Richard Leakey: Evolution is Real, despite Denial. BTW, same with Climate Change.

May 29, 2012

As climate deniers more and more form alliances with science denial across the board, fossil expert Richard Leakey reminds us that  the battle against science denial crosses many disciplines.  Truth, however, knows no boundaries.

AP via HuffPost:

Sometime in the next 15 to 30 years, the Kenyan-born paleoanthropologist expects scientific discoveries will have accelerated to the point that “even the skeptics can accept it.”

Not sure I share his optimism. Reason and logic have not been all that successful over the years. As Einstein reputedly said, “Both the universe and stupidity are infinite, and I am not quite sure about the former.”

“If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it’s solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive,” Leakey says, “then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges.”

“We are all African.” Well, that kind of gets to the root of science’s problem, doesn’t it?  Any questions about why both evolution and climate denial are concentrated in the old confederacy?

Watch here as Cal Beisner, leader of the “Cornwall Alliance”, a right wing fundy wackjob group, and one of the Heartland Institute’s “experts” on climate change, tiptoes delicately around presenting paleo-temp records to young-earth creationists. (at about 2:15 )

“..and of course, if you’re a young earth creationist, you’re going to have to do some changing of how you interpret some of the chronologies here, to fit it into your paradigm, I think that’s an entirely legitimate thing to do..”

See? Shape reality to fit your paradigm. It’s the Heartland way. Anyhow, back to Leakey….

 “If you look back, the thing that strikes you, if you’ve got any sensitivity, is that extinction is the most common phenomena,” Leakey says. “Extinction is always driven by environmental change. Environmental change is always driven by climate change. Man accelerated, if not created, planet change phenomena; I think we have to recognize that the future is by no means a very rosy one.”

Any hope for mankind’s future, he insists, rests on accepting existing scientific evidence of its past.

“If we’re spreading out across the world from centers like Europe and America that evolution is nonsense and science is nonsense, how do you combat new pathogens, how do you combat new strains of disease that are evolving in the environment?” he asked.

“If you don’t like the word evolution, I don’t care what you call it, but life has changed. You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up. So the question is why, how does this happen? It’s not covered by Genesis. There’s no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I’ve read from the lips of any God.”

Leakey insists he has no animosity toward religion.

“If you tell me, well, people really need a faith … I understand that,” he said.

“I see no reason why you shouldn’t go through your life thinking if you’re a good citizen, you’ll get a better future in the afterlife ….”

And, hey, just a quick note. Although I’m hard on fundy nutjobs from time to time, I have no problem with anyone’s religion. Sermon on the Mount? Do unto others? Reap what you sow? I’m all about it.
Bring the compassion, keep the crazy, and we’ll get along fine.


44 Responses to “Richard Leakey: Evolution is Real, despite Denial. BTW, same with Climate Change.”

  1. omnologos Says:

    While you were asleep, the real anti-science forces have tried to strike in Britain (GMO), have shot a nuclear engineering executive in Italy, and have been active in Mexico. Read it all on The Guardian and Nature (blog).

    • otter17 Says:

      Yes, over-reaction to genetically modified things and nuclear energy are indeed issues, but not the focus of this blog.

      By comparison, though, these forces generally do not take stance that is in such diametric opposition to the conclusions of scientific organizations as those activists who campaign against climate science and climate scientists.

    • otter17 Says:

      What is your stance on evolution, by the way?

  2. Shane Burgel Says:

    As a Christian I am often frustrated by some of my fellow believers inability to accept scientific truths. There is no reason to choose between the two.

    • tildeb Says:

      Other than they are incompatible methods of ‘knowing’!

      Gee, I wonder why there’s a problem?

      When you allow respect for belief to arbitrate reality, rather than respect reality to arbitrate what’s true about it, you’ve created an incompatibility whenever claims from these two inquiries conflict. And they do conflict. There is no middle ground here, no means to accommodate the two unless one of the methods pulls out from making claims about reality.

      We know methodological naturalism works to produce consistent, useful, and practical results for everyone everywhere all the time. That’s not a small human achievement. Standing in contrast to this we know that religious belief produces…. no such equivalency in practical and useful applications that work and, in fact, not one scintilla of knowledge about the reality we all share.

