Poe’d by Roger Ebert

I’ve oftimes stated what a fan I am of film critic Roger Ebert. He does what any good critic should do: present his ideas and opinions clearly so that you can understand exactly where he’s coming from even when you disagree with his review.

Today, though, he’s pulled a lovely prank on us all, and has maintained the poker face of a pure professional throughout. An article at his site, bizarrely titled “Creationism: Your Questions Answered” immediately catches the eye, as it seems so out of place. But Ebert’s subtle satire, which was such a successful application of Poe’s Law — that little law of the internet that asserts it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalist religious beliefs so absurd that no one will mistake it for the real deal — it startled PZ Myers, makes itself known right from its opening salvo, which calmly presents “Questions and answers on Creationism, which should be discussed in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution.” What follows is conveyed in such a dry, non-histrionic style that it’s actually fooled a lot of people into thinking Ebert, who has made his support of good science and his full-on agreement with evolutionary theory and disdain for ID or other creationist pseudoscience plain, had gone over to the dark side.

Still, it becomes obvious we’ve been Poe’d with this gem:

Q. How long did the Great Flood last?

A. We know that Noah was 600 years, two months and 17 days old when he sailed. Using that as a starting point and counting forward, Genesis tells us it lasted for 40, 150, 253, 314 or 370 days.

Until he fesses up, it remains to be understood why Ebert chose just now to pull this little prank. It may have to do with the fact that this week, he’s posted a review of Adaptation, the 2002 Spike Jonze movie starring Nic Cage, to his “Great Movies” section. This review boasts the headline “Evolution Is God’s Intelligent Design,” and I can imagine that sparking a miniflood of indignant emails from creationists, pulling out all their tiresome “evilushun is not siyunts nuh-uh, lookit all the evidense for creashunz!” canards, and demanding “equal time.” So, that’s what Roger gave them.

Thumbs up, old chap!

And the mail keeps coming…

The TV show gets fan letters at a volume I certainly never experienced in the years before the internets became the distribution channel it is today. When I was host up until early March of 2004, we had set up the address (tv [at] atheist-community [dot] org) already. But with the only people watching the show being those with nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon than tune in to Austin Access, a good week of letters might be one or two letters, tops. Now they flood in at dozens per day, it seems.

Here are a couple of emails that give a flavor for the kinds of questions people have who write in. It’s great to hear from so many atheists, from all over, who never hesitate to express their gratitude for the work Matt and the whole team does. (And yes, we get letters from Christians, too, more of which is friendly and not of the “I’ll pray for you!” stripe than you might think.)

A fellow named Alexander Altaras asks, in his subject line, a straightforward question: “We don’t trust the Bible as an accurate source, why do we trust the news or any other historical document?” A good question indeed. I answered: Whatever the source of information you’re referring to, you should only find it trustworthy to the degree its claims can be independently confirmed or corroborated. Historians are usually expected to cite their sources, and the good ones do. News reporting has gotten more difficult to trust, because so much of it today is tainted with one type of political bias or another. It’s always a good thing to see if the information being given to you is well supported by facts. It’s why science is trustworthy where religion is not. In science the process of peer review is set up so that scientists can independently check each other’s findings without favoritism tainting the results. Religion has no such self-correcting tool in place. Another point is that religious claims are doubly hard to trust at face value because, unlike history, for example, the people promoting religious claims are doing so in order to defend or proselytize the belief, an agenda that isn’t as often applied when dealing with purely secular matters. So in short, consider the source, consider their reputation, and consider their sources most of all.

A fellow identifying himself only as Bobby, and informing us he’s a 38-year-old Marine and plainclothes narcotics officer (I’m assuming ex-Marine, if he’s a cop now), wants to know “what is the root of [believers'] hatred for the theory of evolution?” Bobby writes, “Why do theists get so offended by the theory of evolution? It is a basic question. I do not understand. I am an Atheist. I do not get offended by religion until it is forced upon me. I do not actively attack religious concepts until I am provoked. Theists behave as if the very IDEA of evolution insults them. They act as if the theory was created to specifically offend them. Why?”

