The ‘biblical science’ of creationism is neither biblical nor science

Young-earth creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis says that his expertise in science is every bit as legitimate as his expertise in biblical interpretation.

I agree. You should too.

So-called “scientific creationists” like Ham claim that they are doing “biblical science,” but what they are doing has just as little to do with the actual Bible as it has to do with actual science.

Unlike Ham, I do not claim to be a scientist. He would argue that I therefore ought to defer to him on scientific matters because he is a scientist — a “creation scientist” — and a layperson such as myself therefore ought to acknowledge his expertise on the subject.

Hogwash. I may not be a scientist myself, but it’s not difficult for me, even as a layperson outside of the sciences, to see that Ham’s claim of expertise is absurd. First, I can look to see what credible scientists think about Ham’s “science.” The actual experts in the sciences find Ham’s ideas laughably wretched. And second, even as a non-scientist, non-expert layperson who studied literature and theology, I can understand enough to appreciate that Ham’s scientific claims are pure bunkum. You don’t need a Ph.D. to recognize that, despite his claims otherwise, there’s nothing scientific about Ham’s “creation science.”

The same can be said for Ham’s other unwarranted claim — the assertion that his “creation science” is “biblical.” One can, again, turn to see what credible scholars in the field have to say about Ham’s alleged expertise. Are his ideas and interpretations taught and studied in seminaries? No. His biblical interpretation is regarded by those who study the Bible in precisely the same way that his science is regarded by those who study science. The actual experts in the field again find Ham’s ideas laughably wretched. And one doesn’t need any particular expertise or training to see that, either.

Ham’s lucrative career as a (very successful) con artist depends on both of these claims. His ability to gull the gullible depends on his ability to present himself as an authority on science and as an authority on the Bible. That’s how he makes his money, even though, again, he is neither an authority on science nor an authority on the Bible.

Those of us who want to expose, refute or debunk Ham and to limit his pernicious influence — who want to prevent him from defrauding his marks and from spreading ignorance through the schools — shouldn’t concede either of Ham’s false claims of expertise. Conceding either claim only validates his purported expertise and strengthens his hand.

I studied theology, not science, so in my case it makes sense to focus most on denying Ham’s legitimacy as an expert on the Bible. But that does not mean that I should therefore allow him to continue unchallenged in his claim to be an expert on science. The same is true for those approaching Ham’s nonsense from the side of science. They should focus most on criticizing the aspects of his claims that they are best equipped to respond to, but at the same time they shouldn’t accept or affirm his claims of “biblical” expertise.

Put another way, it would make no sense for me to use my own knowledge of the Bible to expose and confront Ham’s demagoguery, bad-faith arguments, circular reasoning and blatant hucksterism when it comes to understanding the Bible without also at least suspecting that he might be employing the very same dishonest tactics when it comes to science. Nor would it make sense for a scientist to encounter Ham’s demagoguery, bad-faith arguments, circular reasoning and blatant hucksterism in their field without at least suspecting that Ham might be employing those same dishonest tactics in what he says about the Bible. If I know that his claims to be “biblical” cannot be trusted, then I should not turn around and reward him with trust in his claims to be “scientific.” And if you know that his claims to be “scientific” cannot be trusted, then you should not turn around and reward him with trust in his claims to be “biblical.”

This was my complaint with the Freethought Alliance billboard rightly mocking the creationist, Hamian (Hamesque? Hamster?) view of the story of Noah. Charlatans like Ham insist that their “scientific creationism” view of that story is the most obvious and only proper understanding of the Bible. That is not true, but the billboard seems to accept and to validate the charlatans’ claim.

It does so through what I think is a non sequitur — an unmerited substitution of terms, suggesting that the two things are interchangeable and identical — that switches targets halfway through its argument. Without that substitution, the billboard would read:

“Noah’s flood / 8712 inches per hour = nonsense / what other creationist nonsense is there?”

