We Don’t Disagree about Evolution—We Just Hate Each Other

Why can’t we stop fighting about evolution and creationism?  As I put the final touches on my new book about American creationism, one obvious but counterintuitive point keeps presenting itself: Creationists love science and want their kids to learn evolutionary theory. So why the endless battle? This morning at Heterodox Academy, Musa Al-Gharbi makes some points about culture-war confrontation that help explain the problem.

ebenezer-exhibit

We all love science, we just hate each other.

Al-Gharbi reviews some of the literature on the futility of culture-war shouting matches. We might think a reasoned, sensible argument will convince anyone who isn’t absurdly prejudiced. It seems the opposite can be true. Studies have found that stubbornness and intractability can increase when people are moreintelligent, educated, or rhetorically skilled.”

Why? Intelligent, informed, sophisticated people are more likely to be committed to ideas and ideologies. They are more experienced at the kinds of mental gymnastics that can help justify and rationalize seemingly illogical positions.

What can be done? Al-Gharbi suggests three general suggestions for improving real communication:

#1: LOWER THE PERCEIVED STAKES OF THE DISAGREEMENT OR CONFLICT

#2: APPEAL TO YOUR INTERLOCUTOR’S OWN IDENTITY, VALUES, NARRATIVES, FRAMES OF REFERENCE WHEN POSSIBLE

#3 LEAD BY EXAMPLE. MODEL CIVILITY, FLEXIBILITY, INTELLECTUAL HUMILITY, GOOD FAITH IF YOU WANT OTHERS TO DO THE SAME

Could these suggestions help creationists and non-creationists talk to each other more productively?

Consider a few obvious points.

First of all, it may seem like a tired old idea to SAGLRROILYBYGTH, but some people out there still don’t get it. Creationists aren’t anti-science. Not even the most extreme sorts of young-earth creationists are. As we’ve seen in these pages, young-earth creationists spend millions of dollars to give their creation museums the look, feel, and intellectual heft of mainstream science museums.

And, as trenchant critics Bill and Sue Trollinger point out, the Creation Museum doesn’t oppose science. To the contrary, the creationists at Answers In Genesis took pains to create something that looks like a “cutting-edge, state-of-the-art natural history museum.” In Kentucky, at least, radical creationists might not agree with me about the definition of good science, but they definitely love science itself.

righting america at the creation museum

We don’t have to agree with creationism to do a better job of understanding it.

Even when it comes to the science of mainstream evolutionary theory, creationists and non-creationists agree on big questions. Here at ILYBYGTH, we’ve heard from creationist homeschool moms who read Richard Dawkins to help teach their kids about evolution. And we’ve noticed ardent Texas creationists who want schoolkids to read the latest evolutionary science.

If we all want the same things—though maybe for different reasons—why do we keep fighting about evolution?

At least in part, we non-creationists need to take a good hard look in the mirror and see if we’ve been following Al-Gharbi’s advice. Have we tried to lower the perceived stakes of our conflict? Have we tried to really understand creationism and creationists? And have we spoken civilly and humbly to our creationist neighbors?

Too often, the answer is an angry no.

Consider just a few of the most famous examples.

Our most famous evolution mavens tend to speak angrily and ignorantly about creationism. They tend to do what they can to increase the stakes of our disagreements.

Richard Dawkins, for example, repeatedly blasts creationists as nothing but ignoramuses or worse. He tells anyone who listens that a profound understanding of modern evolutionary theory is the best way to cure religious people of their “god delusion.” As he promised about his book of that title, “religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

It’s hard to imagine a better way to raise the perceived stakes in our creation/evolution disagreements than to insult all creationists and promise that evolutionary theory will lead them to atheism.

It’s not just the irascible Dawkins, though. The friendlier Science Guy Bill Nye also tends to muff his chances at better communication. In his recent book Undeniable, for example, Nye lambastes creationists as people “casting doubt on science and unbelievers.”

As we’ve seen, though, creationists love science. It’s the unbelievers they’re chary about.

