Creationism: Snapshot No. 1

Mr. Caruthers and Dawn Summers

Mr. Caruthers was the kind of teacher any kid is lucky to have. He barked out his lectures in outline format and woe to those who didn't keep up. He taught fast and you learned fast and there was no time for the usual boredom and the creep of the clock that characterized most of our classes.

You hated him at first. He had this crotchety-old-man shtick, disdainful of and disappointed by young people these days who were too lazy or too stupid to learn. But the shtick was pretty transparent. Even as we fell for it — inevitably, all of us — and worked our tails off to prove him wrong, we came to see it was just a pose, a trick, but an irresistible one. We knew he was actually fond of us, and proud of us, and we felt the same way about him. So we studied, and we learned and we made fun of his awful, thrift-store suits behind his back. And we picked a fight with anybody who picked on his awful suits and seemed like they really meant it, like they didn't realize this this was just our pose, our way of reciprocating the hostile affection Mr. Caruthers had for us.

Mr. C. taught middle-school science and he taught us well, mostly. We had the standardized achievement test scores to prove it.

But this was also Timothy Christian School, a private, fundamentalist Christian school. Hence that "mostly" above. In addition to teaching us about the periodic table of the elements and the solar system and electricity, Mr. Caruthers also taught that the universe was a mere 10,000 years old.

Mr. Caruthers was a "creationist." He believed that God created the heavens and the earth in six 24-hour days as recorded in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. He did not believe, as observation of the physical world would indicate, that the universe had evolved over billions of years. (Nor did he believe that the heavens and the earth were created in a single 24-hour day, as recorded in the second chapter of Genesis.)

It may seem strange that Mr. C. could simultaneously reject the overwhelming evidence of science and still be, as I maintain he was, a good science teacher, but this is nonetheless true. It was possible because of the elegance of his particular brand of young-earth creationism. Mr. C. believed that the universe was only 10,000 or so years old, but that this was not its "apparent age." Adam and Eve, he said, were created as full-grown adults and the entire universe, likewise, was created ex nihilo as a full-grown, ancient-seeming thing.

This perspective has its flaws, not the least of which is what it suggests about the nature of God. But whatever you make of it, it's logic is unassailable. It would be impossible to disprove this claim. Any evidence that the universe is older than creationists like Mr. C. say is simply reinterpreted as part of God's wondrous handiwork in crafting a young universe that appears so fully formed.

If you've ever seen "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," you're familiar with the idea. The show's fifth season introduces Buffy's 14-year-old younger sister, Dawn. Viewers learn, eventually, that Dawn is not really 14 years old, but was created a few short weeks earlier by magical monks. In creating Dawn's human form, the monks also created in her — and in everyone else — the memories of her birth and childhood. Their magic created years of diaries and altered old photographs so that a family of three became a family of four and that everyone in that family believed it had always been so. Apparent-age creationists like Mr. Caruthers think of God as a larger version of those magical monks, and they think of all of us, and indeed of the entire universe, as a magical, old-seeming young thing, like Dawn Summers.

At root, there's a deliriously strange, pot-think aspect to this view. It suggests a radical, unbridgeable, gap between perception and reality. But Mr. C. wasn't worried about such philosophical matters. And so, even as he taught us that the world was not as it appears to be, he also taught us the science of the world we can see. As long as you don't think too hard, apparent-age creationism allows you to pursue legitimate science, to experiment and theorize about the world as it appears to be.

You might be surprised how many legitimate scientists — PhD.s doing legitimate research — subscribe to some version of this apparent-age perspective, simultaneously believing the universe is 15 billion and 10,000 years old while managing, through some nimble compartmental thinking, to perform capable science.