That’s good stuff — incisive, witty and thought-provoking just as a billboard slogan should be.

But that cutting joke gets turned around and slices the wrong way when the word “biblical” is substituted for the word “creationist.” It thus winds up reaffirming Ham’s assertion that his “scientific creationism” is the best and the only way to read the Bible. It suggests, as Ham does, that “biblical = creationist.” It suggests that Hamsterian “scientific creationism” provides a valid interpretation of the story of Noah rather than being a weirdly illiterate exercise in missing the point.

I don’t think this was the intention of those who created this billboard. I don’t think they set out to validate Ken Ham, or to reaffirm his chronologically confused claim that no one managed to find the most obvious interpretation of the Bible until he and others invented it in the 20th century. But in its present form, that’s what this billboard does.

And I’m not saying, “Take that billboard down!” What I’m suggesting, rather, is that they change that bit about “biblical nonsense” to “creationist nonsense” — and thus change the billboard from one that delights Ken Ham to one that would upset him.

I’ll admit that I may be over-reacting or reading too much into all this. I may be prone to do that sometimes whenever we approach near this business of all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism. That’s a nasty, toxic brew in response to which I tend to get more angry than articulate.

Over the past almost nine years of this blog, I’ve encountered many, many good people struggling to recover from this noxious pseudo-faith. They were taught from earliest childhood that the absurdities of young-earth creationism were inextricably bound up in this all-or-nothing package deal. It was pounded into them, sometimes literally, and they learned what they were taught. If the universe is more than 6,000-10,000 years old, they were taught, then there is no God. If the story of Noah is not a journalistic account of an actual historical flood that killed the dinosaurs, they were taught, then Jesus is a fraud, life has no meaning, and justice, virtue and compassion are all empty illusions.

Few things make me angrier than this abusive all-or-nothing doctrine. It makes me angry because it chains together truth and lies. It makes me angry because it sets a trap, binding children into a twisted machinery that guarantees either a painful crisis of faith or a feckless, drifting life of dissonance and denial. It makes me angry because when those children get old enough to encounter the obvious and inescapable realities forbidden by that package deal, it may take them many painful years to sort out all the other lies bundled up with it — all those bogus “therefores” lashing meaning, goodness, faith, hope, and love to the unsustainable lies of a rigidly fragile foundation of “creation science.”

And it makes me angry because bundled in with all those other lies is the vicious slur that such all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism provides the only legitimate basis for a meaningful life, for goodness or worth. This is the slur that says not only that we cannot be “good without God,” but that no one is any good without this particular tiny, vindictive, brittle God. It says that if there is no God — or if God is not exactly like their idea of God — then you are unloved, unworthy of being loved, and incapable of loving others.

That slur is a lie. It is illogical, indefensible, blasphemous and cruel. But for many of those who had it pounded into them for years and years, it can take a long time and a lot of pain before they learn to stop believing it.

And but so, my point being, I do not much care for the all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism of the “scientific creationists” and the “creation scientists.”

I can see why it might be tempting to latch on to such all-or-nothing claims as a rhetorical tactic for a recreational debater of a certain temperament (again I’m thinking of someone like Bill Maher). It’s premise is absurd and dishonest, since the many things it bundles together are not really, logically linked. But if we were to stipulate that the illogic of this all-or-nothing premise is correct and that all of the things lumped together in this package-deal fundamentalism are inseverable, then our path to victory is simple. We can sweep away the whole edifice simply by proving the absurdity of its weakest link.

Unfortunately, embracing the logic of illogic isn’t so simple or so safe, even when it’s just a rhetorical tactic. If we stipulate that we’re accepting the premise of this all-or-nothing package deal, then we’re not just accepting the part of its bogus premise that says “If the universe is more than 10,000 years old, you win.” We’d also be stipulating to and accepting the part of its bogus premise that says, “If the universe is more than 10,000 years old, then all love is illusion and we must all be nihilists.” That’s not a point I’m willing to surrender, even just for the sake of argument.