I think much of it has to do with the fact that evolution seems to deny religion’s great promise to them: that they are special creations of a loving god, imbued with souls, which to go on to live in eternal paradise after their bodies die. By treating the development of life as a purely natural process, theists are afraid that evolution denies the divine and thus the chance they’ll get to go to Heaven.

Thing is, I happen to think (and Ken Miller would disagree) evolution does deny this. But it’s hardly the fault of nature, or of science’s methods of learning about nature, if people choose to retreat from reality and embrace irrational beliefs out of fear and wishful thinking.

Now keep in mind that everyone on the TV crew gets these emails, and the above answers to these questions are only my own. The good questions usually spark a stimulating discussion, with some of the other cohosts, like Tracie, offering such beautifully written and thought out responses that I can’t help gritting my teeth she doesn’t get a chance to post here more often than she does. But however the discussion threads turn out, it must be said that we really do have a fine and engaged audience out there, and we’re grateful to the lot of you. Keep watching, and keep the emails coming.

Wednesday science-y goodness in Austin

CFI-Austin, along with Texas Citizens for Science and the UT Section of Integrative Biology, is sponsoring a trio of talks this evening to be held at UT’s Burdine Hall, room 108. I think I had some classes there back in the day. The general theme is “Science Education in Texas,” which, as you may well know, is under a cloud due to the ideological machinations of the arch-conservative State Board of Education and its young-earth-creationist dentist chairman, Dan McLeroy.

Admission is free and it all starts at 6:30. The speakers include the TCS’s own Steve Schafersman, on “How Will Texas Oppose Aggressive, Organized Creationism in Texas?”; Ed Brayton, author of the blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, on the religious roots of ID (there’s also a Dispatches blog meetup for Ed at Stubb’s BBQ Thursday night at 7); and Josh Rosenau, NCSE staffer and author of the blog Thoughts from Kansas, on the evolution of the creationist movement.

I’m going to do my level best to attend. Hope lots of you can too. If you see me there, wave.


Addendum: Well, bummer, you won’t see me there. If any of our readers do attend, please post a report in the comments.

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.

Money and thermodynamics

Here’s an addendum to Sunday’s show on financial scams. It’s a thought that I had while preparing the topic, but didn’t wind up using while on the air.

Your financial situation is a lot like the second law of thermodynamics — a concept which creationists frequently and (perhaps) deliberately misunderstand. The second law of thermodynamics deals with entropy, which is hard to explain in abstract terms, but it is often described as “chaos.” It is a function of the amount of energy in a system which is no longer available to do work.

In a closed system, entropy always increases, which means that orderliness is being drained away all the time. The only way to restore that order is to bring new energy into the system which can do work. Here on earth, the sun is always shining down, bringing new energy from space. That energy is absorbed by plants, which are eaten by herbivores, which are both eaten by people, which channel that energy into creating orderly things. If all the people in the world were to disappear tomorrow, within a very short time our buildings would decay and rust, and eventually fall down. What is biodegradable would be eaten by bacteria. And so on. Keeping our civilization going takes work.

The sun provides “free energy” for us and so powers order and life and yes, evolution too. Eventually the sun will burn out, but this is too far in the future for us to care about that problem right now. You can’t just keep spend energy without bringing more of it in: if the sun vanished, all life on earth would likely be dead in a matter of days. It doesn’t matter how clever our science is at that point; without new energy coming in, you can only shuffle existing energy around for so long before using it up.

In your personal life, money plays a similar role to order. Most of the things you do as a citizen of the 21st century require money in some way. Keeping a roof over your head costs money, or it costs somebody else money (if, for example, you live with your parents). Feeding yourself costs money. Traveling around costs money. The highways and buildings that keep our economy running cost money to maintain.

So in order to keep this system afloat, we have to do new things all the time that generate wealth. At a basic level, we have to grow enough food to feed everyone. We have to build houses, and create roads. At a less crucial level, we give each other reasons to go on living when we create art and design cool technology and educate one another. These are the things that we do that are of lasting value to our species, and they are things that are worth paying for.

A financial scam is the economic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine. Scam artists will tell you that you can get your money for nothing (and, as Dire Straits tells us, your chicks for free). They say that if you mail their chain letter to other people, or build your downline as an Amway distributor, or hype up Liberty Dollars, or “pay the processing fee” to release the funds from your rich uncle in Nigeria, then you’ll get money without doing work.