  • inge

    Kagehi,
    I agree with your general direction re:Science education, but I’m extremely literalist when it comes to class tests. In mathematics, I could reply to “what is y” with some “f(x)”, and if asked in the follow-up “why?” formulate a mathematical proof. But if the answer can not be proven by symbol manipulation, this type of “why”, if not answered flippantly, is opening a can of worms.
    IM (limited) E science classes start with overloading you with data, because without data you’re unlikely to see the pattern, and without seeing the pattern you’re unlikely to grasp the theory. Meta-science (“what can we know and how do we know it?”) is, if at all, taught in philosophy or history — whereever you happen to read at least excerpts of Aristotele, Decartes, and, if you’re unlucky, Hegel.
    I’d say that your arguments against philosophy would work better against mathematics, which is the one field of knowledge that works entirely from axioms. (“An experimental physicist and a mathematician are in a dark room and told to find a way out. The experimental physicist walks in a straight line until he finds a wall, follows the wall until he finds a door and gets out. The mathematician defines the room as ‘outside’.” — usually these jokes also include an electrical engineer and a social worker, but I do not remember their lines.)

  • Nate Silva

    ((Theory in the scientific sense that it must be falsifiable, not the colloquial sense of “a hunch”.))
    (Should we be taking Popper as gospel here? I think a lot of people find his views problematic at this point.)
    Well, I guess you don’t have to, but what good is your “theory” if it isn’t falsifiable? It won’t make any predictions that are useful.
    The object is not to find “the truth” but to find useful explanations which can be used to make predictions about the world around us. Perhaps I have been brainwashed by the acolytes of Karl Popper, but I don’t understand how you could make useful predictions using such a theory.

  • cjmr’s husband

    Apparently I’m unusual in having learned The Scientific Method in eighth grade physical science. Granted, it’s out of fashion these days.
    Been reading a biography of Galileo; when he was granted his title of Court Mathemetician, he insisted that he had to be given the title of Philosopher, too. And remember, PhD doesn’t *only* stand for Piled High and Deeper. (which I learned in 9th grade biology; guess I just went to a better school in those days)
    The electrical engineer either has a flashlight, or finds the light switch.

  • cjmr

    And the social worker asks, “But how do you feel about being trapped in a dark place?”

  • ProfessorPlum

    I work in drug discovery, and for many years I worked with a very smart medicinal chemist, working with protein sequences and structures within a family of related drug targets. It was only after I left the company and was talking with him about some things later that I discovered that he doesn’t believe in evolution. It was pretty stunning to me – the evolutionary relationships between proteins are pretty obvious, and even easy to explain, at the sequence/structure level. And the power of using evolution as the basic framework for certain problems of drug discovery is something that would be difficult to abandon. But hey, he was a smart, succesful guy, good at drug discovery. I have no idea how many others like him are lurking around.

  • Kagehi

    That science is an off shoot of philosophy is no more relevant than the fact that chemistry is an off shoot of alchemy, that astronomy began with astrology, paleontology with cyclops and griphons, geology with the worship of poseidon, or the pharmacology of narcotics with the smoke breathed by the Oricle of Delphi. To in modern times equate the ignorance of any of these ancient practices with practical, let alone accurate knowledge is irrational. Yet, with regard to science and philosophy, somehow this is acceptable? As Nate point out, its not about coming up with any explaination, a comfortable one, or even a convenient one. It is about coming up with one that is useful.
    I don’t BTW consider sociology or related fields ‘science’. There are aspects in the pharmacological branch of Psychology that are and even in parts that deal with brain structure and ‘basic’ characteristics, but a lot of it is still based on, “This is what society thinks is normal, so this is what we are going to try to shoehorn the patient into.” In both sociology and psychology, experiments are usually impractical, considered immoral, given how they would need to be conducted, and last the life time of the victim (er… patient). This hardly provides ‘useful’ information. I have even been known to describe the application of both by people who assume X is the utopia of human existance, so they are going to force it one everyone as the, “chaos theory of social engineering”.
    Point is, philosophy is unavoidable when dealing with purely human constructs that arise ‘because’ of philosophical arguments. At best such fields are weak sciences, at worst, they may not qualify as anything but wishful thinking on the part of people deluded into believing their utopia is of better quality than everyone else’s. The irony being that every generation forgets how screwed up the prior on really was and insists it would all be better if we just return to X, usually by imposing more taboos, rules, limits, etc. on behaviours they themselves won’t admit to, but did themselves at the same ages… Then they wonder why human nature takes over and a) they get lazy and assume the rule enforcers will successfully keep everyone in line, b) they suddenly don’t have a clue what is going on and c) everyone rebels against rules no one can enforce 24-7. If the result wasn’t so disturbing, it would be hilarious. But the point is, once you know why a car engine works, it refers to all car engines. Sociology is based on pure philosophy, so it doesn’t involve usable rules. It is philosophy, piled on philosophy, piled on philosophy, with one ‘idea’ trying to adjust the next, like some elaborate house of cards, being built using wet toilet paper. The result is seldom pretty, tend to collapse for no obvious reason, from the perspective of the builders, and even when it works, there are 50 different contradictory opinions as to *why* it worked or how long it will continue to do so. Forgive me if I don’t see ‘science’ as still being legitimately part of such a mess. lol

