Fool’s Argument

First of a series

Last year we ditched the cable and bought into a couple of subscription streaming services. So, come Sunday , and it was promising to be a dull morning. I turned to Amazon Prime Video and browsed some stuff Barbara Jean had earmarked. Wow. Does God Exist? Yes, it’s there, and what a wonderful way it is to brighten up an otherwise dull Sunday morning.

Of course I needed to watch. Here it is.

So I see that guy, and he’s asking the question, “Does God exist?” And he further asks, “Is the Bible really the word of God?” Also, “Was Jesus really the son of God?” These questions, I expect, will be answered. But one question that needs to be answered first is, “Who is that person asking those questions?”

Christians in Cinema: Dave Stotts

After attending Abilene Christian University in the Texas Panhandle, Dave Stotts hopped around a few more places before settling down in the Dallas Metroplex area. Married to Rebekah and the father of 2 sons (Seth and Luke), his time is divided between video post-production, theological studies and making history alive and entertaining.

When asked about his favorite restaurant, he immediately named “Mi Cocina,” which specializes in Tex-Mex cuisine (a man after my own heart!). A fan of science fiction epics (X-men, Superman, Star Wars) married to someone who doesn’t really care for them, Dave often watches his favorites with headphones. He’s even been known to impersonate Darth Vader for his youngest son “Luke, I’m your father”. I talked with Dave on a busy Thursday morning between video projects.

Then we get to the meat of the matter, and we see, as before, creationists Stephen C. Meyer. And it is good to see Dr. Meyer once more, even if this is not a recent production. My hope is he will be touching on a favorite topic of mine, namely Information and Myth:

Having nothing better to do, I was watching this on-line video. And the guy was making some statements about matter and information and energy, and, being composed of these things and having studied them in college, I was a little amazed at what the guy was saying. Time for a Slim Pickens movie quote here.1

The speaker was creationist Stephen C. Meyer, and that was no surprise. Meyer has just published his latest creationist book, and having nothing better to do, I ordered a copy from Amazon.com. Here is what Amazon has to say about the author:

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.2

Much is promised for this book. It’s supposed to set us straight about the basis for Intelligent Design and to make the case, using the story of DNA, for Intelligent Design. Once again, I will let Amazon do the talking:

That’s what I had to say eight years ago.

This seems to be a new setting. It is from all appearances a college classroom, and Meyer is going to address the question of whether God exists, and we can guess what the answer will be.

First off, I was unable to escape the notion this was dramatized. It gives the appearance of classroom instruction viewed live, but the use of multiple camera angles and the timing of the actions makes me doubt this could have been pulled off live. Live does not go this smoothly. There are times, when the camera angle shifts, that I would expect to see the camera that shot the previous view, and I do not. Let’s assume this is an informal, staged production. Also, in case you were not aware, this is a production of Focus on the Family:

Focus on the Family (FOTF or FotF) is an American Christian conservative organization founded in 1977 in Southern California by psychologistJames Dobson, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is active in promoting an interdenominational effort toward its socially conservative views on public policy. Focus on the Family is one of a number of evangelical parachurch organizations that rose to prominence in the 1980s.

Focus on the Family’s stated mission is “nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide”. It promotes abstinence-only sexual educationcreationism; adoption by married, opposite-sex parents; school prayer; and traditional gender roles. It opposes abortion; divorce; gambling; LGBT rights, particularly LGBT adoption and same-sex marriage; pornography; pre-marital sex; and substance abuse. Psychologistspsychiatrists, and social scientists have criticized Focus on the Family for trying to misrepresent their research to bolster FOTF’s fundamentalist political agenda and ideology.

We can tell up front there’s going to be a lot of solid science coming out of this.

There are ten episodes in the series plus a bonus, and the first is “Faith and Reason,” and Meyer gets into the meaning of faith, and hopefully why religious faith is not all that bad. For this kind of presentation, Meyer is an excellent choice. He is a polished presenter, and his formal training in philosophy of science provides the very material he needs for background. He can argue from an academically-grounded knowledge base.

That background, as I learned a few years back, is no inoculation against foolish thought. Robert Koons was then and still is a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where I once attended and obtained a degree. He came up to give a talk at UT Dallas in 2004, and I was there with a fellow skeptic to take it in:

All this got me to thinking, and when there was an opportunity to pose a question I asked just what it would take to be convincing. Passing by the bacterial flagellum for the time being, I brought up Behe’s example of human blood clotting chemistry (because that appears to me to be the bigger of these two cow cookies for Behe).4 I asked whether demonstrating feasible pathways to the present human clotting chemistry would sufficiently refute Behe’s whole argument for irreducible complexity.

To recapitulate, human blood clotting chemistry is quite complex (what isn’t in biochemistry). When a blood vessel is opened, an elaborate chain—a cascade—of chemical reactions is set into motion. If any step in the chain is missing, or is inadequate for the job, blood clots form prematurely, or we bleed excessively, even to death. Think hemophilia. How could that assemblage of chemical reactions have come about by mutation combined with natural selection? No single mutation, subsequently fixed through natural selection, could have produced all of the required steps simultaneously. If any of our ancestors lacked even one of the steps, we would not be reading this skeptical rag.

Knowing that biologists have a good lead on possible pathways and an effective refutation of Behe’s blood chemistry argument, I asked how many of Behe’s examples need to be explained before irreducible complexity is dead.

Not just one, Koons surmised. One example does not make for solid proof.

What Koons ending up saying is that creationists could pose a large number of examples of supposed irreducible complexity, and biologist would need to refute a slew of these before we should bring the concept into question. My experience, as I noted back then, is that in science and in academia you can expect to present two or at most three ridiculous arguments before you lose credibility. Koons seemed at the time vacant on this point.

But what of Meyer’s presentation on this day, apparently about 2009?

At one point he gets to the causality argument, and he states the misconception that cause and effect are essential to the working of the Universe. As is often pointed out, this is not the case. From all appearances and from all known experience, cause and effect are not essential. At the base of physical science, events happen without a cause. Not a big deal, but certainly not in line with Meyer’s train of thought.

That brings us to Meyer’s central argument in Episode 1. We know the effect. We see it all around us. We see birds, we feel the wind. There are stars and planets, and people and love and happiness (my wording). What is the cause? Is it blind physics? He is going to argue no. Eventually he is going to postulate that God is the best explanation—the best and ultimate cause. Here God is the capital G in the middle of his blackboard.

 

And Meyer’s argument is the proper inference is a being of some sort manifesting intelligence and passion. The problem with this is–pause for a moment–what we call intelligence and passion are human qualities. He, and others in the Intelligent Design movement, are taking these and other human qualities and creating a God that possesses these and in turn creates beings, ourselves, that have these properties. The argument is unquestionably circular.