Thanks to thermodynamics, we know that perpetual motion machines don’t work, and that anyone who claims to have built one is a charlatan. In order to create motion, you have to spend new energy. In order to keep a lifestyle going, you have to do something of value that brings in new money. In other words, an economic closed system is guaranteed to burn itself out sooner or later.

In a nutshell, that is what I mean when I say that you should always approach a new financial opportunity by asking: “Where is this money coming from?”

Yomin turns up, defends himself by running and hiding

This is hardly surprising. In a cutpaste-heavy comment the length of War and Peace, Yomin Postelnik has only this to say in response to my refutation of his ridiculous Canada Free Press article. It’s the usual “you’ve distorted and misrepresented me, but I don’t have time to debate you” dodge.

Your distortions should be quite clear. It’s amazing that you see the need to skew everything said into your narrow prism and definitions, most of which diverge greatly from their intended meaning. It’s also interesting that you fail to make a proper case against the main point of the column.

If my “distortions” are “quite clear,” why doesn’t Yomin help us out by explaining what they are? I invite everyone here, if you have the stomach for it, to re-read Yomin’s original article, to which I linked in my critique, and try to pick out where I skewed and distorted, or where I “failed to make a proper case against the main point of the column.” I invite you to do this because, of course, Yomin doesn’t point these things out himself. He simply declares that I have done this, then ducks under his desk.

In short, he’s simply dishonest. Here’s the difference between Yomin and me. When I criticized Yomin’s article, I backed up my criticisms. In detail. When Yomin tries to tell me I’ve distorted, skewed, and failed to address his points…he can’t back it up.

As far as I can tell, the “main point” of Yomin’s column was to try to show that his theism was logical and atheism was illogical. But I showed, giving specific examples, where Yomin trotted out logical fallacy after logical fallacy, demonstrating that all his blustery references to “logic” were masking a lack of actual knowledge as to its principles and proper application. I also pointed out numerous other flaws in the piece, which Yomin fails to rebut except to claim I distorted him. And precisely what does he think the “narrow” definitions are that I’m presumably employing? Yomin doesn’t say, making this remark yet another empty diversion. The only definitions of things I ever use are the accurate ones. If they don’t support the ideologies of poseurs like Yomin, that’s his problem.

This kind of rhetorical Mexican Hat Dance is typical of bad apologists. When you slam them with facts they can’t counter, they simply bawl “you misrepresented me” or “you took my words out of context” or “you didn’t even address my main point” (especially if you did), and then run off. And they set off smokebombs like this as a further dodge:

Unfortunately I have no time to debate in detail on every board. I will therefore copy a debate on here. Some parts, as you will see, were interrupted by clowns on your side with all kinds of fascinating personal insults and accusations. Still, you will see that it is in fact those on your side who are ignorant of science and of Darwin’s theory. I critique it honestly and they can’t defend it with the same honesty.

Which is, of course, laughable, given that Yomin’s scientific illiteracy stands out like a cockroach on a wedding cake. I went ahead and approved Yomin’s comment, despite the fact it’s nothing more than an epic-length cutpaste in which he attempts his “critique” of evolution. Interestingly, evolution was not a subject talked about at all in the article he wrote that I critiqued. So Yomin is, in effect, trying to deflect my criticisms of the absurd arguments he made in one article (which was all about how atheism is “illogical”) by drawing everyone’s attentions to a whole new set of absurd arguments he tries to make about evolution. This is apologetics as slapstick.

As for his “honest” “critique” of evolution? Well, get ready for another collection of dusty old canards. (The guy also looks to be a global warming denier too, surprise, surprise.) Here is the salient silliness, complete with bad grammar and sentence structure, for those of you who don’t want to wade through the cutpaste.

Specification is just one aspect, but it’s a leading one. If we say that order formed out of a primordial pool, without intelligent guidance, we’re saying that randomness begot intricate specificity, to the tune of billions upon billions of species, the existence of many being are interdependent.

By the way, the platypus genome is similar similar to other so-called “transitional” fossil, the Archaeopteryx. That one had fully developed feathers and nothing transitional in nature. A transitional fossil would have half scales and half feathers, etc. What we have instead is a species that’s not uniquely mammal or amphibian, but it’s not transitional.