 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The way I see it, as long as one acknowledges up front that an explanation is hand-wavey the person being told the analocy or explanation usually accepts the necessarily somewhat imprecise nature of the argument.

  • aunursa

    I always find it a little hubristic to assume that some immanent being cares that much about exactly one planet

    That’s news to me.  I’ve never read or heard it declared explicitly that God cares only about earth.  My experience is that ‘Does God care about other planets?’ is a question that rarely confronts religious leaders.  (The question of whether God might have a salvation plan for intelligent beings on other planets does arise occasionally in online Christian discussions.)

  • hapax

    malpollyon, that’s a really cool article, and I thank you for it — since my understanding of “true” mainly comes out of theology (and semiotics secondly), it provides me with a brand new vocabulary for thinking about it.

    To answer your question, I’m certainly not a realist (and yeah, I know that puts me already in a certain fringe position) although not an idealist either — call it a moderate anti-realist position.  I also reject bivalence absolutely as almost nonsensical.

    While the coherence theory has some appeal, it is also too tidy and sweeping to apply to how people really think and speak, in my opinion. 

    If I were required to plump for any of those positions described in the article, I’d look at some kind of coherence position, modified by theory of meaning (especially) and also assertion (insofar as it places primacy on intent)  as described in the sections 6.5 and 6.6 of the article.  But PLEASE keep in mind that my understanding of these theories — indeed, the very LANGUAGE of these theories — is extremely superficial, and there very well may be nuances, implications, and ramifications I am missing in my ignorance.

    I would very much like to hear your thoughts. 

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

     Sure you can, in a general way.

    Acutally, no, Steve – that’d be YOU summarising it. Some people are way better at summarising than others. 5000 word essays I can handle; I’ve never managed to master summaries at all. Ever.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FRDTPMBW7IBKWIU3763AI6FYOM Steve

    I don’t say I don’t understand because I do understand.
    When I refer to the Emperor’s new clothes, the reference is that you are trying to explain something without having demonstrated any reason to think it exists, and attribute my inability to detect it as a failing of understanding on my part, apparently because it is complicated.

    See, the thing is, I dont think the existence of a god or gods should be complicated metaphysical stuff–if it was true. I think it’s comlicated metaphysical stuff because it isn’t true.
    An undetectable God that everyone seems to know about but no one quite agrees upon?
    That sounds very much like all kinds of things humans are known to make up and not at all like something that, perhaps not all, but a great number of people think permeates the universe.
    On the other hand, the professionals aren’t any better at it than you are.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FRDTPMBW7IBKWIU3763AI6FYOM Steve

    Hmm.  You’ll probably have some unpacking to do, since all I see is games with semantics here.
    An unproven hypothesis cannot be factual if it doesn;t comport with facts, though I’d be interested in an example.
    What does it mean to be contained by truth?  Something packaged in truth?  If it isn’t truth, what do you think is true about it?
    The reflection that distorts is a lie. Reality is not a mirror, but the thing mirrored.

    Examples, as I say, would help me get past my initial dismay at such answers.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    No, no one has ever taken you to task for what you do or don’t believe. We’ve taken you to task for your casual and insulting dismissal of arguments you don’t understand and your pride in your own failure to understand them, ALso the fact that you seem to think that its our responsibility to explain things to you, and if we don’t, your mocking them from a position of ignorance is some kind of virtue. If I wanted you to believe in God, the onus would be on me to give you a reason, but I don’t care if you believe in God or not, and it’s not my responsibility to give you a reason to *not insult me, my religion, and ALL OF THEOLOGY.*

    ALso, “See, the thing is, I dont think the existence of a god or gods should be complicated metaphysical stuff–if it was true. I think it’s comlicated metaphysical stuff because it isn’t true.”?  You could apply that argument WORD FOR WORD to Quantum Mechanics. Or phenomenology for that matter. Or molecular biology. Or…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FRDTPMBW7IBKWIU3763AI6FYOM Steve

