Nov 29 2012

Hammy gets it wrong, again

Ken Ham is mad at Bill Nye again, because in the wake of the Rubio nonsense, Nye went on the air to explain why the earth is actually 4½ billion years old. Here’s the clip:

Now here’s where Ken Ham wigs out.

Well, children’s TV host Bill Nye’s understanding of science is worse than I thought. A few days ago, Bill Nye was interviewed on CNN about the age of the earth (this topic was a hot one in America because of headline news after Sen. Marco Rubio was asked a question about what he believed concerning the age of the earth).

Bill Nye in this CNN interview actually equated the age of the earth to the invention of smoke detectors. Hard to believe—but he did!

No, Ham really didn’t understand anything Bill Nye said, and it’s richly ironic to see Ham claiming someone else has a worse understanding of science.

Ionizing smoke detectors use a tiny amount of radiactive material to generate charged ions by their decay; these ions are released into the space in a capacitor, and their movement generates a constant trickle of current. If smoke particles enter the detector, they bind to the ions and block the current; that easily measured decline in current is what triggers the alarm in the detector.

This is a very simple system that depends entirely on our quantitative understanding of radioactivity. If radioactivity didn’t work like we thought it did, your smoke detector would not be very reliable, and for that matter, no one would have thought of using this function to work as a smoke detector.

Bill Nye did not equate the age of the earth to smoke detectors. He used smoke detectors as an example of how scientists have a very thorough understanding of radioactive decay. What he did use as an indicator of the age of the earth was a very brief summary of how rubidium decays into strontium with a half-life of about 48 billion years, allowing us to estimate the age of a sample by measuring the relative amounts of the two elements.

Ham then goes on his usual ignorant tangent of observational vs. historical science (ignore it, it’s rank inanity and I’ve dealt with it before) and challenges Nye to explain the very fact he explained in the video: I’ve highlighted a particularly relevant bit.

I once again challenge Bill Nye to give us one example of how evolution has anything to do with the development of technology and to explain how smoke detectors have anything to do with the age of the earth—when a detector is actually the result of intelligent observational science and the accumulated information about the properties of matter that enabled inventors to build such technology.

Yes, exactly. We have accumulated information about the properties of matter that allow us to build smoke detectors, and that same information rules out the possibility that the earth is 6000 years old. The information contradicts Ham’s claims. But what Ken Ham wants to be able to do is throw out the scientific information that makes his biblical exegesis into nonsense, and keep the bits that allow smoke detectors to work.

You don’t get to do that.

But the smoke detector discussion wasn’t about evolution, anyway. It was about a measurable physical property of the universe, its age, which Ham denies. I wish these guys could get it straight: evolution is about biology, and describes processes in living creatures that occurred on this one planet; physics is describing more general physical properties that are not specific to biology.

Ham is screeching about a debate between Nye and one of his clueless staff people. I do not recommend that Bill Nye take him up on it — as we can see, the Answers in Genesis folk don’t understand anything, don’t pay attention to what other people say, and don’t learn anything, so a debate would just be an opportunity for a creationist to preach from a podium with a credible and credentialed real science educator right next to them. Not a good idea.


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  1. 1
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    so a debate would just be an opportunity for a creationist to preach from a podium with a credible and credentialed real science educator right next to them. Not a good idea.

    Which is why they should publically be given submission information for journals like Science and Nature, and told to submit their papers to the scientific community, where the proper debated with references can take place. Extra points for clucking sounds when they try to explain why they won’t do that…

  2. 2

    I hope Bill Nye realizes that Ham et al aren’t worth the air they breathe.

  3. 3

    Geez, that was almost an “own goal” by AiG, wasn’t it?

  4. 4
    Jeremy Shaffer

    I wish these guys could get it straight: evolution is about biology, and describes processes in living creatures that occurred on this one planet; physics is describing more general physical properties that are not specific to biology.

    In the same way that “abortion” is used as a catch- all word for abortion, contraception and anything else regarding sex or sexuality (especially involving women) that conservatives do not like, “evolution” is a catch- all term used for science regardless of whether the topic in any way applies to evolutionary theory and biology or not. However, “climate change” is also being used that way.

  5. 5

    Problem is that astronomers really do talk about the evolution of stars and the universe, thus sowing confusion for ignoramuses like Ham.

  6. 6
    chigau (違う)

    Smoke detectors are radioactive???

  7. 7
    Glen Davidson

    I once again challenge Bill Nye to give us one example of how evolution has anything to do with the development of technology

    Well that’s easy, GAs. Evolution, if speeded up much faster than the usual, can give us solutions that our intelligence would have difficulty doing.

    Oh, and ask how well Lysenkoism worked in the Soviet Union, vs. Mendelianism plus scientific evolution elsewhere. Evolution isn’t big on directly pushing science forward, in fact, any more than Big Bang theory is, but it’s part of the whole of science, of our understanding of organisms’ relationships and how they got here–and plays a role in dealing with most biological issues.

    Say, moron Ham, how much do the scientific “assumptions” and techniques that gave us evolutionary theory have to do with the development of technology? A hell of a lot. What do Ham’s lies have to do with it? Impedance of same to an extent, nothing positive.

    We don’t teach evolution just because it tells us about biology, we do it in part to teach science as a highly useful tool. Teaching magic instead takes a considerable bite into teaching honest science.

