What will it take?

Christians often ask atheists the above question. What kind of evidence would it take to convince us of God’s existence? I’d like to turn the question back to them. What would it take to convince them that maybe God is just a product of their imaginations and wishful thinking?

Allow me to preface this with an unambiguous statement. People dying is never funny (well, okay — except for Pauly Shore), and posts like this are not meant as a “ha ha!” to believers in any way. But there’s a disconnect here that I’d really like explained to me.

Short version: Busload of evangelical Christians is swept off a bridge in San Salvador by a swollen river, at least 30 die. Was God looking out for those people? Did he sit back and let them die for a reason? How do believers square this kind of thing with the Problem of Evil? Really, I’d like to know how Christians process an event like this in such a way as to continue to permit themselves their beliefs in a loving heavenly father. Do these kinds of events — tragically affecting those whom you’d think God would be most inclined to protect — ever bring Christians a moment’s pause? Or is that all it is: a pause, before the rationalizations kick in? Or is there a convincing argument to be made in defense of God here? Doesn’t it seem like these kinds of situations would present God with exactly the opportunity for miraculous intervention that would silence the atheists of the world immediately with direct empirical evidence of his loving grace?

Just how silly are they over at RememberThyCreator.com?

Young-earthers are just about the most reality-challenged folks around. But over at the RememberThyCreator.com site — you know, the one with the silly poll that got spiked recently by Pharyngulites, hopefully teaching the RTC team a thing or two about what and what not to do on the intarweebs — they have just about the silliest set of reasons why people should “not accept millions of years,” but rather, presumably, 6000 years, as the proper age of the Earth. “Wow!” you must be thinking, “you mean they have actual evidence the Earth is young?” W-e-lll, no, not exactly. What they have is simply a list of indignant assertions that accepting an old Earth contradicts Biblical myths, and thus must be rejected out of hand. Here’s a sample:

The Bible clearly teaches that God created in six literal 24 hour days a few thousand years ago.

The Hebrew word for day in Genesis 1 is yom. In the vast majority of its uses in the Old Testament it means a literal day and where it doesn’t the context makes this clear.

Similarly, the context of Genesis 1 clearly shows that the days of creation were literal days. First, yom is defined the first time it is used in the Bible in its two literal senses: the light portion of the light/dark cycle and the whole light/dark cycle (Gen 1:4-5). Second, yom is used with “evening” and “morning”. Third, yom is modified with a number: one day, second day, third day, etc., which everywhere else in the Old Testament indicates literal days. Fourth, yom is defined literally in Genesis 1:14 in relation to the heavenly bodies.

You see the unimpeachable brilliance of their scientific methodology here: if the Bible says it, it’s true, full stop. Boy, and here we all were thinking that knowledge about how the world works took a lot of hard work and study. You know, decades of research, learning, field work, experimentation, trial and error, cataloguing your findings, revising them, publishing them, have them peer reviewed, going back to the drawing board when it’s been shown some of your findings are wrong and need further study.

Nope! Don’t have to do none o’ that! As the intrepid Dr. Terry Mortenson reveals over at RTC.com, all you have to do is check what’s written in a book of Bronze Age myths and legends, and voila, all you ever need to learn about anything is right there, and unquestionably true!

“But what about all that doggone pesky evidence we have that the earth is, in fact, billions of years old?” you ask? Never fear. It’s denialism to the rescue. Mortenson writes:

The idea of millions of years did not come from the scientific facts.

It was developed by deistic and atheistic geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century. These men used anti-biblical philosophical and religious assumptions to interpret the geological observations in a way that plainly contradicted the Biblical account of creation, the Flood and the age of the earth. The “deep time” idea flows out of naturalistic assumptions, not scientific observations.

Radiometric dating methods do not prove millions of years.

Radiometric dating was not developed until the early 20th century, by which time the whole world had already accepted the millions of years. In recent years creationists in the “RATE project” have done experimental, theoretical and field research to uncover … evidence and to show that decay rates were orders of magnitude faster in the past, which shrinks the millions of years date to thousands of years, confirming the Bible.

Mortenson’s bio tells us he has a Ph.D. in the “history of geology” from Coventry University in England. I’d very much like to know what Mortenson has published professionally. That he has retreated to the AiG stable indicates that his academic or scientific career has not been especially impressive, at least in terms of achievements as a working geologist. Mortenson’s achievements as an evangelical are not in dispute, as Googling him reveals nothing but page after page of creationist, Christian, and conservative sites, and nothing from any mainstream scientific source to show that the man has done anything in the way of field work at all. And the only papers Mortenson seems to write have titles like “Boundaries on Creation and Noah’s Flood: Early 19th century scriptural geologists,” and are presented exclusively at religious seminars and similar forums.

Given Mortenson’s lack of post-collegiate work in his field (he went to get a doctorate in “divinity,” so it seems clear he’s been focusing on that), it’s still kind of surprising he would collapse into a life of anti-science so completely. But what’s funny about the things he says regarding radiometric dating above is what immediately precedes it. He launches into a deliriously silly conspiracy theory, naming no names and citing no sources, that the notion of “deep time” was in fact concocted by “deistic and atheistic geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century” (!) with an agenda to discredit the Bible. All their scientific work was just in aid of promoting a predetermined agenda.

Can you say, “Project much?” It’s a common character flaw of creos that they project all their own least commendable traits onto those of us they hate. But this takes the cake. Who is this sinister cabal of Regency-era atheists and deists? Why would deists and atheists work together anyway? And how did it come to be that they gained such control over the geological sciences? Maybe Mortenson learned all this while getting his doctorate in the history of geology, and his dissertation is a blistering exposé of these people. But we certainly can’t know from reading this little article, and frankly, I have no interest in donating to AiG to get Mortenson’s full “brochure” promising further details. (Another blow against peer review! Brochures! The vanity press of the evangelical anti-science movement!)