I agree with you that the Creator can’t be physical and to my knowledge no religion believes in a physical Creator, rather, one that is higher than physicality. All I’m saying is that physicality itself points to the fact that there is an Intelligent Creator, above the physical realm. What that Creator is remains a partial mystery, in as much as we only understand the physical and have an idea of the spiritual and the Creator needs to be higher than both (as physicality cannot emanate from spirituality – more on that later). [So Yomin thinks an intelligent creator is the only logical answer, and yet when he tries to discuss the nature of this creator, we get more drunk-driver-style rhetorical meandering as this? Gee, how could I ever have doubted him? MW]

But evolution’s not a fact. It’s a theory. [Pow! — Didn't see that one coming! MW]

There are many prominent creationist scientists. Granted, they don’t get much media attention (what else is new), but their findings are challenging and profound. [Who are these scientists, and where do they publish their challenging and profound findings? Astonishingly, Yomin doesn't say! Who'da thunk it? MW]

We don’t see the platypus as a link in any evolutionary chain, just as a unique creature. The fact that all these characteristics are fully developed makes it even less likely to be part of an evolutionary chain and seems to point to it being a unique species in and of itself. [You are the weakest link — goodbye! MW]

What I’m saying is that if you want to make a valid case for evolution, you need to find some forms that document it. These are what’s referred to as transitional forms. They’d show real gradual transition from amphibian to mammal or something of that nature. This is the premise that evolution is based on and such fossils have yet to be found (a platypus has fully formed reptile features and fully formed mammal ones, nothing that shows gradual transition). [Except, of course, for all the transitional fossils that have been found. Otherwise, Yomin's point is, er, devastating. Yeah. Note to Yomin: your ignorance is not evidence. MW]

The late Steven J. Gould, who obviously had a very different take than I did on the issue of evolution, nevertheless said “the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.” He, as did Darwin, understood transitional fossils in the way that I laid out. [Lying about Gould's position on transitional fossils is typical of creationism's dishonesty. MW]

So you see, Yomin’s whole case against evolution is based on his standard repertoire of false analogies (again with the encyclopedias!), the good old argument from incredulity, and the insistence that transitional forms — which any expert biologist and paleontologist will tell you are as common as table salt and about the actual nature of which Yomin is eye-rollingly cluele
ss — don’t exist.

Verdict: he’s your typical ill-educated, scientifically illiterate religious ignoramus, who hasn’t been any nearer a biology class than Uwe Boll has been to the Oscars. Like his arguments for God, Yomin’s arguments against evolution offer nothing new, every one of them a boilerplate canard that’s been demolished again and again and again, though the facts simply never seem to sink in to the skulls of the aggressively ignorant. Rather than rebut me with his comment, he simply ducked into the punch and validated my entire critique by parading his ignorance more proudly than ever. Gold!

If any of you feel like trudging through the comment yourselves and further torpedoing Yomin’s antiscience clichés, feel free. Or, you could stick with reality, and read about this week’s latest news in evolutionary science’s actual findings.

How laughable can Christian anti-intellectualism get?

I’ve probably mentioned before that I have somehow ended up on the mailing list of the wackos at Christian Worldview Network, a group of fundies who are so hardcore they can honestly be said to be living in a different world, not only from most of humanity, but most other Christians as well. These people are old school, “turn or burn” fire-and-brimstone Biblical literalists. Their newsletters excoriate such movements within contemporary Christianity as the “emergent church,” in which pop-pastors like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen preach like motivational speakers a form of inoffensive I’m-okay-you’re-okay soft religion that the Worldview Network crowd considers appallingly watered down. (And from a Biblical standpoint, you’d have to say they’re right. Scripture really makes it clear that God is a vindictive, hateful bastard who loves to kill people, and that refusal to accept his divine “love” will get your ass fast-tracked to hell in a turbocharged handbasket.)

