The Domain of Misinformation
What would you expect if you went to www.CharlesDarwin.org? The domain name suggests that it might be a site about Darwin and evolution. A site that a curious person or a teacher might think they could consult for more information about both. A fast look at the site itself would appear to confirm this notion.
But if you actually look at it more closely, you’ll see that it is an anti-evolution site. Its purpose is to spread misinformation about how evolution works and to suggest that creationism has the real answers.
At the top of the page is the headline “The Evolving Times”. This implies that the site is here to help you understand how evolution works.
But right below that is this quote mine from On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin:
I am well aware that there is scarcely a single point discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result could be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts on both sides of each question, and this cannot possibly be done here.
This is an example of the latest creationist attack on the teaching of evolution in our schools. They’ve given up trying to get Biblical creationism into the schools. They’ve given up on “scientific creationism”. They’ve even given up (momentarily anyway) on “intelligent design” creationism. They have two current tactics. The first is one they’ve been pushing for a few years, which is “teach the controversy”. The quote above supports that. The second and newer of their current tactics is “academic freedom”. Which freedom? The freedom to “teach the controversy”! Since “teach the controversy” by itself isn’t getting much traction, they’ve come up with this different way of branding it. It’s still the same tactic that has been rejected previously, but in these new overalls it seems to be winning converts in Texas, Louisiana, Kansas, and every other state with illiterate, uneducated rubes on the school boards.
So let’s take a closer look at this page, starting with the Darwin quote.
Well if Charles Darwin himself said that there was more than one way to interpret the data, then we’d be fools to only teach the one interpretation promoted by those apostles who have followed worshipfully in his footsteps!
Except there is a huge difference. When Darwin wrote what he did above, it was in the introduction to On the Origin of Species. He understood that what he was proposing was new and revolutionary. It was a radical upheaval of the prevailing thought at the time.
(This prevailing thought, by the way, was not that evolution did not occur. The fact that it did was already known and accepted by many scientists. What Darwin was proposing was the mechanism by which evolution occurs. In the case of gravity, for example, it’s one thing to observe that objects fall. It’s another thing entirely to understand how. Darwin was giving us the how of evolution.)
So what Darwin was telling us in his introduction, and in the quote mine above, is that this was a new theory. He knew that it had to stand up to scrutiny by other scientists. He knew that other explanations that fit the data needed to be proposed, so they could be compared, and the explanation that best fit would be the one to survive. He was inviting and encouraging that scrutiny.
But that was 150 years ago. The theory of evolution is now a settled issue. Sure, it’s still being tweaked here and there around the edges. There are a lot of nifty details still to be discovered. But the basic mechanisms and processes of evolution were proven beyond reasonable doubt a long time ago. Nothing has come along in the 150 years since to credibly challenge the theory, nor are there any big gaps or giant holes or massive contradictions sitting there screaming to be explained. There is no elephant in the room. The Darwin quote above is out of date and no longer relevant, just like the creationists’ beliefs.
If you read the other articles on the page, you’ll see that they’re written to raise questions that don’t exist. The whole site is misinformation designed to confuse.
Outside his Domain of Expertise
I did a little digging. The domain is owned by Art Battson, an engineer employed (presumably in teaching) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is also a member of (or at least a speaker at) a campus religious organization. Putting these pieces together suggests that CharlesDarwin.org is a religiously-motivated site designed by a non-biologist to promote creationism by spreading misinformation about evolution.
This is unfortunate. That domain name belongs with a real educational institution, where it can be used to further science education.
Update (12/28/08, 7:45 AM):
In less than the 8 hours since I published this piece, CharlesDarwin.org has been updated. Previously, the copyright stood at 2006, indicating the page had not been updated in a while. Now it is 2008, and an entire new section has been added to the site (accessible from a new link at the very top of the page). Apparently the owner has a renewed interest in the site and in pushing a more overt creationist agenda. With Charles Darwin’s impending 200th birthday celebration less than two months away, it is possible that the site is trying to capitalize on the traffic that accidentally comes its way.