What’s the takeaway here? When it comes to our creation/evolution battles, those of us who want more and better evolution education will be wise to avoid these sorts of unnecessary and unhelpful blunders. We should work hard to understand creationism better. We should try to build on our vast areas of agreement instead of focusing on the things we won’t agree about. And we should avoid preaching to our own choir with gratuitous and inaccurate insults of our creationist neighbors and friends.

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Saddle Sore at the Ark Encounter

I just don’t get it. No, no, no, I’m not talking about the seemingly obviously false idea that the entire earth was really deluged in a flood and that eight humans survived on a floating zoo. And no, I’m not talking about the diorama at Ark Encounter depicting humans fighting dinosaurs and giants in a kind of Colosseum of Doom. I’m not talking even talking about young-earth creationist notions that humans and dinosaurs lived together, or that the earth and everything is only a few thousand years old.

20171226_113134

Dinos dinos dinos…

I can’t say I really understand those things, but that’s not what’s been bothering me since my trip to the Ark Encounter. Here’s the riddle that’s on my mind: If Ken Ham is embarrassed by the notion of people joy-riding on dinosaurs, then why does the Ark Encounter make such a big deal about the dinosaur angle? Why don’t they downplay it? I have a hunch, but I’d be happy to be educated on the subject by SAGLRROILYBYGTH.

We know Ken Ham is touchy about mockery related to dinosaurs wearing saddles. A few years back, for example, he reacted furiously to journalist Charles P. Pierce’s jokes about the Creation Museum. For Pierce, the idea of dinosaurs with saddles was the perfect epitome of “Idiot America.” Never one to back away from a fight, Ham huffed,

Those who oppose the Creation Museum, having by and large given up on trying to argue logically and scientifically against the information presented in its exhibits, are resorting more and more to a mocking, scoffing, and a ridiculing approach. . . . The dinosaur with the saddle is obviously just a fun part for kids—it has nothing to do with any of the teaching exhibits, and nothing to do with the first-class dinosaur exhibit and all the teaching signs.

Fair enough. But it doesn’t answer my question. If Mr. Ham knows that so many people find the idea of dinosaurs and humans living together ridiculous and laughable, why does he harp on it so incessantly? The Ark Encounter, for example, prominently features dinosaurs in cages next to other sorts of animals.

20171226_115231

Lots of dinos on board…

Ham’s publications, too, willfully emphasize the notion that people must have put saddles on dinosaurs. A book I picked up in the gift shop features questions about radical creationism from kids. One ten-year-old from Michigan asked, “Did we use dinosaurs for transportation?”

How did Ham respond?

I know the Bible doesn’t specifically address this question, but . . . we can use the reasoning skills God gave us and His Word to come up with an answer. . . . I can think of many animals that have been tamed. . . . why not some of the dinosaurs? Who knows what they were doing? It seems to me we should at least allow the possibility that some could have been tamed to help with transportation, maybe even farming, hauling heavy loads (the strong ones!) and other things.

Not just dinos with saddles, but dinos with plows, carts, and all sorts of other bizarre combinations. Why, oh why, would a radical creationist harp on this notion, when he knows that it will lead to mockery and contumely from the outside world?

aig dino question book

Did people ride dinosaurs? Yes, Virginia…

I have a hunch. First of all, I think many of us never rise above a Flintstones level of understanding the real relationship between dinosaurs and later life forms. For many people—creationist or not—it is not shocking to think of dinosaurs and humans living side by side, attending drive-in movies together.

But there’s more going on than just an appeal to ignorance. I think the Answers In Genesis crowd is convinced that dinosaurs are the key to their creationist kingdom. If they can show people dinos and humans living together, it might shake up people’s assumptions that the earth is far older than 6,000 years or so. If people see dinos wearing saddles and plowing fields, it might prompt them to say, “Hey, weren’t dinosaurs extinct long before people started farming?” The question, AIG might hope, would lead to a healthy shake-up of people’s thinking; it would give AIG missionaries a chance to offer their young-earth answer.

At least, this is the explanation from AIG stalwarts such as Buddy Davis. Davis calls dinosaurs “missionary lizards.” As Davis explains,

As non-Christians hear the biblical explanation of dinosaurs, many have been, and will be, challenged to listen to the rest of what the Bible states. We rejoice that many have been won to the Lord using the true history of these missionary lizards.