Occasionally, one of their articles will catch my eye, and one titled “The Limits of Human Reason”, by some nincompoop improbably named Israel Wayne, had me chuckling the instant I saw it. In it, you will see the feeble justifications of fundamentalist misology laid bare. It’s quite obvious these are people who simply do not know how knowledge works, and their flawed (to put it politely) thinking is exactly the sort of thing that feeds the absurd rhetoric you hear from fundies who want to argue, for instance, that evolution and creationism are simply two different “worldviews” and thus both should get equal time in class.

The whole theme here is that human reason is untrustworthy because everybody’s ideas are skewed through their worldview. Bask in the following for a thoroughly riotous example of burning stupid.

For example, let’s say that you are with a team digging for dinosaur bones in Alaska. You come across some fossilized remains of a duck-billed dinosaur laying in a certain rock strata. An evolutionist on the team says, “Ah! This dinosaur is from the beginning of the Triassic period! That means this dinosaur is about 858 million years old!”

“How do you know?” you ask.

“Oh that’s easy, you can tell from the rock layers. You date the fossil by the surrounding strata.”

You turn to a creationist who is also part of the team and ask him for a second opinion.

“I’d say this dinosaur is less than 4,500 old and was probably buried during or shortly after the flood of Noah’s day.”

You scratch your head. “How can your assessment be so contrary to your evolutionary colleague?”

“Well, he is using General Revelation, and interpreting it through his worldview, which excludes Special Revelation, but I am using a mix of both observable facts and the recorded history of Someone who was around in the beginning. Namely…God.”…

So you can see that the “facts” do not always speak for themselves. Our presuppositions affect the way we perceive and interpret reality.

I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing at all of that. (A creationist part of a paleontological dig? Uh-huh.) Exactly how much absurdity can be packed into a single argument? Clearly a lot, if this is any indicator.

One tiny little detail that this dimwit Wayne is missing is that of evidence. You see, scientists don’t just find stuff in the dirt and pronounce it to be one thing or another by fiat. There are any number of ways a paleontologist would know how to identify a dinosaur bone he’s dug up, and all of them involve recourse to bodies of evidence available to the scientific community at large, gathered and collated and verified over a process of study spanning years and years.

How does a scientist know the age of the rock strata in which he’s digging? Wayne, being an idiot, thinks it’s just a wild guess the scientist pulls out of his ass, filtered through his “presuppositions” and “worldview,” whereas in reality, that strata has been subjected to a number of reliable dating techniques. (Not to mention there is a complex, advanced field of science called geology dedicated to such study.) There are probably other samples of fossils of the species unearthed already on record, too, which have been tested and dated and fit into their appropriate position in history through such advanced disciplines as cladistics, taxonomy, etc. In other words, in science, “worldview” is irrelevant and filtering your findings through whatever “presuppositions” you might have is already known to be an improper way to go about determining your findings, and is in fact why there is the whole process of peer review in the first place.

In short, science recognizes — better than this fool Wayne, to be sure — that people are prone to inaccurate, prejudiced thinking, and has self-correcting methods in place to guard against such thinking producing untrustworthy results. And these self-correcting methods are, sadly for the creationists, what keeps their pseudoscience out of the club, by catching out people who think that the purpose of science is to validate their “presuppositions” and “worldviews” in the first place.

What does the creationist have in place to ensure that he’s not off-base in his babblings about floods, a young Earth, and his god? None. (Which is why you don’t tend to see those people wasting everyone’s time out on legitimate digs either. For one thing, they wouldn’t have passed muster scientifically to qualify for such a team in the first place.) All he has are his bizarre, invented concepts like “General Revelation” and “Special Revelation,” which Wayne capitalizes as if they were actual terms referring to something real. The evolutionist in the above story could easily trounce the overconfident babbling of his creationist “colleague” simply by sending the fossil sample back to the lab to see what the evidence actually showed.

When talking about the conflict between science and faith, fundies like Wayne always leave out little details like evidence, independent confirmation of facts, concepts like falsifiability — in other words, all the proper methods of determining facts that science actually does employ. And they leave those things out because religious pseudosciences like creationism do not have those methods at their own disposal. Or, when they do employ them, the findings tend not to jibe with their precious “presuppositions.” Creos can whine all they like, but when the findings come back from the nuclear dating labs, the results of that fossil will, in fact, be 251-199 million years (the actual date of the Triassic period, not 858 million, as Wayne could easily have found out if he’d devoted two seconds to Googling the topic — or maybe such a basic fact-checking process was beyond the limits of Wayne’s reason) and not 4,500.