      In coming to understanding climate change and how we play a significant role in bringing this change into reality, we face those who respect reality’s role to explain to us what and how we are doing this.

      In contrast to these dedicated folk, we also face those who choose to believe we are not doing this, who insist that the accumulated science is somehow inadequate, that the overwhelming evidence is insufficient to draw this conclusion.

      So we look at the evidence and find that all the science is on one side of this so-called ‘debate’. On the other side is faith-based belief in action, denying, denying, denying… not on equivalent evidence that is contrary but on belief alone.

      You are suggesting that there is no reason to believe differently from the scientific consensus. But guess what? There is good reason for this denialism, you see. And the reason is that there are far too many people willing to empower belief to be an equivalent METHOD of inquiry. Those who do so, who think themselves reasonable and tolerant and accommodating by allowing belief rather than reality to define reality as a compatible METHOD of inquiry ARE the reason.

      You are absolutely wrong to think the two – religion and science – are magically compatible methods of inquiry, methods that produce equivalent knowledge, equivalent explanations, equivalent platforms of informed opinion. They are not. They are incompatible.

      You privilege religious belief to stand contrary to reality and think it is merely a matter of ‘acceptance’ of scientific truths (whatever that may mean) that’s at stake. You need to look deeper and see that this is not reasonable whatsoever but a way to accommodate delusion. Because you advocate the removal of exactly that which can arbitrate between delusion and reality – a reliable and consistent METHOD that works for everyone everywhere all the time and replace it with belief about reality for pious reasons alone – you have done your part to empower denialists. This empowerment is the height of intellectual hypocrisy… refusing to maintain a consistent intellectual integrity in the name of appearing conciliatory and tolerant to those who wish to protect and promote delusional thinking.

      • Shane Burgel Says:

        I never suggested that they were compatible forms of inquiry and I don’t know a better way to go about changing things then to talk about it to others. I believe in God and that hasn’t stopped me from accepting science as fact. In fact, there are many others just like me and there is no reason that we can’t change the culture of thinking in the religious community. I should not and will not abandon my faith in order to help make that happen.

        To say that I MUST choose makes you as guilty of being as zealot as those you are railing against. Faith and science are two different things and really should not even be discussed together.

      • daveburton Says:

        When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

        The Scientific Method is a hammer: a most excellent tool for learning about many aspects the natural world. But if a hammer is the only tool in your belt, you’ll not be a very good plumber.

        Someone who refuses to admit that not everything is a nail may be very good at pounding nails, but he is not a clear thinker. To insist that nothing is true unless it can be shown to be true by the Scientific Method requires denying even the most central aspects of one’s own existence. It is irrational in the extreme.

        When you tell someone whose life has been transformed by Christ that there is no God, you are being irrational, and you are asking him to be even more irrational. The irony is that the very people who are so devoted to such irrational notions are the people who’re the most filled with misplaced pride over their own rationality.

      • tildeb Says:

        Shane, all I’m saying is that any claims made about reality need to respect reality’s role – not belief – to arbitrate what’s true about it. If religious believers did this, then your argument for compatiblism would be justified. But it’s not. I sincerely doubt that 99% of religious believers follow this simple fact when it comes to religious claims about reality: the notable exception may be the few deists who might be out there. And this is the danger: to privilege religious claims made about reality by allowing belief to arbitrate what is true about reality. And this is exactly what I find used by climate change deniers: because they believe it’s not true, they refuse to allow reality to arbitrate the question and – like so many religious folk – cherry pick only a bit of data here and there that gives the appearance of supporting the belief first rather than be intellectually honest and start with an appreciation why there is almost unanimous scientific consensus on the matter.

        Dave Burton’s ongoing comments is a perfect example of using this silly and broken thinking tactic as if it were an equivalent and justified opposing viewpoint rather than take a moment and realize the proper role of belief should always be (and has been shown repeatedly to be) subservient to the better method we all use in every other aspect of our lives to function within this shared reality: methodological naturalism. Religious belief – like any superstitious belief – has no place in claims for causal efficacy about reality.

        • Shane Burgel Says:

          I can’t control what other believers do, only me. I also think that there are far more people who have it right than there ever used to be. As usual though, we only hear from those with the loudest voices. Your statements also assume that I have no evidence to back up my faith, which I would dispute.