  • Emma Goldman

    First off, the trashing of philosophy (and sociology and whatever else doesn’t meet K’s Purity Test) is really unnecessary. Not to mention annoying. Every field has its quirks, but unless you can show that every practitioner in a field has those quirks that most annoy you–i.e., that the quirks are a fundamental part of that field–then you’re mostly just name-calling, and that’s not much of an argument, either.
    Second, though, doesn’t anyone else see the similarity between these theories and “Blade Runner”? (Or Dick, I suppose, but I haven’t read the story, only seen the movie.)

  • Mark

    Kagehi:
    1. Not all car engines work the same way. There are diesel engines, rotary engines, electric motors, hybrids, and so on.
    2. A house of cards is, by definition, made of cards, not wet toilet paper.
    3. Your complaint about the shining gemlike purity of science being sullied by a “mess” that is “seldom pretty, tends to collapse for no obvious reason … and there are 50 different contradictory opinions as to *why* it worked” suggests that you’ve never done any actual science.

  • Mark

    Kagehi:
    1. Not all car engines work the same way. There are diesel engines, rotary engines, electric motors, hybrids, and so on.
    2. A house of cards is, by definition, made of cards, not wet toilet paper.
    3. Your complaint about the shining gemlike purity of science being sullied by a “mess” that is “seldom pretty, tends to collapse for no obvious reason … and there are 50 different contradictory opinions as to *why* it worked” suggests that you’ve never done any actual science.

  • Ray

    Okay Kagehi, you obviously haven’t studied philosophy, psychology, or sociology. (What have you studied, incidentally?) You might want to crack open a university textbook on one of those subjects before telling us what they’re really like.

  • Sophist

    Point is, philosophy is unavoidable when dealing with purely human constructs that arise ‘because’ of philosophical arguments.
    You mean purely human constructs like, say, science?
    The point is that philosophy is unavoidable when dealing with humans. Nothing we ever do is based purely on science. Figuring out a cure for cancer is all about the science, but as to why we even bother in the first place, that’s pure philosophy.

  • cjmr

    Your complaint about the shining gemlike purity of science being sullied by a “mess” that is “seldom pretty, tends to collapse for no obvious reason … and there are 50 different contradictory opinions as to *why* it worked”
    For some reason this reminds me of the whole “cold fusion” controversy that was 15(?) years ago. Since then I’ve read one book by the “discoverers” supporting it and a different one explaining why it was all a hoax–but there were close to 50 explanations of what they (those who claimed to be observing cold fusion) could actually have been seeing that wasn’t really cold fusion.
    Anyway, science is messy. One person or team does a study and publishes it. Other people or teams try to repeat their findings. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the findings are truly unique thought; sometimes they contradict what has been established “truth” for 50 or 100 years; sometimes they change our knowledge of something only slightly. “Pure science” can be just as subjective as philosophy is purported to be.