    Glen Davidson

  8. 8

    I’d like to watch Ham’s idiots get shown to be the idiots they are by Bill. However it’s not worth bothering with willful liars.

  9. 9

    BTW: I think Nye’s response to a debate challenge with AiG should invoke pigeons and chess.

    Why waste brain cells on an appropriate response when it’s already been created.

  10. 10

    Let’s give Ham credit for understanding that science is a whole, and many aspects of it contradict his AIG nonsense. He is well aware that “age of the earth” issues are related to evolution issues, as evolution usually takes lots of time (to single out only one aspect of the relation).

    To rephrase this, it is a fact that everything is “deeply intertwingled”, that no part of science exists in a disconnected vacuum. Ham therefore quite reasonably attacks all parts of science that are connected to any contradiction of his holey book and the parts connected to those parts, and so on ad infinitum, until he ends up rejecting all of science.

    He also rejects all facts that make clear that his scared text is purely the product of human minds and hands.

    His alternate strategy would be – and probably is – to obscure these interconnections when- and wherever possible, so fundies who take antibiotics remain blissfully unaware that antibiotics are a product of evul satanic biological research.

    AIG, a branch of Disinformation Inc.

  11. 11
    David Wilford

    Glad to hear Bill Nye stepped pointing out how we do know the age of the Earth, in contrast to Rubio’s professed ignorance on the subject. This morning on Minnesota Public Radio there was an interview of Nicholas Wade from the NY Times and I wasn’t happy to hear Wade’s concern about offending fundamentalist feelings. Yes, there’s a theory of evolution but evolution is just as much a fact as the Earth being ~13 billion years old is. Pandering to religious sentiment in the classroom by teaching that evolution is just a “theory” only helps perpetuate foolishness.

  12. 12
    Glen Davidson

    This is a very simple system that depends entirely on our quantitative understanding of radioactivity. If radioactivity didn’t work like we thought it did, your smoke detector would not be very reliable, and for that matter, no one would have thought of using this function to work as a smoke detector.

    I don’t know, the whole smoke detector matter seems a bit oblique to the issue of radiometric dating. Of course we actually do understand radioactivity quite well, and that facilitates the making of Americium (243 is it?), but smoke detectors don’t have to rely on decay remaining constant for billions of years.

    That radiometric dating helps us to find petroleum (usually by correlation with relative dating, but sometimes it can be used directly) and various mineral resources is quite important to our economy. Evolution explains relative dating (however, it was partly developed before evolutionary theory–no one knew why God wouldn’t create the same species again, however, while evolution rules it out probabilistically), which is used for finding oil and other resources found in sedimentary rocks.

    It’s not so much that I think he’s wrong about smoke detectors, it’s just that it’s rather complicated and not as directly important as he seems to suggest. Nye was substantially wrong, however, in stating that Jones said that creationism is breathtaking inanity. This is what he wrote:

    “The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.”

    Jones is often misused in this way. True, his “breathtaking inanity” remark might in some way reflect the idiocy of creationism, but he wasn’t clearly saying any such thing at all. One might interpret Jones’ other remarks as basically indicating that creationism is exactly breathtaking inanity, yet for many reasons (including the issue of making prejudicial remarks against creationistic religions) he would almost certainly never use those words about the doctrine of creationism itself.

    Glen Davidson

  13. 13

    Um, Ken? They did the observational stuff. That’s what the words “They watched it for fifteen years in a lab” mean. And, those smoke detectors, they are mechanical devices that observe for smoke, and they are working all the time.

  14. 14

    Yeah well Nye may have been coherent in this particular instance but as far as I can tell he’s a doofus. During the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, I switched on CNN an update on the situation. Don Lemon was interviewing a doofus in a bow tie. Don said, “And here’s Bill Nye, who you probably know as a science guy.” Then he asked the doofus to explain what a meltdown means.

    The science guy said — I can’t quote exactly but the substance is guaranteed 100% accurate — that uranium is really heavy, it’s the heaviest naturally occurring element. When you get U-235 in a certain configuration (really, that’s as specific as he got) it gets really hot. So it’s really heavy and therefore when it melts it goes down. That was the answer of the science guy.

    Now, I’m not the official science guy, but I know this is totally wrong. A reactor core meltdown is not caused by the uranium. Uranium — no matter how highly enriched with U-235 — is only very slightly radioactive. You could actually carry a piece of it around in your pocket and it would be minimally dangerous. It doesn’t get hot. It gets hot in a working nuclear reactor because of a chain reaction, which shuts down when the coolant is lost. The heat that causes a meltdown is generated by other radioactive isotopes which contaminate the fuel as a byproduct of fission.

    So the Science Guy, at least in this case, didn’t have the slightest idea what he was talking about. Sorry but that’s just how it is.

  15. 15

    Smoke detectors are radioactive???

    The ionizing ones do emit weak gamma rays from the decay of Americium 241, but IIRC a couple meters of air between you and the detector is enough to shield you.

  16. 16
    TerranRich, Yet Another Atheist

    If you dumb science down, creationists will easily construct straw-men and misunderstand what it is that’s being said. If you stick with detailed terminology, you lose the creationists and they’ll just make shit up as they go.

