a piece of evidence does not render all the rest of the accumulated evidence moot. In neither science nor history is there usually such a magical piece of evidence where the bad guy admits his crimes or where nature shows us exactly what happened in the past. That doesn't mean we can never know anything about history or natural science, though.

Those are only two examples of the methods that both creationists/Intelligent Design proponents and also Holocaust deniers use. My advice to creationists and Intelligent Design proponents who don't like being compared to Holocaust deniers is this: Stop using the exact same flawed reasoning and tactics and you won't! But, as long as you adopt the very same reasoning and tactics used by the Holocaust deniers, it is you, not those making the comparison, who are making the comparison apt.


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