For AIG’s radical creationists, then, the notion of humans and dinosaurs living together is not something to be embarrassed about, but something to be trumpeted. If enough people see dinosaurs with saddles, the thinking goes, then they will be compelled to explore AIG’s creationist ideas.

Is it working? Not really. As George Bishop of the University of Cincinnati found, radical creationists aren’t any more consistent than the rest of us. Professor Bishop poked the usual poll numbers and found some strange results. Of people who said that humans had been created recently, over half also believed that dinosaurs had gone extinct over 65 million years ago.

Nevertheless, if my recent trip to the Ark Encounter is any guide, the creationists at AIG have confidence that their focus on dinosaurs will help people see the light.

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

For family reasons, I spent Christmas this year in scenic Florence, Kentucky. florence yallOnce the presents were opened and the piñatas destroyed, I snuck off to see the newish jaw-dropper from Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis: The Ark Encounter.

It really was a remarkable sight—an enormous ark rising out of the Kentucky fields. For the next few days, I’ll be sharing my reflections about the trip.

20171226_112046

Wowzers.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know, I’m no creationist, but I’m not interested in poking fun at the young-earthers. I don’t even want to get into a shouting match about why this kind of science doesn’t make sense to me. Rather, as I finish up my new book about American creationism, I wanted to use my visit to understand radical creationism better. And it worked, sorta. My trip has my head whirling with questions like the following:

  • How does the Ark museum help explain why so many white evangelicals love Trump?
  • If the idea of dinosaurs hanging around with people is so radically different from mainstream science, why does AIG harp on it so much?
  • Why the fascination with poop?
  • Do other museums these days put huge blown-up comic books on the walls?
  • Who are the young-earth creationists competing with?
  • Why are the AIG folks so obsessed with college?

Right off the bat, though, I can’t help but remark on the most obvious lesson I learned from my field trip: In many ways, the Ark Encounter is at least as much about making money as about saving souls. Like all museums everywhere, we had to overpay for parking—ten bucks in a mostly-empty lot. And like all museums everywhere, for some reason we could have coughed up fifty-one cents for a squashed-penny Ark Encounter memento.

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Squeezing every penny out of visitors…

Give Creationists Government Rocks!

If you listened only to his press releases, you’d think creationist impresario Ken Ham was the most persecuted man in America, standing boldly in the path of “brainwashed” government leaders set on ruthless atheist indoctrination of America’s creationist kids. Mostly, his puffed-up rhetoric is silly and overblown. In one recent case, though, Ham and his colleagues are exactly right. There is no reason why they should not be allowed to engage in their peculiar science. More specifically, there is no reason why the government should not give them equal access to research materials.

Here’s what we know: Andrew Snelling, a young-earth creationist researcher affiliated with Ham’s Answers in Genesis organization, has been denied permission to remove rocks from the Grand Canyon. Yesterday, the conservative activist organization Alliance Defending Freedom has filed suit on Snelling’s behalf in federal court.andrew snelling grand canyon

The suit alleges that the Department of the Interior unfairly discriminated against Snelling for his creationist religious beliefs. Snelling had hoped to remove about thirty pounds of rocks from the Grand Canyon. He wanted to ship them back to his lab in Kentucky for research purposes.

According to news accounts, Dept. of Interior officials sent his application to mainstream scientists for review. One called Snelling’s creationist research “outlandish.” Another rejected the application due to its “dead-end creationist material.”

Let me be clear: I agree that the science pursued by Snelling is outlandish. It might not be “dead-end,” but it is “zombie science.”

But that does not mean that Dr. Snelling does not have every right to engage in his scientific pursuits. The reviewers in this case seem to have a woefully skewed idea of the proper role of government. According to one report, at least, one of the academic reviewers told the Department of Interior this case was

not a question of fairness to all points of view, but rather adherence to your narrowly defined institution mandate predicated in part on the fact that ours is a secular society as per our constitution.

