This is the second of two posts about the Reality-Distortion Zone that is a Creationist conference. Read the first one here.
The second lecture was by a science teacher. He injected more than a dozen Bible quotes and Christian imagery into what was otherwise a decent astronomy lecture.
The irony was lost on him. He used videos, animations, presentation software, a PC. He showed Hubble photos of galaxies and satellite photos of solar flares. He lauded the Apollo program. This was science revealed to us by technology built on science. He made a good case—science delivers!
One video took us on a five-minute trip through the universe, accelerating from Earth past the solar system, Alpha Centauri, our galaxy, and our local group of galaxies to eventually take in the entire universe. And the ancient prescientific desert tribe that made up the Genesis account was stuck back there on Earth 3000 years ago, trying to make sense of things with their Iron Age worldview.
There was yet more unacknowledged irony when he emphasized the size of “God’s creation.” The Bible says, “[God] also made the stars” (Gen. 1:16). That’s it. That’s all the Bible says about the 99.9999999999999999999999999% of the universe1 that’s not the earth. Makes you think that the authors of Genesis didn’t know about the vastness of the universe.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.”
See if that sounds like this: “[They] envisioned the universe as a closed dome surrounded by a primordial saltwater sea. Underneath the terrestrial earth, which formed the base of the dome, existed an underworld and a freshwater ocean.” This was the cosmology of the Sumerians, who preceded the Jews by centuries.
To me, the Apollo reading of this prescientific view of nature doesn’t sound majestic but is meaningful only as it highlights what we’ve discarded.
The speaker made the obligatory slam of the theory of evolution. He said that the proper order for science is: hypothesis, then theory, then fact. Sorry, Chester—actually, it’s observation (that is, fact), then hypothesis (a proposed explanation of that fact), and finally theory (a well-substantiated explanation). Theory is as good as it gets, and evolution is a theory. Science is always provisional and doesn’t graduate to “fact.”
Next up, Donald DeYoung from Creation Research Society might have had the best credentials of the four speakers. He actually has a doctorate from a real university. Unfortunately, it’s in physics, and he was slamming biology and cosmology.
He listed changes in how science explains the origin of the moon. First one hypothesis, then another, then another. His goal was to lampoon science while pointing out that Scripture doesn’t change. That’s true, but it shows the weakness of scripture that only science is adaptable to new information.
Yes, science changes. Here’s Isaac Asimov’s take on this:
When people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.
I had a brief lunchtime conversation with Dr. DeYoung about Genesis. I gave it my best shot: I argued that the Genesis story is exactly the kind of story you’d expect if the Big Bang were true. Would Genesis in that case begin with a discussion of singularities, quarks, black holes, the speed of light, and infinities? Of course not—the Bible is not a science book. It would adjust the message to match the capabilities of the audience, a prescientific desert tribe. It would say, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth….”
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t make the sale.
The last speaker was Phil Fernandes, speaking on the impact of evolution on society. He listed “books showing the link between evolution and genocide.”
Say, here’s a fun exercise, kids! Read the Bible and make a list of the books showing the link between God and genocide! (Let’s see: Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Psalms, 1 Samuel, Isaiah, …)
He did the same out-of-context quote mining from Darwin’s The Descent of Man that Greg Kokul did recently. No, Darwin actually rejected eugenics. I’ve added an appendix to this post to give the entire relevant fragment of Darwin’s writing in the naive hope that this will put the question to rest.
The lecture was basically an amusement park ride past the hideous priests of evolution (or atheism or something)—Darwin, Skinner, Watson and Crick, Nietzsche, Stalin, Hitler, and so on—clumsily arguing that evolution leads inevitably to eugenics.
No, eugenics is policy, while evolution is science. Eugenics is indeed bad, but this says nothing about the accuracy of the theory of evolution.
He was puzzled why Dawkins is anti-God. I’ll bet if you read Dawkins, you’ll find the answer. I’ve addressed that before.
I’d like to end with a few suggestions for anyone who wants to stay sane during a Creationist conference.
Check the speakers’ credentials. Almost no one who speaks in this domain has credentials in the field he’s criticizing. I’m simply asking for speakers with doctorates in the field plus work credentials. That is, a biologist speaking about biology, a geologist about geology, a cosmologist about cosmology, and so on. There are hundreds of thousands of scientists. That this seems to be a lot to ask says much about Creationism and related dogmas.
Check dates of quotes. Words can’t express how uninterested I am in what Darwin wrote or thought or did. Whether Darwin ate babies with barbecue sauce or plain says nothing about the question at hand: whether evolution is the best explanation for why life is the way it is. Many other quotes are 30 years old or older. I’m interested in what current science says, and for cutting-edge fields like abiogenesis or cosmology, that’s simply too old.
Beware lists of Science’s errors. One speaker ran down the greatest hits of evolution’s mistakes—Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, “Flipperpithecus,” and so on. Yeah, science makes mistakes. Get over it. Somehow, it still delivers the goods (as evidence, consider the device you’re reading this on and how this post got from my fingers to you).
And what process discovered the errors? No, not Creationism, but Science!
Photo credit: William Clifford
Appendix: Selection from Chapter 5 of Darwin’s The Descent of Man.
This is a little tedious, but this may help nail this door closed.
Darwin rejected eugenics. Creationists enjoy portraying him differently by quoting him out of context. Not a good policy if you’re trying to be honest.
Here’s a long fragment from which Creationists like to quote.
There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
Ah, so Darwin was rabidly in support of eugenics, right? Nope. The very next paragraph clarifies.
The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.
Creationists out there: please don’t quote Darwin out of context. It makes you look like a liar.