Time and again, Christians who want to stamp out evolutionary biology education through bogus “academic freedom” bills and what have you always come from the same false premise: that there’s no such thing as a fact, that everything is all just “worldviews” and “beliefs” and “opinions.” It’s postmodernism in a nutshell. They ignore entirely the voluminous body of work that actually exists, either out of sheer pig-ignorance or defiant contempt, and then they wonder why science is so willing to lend its support to the evolutionary “worldview” and not their invisible-magic-man-in-the-sky one. That the former is backed up by mountains of independently verifiable evidence and the latter is only backed up by an ancient holy book, lunatic conspiracy theories and petulant hand-waving is hard to get through their skulls.

Sure, facts in science are provisional, always subject to disconfirmation should compelling new evidence arise. But that is far, far different from Wayne’s asinine misrepresentation of the whole process as being one of “everyone just makes stuff up based on their worldview.” That may certainly be how religious pseudoscience does its busin
ess; it is the polar opposite of how real science goes about its own.

Can Wayne get sillier? What do you think?

Because an unconverted man has a rebellious heart, he choses to reject the clear Revelation of God. Autonomous man has listened to the voice of the serpent and cut himself off from the only certain source of truth. In our apologetic method, we must remember that we will not be able to “reason” someone into the Kingdom of God. The problem isn’t that they don’t have adequate information or reasoning capabilities, but rather they have “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).

I believe in the military this is what is known as a “target rich environment.” One hardly knows where to begin.

Let’s just settle for cutting to the chase, which is that Wayne all but admits that Christian faith is an irrational process. Truth is redefined, not as that which one can confirm and verify through the scientific method, but simply as that which comes from God. A believer cannot use reason to persuade the unbeliever because reason is, in fact, a hindrance to understanding truth and not the proper method to use in its pursuit. God, we are told, gives us reason (why, since it’s so useless, he would bother is not explained, but then logical consistency is not these people’s strong suit), but ultimately the only way to know the capital-T Truth is through emotions, by cutting through to the “rebellious heart” of the unconverted man.

Well, I can only say that, if surrendering my rational mind in favor of being stupid on purpose is the only way for me to appreciate the “Truth” of Christianity’s God, then I can only wonder what possible value this “Truth” can have, given that only irrationalism will reveal it. And why would this God give us minds if, in Ben Franklin’s hilarious phrasing, he wished us to forego their use? What kind of idiotic God would bestow reason upon his creations, only to require that we dispense with it utterly in order to know the great “Truth” of his existence and our salvation? What value can such salvation have, if you have to be a moron first to receive it? Why would I want to spend eternity in Heaven surrounded by a bunch of remedial clods?

Israel Wayne has essentially handed science and atheism the whole debate here. By admitting to the open irrationalism of his religion, by freely testifying that you have to disdain reason itself, to refuse to demand evidence for claims, simply to not think at all in order to receive this “Special Revelation” into your “rebellious heart,” then he’s basically conceded his whole religion is pure emotionalism and wishful thinking, stupid from the ground up and stupid from the roof down on the other side. And if I have a “rebellious heart” towards anything, it isn’t Israel Wayne’s imaginary sky-friend. It’s the stupidity I’m told I must embrace to believe in it.

The ICR gets even more sleazy and desperate

Following in the morally bankrupt footsteps of Ben Stein and Expelled, the ICR is responding to its snub by the state with a PR campaign designed (and not intelligently) to paint themselves as heroic champions and martyrs to “free inquiry” whose work is being “stifled” by a hostile scientific mainstream. Those of you who opened the Austin paper today to page A16 were probably aghast to see the full-page, four-color ad they bought pushing this very fantasy.

This is how far creationism has fallen. Having never produced any actual scientific research to support their position, thwarted time and again by courts and school boards to push their openly religious position in classrooms, they have run out of ways to rebrand creationism with terms like “intelligent design” to slip past the lemon test, and are now reduced simply to pounding their widdle fists on their high-chair tables and bleating “It’s not faaaair!”

