“Six Little Snails” by E. GrisetSnips and snails? Sugar and spice? What drives some people to creationism, and others to accept evolution?

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BioLogos, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting evolution within evangelical circles, recently released a large survey examining how and why people develop their views on evolution. There’s a lot to mine there, though you can read the highlights in NCSE’s news item. I’m especially fascinated by the survey’s work to separate out different stances in the public conversation on how evolution and religion intersect.

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The issue of whether Sherlock Holmes is science literate led to some fascinating discussion in the comments section, though not, I fear, to a consensus. But let’s turn to a matter closer to my own heart and examine what we can learn about someone’s science literacy based on whether they reject evolution.

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Ernst HaeckelErnst Haeckel

I’ve been meaning to write about William Bell Riley (1861–1947), a Baptist preacher who was as responsible for the flourishing of the antievolution crusade of the 1920s as anyone.

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W. N. P. Barbellion, via Wikimedia Commons

In his pamphlet “Monkeyshines: Fakes, Fables, Facts Concerning Evolution” (1926), the creationist Harry Rimmer claims that he studied “under men who were strong believers in the theory of monkey ancestry of man,” yet “it is quite common today to meet folks who will say that the evolutionists never claimed that man was descended from the monkey family at all.” To refute these folks, as I explained in part 1, he cites “a noted authority, W. P. Barbellion,” who in fact is W. N. P. (for Wilhelm Nero Pilate) Barbellion, born Bruce Frederick Cummings (1889–1919), famous for his authorship of a diary he kept from the age of thirteen, eventually published as The Journal of a Disappointed Man (1919). What he was disappointed by was the fact that his early death loomed.

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W. N. P. Barbellion, via Wikimedia Commons

Not so long ago, when I was writing about the original Science League of America’s essay contest in 1925, I digressed in order to discuss a lawsuit launched in 1940 by William Floyd, the freethought writer who proposed the topic of the contest (“Why Evolution Should Be Taught in Our Schools Instead of the Book of Genesis”) and provided a prize of $50 for the best essay. The creationist Harry Rimmer, I explained, had offered first $100, and later $1,000, to anyone who could demonstrate a scientific error in the Bible. Floyd tried to claim the prize, citing five or fifty-one (accounts vary) such errors, but the case was dismissed on the grounds that Floyd had failed to prove that the advertisement with the challenge to which he responded was placed or approved by Rimmer.

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At the Creation Museum in Kentucky, a miniature diorama shows the last few people on Earth clinging to a craggy spit of rock as Noah’s Ark bobs mockingly in the distance. As if the situation of these last few sinners (soon to be swimmers) was not bad enough, there are tigers on the rocks attacking people. One can only imagine the anguished laments of these unfortunates, who if they kept their iPhones dry might have tweeted: “Really, dude? Were the tigers really necessary? #drowning.”

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