    You can’t win with them. :-\

  17. 17

    My Uncle, Mark Gordon Inghram III, was one of three scientists to establish the age of the Earth – roughly 4.5 Billion years old.

    He was a kind and gentle man (and a brilliant one), with unquestionable integrity.

    So, that (and my college education) is why I know anybody disbelieving this fact is, at best, under-educated – at worst, someone without integrity (the opposite of my Uncle).

    Just VERY proud of my Uncle.

    ps He discovered a number of radioactive isotopes, and during those events, often did a victory dance. More at http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/03/031002.inghram.shtml

  18. 18

    @davidwilford @11:

    Watch it.

    The _universe_ is 13.7 billion years old. That’s the number you get from running the expansion of the universe backwards until you hit a point, and also the current apparent distance to the cosmic microwave background. And it is a bit older than the oldest stars, which is a nice consistent story.

    The _Earth_ is only 4.54 billion years old (the oldest solid grains in the solar system are from about 4.567 billion years ago, but it took a few tens of millions of years to put the planets together). We know that from several different radioisotope series.

  19. 19
    Ben P

    Smoke detectors are radioactive???

    Just don't take it apart and eat it….you know, in case you were planning to do that in the first place.

    I probably wouldn't also use one as a pillow, but you'd probably be fine there too.

    As a kid I had a small glass bottle with radium powder (from what I understand, what they used to use to make Radium paint) in it that glowed faintly green. Kept it on my dresser for years.

  20. 20


    Citation please. Having personally talked with Nye on several occasions, I know he knows better than what you described. Nye does tend to greatly simplify things in his public presentations, which is a hazard of all popular science. But he is very good at engaging his audience.

    Note that from your description, Nye did accurately explain why a meltdown goes _downwards_. Uranium is very dense. If the fuel melts, it will flow downwards as compared to any other fluids that may be around.


    Your description of what causes a meltdown isn’t quite right. A nuclear meltdown is any malfunction that causes part of the core of a nuclear reactor to go above its melting point. Loss of coolant is certainly one of those things, but the loss of coolant doesn’t stop the chain reaction. Not cooling the reactor increases the temperature, which in older fuels _increases_ the reaction rate. Better designs have zirconium mixed in with the fuel, which absorbs higher-temperature neutrons more efficiently and prevents that reaction rate from going too high.

    You are probably confusing the coolant with the moderator. A neutron moderator decreases the energy of the neutrons emitted by the uranium in the reactor, making them easier to be captured by other uranium nuclei and keep the reaction going. In may reactors, both the moderator and the coolant are regular water. But the two reservoirs are kept isolated from one another, since the moderator tends to accumulate lots of secondary radioactivity.

    Also, don’t go carrying around large chunks of U-235-enriched uranium. Depleted uranium makes a nice paperweight, but a large enough mass of enriched uranium will get noticeably hot and dangerously radioactive even without an effective neutron moderator around it. Granted, such a chunk of uranium would not be something you could pick up with your hands, since it would mass more than 50 kilos.

  21. 21

    Regarding debates with creationists. Dawkins said it best when he stated that it would look really good on your CV but not very good on mine.

    Regarding science contradicting Ham’s Bible. You don’t need science to contradict it, it contradicts itself. Right off the bat it is absurd nonsense. Take Cain, he gets a mark on his forehead to tell anyone that he encounters not to kill him. There is only him and his mum and dad on the planet at this particular moment. He is condemned by God to be a vagrant and wander the earth forever, a punishment that he says is more than he can bear. His way of dealing with this unbearable punishment is to simply ignore it, he settles down with a nice wife in the land of Nod. Yes despite the fact that there are only three people on the whole effing planet, two of whom are Cain’s parents, he somehow manages to find a wife.

    This kind of incoherent drivel is there throughout the whole book, The story of the plagues of Egypt has the whole of the Egyptian’s livestock being killed off twice, the plague upon the first born extends to the twice dead livestock. When the Hebrew slaves finally do a runner, the Egyptian army go after them with chariots. What did they use to pull the chariots, husky dogs?

    I have long thought that Christians should be encouraged to take up the challenge to read the whole Bible from cover to cover. Come on you Christians, where’s the harm?

  22. 22
    David Wilford

    @michaelbusch @18:

    Thanks for catching my error, and for contributing the additional information on the ages of both the universe and Earth.

  23. 23

    Chigau @6 – and bananas. And you.
    Related : rr @15 – a couple of centimeters will do; its an alpha emitter.

    Glen @12 – Nye is substantially right. If radioactivity as a phenomena was not well understood, we would not build life-saving devices that used it as an operating principle. In this respect, the specific isotope in a smoke detector doesn’t matter; what matters is that we understand the phenomena well enough that we trust our lives to our understanding of it.

  24. 24

    @21- the bit about Cain and his parents being the only people around isn’t quite right (or, at least, it depends on how you interpret the translation). Adam and Eve weren’t the first humans (people), they were the first Hebrews (people who mattered). So when A&E’s kids went out, they could find that “the daughters of men were fair”, and worth picking up as wives.

    Of course, Hammy and the literalists will never admit that this is a fair interpretation, any more than they would admit that Yahweh is speaking to his fellow gods in Genesis.

  25. 25

    Smoke detectors are radioactive???