I will state, as I have before, that if there were a being, such as the proposed God, and this being were all-knowing and all-powerful (omniscient and omnipotent), then what would would this God do? Create a Universe? Create a planet and populate it with beings possessing intelligence and passion? Why? The motivation to create, even if to experiment, is a quality found in living things on this planet. And that includes us. We have those qualities because they are essential to survival. Such need would not exist for an omniscient and omnipotent being. If there is Intelligent Design, then we are not the product. We are the designer.

Episode 2 is going to be “The Big Bang Cosmology: The Finite Universe.” I’m thinking that’s going to  be  more interesting, and I will post a review later this week. These are short, around 30 minutes, so they pose little challenge to my attention span.

Here is a link to a promo on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S-5GdCPp7c

Hey! If you’re not an Amazon Prime subscriber you can purchase the DVD set on Amazon.

www.amazon.com/TrueU-01-Building-Scientific-Discussion/dp/B00UTUDIT6/

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The Age Of Embarrassment

Number 15 in a series

From the journal Science

 

There was a time we now call the Age of Enlightenment, centered in the 18th century. It was a time of scientific awakening, a time from which sprang many of our modern scientific principles. That was so three centuries ago. We may now have entered the Age of Embarrassment:

Science Teaching Guidelines Trigger Criticism in New Mexico

Sept. 19, 2017, at 5:09 p.m.

By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Environmentalists and educators raised new objections Tuesday to proposed changes to teaching standards for science in New Mexico that substitute references to rising global temperatures and climate change with statements about climate “fluctuations.”

The New Mexico Public Education Department has suggested several custom additions and deletions as it moves forward with adopting a set of science standards developed by a consortium of states and the National Academy of Sciences.

Additions that highlight the study of New Mexico’s unique natural history are being overshadowed by several deletions of references to evolution, the 4.6 billion-year age of the earth and climate change.

My goodness! Is it time to ride that old dinosaur into ground again?

The story, featured in The Washington Post yesterday, further describes idiotic themes promoted by the Mercer Counter public school system. According to the Post report, a lesson contained the following language: “imagine that human beings and dinosaurs existed at the same time.” It continued: “So picture Adam being able to crawl up on the back of a dinosaur!” Additionally: “He and Eve could have their own personal water slide! Wouldn’t that be so wild!”

The Associated Press story, running in U.S. News and World Reports, has more to say. Issues such as this are often advanced by politicians who have personal stakes. Apparently one such is Representative Jim Smith, who is also a retired school teacher. He is quoted as saying:

“I think it’s better to take the middle ground where people in all those different areas of the state can accept standards that they can teach within,” he said. “You give students the opportunity to come to their own conclusions. I as a science teacher certainly don’t deny that there is global warming happening. I think ‘fluctuations’ is a better term for it.”

An inch-deep Google search does not reveal a lot about Representative Smith’s personal life, and his record in Santa Fe shows a genuine concern for good government. However, statements such as “You give students the opportunity to come to their own conclusions,” are indicative of the creationist movement’s approach to public school encroachment. Laws enacted in other states to promote “teaching the controversy” have demonstrated to be thinly-disguised fronts to enable teachers desiring to promote creationism and other biblical teachings. One effect of such laws is to provide cover for teachers who go outside the curriculum and introduce religious concepts.

From all appearances, Dr. Smith finds fault with the idea that human activity is mainly responsible for global warming. He likes the term “fluctuations” to give the idea the climate has always been changing, and there is no need to take action to forestall any calamitous consequences. He takes this stance in defiance of the best conclusions of modern science.

A story appearing in the Albuquerque Journal further highlights attempts to dilute the teaching of biological evolution:

 

The plan was criticized Friday by Stephanie Ly, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, who called it a “perverted, watered-down vision” of the Next Generation Science Standards.

Ly accused Ruszkowski in a written statement of proposing standards “that question climate change, deny evolution, promote the fossil fuel industry, and even question the age of the Earth – all areas of consensus among the scientific community.”

One proposed addition to the high school curriculum asks students to use a model to describe the effects of energy flows on Earth “that were caused by natural occurrences that are not related to human activity.”

Another omits the word “evolution” and replaces it with the phrase “biological diversity.”

Nothing has to date been signed off, and science teaching in New Mexico remains safe for the present. The continued actions by fact-deficient public employees remains a concern to a population still possessed of a healthy respect for fact-based governance. Though it may never come to pass, we continue to look forward to that day when creationists ride the dinosaur into the sunset.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Bat Shit Crazy

Tenth of a series

It’s a good thing none of that stuff is still going around:

This West Virginia school district has weekly Bible classes. A kindergartner is suing.

March 22

A kindergartner is battling county officials in federal court over Bible classes in public school.

In a federal lawsuit filed in January, Jane Doe, a pseudonymous plaintiff who is the mother of Mercer County, W.Va., kindergartner Jamie Doe, challenged the county’s “Bible in the Schools” program, saying it was unconstitutional.

“This program advances and endorses one religion, improperly entangles public schools in religious affairs, and violates the personal consciences of nonreligious and non-Christian parents and students,” said the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

The story, featured in The Washington Post yesterday, further describes idiotic themes promoted by the Mercer Counter public school system. According to the Post report, a lesson contained the following language: “imagine that human beings and dinosaurs existed at the same time.” It continued: “So picture Adam being able to crawl up on the back of a dinosaur!” Additionally: “He and Eve could have their own personal water slide! Wouldn’t that be so wild!”

Yes, this public school is cool with the idea of passing on to students the false tale of Adam and Eve from the biblical book of Genesis. Additionally these public servants want to tell students that, contrary to known facts, people and dinosaurs existed contemporaneously. An item appearing on the Patheos blog provides additional detail:

Bible indoctrination classes have been taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years. Between 1939 and 1985, the bible classes were designed, financed, administered and staffed by a small group of Mercer County citizens. Following complaints by parents of eight students in 1985, the Mercer County schools took over the instruction in 1986, claiming to follow nine guidelines from the Office of the Attorney General.

Financing is provided by the “Bluefield Bible Study Fund, Inc.,” which operates a fund to pay bible teachers to instruct about 4,000 students. Bible teachers must follow lesson plans almost without deviation. There are 70 to 90 visuals used in each lesson. Lessons have included images of Jesus being tortured, nailed to the cross, and ascending into heaven.

Public schools can teach a host of ideas, but the idea of a person ascending into the sky while people look on is the far side of truth. Where did all this start? Where is it going to end? Are chemistry students going to learn everything is composed of four basic elements—fire, water, earth, and air? Will history classes get into the details of the lost city of Atlantis? Will science classes describe how the sun goes around the Earth? The Post item paints a dismal picture:

One mother in Mercer County said her child was indeed bullied for not attending the Bible classes. In fact, the bullying got so bad that Elizabeth Deal took her daughter out of the county school system, she said.

