Washington’s Witless Witterings

I follow an account on twitter that simply crawls the site, retweeting any posts featuring words like ‘evolution’, ‘Darwin’, ‘natural selection’, etc. Sometimes this brings up interesting articles; sometimes the article will be more like ‘the evolution of ’s wardrobe’. More regularly than you would have hoped, however, this account will point me in the direction of something anti-evolution. I try not to pay too much attention to them, as they generally combine the none-too-alluring facets of being poorly-researched, disingenuous, and flat-out batshit insane. The other day, one cropped up entitled ‘Darwin’s Diabolical Delusions’ – how could I fail to click through to something with such an alliterative and ridiculous title? Happily, the content did not fail to deliver on the usual counts.

The article itself is written by Ellis Washington and posted on ‘World Net Daily’, a website which appears to offer a right-wing, conservative Christian take on a variety of issues. This is very much in opposition to my own outlook, but my criticisms run a little deeper than political ones – which, ideally, would be irrelevant in a piece which purports to be about evolution. However, as the current situation in the USA testifies, science seems to be worryingly high on the list of things to denigrate for those wishing to be seen as serious contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. For a good overview of this, see Tom Chivers’ recent blog piece here. Strangely enough, this appears in the website of the Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper which holds a not dissimilar political viewpoint to WND, and counts professional troll James Delingpole among its more ‘celebrated’ bloggers. (I should warn readers now that straying too far into the comments of Chivers’ blog should be avoided if they wish to retain any vague semblance of sanity).

Washington’s drive in this article is to inform the reader of how the ‘Darwin Gestapo’ retains control of academia, suppressing the courageous few ‘Intelligent Design scientists’ – anyone thinking that such a term may be oxymoronic would be cowed by the information that Darwin’s seminal work is not just ‘diabolical’, but also ‘anti-scientific’. Warming to his theme, Washington notes that the theory of evolution’s ‘primary purpose’ was not scientific, but rather “to infuse education atheism [sic] throughout every conceivable aspect of culture and society”. Washington does admit that he is not a scientist, and presumably hopes that neither are his readers – nor must they possess the skills to carry out a simple internet search for ‘big bang theory’, else they might find fault with his assertion that this was simply an ‘explosion’. His simplistic reasoning seems to be that ‘bang’ means ‘explosion’ and explosions ‘destroy things’, therefore a ‘big bang’ could not have created matter. Following this method of creating a linear narrative where none exists, he puts forward the familiar – and untrue – trope of how all of the 20th century’s tyrants have used ‘Darwinian philosophy’ as justification for genocide. So far, so predictable.

However, the meat of Washington’s article lies in the way that proponents of intelligent design or creationism are treated by their supposed peers – for example, a recent case in which ID advocate Dr Granville Sewell “unfairly had one of his papers unjustly rejected” from a mathematics journal. The blog ‘Retraction Watch’ paints a somewhat different account of the affair, noting that the paper had initially been made available as part of the journal’s ‘rapid publication’ system, and was then removed upon further inspection of its content after complaints were made. The article had been peer-reviewed, and journal has made it clear that the removal was due to philosophical arguments rendering it unsuitable for a technical journal, rather than for any factual errors. One would have imagined that Washington, being a lawyer, would be aware of the distinction between ‘rejection’ and ‘retraction’. It should be noted that, while the journal has apologised to Sewell and paid a settlement, this was for “any inconvenience or embarrassment that may have been caused by their unilateral withdrawal of his article”, and does not change the status of the paper itself. Evidently, Washington hopes that his audience will see this as yet more proof of the “Gestapo tactics of the Darwin lobby”, rather than considering whether a paper providing the same mathematical content without the blanket of religious philosophy may have been considered more suitable for publication in ‘Applied Mathematics Letters’.

Of course, this winding road leads us to the true gripe of our plucky hero – that he himself has had various papers rejected for reasons he no doubt sees as both ‘unfair’ and ‘unjust’. He claims the fact that he had to resort to publishing one article in a Romanian journal as ironic – somehow conflating the more forgiving nature of a low-ranking Eastern European journal, the devastating history of a Communist tyrant, and his own personal views on how Darwin’s theory is directly responsible for genocide into one vast cosmic joke at his expense. In no way could it be that a man whose inability to grasp basic tenets of science (or, indeed, simple internet searches), coupled with paranoia, repetitive and redundant phrasing, and the desire to bookend articles with quotes from Ann Coulter and Dan Brown, makes him a less able author than he believes himself to be.

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