Why the fascination with “expert dissenters”?

54731174_2263076763755098_9210221894966444032_nWhile the names change, a regular creationist argument is ‘Here is a famous person.  They don’t believe in evolution.  Therefore my rejection of evolution is rational and my interpretation of the Bible is the only right one.’  Sometimes the famous person is a list of scientists who disagree with evolution (Behe, Sanford and the ‘over 1,000 dissenting scientist list’ are the most famous examples).  Whatever.  The argument is very flawed for a number of reasons.  Ironically it is an appeal to authority.  Literalists like painting evolutionary creationists as blinded by authority/science.  Yet they roll out these appeals to authority when it suits.   Yet it gets worse.

In any group of qualified people you can find outliers, cranks, call them what you will.  Its not hard to find.  I went to a physio for a while until I found out they had anti-vaccine views (I prefer to be treated by health professionals who aren’t conspiracy theorists!).

More amusing though is that the literalist grab an expert that appears to support their view, unaware that their new hero often doesn’t share the same platform.  Behe is the poster child for this mistake.  Behe believes in ancient life and common descent.  Why would a literalist grab the science of Behe to counter evolution when it also counters their position?  Lack of reading presumably.  The problem with an appeal to an expert that supports your view is that you are engaging in confirmation bias.  Seizing on anything that vaguely supports your conclusion – even when in the detail it doesn’t eg Behe – isn’t an effective response.  Outliers are inevitable in any field of human endeavour.  They have had their day in court in the Dover Trial – it didn’t go well.

Sanford also does the rounds.  A highly accomplished individual who moved from evolution to being a young earth creationist.  Sanford has published on what he considers to be the weakness of evolutionary theory – the impact of genetic mutation.  However his work has been widely criticised as at best cherry picking data.  See here for a comprehensive review of both men (but especially Sanford).

 

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