“I think this is definitely an outright gray area, if not outright illegal,” Deal said.

The school district’s motion also pointed out that the classes, which are paid for by a nonprofit organization, receive no public funding.

“The point of the course is to teach history and literature … a cultural enrichment objective,” said Hiram S. Sasser, a lawyer representing Mercer County Public Schools who works for the First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based nonprofit focused on religious freedom. “To make sure that students obviously have the social currency to interpret Western literature.”

“The point of the course is to teach history and literature … a cultural enrichment objective.” Really? When did teaching history turn into teaching fables as true? Are students to be left believing Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan were true-to-life and their exploits real? Is Washington Irving‘s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to be elevated to the status of a historical narrative? When did “cultural enrichment” become indoctrination? At what point do we need to stand back and call this what it is, Bat Shit Crazy?

[Full disclosure: I am a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.]

The Comfort Delusion

Continuing the discussion of creationist Ray Comfort

I previously reviewed creationist Ray Comfort’s book You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics. A lot of the book is about Christianity versus atheism, but it is front-loaded with an interesting chapter on creationism. Chapter One is titled “Creation Must Have a Creator,” and it gives the author ample space to expound on why creationism must be true, and biological evolution plus a host of other sciences must be false. In my review of the book I didn’t dig completely into Comfort’s argument against evolution, so I’m backtracking and picking up a few interesting points.

Start with Comfort’s take on transitional forms:

I’ve been looking into the issue for more than thirty years, and I have never seen a hint of genuine evidence of species-to-species transitional forms in the fossil record. The theory stands or falls on the supposed links between species. Even if you came up with what you believe is evidence, time would prove it to be another hoax, as it has so often in the past.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 471-473). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

This is an ageless creationist ploy, and some analysis is due, starting with some discussion.

A “transitional life form” or a “transitional fossil” is one that lies between two others in a chain of evolution. The TV program Nova on PBS has an excellent series titled Becoming Human, and it’s available for view on the Internet with a PBS subscription. Here is a screen shot from Episode Two (of three):

From PBS Nova: Becoming Human, Episode 2

This graphic lays out a collection of fossils representing the sequence of evolution from ancient ape-like creatures to modern humans. Scientists consider these to be valid transitional fossils. In fact, a strict definition of a transitional fossil makes it practically impossible to find a fossil that is transitional between an ancient creature and me. If somebody were bring to me the fossil remains of an ancient humanoid and tell me this is a transitional fossil between an ancient ape-like creature and me, then it would be easy for me to discount any proof the scientist could offer. At the very least I could force the scientist to demonstrate this ancient creature is, in fact, part of the evolutionary chain leading to me. There is no way to verify this particular creature did not die without ever producing any offspring.

This is a narrow restriction on the definition. In reality, scientists do not require a direct line of descent for transitional fossils. They allow great latitude. It is sufficient, and reasonably so, to describe as transitional any fossil that demonstrates the type of development expected in an evolutionary chain. For example, the fossil called Lucy is exhibited as an early hominin species called Australopithecus afarensis. While Australopithecus afarensis has not been demonstrated to be ancestral to modern  humans, the fossil does give proof to the existence of creatures representative of the human chain of evolution.

Any creationist worth his salt will dispute this being evidence of ape-like human ancestry, and to earn his daily bread he would demand to see samples from a single line of  descent, with a sample representing every thousand years or less and stretching back three million years. Never going to happen.

Comfort doesn’t go that far in his book. He settles for something like this:

Evolutionists say that all the animals we have now were not as we see them. They were radically different. Dinosaurs, over millions of years, became birds, fish became lizards, dogs were something else, primates evolved into human beings, etc. So, when they tell you this, ask why there are no species-to-species transitional forms in the fossil record. Why is there no evidence anywhere (in the billions of bones of dead animals) of any species becoming another species?

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 517-520). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

What Comfort seems to be demanding is something scientists do not expect to exist:

Let’s look closely at Tiktaalik, which evolutionists believe is an example of a species-to-species transitional form. We will go to the experts at Berkley. In an article published back in May of 2006, they ask the question, “What has the head of a crocodile and the gills of a fish?” (Wait a minute. Are the experts saying they have found a “Crocafish”? Why then am I so mocked by evolutionists when I ask you to show me a “Crocaduck”?

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 480-483). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

A woman I worked with years ago questioned me about transitional fossils. The discussion devolved to most recent common ancestor. I pointed out that somewhere in the distant past there was an animal that was ancestral to people and ducks. She asked me for the name of that animal. I rightly said that:

  1. That animal no longer exists.
  2. If I had one I would not be able to tell you the name, because nobody has identified this species.

Science produces any number of things that cannot be directly demonstrated, but that must be true. These things are based on other evidence and by reaching the most logical  conclusion. The existence of most recent common  ancestor is one of these truths. For Ray Comfort, and for a host of other dedicated creationists, nothing true can be demonstrated  that does not include Jesus:

So when we speak of absolutes, we are speaking of a different realm. Man is limited. God is not. In addition to having absolute knowledge, He is absolute perfection and absolute righteousness. And because of what He is, He makes absolute claims about right and wrong. This is what the Bible says of God’s omniscience and omnipresence:

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 346-348). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

He cites Psalm 139:1-8. Then:

If all this is true, it is unspeakably consoling for the Christian, and extremely frightening for the atheist (the “unbeliever”). Fortunately, there is a way to find out if it is true. God is there in the room with you right now…He’s seen everything you have done (even if it was done in complete darkness). He has been a witness to everything you have thought, and you have greatly angered Him—whether you believe it or not. So, today, repent of your sins and trust the Savior, and you will come to know Him. Absolutely.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 354-357). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

 

This is what passes for argument with people like Ray Comfort. It’s small wonder scientists have issues.

A continued analysis of Ray Comfort’s book will be worthwhile. Look for future installments of this series.

Heart Of Dumbness

Second in a Series

First of all, we should all be careful to not take Ray Comfort much too seriously. Even seriously:

In 2006, Comfort recorded a segment for The Way of the Master‘s television show in which he argued that the banana was an “atheists’ nightmare”, arguing that it displayed many user-friendly features that were evidence of intelligent design. Comfort retracted the video upon learning that the banana is a result of artificial selection by humans, and that the wild banana is small and unpalatable.

An excerpt of this amazing video is captured on YouTube, if only to embarrass Ray Comfort.

All this did not prevent me from purchasing a copy of Comfort’s book You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics. In the previous post I promised a review, and here it is. It’s 160 pages in the hard copy, but I purchased the Kindle edition.

Comfort has published a basket full of titles, laudable in itself. One is Overcoming Panic Attacks, but the remainder seemed to be overtly religious. I’m thinking possibly the panic attack book may also be anchored in religion. He is an evangelical Christian, teaming up with actor Kirk Cameron to form and promote The Way of the Master.

