Tag Archives: Creation Science

Righting America: An odd book that you may like but that made me squirm

Righting America at the Creation Museum (Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context) is a strange book and I do not fully approve of it, even though I’m mentioned in it (not in a bad way).

Here is the write-up of the book provided by the publisher:

On May 28, 2007, the Creation Museum opened in Petersburg, Kentucky. Aimed at scientifically demonstrating that the universe was created less than ten thousand years ago by a Judeo-Christian god, the museum is hugely popular, attracting millions of visitors over the past eight years. Surrounded by themed topiary gardens and a petting zoo with camel rides, the site conjures up images of a religious Disneyland. Inside, visitors are met by dinosaurs at every turn and by a replica of the Garden of Eden that features the Tree of Life, the serpent, and Adam and Eve.

In Righting America at the Creation Museum, Susan L. Trollinger and William Vance Trollinger, Jr., take readers on a fascinating tour of the museum. The Trollingers vividly describe and analyze its vast array of exhibits, placards, dioramas, and videos, from the Culture in Crisis Room, where videos depict sinful characters watching pornography or considering abortion, to the Natural Selection Room, where placards argue that natural selection doesn’t lead to evolution. The book also traces the rise of creationism and the history of fundamentalism in America.

This compelling book reveals that the Creation Museum is a remarkably complex phenomenon, at once a “natural history” museum at odds with contemporary science, an extended brief for the Bible as the literally true and errorless word of God, and a powerful and unflinching argument on behalf of the Christian right.

So, having read that, what do you think the book is about? What do you think the motivations of the authors are? Do you think this book is pro or con on the museum, on creationism, on evolution, on science, on science education?

Can’t tell, can you?

I am going to guess — and this is just a guess but an educated one — that the authors have intentionally made the position on creationism and evolution as ambiguous as possible in order to allow themselves to carry out, or to appear to carry out, a truly dispassionate and fair analysis of an interesting phenomenon, as academics with expertise in certain areas.

That sounds like a good thing, right? Well, it sounds like a good thing because I made it sound like a good thing. Let me try again.

It seems to me that these authors have carried out a real act of damage against the integrity of the academic enterprise, and against education and society in general, by failing to take a reasoned and fact based stand against what is widely recognized and easily proven as a huge stinking pile of dreckory. (We are open to suggestions on the spelling of “dreckory.”)

The Mennonite News review of this book says:

The book is not a defense of evolution but a comprehensive critique of the museum and the movement behind it. The writing is measured, devoid of bombast and bile, which makes the book effective as the authors rely on facts and cogent arguments. They describe exhibits that don’t adhere to stated principles, opportunistic applications of Scripture and dubiously employed uses of theology, history and science — all in a facility that douses visitors with a flood of information in a fast-paced environment that obscures the shortcomings. The Trollingers “slow it all down” so readers can more fully understand the Creation Museum.

But when we read these parts of the book, we do not see the authors describing exhibits or other aspects of the museum in a negative way, but rather, almost perfectly neutral.

One conservative Christian reviewer wrote:

At the outset let me say that this is not a book that I would recommend for your bedside table. It is neither enjoyable as a reading experience nor does it present a convincing argument. However, for Christians, especially conservative Christians who aim to take the Bible seriously, this book is important. I chose to read and review this book because I believe that it is vital for Christians to be aware of how liberal Christians and unbelievers talk with each other about us, conservatives. We need to know what arguments they find convincing. Don’t be mistaken, this book was not written for conservatives; it was written by two liberal Christians for liberal Christians and unbelievers.

… but when I read the text, while I don’t see apologetics, I see very little negative about fundamentalism (though Ken Ham himself takes some criticism).

Another review:

This is a thorough book, a measured book, a calm and reasonable book. It examines the young Earth Creationism of Answers in Genesis from both a social and a historical perspective, pointing out the gaping flaws in its own internal logic (for instance, placards warning that the physical process of the Flood was unlike anything else in history and placards comparing it to rain washing out a gully are about ten feet away from each other in the same room) and rounding things off with a mild admonition about how far such lunacy strays from the true essence of contemporary Christianity…a comprehensive, you-are-there overview of the center of what Ken Ham clearly hopes to be a network of such faux museums.