    They used to contain radioactive materials. Smoke detectors that are sold today most likely do not. Today most smoke detectors use the fact that smoke scatters light.

    They contain a light source and a photodiode which are set up in such a way that under normal circumstances no light can reach the photodiode. If smoke enters the housing the light is scattered and the photodioade detects the light which triggers the alarm.

  26. 26

    If Foster’s is Australian for beer, Ken Ham is Australian for irreversible brain damage.

  27. 27
    TerranRich, Yet Another Atheist

    @NitricAcid #24: Where did you get that interpretation from? I’ve read Genesis many times and not once did I get the impression that Yahweh was talking to other gods, nor is it mentioned anywhere (until it’s “too late”) that there are humans other than Adam and Eve.

  28. 28

    @TerranRich @27:

    Traces of the older pre-Judaic polytheism do show up in the Genesis narrative. e.g. “Let _us_ make man in _our_ own image”, “the man has become like one of _us_, knowing good from evil…”, and the various angels that show up.

    A lot of the mythologies from the Ancient Middle East have the theme of an assembly of gods, one of which is dominate over the others. In early Judaism, the lesser gods got demoted to angels, leaving Yahweh as the sole focus.

  29. 29
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Today most smoke detectors use the fact that smoke scatters light.

    Higher end smoke detectors like I use at home contain both, as the two detectors each react to different types of fires better, giving one a faster response to all types of fires.

  30. 30
    TerranRich, Yet Another Atheist

    Thank you for that information, michaelbusch. Always good to learn something new. :)

  31. 31

    I’m not a biblical scholar myself, but I have read that “the gods” created Heaven and Earth (using the plural form), and God frequently speaks of “we” and “us”; either God uses the “royal we”, or there are other gods.

    It’s discussed at sites like: http://www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/henotheism.htm

    I read a much better explanation once, but of course I can’t find it now.

  32. 32
    TerranRich, Yet Another Atheist

    Thank you for the link, NitricAcid!

  33. 33

    Bill Deny, the Creation Science Guy
    One of my favorite characters

  34. 34

    The more interesting link:


  35. 35

    So, does Ken Ham think that smoke detectors only work if you watch them?


  36. 36
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re 27:

    I myself caught Nitric’s reference years ago, when I noticed the reference to “sons of god finding the daughters of men most attractive”. I have since wondered about the distinction. Does that mean Genesis is just an allegory of how someone (of all who existed at the time) invented the concept of “good and evil”, and that is what they now attribute to YHWH?

    The whole point though is that the Bible is inconsistent (not just contradictory).

  37. 37

    @27: I’ve heard that from apologists as well. It’s irrational bullshit of course, but a pretty common line of “reasoning,” to misuse a word so egregiously as for me to be embarrassed on behalf of the word.

    The story goes Adam and Eve were the first to be imbued with “souls”. Never mind that this line of “reasoning” means that every other humanoid was deficient in the knowledge of good and evil.

    Cain married someone in the land of Nod, and a whole lotta soul-infusing started. He was apparently a busy, busy man.

    I’ve never seen the argument used in this manner, but it would also explain why the AiG folks claim that all the animals in the Garden of Eden were vegetarians, and now the lions and tigers and black widow spiders eat other animals. Eden was a separate place — a godly petting zoo, if you will. Those animals were tame. Once A&E were kicked out of the petting zoo, the other animals outside the garden had different culinary preferences.

    (BTW: I’d love for that last little bit of nonsense come back around and find its way to reported by AiG, since I just made it up out of whole cloth. Mythmaking at its finest.)

  38. 38

    Well, Kevin, they’re myths. You can try to make sense out of them any way you like.

  39. 39
    Rich Woods

    @Kevin #37:

    (BTW: I’d love for that last little bit of nonsense come back around and find its way to reported by AiG, since I just made it up out of whole cloth. Mythmaking at its finest.)

    You evil, evil atheist!

    I’ll bet a pint on it taking less than six months.

  40. 40

    God also had a wife, Asherah.

    She got written out of the later editions but is still mentioned 16 times in the OT, mostly unfavorably.

    The OT and xian god isn’t very powerful. A bunch of iron age sheepherders managed to take his wife away!!!

  41. 41
    Arawhon, a Strawberry Margarita

    There is a really good book that talks about the pre-judiac pantheon and how it eventually became just Yahweh. Its Evolution of God by Robert Wright. Unfortunately the book is marred by a horrible argument for a Logos that is making civilization become more just and awesome. Also he apparently doesn’t like atheists very much either.

    Now back to lurking.

  42. 42

    What is with CNN? At the start of the piece they were showing pictures of galaxies and other space pictures. BUt by the end of the piece they were showing people walking into water, floating on water, riding jet skis. Other than the fact that the pictures were taken on Earth, what did they (directly) have to do with the age of the earth? And did they need to make those pictures bigger than the people who were talking? Someone in the control room knows how to do the graphics work, but not WHY it should be done.

  43. 43

    Bill Nye did get one thing wrong; he said “There are elements that were created in exploding stars, and especially the Big Bang…”. The only elements to come directly from the Big Bang were Hydrogen, Helium and Lithium, and then not for thousands of years later when the Universe had cooled sufficiently.

  44. 44
    Leo Buzalsky

    But the smoke detector discussion wasn’t about evolution, anyway.