A big thing with Comfort is creationism and its obverse, modern science, biological evolution, cosmology, and anything else that gets in the way of creationism. That’s the center of the first of seven chapters, and readers will forgive me if I bear down on that section and trip lightly through the remainder. Besides the chapters there are also a forward, a preface, an introduction, a conclusion, and an excellent section of notes, covering references made in the book.

The Introduction is by atheist Darrin Rasberry, who oddly cautions us to be kind and gentle. Rasberry derides modern and vocal atheists, and it’s no wonder that he later turns out to have converted to the faith. This isn’t mentioned in the book, giving the impression that even atheists don’t like atheists. Notably, the book came out in 2009, and the link to Rasberry’s conversion dates from  2011.

Early on Comfort portrays matching it up with atheists as a grand sport. In the Preface he gives a clue to what is to come:

Most who profess atheism aren’t really “atheists.” After a few moments chatting with them about the fact that every building is proof that there was a builder, and that creation therefore is proof that there is a Creator, many change their minds.

But then there’s the staunch atheist. This one is a challenge. He is the marlin of deep-sea fishing, and he doesn’t give up easily. As a fisher of men, I have found that this type of atheist is always ready for debate. He will take the bait, the hook, and any line you give him, and give you a run for your money.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 55-60). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

But on to creationism. It is unfortunate that Comfort hangs so much of his argument for Jesus on the failure of evolution. His experience with the banana gives a clue to the level of intellect he brings to the discussion. He ties atheism to evolution, and he strikes close to home here. Modern theories of biological evolution completely undermine a basic premise of the Bible. Comfort and others of his ilk buy deeply into the literal truth of the Bible. To defend their faith, they must demolish evolution, along with geology, cosmology, and other facets of modern science. The first paragraph sets the stage:

Atheists’ beliefs vary as much as atheists themselves. Still, atheists hold a fundamental belief that unifies them. An “atheist” believes that there is no God and that man came into being without any intelligent design. If there was no designer, then an atheist owes his existence to random chance, over millions or billions of years, of course. While some believers in evolution deny that evolution is a random process, if it’s not unplanned, then it’s planned. And if it is planned, then there is Someone doing the planning.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 125-128). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Readers are going to come back at me and say, “Dude, there are loads of Christians who accept evolution as true.” Put those Christians aside, dear reader, Comfort has.

By the second paragraph he has launched into the kind of argument that brought him so much ridicule:

As a fly on the wall, we are there when Adam takes his first breath. It is fortunate that, when his lungs drew in the air that surrounded him, the air was there. If there had been no air, he wouldn’t have been able to breathe and he would have instantly died. But for some reason it was there, presumably at 14.7 pounds per square inch.

But it’s more miraculous than the air just being there. It was fortunate the air was made up of 78.09 percent nitrogen and 20.95 percent oxygen—the exact mixture that his lungs and blood needed to survive.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 130-134). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

He goes on to point out additional, miraculous, coincidences to illustrate why there must be a God who caused all this to happen and with a plan in mind. Wasn’t it nice that Adam just happened to have  lungs to breathe the oxygen. Wasn’t it nice that Eve came along about the same time so the Clan of Adam could populate the Earth. And wasn’t is fortunate that Eve just happened to have lungs so she did not die before Adam could put the move on her. Do I  have to explain what’s wrong with this? I hope not.

The foregoing is a preamble. It is a view into Ray Comfort’s intellectual processes that should disturb you. It is possible that I was unfortunate in spending my working  life in the company of people who think for a living. That in mind, it’s jarring when I encounter somebody like Comfort. This is not the kind of person who should be allowed to handle sharp objects. Additional  examples illustrate:

It was also an amazing coincidence that gravity existed at the time of their evolution. Without it, the first man and his first mate would have spun off into the infinitude of space. But for some reason it evolved and matured at just the right time to keep their feet firmly planted on the earth, which also evolved.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 137-139). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

 

The banana pales.

Comfort strives mightily to convince us that there must be a God behind the universe and all creations. He employs two devices:

  • Ex nihilo
  • Creation-creator

The first is that the universe is here but it has not always been here. This is the ex nihilo argument. Something cannot come from nothing. We never see this happen:

In all of history, there has never been an instance of anything spontaneously appearing out of nowhere. Something being created from nothing is contrary to all known science.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 382-384). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Except that we do. Quantum physics includes a a corner for actions without a cause and objects without a predecessor. Lawrence Krauss has discussed A Universe from Nothing. Folks, it is not unknown, if I can be forgiven the double negative.

The creation-creator argument is more involved. There is something. That something must have been created. Chapter One has the title “Creation Must Have a Creator.” Comfort illustrates:

In short, the evolutionary view cannot offer a logical, scientific explanation for either the origin or the complexity of the universe. There are only two choices: Either no one created everything out of nothing, or Someone—an intelligent, omnipotent, eternal First Cause—created everything out of nothing. Which makes more sense?

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 384-386). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Comfort plays lightly with the meanings of words. Something was created. Waves created ripples in the sand. But there is a chair. It takes an intelligent being, something with a purpose, to create a chair. Comfort wants us to know that all things that exist were created in the sense of the chair. Somebody wanted the chair, and the chair was created for a purpose. It’s a different concept of creation for the ripples in the sand, but Comfort wants to impute purpose in all things.

Comfort is missing a major point, previously discussed. The creation Comfort has in mind comes from purpose, and purpose is a feature of living things, at diminishing levels. It is well considered that plants do not think. They put out leaves and roots solely on the basis of blind chemistry. People are considered on this planet to be the kings of purpose. They fashion instruments out of metal for serving up food, and they also construct elaborate craft for exploring other planets. Ultimately it all boils down to a matter of chemistry in action, and other animals, for example ants, have less of purpose than people.

Purpose, however, is a result of biological evolution—biological evolution that Comfort so much despises. Purpose is an inherited trait that promotes survival and procreation in a loop that feeds back to increasing the presence of that trait in a population. Darwin was right, after all.

Supposing God exists. What was God’s purpose in creating? What was God’s purpose in creating the universe, the sun and planets, and all living things on Earth? Are we a cosmological science project concocted by an ethereal middle school pupil? That hardly seems likely. If you are an ethereal fellow, then you have not experienced the forces of environment inflicted by existing on this planet, which supposedly you created. Arguing for creation must argue for purpose, for which we can find no excuse. It’s a philosophically devoid enterprise. It’s an enterprise Comfort pursues with an astounding blindness.

A significant blind spot that Comfort has missed is the core of his pitch. God wants us to be moral people (as part of his science project), and Jesus is his vehicle for imparting morality. The evidence of creation is the evidence of God. Missing is the connection. Suppose I were successful in proving there must have been a God behind the creation of the Universe. Nobody has ever connected this God with Jesus. The Bible provides this connection, but it is just words printed on paper (originally on parchment). There is nothing historically or philosophically sound to connect the creation of the Universe with Jesus, and thus morality.