This reviewer finds lunacy in the flood myth, but if you didn’t know about the flood myth, fundamentalism, creationism, all that, and read large passages in Righting America, you would not find a reference to lunacy, and it would be hard to find an argument against the flood myth’s veracity.

People are seeing what they want to see in this book. I’m seeing balance and restraint. I don’t like balance and restraint when it comes to vicious, well funded, and coordinated attacks on education and society, and on science.

Here’s some more text from lay readers (not professional reviewers) to give more of a flavor:

This excellent book provides insight into fundamentalism, creationism and Ken Hamm’s “Answers In Genesis” organization. The book describes in detail the contents and informational structure of the Creation Museum and examines both the museum itself and the arguments presented within. The book presents analysis of the space as a museum, the arguments as they pertain to science and the Bible, and the overall movements of fundamentalism and creationism as they impact America’s political landscape.

This is an incredibly informative read for anyone curious about fundamentalist Christianity and the baffling arguments of young Earth creationists. I’m incredibly proud that the book’s two authors are faculty of my alma mater, the University of Dayton!

The Trollingers take their subject at hand seriously. After visiting the Creation Museum several times, thoroughly examining their literature (journals and elementary education pamphlets), discovering influential individuals’ histories, they spend several chapters simply laying out a comprehensive picture of the Creation Museum. They compare it to evolutionary natural history museums, then compare the museum with their own stated goals. The whole book is thoughtful, does not come to conclusions easily, and is respectful of the whole evolutionary/creation debate throughout. Highly recommended

And here’s another:

But Susan and William Vance Trollinger, married scholars (of English and history, respectively) at the University of Dayton, 70 miles from the Petersburg, Kentucky museum, do not ridicule this cultural phenomenon (as, for example, A. A. Gill did in Vanity Fair: “It is irredeemably kitsch…This cheap county-fair sideshow – this is their best shot?”). Perhaps the Trollingers assume that we readers will supply such disparagement ourselves. But their academic detachment and methodical critical assessment offer the best way to penetrate the topic. “As bizarre as the museum may seem to many Americans,” they write, “what happens inside its doors matters to all of us.”

I think you get the point.

I regard this aspect of the book as either a conceit of the academic, and that annoys the bejesus out of me, or a smoke screen. I’m pretty sure it is the former but I can not be sure, and that is the price one pays for this approach; uncertainty about motivation and intended meaning.

Other than all that, it is an interesting book and an interesting analysis. But, marred by what seems to be a motivated encasement in an unnecessarily ambiguous framework.

I know what you are thinking. An excellent piece of academic work should be dispassionate, should be ambiguous about taking sides, or avoid taking sides at all, bla bla bla.

To that I respond that for one, a piece of academic work that appears to not be taking sides is always taking sides. For two, this is not an issue in which one does not take sides.

I do think most people interested in the issue of creationism and evolution will find Righting America at the Creation Museum (Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context) to be an interesting read. But I did not want to let this particular fastball go by the plate without smashing it with a bit of reality.

Bill Nye on the Inside Story of the Nye-Ham Debate

You will recall that last February, Bill Nye, the Science Guy, debated Ken Ham, the Not-So-Science Guy, on the question of creationism as a viable explanation for the Earth’s history. The debate was held in Ham’s home territory, at the infamous Creation Museum in Kentucky. Nye didn’t really debate Ham. He ate him for breakfast. Form now on we shall call him Ken Bacon and Eggs.

Anyway, people, including me, who have been engaged with the “debate” between science (evolution) and not-so-science (creationism of one kind or another) were very concerned when we heard that this debate might happen. There are reasons to not engage in such a debate. We worried. But then the debate happened and we saw the debate and the debate made us glad. Word.