    Yes, I believe the idea is implied in the concept of a summary.
    Is someone trying to tell me that the Great Aquinas’ work is that nonsense about self evidence and inscrutablity?
    If that is the case, it’s managing the hat trick of begging the question, moving the goalposts, and self contradiction at the same time.
    That certainly does require professional training in theology.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FRDTPMBW7IBKWIU3763AI6FYOM Steve

    Oh, no harm meant.  I should have said ‘one’.  I love you even if you can only write ponderous tomes…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     

    As for the rest of your comment – I am currently unconvinced that your
    questions are anything but a rhetorical attempt to trip me up. Your
    recent comments have been laden with sarcasm and dripping with unfair
    assumptions. I am, therefore, disinclined to waste my time on telling
    you something you’re not interested in hearing.

    I am inclined to agree with you. No point feeding the troll when he deliberately presents disagreeing with one position (“doing what he is understood to want leads to
    reward, while not doing so leads to punishment.”) as agreeing with another (“does not believe… that there is any point in determining and doing his will”).

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    If that is the case, it’s managing the hat trick of begging the question, moving the goalposts, and self contradiction at the same time.
    That certainly does require professional training in theology.

    Steve, some of your responses are coming across as more hostile than you seem to intend. In the last couple of days, you have dismissed various comments as “complicated sophistry”, “word salad”, “the Emperor’s New Clothes”, and “games with semantics”. It would help a lot if you could try to assume good faith on our part, here.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FRDTPMBW7IBKWIU3763AI6FYOM Steve

    Hey, you stuck the whole thing in there, not me.  How was I to know you only disagreed with one part?
    I only have what you give me.  Maybe you could have been more clear.  When it was explained to me, I focused on the part you apparently meant.
    Call me a troll all you want, but I’m under no obligation to accept as true what you tell me if it seems logically flawed to me based on my experiences.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FRDTPMBW7IBKWIU3763AI6FYOM Steve

    Sorry about that, Dierd.
    The thing is, when I get answers, I treat them as answers.  When I get what appear to be obfuscations, I point them out.
    You were very kind to actually answer my questions, and I appreciate it.  I get, therefore, where you are coming from.
    What seems to offend people is, I suppose, the tone of my responses to things that appear to be nonsense to me.
    Please keep in mind that this is precisely the kind of thing thrown at atheists every day.
    I do assume that you all know what you believe and have good reasons to believe it, which is why I have trouble with some of the strange answers I’m getting.
    I can accept that we operate with different paradigms, of course, and I’m trying to communicate across that gulf.
    It isn’t easy.
    But what can I say when I’m offered things like ‘self-evident and inscrutable’?

    You folks actually seem to think about your beliefs, so I’m asking.  My experience is that most people don’t, so I can hardly ask them.

    If it’s all far too complicated to explain, I will accept that statement.  It’s just that no one has made it yet. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FRDTPMBW7IBKWIU3763AI6FYOM Steve

     You could apply that argument WORD FOR WORD to Quantum Mechanics. Or phenomenology for that matter. Or molecular biology. Or…

    So try that, then, Ross. I believe those disciplines can be summarized, though, on the basic level.  They are disciplines. They also operate on things shown to exist.  they do that first, in fact.
    I’m not asking for a summary of theology, but of a specific, and apparently well-considered theory within it.
    You don’t want to do this because…? It’s not your job to do it.  OK, fine.  Don’t bring it up, then.
    And for the record, I reserve the right to insult all of theology. It after all, insults me.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FRDTPMBW7IBKWIU3763AI6FYOM Steve

    It seems clear that my presence here, and certainly my verbal style is turning a safe place into a contentious one.
    I apologize for that, if not the feelings I expressed, which stem from a certain frustration at the reticence of some believers, not neccessarily those who have particpated, in regards to what they believe and why they believe it.
    Since I lack this, it is difficult for me to understand.  It seems like it should be a simple matter.
    Nevertheless, since it clearly is not, and my persistence is creating a negative atmosphere, I will withdraw to lurking again, unless directly addressed.
    Thank you, one and all, for your time.