          My point was to show that not all religious people start with the conclusion first and then look for evidence to support it. The people that know me well know that I am VERY frustrated by the bad reputation Christians are getting due to our refusal to admit what is obvious to everyone else.

          I guess we will have to agree to disagree about the ability for the beliefs to coexist (despite the obvious evidence that I present to the contrary by simply existing) and move on. I use science as the means to discover the inner workings of creation and how it happened, not to use the Bible as a technical manual, which it clearly isn’t.

          • tildeb Says:

            I guess we will have to agree to disagree about the ability for the beliefs to coexist (despite the obvious evidence that I present to the contrary by simply existing) and move on.

            It’s called compartmentalization. The same argument – that a religious person can also be respectful of the method of science – can equivalently show that priests and pedophilia are equally compatible. Perhaps this may give you sufficient cause to revisit your reasoning here.

            In this seemingly innocuous statement you make, you inaccurately suggest that these methods – ascertaining the claims of causal efficacy supported by belief from claims of causal efficacy supported by evidence gathered through methodological naturalism – are equivalent kinds of beliefs. They are not. And you know they are not. Each represents a method of reaching a conclusion incompatible with the other. You show clearly the same kind of compartmentalization that allows many scientists to also be religious believers, justifying contrary conclusions through the use of thinking that is unequivocally a vice in science – claiming a belief without compelling evidence from reality – but held with the esteem of being a virtue in religion. Herein lies the incompatibility to the often contrary conclusions reached by each about reality. This allows you as a believer to claim something like creation – presumably from a causal agent rather than natural processes – without any evidence from reality to justify this conclusion. The cost to all of us is widespread ignorance revealed, for example, by the very low percentages of Americans (about 16%) who understand the science of evolution by natural selection. You can sometimes find religion without creationism but you will never find creationism without religion. This conclusion is not reached from compelling evidence from reality but imposed on reality by pretending that religious belief is an equivalent and compatible method of inquiry even though there is overwhelming evidence it is neither; the believer must embrace hypocrisy to maintain both.

            In the same sense, those who deny climate change from human activity fail to realize that they discount and discard exactly the same method of inquiry that has produced the technologies, applications, and therapies they rely on every day of their lives. But in the Grand Cause of denying AGW, becoming a hypocrite by compartmentalizing when science will work and when it will not based on a privileged belief is nothing new.; the religious believer (and the homeopath, and the chiropractic, and dowser, and the palm reader, and the exorcist, and the anti-vaxer, and the birther, and the conspiracy theorist, and… the list goes on and on, doesn’t it?) has had much practice already.

          • Shane Burgel Says:

            You aren’t going to get many Christians to stop believing in God but you may get some to start believing in science. I think we all agree that that is a win. But calling them pedophiles and palm readers isn’t going to win a lot of them over to your side.

          • tildeb Says:

            Shane, what needs challenging is this skewed notion that there is a legitimate middle ground, that the method that informs our sciences and religions can get along just fine. They don’t. They can’t. They won’t… ever… because they are in conflict whenever and wherever belief makes causal claims about reality.

            Respecting belief to arbitrate reality is always a surefire way to fool one’s self, and we see this being played out in putting off the political will necessary to address climate change now while we pretend there is a legitimate debate about whether or not it is real, it is immediate, and it is pressing. Respecting contrary opinions with this misguided notion that we are exercising tolerance for different but compatible beliefs is not just foolishness but downright dangerous to all of us and those who advocate for this are very much part of the problem.

            We are running the AGW global experiment exactly once and we will live – as we are just beginning to appreciate – by its results. Today’s tolerance for these denialist beliefs that profit only those momentarily enriched by delay (and those who continue to be deluded that their beliefs determine our common reality) will be seen by future generations as an arrogant exercise of unmitigated folly… borrowed directly from their inheritance. We need to wake up and get to work.

          • otter17 Says:


            I’m an atheist, but I still give some praise to those of faith who will modify their beliefs to accept a scientific principle (even though that represents “god of the gaps” thinking). I don’t think the moderately religious are all that big of a problem when it comes to evolution, etc. Literal fundamentalists are where the problems stem.

          • tildeb Says:

            Otter17 writes, I don’t think the moderately religious are all that big of a problem when it comes to evolution, etc. Literal fundamentalists are where the problems stem.

