Lewis Black, the gruff comedian, has a shtick about evolution. At one point he intones that he carries a fossil with him, and when he runs into a creationist, he holds this trilobite up, pointing it at them, and yells (he’s always yelling), “Fossil!” Then, if they still don’t get it, he throws it over their head.
I do exactly the same thing, but instead of just any creationist, I target public school administrators who are soft on science, and instead of a fossil I just yell, “Dover!”
Nobody wants to get Dovered.
Dover was the US Federal court decision that found that science class can not teach religion, that creationism is a form of religion, affirmed that so called creation science is just another form of creationism, and specifically determined that “Intelligent Design” is just more creationism.
Dover is to the teaching of evolutionary biology what Rove v. Wade is to reproductive rights, plus or minus. Plus, in the sense that Dover may well be an even more solid decision (though not at SCOUTS, never got to SCOTUS because it was so solid). Minus in the sense that it restricts an activity that can still go on at low level if we are not careful.
This book should be on the shelf or in the classroom for every teacher in science, or even social science. It is essentially the highly digestable (and illustration rich) version of the IPCC report on the scientific basis for climate change, written by one of that report’s famous authors: Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change
And now for the fun part, the toys. Amazon is having a huge sale on refurbished devices that you may want to have. I assume they are getting ready for the holidays or something. Go to this link to see what they are
I myself got a Kindle Paperwhite E-reader a while back, and I love it. Then, for her birthday, I got one for Julia. I recommend starting out with the one with “special offers” which are basically ads that are not there when you are reading. The device is cheaper this way, and if the ads really annoy you, you can pay them off to upgrade to the no ad version.
I’m seriously thinking about getting Amanda one of these refurb-Kindle paperwhites. She likes the Kindle just enough for a refurbished one, maybe not enough for a new one…
At the very least, when you meet your teacher at the beginning of the school year, say to them what I say or something like it. “If you ever get hassled by anyone — parent, administration, other teachers — about teaching real science, let me know, I’ll be your best ally. Of course, if you are a science denier or a creationist so the situation is turned around, let me know, I’ll be your worst nightmare …” Then kind of pat them on the shoulder, flip your cape to one side, get on your motorcycle, and drive off.
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).
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.
Read this book now, and act on what you learn from it, for the sake of your own future and the future of our children and their children.
The rise of modern civilization, from the Enlightenment onward for hundreds of years, was the same thing as the rise of modern science. The rise of science was a cultural novelty with only vague foreshadowing. It was a revolution in the way humans think.
People come to believe what they believe in a way that rarely involves scientific thinking. The human mind is not inherently rational in the sense we usually use the term today. The process of learning things, of inference, and developing habits that guide our reactions to the world around us, evolved to function well enough given our usual cultural, social, and ecological context. But the modern world presents challenges that are better addressed, and problems that are only solvable, with a scientific approach. Science is something we willfully impose on our own process of thought and, at the level of society, formation of policy and law.
You have heard of the concept of “diseases of civilization.” For example, we evolved to seek and love sugars and fats, and then we developed methods of obtaining seemingly unlimited quantities of said nutrients. The success of our system of feeding ourselves solves the problem of uncertainty in the food supply and creates the problems of atherosclerosis, widespread obesity, and all too common diabetes.
Self damaging stupidity also seems to be a disease of civilization. One would think that with the rise of science, the opposite would happen, and it has to some extent.
People spend a great deal of time and energy, and other resources, acting on beliefs about food production and personal health that are contrary to their own best interests. Had a fraction of that energy been spent on trying to understand the relevant science of food production and health, those individuals would be much better off, as would the rest of society. The same pattern can be seen in all other aspects of life, from energy production and use to systems of transportation to diplomacy and warfare. Again and again, great ideas emerge that may become excellent new laws or common best practices, only to be watered down and compromised because of this self damaging stupidity. How, when, and why did we get here?
Today, increasingly and powerfully, anti-science forces are strong and shape the way people think and act to our collective detriment. This is the problem Otto addresses.
How is it that humans invented science, used science for all sorts of improvements (and, admittedly, a number of unintended negative consequences), and then came to new ways of developing policy and practice that hobble the use of this important cultural and social resource?
Shawn Otto’s book is a careful and detailed scholarly examination of this question. I struggled for a time with whether or not I should make the following statement about The War on Science, because I want this statement to be taken in a positive way, though it might be seen as a criticism. Otto’s book is similar to, and at the level of, an excellent PhD thesis. I very quickly add, however, that since this is the work of a very talented writer and communicator, it does not read like a PhD thesis. It reads like a page turner. But the substance of the book is truly scholarly, contributes new thinking, and is abundantly and clearly documented and backed up. I can’t think of too many books that do all of this.
The Enlightenment and the early rise of scientific thinking was a self conscious effort by a small number of individuals to rethink the way we think, and it was a very effective one. Almost every advance in technology, economy, and society – from vehicles and energy to the invention of money and markets, to new or modified forms of government – arose from the self conscious application of scientific thinking. The same great mind that contributed so much to the invention of modern physics and mathematics, that of Sir Isaac Newton, modernized the production of coinage and regulation of international exchange of money (as well as modern systems of engaging and neutralizing counterfeiting). The invention of the American system of government was the intentional and thoughtful product of individuals who called themselves and their actions scientific.