  • Keromaru5

    You know, when I honestly want to know something about a subject I don’t understand, I don’t usually mock the people I’m asking.  Doesn’t usually help anybody.

    Why is it my business to inform somebody who’s already decided I’m an idiot?

  • Kirala

    What seems to offend people is, I suppose, the tone of my responses to things that appear to be nonsense to me.
    Please keep in mind that this is precisely the kind of thing thrown at atheists every day.

    Atheists have to sit and listen to this kind of dismissive tone from people they’re talking to every single day? Wow. I thought it was bad when my ex boyfriend called me a stupid, illogical believer in fairy tales every other day while my poetry professor talked snidely about the pernicious influence of religion on art at least once a week and a multitude of smug Rational Atheists dropped by my Christian online community daily for a few weeks to inform us how we were the Stupidest People Ever. There were a couple black days when I wondered whether virtue and decencyare possible without religion.

    I know and appreciate the privilege my faith grants me in my society, but I don’t think I should have to take an equal amount of crap before I’m allowed to request courtesy and consideration without it being called a tone argument.

    Sorry, Steve; I don’t think your behavior specifically merits a rant, but that statement treads awfully close to a serious pet peeve of mine and I thought it best to let you know the potential impact of that statement before any flame war. I doubt I’m the only Christian who’s experienced persecution in some geek communities.

  • Keromaru5

    “It seems like it should be a simple matter.”
    And it isn’t.  You’ve had plenty of professed Christians telling you it’s more complicated than that.  I’m glad you’re cooling off, so maybe it’s time to go back and check some of your assumptions.

    If you really want to know more about the history of theology, Apostolic Tradition, or the Ecumenical Councils, or the English Reformation, I’d love to answer questions about it.  I’ve done plenty of reading on it, and find it all very fascinating.  But if you do want to know, please please please try to assume good faith.

  • hapax

     

    since all I see is games with semantics here.

    The  politest possible answer I can give is that “semantics” means nothing more nor less than “the study of meaning”;  and you asked me some fairly complicated questions about abstract concepts that are difficult to capture in simple words — in other words, under extreme (near paradoxical) conditions, what those words mean.

    If you wanted me to just throw up my hands in amazement at your cleverness, you should have indicated that from the start.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Oh, no harm meant.  I should have said ‘one’.  I love you even if you can only write ponderous tomes…

    Ok, this last part? I was inclined to give you a little credit for honest discussion of some kind until this.

    Really, did you have to come off with that kind of flip personal attack?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     

    Hey, you stuck the whole thing in there, not me.  How was I to know you only disagreed with one part?

    I do in fact disagree with both parts.

    I only have what you give me.

    And yet that hasn’t stopped you from declaring that because I do not believe that “doing what he is understood to want leads to reward, while not doing so leads to punishment,” that must mean that I do not believe “that there is any point in determining and doing his will.”

    Or snidely saying that “Presumably Patrick’s finger must have slipped when he was pasting my quote in” when I didn’t spend the time to explain exactly how I disagreed with the positions you attributed to all Christians.

    Your tone has repeatedly been snide and condescending, putting words in others’ mouths and dismissing complex ideas because someone can’t summarize them to you in a short post.

    I’m quite willing to explain my beliefs to someone who is genuinely interested in hearing them, just and I am interested in hearing what others believe. But what I have seen in your posts causes me to think you are far less interested in that than in feeling superior to others.

    So I am not going to waste any more time or effort explaining my beliefs to you. I’ll save that for people who are interested in a respectful exchange of ideas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     

    Ok, this last part? I was inclined to give you a little credit for honest discussion of some kind until this.