Well, in May 2014, which as far as I can tell is in the future (Bill Nye has some amazing powers!) Bill Nye published an Article in the Center for Inquiry’s Skeptical Inquirer about the debate: Bill Nye’s Take on the Nye-Ham Debate. In it, Nye gives the story of how the debate came to be, what his concerns and hopes were, how he prepared, what happened during the debate, and the debate’s aftermath. I think Nye’s explanation for his decision to debate is very much worth a read and can be appreciated by anyone interested in this topic. His description of the debate itself is fascinating, as inside stories often are. Also of great interest are Nye’s comments on an aspect of this debate that concerned several people: The way in which the debate was used, or perhaps, was not used, as a means of fund raising. Nye opens up questions that he suggests may be best addressed by the community of journalists in Kentucky. Hopefully that will happen.

I strongly recommend that you read Bill Nye’s essay. It is very interesting, and I very much appreciate his writing it.


Creation Science Homeschooler Science Fair

Every year the Twin Cities Creation Science Association puts on a science fair which is sometimes called the Home Schooling Creation Science Fair. It used to be held at Har Mar mall, which was great because it is always a pleasure to stop in at Har Mar. But for the last two years, including last weekend, it was held at a local Bible College. I haven’t gone every year, but most years, as does The Lorax at Angry By Choice and a variable handful of others. This year, PZ Myers also attended. (Speaking of PZ I just noticed that his book is now available as an audio edition, just so you know.)

Over the years, the number of entries has gone steadily up (this year was down from last year, but both years are up from previous years) and the quality of the entries has skyrocketed. In the old days, many of the entries would be about things like “How did Noah build the Ark” or similar topics such as how fossils are fake and evolution is too. But increasingly, the entries are about real things, and despite the required presence of a “relevant” Bible quote on each poster, most of the entries are not about “creation science” (sic) at all, but rather, about something interesting, usually science relates. Many entries are descriptive, really demonstrating how a student has learned about a particular topic, while others are reports of an experiment or set of experiments to test one or more hypothesis.

Back in the day when the fair was all about actual (fake) creation science, I did not approve. I regarded this as an attempt to brainwash innocent young children to have a very incorrect and even damaging view of the world. But now I like the Creation Science Fair for the very reason that the exhibits are of better quality and often demonstrate a child’s engagement with thinking about the world around them from a scientific perspective.

The typical visit by those of us who get get to the fair and who come from the science community involved us walking around and chatting to the students about their work. We don’t impose or cajole or make fun or anything like that. We simply contribute to the conversation, and don’t even identify ourselves as scientists. One wonders if a visit by a half dozen interested people who have a good science oriented conversations helps. I think it does.

I hope the Twin Cities Creation Science (Maybe Homeshooling) Fair keeps going. It is a good thing in a questionable context and I think it has a positive effect on the up and coming future scientists.

Also, I got a great idea for how to make a ketchup bottle that actually pours out ketchup. I also met the family I used to buy sheep from. But that’s another story.

Above photo stolen from PZ Myers.

Twin Cities Creation Science Fair 2014

As PZ Myers points out, it is time for the Twin Cities Creation Science Fair! It is this Saturday, details here. Lorax is going.

Normally, those of us from the science community who go to this simply show up and wander around looking at the exhibits and talk science to the kids. No shenanigans. Also, we often go to a nearby venue and get lunch. Last year it was Grumpy’s.

Over the years, I think, the quality of the exhibits has gone up and the attention to the usual “creation science” myths has gone down. I like to think that a bunch of evolutionary biologists showing up every year has made a difference.

They still put Bible quotes on every exhibit, of course.

Who won the Bill Nye – Ken Ham Debate? Bill Nye!

In the Spring of 2010, evangelical Bible scholar Bruce Waltke, in speaking about the overwhelming evidence for evolution, said “To deny that reality will make us a cult, some odd group that is not really interacting with the real world.”

In response to this, Ken Ham, president of Kentucky’s Creation Museum, commented, “What he is saying ultimately undermines the authority of God’s word.”

Both statements seem to be true. (I don’t think you necessarily need to have faith in a god to accept the basic logic of Ham’s statement.) Also, that’s really all you need to know about young earth creationism. It is God’s word, and the FAQ on the matter is the Bible.

