If you’re not familiar with the work of Kent Hovind, the man known as Dr. Dino (a name which more or less succeeds in evoking an air of playful, accessible, scientific credibility – which reminds me, I need to get a replacement fuse for my irony meter), then boy are you in for a treat. He’s really quite a guy. And in a completely unrelated sidenote, have you seen this YouTube video? It’s pretty funny. But I digress. We’re here to talk about Kent and his standing offer of $250,000. I could do with a piece of that action. I wonder what you have to do to win? I hope it’s a quiz. I’m great at trivia.
In his own words, the money is up for grabs to anyone who can “give any empirical evidence (scientific proof) for evolution”. What, that’s it? And it’s still not been claimed? Have all the scientists and researchers and teachers and everyone else aware of the ass-loads of evidence for evolution not heard about this? I’d better move quick before word spreads and someone else gets in there first.
Oh, wait. I see what the problem is here. It’s not that nobody’s heard about the riches upon riches on offer here, it’s that Kent Hovind doesn’t have a fucking clue what evolution is and wouldn’t understand empirical evidence for it if a Tiktaalik smacked him in his smug, stupid, tax-evading face. My mistake.
“Evolution is presented in our public school textbooks,” he tells us, “as a process that:” – and then lists five things that evolution is apparently asserted to do, three of which have not a goddamn thing to do with evolution. In general, evolutionary biologists could not give a professional fig about how time, space, and matter came into existence, nor about the formation of stars and galaxies. What the blithering crikey has any of that got to do with genetic heritability of physical traits?
It’s not unusual for vocal opponents of evolution to fail to understand what it is they think they’re opposed to. They often seem to just group all these ungodly-sounding notions together into one big, scary concept of Science. They imagine there to be one all-encompassing atheistic idea, held dogmatically by every non-Christian on the planet, which says that evolution did everything and God is rubbish. Apparently it’s too much of a struggle to understand that there are numerous different fields of research involved here, and biology is an utterly separate study from cosmology, or astronomy, or geology, or physics, or thermodynamics, or whatever else Kent’s talking about.
He even lists what he admits are “six different and unrelated meanings to the word ‘evolution'”, but is either insisting on grouping them together anyway, or is asserting that that’s what scientists are doing, I’m not quite clear. But apparently the non-biological subjects, like the creation of matter and the formation of stars, are being “smuggled in” under the general heading of evolution “when no one is watching”. Which is just a bizarre thing to say.
I’ve never picked up a US school textbook in my life, but I’m willing to bet money that nowhere do any of them imply that the Big Bang theory should be assumed to be true because microevolution has been observed. They’re entirely different things, and the evidence for each one of them has come from entirely different places, by different people, with different interests, at different times. This is like me wondering why there’s no mention in the Bible of Moses feeding five thousand people from a fig tree while he was on Nebuchadnezzar’s ark. This is like going to Mexico, handing some water to the first guy we find who spells his name Jesus, and expecting him to turn it into a plague of locusts.
And actually, he goes off the rails even before any of that, with an even more funamdental misunderstanding of how science works. “Evolution has been acclaimed as being the only process capable of causing the observed phenomena,” Kent also says. It probably has, but only by people who could do with choosing their words more carefully. Science isn’t about saying “It definitely happened our way”, or “Our conclusions cannot possibly be mistaken”. Religion makes claims like that all the time, but if you’re doing science without always leaving room for doubt and falsification, then You’re Doing It Wrong. Science makes observations, formulates hypotheses and theories, and the explanations it provides are what seems most likely based on the available evidence. The theory of evolution is what it is because it’s what stands up to inspection better than anything else yet proposed.
And this is what’s fundamentally bullshit about this whole offer, of course. Kent’s constantly using phrases like “only possible way”, or “indisputable fact”, in ways that reinforce the ludicrous idea that evolution needs to totally disprove God to have any value. Nobody can prove that the “only possible way” I typed up this article was with my fingers, and I defy you to find any “empirical evidence” which says I wasn’t using my feet the whole time. Maybe you could measure the size of the keys on my keyboard and that of my toes, and test my pedal dexterity in some way – as well as thinking for a moment about my proven track record of laziness, and how unlikely it is that I’d go to that much trouble just to make one fairly lame point – but none of that would prove anything. And yet, it’s patently a ridiculous idea to suggest that I typed any of this with my feet, and you’re right to dismiss it as lightly as you presumably do.
It’s quite easy for Kent to set the goalposts so that they’re impossible to reach, but they’re also uninteresting to reach. Scientists don’t care whether they can reach his ridiculous standards and meet his ill-informed demands, because they’re busy doing science, which doesn’t need to work like that. We’re quite happy with the level of empirical evidence, rigorous theory-testing, and substantial “proof” (for a certain, understood value of the term) that science has achieved, and continues to achieve. But thanks for playing, Kent. Enjoy your fail.
Oh, and permit me a brief post-script snark at the first of his “answers to some commonly asked questions”:
The offer is legitimate. A wealthy friend of mine has the money in the bank. If the conditions of the offer are met, the money will be paid out immediately. My word is good.
Kent Hovind is currently serving a ten-year jail term for 58 tax offenses. But on this particular matter of financial integrity, you totally have his word.
This is a re-working of an old piece for inclusion in the Skeptictionary.