I will leave the creation-creator chapter at this point. Comfort spends the remaining six chapters talking morality, religious orthodoxy, biblical inerrancy. But before that he reminds atheists what horrible people we are. He complains of his treatment at the hands of atheists:

In April of 2007, during an ABC Nightline atheist debate, Kirk Cameron and I produced imaginary pictures of what we imagined would be genuine species-to-species transitional forms. We called one a “Crocoduck,” and another was called a “birddog.” This was to show exactly what evolutionists believe, but can’t back up through the fossil record. We were ridiculed, called stupid, and told that we didn’t understand evolution. However, these books vindicate us (not that we needed it). They have done with the future what evolutionists have done with the past. They have made a mockery out of science.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 609-613). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Bad. Really bad. How bad? Glad you asked:

It is because of God’s love that I care about the fate of atheists. When an atheist says he sees no evidence that God exists, I take the time to reason with him about creation not being an accident, even though it is intellectually demeaning to have to do so (atheism is the epitome of stupidity). It’s an intellectual embarrassment. But I have done so thousands of times, and will do so until my last breath…thanks alone to the love of God that dwells in me.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 170-173). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

Apparently there is a lot of that going around.

Comfort obviously sees morality as the cornerstone of his thesis. He talks to no end on morality. One aspect of comfort’s morality is something I find very strange, and that something is the matter of sexual lust. Sexual lust, he asserts (and he backs it up with biblical references) is the same as actual sexual coupling, and it is just as sinful. And that is what is so strange. Sexual coupling is sinful? Really/ Sexual coupling is how we make people. Without sexual coupling there would be no people, and without people there would be no Christianity.  He mentions the word lust 49 times in the book and adultery 30 times. Something has happened in Comfort’s life, having to do with sex, and it seems to have been devastating. And we are offered a peek into this world at the price of purchasing his book.

Comfort’s reasoning for concluding the Catholic Church is not Christian is beyond the scope of this post, and I’m not going to dig deeper into his eschatological haranguing. Comfort and Cameron can be watched at length and for free on YouTube. Readers with a thirst for more can pursue at their leisure. With popcorn.

Heart Of Dumbness

Possibly a new series

What got me to looking at this? Oh, yeah. It was a debate featuring Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. In 2002 the pair got together, along with radio host Todd Friel, and formed The Way of the Master, a Christian evangelism ministry based in the United States. Cameron is a former child actor, star of  Growing Pains, a popular sitcom series that ran six seasons starting in 1985. More recently Cameron produced and starred in Saving Christmas, which I reviewed last Christmas. Ray Comfort is remembered for his claims about the design of bananas. His claim is that bananas were designed especially for the convenience of  humans, despite their having been cultured by people from an inedible tropical fruit.

And that sets the stage. My searches turned up this interview, apparently staged in Austin over a public access channel. The video is posted on YouTube:

Uploaded on Mar 29, 2011

The Atheist Experience #702 from March 27, 2011, with Matt Dillahunty and Russell Glasser. Interview with Ray Comfort. Matt and Russell have a conversation “across the divide” with professional apologist Ray Comfort.

You might want to watch the video. It runs for 58 minutes, with Dillahunty and Glasser live in the studio and Comfort phoning in. I watched the entire 58 minutes, but the first few exchanges give the flavor of Comfort’s argument:

Regarding how to determine absolute truth, Comfort says as a Christian he can ascertain what is truth. He says he found absolute truth. “Jesus said, ‘I am the truth,’ and I don’t know if any atheist can point to some atheist that said that or point [to] anything that you can say, ‘This is absolute reality.'”

That’s an amazing argument, to say the least, and it points to why so many straight-thinking people cock their heads sideways when listening to Ray Comfort.

Russell Glasser takes up Comfort’s challenge and says,  “I am the way, and every thing I say is true.”

Comfort responds, “So now raise yourself from the dead, and I will believe you.”

At this point Glasser responds,  “Well how do you know that happened?” The matter is that Comfort is taking the story of resurrection as a given and going from there. Glasser could well  have responded by saying he, himself, rose from the dead, and he would have the same proof Comfort gives for the resurrection of Jesus.

The conversation gets into the scientific method, and Dillahunty elaborates. He refers to Comfort’s discussion of the age of the Earth in his book, You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think. The subtitle is Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics. The discussion centers on how science has handled the age of the Earth. Rather than recap from the video, I will quote something from the book:

Could you tell me how old you believe the Earth to be, and why?

I have no idea how old the Earth is, but I’m not alone in this. Science can’t make up its mind either. Just over one hundred years ago, scientists thought that the Earth was about 100 million years old. Soon after, they changed their minds and came to the confident belief that the correct number was 500 million years. Then they changed their minds again and the figure jumped to 1.3 billion years. It wasn’t long until they did a double take on that one and said that they believed it was perhaps 3 billion years old. Of course, now they think that it may be 4.55 billion years old, give or take a billion years. I’m sure that contemporary scientists think they have the right number this time, until they change their minds again when more data comes along…and, of course, none of the “faithful” will question it.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 326-332). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

People originally did not concern themselves with the age of the Earth. Then they made up stories, such as Genesis, which pegs the creation of the Earth about 4004 B.C. Later, after science developed as a human exercise, scientists figured the Earth must be much older, in the order of millions of years—this from geological deduction. Not mentioned in the conversation is Lord Kelvin’s (William Thompson) computation, limiting the age to 500 million years. Subsequent investigation made use of the decay of radioactive substances, and the age was extended to in excess of 4.5 billion years. Comfort interprets this as waffling, indicating scientists don’t have a clue. Christians, however know for certain, and the answer appears to be Genesis.

A number of topics get batted back and forth in the video, and one of  them is slavery, which seems to  be condoned in  the Bible. Actually, the Bible does condone slavery. However, Comfort attempts to weasel out of this difficulty by pointing out the difference between slaves kept by the Israelites and unfortunates kidnapped in  Africa and transported to the Americas. He hangs briefly on descriptions of Israelite prisoners of war being enslaved, but the two atheists remind him of other Israelites being made slaves. And the Bible is OK with that. Here is one example from the Bible Gateway site:

Exodus 21:2-6 King James Version (KJV)

If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.

If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.

If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.

And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:

Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

An underlying quantity is Comfort’s reliance on his experience with God as a basis for truth. He tells people (my interpretation) that if they truly have faith in God, then questions will be answered. It is a weird argument. It’s true because you believe it’s true.

