Would you learn the philosophy of science from a creationist?

Yesterday, I attended a discussion led by a philosophy professor after a matinee showing of God's Not Dead. It was a strangely skewed group: about half the attendees were local pastors or wives of pastors. Also, not to my surprise, most of them didn't care for the movie. It was too over the top, it paid short shrift to serious theology, some of the scenes (especially the death scene) made them uncomfortable and wasn't true to how Christians actually respond to death. So that was good. Of course, I had to point out that the caricatures of atheists were also unrepresentative.

One guy wandered in with a bunch of tracts and books and announced that he wanted to talk about creation and how the earth was young and recited a bunch of creationist cliches — he got booed out of the room, and looked dismayed that ministers weren't accepting his conclusions.

Now I'm wondering how Christians respond to this collection of nonsense from Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis.

Does science trump the Word of God? No way!
This fun, animated video demonstrates how science couldn't even be possible without God and how we need to be careful how we "interpret" evidence.

Always be wary when they have to tell you their own video is "fun". It wasn't very. It's another of those videos that is just words in varying fonts and locations flashing on the screen, while a narrator speaks a bunch of drivel.

Once again, it's the Hamites reciting this magical distinction, that there are two kinds of science, historical and observational, and that the only one that really counts as true science is the observation of things in the here and now, and that the only historical science you can trust and that is important is stuff that has documents and eyewitness accounts to back it up (You can see where this is going.) As an example, they use the Eiffel Tower, pointing out that you can use observational science to measure its height and location, but in order to figure out when it was built and who constructed it, you'd need to look at old papers.

This is total bullshit, and a terrible example.

If every document describing the Eiffel Tower were destroyed, we'd still be able to make estimates of its age. We'd look at rates of oxidation of the iron in the structure; we'd compare construction techniques with other buildings around the world and identify its contemporaries; and I'm sure engineers and architects would have many other tools they could use to analyze it.

Furthermore, if the two hypothesis they were testing were that a) it was constructed of earthly materials by natural mechanical means vs. b) it was conjured instantaneously into existence last Thursday by a god, who cast a discarded toothpick down into Paris, we could evaluate those ideas and come very quickly to the conclusion that (b) was stark raving nonsense. And that's analogous to what these bozos are trying to do with their bogus philosophy of science.

What they really try desperately to claim is that you can only examine the past through the first person accounts by people who were there, and presto, they have one for the creation of the world, the Bible, which is totally trustworthy in its every word, and therefore you are supposed to believe it in every detail, because you can't do observational science of the past.

Bullshit, through and through. The Bible is not trustworthy; it's a hodge podge of historical accidents assembled in a biased and political process 1500 years ago, it's full of contradictions, and even if you accept the crappy distinction of science as AiG presents it, it is not a document that is at all contemporary with the creation of the world. (I wonder…maybe they are so delusional that they think the Bible is 6000 years old.)

You can't simply accept an account of the past because it is a "document". People lie all the time. More charitably, people make up stories for entertainment. With their kind of uncritical swallowing of myth because it is simply written down, we'd have to conclude that Ilúvatar was the creator, and Tolkien was his prophet. Hey, were you there? Then how do you know it was wrong? I have a book right here that explains how the Ainur sung the world into existence. A real book, with words even.

Then they go on to claim that Observational Science confirms that every word in the Bible is accurate. So why does nearly every scientist in the world disagree?

Finally, they trot out Plantinga-style baloney: we must have been created by an intelligent being, because if our brains are byproducts of chance…we couldn't trust their conclusions to ever be accurate. To which I have to say…EXACTLY. We can't trust our brains -- the whole elaborate edifice of science is a collection of protocols we follow to avoid trusting our brains. They have to know this; by their own ideas, they think that the majority of the world's scientists, who all use their brains rather than the Bible, have come up with a set of explanations for the world that the creationists consider wrong.

Evolution does not claim that our brains are solely the product of chance, either. These guys don't understand science, they don't understand history, and they don't understand brains. They do know how to put together a slick, superficial stream of lies into a very low information density video, though.

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To reiterate a point that has been made before, if observational evidence was all you could trust then no person could ever be convicted of a crime without eyewitnesses. That's why we have rules of evidence in court and in science.

Oh, why do you even bother? It's just the same old same old, and `yes, but...', just with new actors pulling the same old strings because they know that people like you will respond and try to set things straight, even knowing that it's just conjecture on their part. They don't want to be convinced, or prove their point, they just want to argue. I know you know this, so why do you indulge them?

Poorly performing brains result in dead bodies and thus fewer offspring. Granted, out brains are more accurate in detecting food and predators than logical falacies, but still.

I have a book right here that explains how the Ainur sung the world into existence. A real book, with words even.

And Tolkien, unlike the authors of the Old Testament, went to some trouble to make this book self-consistent. So you don't get slips like inserting a myth about multiple gods (I'm told that in the version of creation given in Chapter 2 of Genesis the Hebrew word translated as "God" is elohim, which is the plural form) in a book that is supposedly about the One True God.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 27 May 2014 #permalink

I can't begin to imagine how WEIRD it would be to try to study biology in any reasonably modern level of detail while believing that all animals including us were created in our present forms. Literally nothing would make any sense.

By Young CC Prof (not verified) on 27 May 2014 #permalink

I know you know this, so why do you indulge them?

To educate the rest of the public.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 28 May 2014 #permalink

Vince Goodrum:

Salt crystals can be described as a pattern of highly organized textual information (the elements are often represented with letters, just as the bases of DNA are), and a child can grow them in a dish by allowing seawater to evaporate. Does that make the child an intelligent designer of the crystals?

By Robin Saunders (not verified) on 30 May 2014 #permalink

So…a pattern of highly organized textual information, comparable to books, that were written by authors, is evidence there wasn’t any intelligent design involved?

The quote above is evidence that you haven't read for understanding. You've completely missed this part:

It falls on a precise hierarchical pattern, which is obviously best interpreted as a family tree


The similarities between organisms form a tree shape. In principle they could form any shape – a line, a circle, a cross, a star, a ball, whatever – , but they don't; they form a tree, which is exactly what the theory of evolution predicts.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 30 May 2014 #permalink

Vince (again!) reveals he knows absolutely nothing about Chemistry, Physics, Biology, or anything, really. DNA is actually quite simple (four nucleotides AGCT linked together in a chain), and is made routinely in academic and industrial laboratories by automated synthesisers.

Vince: You stated that DNA is "incredibly intricate", and I pointed out that it is so simple it is made day in day out by robotic synthesisers. Care to admit you were completely wrong (as always)?

Everyone is waiting for you to enlighten us about Thermodynamics.

“...the bible accurately records historical facts”

Well, except for a few minor problems such as no evidence of the great flood combined with a boat too small to hold all the animals, no evidence of the census that Caesar Augustus was supposed to have ordered and no corroborating evidence that Jesus ever existed except for that probably fraudulent comment in Josephus.

Yup, sounds pretty trustworthy to me.

By jrkrideau (not verified) on 02 Jun 2014 #permalink

Scriptural literalism doesn't just deny the truth of science; it denies the teachings of religion as well. The world's scriptures were not written to be read literally; indeed, the concept of truth as literal, objective fact would have been alien to the people who wrote them. To ancient people, "truth" was about meaning, not facts. When you interpret scripture to be about facts, you lose the meaning. Progressive religious people understand this and have no quarrel with science, and I'm sure most of them are just as appalled at Ham as you are.

By Barbara O'Brien (not verified) on 03 Jun 2014 #permalink