May 14, 2009

Answering danielg on Creationism

Posted in Atheism, Creationism tagged at 10:38 am by Andrew

In the comment section, danielg offers several criticisms of my posts on creationism. Here’s my response:

First, you show disrespect for a significant majority of Christians. Good luck winning them over that way.

I think this is a fair criticism of the word “moron” that I used, and — in light of Ben’s plea for civility, I’ll try to ratchet back the rhetoric. It honestly and sincerely is not my goal to insult you or the people with whom you agree theologically and scientifically. The problem is that as a creationist (and particularly a YEC), you believe that every scientist in the world is engaged in either a massive conspiracy or share fundamental, cross-disciplinary errors that invalidate their entire fields of study that are nevertheless instantly recognizable to laypersons with no training in those disciplines.

In other words: if you’re right, then not only are 99.9% of biologists wrong, but so are also 99.9% of astronomers, geophysicists, paleontologists, archaeologists, radiochemists, oceanographers, and so on. If the earth is 6,000 years old, then literally every modern field of scientific inquiry is wrong. If the earth is 6,000 years old, then tree-ring dating is unreliable. If the earth is 6,000 years old, then we can’t really be sure that things on top of other things are more recent than the things they’re on top of.

Can you understand, at least, that when you make that kind of argument, you’re showing disrespect to all of those scientists and anyone — including lots more Christians — who agrees with them?

Second, while you may excuse your attitude by thinking that they are so much in violation of science that they should be ridiculed, the point that you miss is that most don’t merely think that the bible is young because of the Bible, but because they believe the many counter-indications to an old universe that you poo poo.

Perhaps if you addressed (and admit) in plain language the reasons why you believe in an old universe, as well as the weaknesses in your view, not just attacking in a one-sided manner the YEC position, people might listen. Loud assertions that we are idiots, ignoring your arguments, and insults aren’t how truth is spread.

Okay, this is fair. Let me try to explain why I believe in an old universe.

1. I am not a biologist, astronomer, or scientist of any kind. I’m a lawyer, with a layperson’s knowledge of science. Because of this, I use the peer-review process as a proxy. Those people are professionals, and uniformly, 99.9+% of scientists have rejected the notion that the universe is young.

2. If the universe were really 6,000 years old, such a discovery would be (to put it mildly) Nobel Prize-worthy. The person or persons who could demonstrate that scientifically would be famous and wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Thus, when people who strike me as pseudoscientists write blog posts and create their own “journals” claiming to have proven such a Nobel Prize-worthy event — while failing at the same time to get published in any actual scientific journal — that tells me either that (a) there’s an enormous conspiracy out to censor a Nobel Prize-winning theory, or (b) those people are cranks. I’ve taken choice (b).

I previously gave an example on here in a field where I actually am an expert. To reiterate: there are currently a small number of individuals who are called “tax protesters.” These people — often with minimal or no legal training — cobble together incredibly elaborate legal-sounding arguments for why you don’t have to pay your taxes. They cite cases. They use the vocabulary of the legal profession. And in the end, tens of thousands of people are persuaded by these kinds of arguments.

Now, as a lawyer, I can tell you that these arguments are complete and utter nonsense. I could go through each individual citation and debunk them, but that explanation would (a) be incredibly time-consuming, and (b) probably wouldn’t persuade you unless you also had a law degree, because there are some counter-intuitive rules in terms of legal interpretation.

So what do I do instead? I use a proxy. I’ll tell you that every case in which people have attempted to rely on tax-protester arguments has been rejected. I’ll tell you that the courts have repeatedly called tax protester arguments “patently frivolous” and “utterly lacking in legal merit.” I’ll show you that people who have relied on those kinds of arguments are now in jail for tax evasion.

And, at the end of the day, if you’re not willing to accept the proxy of legal experts, trained to evaluate legal arguments, in evaluating a legal argument — then I give up. Go on, be a tax protester and go to jail. I tried to stop you.

Similarly, I leave astronomy, geology, plate tectonics, oceaonography, geochemistry, radiochemistry, biology, etc., to the experts. They’ve evaluated the evidence and across all disciplines, weighed in and concluded that the universe is not 6,000 yeard old. That’s good enough for me, unless and until someone gives me a good reason to believe that the experts are all in cahoots or have conspired to suppress the truth or whatever.

Do you have good evidence to suggest that the experts are lying to me? I’ll make the same challenge to you that I made elsewhere; show me a single scientist who has published a single peer-reviewed article in his area of expertise that argues for a young universe, and I’ll take it seriously. But until you can do that, you’re talking about either (a) non-experts or (b) religiously-motivated experts going outside their fields and outside the peer-review process to advance what would otherwise be a Nobel Prize-worthy contribution to science. That’s the textbook definition of crackpottery. I’m sorry if you find that offensive, but I don’t know what else to call it.

Third, the age of the universe is much more complex than merely spouting scientific facts. Even if your conclusions are that the universe is old, we totally ignore you because you don’t address our real suspcicions, which are that your primary ASSUMPTIONS and methods (uniformitarian) are wrong.