            Well, let’s do a reality check: 86% of Americans do not think evolution is true without at least some intervention by Oogity Boogity (this supposed agency is identified by multiple pseudonyms). That’s not some tiny fundamentalist minority.

            Over two thirds of religious believers in the US admit that if some indisputable scientific finding contradicted a religious tenet, they would choose to maintain their belief in the tenet. That’s not some tiny fundamentalist minority.

            You can believe your belief is true in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary or you can respect reality’s say in the matter: these statistics reveal a profoundly anti-scientific mindset that accompanies religious belief. There is an underlying reason why the denialist crowd is so closely allied to the religious. Can you hypothesize?

          • Shane Burgel Says:

            But getting back to the original point, there are people, like me, that aren’t like that. Science has forced me to reassess things along the way that I took literally at one point in my life. There is nothing wrong with a Christian becoming a critical thinker, and there is also nothing wrong with the idea that God is the ultimate creator of it all.

            Adelady said it best below:

            “Their argument largely boils down to the world / universe is made by god. So are the talents and energies of people. Scientists are the ones who show us just how marvelous the world made by god really is. Scientists, doctors and other people are demonstrations that the gifts of intelligence and knowledge can be used to make god’s world a better place for everyone. Both physical evidence and human ingenuity are continually increasing evidence of god’s goodness and generosity. “

          • tildeb Says:

            It all sounds lovely – very metaphorically tolerant – but the cost is to protect and privilege profoundly unscientific belief, such as the notion that ‘god’ created human abilities when we know perfectly well that to maintain such a belief means we must discard evolution by natural selection for these abilities.

            You cannot maintain both the scientific acceptance of evolution and religious belief in creationism at the same time because they cannot both be true (unless, as I’ve already pointed out, one is nothing more than a fuzzy deist); you must compartmentalize and agree to give up your intellectual integrity whenever you spend time in the religious compartment (remember, creationism is solely the child of religion).

            You ARE like that if you continue to pretend there is nothing incompatible between respecting belief to arbitrate reality and reality to arbitrate what’s true about it.

          • otter17 Says:


            Hmmm, I didn’t realize so many took a fundamentalist slant to their religion in America (as the paper you cited seems to suggest). Quite troubling.

            In any case, my point is to not really get hung up too much with the moderately religious folks that seem like they are willing to accept scientific theories such as evolution. It may just take these people a little push in the right direction. Shane Burgel doesn’t seem like anything of an enemy in that regard.

            The fundamentalists, on the other hand, have far more troubling issues, such as their push to put creationism into science classrooms, and publishing creationist learning material. Oh, and the creationist museums are problem. Funny, but still a problem, haha.

          • tildeb Says:

            Otter17, fundamentalism does not erupt in a vacuum; it is directly nourished and privileged by all those ‘moderates’ who continue to pretend that belief in Oogity Boogity is somehow not profoundly anti-scientific, that such a willingness to believe in supernatural interventionist agencies indicates a stable mind, a morally strong basis for toleration, care, and concern about others, a kind of character reference for sound ethics.

            It is exactly this gullibility for believing in a fair and balanced middle ground that simply does not exist between incompatible viewpoints that is targeted by climate denialists; it only serves the denialists in the same way that ‘academic freedom’ in biology class only serves creationists (where nary a Stork Theorist can be found).

          • otter17 Says:

            Well, I also do not want to cede to any middle ground, but I just don’t see the point in berating folks that are at least going in the right direction. I think we are on the same page but are just not talking about the same folks, here. The folks that see fundamentalism as a common enemy are ok in my book, and with patience everyone will come around.

          • tildeb Says:

            Going in the right direction? Again, your belief this is true is not accurate. Let’s check back in with reality: a recent Gallup poll shows that belief in creationism remains at about 85% over the past 30 years. There is ‘going’ anywhere. Pretending that there is a movement of people slowly convinced by evidence to come to support evolution by natural selection is not a reflection of reality.

            In various creationist education bills, we see a troubling use of targeted issues to undermine not with compelling science but religious belief, namely, to allow and assist anti-scientific viewpoints to be taught in science class (and I quote from the Louisiana Science Education Act): evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

            Where is the middle ground between compelling evidence that AGW is real and causing climate change and there is compelling evidence that AGW is NOT real and is NOT causing climate change? This is the kind of problem we face with people who argue that there really is a stable middle ground, that there really is no problem with the reasoning that empowers this bizarre notion that it is tolerant to accept both.

