The Herald Sun’s War on Science #1: evolution is just a “theory”

I’ll tip my hat to Tim Lambert over at Deltoid  for inspiring me. His continuing efforts to monitor The Australian’s “war on science” by casting doubt on climate science is a must read. Its a series of brilliant posts  dissecting that papers clumsy and deliberate attempts to confuse the climate debate.

The “Oz” belongs to a stable of Australian papers owned by Rupert Murdoch, which also includes Melbourne’s Herald Sun. Murdoch is also the owner of Fox News. No further comment needs to be made about just how “fair and balanced” Fox News is on science issues.

The Herald Sun declares war on all science.. not just climate science, all science.

Readers of this blog, and most Australians, are familiar with the Herald Sun. It’s a tabloid with a daily circulation exceeding one million. Its web site is popular. It is also the home of Australia’s most prominent denier of climate science, Andrew Bolt.

The Herald Sun hosts Bolt’s blog, which as Clive Hamilton has noted is one the main clearing houses for denialist propaganda in the Australian media. Bolt frequently writes misleading “opinion pieces” on the issue. Readers will know I’ve commented on Bolt numerous times.

However today I am stunned. Shocked actually.

Not because Bolt has written another one of his ill-informed and misleading attacks on climate science. No, today the Herald Sun has published two page article by ex-footballer Gary Ablett. It is nothing short than a full scale assault on the theory of evolution in an Australian major daily newspaper.

What has this to do with climate change denial?


The link between the denial and creationist movements: denial and disdain for science

As readers of this blog will know, I’ve often drawn a link between the tactics of denialists and the creationist movement. Well, today the editors of the Herald Sun show their true colours and declare themselves at war with science.   Not just climate science, but science itself.

By allowing Ablett to publish his creationist drivel, they have given legitimacy to another anti-science movement. What’s next? An attack on the so “Copernican theory” or the so called “germ theory of disease?”. How about astronomy, or geology and evidence based medicine? Surely, these are future targets.

Ablett’s creationist howlers

Let’s look at some of the claims Ablett makes in his two page article:

“Man might look like an ape, act like a goat, eat like a pig, think like a jackass, be as stubborn as a mule and as cunning as a fox, but a man is still a man and has been that way right down through recorded history. I openly confess to being no scientist, nor will I try to pretend to be one. However, it is not hard for the average person to understand some of the basic laws and principles within the scientific world. There is so much misinformation out there called “science”, masquerading as “truth”, and because we’ve been taught to believe these falsehoods it takes an abundance of information to get these misconceptions unseated. So please bear with me as I may need to get quite technical to get my message across….”

An attack on this thing called “science”? This is no “there are other ways of knowing” argument: Ablett simply dismisses four hundred years of science in a paragraph. Let’s go on…

“…The fact is that fossil records do not support Darwin’s theory. Experts have come to realise that the gaps in the fossil records and the absence of precursor and intermediate forms are such that they can no longer be ignored or his theory be taken seriously. It was Darwin, the author of the theory of evolution himself, that confessed in a letter to Ossy Gray on September 5, 1857 that “one’s imagination must fill up the very blanks”…”

The fossil records does not support the theory of evolution? And quote mining Darwin? The fossil record provides an abundance of evidence supporting evolution (see here for the evolution of whales). Let’s go on…

“Let’s take another example. Evolution teaches that matter plus energy (light or heat) plus time equals biogenesis, the cause of new life.Yet our entire food industry relies on the fact that the evolutionary formula doesn’t work. For example, if you take a jar of peanut butter (matter), expose it to light and heat (energy) and add time you will never get new life (biogenesis) in that jar. And are we grateful about that! Why is new life impossible in a sealed jar? Because we are missing the most important aspect: information….”

Ablett confuses the theory of evolution with abiogenesis. Evolution does not attempt to address the origins of life. It is about how life evolves over time. Note how Ablett uses the incorrect terminology, biogenesis instead of abiogenesis. Abiogeneis is science’s attempt to understand the origins of life. See Wikipedia here for the distinction:

“In the natural sciences, abiogenesis (pronounced /eɪˌbaɪ.ɵˈdʒɛnɨsɪs/, ay-BYE-oh-JEN-ə-siss) or biopoesis is the theory of how life on Earth could have arisen from inanimate matter. It should not be confused with evolution, which is the study of how groups of already living things change over time, or with cosmology, which covers how the universe might have arisen…”

Biogenesis is the process of lifeforms producing other lifeforms. From eggs we get chickens, and from chickens we get eggs. No, don’t ask me which came first. And certainly don’t ask Abblet, he’ll struggle to find the appropriate scriptural verse. Let us go on…

“..But mathematicians say there is more chance of a hurricane going through a junk yard and assembling a fully operational 747 passenger jet. Now you and I may laugh at that because we can appreciate the “intelligent design”, the information, the knowledge, the creativity and skill it takes to put something so complex together.

