April 24, 2009

Creationists and Tax Protestors: A Study in Crackpottery

Posted in Atheism, Creationism, Law, The Universe tagged , , at 1:30 pm by Andrew

Some folks have taken issue with my use of the word “insane” to describe young-earth creationism (“YEC”); the view that the Earth — in fact, the entire universe! — is 6,000 years old. I try to run a polite, respectful ship here, but I honestly don’t know of another word to describe this kind of belief. To put this into perspective, here are a few everyday things that a young-earther thinks are older than the known universe:

* This tree is 9,000 years old.

* The world’s first city, Jarmo, is about 9,000 years old.

* Wheat has been domesticated for 10 to 12,000 years, meaning that bread is now twice as old as the universe itself. (Rice, on the other hand, was domesticated a mere 9,000 years ago.)

* Donkeys were domesticated 7,000 years ago; cows, about 10,000 years ago. And so on and so on.

If creationists are correct, then not only do we need to scrap all of biology, but we need to throw out everything we think we know about archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, geology (no plate tectonics!), chemistry and physics (since radiometric dating is supposedly unreliable), and probably a few dozen other scientific disciplines. Think about that for a minute. If young-earth creationism is correct, then every single scientist in any of these fields of study is either an idiot or a fraud.

If you find that hard to swallow, you’re not alone.

There’s a similar phenomenon in my professional world. There are people who literally and (apparently) sincerely believe that you do not have to pay your taxes; that — despite the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution — income tax is “unconstitutional” and if you invoke the right secret magic law words, you don’t have to pay the IRS. (Unsurprisingly, these are sometimes the same people.)

When I come across these people, the first thing I do is show them legal opinions in which their arguments are described as “a hodgepodge of unsupported assertions, irrelevant platitudes, and legalistic gibberish.” In fact, I send these people directly to the definitive source for insane tax protestor arguments: the Tax Protestor FAQ, written by a tax lawyer. It covers — in hilarious detail; go check it out for yourself — each and every argument ever made by someone who thinks they’re not required to follow the law and pay their taxes.

And that, in my mind, is the end of it. The tax protestor is making a legal argument about what the law is. Under our constitution, the courts are the final arbiters of what the law is. So it seems to me, anyway, that if I show you that the courts think your legal argument is crap, you probably ought to change your mind about what the law is. You remain free to say things like, “oh, well, the law should be changed.” And heck, I’d probably agree with you. Nobody likes paying taxes.

But if I show you that definitively, absolutely that the institutions charged under our Constitution with interpreting the law have interpreted the law in such a way as to reject your argument, and you still insist that your position is the law — well, then I have to wash my hands of you. You’ve made a technical argument, and I’ve shown you that the people who are qualified to adjudicate your argument think you’re completely bonkers. If you want to insist that 99.9% of all tax lawyers are bad, evil, incompetent, stupid, whatever — and Irwin Schiff (who, by the way, charges you for the privilege of losing your case and sticking you with the bill) is the lone light in the darkness, then I don’t think I can help you any more.

And that’s where evolution-denying creationists are. And yes, young-earthers are the most insane, but that doesn’t let the intelligent design crowd off the hook. For example, IDers — including respected Christian apologists like Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig — are fond of repeating the claim that “information requires an intelligent source.” As I put it in another thread:

I would challenge you to do two things: (1) define “information” and (2) produce a single reputable biologist who assents to the claim that “information requires an intelligent source.” That’s it. Find me one guy — a person who’s an actual scientist in the field, doing actual research and publishing in actual peer-reviewed journals, and then we have a legitimate topic of discussion. But without that, we’re basically talking about Time Cube-level crackpottery.

This is why I don’t take creationism seriously. Not because I “reject the Bible” or “have differing views of the evidence,” or whatever. I don’t take it seriously because the people who are qualified to weigh in on these claims — people of varying backgrounds, races, religious and political beliefs — have done so and reject your claims.

I imagine that some (like longtime EC commenter Nathaniel) may try to draw the same analogy to Biblical historians versus Jesus-mythers. But here’s the main difference: by their own admission, 30% of Biblical historians concede that there was no empty tomb. If 30% of biologists denied common ancestry, or 30% of astronomers thought that the stars were 6,000 years old, then we would indeed have a real controversy and those ideas should be engaged on their merits.

For example: a small minority of paleontologists, led by Jack Horner, contend that T.rex was a scavenger rather than an apex predator. This is a highly contested hypothesis and is subscribed to by only a tiny minority of palentologists — but it is, nevertheless, a respectable scientific dispute.

Similarly, Joao Magueijo has advanced the “varying speed of light” hypothesis to explain the inflationary problem inherent in the Big Bang model. Again, this is an extreme minority position, but it is nevertheless a scientific one and therefore worthy of discussion.

Christ-mythicism falls on the “scavenger T.rex” side of the line. Creationism in all its forms falls on the “Time Cube” side. And it really is that simple.

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12 Comments »

  1. mcoville said,

    I do not dispute the tax thing but I need to ask you, do you have any examples of anything older than say 7,000 years old without using radiometric dating (carbon, potassium or any of the others)?