Of course, that’s not what our First Amendment demands at all. Its two clauses—the establishment clause and the free exercise clause—never demand or even suggest a government role in creating a secular society. Rather, the federal government may not establish a religion. Nor may it inhibit free exercise of religion.

In this case, the government has no mandate to decide if Snelling’s work is secular enough to qualify. Neither the government nor anyone else can say with a straight face that Snelling is not engaged in scientific research. It might be kooky. It might be zombie. But “science” is not subject to a simple demarcation. It’s not a simple matter for anyone to rule something out of the realm of science. It is certainly more than government regulators can hope to do.

What should the Department of Interior do? Let Snelling sample the rocks! Give him equal access to publicly available research materials!

None of this means that the Department of the Interior can never limit the use of Grand Canyon rocks. Obviously, if some scheming entrepreneur wanted to take rocks out of the canyon to sell, he should be denied. Or, if the rocks were extremely rare and fragile—if removing them would harm the canyon—permission should be denied.

Plus, at times the federal government needs to make hard decisions about good science. When there’s federal money on the table, for instance, the government has a duty to choose the best, most promising proposals to fund. So, in this case, if Dr. Snelling was applying for a National Science Foundation grant to pay for his research, it would make perfect sense for reviewers to weigh in on the likely “dead-end” nature of his proposed research.

Similarly, if kids and public education are involved, the government has a similar duty to discern. As Harvey Siegel and I argue in our recent book Teaching Evolution in a Creation Nation, just because we can’t clearly define away creation science as non-science, we can still conclude that it is worse science. We don’t need to include every scientific idea in public-school science classes, only the good ones. And by any reasonable measure Dr. Snelling’s young-earth science is not as good as mainstream evolutionary science.

In this particular case, however, there is no government money on the table. There is no implied endorsement of religious ideas. There are no public schools involved.

So we say: Let Snelling work! Let him study rocks!

Of course, the folks at Answers In Genesis might not like some of the results. If they call for scientific resources to be open for all, they should also open up their one-of-a-kind fossil resources to outside researchers.

Are You a Big Fat Idiot?

Are you like me?  That is, do you believe in evolution?

Or, to be precise, do you think evolutionary theory is our best current explanation of the way species came to be different from one another?

If you do, you might just be a big fat idiot just like me!

peter griffin evolve fish man

He’s big, he’s fat, and he’s an idiot.

It’ll come as no surprise to SAGLRROILYBYGTH* that questions of knowledge and belief are inextricably tangled up when it comes to evolution and creation.  There are plenty of creationists who know what the theory of evolution says, but wouldn’t say they “know” it.  And there are plenty of evolution supporters who think evolutionary theory is the best way to understand things, but they wouldn’t want to say they “believe” it.

That’s why in our recent book, Harvey Siegel and I advocated cutting the connection in our public-school science classes.  Yes, let’s help students understand what evolutionary theory says, but let’s remain carefully neutral about what students might believe.

After all, we know there must be creationist kids out there who don’t want to “believe” in evolution since they think it’s against their religion.  But here’s the kicker: Plenty of us who say we “accept,” “know,” or “believe” in evolution don’t really know much about it.

Exhibit A: Family Guy.  In Peter Griffin’s telling, evolution happened over millions of years.  In this clip, we see ambitious fish turning into to lizards, who stretch their way into dinosaurs.

We also see Family Guy’s vision of creationism (“obligated by the state of Kansas…” ha), in which Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie blinks everything into existence, including a rabbit, a car, and Jesus with a “USA#1” foam finger.

Family Guy i dream of jeannie creationism

Not exactly what Kansas creationists teach, either.

For now, though, let’s focus on the evolution part of Family Guy’s history of the world.  Granted, Peter Griffin really is a big fat idiot.  Nevertheless, his description of evolution is pretty close to what most of us think of as the story of life, evolution-style.

We talk about animals crawling up out of the slime to walk on land.  We talk about animals that are “perfectly evolved” for their habitats.  We imagine a process by which animals and plants get better and better—higher and higher up an evolutionary ladder—and we think we are talking about evolutionary theory.