  • Kagehi

    Science is messy because people refuse to avoid introducing non-science into it. Take a look around any day of the week, no matter how many times its been disproven, and some supposed ‘scientist’ is trying to sell people dowsing technology. Yeah, it can be subjective, but soley do to the human element, not because its inherently subjective. As someone, who I can’t remember the name of at the moment, decribed it, “Some scientists persist in believing in things ‘outside’ the limits of their own specialty, based on evidence they would reject without even a second glance within their own field.” But there are also some that fail even in that. Whether I know anything about the subject or not, one thing I do know is that since Philosphy deals mostly with intangibles, its pretty damn hard to ‘test’ anything, save by concensious opinion. Unfortunately, with concensious opinions, you get the equivalent of, “The earth is flat.”, but until that idea, there is no valid means to falsify the opinion. In the end, that’s the difference. You can falsify science, you can’t falsify philosphy.
    As to what I have studied.. Most computer programming, but I also read a lot of science magazines, which ‘included’ articles on psychology and even sociology.
    Everything I have seen in sociology has been attempts to apply personal opinion to solutions to problems that often someone entirely outside the ‘assumptions’ being made would never suggest. And that is the problem. The more the opinion of what is going on becomes a consensious opinion among those making the decisions, the less likely they are to recognize that they might be wrong or that a radically different view might be held, even by the people directly effected by the situation being studied.
    Apparently Mark, you don’t like exagerated analogies… The message is the message, not the nitpicked semantics involved in expressing it. And for that matter, yeah, engines differ in some respects between designs and how they work, but the basic principles are similar enough that its mostly a difference in the specifics, not the general design principle. Now, if you were talking about comparing a car engine to a scram jet or solid fuel booster rocket…
    As for cold fusion Cjmr. The reason there are 50 different explainations is because no one has yet replicated the result. If anyone did, then they might be able to pin down the exact nature of what really happened. Until then, all you can do it speculate, based on ‘known’ phenomena. The key being ‘known’, not imagined, invented on the spur of the moment, or derived from superstition. That superficially the two ‘fields’ have similarities, doesn’t mean they are still the same, any more than, as I said, chemistry is the same as alchemy, even if some aspects of molecular biology can ‘almost’ fit the concept of elements having special shaped holes, keyed to the special shaped pegs that fit them, like alchemists tried to use to explain things.

  • cjmr

    As for cold fusion Cjmr. The reason there are 50 different explainations is because no one has yet replicated the result. If anyone did, then they might be able to pin down the exact nature of what really happened.
    Well actually, the debunking book had commentary from one of the technicians working the the same lab with the cold fusion guys who had been looking at the data all along and saying, “No guys, those results are not consistent with your hypothesis. There is no fusion going on here.” Nobody has been able to replicate their “results” because there were no results to replicate. Scientists wasted (if I remember correctly) close to $1 million trying. There are 50 different explanations for what they were “actually seeing”, one of which was, “they were actually seeing nothing and just faked the data to keep their grant and their lab”.

  • straight

    Maybe God just created billions of years of time during those six days. Not deception, but a completely different relationship to the nature of time.
    If time and space are all part of the same thing, then God created time as well as space. It seems nonsensical to ask “When did God create time?” or “How long did it take God to create time?”
    Imagine if somehow Sam Gamgee could talk to J.R.R.Tolkein about the creation of Middle Earth. Sure, he had a whole bunch of background notes about the Elves and their languages, but arguably the creation of Middle Earth began when Tolkein wrote the words “In a hole in a hill lived a hobbit,” on a notepad. Samwise would have a reasonably good grasp of his Creator’s actions and purposes were he to claim that Middle Earth was created less than 100 years ago and that Bilbo Baggins was the first creature created. But imagine what an Elf would think of Sam’s ideas!