If you want to follow through, there are a number of Ray Comfort debates on YouTube, and you can also follow the Atheist Community of Austin. Here’s a link: http://atheist-community.org

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

The Comfort Delusion

The North Texas Skeptics does not get involved in strictly religious matters. However, and this is crucial, when religious zealots, particularly creationists, make claims about scientific validity, they step into the purview of the NTS. That was the case ten years ago when creationists Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort elected to debate atheists on ABC Nightline:

Does God Exist? The Nightline Face-Off

“Proving the existence of God is actually a lot easier than you think,” said former child star Kirk Cameron, minutes before taking the stage for the “Nightline Face-Off.”

It was a warm Saturday night in New York City as a mixed crowd of atheists and Christians converged on Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan for the first “Nightline Face-Off.” And it wasn’t long before temperatures began to rise inside the auditorium.

The question for our debate was “Does God Exist?” and both sides went at the issue with a series of passionate declarations and critical attacks on the arguments of their opponents. It was a clean but unflinching contest.

Former child star Kirk Cameron and his evangelist colleague Ray Comfort had pledged to prove the existence of God, scientifically. Cameron and Comfort run an organization called the Way of the Master, which comprises a Web site and cable television show, all focused on preaching what they say is the truth of Christianity.

The atheists debating Cameron and Comfort were Brian Sapient and a woman identified only as “Kelly.” Kelly is Kelly O’Conner, and the two are members of The Rational Response Squad:

The Rational Response Squad, or RRS, is an atheist activist group that confronts what it considers to be irrational claims, made by theists, particularly Christians. The most visible member of RRS is co-founder Brian Sapient. The Rational Response Squad, along with the filmmaker Brian Flemming, made headlines in December 2006 with their Blasphemy Challenge.

Having been otherwise occupied ten years ago, I didn’t catch onto this until I came across a video on YouTube. There’s going to be a link at the end of this post.

So, Cameron made a short presentation, and then Comfort gave his spiel, and then Sapient gave a short critique and turned the argument over to O’Conner. She proceeded to counter Comfort’s points in turn, and there followed a session of questions and responses. That’s all I watched of the video, because it was the presentation by Comfort I found most astounding.  ABC News printed the text of Cameron’s introduction, which I’m reprinting here for your enjoyment:

Hi, I’m Kirk Cameron and my partner and I Ray Comfort come to you tonight not as molecular biologists or rocket scientists, but simply as an author and an actor, and we want to do two things that fly in the face of convention. One, we’d like to show you that the existence of God can be proven, 100 percent, absolutely, without the use of faith. And secondly, as a former atheist myself — an evolutionist — I want to pull back the curtain and show that the number one reason that people don’t believe in God is not a lack in evidence, but because of a theory that many scientists today believe to be a fairytale for grownups.

That last bit about “a fairytale for grownups” should by now be familiar. It must be particularly noted that Cameron proposed, “We’d like to show you that the existence of God can be proven, 100 percent, absolutely, without the use of faith.” I have highlighted the critical phrase.

Comfort than proceeded to demolish Cameron’s pledge. He started off with the typical argument from design. He held up a can of soda, Coca Cola. He gave what he considered the scientific argument for the creation of the can of soda. There was a big explosion and ultimately things fell into place, producing the can of soda. Voila! Ridiculous. The can of soda must have been created. Then he displayed a painting. If there is a painting, then scientist will all agree there must have been a painter. And so on. The logical conclusion, Comfort assures us, is if the Universe has been created, then there must have been a creator.

That seems to be Comfort’s critical flaw. We should not make the assumption the Universe was created. Just because it is here does not imply a physical act of creation. Readers might want to check out Lawrence Krauss’ book A Universe From Nothing, which I reviewed previously.

Unfortunately for Comfort, after he plays out the creation-creator argument, he veers sharply into a minefield. After arguing if you want something built you need to have faith in the builder, from the video:

The same applies with God. If I want God to do something for me, then I need to have faith in him.

Deep disappointment. Comfort has thrown away the promise to avoid introducing faith.

If you realize you need God’s forgiveness, and you seek his forgiveness through the Gospel, God, himself, will reveal himself…

The pro arguments concluded, Sapient addressed Comfort’s argument from design. If you want to see the creator of this church (Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan), then you can go see the builder. You can go to the city building records and see the documentation. When you want to see the creator of the Universe, who’re you gonna call? Besides, “If all creations need a creator, then who created God?”

O’Conner took the podium and reminded that we are all atheists, including Cameron and Comfort. Neither does Sapient nor O’Conner, nor Cameron, nor Comfort believe in Zeus, Apollo, Thor, and a host of other gods. Until the creationists can show us the Universe factory, then creationism exists only in the imagination and is not science. She further pointed out that postulation of evidence for a creator has no bearing on the existence of the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus. Any imaginary god could have created the Universe, if indeed it was created.

And that about concludes the meat of the debate. View the debate on YouTube, and look around at the associated videos. There is a shorthand version of the debate, and there are multiple videos of Cameron and Comfort. It’s good instruction for skeptics, besides being entertaining. Bring some popcorn.

See the video on YouTube.

The Condescending Tone

I post on a number of topics, and sometimes I obtain feedback in the form of comments posted by readers. Some of the responses are helpful—they fill in where I failed to provide adequate coverage, and sometimes a comment will set me straight on an error I have made.

Many of the comments I receive are from people who reject completely the point I am attempting to make, and on rare occasions these comments are thought out and well put. It’s the “rare” aspect that worries me. Too often the person so terribly offended is:

  • Completely fact-deprived and indicates no knowledge of the topic under discussion.
  • Knowledgeable, but nonetheless skilled in making his point.
  • Comes off as completely unhinged.

It is this last case I want to discuss. The example for today relates to a post from last July. The original post carries the title 44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults. My post does not provide 44 reasons evolution is a fairy tale. The title is from an item posted by Michael Snyder on a site called D.C. Clothesline and subtitled “Airing Out America’s Dirty Laundry.” How this site came to be a vehicle for a creationism-oriented rant is a guess for somebody else. I felt it worth a response.

Snyder did list 44 reasons, and I (read the original post) took each of the 44 and penned a short response. Many of my responses reduced to stating that Snyder had not provided any evidence to support his point. He had quoted somebody else, and following  which he went on to his next point. My response to such attempts was to point out this fact and to note that repeating what somebody said in the past does not count for evidence in science. An example is Snyder’s point number 3. My reply is the bold text following Snyder’s point:

#3 Even some of the most famous evolutionists in the world acknowledge the complete absence of transitional fossils in the fossil record. For example, Dr. Colin Patterson, former senior paleontologist of the British Museum of Natural History and author of “Evolution” once wrote the following

“I fully agree with your comments about the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them …. I will lay it on the line – there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.”

Again, it’s interesting to note that Colin Patterson said this, but again speech is not scientific evidence.

