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Intelligent Designists Criticise Nuanced View of the Evolution of Fire for Being Too Nuanced

Posted on the 15 August 2016 by Reprieve @EvoAnth

When you're trying to come up with scientific evidence for your position what should you look for? Perhaps you should look for replicated experiments and ideas. Or maybe the trick is to just sound confident. According to intelligent designists, the latter is more important.

Recently, one of them reviewed the history of fire within the evolution of humans; ultimately concluding only a designed universe could burn. This was then reviewed by another of the cdesign proponentsists who praised the fact that he didn't use words like "maybe" or "perhaps". And that the anthropologists are wrong because they're totally cautious with their language. They even dare to acknowledge some of it is rather speculative!

Fire on the brain

For most our lives we try and avoid fire. It's appearance on the scene generally isn't a good thing. In fact, the list of negative side effects associated with fire is still being extended. Despite this, there's no denying how useful it can be, nor how crucial it was to our ancestors. Armed with this technology they could cook food for extra energy, stave off the night for extra hours of technology, and scare away predators.

And they may well have gained many of these benefits before they even figured out how to make fire. John Gowlett recently published a paper examining fire in the natural environment where hominins lived. He found fire is both relatively frequent and routinely exploited by animals. Birds would actually follow fires around, catching insects and other prey as it tried to flee (or having a nice locust-kebab afterwards). He infers that our ancestors may have done something similar, having a long relationship with fire before they actually fully controlled it.

This prompted Dr Denton to summarise his aforementioned film: fire-maker. This was the first article on fire published by the designists. The gist being that Professor Gowlett's account was largely correct but didn't conclude how awesome carbon is. In fact, carbon is so great for fire the entire process must have been designed.

Intelligent designists criticise nuanced view of the evolution of fire for being too nuanced

In much the same way that all cooking books must contain an explanation of photosynthesis, so must all anthropologists review the elements involved in human activities. Failure to do so is clearly a sign of some conspiracy against intelligent design.

Cognitive dissonance

I'm not spending any time Denton's argument itself because it's handily refuted by puddles. What I find far more interesting is the follow up by David Klinghoffer posted a few days later on the same designist website. This was prompted by a New York Times article that summarised much of the research on the evolution of fire, including some of Gowlett's work.

The main thrust of this second article being that the palaeoanthropologists involved had the gall to imply their conclusions was not the ultimate truth. Because nuance is the root of all evil.

Intelligent designists criticise nuanced view of the evolution of fire for being too nuanced

Much like Dr. Denton's original piece, this "argument" is hardly worth giving more than a few seconds thought. Where things get interesting is when Klinghoffer contrasts this "storytelling" with Denton's facts.

Intelligent designists criticise nuanced view of the evolution of fire for being too nuanced

There's no speculation or assertion there. Just straight up facts in support of intelligent design. Except Denton does include some speculation: his own suitably tentative acceptance of the anthropological model. As those of you who actually read the previous quotes hopefully noticed:

Intelligent designists criticise nuanced view of the evolution of fire for being too nuanced

The very person Klinghoffer is lauding for not being cautious is offering a cautious acceptance the scientific model Klinghoffer is trying to critique for being too cautious.

It's a delightful bit of misrepresentation that I think really highlights the rigour within the intelligent design movement. Or rather how they lack it. This is hammered home by the fact Klinghoffer's praise of Denton includes another misrepresentation in it. He's criticising the "assertion" of evolutionists; after having pointed out these anthropologists acknowledge their ideas are speculative and incomplete. Surely, such tentative views are the very opposite of an assertion.


In their efforts to criticise the evolutionary origins of fire use, intelligent designists have misrepresented the views of both palaeoanthropologists and other intelligent designists.

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