  • straight

    the most serious philosophic gripe I hear against evolution (aside from “Genesis is literally true”) is that it involves an unacceptable amount of suffering and death. I am told by these YECs that God did not create a world with death in it, but that death came on the scene after we humans sinned.
    I agree that this is the crux of the issue for Christians. Is death evil or not? American Christians often talk (especially at funerals) as if death is merely a harmless door into Heaven. But the New Testament talks about death as an enemy which Christ has partly defeated and will eventually defeat permanently. It’s not that death is an illusion and our immortal souls the reality, but that death is an evil God will undo through resurrection. I don’t know how to reconcile this view of death with an evolutionary view in which death could almost be characterized as the engine of creation.

  • Ray

    Kagehi, philosophy doesn’t ‘test’ ideas by consensus opinion, any testing done is by argument. Psychology and sociology are not studied from the armchair, they are full of data and experiment. (25% of my first year psychology course was statistics) Seriously, if you want to have any idea of what you’re talking about, you need to pick up a textbook.

  • Ray

    “I don’t know how to reconcile this view of death with an evolutionary view in which death could almost be characterized as the engine of creation.”
    I don’t know how to convince someone who goes to the Bible to find out what would be nice before looking at the world to see what actually happens. Evolution is a fact. Death is a fact. What’s there to wonder about?

  • Ray

    “I don’t know how to reconcile this view of death with an evolutionary view in which death could almost be characterized as the engine of creation.”
    I don’t know how to convince someone who goes to the Bible to find out what would be nice before looking at the world to see what actually happens. Evolution is a fact. Death is a fact. What’s there to wonder about?

  • Kagehi

    You can’t test anything by argument. That’s totally nonsensical. I onces had an argument with someone for hours about robotics and what we both thought would be needed to achieve something semi-intelligent and autonomous by any reasonable standard. I think it was close to 3-4 hours. In the end, I stepped back, restated my opinion a different way and we consensually agreed that we had both been arguing the same damn things, but got hung up on different symantics. No amount of ‘arguing’ would have proven either of us right. It took mutual agreement to resolve the issue. You can **only** argue with the information you already have available and at some point people have to start agreeing that their interpretation is wrong and someone else’s is right, which, last I checked, is called making a consensious. If no one has valid arguments, no truth, solution of proof of the concept is possible. In the computer field we describe this as, “Garbage in = Garbage out”.
    A system that cannot test its premises using anything not already part of the system can never produce that which does not already exist in the system. It doesn’t matter if is a think tank or a computer program. That you make up nonsense excuses to claim that it can create something outside the individual limits of the participants knowledge, let alone that such finite understanding can be tested using the finite knowledge of such a closed system, does not make philosophy ‘testable’ by any reasonable standard. Now, there may be circumstances where it appears to, such as when someone possesses key pieces of information that led to the right conclusion, but subtract that person and you are right back to finite knowledge being unable to prove mere ideas.
    I don’t need to pick up a text book on the subject to know this flaw exists. Its the fundimental bane that all programmers suffer. Despite being more complex, the human mind can only process information it has available, just like a computer. As a programmer, I am called on to shoehorn a microscopic amount of logic into a space that cannot hold human experience and cannot, unless you count the Cyc language project, create the complex assotiations between ideas that give rise to the illusion of intuition (which is nothing more than saying, “I am not coscious of how I made the connection”, not, “It happened totally randomly”). If I fail to add the right logic processes, it will fail, because it can’t invent its own. Cyc came close to fixing this, developing a 4 year old intellect, *but*, it was still confined to what its creators ‘told’ it was true. It didn’t for example conclude that people had souls, some fool told it they did, so it extrapolated from that the idea that people are only ‘partly’ corporeal. Without the words ghost, soul or afterlife, it would have never have ‘invented’ the concept. We have billions of times more information and ‘still’ can’t understand each other well enough to avoid spending 3-4 hours arguing the same identical ideas with each other. Yet, philosophers would imply that such argument ‘creates’ truth out of nothing and that agreement, i.e. consensious, about the conclusion reached is not necessary to conclude when such a ‘proof’ has been reached. What then if everyone comes to a completely different conclusion, with no consensious of opinions? Can it still be claimed that anything has been ‘proved’?
    If so, then I have a nice bridge to sell you, it comes with a free book on using Fung Shua to grow larger rocks. Real helpful when you have to repair the bridge. lol

