Escape from the Creation Conference (2 of 2)

Statue of triceratops with a saddle from the Creation MuseumThis 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.

He played the audio of Apollo 8’s famous Christmas Eve 1968 reading of Genesis 1:1–10.  According to that passage, here’s what God was up to on the second day:

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

1That’s not just an invented number.  The mass of visible matter (only) in the universe is 6×1051 kg, while the mass of the earth is 6×1024 kg.

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.

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7 thoughts on “Escape from the Creation Conference (2 of 2)

  1. “Would Genesis in that case begin with a discussion of singularities, quarks, black holes, the speed of light, and infinities? ”

    If God started with those, then no one would understand what he was saying, and the text would be irrelevant for the next 4000 years. Instead he chose common words that people could relate to even if they did not understand the details. The resemblance to one tiny aspect of Sumerian mythology may be accidental or not, we may never know.

    Science has progressed tremendously over the past 100 years, and yet we are probably still a long way off from seeing the true fundamental reality that he created. Instead God mentioned the important stuff.

    “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. ”

    From our current understand of quantum physics, the two fundamental things are the quantum wave and observation. A reasonable word to use for the quantum wave would be water. Hovering over the waters seems like the quantum wave exists but no observation has occurred.The observation gives specific values to such things as energy.

    ” And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. ”

    We know that space began to grow during the period of inflation.

    And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”

    God would have to select values for physical constants that allowed matter to form. From that, eventually the particle soup from the Big Bang cooled and atoms, molecules, galaxies, planets would form.

    And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”

    Next it appears that he did something that allowed at least part of the universe to be inhabitable by life.

    Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”

    And so on. The key thing is that this history is in the sequence that God performed actions at his scale, which being outside of our spacetime is not the same sequence that we observe things occurring in our history record.

    • The resemblance to one tiny aspect of Sumerian mythology may be accidental or not, we may never know.

      Granted, we may never know. But where do the facts lead us?

      Sumerian mythology is completely wrong. The Genesis description of the earth, with waters above and beneath, is completely wrong. Where the Genesis writers got their mythology isn’t especially important, but it’s not science.

      Science has progressed tremendously over the past 100 years, and yet we are probably still a long way off from seeing the true fundamental reality that he created. Instead God mentioned the important stuff.

      And yet Genesis looks exactly like ancient legend. God might exist, but where do the facts lead?

      A reasonable word to use for the quantum wave would be water. Hovering over the waters seems like the quantum wave exists but no observation has occurred.The observation gives specific values to such things as energy.

      When we have science come from the Bible, I’ll agree that you have an interesting point. But that you can go the other way and take all of science and sift through the Bible to find little bits that resemble science is not helpful. If I did that with any other ancient book, you’d laugh at my efforts. Let’s respect the Bible by demanding that it follow the same rules.

      • I explained the versus your original post quoted. How is that sifting? The phenomena you wrote that you were expecting, including singularities, black holes, and infinities probably did not play a significant role in creation. I then pointed out that referring to the quantum wave and observation are more pertinent to what probably happening during the actual creation. So my conclusion is that based on our preliminary scientific knowledge about reality suggests that what is mentioned in Genesis actually maps quite easily to what we currently expect.

      • By sifting, I meant finding “science” in the Bible after the fact.

        What would be impressive would be scientists being pushed over and over again by crazy stuff in the Bible that, upon investigation, proved to be reality and not crazy at all.

        But it doesn’t work that way. All we have is people going back to the Bible, after the science has already been figured out, and trying to retrodict science from the Bible. That’s not the way science works.

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