Anyhow, that has been out there for several  months, receiving one helpful comment almost immediately, and finally another one today. Here it is, exactly as posted:

idiot..i have one thing ti say…al the hearsay and lack of evidence you attack the writers of the article you were going after, you did as well. i can quote several times you didn’t explain..give examples…evidence…but guess what..just spoken or “written” words in your case. you did nothing and achieved nothing for most of this long article. also..you use circle reasoning thru-out, of which im sure you will use again to rebuttal this. asking some one to use evolution based world view foundation to disprove evolution or else anything said is wrong by inherent basis is like me requiring you to use creation based world view ” as the science is the same, just different world views direction how evidence is interpreted or rationalized”, to completely disprove creation. neither theory can be proven or disproved via the scientific method of observable and repeatable”,and neither are fact. where we get pissed of is your blind faith and enforcement of your theory as fact…when only reason you do so is cause the only other option besides everything made it self is some one else made everything.

In the past I have refuted people’s arguments and have been accused, in turn, of using condescending language. Here is an excerpt from a previous post. I had previously obtained a copy of Ben Shapiro’s small book How to Debate Leftist and to Destroy Them. Shapiro considers the science behind anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to be a leftist (his term) agenda, and he frets that leftists attack by calling their opponents stupid, mean, corrupt, and maybe all of the preceding. Here’s how the discussion unfolded earlier this year:

Shapiro’s response to fiery criticisms of his stance on AGW and also his stance on a number of other issues is to note the quality of his attackers. Continuing the section quoted from the book above:

This is a more useful question, and it also avoids the left’s preferred line of argument on global warming, which is a variation on their preferred line on gun control: “Global warming is man-made. Don’t agree? That’s because you’re stupid and hateful.” As a general matter, the left’s favorite three lines of attack are (1) you’re stupid; (2) you’re mean; (3) you’re corrupt. Sarah Palin is supposedly stupid; Mitt Romney is supposedly mean; Dick Cheney is supposedly corrupt. Take away those lines of attack and watch the discomfort set in.

[Page 24]

Yes, it really is bad form to start calling names and making wild accusations in response to a philosophical affront. In a debate, in a dispute over a point of fact, the person who throws an insult is revealing he has no facts. However…

Shapiro says, “As a general matter, the left’s favorite three lines of attack are (1) you’re stupid; (2) you’re mean; (3) you’re corrupt.” The last two are way out of line, but number 1 is a valid argument. If you are arguing with a person who says the Earth is flat, then, “You’re stupid” might be an appropriate response. I run into into this at times:

Daniel G. Kuttner You have no idea of my qualifications. You throw your ample supply of tomatoes at me, rather than my assertions, which are backed BY science (e.g. that engineering reference link). Thus, you were replying ad hominem, literally.
I could be a bum on the street and still report correct – or incorrect – science. My lack of a white lab coat has no import.
If you are so full of science, where is your scientific refutation of my numbers? All I see from you is condescension and sarcasm.
Saying something is “clearly wrong” is not refutation, it’s disagreement; an opinion. You are, of course free to have those.

I have highlighted the operative text. Because Dan’s information was ridiculously false, and I pointed this out, I was being condescending and sarcastic. Bad form? When is being honest and forthright being condescending and sarcastic?

It’s that latter part that is critical. I found Dan taking the same stance Shapiro does. In point, Dan makes a completely ludicrous statement, one that galls the intellect. Then when somebody responds by pointing out the obvious, Dan comes back by chiding the other party for being condescending. And other terms. That’s what we are about to have here.

Snyder, in responding to my argument, appears to  have gone completely off the rails, beginning with a typographical monstrosity before settling down to a face-deficient rant. It’s usually at this point that I begin to become condescending.

I am not going to call Snyder a creationist nut case, partly because the phrase contains an obvious redundancy. My object is to approve his comment as posted and then allow it to hang out there as evidence of whatever anybody wants to conclude about Snyder.

After approving Snyder’s comment I sent him an email asking him if he would care to elaborate, hopefully to improve, on his comment. If ever I hear back from Snyder I will revisit the matter in another post.

There may be more to come. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on my soul.

Bat Shit Crazy

Ninth of a series

creationism-genocideandincestpark

It’s Wednesday. What’s bat shit crazy today? How about that weird theme park in Kentucky. Start with the story by Ed Mazza in The Huffington Post:

Creationist Ken Ham’s Giant ‘Noah’s Ark’ To Feature Dinosaurs vs. Giants Diorama

A new display going into the creationist Noah’s Ark attraction in Kentucky shows what appears to be gladiator-style fights involving humans, giants and a dinosaur.

Ken Ham, founder of the group that runs the attraction, tweeted images of the new diorama on Thursday.

If there is a reason to reject religion, this is one of them. Ham’s Answers in Genesis is described by Wikipedia as a parachurch organization promoting pseudo science:

Answers in Genesis (AiG) is a fundamentalist Christian apologeticsparachurch organization. It advocates a literal or historical-grammatical interpretation of the Book of Genesis, with a particular focus on a pseudoscientificyoung Earth creationism which rejects any results of scientific investigation which do not conform to their literal interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative. The organization sees evolution as incompatible with scripture and believes anything other than the young earth view is a compromise on biblical inerrancy.

AiG began as the Creation Science Foundation in 1980, following the merger of two Australian creationist groups. Its name changed to Answers in Genesis in 1994, when Ken Ham founded the organization’s United States branch. In 2006 the branches in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa split from the US and UK to form Creation Ministries International. In 2007, AiG opened the Creation Museum, a facility that promotes young Earth creationism, and in 2016 the organization opened the Ark Encounter, a Noah’s Ark themed amusement park. AiG also publishes websites, magazines, and journals.

Readers of this blog have previously been exposed to creationist Ken Ham:

If you’re like me, you are by now saying, “This is really neat stuff.” Also, if you’re like me by now you’re saying, “How come none of this is mentioned in the Bible?” Creationists (and many devout Christians) tell me I should look for answers in the Bible. I have seen statements in the past that the Bible is the only book we need. I have heard that all usable knowledge comes from the Bible. Creationist Ken Ham comes close to this:

And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel. You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation. One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth. God’s Son stepped into history to be Jesus Christ, the “Godman,” to be our relative, and to be the perfect sacrifice for sin—the Savior of mankind.

Unbelievable!

That said… I spill a lot of ink making fun of religion and those who buy into it. The fact is, religion is one of those human foibles that has lasted throughout history. There doesn’t seem to have been any time and in any culture where belief in the unbelievable has not been rampant. The young-Earth creationists, as epitomized by Ken Ham and AiG is one more, albeit egregious, example.

Back when I lived in Dallas I attended the creationists’ meetings and got to know people like Don Patton, leader of a local group. One thing that kept coming out was that many have religious conviction so based on the Bible that the Bible must be literally true to validate their lives. Despite protestations of some religious people, a literal take on the Bible is that the Earth and everything else turned 6000 years old back in 1997. It was a date easily marked, and I observed the exact date with a small celebration with friends. It was also my birthday.