    Well, in a slight defense of Ham (damn you, PZ!)… Nye did bring up the Dover Trial, which had no connection to the discussion of the age of the earth. It did, however, have to do with the discussion of public funding of religious instruction that the discussion had previously transition to…but do you really expect Ham to be able to recognize that the topic had changed? When he couldn’t even figure out what Nye was explaining with the smoke detectors? Not a chance!

  45. 45

    In my journey to a scientific worldview, I found the debates between scientists and creationists very helpful. I recall watching one where PZ simply pointed out that his opponent (forget who it was), didn’t really have a theory. “God did it” was not a theory of any utility. The funny part was his opponent pretty much admitted as much. I am certain that it is frustrating for the debaters to deal with the rhetorical tricks of the opposition, but I think PZ needs to have more confidence that the audience will sort it out.

  46. 46

    @bassmanpete @43:

    Not quite. Big Bang Nucleosynthesis was complete by ~20 minutes after the start of the universe. In addition to the hydrogen, deuterium, helium-3 and -4, and traces of lithium, there was a little beryllium. The jury is still out on if there was any measurable primordial boron.

    But you’re correct that Nye was simplifying. I do not know of any other way to go when giving popular interviews.

  47. 47

    Back to Rubio. I hadn’t put this together before. He claims to be a devout catholic, and he says that everyone should learn what their faith teaches them.

    Well … either he’s so devout that his praying time has eaten into his reading time, so he’s missed all the statements from at least the current and previous popes about science and faith,

    or he’s not much of a catholic at all and he just recites the vaguely religious guff that passes for science criticism in his political party.

  48. 48

    Ha, both stoneyground (21) and NitricAcid(24) have it wrong. At least according to Hank Hanegraaff. A&E lived for a looooong time and had so many children that Cain married his sister or niece or aunt (wait, where did the aunt come from?). Don’t worry about the incest because god didn’t condemn that until much later. Also, don’t worry about procreating with a relative either because genetic defects only accumulate over tine……a&e’s family was brand spanky new and pure. Sheesh, these apologists can make up an answer for anything. I listen to hh on my commute and by the time I get home I am spitting mad at his lying and his shameless, desperate begging for money. I wonder, do these guys “know in their hearts” how desperate they sound? A few months ago, hh was also very angry with Bill Nye, but I forget right now what it was over.

  49. 49

    Every time I hear the Ham claim of “Were you there,” I respond with, “No, were you?” They, of course, will say they weren’t, either. “Oh, so why do you think your opinion of what happened is any better than mine?” They’ll respond with the Bible and god’s word. “But were you there when the Bible was written?” They’ll say no, of course, but then they’ll say that the Bible was an accurate recording and all we have to do is read it to find out what happened.

    Great. I point out that I have the same situation: I wasn’t there, but the rocks and bones and fossils were and are an accurate recording so all we have to do is read them to find out what happened.

    Of course, that never works, but I always wonder why nobody else points that out: I wasn’t there. The fossils were. Why don’t we listen to what the fossils have to say?

  50. 50

    Eyeroll- that’s what you get when you listen to someone who is trying to interpret it as a factual, literal account, rather than a set of interesting myths.

  51. 51


    In genesis 1, God creates plants and livestock, fish and birds; all plural. Then, as an extension, he creates mankind, separated into male and female. Read chapter 1 alone and there’s no indication whatsoever that he only created two people. It’s quite clearly implied that he creates many, just like when he created the animals.
    It’s only in chapter 2 that we get the story of Adam and Eve, the only two people. It’s noteworthy that the chapter 2 story also has the reverse order of creation; first Adam, then the animals.

    Creationists talk a lot of crap trying to reconcile these discrepancies, but the simple fact is that this occurs because two separate creation accounts were written together. They read back into chapter 1 that only two people were created, but it doesn’t actually say that. That’s simply a harmonization.

    As for Yahweh talking to other gods, it’s right there:

    Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image… in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

    First there’s the “us”, second there’s the fact that they were created in god’s image as “male and female”, implying at least a divine consort. Given that we know of such a consort in earlier mythologies, I think that’s exactly what tit means.
    Again, creationists can explain it away, but it requires them to ignore what the book actually, plainly says.

  52. 52

    @ rrhain @49:

    The “were you there” line gets even more outrageous when applied to the age of the universe rather than the age of the Earth.

    We can _see_ parts of the universe from 13.7 years ago. We can see the Hubble flow. We can see the CMB. We just stand here and look back in time.

    All of astronomy is eyewitness testimony. We have good eyes.

  53. 53

    rrhain @49:

    The “were you there” business really comes back to religions being a matter of authority. Somebody told them, so it must be true—kinda like drunks in a pub.

  54. 54
    F [is for failure to emerge]


    The problem is people who don’t understand words. “Evolution” was not coined for biology. It’s a different concept from stellar evolution, or people’s views evolving, or the evolution of hydrogen gas from metals reacting with acids, or a story evolving. Ex volvere. Or ex vulva. Something along those lines.

  55. 55

    reply to

    chigau (無)

    Smoke detectors are radioactive???

    Don’t worry about it, so are you. :-)

  56. 56

    We can _see_ parts of the universe from 13.7 years ago.

    I would certainly hope so.