But, as Newton would say, for each and every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Science is not only a powerful tool for doing new things and improving old approaches, but it is also very inconvenient. For some, under certain conditions.
It isn’t that science itself is bad for powerful entities that make up the political and industrial status quo. Science is as essential today as it has ever been, or more so, to the owners of energy companies, the producers of military gear, the growers and purveyors of food, and so on. But there are times when the best available scientific evidence suggests that the best decisions that society or government should make are contrary to the vested self interest of those power brokers. So, really, the best method, from the point of view of stockholders in major corporations or the owners of vast energy or agricultural resources, or others, is to use science but also to control the interface between scientific action and public policy.
In other words, the scientifically derived answer to a question is different when the premise is different. What is the best way to increase profits from making and selling energy? What is the best way to protect the public health while making and selling energy? These are two valid questions that, at least in the short and medium term, can produce dramatically different answers.
In 2012, Shawn Otto posed the conundrum, “It is hard to know exactly when it became acceptable for U.S. politicians to be antiscience.” One could ask the same question about leaders of industry. The answer may be fairly obvious. This became acceptable the moment the interests being served by those politicians shifted from the populous to the smaller subset of owners and investors of business and industry. The money trail, which one is often advised to follow to find a truth, leads pretty directly to that answer.
A harder question is, how did large portions of the academic world also decide to be anti-science? For this, one needs to take a more fine grained cultural approach, looking at self interest in the context of scholarship.
How does religion fit in here? The modern, mainly social network-bound, conversation about religion science, secularism, etc. is over-simplistic and mostly wrong. It is not the case that religion and science are opposite things. Rather, the rise of science was part of revolutionary changes in European religious institutions, culture, and politics. There are ironies in that story and the details are fascinating and important. Otto covers this.
Otto also identifies and discusses at length something I’ve been talking and writing about for some time. The nature of the conversation itself. If a conversation proceeds among those with distinctly different self interest, it quickly goes pedantic. If, on the other hand, a conversation proceeds among those with the common goal of understanding something better, or solving a particular problem, then it progresses and discovery and learning happen. On all of the different fronts of the “war on science” we see the honest conversation breaking down, or even, not happening to begin with, and from this nothing good happens.
Otto identifies a three-front war on science: The identity politics war on science, the ideological warn on science, and the industrial war on science. Conflate or ignore the differences at your peril. Postmodernism problemtizes the very concept of truth. Much of what you think of as the war on science is part of the ideological war on science, often with strong religious connections. The industrial war on science is in some ways the most important because it is the best funded, and the anti-science generals have a lot at stake. When cornered, they tend to be the most dangerous.
The last part of Otto’s book is on how to win this war. He is detailed and explicit in his suggestions, producing a virtual handbook of action and activism. Recognizing how the system works, how to marshal resources to reshape the conversation, what scientists need to do, what communicators need to do, are part of a coherent plan. He ends with a “Science Pledge” which is “a renewed commitment to civic leadership based on the principles of freedom, science, and evidence.” And there is nothing new in this pledge. It is, essentially, a fundamentalist approach to science, society, and policy, going back to the beginnings of the coeval rise of science and civilization. There is little in Otto’s pledge that would not have been said by Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, or Francis Bacon.
You will enjoy Otto’s “The War on Science” and it will enrich and advance your understanding of the key, existential, issue of the day. And, it won’t just inform you and rile you up, but it will also help you define goals and give you tools to meet them.
The War on Science is an essential work, a game changer, and probably the most important book you’ll read this year.
Did you ever wonder? And if you did wonder, did you Google it? And if you did google it, did you get the results shown above? And if you did, did you click “feedback” and do something like the following?
No? Do so now, please.
This is important. Why? Because we have been hearing rumors lately that Google intends to change the way it produces searches to bias the search results in the direction of more reliable sites. But the number one search result for a key question that a lot of people ask about evolution is a bogus creationist site.
I’ve never, for one moment, gone along with the idea that Google can pull off a better, more reliable search based on the Google view of what sites are more reliable. My position on this has annoyed many of my colleagues. The promise of the Internet being less bogus and more educational is attractive. But it is a siren call. Regarding this particular issue I’ll claim the role of Galileo until proven otherwise.
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/09/17/the-wrong-way-to-approach-the-1/">The Wrong Way to Approach the Evolution-Creationism Debate</a></li>
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/08/25/back-to-school-special-what-to/">What to do with Bible thumping students</a></li>
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/03/04/teachers-under-fire/">Teachers Under Fire</a></li>
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/11/17/the-problem-with-our-system-of/">The problem with our system of science education is …</a></li>
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/09/06/back-to-school-your-letter-to/">Your Letter to you Child’s Life Science Teacher</a></li>
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/09/15/the-irony-of-henry-adams-the-m/">A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.</a></li>
The Louisville Insider is reporting that Answers In Genesis has filed an injunction to try to force the state of Kentucky to help pay for their religious theme park. The State had chosen to pull back from the project because Answers in Genesis would not guarantee that there would be no discrimination in hiring based on religious belief. Now, Answers in Genesis is claiming that having taxpayers not pay for a part of a religious spectacle is discrimination based on religion.
