My upcoming visit to Houston to join Aron and others in protesting Texas creationism is smoking all kinds of interesting characters out of the woodwork. Meet Dr. David Shormann (the “Dr.” must be his first name, he sure flings the title about), who has apparently been a person of some influence in shaping the Texas Board of Education policy. He’s also a flaming young earth creationist who has drunk deeply of the Answers in Genesis kool-aid, and is very, very angry at the vicious, intolerant atheists who are coming to his city to argue against his nonsense.
The freethoughts activists are protesting the freedom of Americans to trust God’s word as true in every aspect, including historically true. For some reason, they are particularly concerned about dinosaurs. They are upset with how Christians like myself interpret dinosaur history!And historical interpretation is what they are protesting, not testable, repeatable science.
Note the insistence that we differ only in “interpretation” and that history isn’t science, which is the most common argument you’ll get from acolytes of AiG and Ken Ham. His argument against historical sciences is complete nonsense: of course you can test historical inferences, and while you can’t repeat singular events, if you’re studying processes and principles, you certainly can do experiments and repeat them. For instance, the science of taphonomy is all about making observations and doing experiments to test mechanisms of preservation that allow us to then interpret fossils on the basis of a body of scientific evidence (evidence that creationists pointedly ignore).
But for sheer hilarity, you have to savor a creationist’s attempt to understand what biologists are thinking. Here’s Shormann’s argument for humans and dinosaurs living together:
The fossil record shows many things lived at the same time as extinct dinosaurs, including extant (meaning still alive) starfish and coelacanths. Apparently, the so-called freethoughts activists say we’re lying about the human-dino coexistence thing because we have yet to uncover a fossil of a human riding a dinosaur while holding a coelacanth that ate a starfish. Unless this fossil grouping is found, then atheists will claim the Bible is a book of lies and Christians who believe it are liars. Therefore, since freethoughts activists apparently never lie, and possess a perfect understanding of history, we can trust them over God’s word! And if we don’t buy into their belief that freethoughts activists are the source of historical truth instead of God, they will make laws to suppress our skepticism. Of course, I’m joking here, but are the atheists? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.
His first premise is false: there are no species of Mesozoic starfish or coelacanths still extant. Ancient coelacanths were different animals from the ones now dredged up from the sea around Madagascar!
We don’t regard the absence of a particular fossil grouping for evidence that those particular species existed concurrently. What we do have is an understanding that species exist in an environmental context, and that those environments change over time. There is a basic principle called “faunal succession” that was worked out in the 19th century: it was the discovery that fossils weren’t a hodge-podge, but that a particular stratum was associated with a community or whole eco-system of organisms, and that that community would change its constitution over time in the fossil record.
We’ve worked out the big picture of many species’ evolution — we are relying on positive evidence about the distribution of that species in time, not simply its absence. We know, for instance, that hominins evolved over the last few millions of years; we have the molecular evidence that shows the timing of divergence from other apes, we have the fossil evidence that shows their emergence in East Africa, and we can also see in the fossils that hominins of 3 million years ago were different from hominins of 1 million years ago.
Dinosaurs, on the other hand, are a very diverse group that were found in a broad range of time, over almost 200 million years, and we can find many different ecosystems represented — and the Triassic has different fossil assemblages than the Jurassic than the Cretaceous. Again, not a jumble: there’s a pattern to their distribution. And one thing we know is that there was a major faunal transition at the KT boundary, about 65 million years ago.
So we have two (well, many more than two, actually) coherent groups that don’t overlap — and they don’t overlap by more than 70 million years. It’s not simply that we don’t find dinosaurs and humans coexisting, it’s that we have found patterns and contexts for the two groups, whole vast collections of concordant data, that support the idea of a wide temporal difference between them…data that the creationists deny exists.
As for the Bible, it’s a book of self-serving legends and stories that an ancient people used to identify themselves. I wouldn’t consider it a book of lies if people accepted it for what it is: a collection of myths, poetry, metaphor, and garbled history. It’s when they try to promote it as something more, a detailed and perfectly accurate history of the world, in defiance of all of the evidence, that it becomes a tool for spreading lies.
Freethinkers don’t consider themselves perfect. We are open to the evidence, and we’re willing to use all of the evidence, not just the bits that reinforce our preconceptions. Meanwhile, believers like Shormann hide behind the claim that their knowledge is perfect because it comes from a perfect omniscient being — but I say that that has not been demonstrated. The totality of the evidence, including the ever-shifting and contradictory claims of the faithful, shows that their “knowledge” always seems to be an echo of their biases and ignorance.
Shormann goes on into ever more ridiculous claims — here’s his judgment on biology textbooks.
Also, in the 21st century, high school and college biology textbooks are becoming bloated monsters. Something has to go to make room for teaching 21st Century advances in biology, including epigenetics and bioinformatics. Many chapters have way too many pages devoted to speculative historical claims about origins, dogmatically asserting only one interpretation (evolutionism). A pro-science person would want to reduce or remove the history to make room for 21st Century science. An anti-science person would reject the 21st Century science in favor of page after page about origins. Ask the atheist which they would choose to include in an already oversized biology textbook, new science or history? If they would rather keep the history, then they are anti-science, which contradicts their claims of being pro-science.
Yes, the biology texts are huge…but that’s because we have so much information to share. I am amused, though, that he wants to throw out evolution to make room for bioinformatics. Bioinformatics makes no sense at all without evolution — I can’t even imagine the subject being taught without an understanding of the concept that genes and genomes change over time. In epigenetics, the primary focus is going to be on developmental change, but even there — does he realize that human epigenetics is analyzed in the context of experimental information done in mice and other animals?
That closing babble is pretty damned offensive, too. Everything is the way it is because of how it got that way: you can’t do biology by treating it as static and fixed. Everything in biology is a dynamic process. Denying history is denying science.