The problem is, we’re not.  The idea of animals working hard to improve themselves and work their way up the evolutionary ladder doesn’t match what scientists think happens.  We see our comfortable myth of evolution everywhere, though.  In my “Evolving Darwin Play Set,” for example, we see animals working their way up from “fish-man” to “genius.”

evolving darwin play set

From “Fish-Man” to “Genius” in only 380 million years!

If you’re like me, you have a vague sense that that’s the way evolution worked.  The problem is, we’re wrong.

If you ask a friendly science geek, evolution didn’t doesn’t have any sort of goal in mind.  Evolution is not about getting higher up a great chain of being.  Evolution is not about getting better and better until slime becomes scientist.  Rather, we’re supposed to think of evolution as a bushy process, a continual series of slow-motion experiments that don’t move toward anything.  We’re not supposed to imagine animals improving toward a goal, but rather just doing what they can to survive and reproduce, holding on to traits that seem to help.

Is that what you think of when you think of evolution?  If so, congratulations, you’re not a big fat idiot.  But if you really know what evolutionary theory says, you are an unusual person.

Most of us, whatever we say we believe about evolution, don’t know much about modern evolutionary theory.  As Dan Kahan reminds us, people who say they accept, know, or believe evolution can’t do a better job of explaining it than people who say they don’t.

What about you?  If you’re like me, you accept evolutionary theory.  But you don’t really know much about it.  Like Peter Griffin, we have a sense that evolution took a long time and that animals changed from one thing into another.  But the images we carry around in our heads aren’t really evolutionary theory, but rather myths about the origins of life featuring the vague and faceless deity “Evolution.”

Does it matter?  If we want to understand the creation/evolution battles, it matters a lot.  Most important, IMHO, it helps us understand that we’re all a lot more similar than we might think.  The folks who troop into Ken Ham’s Creation Museum might be a bunch of big fat idiots, but so are the rest of us.  When it comes to questions of evolutionary theory, most of us don’t know what we’re talking about.  We trust in the authority of our experts, but in a pinch, we can’t really explain what our experts believe.

*Sophisticated and Good-Lookin Regular Readers of I Love You but You’re Going to Hell, natch.

 

I Love It When You Call Me Stoopid, Or, Half-Time in the Culture-War Locker Room

HT: DW

Are creationists stupid? The writers of one Saturday Night Live skit think so. The question that’s got us curious this morning, though, is why leading young-earth creationist Ken Ham is so eager to publicize the skit. To this writer, it looks eerily similar to what a coach tells a team in a good half-time speech.

To be fair, the Kat & Garth skit doesn’t say that ALL young-earth creationists are stupid. But this particularly stupid pair of vest-bedecked singin’ idiots happen to be creationists. As the news host threatens to kick them out for their stupidity, they plead, “No, please, we came all the way from the Creation Museum!”

Love the New Album!

Love the New Album!

You might think that the brains behind the Creation Museum itself might want to let this ill-begotten gag fade quietly into the Saturday night. You’d be wrong. Instead, Ken Ham has shared this video with all his many followers. Why? According to Ham, this skit is proof of the besieged nature of authentic Christianity. It proves, Ham writes, that

the mocking of anything Christian in the culture is growing. We see increasing attacks by the secularists on Christianity—they have become so bold now that they’ve been successful in removing crosses, Nativity scenes, and Ten Commandments displays, and have been imposing their own atheistic religion on the culture. Recently, they have been increasingly spreading lies in a propaganda campaign of misinformation about our future Ark Encounter project (and had been doing that in regard to the Creation Museum for many years).

As we’ve seen, this has become part of our culture-war script. Both sides in every contest rush to proclaim their own status as victim. Ham’s Ark Encounter is a good example. Until they were recently scrapped, the project had expected to receive hefty tax breaks. Progressives bemoaned these tax breaks as an example of Kentucky theocracy. The victims, progressives insisted, were Kentucky tax-payers forced to foot the bill for Ham’s fundamentalist building spree.

As with the SNL persecution, Ken Ham insisted that his ambitious Ark Encounter was the underdog. Local newspapers, Ham complained, attacked the project due to their “anti-Christian agenda.”

