April 24, 2009
Creationists and Tax Protestors: A Study in Crackpottery
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.
* 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.