The age of the Earth is critical to this brand of creationism, and to validate this, dinosaurs and humans must have co-existed. At this point religious faith runs head on into a considerable body of fact, making religion and science mutually exclusive. All evidence indicates the last of the dinosaurs left their fossils about 65 million years ago. Then the dinosaurs vanished forever from this planet. The oldest fossils considered to be from direct human ancestors are in the order of three million years old. This leaves a sizable interval when neither dinosaurs nor humans existed, making the story of Ken Ham’s diorama the height of absurdity. Bat shit crazy.

The story behind Ham’s Ark Encounter theme park involves more than private religious faith. It involves other people’s money:

A state agency remade by Gov. Matt Bevin last week has approved $18 million in tax breaks to a Grant County amusement park that will feature a “life-size” Noah’s Ark.

The $92 million Ark Encounter project, owned by the same company as the Creation Museum in Petersburg, is scheduled to open July 7.

The tax break initially was approved by the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority in 2014 under Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration, but it was later canceled after tourism officials learned that the theme park would hire only Christians. Bob Stewart, then secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, said the U.S. Constitution prohibited the state from assisting a religious endeavor.

Ark Encounter officials sued the state in federal court, saying the state’s decision to withhold the tax break violated its free speech. In January, U.S. District Judge Greg Van Tatenhove ruled that the theme park was eligible to receive the tax incentive, which has neutral requirements that can be met by religious and secular groups alike. Gov. Matt Bevin said the state would not appeal the decision.

Most interesting. A theme park, which is little more than an edifice to proselytize for a religious sect is given public money in the form of a tax incentive. Make one thing clear: the state of Kentucky is not just giving the theme park a pass on paying certain taxes. This is tax money raised from other sources. Dan Phelps, known to us when he lived in Texas and was a member of The North Texas Skeptics, was also interviewed:

Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, has said previously the project will hire only Christians but won’t discriminate among denominations.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the state is giving tax incentives to an organization that will discriminate against Kentucky citizens,” said Daniel Phelps, head of the Kentucky Paleontological Society and a longtime critic of the project.

In particular, note what Ken Ham has said. Jews and Muslims need not apply. I’m guessing this goes for atheists, as well. Somewhere the meaning of the Establishment Clause has been lost.

And this is just bat shit crazy.

The National Center For Science Education

The NCSE is the premier organization in this country promoting legitimate science in public schools and in the public forum. They are a 501 (c) (3) organization, deserving of your contributions. I give money to the NCSE. You should, too.

Following is a recent notice from the NCSE:

1904 Franklin Street, Suite 600 Oakland, CA 94612-2922

510.601.7203 • www.ncse.com

With the unprecedented 2016 election finally behind us, we can all turn our attention back to issues that haven’t been in the spotlight lately. Like science education. As you’ll read below, there’s plenty to be concerned about. But NCSE has not taken its eye off the ball, and our new programs are really starting to pay off. I hope that you’ll consider joining our effort to help teachers cover evolution and climate change confidently and completely.

When you consider the state of science education today, it’s easy to be disappointed, disturbed, and dismayed. Consider the following recent incidents.

  • In Alabama, the state board of education voted to continue to mandate a disclaimer about evolution in the state’s textbooks. Such disclaimers date back to 1996. But even after Alabama adopted a new set of state science standards in 2005, that described evolution as “substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence,” the board disappointingly voted to retain the scientifically unwarranted and pedagogically irresponsible message.
  • A national survey conducted by NCSE with researchers at Pennsylvania State University, which asked 1500 science teachers in public middle and high schools about their attitudes toward and practice in teaching climate change, found disturbing gaps in their knowledge. For example, less than half of the teachers realized that more than 80% of climate scientists agree that recent global warming is caused primarily by human activities.
  • In Kentucky, a young-earth creationist ministry opened a Noah’s-ark-themed amusement park. The truly  dismaying aspect of Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter was its invitation to local public schools to flout the principle of church/state separation by bringing students there on field trips, at a special discounted rate. Judging from reports received by NCSE over the years, public school excursions to creationist attractions are dismayingly common.

Dealing, and helping people to deal, with such assaults on science education is all in a day’s work for us at NCSE.

But as you know, that’s not all that we’re doing. A suite of innovative new programs is aimed at reinforcing the confidence of teachers, recruiting scientists to help, and rallying communities to support science education locally:

  • NCSEteach (http://ncseteach.com/), NCSE’s network to support climate change and evolution educators, now includes nearly 6,000 teachers, each of whom receive regular advice and resources from NCSE aimed at improving their scientific knowledge and pedagogical confidence. And they now know that NCSE will have their backs when they encounter challenges to the teaching of evolution or climate change!
  • NCSEteach’s “Scientists in the Classroom” program is bringing eager and energetic early career research scientists into middle and high school classrooms across the country to enrich students’ climate change and evolution learning experiences. Over one hundred teacher—scientist partnerships have already been formed, to the great and continuing benefit of all involved. More are in the works.
  • NCSE’s Science Booster Club project, piloting in Iowa, has provided fun, hands-on, and accurate educational activities on evolution and climate change to over 50,000 participants at local events in the last year, and raised funds to purchase science equipment for the benefit of over 3,000 local students. In 2016, the project not only exhibited at county and state fairs but also hosted a free summer science camp to provide rural low-income students with evolution education.

Are these programs working? Judging from the heartfelt expressions of thanks from teachers who have participated in NCSEteach, from teacher/scientist partners who have participated in Scientists in the Classroom, and from thousands of Iowans involved with a Science Booster Club, yes!

But to science fans like you and me, what’s even more convincing than testimonials is data. The Science Booster Club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, administered a twenty-four-question science literacy survey at its public events throughout the year. And voilà:

scienceliteracycedarrapids

That’s significant—literally (p = 0.03) and figuratively. Working with a low budget but a high degree of enthusiasm, the science boosters in Cedar Rapids—and elsewhere in Iowa—are making a measurable difference.

I’m excited about these efforts, and I hope that you are, too. We want to extend these programs to communities across the country. To do so, we need your support. Your gift to NCSE will help us help teachers to present science properly.

You can donate on-line at ncse.com/join. A gift of only $500 will allow us to provide a new booster club with all the materials needed to provide hands-on evolution or climate change activities to 10,000 participants! Or consider a recurring gift of $10 or $20 per month; such donations help make our budget more predictable so we can start new projects with confidence. A gift of any size will go directly to improving science education.

By reinforcing the confidence of teachers, recruiting scientists to help, and rallying communities to support science education locally, NCSE is helping to ensure that science will be taught honestly, accurately, and confidently. Please help us to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Ann Reid

Executive Director, NCSE