In a series of posts on Exploring Creation with General Science I have tried to take Dr. Jay Wile’s young-earth creationist arguments seriously. The effort has revealed a funhouse-esque edifice of intellectual trick mirrors and shifting floors. Far from being irrational, however, Wile’s creationist arguments are exhaustingly hyper-rational and, consequently, completely unreasonable. I had hoped to work through Wile’s text, reading each module generously and evaluating his claims against his own stated position and broader scientific consensus. Unfortunately, “Wile Fatigue” has exhausted me, so instead I offer this summary post by way of conclusion.
Despite its title, the first 200 pages of Wile’s Exploring Creation with General Science has little to do with general science. Instead, they are an extended effort to inculcate a particular kind of skepticism by holding scientific findings and scientists to unreasonably strict standards. For example, aspects of science that are often lauded—e.g., the way that scientists adjust and emend theories to take into account new evidence—are presented as evidence that science and scientists can’t be trusted because they have got it wrong in the past and so must have it wrong today and probably will get it wrong in the future. Wile’s obvious but unstated goal is to undermine scientific consensus. At the same time, Wile strives to present himself as a trustworthy authority by admitting his own bias. He claims repeatedly that “all scientists are biased,” admits he is biased, but then asserts that “in his scientific opinion” some theory or other, e.g., catastrophism or ID, more accurately and completely explains problematic evidence. Watching him summarize a prevalent theory (which he often does reasonably accurately and succinctly), concoct problematic evidence (usually taken from a standard set of imagined problem evidence), and fabricate “better” explanations (which are always more complicated and ad hoc) would be amusing if this weren’t a textbook for home-schooling parents.
The remainder of the book introduces “life science” as a vehicle for an assortment of simplified ID, creationist, and young-earth creationist claims. For example, in module 9, “What is Life?” Wile characterizes DNA as a set of instructions for building living organisms and compares it to instructions for constructing a bicycle. The instructions for building a bike could not have occurred by chance, he says. Those instructions had to have a maker. Obviously since DNA is so much more complicated than the instructions for building a bike, Wile concludes, DNA could not have occurred by chance but had to have a creator, one that is infinitely smarter than any human.
There’s nothing necessarily irrational about creationism. See, for example, John S. Wilkins’s “Are Creationists Rational” post (and article if you have access). Rational and reasonable are not, however, synonymous. ↩
The gap between those posts and this one was caused by acute WF. Trying to take Wile’s arguments seriously is exhausting because, A) it requires wading through endless quagmires of self-citing and self-plagiarizing material (more on the self-plagiarizing claim in a future post) that carefully but often idiosyncratically defines terms and refers to obscure and surprising data but rarely provides a full and useful citation; B) it takes so much energy to disentangle and unravel the convoluted logic, which can make sense at the level of a particular clause but becomes absurd when evaluated on a larger scale; C) it takes forever to cite the volumes of scholarship and literature that undermine each of his claims. ↩
Much of Wile’s approach calls to mind Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s Merchants of Doubt. ↩