            This accommodationist notion is sheer folly deserving only criticism and contempt. Allowing this mewling apologetic belief about a fictional middle ground a place at the adult table of discussion (and in our science classrooms) is foolhardy because its actual role undermines honest and difficult dialogue about the reality we all face and replaces it with incompatible notions derived solely from religious beliefs proudly disconnected from reality.

  3. So the very well funded climate denial machine, kicking sand over what’s essentially the greatest public health crisis in history, aren’t “real anti-science” forces?

    Thanks again for serving as the useful idiot, Mo.

  4. daveburton Says:

    If the Climate Movement folks here weren’t so anti-science when the scientific evidence conflicts with their prejudices, they’d be better qualified to engage in hand-wringing over others’ skepticism.

    Exhibit #1:
    Here’s a graph exhibiting the effect that elevated CO2 has had on the rate of sea level rise over the last ~ 2/3 century:

    The sea level record in that graph happens to be for the GLOSS-LTT tide gauge here in NC (in Wilmington), but hundreds of other tide gauges show essentially the same thing. Obviously, increased atmospheric CO2 hasn’t caused any detectable increase in the rate of sea level rise. Yet, in spite of this proof, the Climate Movement activists here all refuse to admit that simple fact.

    Exhibit #2:
    Not even one of the Climate Movement activists here at climatecrocks dares admit that the reason Earth’s atmospheric CO2 levels hover at only around a few hundred ppm (currently about 1/525 of the concentration of O2), while nearly all of the oxygen in the atmospheres of Mars and Venus is in the form of CO2, is that the Earth’s photosynthetic plants have used up nearly all of the available CO2. The extreme shortage of atmospheric CO2 is the primary factor limiting plant growth on planet Earth.

    Exhibit #3:
    The anti-Christian bigotry prevalent in the Climate Movement looks much more like religious zealots trying to stamp out heretics then scientists searching for truth.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      the inevitable victimology.
      Sorry, not anti-Christian.

    • otter17 Says:

      Hey daveburton:

      Didn’t you know that God is putting us through a test? He put the fossil fuels on Earth to see if we would greedily use them all up, and our punishment is climate change if we continue. Thus, in order to avoid another event like the great flood, we better get started on a path to the righteous renewables. The scientists are actually angels that have taken human form, trying to warn us. It is all a test to see how intelligent, innovative, and humble we are.

    • Dave, as a sceptic, have you even tried looking at the refuting of your material? Your sources are easily refuted by reputable citations. The sea level records are well maintained. Nature printed a recent study on the effect of increased CO2 – not good for the “CO2 is plant food” chants I’m afraid.

      Personally, I find the best religious people to be inspiring. Believing in gravity, quantum physics, laminar flow and, yes, climate change, are not religious in a belief sense. I believe in them as they have a solid set of data, working models and logical flow. I reject you as climate denier, not because you are Christian, Muslim or Jewish, but because you reject the scientific method in the round.

      I’m sure you’re a very nice person otherwise.

  5. Dave, you are a funny guy. Thanks for the laugh.

    In the meantime, other nations are kicking our collective rears in the renewables game.

  6. dave burton..dont worry the earth is flat….it has to be or all the sea would just fall off…

  7. Tide comes in, tide comes out…Dave Burton can explain that!

  8. Nick Carter Says:

    I still wanna know how a thermos bottle knows whether or not to keep liquids warm or cold. Ya can’t explain that!!

  9. Already tried explaining that the ” single tide gauge in my local area” doesn’t explain anything about global sea level and why omnologos meaning know it all might have something to do with Dunning-Kruger, but they don’t get it. Hey, here is an interesting coincidence. The spell checker keeps trying to make the word monologs. Could there be such a thing as artificial intelligence here? Come on Bob, the earth isn’t flat. Its saucer shaped, just like in the medieval art, right? Hey DB, tell Katherine Hayhoe about the Climate Movement’s bigotry to the anti-science crowd. Oops. Its the religious extremists that attacked a religious person. See, it has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with whether you adjust reality to your vision, or your vision to reality. I am tired of the extreme right wing claiming religion as their bastion. It’s not, get over it. It’s not your version of religion and no one else’s.

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