Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


The Failures of Mathematical Anti-Evolutionism

Jason Rosenhouse

People who work in the life sciences typically regard it as obvious that modern evolutionary theory is essentially correct. They find that there is just too much data that falls right into place if you take evolution as your starting point, and they consistently get good results when they apply the theory to practical problems. There is much to argue about in the details, but there is near unanimous agreement that the big picture—that modern species are the end result of a lengthy historical process and that natural selection is an especially important mechanism of evolution—is roughly the way Charles Darwin first described it in 1859.

But for as long as there have been evolutionists there have also been anti-evolutionists. There have always been those who do not like evolution, and they offer a variety of arguments in support of their view. Many of these arguments are at least superficially scientific, though it is hardly a secret that religious motivations are nearly always lurking beneath the surface. Scientists mostly scoff at anti-evolutionism, and rightly so.  Most anti-evolutionist arguments are based on faulty reasoning, absurd distortions of the scientific facts, parodies of what evolution asserts, or all of the above.

Mathematics has long played a role in anti-evolution discourse, but in the past ten to fifteen years it has become far more prominent than it had previously been. Most of the major anti-evolution books and articles during this time place mathematical arguments front and center. Scientists have replied piecemeal to these arguments, but there has been no survey of mathematical anti-evolutionism taken as a whole. In this book, I present such a survey.  In mostly non-technical prose, I explain why all such anti-evolutionist arguments fail.

Anti-evolutionism, whether in the form of fundamentalist young-Earth creationism or the superficially more sophisticated intelligent design theory, is one front in a broader struggle against misinformation and anti-science propaganda.  Scientists and mathematicians should see it as a professional obligation to push back whenever possible.  But my intention is not just polemical.  The relationship of mathematics to biology is fascinating.  Understanding why anti-evolutionist arguments fail can help us think clearly about this relationship.

My interest in this subject began in the early 2000s.  My first job out of graduate school had much to do with the training of public-school mathematics teachers in the U. S. state of Kansas.  At that time, Kansas was mired in controversy because a conservative state school board had voted to remove scientific topics like evolution and the big bang from the science curriculum.  My work brought me into close contact with people on the front lines of this dispute.  When I subsequently learned of a forthcoming creationism conference not far from my home, I decided, on a whim, to attend. 

Over the next seven to eight years, I attended dozens of such conferences, as well as smaller gatherings in local churches.  At these conferences, I saw first-hand just how rhetorically effective mathematical anti-evolutionism can be.  Where I saw caricatures of major branches of mathematics, most of the audience saw conclusive proof of their religious beliefs.     

In large measure, it was this experience that prompted me to write this book.  Nonsense must be confronted, and it is hoped that this small effort can make a contribution in that regard.

The Failures of Mathematical Anti-Evolutionism by Jason Rosenhouse

Title: The Failures of Mathematical Anti-Evolutionism
Author: Jason Rosenhouse
Paperback ISBN: 9781108820448
There is also a Hardback version available (9781108842303)

About The Author

Jason Rosenhouse

Jason Rosenhouse is a professor of mathematics at James Madison University. He is the author or editor of eight previous books, including Among the Creationists: Dispatches from th...

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