Why Creationists Don’t Win the Nobel Prize

Looking at the list of Nobel prizes awarded in 2013 for science, we see three prestigious entries:

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2013
François Englert and Peter W. Higgs

“For the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.”

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2013
Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel

“For the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.”

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2013
James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman and Thomas C. Südhof

“For their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells”

Impressive stuff. If you want more detail on why these three were chosen, read this National Geographic article.

Dinosaur flood jokeHmm. No ‘creation science”  in that list. In fact, not a single “creation scientist” was even nominated.

Not that the Nobel Prize hasn’t been without its controversies, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a list that showed a single creationist nominated for the award. Something along the line of “For proving dinosaurs and humans shared the planet before an angry, vengeful deity wiped out everything living including humans which it created only a few years earlier, except a pair each of  those creatures that could comfortably fit in a large boat, but on which dinosaurs and all but a single family of humans were not invited to board.”*

Probably because creationism isn’t science, not even when you try to gussy it up by labelling it “creation science.” It’s a political viewpoint based on a literalist take on Biblical mythology.”Creation science” is an oxymoron.**

You’d think if they had God (their particular god, not everyone’s god, mind you, and not every Christian’s god…) on their side, that God would belly up to the award committee bar and make sure at least one creationist won the damn prize. Not some folks doing experiments with particles no one can even see and that 99.9% of us don’t really understand.

But nope, creationists get shut out again.

Better not give that Nobel Prize to sinners...The Hairy Thunderer never rattled the Nobel awards dinner once with lightning that fried evolutionary biologists in mid-appetizer, or by screeching “This is not my science. You’re all going to Hell.” Then turning all the assembled scientists into pillars of salt. That would certainly get some attention.

But until then… creationists have to be discomforted by the notion that awarding a Nobel prize for the discovery of the Higgs’ Boson rather than a claim that humans walked the earth in the company of dinosaurs a few thousand years ago is actually what God wanted. Sending them a message, I would think.

Maybe they need to start doing some experiments. You know, put some real science into “creation science.” break out the beakers and test tubes. Get a hadron collider or something. Slam a few particles together to prove how quantum physics are all explained in the English translation of a 4,000-year-old myth. The next sub-particle we need to find is described right there in Genesis, just slam a few photons or protons into one another and there it will be.***

I’m not the only one who noticed the egregious lack of creationists on this year’s prize list. Stan Sinberg  wrote about this oversight, calling creationism the “Rodney Dangerfield” of science:

Well, once again they handed out the Nobel Prizes for scientific achievement, and once again not a single Creation Scientist won a thing. Thus continuing a streak that began since whenever the Nobel Prize was created. Not only that, but CS is not even acknowledged as a category. Creation Science – the Rodney Dangerfield of scientific endeavors.

Instead, they awarded a prize to two “theoretical” physicists. It wasn’t immediately clear if the physicists were theoretical, or it was what they discovered, but either way it’s sure to upset the creationist community who get all twisted up in knots over the word “theory.” Like the “theory” of evolution, which they take to conflate with “talking out of my butt.” Or the “theory” of gravity, which posits that we are not wildly flying off into outer space right now because there is some invisible force keeping us earthbound.

Not that creationists don’t mess around with science. Mess is the appropriate word. They twist it and bend it, smush it all up and produce something that, to the unenlightened, sounds suspiciously like science. The way Scientology sounds suspiciously like psychology until they get to talking about Xenu and putting galactic citizens in volcanoes for storage 75 million years ago… and then you start backing away.

Science blogger PZ Meyers has a good piece on how creationists take real science and twist it to meet their own political agendas – in this case taking a scientific paper’s support for evolution on the genetic scale and trying to make it a refutation:

The problem here is that while the creationists got the main result right, they tried to wedge it into a bungled, fallacious version of evolutionary theory. Ruiz-Herrera has refuted creationist evolution all right, but not the real science that the rest of us study. In fact, it goes the other way and uses detailed genomic maps to confirm a hypothesis about evolution.

You didn’t expect anything else, did you? This is the way it always turns out. Creationist makes claim, creationist interpretation is bullshit.

I was actually mildly impressed by the sections quoted from the creationist article because, while wrong, misinformed, logically fallible and making spurious, unconnected claims, they had a semblance of clarity if you weren’t paying attention or your field of study happened not to be molecular genetics. Bafflegab works wonders for obfuscation.

Most creationist arguments read a lot like the Monty Python argument sketch:

Scientist: This is science.

Creationist: No it isn’t.

Scientist: Yes it it. It’s verifiable.

Creationist: No it’s not.

Scientists: The theory of evolution is a valid series of propositions that make complete sense in light of modern biology and genetics.

Creationist: No it doesn’t.

And so on.****

Not that all scientists are atheists, or even agnostics, but scientists are, by definition, employed in a field that requires verification, peer review and debate. Proof: replicable results and data that can be examined and challenged. Scientists don’t (or shouldn’t) make claims without the empirical muscle to back them up.

If a believing scientists doesn’t win the Nobel, the creationists go berserk and decry the injustice of it all, the anti-faith conspiracy that controls us from the shadows, as in the case of Dr. Damadian:

Dr Damadian points out that this apparent injustice (shared by the inventors of such things as the laser, tetracycline, the Early Stall Warning device and many more) was even more economically damaging to the US than to himself. In reality, he says, it is just ‘a symptom of a more widespread disease afflicting our society’. He believes that America is ailing spiritually. Influenced more and more by an evolution-based humanistic education system, America is adrift of its spiritual moorings.