    You are a much more patient and generous person than me.

  • Mary Kaye

     Is there any possibility of using a pen name?  If you have written an excellent piece it would be a shame not to reach the readership.

  • Mary Kaye

    Parts of this discussion put me in mind of a bad moment from graduate school.  I am a computational biologist, so my committee had to contain both biologists and computer scientists.  My chosen computer scientist asked me to explain my thesis work to him, and I launched into a discussion of how to model genetic recombination computationally.

    About halfway through he said, “I don’t believe it.”

    “You don’t believe what?  Which part of my model is wrong?”

    “No, I mean I don’t believe your basic idea here–this genetic recombination thing.  It’s too complicated.  I don’t know why you’d suppose something like that.”

    I was floored.  I stammered out some question or other hoping I’d misunderstood him, but no–he was really saying I should not try to model recombination because I hadn’t convinced him that it existed.  Too complicated and messy!  Never mind the fact that it’s a widely observed real biological phenomenon and the basis of all gene mapping….

    To his credit, my computer scientist learned more about biology as he went along, and is now a well-respected computational biologist himself.  But that particular afternoon I was not at all happy with him.  I came close to saying “Eppur si muove” except I have no idea how to pronounce that.

  • AnonymousSam

    There were a couple black days when I wondered whether virtue and decencyare possible without religion.

    The problem is that for many on the outside, the opposite is considered a powerful tendency — that is, that religion makes people less likely to be moral. That’s why you’ll occasionally see studies like this. The problem is, for many people, that’s exactly the case. For far too many people, religion is a convenient excuse to be an evil person.

    That’s why I had a big hullabaloo a couple of weeks ago that I believe that if Christians want to be associated with something other than scum, the good ones need to become a more vocal party and differentiate themselves from the wayward herd. It took… hapax, I think? I don’t recall now — to make me realize that this would be violating tenets of the religion itself, making oneself exclusionary, publicizing faith, and so forth.

    I’m still not sure if there’s an answer to that dilemma that would satisfy anyone, let alone everyone.

  • Keromaru5

    Another problem is the old adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.”  There are plenty of moderate Catholics out there, so why do networks keep bringing in Bill Donohue?  Why do they buy LaHaye’s schtick?  I think part of it is that they’re much more flamboyant and their views much more sensational, which makes “better” TV.  And like you said, they are the more vocal–and why not?  If they’ve made anything clear (to me, at least) by their public statements, it’s that they are not very nice people; they legitimately do not care who they hurt with their statements.  So they’ll be as loud and outspoken as they want.  For someone seriously trying to live up to the Golden Rule, that’s just out of the question.

    If there’s anything Christians need to be aware of, it’s humility.  That’s why, in the parable, it’s the Pharisee who prays “Lord, thanks for not making me like that tax collector,” that goes away condemned.  Lately I’ve become increasingly aware that liberal churches can be infected by their own kind of tribalism, which says “Thank God we’re not intolerant like those people.”  It’s easy to forget when decrying sin that it can be lurking in you, too.

  • Guest

     “I’m not a big fan of these atheismist conferences myself.  They tend to
    consist of a bunch of people who all agree with each other patting each
    other on the back over how right they think they all are.”

    When religious people do that, it’s known as “church.” Happens every week. But let’s definitely turn up our noses at atheists for supporting each other that way every year or so.

  • P J Evans

    AFAIK, that isn’t what most people here think ‘church’ should be.
    (If a church is doing that, it’s either not practicing its own beliefs, or it’s a ‘prosperity gospel’ church.)

  • Keromaru5

    Thank you.  We say “Lord, have mercy” far too often for it to be all about “patting each other on the back.”  At least, that’s how it is in Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox rites–and between those three, that’s a pretty big chunk of Christianity.

  • Gerryrossouw

    Ken Ham is living proof that Australians hump sheep!


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