Saturday, December 15, 2007

Creationist Stabs Scientist in Argument over Evolution

On January 27, 2007, a man in New South Wales, Australia was arrest for the stabbing death of a man over an argument about evolution. On December 17, 2007 the man was sentenced to 5 years in prison. See The Australian for the full story.

The two men, Alexander York and Rudi Boa met while on vacation and ended up in a pub in a heated discussion about evolution. Boa and his girlfriend took the scientific viewpoint (they were both biomedical engineers after all) while York's view was more in line with fundamentalist Christians. After a heated discussion at the bar, the three returned to the campsite where they all happened to be staying. As more they become more inebriated, the argument started again. This time, York ended up attacking Rudi Boa with a kitchen knife resulting in Boa's death. York claims self defense. The judge sentenced York to five years in prison, a light sentence.

Justice Adams said he had given York a sentence at the lower end of the scale, partly because of the accidental nature of the stabbing.

"I do not believe that he took aim but rather thrust out," Justice Adams said.

"I think he knew that the knife was in his hand ... but he did not actually turn his mind to the potentially serious consequences of doing this.

"The offender is a person of good character and the offence is a complete aberration."

It seems that some in the blog community have used this case as a means to paint creationist as vile evil creatures (see Pharyngula). I would argue that this drunk man did not represent anyone except his drunk self. This case does, however, illustrate how passionate people are about their faith. I think it is important not to demonize creationists because of this incident. It should remind us of the complexity of the evolution/creationism argument. There is no winning one side or another over with facts. There is faith involved. I believe people will be more passionate in protecting their faith than a scientific view, but that still should not end in violence. In the words of an A Perfect Circle version of a Depeche Mode song, "People are people so why should it be you and I shouldn't get along?"

Though Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has a great defense of Creationism...


Flavin said...

"Justice Adams said he had given York a sentence at the lower end of the scale, partly because of the accidental nature of the stabbing.

" 'I do not believe that he took aim but rather thrust out,' Justice Adams said.

I quote Bronze Dog when I say,
"I may not know much about knife fighting, but it seems to me to kill someone with a knife, you have to maintain a grip and put some [...] muscle into swinging it. It's not easy to accidentally stab someone."

You should read his post. It's a bit more... impassioned than yours, but he and his commenters raise good points.

Ben said...

Oh I don't necessarily agree that the punishment was to the correct degree or that the self-defense plea holds water. I just don't think it really has any bearing on the character of creationists/evolutionist except when it come to how each side responds to this situation. It's very important to separate the individual from the communities his beliefs coincide with. Bronze Dog's article does bring up good points for they are more regarding the competence of the judge than the creationism/evolution issue. I would like to know the judge's opinion on evolution though. I think it would be interesting if there was a coincidence in denial.

Flavin said...

I agree. This case tells us very little useful information about creationists, because what few creationist stabbers and/or murders do exist are statistical outliers. Extrapolating to the whole community is a hasty generalization.

You mention Pharyngula as being a bad example in regards to this case. In PZ's defense, his point was not to "paint creationist[s] as vile evil creatures" as you say. His point, as we discussed earlier, is to paint them as humans. They are just as capable as everyone else of committing horrible crimes. In so showing, he shows that religiosity doesn't correlate with higher-than-average morals, as so many claim.

Having said that, I am through defending PZ on this, because he does say things that are completely unsupported. I know he's going for dramatic effect, but he opens his article on this topic by saying creationists "are violent, murderous bastards." That's going a wee bit far. He does in fact commit a hasty generalization in this sentence, whether he means it or not.