As promised, I attended Tom DeRosa’s creationism talk this evening, and as expected, it wasn’t very informative but it was mildly entertaining. He’s a good, enthusiastic speaker — he’s just unbelievably wrong. We might have a recording later on; Skatje was taping it, but it was just with our little home digital video recorder, and we don’t have any idea what the quality will be like, yet. I’m letting her handle the A/V stuff on this one.
Anyway, it wasn’t quite what I expected. I was thinking it might be based on his recent book, Evolution’s Fatal Fruit, which blames every social ill of the last 150 years on wicked ol’ Darwinism. It was altogether different: he gave a talk on “God’s Amazing Animals,” which was far, far fluffier and harder to grapple with.
The beginning was a little hard to take. We got to sing a hymn (I didn’t, sorry), and the first ten minutes of the talk was all praise for Jesus, John 1, reality is in the word of Jesus, yadda yadda. Fine for a church, but it left me cold, and was thin on evidence. The next ten minutes were a rather incoherent deconstruction of the book of Job—we got the problem of evil (which was dismissed by simply saying, “people are evil”), the claim that they are talking about dinosaurs (Behemoth and Leviathan, of course), a brief mention of the second law of thermodynamics (“we’re going down“, “we’re all doomed”), and the claim that when we study science, the creator’s hand is plain to see.
Then we got over a half hour of fossils and pictures of animals. Most of this was unobjectionable pretty pictures. They’re digging up mammoths and glyptodonts at a site along the Peace River in Florida, for instance, so we got lots of photos of their excavations. He’d brought along some casts of fossil dinosaur bones and mastodon teeth and so forth, and this part of the talk was clearly aimed at the kids — it was fun, and there really wasn’t anything a scientist would object to here … except for a brief throwaway comment about the Ice Age lasting 700 years, which presaged that last part of the talk.
In the last half hour, we got the full throttle looney-tunes creationism. Really, the first third was a church sermon, the second third was a quick tour of some fragments of evidence, and the last third was where the calliope started up and we got his wacky interpretations.
There was some lip service paid to chemistry and physics, and how powerful and useful they were, and how he was trained in those disciplines…and then he threw them right out. The earth is 6000 years old. The flood was 4000 years ago. The Ice Age, and there was only one of them, occurred right after the flood. T. rex might have been a fire-breathing dragon. He knew demonic possession was real. Dating methods were all wrong. You know, the usual creationist schtick, thrown out at a machine gun pace.
Then came the questions. I confess: during his romp through crazy town, I’d been filling up question cards at a rapid pace, so I turned in about a dozen questions, and rather dominated the Q&A. To his credit, DeRosa tried to answer a few of them, limited only by the time. He was game, I’ll give him that.
In several, I tried to pin him down on the age of the earth. I mentioned various pieces of evidence: 160,000 years worth of seasonal layers in glacial ice cores, multiple ice ages, radiometric data, the concordance between multiple dating techniques, etc. As expected, he floundered, spitting out lots of inconsistent numbers. He mentioned how one technique gave different dates between 50 and 100 thousand years, all of which were older than his earth. Weirdly, he tried to say that all the multi-billion year old dates were from meteoric rock; I had to break the news to him that there are 4 billion year old rocks up north of us in Canada. Then he tried to claim that different radiometric dates for those billion year old rocks varied by millions of years—so I had to mention that million year variations on billion year old rocks represented an error of only 0.1%. There was much flustered huffing and puffing over differences in dates, all of which still invalidated his premise, before he pulled his trump card: they were all created with an old age. Not an illusion of age, he assured me, they were actually old, even though they’d been created 6000 years ago, just as Adam was actually created as an adult.
Just a hint to all creationists here: you want to argue with scientists? Here’s what you do. Concede everything. Tell them that radiometric methods are all accurate, they all do exactly as the scientists say, and just give away the store. Then declare that, as a miracle, god created the earth 6000 years ago with the mature age of 4,650,994,000 years. Poof. Done. We can’t argue. The prelude where you play games and try to say that physics doesn’t work, speed of light varies, radioactive decay was different? Waste of time. It gives us stuff to knock down and make you look silly, and it’s all irrelevant because you’re going to whip out the magic miracle excuse at the last minute, anyway.
I did try to sneak in a Hitler question, too. I threw in a card that asked him to respond to the ADL’s denunciation of his thesis that Darwin’s ideas were the progenitor of the holocaust. He dodged in a not-very-nice way, I’m afraid, claiming that that was entirely against D. James Kennedy’s TV show, Darwin’s Deadly Legacy…but DeRosa’s book made exactly the same argument. And then he made the usual tired claim that evolution and atheism dehumanize people and is responsible for the inhumanity of the 20th century. Collin Tierney of the UMM Freethinker’s club made a valiant argument against that, pointing out that the Crusades and various other massacres of the Jews showed exactly the same inhumanity, but DeRosa just responded with more bafflegab about how humans are unique, and evolution can’t take that away from us.
Our students did well. Several of the church people came up afterwards to thank us for showing up, and complimented us on the respectful way questions were asked and the discussion was held. I don’t think anyone was swayed one way or another, but we all had a pleasant and sociable evening. It was good experience for the students, too, to see that creationists can be nice people who can be fun to talk to, even if their arguments are patently absurd. Several students said the high point was DeRosa’s elaborate explanations for how T. rex mighta coulda breathed fire, which I agree, were pretty amusing.
I think my high point came in the first ten minutes, when he was complaining about godless evolution, old earth creationists, and those people who claim to be Christians but are actually theistic evolutionists, like Phil Collins. It was a subtle error that I don’t think most people caught, but I thought it was funny. Francis is off the hook this time, but Phil deserves damnation for that su-su-sudio thing, that’s for sure.
Oh, and DeRosa was nice enough to give me a couple of his books afterwards. They’re going into my creationist collection.