Why the rush to victimhood? It seems to resemble nothing more than a half-time speech. No team gets psyched up to hear that things are going fairly well and that they should relax. Rather, coaches insist either that they are just on the verge of triumph and one more big push will put them over the top, OR that they are being hammered mercilessly and unfairly and they must unite and focus all their strength.

As Ken Ham told readers in one recent blog post, the successes of a recent atheist billboard campaign proved the need for urgent action. When atheists win, Ham warned,

they have successfully removed the Christian religion and are now imposing their religion of atheism on the culture! Just because they remove a Christian message does not mean there is a neutral situation—there is no neutral position. One is either for or against Christ!

Consider how much less exciting it would be for Ham and other culture warriors to agree that their opponents make good points, but that they respectfully disagree. It is hard to get a good culture-war riled up that way.

US Government Employs Creationist Scientists

Thanks to the ever-watchful Sensuous Curmudgeon, we learn of plans to open a new, enormous creation museum near Boise, Idaho.  But in exploring the announcement of this planned mega-museum, we came across an interesting tidbit: Two of the creationist scientists involved in this project worked for the US government as geologists.  Does this mean that the government is funding creation science?  And does it prove the creationist claim that their experts are engaged in “real” science?

As reported yesterday by the Boise Weekly, the Northwest Science Museum has big ambitions.  Its founders want to open an enormous display area, 300,000 to 450,000 square feet.  They hope to build a full-size replica Noah’s Ark that could rival the plans of the more-established Creation Museum in Kentucky.

Big Plans for Boise

Big Plans for Boise

Whether or not the Idaho creationists succeed in their lavish plans, they will likely end up adding another stop to those who want to tour the nation’s many creation museums.  More interesting, the announced plans also raise crucial questions about creationism and government support for religion.

In their attempt to raise funds for their new project, the leaders of the Boise museum published a prospectus that includes information about themselves.  According to this document, the leadership team includes two experienced geologists.

Douglas J. Bennett, founder of the museum, has degrees in geology and science education from Boise State University.  For the past eighteen years, Bennett has worked as a geologist for the US Bureau of Reclamation.  Similarly, museum founder Brent Carter earned a degree in geology from a large public university and worked for 42 years as a geologist for the same US Bureau, retiring with the title of Chief Geologist of the Pacific Northwest Region.

More than the opening of a new creation museum, these careers raise important questions for those of us interested in issues of evolution and creationism.

First, some might suggest that long governmental careers for these ardent and active creationists implies government support for religion.  But does it really?  After all, the government likely hired them to do specific jobs.  They had the necessary qualifications.  Whatever they chose to do in their private lives wouldn’t be any of the government’s business.  Nor would the government be supporting these men’s religious work, as long as each geologist didn’t do his creationist research while on the clock.

More interesting, we have to ask what these careers tell us about the intersection of mainstream science and creation science.  In the recent debate between leading creationist Ken Ham and leading science pundit Bill Nye, Nye repeated his charge that creationism blocked kids from learning science.  Ham retorted with several examples of successful creationist scientists and engineers.

The careers of Bennett and Carter seem to help the creationist case.  After all, if they have both had successful careers as geologists, how can we say that creationists can’t do science?  One might suggest that the sorts of engineering tasks these creationists engaged in were not primary science.  But it seems to me a stretch to say that these creationist geologists did not have careers specifically in the science that is contested.  In other words, both of these men worked as geologists, though their religious beliefs gave them very non-mainstream ideas about that geology.

Consider—again from the museum prospectus—the tasks Bennett claimed to have worked on for the US government.  As part of his job, Bennett

Performed surface and subsurface geotechnical studies and exploration programs utilizing diamond drill, power-auger, test pits, tunnels, and other processes to secure data for seismotectonic, ground-water, and other special studies of dams, reservoirs, canals, tunnels, spillways, power plants, and related structures.

One might say that none of this engineering work includes primary geological research.  And if it did, someone who believed in a young earth and a recent world-wide flood would be at a crippling disadvantage.  But anti-creationists sometimes make a different point.  Bill Nye, for instance, has warned that a creationist nation will soon fall behind in technology and engineering.