Last night, science communicator Bill Nye debated Ken Ham at Ham’s Creation Museum in Kentucky. This debate came about because of a statement Bill Nye made not long ago suggesting that creationism, and in particular efforts to force creationism into textbooks and, via other means, into classrooms, does harm to children and ultimately to society. Ham took that statement as a cue to challenge Nye to a debate, and Nye accepted.

Many people, myself included, objected to Bill Nye’s acceptance of this challenge. The reasons for that objection are outlined here, and here. I need not repeat them.

The debate happened last night. When it comes to creationism, I admit that I am not an objective observer, but I can try. I think Ken Ham did fine in that debate. He spoke before his own audience. A remarkably white but gender and age diverse gathering of followers of the Bible and believers in creationism seem to have responded well to Ham. His rhetoric was consistent. We know everything, we understand the most important issues of origins, creation, and evolution, and all of this information comes mainly from the Bible. There are a few other details.

At the same time, however, Bill Nye also did well in this debate, objectively speaking. He presented science, science, science and more science. He presented the science clearly, convincingly, chose his examples well, personalized the discussion wherever possible even to the point of doing a Lewis Black moment (pulling out a fossil he had picked up earlier in the week!). During the few moments when we were allowed to see the evangelical audience during Bill Nye’s presentation they looked, frankly, charmed. And how could they not be, Bill Nye is a charming guy!

In my view, again biased in favor of science because, well, because it’s the correct view, Bill Nye won the debate by a large margin. Friends on Twitter and Facebook equated the debate to the Superbowl, with Bill Nye being the Seahawks and Ken Ham being Denver. Apt. Perhaps even an understatement. Even a poll on a Christian web site gave a strong win to Nye

One could say that it was easy. Bill Nye made it look easy. He focused on the science, as I mentioned, but he also frequently applied that science to Ken Ham’s young earth creationism. One might wonder if Noah’s Ark could have stayed afloat during the great flood, with all those animals on it, for as long as the Bible says it did. But during this debate, Bill Nye sunk that Ark again and again. In addition to an excellent and convincing high altitude view of evolutionary science, and effective deconstruction of young earth creationism, Nye also made frequent and engaging references to the amazing outcome of unfettered scientific study and technology, which I think helps people appreciate and personalized science. He even made an argument from patriotism (not a scientific argument for evolution, but an argument for honest pursuit of knowledge).

Ken Ham’s argument for the young age of the Earth was unassailable. The Bible tells us the age of the Earth, period. Ham claims all of the dating methods are fallible, none are as good as eye witness evidence. (That would be God.) This is unassailable because it is untestable, but based on good science, we can say it is wrong. But you can’t really do much about a religious belief. Ham presented counter evidence contrary to the generally accepted science, but it was the usual bogus, incorrect, easily dismissed set of arguments. For example, some really old stuff was dated to really old (as it is) with the potassium argon method but to only 40-something thousand years using radiocarbon dating. The reason for that, of course, is that radiocarbon dating generally does not function beyond 40-something thousand years old, so all older material produces a young date with that particular method. If you measure the height of a great mountain with a ruler, the mountain will come out to be one foot tall, unless you get a bigger ruler. Also, somewhere in there I think Ken Ham made the argument that we should not wear clothes. Yet he was wearing clothes. Please explain.

An edited version of this debate, with just the Bill Nye parts, will make an excellent overview of why evolutionary biology is the way to go and young earth creationism is not.

There were definitely several moment where I wish I could have jumped on the stage and given Bill’s answer for him. For example, Ham scored a point by deconstructing functional interpretations of mammalian dental anatomy, in relation to the question of whether all the animals were vegetarians during Ark-times. I could have crushed that response in a way that would introduce even more evidence for evolution. But Bill Nye is an expert in other areas. Moreover, Bill Nye did the right thing by not responding to most of Ham’s specific points, but rather, continuing to return to his own main points. Nye, in a sense, provided a slower and more ponderous, and well done, science version of the Gish Gallop. He had a number of powerful points and stuck to them, and mostly avoided going off track.