  • Ray

    “You can’t test anything by argument.”
    Maths. Maths starts with a basic set of axioms, and works out the results. It’s the ultimate armchair pursuit. But completely pointless, right?
    Logic. By starting with an agreed set of axioms, we can prove that some conclusions are invalid, therefore untrue (if the axioms are true), which means we have found some truth.
    You keep saying that you know what philosophers think, but you obviously haven’t read any philosophy. Here’s a syllogism for you -
    Axiom 1. It is necessary to read and understand a representative set of philosophers to know what philosophers think.
    Axiom 2. Kagehi has not read a representative set of philosophers.
    Conclusion (3) Kagehi does not know what philosophers think.

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    You can’t test anything by argument. That’s totally nonsensical.Well, there’s the whole concept of a priori proof shot all to hell. I’ll be sure to let my old college professors know next time I see ‘em. They’ll be shocked, shocked I tell you!

  • http://dcdl.org/2005/07/17/creationism-science-and-doublethink DCDL

    Creationism, Science, and Doublethink

    This weekend, I finished 1984 (mentioned in my previous post). I also caught up on reading Slacktivist. I go there most weekends to read Fred Clark’s obsessive but entertaining and often enlightening series of posts on Left Behind, which are now…

  • R. Mildred

    What then if everyone comes to a completely different conclusion, with no consensious of opinions? Can it still be claimed that anything has been ‘proved’?
    but differnet viewpoints adn ideas have been shared and spread, even if people disagree with them that communication is still useful and productive, if nothing else it has been proved that the current set of ideas and concepts used during the debate are not conducive towards a consensus.
    Remember that the only thing as useful as a positive result in science and philosophy is a negative result, because you can only understand what you do know within the context of what you don’t know.

  • cjmr

    And what you don’t know within the context of what you do know.

  • http://ilx.wh3rd.net/thread.php?showall=true&msgid=3438286#6078066 I Love Everything

    Creationism

    and yet, as mentioned again, the problematic thing is that the battle lines are oddly drawn, and that they’ve deliberately framed the debate as either you believe unquestionablly in young earth creationism(the rock we’re standing on is six thousand and…

  • http://ilx.wh3rd.net/thread.php?showall=true&msgid=3438286#6080752 I Love Everything

    Creationism

    A science teacher who believes in the Y.E. Creationism
    …Adam and Eve, he said, were created as full-grown adults and the entire universe, likewise, was created ex nihilo as a full-grown, ancient-seeming thing.
    This perspective has its flaws, not t…

  • McWyrm

    [levity]
    I was raised among the fundies. These people belived in a literal Gen. 1:#, etc. However, there was a sort of . . proverb, I guess, that asserted “God can’t create a two year old calf in 10 minutes.” – the argument holding, naturally, that if it had been created in the last 10 minutes it was necessarily not two years old.
    Funny thing is, these same people would still struggle with the old “Can god create a rock he can’t lift” conundrum. Folks are strange.
    [/levity]

  • j. vandermey

    He had an excellent slicked-black gray hairdo too! :)

  • John Alexander Harman

    I’ve seen this brand of creationism referred to as “Last Thursdayism,” since the hypothesis that the universe was created 10,000 years ago with every evidence of a much greater age is logically indistinguishable from the hypothesis that it was created last Thursday, including all of us and our memories of the past prior to that date.


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