The careers of Bennett and Carter seem to demonstrate the weakness of that argument.  Indeed, Nye argues that creationism will turn kids away from science-related careers.  But in the case of these two men, at least, it was precisely their religious beliefs that led them to careers in geology.

So does this case show government support for creationism?  Not really.  But it does offer evidence that creationism does not necessarily deter young people from going into science-related careers.  Indeed, because of the tumult over the nature of biology and geology, perhaps creationist beliefs actually drive some young people into careers in science.

 

 

Take the Creation Museum Challenge

We can gnash our teeth.  We can pull our hair.  But no matter what we do, the Creation Museum of Answers In Genesis has pulled it off.  With its new $1.5 million dinosaur exhibit, the flagship museum of young-earth creationism has successfully mimicked the outward appearance of mainstream scientific museums.

Big Valley Creation Science Museum

Big Valley Creation Science Museum

It used to be easy.  Creationist museums used to be only sad little affairs.  They used to look like this one from Alberta, Canada.  The Big Valley Creation Science Museum, pictured here, may do a great job in spreading the creationism gospel.  But no idle tourist would be likely to confuse it with mainstream museums such as the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History or Boston’s Museum of Science.

It used to be easy for outsiders like me to mock the lame pretensions of the many creation museums that dotted our great land.  And Canada.  As one angry visitor noted, even the bigger creation museums used to have strange, sad displays like this one from San Diego’s Creation and Earth History Museum.

Not a Lot of Big Bang for your Buck

Not a Lot of Big Bang for your Buck

But here’s the new challenge: Can you tell which of the three pictures below comes from Kentucky’s Creation Museum display and which come from the Smithsonian and Boston’s Museum of Science?  As arch-creationist Ken Ham explained gleefully recently, this new display of a million-dollar Allosaurus fossil puts Ham’s Creation Museum in the same league as those mainstream museums.  As Ham put it,

For decades I’ve walked through many leading secular museums, like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and have seen their impressive dinosaur skeletons. But they were used for evolution. Now we have one of that class, and it will help us defend the book of Genesis and expose the scientific problems with evolution.

So take the Creation-Museum challenge.  Just by looking, can you tell which of these images comes from a young-earth creationist museum and which come from mainstream ones?  (Don’t cheat.  But once you’ve given it a try, you can click on each image to see its provenance.)

Is this "real" science?"

Is This “Real” Science?”

Or Is It This One?

Or Is It This One?

Millions of Years?  Or Millions of Dollars?

Millions of Years? Or Millions of Dollars?

This successful mimicry is important.  In creationism’s twentieth-century struggle to establish alternative educational institutions to rival those of mainstream science, young-earth creationists often wrestled with significant disadvantages.  Not least of these were questions of funding, as historian Ron Numbers described in his must-read book The Creationists and I detailed in my 1920s book.  In the case of this priceless fossil, rich creationists Michael and Stephen Peroutka donated it to help the Creation Museum with its work.

It would be nice to think that America’s public would make its decisions about the age of the earth and the origins of humanity by weighing evidence and considering counter-claims.  To people like me, the Creation Museum’s claim that this well-preserved fossil serves as proof of a worldwide flood 4,300 years ago seems absurd.

But I don’t think we need to be very cynical to guess that appearance matters.  As Dan Kahan argues, what people believe about creation and evolution usually has more to do with their cultural identity than it does with scientific evidence.  If Answers In Genesis can make their museum LOOK like the Smithsonian, many visitors will assume it is just as good.  And if Answers In Genesis can crank out peer-reviewed science publications that attest to the scientific veracity of their claims, many readers will assume their science is just as good.

So take the Creation Museum challenge.  If you can’t tell the difference, how can you expect anyone else to?

 

Debate Analysis

So, the Ham-on-Nye has come and gone.  For those of you who missed it, you can still watch the debate for a couple of days.  Or you can follow our comments and discussion from last night.