  57. 57

    Of course, that never works, but I always wonder why nobody else points that out: I wasn’t there. The fossils were. Why don’t we listen to what the fossils have to say?

    At that point begins the waffling over interpreting the fossils. Radiometric dating is always flawed – horribly, horribly flawed. Some scientists fell for hoaxes therefore they’ll all cling to anything they can use to attack the Bible (except, of course, the shining pillars of integrity: the “creation scientists”). Here’s a quotes from a famous scientist that supports my argument, just don’t check the context. Here’s a list of scientists that agree with a young earth (who cares about their field or credentials?). The field is full of atheists who will silence and persecute anyone that disagrees with their conclusions. Oh, and the Bible. Also, Richard Dawkins is afraid is debate the CreobotCrank5000.

    Therefore the only reasonable interpretation of the fossils is that they are proof of a global flood due to rapid deposit on a 6000 year old earth!

    /bows gracefully

  58. 58
    We can _see_ parts of the universe from 13.7 years ago.

    I would certainly hope so.

    Hmm. That close, I think, the only visible things would be stars, as I don’t think any other visibly observable objects, like nebulae and such, are found so close.


    At 13.7 light years, there are only two brown dwarfs, discovered in infrared in 2011 and 2012.

    So, before 2011, we actually couldn’t see any parts of the universe from 13.7 years ago, as everything at that range was dark to us and thus unseeable!

  59. 59

    @myself @52:

    Ouch. Typos will be the death of me.

    But, yes, we can see parts from the universe from 13.7 years ago, 13.7 billion years ago, or any other time that you would care to name (although defining “ago” gets confusing for time differences less than ~0.05 s because of how slow humans think).


    The interstellar medium at 13.7 lightyears out has a density of about 0.3 hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter and shows up in spectroscopy of background stars. The particular structure that we’re inside of right now is called the Local Interstellar Cloud and is about 30 lightyears wide.

  60. 60

    The interstellar medium at 13.7 lightyears out has a density of about 0.3 hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter and shows up in spectroscopy of background stars. The particular structure that we’re inside of right now is called the Local Interstellar Cloud and is about 30 lightyears wide.

    So that means we have developed the ability to actually see a single hydrogen atom at a distance of 13.7 light years (and probably more)?

    Yeah, science is cool.

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    But what Ken Ham wants to be able to do is throw out the scientific information that makes his biblical exegesis into nonsense, and keep the bits that allow smoke detectors to work.

    You don’t get to do that.

    Isn’t that how he reads The Bile too, ignoring the parts he doesn’t like and interpreting the rest of it how he sees fit?

  62. 62

    Also, someone must tell Rubio the catholic position on creationsm and the origin of the Universe:

    The Catholic church acepts the Big Bang, after all theory of big bang was proposed by a catholic priest,Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître , a Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain. He was the first person to propose the theory of the expansion of the Universe.Lemaître also proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe, which he called his ‘hypothesis of the primeval atom’ (wikipedia)

    Or we have another catholic astronomer: Father George V. Coyne

    “Intelligent Design belittles God, Vatican director says”
    “He calls “mistaken” the belief that the Bible should be used “as a source of scientific knowledge,” which then serves to “unduly complicate the debate over evolution.”

    The movie religoulous has an interviuw with Father George V. Coyne , someone must show it to Rubio.

  63. 63

    a couple of centimeters will do; its an alpha emitter

    eric, in addition to alpha radiation Americium 241 also emits gamma rays at 14 and 60 keV. The alpha radiation is entirely contained within the ionization chamber inside the smoke detector. I can detect the gamma radiation with a Geiger counter placed against the case of the smoke detector, the intensity falls off very quickly as I move the counter away from the case.

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    @Amphiox @60:

    No. But we can see the absorption of background starlight by the quadrillions of hydrogen atoms per square centimeter along a path through the Local Interstellar Cloud, or through the adjacent G Cloud. Things get a bit confused at the boundary between the two, which is a few lightyears away in the direction of Alpha Centauri, because at that density the clouds can actually pass through each other.

    Science is indeed cool.

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    It drives me into a lather when Ham and his ilk go on about the dichotomy between truly genuine observational science and the obviously faudulant historical science. Either of these approaches results in perfectly valid science if they are done correctly. If done incorrectly what results is creationism and intellegent design which authenicate their claims by relying entirly on bad history derived from one of the most disreputable historical sources of all. Only these people whose minds have been clouded by religion can believe that scripture has anything to do with true science.

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    Debating Creationists: a fable

    A skunk once challenged a lion to a duel.
    The lion refused.
    The skunk asked “Are you afraid?”
    “Yes”, the lion admitted. “I cannot win such a duel, and you cannot lose. Even if you are slain, you will have had the honor of fighting a lion, while even if I kill you, everyone will know I’ve been with a skunk.”

  67. 67
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ NitricAcid #34

    Many thanks for the linky.

    Just want to point something that is almost raised in the article. Hera had three aspects relating to age (and in turn to the seasons): Nymph – Maiden – Crone. I can imagine YHWH might, in like manner, have gone: Boy god – mature god – “ancient of days”.

    @ SGBM

    Snake wants the double pape to read the above mentioned linky too. (Lots of Genesis, you will like.)