Can such a society, with its relative ethics and increasing abandonment of God’s absolute standards revealed in the Bible, ‘continue to discern the just from the unjust?’ he asks. Will not such a society more and more forfeit the blessings which its forefathers wrought through obedience to God’s Law?

He quotes Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn as saying ‘the strength or weakness of a society depends more on the level of its spiritual life than on its level of industrialization.’ Without the general adherence of a society to God’s laws, the most perfect governmental system cannot prevent eventual collapse. ‘Freedom’ will deteriorate to be ‘freedom to be unscrupulous’, because, says Solzhenitsyn, there is no law which can anticipate or prevent this.

You can have your faith, and be a scientist. Many do. But faith has its limits. Common sense should be one of them. And your god isn’t everyone else’s god, even for believers.

The “Conservapedia” – a biased right-wing alternative to Wikipedia for those who want the answers to match their own ideology (it labels itself as “the trustworthy encyclopedia much like the Soviets labelled their propaganda as “truth”) , says of the Nobel prize:

As an unwritten rule, the award is not given to a conservative (such as Ronald Reagan or Pope John Paul II) or scientists advocating intelligent design, and it is not given to anyone who challenges the scientific establishment on the issues of the theory of evolution or theory of relativity, such as standouts Raymond Damadian, Fred Hoyle and Robert Dicke. The Nobel Prize is not given to any scientist who criticizes, publicly or privately, a liberal icon; the renowned physicist Edward Teller was denied the prize for criticizing the liberal J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the eminent physicist John Wheeler was denied the prize for privately supporting Teller… The award is sometimes given to a liberal politician or diplomat, such as Al Gore and Barack Obama, which can be seen as boosting his agenda. Most recently the award has been the subject of an investigation for corruption.

Read the counterpoint to the claims about Damadian here. (Without pushing the point, read this article in The New Statesman about how the award winners are chosen – it’s a bit off topic but still salient).

And then you get this comment about the prize from creationism.org that shows how you can take a simple word like “prove” and use it in an entirely different way, entirely contrary to how the rest of us use it:

The Nobel Prize is regarded as the highest award in science. Most people accept the word of alleged experts rather than factual evidence, and most Nobel Award winners accept the evolution viewpoint. In 1975 at least 90 Nobel Prize winners opposed the proposition that the creation position be taught in California public schools. A Nobel Prize was awarded to scientist Perigrine for his claims that he could prove order resulted from disorder. It was proved that he did not demonstrate his claim, yet he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

In 1980 two scientists received the Nobel Prize for allegedly proving the “Big Bang” theory. Yet creationists have demonstrated the Big Bang theory false. The person who truly deserves a Nobel Prize is Dr. Thomas Barnes of El Paso, Texas. His painstaking research demonstrates that the earth cannot be more than 10,000 years old, based on recorded data of decay of the earth’s magnetic field. Also, Barnes has developed a classical, rather than quantum, model of the atom. Because he is a creationist, he has no chance of receiving the Nobel Prize.

Barnes himself was a wingnut (whose Sc.D degree was honorary). His papers appeared  in “non-mainstream” publications like Galilean Electrodynamics and Creation Research Society Quarterly. He was also a member of the Editorial Board of the Creation Research Society Quarterly. His peers didn’t give his hypotheses any credence because his research was faulty. But enough of him.

And enough of the whole conspiracy hookum. The idea that because you didn’t get what you want, the world is out to get you is simply paranoia.

You and I are free to believe in invisible pink unicorns, or in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or even Xenu but that isn’t science and anyone who believes in them would be hard pressed to prove their existence.

Same with creationism. They’re all simply personal positions on supernatural or imaginary entities. No matter how tightly held, we should not attempt to force those beliefs on others. Just keep them to ourselves.

Will “creation science” ever win a Nobel prize? No, and it’s not because of some anti-faith liberal-socialist-heathen-humanist conspiracy. It’s for the same reason astrology, phrenology, ufology and homeopathy will never win one: they’re not science. They’re all codswallop.

But never say never. There’s always the possibility the anti-science Republican politicians will take over the Nobel selection committee the way they have taken over the all-important House Science, Space, and Technology Committee to enforce their own personal fundamentalist faith-based agenda.*****


* An alternate theory is that creationists don’t drink enough milk. According to a story in Science Daily, Nobel prizes go to milk drinkers. Perhaps creationists should stop drinking their own Kool Aid. Might make them smarter. Okay, I made the theory part up. But they started it.

** Intelligent” (it isn’t) design is simply creationism in lipstick and a dress. Both need the intervention of magic to work. And not just any magic: a particular sort of Christian magic.

*** The two, contradictory creation myths in Genesis are easily deconstructed and debunked without even needing a lot of science. Just consider: if the sun wasn’t created until the fourth “day” what counted days before then? How could there be “night” and “day” before the sun? Full of inconsistencies and logical holes.

**** Read the whole sketch here.

***** Not all that outlandish a notion in this age where the anti-science Tea Party has gained such political momentum. As Popular Science put it recently:

Of the many and varied things going wrong in Washington today, the frontal assault on science is one of the most alarming. Sequestration will be a blip compared to the setback that could result if Congress makes science–the peer-reviewed, community-checked, fact-based realm of science–all about politics.

Even if they never get to infiltrate the Nobel committee, the anti-science crew are infiltrating American government, schools, boards of education and libraries. It’s getting scary for intellectuals down there.