Stupid Christian Argument #39: Were You There?

Stupid Christian Argument #39: Were You There? December 31, 2020

The trough of stupid arguments sloppeth over once again, so let’s put on our hazmat suits and dive in. You can begin the list here. We’re well past our original goal of 25 arguments and still going.

“Were you there?” may be Creationist Ken Ham’s favorite line with which to infect students’ minds. In the Old Testament book of Job, God says, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” Ken Ham paraphrases this into a challenge to anyone who summarizes what science knows—about evolution, about the Big Bang, or about anything that happened in the past. Ham’s challenge is, “Were you there?” In other words, shut up about events at which you weren’t present. The implied evidence-free corollary is, “Because if you weren’t there, God was!”

(Which demands the response: then why does God get pretty much every detail wrong? Biology, cosmology, archaeology, morality—on all of these, God looks less like the omniscient Creator of All and more like an Iron Age desert nomad. [h/t FB commenter Luci Walker])

Ham proudly wrote about nine-year-old Emma B. who took Ham’s advice and attacked a museum curator’s statement about the age of a moon rock with “Were you there?”

Biologist PZ Myers nicely deflated Ham’s anti-science bias with a gentle reply to Emma B. Myers pointed out that Ham’s “Were you there?” is intended to shut down discussion and is a question to which you already know the answer. Myers recommended instead, “How do you know that?” which is a question from which you can actually learn something.

“Were you there?” is a variation of the more general question, “Did you experience this with your own senses?” To Science, this question lost significance centuries ago. The days when Isaac Newton used taste as a method to understand new chemicals are long gone. Modern science uses instruments to reliably provide information about nature—from simple instruments like compasses, voltmeters, Geiger counters, and pH meters to complex ones like the Mars rovers, Hubble space telescope, LIGO gravity wave observatory, and Large Hadron Collider.

Not only is Ham’s question irrelevant, not only does it attempt to shut down discourse rather than expand it, it can be confronted directly.

Atheist: “This rock is 3.56 billion years old.”

Ken Ham: “How do you know? Were you there?”

Atheist: “I wasn’t, but the rock was, and that’s what it tells us when we use radiometric dating” (h/t commenter Jim Baerg).

And if Ham wants to play games, here’s an exchange he might enjoy:

Ken Ham: “You say there was no six-day creation? Well, Smart Guy, were you there?”

Atheist: “Why yes, as a matter of fact I was there.”

Ham: “No you weren’t!”

Atheist: “Oh? How do you know? Were you there?”

To rebut this ridiculous claim, Ham would have to use (shudder!) common sense, a tool that he doesn’t want introduced into the conversation because it is devastating to someone who wants to imagine a 6000-year-old earth, men rising from the dead, and a god who desperately wants a relationship with us but is apparently too shy to make plain his existence.

And if direct observation is so important to Ham, I wonder how he validates the Creation story—was he there?

(This ties in with Stupid Argument #6: Creationism.)

Continue: Stupid Christian Argument #40: Interpret Difficult Passages in Light of Clear Ones

Religion is just superstition
that has been around long enough
to have become respectable.
— JBR Yant

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(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 7/27/16.)

Image from Mark Timberlake (free-use license)
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