Their bogus “academic freedom” bills in Florida got stalled and died in committee, their movie flopped, the courts are eating their lunch, newspaper and media editorials are ridiculing them mercilessly. (Even arch-conservative John Darbyshire, a man so despicable he mocked the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting for not being brave enough to rush the shooter while he was spraying them with lead, derided Expelled and the whole ID movement as “shifty” and “morally corrupted…irredeemably.”) What are poor creationists to do? Well, certainly not science. That’s a hell of a lot more work than just placing newspaper ads. And besides, if you actually did scientific research, there’s that distressing risk your results would not back up your “doctrinal statement” you force your members to sign, that “All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week described in Genesis 1:1-2:3, and confirmed in Exodus 20:8-11. The creation record is factual, historical and perspicuous; thus all theories of origins or development which involve evolution in any form are false.” Yes, I know the ICR claims to do actual scientific research. But curiously, they do not submit this work to peer-reviewed scientific journals. All the better to sell their conspiracy theory and martyr fantasies, of course. But as Texas Citizens for Science points out:

Real scientists use the scientific method and possess the scientific attitude, which means that they work within a framework of methodological naturalism no matter what their religious beliefs may be. About 40% of real scientists believe in a supernatural, personal deity, but they don’t conduct their scientific inquiries within a framework of supernaturalism as do the ICR Creation “scientists.” ICR claims that its staff members keep their Biblical beliefs separate from their scientific beliefs, but that’s nonsense. All of their classes and literature are Bible-based and stress their Literalist doctrine of Young Earth Creationism. Real scientists propose hypotheses that can be tested using empirical and logical methods — that’s the basis of methodological naturalism — and Creationism by a supernatural Deity ultimately cannot be tested in this fashion. Of course, many proximate claims of the Creationists can be tested, such as the 10,000 years age of the Earth, a universal global flood, the lack of transitional fossils, macroevolution does not occur, etc. Fortunately for us, these claims have all been tested and they have all failed, since the claims were all based on specious reasoning and misinterpreted evidence, which has been amply documented in the anti-Creationist literature.

So the ship of fools sails on, low in the water, undaunted by the fact it’s been hulled beneath the waterline and the pumps are failing. My letter to the Statesman has been sent, and I sure hope it pisses off some ICRbot if it appears. I suppose one could admire the tenacity of creationists like them, were it not for the fact it’s the same tenacity of, say, some kook who’s taken to stalking a woman. There’s a time to get the message, and to realize no means no, and you’ve been out of the running for a long long time. Creationism is well past that point, and I think they’re going to find further efforts at pursuing their pseudoscience and pseudomartyrdom received by even more disdain and ridicule than they’re already getting.

Talking to a victim of Expelled

Some of our Christian commenters are just idiots or mean-spirited trolls, but occasionally we get someone who’s sincere and easily duped by the lies spewed by Ben Stein’s little movie. One of these, a young woman (I assume) calling herself Verity, has commented here, and my comment, straightening out a number of the falsehoods and misconceptions she holds as a result of taking Stein at his word, follows right away.

While I have no sympathy for the fundie fanatics of the world, for the people who concoct the lies Expelled is selling to begin with, I do have sympathy for the victims of their deception, and how their view of the world is thus impoverished by trusting in ignorant ideologues like Stein, rather than in reality. Go have a look see, and comment yourself if you see any details I might have missed.

Meanwhile, the weekend estimate for Expelled is shaping up to place the movie at 9th overall, with earnings of around $3,153,000. Its per-screen average of $2,997 means that it was getting about 111 viewers a day on each of its 1,052 screens. Of course, distribution will not be even, so that means some showings each day were nearly empty while others would have been fuller. But mostly this means that Expelled had a thoroughly average opening weekend, actually a bit above average due to its being a propaganda film “documentary.” But a far cry, I’d have to say, from the projected $12-15 million that Mark Mathis said was the opening he’d consider “successful.” I suspect that on Monday, however, he’ll have downgraded his expectations accordingly and be raving about what a blowout success the movie was.

Mostly, though, I think we can consider Expelled pretty much a blip on the “culture war” radar at this point. Hopefully now that they’re done being vilified as Nazis, all of America’s hard-working and underpaid scientists can get back to work now. You’ve earned it, gang.