In its motion on Monday, Ark Encounter seeks to force the Tourism Cabinet to send the incentives application to the Tourism Development Finance Authority for approval, making the project eligible for $18 million in sales tax rebates.
“The state gave us no choice but to bring this legal action,” said AiG president Ken Ham, the self-described “visionary” behind the park, in a news release. “We, along with our attorneys, tried for many months to show these officials why their actions are blatantly violating our rights under the federal and state constitutions, as well as the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. The law is crystal clear that the state cannot discriminate against a Christian group simply because of its viewpoint, but that is precisely what is happening here.”
Ed Hensley of the Kentucky Secular Society said in a news release following AiG’s February lawsuit that the ministry’s acknowledgment of backtracking on the pledge proves that their logic is twisted.
“Claiming it is religious discrimination not to let Ark Encounter, a for-profit company, practice religious discrimination in employment while receiving public tax incentives is the very definition of irony,” said Hensley.
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.
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.
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.
Bill Nye “The Science Guy” went to the Creation Museum to debate “is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” After the debate, Bill Nye came to the Last Word to discuss his faceoff with the founder of the Creation Museum, Ken Ham.
Nye said he accepted the debate challenge because the spread of creationism “frightens” him. “I don’t think I’m going to win Mr. Ham over any more than Mr. Ham thinks he’s going to win me over,” Nye said. “Instead, I want to show people that this belief is still among us. It finds its way onto school boards in the United States.”
Ham, on the other side, told TheBlaze why he challenged Nye to the debate. “I just think it’s really healthy for the public to actually hear two people like this that are really polar opposites in many ways,” he said, “because what you believe about who you are [and] where you came from affects your whole worldview.”
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.
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’
Bill recently made a few comments on the debate on CNN.
Here, I’d like to list a handful of the points I’d make if I was doing this debate.
It is not necessary or even possible to argue against “creationism” because creationism is a belief system based on faith. Science, on the other hand, is all about arguing about interpretation of observations and developing the best descriptions and explanations we can of the natural world.
In the 18th century, western thinking, “Natural philosophy,” described and explained the world in a way that incorporated religious thinking and referred to scripture. That view is almost identical to the 21st century creationist view. “Intelligent design” is indistinguishable from Paley’s view of the natural world, which he wrote about in his book “Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity” in 1809, which is a kind of capstone for the previous century’s thinking.
The 19th century, with Darwin and Wallace and a host of others advanced modern scientific thinking and challenged the previous century’s way of thinking. There was indeed a debate at that time, and evolutionary biology won that debate.
During the early 20th century, Darwinian thinking was advanced and revised to include a huge amount of ongoing observations about nature, including the discovery of genetics. By some time early in the 20th century, what might have been a valid debate about the nature of nature itself faded away and became a political debate instead.
That political debate, not a scientific debate, between a religious belief system (creationism) and science (evolutionary biology), persisted through the 20th century and into the 21st century and has been used by a minority of religious institutions and individuals as a tool. There is no longer a scientific debate about the validity of evolution, and there has not been one for a very long time.
Many of the criticisms of evolution maintained by creationists are about the age of the earth and the way that fossils are ordered in time. That ordering in time is central to evolution because it demonstrates dramatic changes in life forms. But those criticisms are not so much about the biology, but rather, about the physics and geology.
The physics that help us understand evolutionary change over time is the same science that the United States military uses to develop and maintain our all-important Nuclear Navy. It is the same physics that underlies the development of an important part of our power grid, the nuclear power plants. It is the same physics that underlies the development of the not-so-pleasant nuclear arsenal. Before creationists complain to biologists that the science of nuclear physics is wrong, they should take their case to the Military and the nuclear power industry, because if nuclear physics is wrong, we are all in a great deal of trouble.
The geology that helps us understand the record of evolutionary change in the past is the same geology that gives us the ability to engineer safer structures, build seemingly impossible bridges, locate and exploit important resources such as minerals and, of course, petroleum. Before creationists complain about evolutionary biology’s use of this geology they should talk to civil engineers and petroleum and mining geologists about how they must have all of that wrong as well.
Evolutionary biology also underlies our medical practices. Comparative anatomy is part of the proof of evolution, and it is also the source of much of our understanding of human physiology. The study and treatment of infectious disease and epidemiology is based on evolutionary thinking. Before creationists complain about evolution they should talk to our medical professionals and inform them that the basis of their efforts to treat and prevent disease and medical disorders is all wrong.
I think Bill is going to make excellent points in this debate. I don’t think changing creationists minds is the point, as Bill Nye says. I also like Nye asking about the sincerity of the creationist point of view. I wish him the best of luck.
And not just luck, but Science-Power. Because we’re right and they’re wrong.
Also, check out my novella, Sungudogo, HERE. It is an adventure story set in Central Africa which ultimately turns out to be a parody of the skeptics movement. It seems to have struck a nerve with a few of the skeptics, while others seem to have enjoyed it. Who knew?