    As a side note, I appreciate you given Joao credit for a worthy scientific hypothesis, as many evolutionists try to discredit him because of it.

    • Siamang said,

      All over the earth, there are coral beds where the calcified remains of the coral are thousands of feet deep.

      In the BEST of circumstances, in a growth spurt, coral grows half an inch to an inch a year.

      At one atoll in the Marshall Islands, folks drilling down through the coral rock went down 1380 meters before hitting the volcanic rock below.

      So for a moment, let’s assume best possible circumstances. Let’s assume an inch a year, non-stop (this never happens). Let’s assume zero erosion. Let’s assume zero tidal waves breaking it up. Let’s assume zero blights on the coral. Let’s assume zero drops in the sea level that puts the coral above water and dead. Let’s assume zero shifts in the volcanic soil below that drops the coral below the sunlight level and kills it. Let’s assume nothing but nonstop growth.

      Even given that…. you do the math. What’s the least possible amount of time this coral could grow nonstop at one inch a year and get to 1380 meters?

      You do the math, and tell me.

      And then next, you and I can discuss black sand beaches on volcanic islands, and how long you think it takes to break volcanic lava rock up into fine grains of sand, using nothing but the action of waves breaking on them. And remember, this has to be post any noah flood, as any water blast that powerful would cook the rock back into magma and churn it all over the world. But instead we see volcanic sand on volcanic islands… so it was made there from the rock of that very island… very very slowly.

    • Siamang said,

      You could also look at tree-rings.

  2. Andrew said,

    mcoville:

    Sure. It’s less precise, but the law of superposition dovetails with the findings we have for radiometric dating throughout the geologic column (and even at places like Jarmo).

    Of course, this begs the question as to why you would want to date something without using the best tools we have available to us to date things.

    • mcoville said,

      I will have to read about “law of superposition”, thanks for the link, but I wanted to reply to your question to me.

      So far I have not seen enough evidence that the process of radiometric dating is all that accurate. In my opinion there is too much assuming involved in radiometric dating and do much room for interpretation to make it say what you want it to say. I could be wrong about this but in the mean time I do not debate evidence based on radiometric dating to avoid rabbit trails.

      I will get back to you as soon as I can read up on the link you left.

      • John Huey said,

        The issues of radiometric dating accuracy are not really relevant to the issue of the insanity of the YEC position. There are so many orders of magnitude difference in the ages, that questions of methods and assumptions are not really germane – there is no way that the dating could be that wrong. It is just that YEC posits a universe that is just radically different from what is observed.

      • Andrew said,

        mcoville, respectfully: is there a single scientist, anywhere, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, who shares your opinion that radiometric dates require “too many assumptions” and leave “too much room for interpretation?” If not, then you’ve fallen into the same trap I describe in this article.

        One of the things that is most persuasive about dating is the way that multiple methods converge on the same dates. Creationist nitwits often do dumb things (like trying to C-14 date lava flows and the like) to discredit individual results, but it’s the sameness of alternate methods stemming from both archaeology and radiochemistry that speaks powerfully to the evidence. That’s why nobody in any relevant field thinks the earth is 6,000 years old.

      • jackd said,

        So far I have not seen enough evidence that the process of radiometric dating is all that accurate.

        Merely claiming inaccuracy of radiometric dating is insufficient for the YEC position. “Inaccurate” doesn’t wave away a difference of nearly six orders of magnitude, nor why different techniques applied to different samples have achieved consistent results. See http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-age-of-earth.html

  3. […] was delighted to find this article at Evaluating Christianity about the nonsense put forth by Young Earth Creationists. It’s […]

  4. John Huey said,

    Mcoville,

    There are many dating techniques, other than radiometric, that give consistent results showing ages well over 9,000 years. Tree ring counting is one common example ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dendrochronology). Another, is the ice layers in Greenland and in the Antarctic (see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/icecores.html). Well before the discovery of radiometric dating, geologists had already determined that it was impossible for certain geological features to be that young and that they had to be, at least, many millions of years old. (see http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/352672/Sir-Charles-Lyell-Baronet/4377/New-approach-to-geology).

  5. Nathaniel said,

    Andrew,

    We’re in complete agreement regarding the age of the earth.

    You write:

    I imagine that some (like longtime EC commenter Nathaniel) may try to draw the same analogy to Biblical historians versus Jesus-mythers. But here’s the main difference: by their own admission, 30% of Biblical historians concede that there was no empty tomb.

    How is this statistic relevant to the Jesus-mythers? Surely you’re not suggesting that everyone who thinks there was no empty tomb thinks that there was no historical Jesus, an itinerant preacher (whether Stoic sage or apocalyptic prophet) who got himself killed in Jerusalem sometime around A.D. 30. Besides Robert Price, how many living, credentialed, academically affiliated scholars in ancient history, classics, or New Testament studies take the myther position? Can you think of any?

    Incidentally, the Time Cube stuff is hilarious, certainly further out there than either the YECs or the Jesus mythers, which is saying a heck of a lot. Is there some kind of special award we can give to Gene Ray for being the absolutely fruitiest loop in the bowl?


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