  68. 68


    I did give the citation — Don Lemon’s show, during the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

    The heavy weight of uranium has nothing to do with what causes a meltdown. Everything responds to the pull of gravity. If it’s hot enough to melt through whatever is underneath of it, it will go down, even if it’s very light.

    In a pressurized water reactor, the coolant is the moderator. So yes, the chain reaction shut down with loss of coolant. The meltdown was caused by fission products, not the uranium.

    I don’t personally carry uranium around, but it would be basically harmless to do so for a reasonably limited time.

    So there is absolutely nothing incorrect in what I wrote, and yes, Nye was a blithering idiot on that particular occasion. I retract nothing.

  69. 69


    Beg pardon. When I said “citation needed”, I was thinking of a link to a recording so that I could review what Nye said on that occasion. Having talked to Nye, I say that he does know better, but absent the recording I cannot say if he messed things up that particular time.

    But you were mistaken three times:

    1. Put oil on top of water. It floats because it is less dense. Put water on top of oil. It sinks because it is more dense. The same with liquid uranium. It sinks because it is very dense, and melts its way down. If it were less dense, it would rise to the top like oil on water or hot air inside a room. Note that this is _density_ rather than weight. Once the uranium has melted, it melts down because it is dense. If it were less dense than the coolant bath, it would melt _up_.

    2. As I said, you could carry around very large masses of U-238 without a problem, but an unshielded 50 kg spherical mass of U-235 would kill you. This has been tested repeatedly. For example: the Godiva device at Los Alamos in the early 1950s produced massive bursts of neutrons and gammas by briefly assembling such a mass and then pulling it apart. There was a near-accident when one of the researchers leaned too close to the assembled device and the water in his body moderated enough neutrons to put the device close to critical. So don’t make shotput out of U-235.

    3. Do not confuse pressurized water reactors with all reactors in service. And meltdowns are caused by a large number of things. The fission products are one possible source of excess energy release; a loss of coolant raising the temperature of the uranium is another. The latter is what happened at Chernobyl: as that design gets hotter, the fission rate of the uranium goes up unless the control rods are adjusted to absorb more neutrons. Better designs have reaction rates that drop at too-high temperatures; for example by Zircaloy cladding on the fuel rods.

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    Hehe, whenever I think of smoke detectors and the Americium-241 that allows them to function, I automatically think of David Hahn, the Eagle Scout who decided to use legally-obtainable radioactive materials, including americium from smoke detectors, to try to build a breeder reactor (yes, that’s right, a nuclear reactor that produces plutonium) in his garden shed.

    Ultimately, he used radium scavenged from old clocks with glow-in-the-dark radium hands and numbers, plus the americium from smoke detectors, as his principal alpha emitters. He got a friend to swipe some beryllium from his chemistry lab, which, when bombarded with alpha particles releases thermal neutrons. He bundled the whole package up in aluminum foil, smeared it with a wax containing tritium (obtained from glow-in-the-dark gun sights, which he used to slow his neutrons) and placed it inside a “reactor” consisting of thorium-232 he obtained from gas lamp mantles (which he purified -with lithium he obtained from batteries- to 170x the limit beyond which you need a governmental license to possess the substance) mixed with pitchblende (essentially uranium-238 oxide), and wrapped the whole thing in duct tape. The slower neutrons transformed the thorium-232 into uranium-233 (via thorium-233 and protactinium-233), which is exceptionally fissile upon neutron absorption. At least some of the excess neutrons produced during fission of uranium-233 should have turned some of the uranium-238 into plutonium-239 (via uranium-239 and neptunium-239).

    David never had any illusions about achieving critical mass in his reactor. The USA spent billions of 1940s dollars on the Manhattan Project, funding research that produced enough uranium-235 and plutonium-239 for something like four bombs. One boy, in his shed, making even a few atoms of plutonium from sub-critical fission and neutron bombardment is pretty freaking impressive. And his technique was spot-on (it had better be: he consulted a few experts in nuclear science, posing as a colleague, to supplement the knowledge he gained from textbooks). His americium/radium – beryllium – tritium – thorium/uranium-238 mechanism may be unconventional, but considering what he had to work with, it’s really quite smart. Of course, the thing became so dangerously radioactive, even given its concrete and lead housing, that David’s Geiger counter started picking up elevated radiation levels throughout his neighborhood, and seriously elevated levels even 40 feet away from the shed. He decided to dismantle the reactor, but was stopped by a police officer with the device in his trunk (imagine THAT conversation).

    When people figured out what he had done, nobody could decide whose jurisdiction he fell under (since nobody had any notion that a kid could irradiate his neighborhood so effectively). Eventually (five months later – government bureaucracy in action), the EPA designated his shed a SuperFund site and carefully dismantled it; his experiments and the shed remain, to this day, at a radioactive waste disposal site in Utah.

    So there, Ken Ham! All of this works! Even a dedicated 17-year-old can use nuclear science to generate atoms and isotopes that aren’t found naturally on this earth. And every unstable isotope of every atom has a half-life that governs the time it takes to decay into something else. Those half-lives are constant; no scientist has ever observed a half-life change. Given this data, one can use half-lives of long-lived naturally-occurring isotopes to estimate the age of the rock in which they are embedded. And the oldest igneous rocks on the planet top 4 billion years old (while the oldest meteorites, remnants of the planetary nebula that existed before Earth, date to just over 4.5 billion years old) Just because the science contradicts your dogma doesn’t mean you can just blithely ignore it.