The fact that Bill Nye did very well in this debate does not mean that we should all start debating creationists, especially at events with a door charge that goes to support an entity like the Creation Museum. Put a different way: Bill Nye is a professional. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. But the widespread concern, including that expressed by yours truly, for this particular debate was wrong. I will be happily be dining on crow today at lunch.


Bill Nye at the Creation Museum and Russian Security at Sochi

See the link?

It is pretty obvious to me.

It seems that terrorists who are really serious, reasonably numerous, presumably well funded, and certainly experienced have threatened to attack the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia (both of them). The fallback plan, it is assumed, is that they can’t attack Sochi so they pick some other random locations, maybe in Russia, maybe not, and attack them. (That is the part about terrorists being cowards, I assume.)

The Russians have security that is probably second to none in the world, or at least on par with the countries that have a lot of experience with this sort of thing and spend considerable resources on evading and avoiding terrorist attacks. One could say that this is a test of an important question. When terrorists who are among the most likely to succeed are put up against security that is second to none, with plenty of advanced warning (over four years), will the terrorists be able to get past the defenses at Sochi or will they be thwarted? Truly, this is an historic moment about to happen. Or not happen, as the case may be.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, Bill Nye will be debating Ken Ham over the question “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” (See this post by Josh Rosenau for details and how to watch the debate live.) As Josh summarizes in his post, and as I said here, Bill Nye would have been well advised to not do this debate. But he decided to so it anyway. Bill is a practiced and excellent communicator and promotor of science. Also, over the last few weeks, he has been preparing for this debate, getting coaching from heavyweights such as Don Prothero. But Ken Ham and the Creation Museum are the epitome of modern day Medieval creationism. It is a little like Sochi…

This is a test of a less important question than the one that will be taken up by circumstances as Sochi: When creationists who are among the most likely to succeeded in front of an audience are pitted with a leading science communicator with the best possible training and resources, what will happen?

I can’t watch the debate. I will be busy doing this. That’s a bummer. But I will watch the recorded version of it (assuming they have such modern technology at a museum with displays showing humans and dinosaurs co-existing). I hope you watch it and please leave comments below on how you think it went.

One final thing. Some people are going to be mad at me for equating American Christian Creationists with Chechen Terrorists. I mean to do no such thing. The core reasons these terrorists exist is because a people has been repressed by a dictatorial regime (several, actually) for many years. The creationists have no valid reason to be fighting science and ruining education. At the same time, the terrorists have adopted methods to get what they want that are horrible, immoral, and cowardly and that cause random death, injury, and destruction. The creationists have adopted methods that are not nearly as horrible, still often immoral, often cowardly, but they generally don’t hurt anybody physically so that’s good. But, anti-science activism has led to a delay in doing something meaningful about climate change over the last decade, so in the end, the anti-science activists in general, including the creationists, will have some accounting to do as well. Just sayin’

Interesting Intelligent Design and Evolution Spat Going On

Mike Haubrich, of Tangled Up in Blue Guy blog, has documented a discussion between a biologist, a commenter, and the Discovery Institute (a creationist “think” tank). No apes were harmed during this incident, but one of them may be rather embarrassed. It’s quite intresting, have a look: Cornelius Godsplains Science to a Scientist

Evolution Surrounded By Creationism? Arm Yourself with Books!

Suppose you are an intelligent, thoughtful person with a thirst for information, a desire to be challenged, and a tendency to not accept received knowledge at face value. You are embedded in a traditional Christian culture where most of your family, your child’s teachers and friends and those friends’ families, the people where you and your spouse work and most people in your social circles assume that Evolution is “only a theory” and should be taught, if at all, along side alternative theories such as that the earth is 6,000 years old and was created in seven days. But you don’t want that. You want your children to be educated using modern ideas, or at least, ideas that date to the mid to late nineteenth century and later, about how life works, where it comes from, and how it has changed over time both in terms of details (what was when and where) and process (how). But despite the fact that you are well educated and well read, you’ve not been exposed to that body of knowledge.