I’m very curious to hear people’s reactions.  For me, as someone convinced that humanity had its roots long ages ago in a process that did not need (or receive) any divine guidance, I certainly did not hear anything from Ken Ham to make me question my beliefs.  Though I did find Mr. Ham to be engaging and warm.  Speaking from the “evolutionist” side, I thought Nye did a good job, though I wished several times that he had taken different approaches.  For example, I think it is a bad strategy to focus on the unlikelihood of Noah’s Ark.  As Steve Carrell can tell you, such questions can all be answered with a steadfast belief in the power of the supernatural.  They do not need to make naturalistic sense.

As I describe in my upcoming book, William James Bryan handled this “village atheist” objection nearly a century ago.  When arch-skeptic Clarence Darrow put Bryan on the stand at the 1925 Scopes Trial, Darrow pressed Bryan on the believability of the Bible.  How could Joshua have told the sun to stand still?  Didn’t Bryan know that such a feat would cause the Earth to melt?  Bryan’s reply shut down Darrow’s attack, IMHO.  As Bryan put it, to cheers from the audience, if Darrow had trouble believing in miracles, the problem lay not with the miracles, but with the man.  It does not seem as if Nye understands this fundamental epistemological attitude among many religious people, not only young-earth creationists.

How about you?  Did any creationist readers find Mr. Nye’s arguments new or worth consideration? 

Were there any other parts of the debate that you found surprising or intriguing?

Personally, I thought the best part of the evening were the last section, when both speakers took audience questions.  Questions two and four were the best.  Each asked Nye to explain a fundamental mystery of origins, to which Nye replied in each case, “Don’t know.  It’s a remarkable mystery.”  Then, in each case, Ham rebutted that it was not really a mystery at all.  It was explained in the Bible.  It was a humorous exchange, and illuminated the difference between mainstream science and Biblical knowledge.

Creation Debate Update: Squeezing Out the Middle

Forget the Super Bowl.  Next Tuesday, February 4th, at 7 PM New York time, we’ll all be watching the debate between young-earth creationist Ken Ham and science popularizer Bill Nye.  It looks as if Nye and Ham agree on their goals: squeezing out the middle.  Both debaters want to draw attention to young-earth creationism, and their agreement threatens to exacerbate the divide between evolution and creationism.

The debate host, Answers In Genesis’ Creation Museum, will be streaming the action live for all of us to see.

Ken Ham has suggested that the debate might be a perfect learning opportunity for teachers and students in public school science classes.  From Ham’s point of view, this debate might be a chance to reach students who might not otherwise be aware that mainstream evolutionary science is full of holes.

Bill Nye, too, has explained his reasons for engaging in this debate.  In these pages and elsewhere, evolution-education mavens have wondered if this debate only legitimizes the dead science of the young-earth creationists.  As “The Science Guy” explained, “I don’t think I’m going to win Mr. Ham over.”

So why debate?  Nye says, “I want to show people that this belief is still among us. . . . It finds its way onto school boards in the United States. . . . I’m not going in as a scientist as such . . . I’m going in as a reasonable man.”

So it seems both debaters have the same goal.  Both men want to make people aware of the claims of young-earth creationism.  From Ham’s perspective, such awareness will help keep smart young Christians from leaving the faith.  From Nye’s point of view, if people know what creationism is, they will help fight against it politically.

With such agreement, it seems likely both debaters might succeed.  This debate might elevate the profile of young-earth creationism.  One casualty, it seems, will be other visions of creationism.  Ken Ham’s brand of young-earth creationism, after all, is only one extreme form.  Many religious people believe that humans and life were created at some point by God.  But they do not believe that they must discard the findings of modern science.  The folks at BioLogos, for example, insist that fervent Biblical Christianity can go hand-in-hand with mainstream evolutionary science.  And “old-earth” creationists such as Hugh Ross agree that God did it all, but they don’t insist that he did it only 6,000 years ago.

If this debate succeeds—at least according to the goals of both Ken Ham and Bill Nye—those “other” creationist belief systems will likely get squeezed even further out of the conversation.  That’s a shame.  Too many observers already equate “creationism” with young-earth creationism.  It may make for more lively debates, but it makes for less productive and civil conversations.