Irreducible complexity? WTF?

I assume Ablett is a fan of Michael Behe and the Discovery Institute. Ablett is no doubt ignorant of the fact that intelligent design was clearly shown not to be science in the Kitzmiller v Dover trial in the US.  To take apart the entire article and correct the errors, logical fallacies would take days.

I’d recommend people go to The Panda’s Thumb and Why Evolution is True for a real understanding of evolutionary theory. There are dozens of books out there that easily refute Ablett’s religious propaganda.

I can only shake my head in dismay at the decision of the editors of the Herald Sun in allowing the publication of this grossly misleading attack on science.

And so begins our monitoring of “Herald Sun’s War on Science”.

(Note: I’m still shocked)

Addendum: article most likely ghost written.

As a friend of mine correctly pointed out, this article was more than likely ghost written. Not only do the Herald Sun’s editorial policies need to be called into question, but we have to feel some sympathy for Ablett who is clearly being exploited.

There are people willing to trade on Ablett’s name to push their own ideological agenda. Unfortunately, it would appear Ablett is far too trusting and has allowed himself to be their pawn. By “deferring” to those in authority, he compromises his own integrity.

Further addendum

The Young Austalian Skeptics have picked up the story, and encourage people to write to the Herald Sun. I second that, here the contact details.  It also appears that the article plagerises a great deal of material:

Update: He also plagiarized a massive amount of his article from Grace Haven Ministries. Look at Buggery​.org for details. So this is what passes for journalism at the Herald Sun? Thanks Martin Pribble for filling us in on this one.

8 thoughts on “The Herald Sun’s War on Science #1: evolution is just a “theory”

  1. Sou says:

    Lol, poor Gary Ablett. He has found Jesus and forgiveness, and maybe all the dope has addled his brain. I read it as a religious article, not a science article. Even the wicked can find God 🙂

    It’s harmless as long as he keeps his fantasies to himself. I doubt he will convert anyone to his new-found religion through this article. I’d love to know why it was published though. Do you think this was pay back for past sins? The editors of the Herald Sun were supremely cruel.

    I enjoyed this bit: “Even in a simple newspaper we can appreciate “Intelligent Design”. “

  2. Mike says:

    Indeed Sou, his “ideas” kept to himself are harmless. But given such public platform Ablett should be prepared for the inevitable scrutiny.

    I also suspect the price the Herald Sun had to pay to get an exclusive with Ablett was to forgo any rights to edit or change “his” article. It’s obvious now that most of his article is heavily plagiarised from the standard creationist tracts.

    In the end I think I feel sorry for Ablett. No doubt his church is using his fame to push their own agenda, and he can’t understand how he is being exploited. He’s a tragic figure: a man brilliant at one thing, but in everything else he’s still very much a child with poor impulse control (drugs) and the need for an authority figure to tell him what to do (God).

    BTW – like you blog! I’ll be adding to my blog-roll if you don’t mind. It’s good to see other Aussie bloggers out there with an interest in the issue.


    • Sou says:

      Thanks, Mike. I found your site a short while ago and enjoy it very much. You write well and to the point.

      I’m new to this as you can tell. Still finding my way and working out how to tackle the topic. There are a lot of people doing such a wonderful job but so many working to denigrate science as well. It’s an uphill battle. I hope to ‘find my feet’ soon and maybe offer a slightly different angle as the site develops.

      My science education is in the distant past. At uni we touched on climate but most is long forgotten. It’s fun and interesting to revisit it again and I’m starting to dust off the old physics, stats and other science books 🙂

  3. Mike says:

    Cheers Sou – and I appreciate the comments. Heck, I’ve been doing this for less than a month, and I’m still very much the novice. A long way to go!

    Feel free to throw me stories or things of interest climate related that you see in your local media. I’m keen to examine the issue at all levels.

    I’ve got email now as a few people have asked:

    I’m more than happy to feature stories you’ve written and would like to see shared around.

    Stop by anytime!

  4. Mike says:

    Thanks mate – I saw PZ’s article yesterday. It’s good that we’ve all jumped on this. There’s no way Ablett should be given a free pass. He’s not only made himself look foolish down under, but around the world people are having a laugh at his expense.


  5. graemebird says:

    “…Ablett confuses the theory of evolution with abiogenesis. Evolution does not attempt to address the origins of life. It is about how life evolves over time…..”

    Actually this is just sophistry on your part. One ought not run away from the difficulties involved with DNA getting started. Since all knowledge is holistic, the discovery that DNA would have immense problems getting going is likely to have implications in other areas of science.

    • Mike says:

      Actually this is science. Now what was I saying about the link between climate change denial and creationism?

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