This will be a struggle, a fight even, against academic indolence, against strongly held opinions; An invasion across a sea separating two worlds … two world views. You might have to land on a beach somewhere. You hope, however, that this can be a surgical strike. You need to educate yourself on the basics of evolution. You need to find a way to talk your way out of confrontation should that happen. You need resources for your children. You may not realize it now, but you may also need training in Defense Against the Snark Arts, should you encounter paraprofessional creationists.

You need to arm yourself. With books.
Continue reading Evolution Surrounded By Creationism? Arm Yourself with Books!

Talk Origins wants to buy Expelled. Can you help them?

Apparently, when you make a movie, there’s this box of stuff left over that someone has to own. It can include things like the original unedited film/video, from which the director and editors selected/cherry picked what they wanted to include, as well as various correspondences and documents and stuff.

The company that produced that horrid piece of drek known as “Expelled! No Intelligence Allowed” has gone out of business (a little Darwinian process at work, may we assume?) and the box of stuff that resulted from that film is now on the auction block. The auctioneer’s gavel will strike this Tuesday (June 28th).

And, Talk Origins, the original intertubual entity on the science side of the evolution-creationism debate (or at least the earliest one that is still going strong) is trying to buy it.

Wesley Elsberry at Panda’s Thumb has the details here. It is a little complicated. But for you, simple: Just click the paypal button and give them some money, then wait. They can use your help and you can be part of an historic moment.

Miss USA Contestants: Is Evolution OK for US Schools?

Miss USA contestants have been asked for the upcoming beauty contest if evolution should be taught in US schools. In a seemingly unrelated question, they are also to be asked if they would ever pose nude for photographers. It is not clear what the correct answer to either question is supposed to be.

Continue reading Miss USA Contestants: Is Evolution OK for US Schools?

Good news from the evolution-creationism front

Florida Senate Bill 1854 would have required a so-called “thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution” which is code word in US state legislatures these days for “taught along side Intelligent Design Creationism as an alternative to established scientific reckoning of the nature and history of life on earth.” Whe the state legislature adjourned a few days ago, that bill died a quiet death .

In 2009, before introducing a similar bill, SB 1854’s sponsor, Stephen R. Wise (R-District 5), announced his intention to introduce a bill requiring “intelligent design” to be taught in Florida’s public schools. In 2011, discussing SB 1854 with a reporter for the Tampa Tribune (March 13, 2011), he asked, “Why would you not teach both theories at the same time?” According to the Tribune, he was referring to evolution and what he called “non-evolution.” Wise further explained, “I think it’s a way in which people can have critical thinking … what we’re saying is here’s a theory, a theory of evolution, a theory of whatever, and you decide.”

Senator Wise, with all due respect … well, actually, what you deserve instead of respect is to be asked this question: Why do you hate America? You’ve tried to trash the first amendment. Do you also oppose the second? What about the others? Or do you pick and chose. All educational and business interests is Florida with a concern for quality science education ought to contribute to whoever is running against you next election. It would be a good time to do that because the word on the street is that there will be a sea change in the electoral landscape in Florida this fall.

In other news, Baton Rouge high school senior Zack Kopplin continues to kick creationist butt…
Continue reading Good news from the evolution-creationism front

Ark Park Makes Mark with Darwinian Snark!

For that special organization or person that makes you throw up a little in your mouth when you hear about their latest aggravating attack on our children’s education, by way of making fun of something that is not really all that funny, DontDissDarwn Central annually awards the highly alliterated angs-ridden accolade: The Upchucky. And this year’s award is bestowed, nay, foisted on Answers in Genesis, for their latest dumb-ass venture, the Noah’s Ark Park.

“rooted in outright opposition to science…[this] hostility to science, knowledge and education does little to attract the kind of employers that will provide good-paying jobs with a future.”
-Lexington Herald-Leader

Click here to read about all of the nominees and find out what they wore to the ceremony.