    Tl;dr – science works, biatches!

    Check out this wiki for more info:


  71. 71

    Ham’s problem is that he isn’t godly enough. He puts his faith in smoke detectors, when he should, to be consistent, reject both smoke detectors (Has anyone actually seen any of this ionizing radiation that supposedly makes the things work? I didn’t think so. And how many times has your smoke detector gone off when there’s no fire? How many times has it gone off when there has been a fire? See. They don’t work!) and rubidium dating.

    It’s not just a question of smoke detectors not working. Even if they did work, it would be wrong to use them, because if there is a fire and your home burns down, that’s as much a blessing from God as a rape baby is. In fact, if you raised your rape babies in a tent out back behind the smoldering remains of your house, that would be double godly, squared.

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    Wait, are you saying that the Bible … evolved!?

    That’s undoubtedly true, but there’s much stronger evidence for the evolution of beliefs about what the Bible says. The pressure of natural selection has recently produced an explosive radiation of strange new beliefs about what the Bible says, all stemming from a mutation that results in an autosomal dominant belief that the Bible is meant to be a science textbook. This belief has variable, and usually quite low, phenotypic penetrance, or it would quickly result in the deletion of the mutation from the gene pool by mechanisms such as not using smoke detectors because they’re anti-Scripture.

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    Ain’t it amazing how in their world where they’ve spent the last 30 years redefining* everything until up is down, and slavery is freedom, and BAM, just like that, a guy like Ham is considered one of their leading intellectuals.

    *redefining isn’t quite the right word – undefining might be more like it…

  74. 74

    Wait, are you saying that the Bible … evolved!?

    It sure as hell wasn’t written in one go by one group with a single, coherent theology. Actually, I find this subject incredibly interesting. I highly recommend the podcasts of Robert Price for those interested in discussions of how the bible came to have these various stories and what they might originally have meant.

    The Bible Geek is a bit rambling, but that also means that it covers a lot of ground. Mainly driven by listener-submitted questions.

    The Human Bible is more structured and has the invaluable “Up to Speed” segment, which covers basic ideas of biblical criticism and scholarship (e.g. his recent series on the various groups mentioned in the NT); a quick ten minute intro that gives you the basic foundation. It’s a must for anyone interested in the history of these texts.

    Sorry for going all fan-boy, but I’ve found that my appreciation of the bible has skyrocketed along with my increased knowledge of the historical background. The history is so much more interesting than the myths.

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    I suggest Mr. Nye’s response should be:

    Your failure of understanding does not constitute a failure of verification.

    Let’s see ‘em try to figure out that one.

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    Long, long ago – well over 6000 years ago, THAT’S how long ago – God was sleeping in his bed, when his smoke detector went off – again! God thought of stuffing big wads of Nothingness in His ears – He hadn’t created Somethingness yet, so His options were limited – and turning over to go back to sleep. But on the slim but real chance that His vat of brimstone was overheating, He figured He’d best get up and check things out.

    He stumbled in the darkness (He hadn’t created light yet, so there weren’t any of those handy night lights available). Also, He had been eating crackers and pre-Celestial Skittles* in bed – *those are much tastier than what the stores sell these days, and unfortunately they’re now very hard to find – and as He rose from His bed, the crumbs and dropped Skittles fell to the floor. He cursed the mess He knew would need to be cleaned up, and in the process awoke His pre-Heavenly Host of Shouty Kitty-Copter Angels, who moved closer and proceeded to play their instruments.[NOTE] In the accounts of the ancient theologians, these Angels, not being pleasing to His eyes or ears, did “pisseth Him off mightily.”

    The combined effects of The Almighty’s rage and the Angels’ efforts to mollify Him caused the fallen crumbs to become planets, and the Skittles to become stars, including our own Sun.

    I’m disappointed that The Hamster, a true Warrior for Christ, is in fact unaware of the connection between smoke detectors and the creation of the universe that includes all living things including people (aka His Special Li’l Snowflakes).

    I hope you Hell-bound disbelievers will come to see the Light, and the Glory, of The Almighty and his only Son, The Prince of Peace, so that you might be spared the eternal torment of His lovingly tended Lake of Fire and Damnation.


    NOTE: The Shouty Kitty-Copter Angels – who recently gained a new member – are of lower ranking and intellect than the other Angels, who mock them and generally give them “The Business”. Upon learning that The Almighty likes music, and finding themselves without instruments or voices suitable for singing, they despaired, until a higher-ranking but somewhat impish Angel suggested they could play their ‘Skin Flutes’, and upon receiving an explanation of the concept, they commenced doing so. Upon witnessing this effort to please Him, The Appalled and Disgusted Almighty moved them to a distant cloud where they could play their instruments without being seen nor heard, while the other Angels did – in the words of the Ancient Ones – “snickerith mirthfully and mightily”. [1]

    1. Cliffypedia’s “Little Known Facts”, entry for Shouty Kitty-Copter Angels {redirected from Skin Flute Angels}

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    Next time Hambone goes off on a tangent about observational vs historical science ask him if he was there to witness the events described in the Old Testament. In fact were any of the writers of the Genesis myth present when Adam and Eve chewed the apple and when Noah went on his sea voyage?

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