We know, on the other hand, that YEC’s and other creationist “scientists” do all their work in the interests of furthering a predetermined ideology and shoring up preconceived dogmas. And if we didn’t know it before, we would now. Because the Wedge Document tells us so, and this little article of Mortenson’s tells us so. If it contradicts the Bible, throw it out. It’s wrong. Mortenson’s scientific “objectivity” could not be clearer, could it?

The RATE project itself was one of those desperate creationist “research” projects whose participants had decided in advance what results they would collect and accept. Far from debunking the validity of radiometric dating techniques, its methods were deeply flawed — not the least because, as J.G. Meert has pointed out, none of the project’s members had any expertise in experimental geochronology, nor had they published anything involving radiometric dating in the mainstream scientific literature. (Oh yes, but there’s that horrible Big Science cabal with their secret decoder rings and handshakes who expel these noble Christian scientists from their august pages. I forgot. Thanks, Ben.) ICR’s Grand Canyon Project has been taken apart on TalkOrigins, as well.

“Science” that is done to validate an ideology, whether extreme examples like Adolf and the boys looking for “racial purity” through eugenics, or merely pathetic examples like creationists hoping against hope for a 6000-year-old Earth (which they seem to think is the only kind their omnipotent God is capable of), always crumbles into chaos and confusion. Shoehorning the supernatural into the natural never explains anything, and always muddies the waters. Lately, we’ve had another creationist troll pop up here flogging the usual foolish notion that any “gap” in scientific knowledge is necessarily filled only by his God. But what’s at the heart of this isn’t science, let alone the spirit of curiosity and pass
ion that leads to scientific inquiry and the knowledge gained thereby. It’s merely the insecurity of the religious mind, seeking, in Isaac Asimov’s words, “a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold.” The idea that the universe might not be all about us is still deeply, existentially terrifying to most people.

But trying to cloak that insecurity in pseudoscience to validate it does no one any good. Better to admit — as so few fundamentalists can — that maybe you’re wrong, an attitude indispensible to any real scientific mind. And from that point, to see where the evidence actually leads you, which can often be in surprising and fulfilling directions.

There’s a gag from an old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode that I’m reminded of here. In one dreadful movie, there’s a white-coated scientist working late in his lab, and one of the ‘bots riffs, “Wow, what a day! I invented Gaines Burgers and I didn’t even mean to!” Silly as that is, it does sum up what happens in real science, as opposed to the dogma-bound pseudoscience of the YEC’s. Often unexpected results lead you down entirely new and undreamt-of paths of inquiry. How tragically sad that there are those out there who think themselves scientists, may even have a shiny Ph.D. saying they’ve got the training for it…and who choose to throw all that away in favor of hiding behind the skirts of religion’s insecurities, and the lies that must be told continually to keep the rents in those skirts patched.

Poor babies! They just can’t win…

While Chris Comer is busy taking on the creos in court, back here on the intarweebs, some dippy YEC website with the delightful name of RememberThyCreator.com made the silly mistake of posting an open poll asking if creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools. The sheep were toeing the party line pretty reliably, if in very small numbers, until the day the poll came to the attention of the ever-playful PZ. RTC’s webmasters must have noticed the drastic spike in their usual traffic due to the Pharyngula Effect. And once they saw that the poll results were rather heavily skewed towards “No” (8,209 to 148, exactly), they decided to take it down. (Though the results are still up.) Awwww. And what’s this I usually hear about evilushunists “expelling” anyone who challenges their “dogma”?

Go get ’em, Chris!

Chris Comer has sued the Texas Education Agency and its commissioner Robert Scott in federal court, on the grounds that the agency’s idiotic “neutrality” policy as regards “intelligent design” is unconstitutional and that her firing was thus illegal.

The policy was in force even though the federal courts have ruled that teaching creationism as science in public schools is illegal under U.S. Constitution’s provision preventing government establishment or endorsement of religious beliefs.

“The agency’s ‘neutrality’ policy has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion, and thus violates the Establishment Clause,” the lawsuit said.

Ms. Comer also said in her complaint that she was fired without due process after serving as the state science director for nearly 10 years.

Remember, all Comer did was forward an email announcing the CFI-sponsored lecture Barbara Forrest gave in Austin last November. For this, she was — what’s the word? oh, right — expelled.

Fundie homophobes provide your daily dose of comedy

In case you hadn’t caught this: Donald Wildmon’s anti-gay hate group the American “Family” Association has its very own “news” site, OneNewsNow, which may or may not be as thoroughly bugnutty as WorldNetDaily, that repository of pure, unbridled right-wing parallel-universe lunacy. I can’t be bothered to read it regularly enough to make comparisons.

But ridicule made the rounds of the blogosphere yesterday when it became known that OneNewsNow apparently has some sort of built-in find-replace feature that automatically turns any mention of the word “gay” into “homosexual.” Why they consider this necessary or desirable is best known to themselves. But it resulted in an amusing editorial faux pas when the site posted an article about Olympic track and field star Tyson Gay. Gay’s name was changed to — you guessed it — “Tyson Homosexual,” with the article bearing the following howler for a headline: Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic trials

The laughs kept coming with such priceless bits as:

On Saturday, Homosexual misjudged the finish in his opening heat and had to scramble to finish fourth, then in his quarterfinal a couple of hours later, ran 9.77 to break the American record that had stood since 1999…

Homosexual didn’t get off to a particularly strong start in the first semifinal, but by the halfway mark he had established a comfortable lead.

And my favorite…

Asked how he felt, Homosexual said: “A little fatigued.”

Go, girl! While OneNewsNow has since corrected the mistakes, Google has cached the original page for your entertainment.