Respectfully: this makes no sense. Unless trigonometry is also wrong, we have ironclad proof that the universe is at least 160,000 years old, for example.

Fourth, you don’t address the wild re-calculation of the age of the universe by science over the years, and give us no affirmation that such recalculations, even down to a YEC timeframe, are out of the question when the existing mysteries of the cosmos, which are many, come in.

No. If scientists in different fields kept coming up with stochastic dates for the age of the earth — if sometimes it was 10,000 years, and other times it was 85 quintillion, and then still later it was 50 million, then you might have a point. If the radiochemists thought that the earth was 4.5 billion years old but the astronomers thought it was created last week, and the biologists thought it was a few million, then you might have a point.

But what we have is a cross-disciplinary convergence across all fields of study (including basic math!) that tells us that the universe is old. Yes, as we gather more data, those numbers change. That’s what science means. But “change” is not the same as “we pulled this out of a hat, so you might as well go with 6,000.”

Fifth, I have never seen a good refutation of a global flood, nor an explanation for the circular methods of dating using index fossils, and many others. I’ve been out to talk.origins, but their answers are often insufficient.

Well, if you’re not persuaded by this refutation of a global flood, then I don’t know what to tell you. Here, let me quote just my favorite part:

Where did all the heat go? If the geologic record was deposited in a year, then the events it records must also have occurred within a year. Some of these events release significant amounts of heat.

* Magma. The geologic record includes roughly 8 x 10^24 grams of lava flows and igneous intrusions. Assuming (conservatively) a specific heat of 0.15, this magma would release 5.4 x 10^27 joules while cooling 1100 degrees C. In addition, the heat of crystallization as the magma solidifies would release a great deal more heat.

* Limestone formation. There are roughly 5 x 10^23 grams of limestone in the earth’s sediments [Poldervaart, 1955], and the formation of calcite releases about 11,290 joules/gram [Weast, 1974, p. D63]. If only 10% of the limestone were formed during the Flood, the 5.6 x 10^26 joules of heat released would be enough to boil the flood waters.

* Meteorite impacts. Erosion and crustal movements have erased an unknown number of impact craters on earth, but Creationists Whitcomb and DeYoung suggest that cratering to the extent seen on the Moon and Mercury occurred on earth during the year of Noah’s Flood. The heat from just one of the largest lunar impacts released an estimated 3 x 10^26 joules; the same sized object falling to earth would release even more energy. [Fezer, pp. 45-46]

* Other. Other possibly significant heat sources are radioactive decay (some Creationists claim that radioactive decay rates were much higher during the Flood to account for consistently old radiometric dates); biological decay (think of the heat released in compost piles); and compression of sediments.

5.6 x 10^26 joules is enough to heat the oceans to boiling. 3.7 x 10^27 joules will vaporize them completely. Since steam and air have a lower heat capacity than water, the steam released will quickly raise the temperature of the atmosphere over 1000 C. At these temperatures, much of the atmosphere would boil off the Earth.

Aside from losing its atmosphere, Earth can only get rid of heat by radiating it to space, and it can’t radiate significantly more heat than it gets from the sun unless it is a great deal hotter than it is now. (It is very nearly at thermal equilibrium now.) If there weren’t many millions of years to radiate the heat from the above processes, the earth would still be unlivably hot.

As shown in section 5, all the mechanisms proposed for causing the Flood already provide more than enough energy to vaporize it as well. These additional factors only make the heat problem worse.

I think the fact that the oceans did not boil off into space is a pretty good refutation of the global flood hypothesis.

Look: I think there are serious arguments for Christianity, and I try to take them (and their proponents) seriously. But he idea that every scientist on earth is engaged in a massive conspiracy to hide the fact that the entire universe is 50% younger than this tree, or half again as young as the domestication of wheat, is not one of those serious arguments. I do apologize if this offends you, but I can’t change the facts.

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9 Comments »

  1. justfinethanks said,

    I too find it miserably difficult to stay civil to YECs, for the same reason I have a tough time being civil to Holocaust deniers or 9/11 Truthers. YECs aren’t just wrong, they are incredibly, stunningly wrong. They think that the world was created about a millenium after the Halaf culture in Mesopotamia mastered the art of pottery. If you were to pick any major field of science out of hat, you could use it to prove YECs wrong beyond a reasonable doubt, yet they persist.
    Of course the difference from Holocaust deniers, 9/11 truthers, and YECs is that society is mostly OK with YECs. They even get elected to office occasionally. Maybe it’s just my years of dealing with these people, but I sincerely hope to live to see the day when “I am a Young Earth Creationist” gets the same reaction in the public arena as “The Holocaust is a fictional part of the Zionist propoganda campaign.”

  2. Dan Gilbert said,

    Nicely done, Andrew. I agree that it’s tough to stay civil when challenged by what appears to be willful ignorance, but you did a good job of it in that post.

    I’ve had discussions with a YEC and we remained civil, but it was enlightening to me in so far as the YEC talking points were concerned. Everything from claims that radioactive dating and carbon dating were invalid (and evidently PROVEN to be invalid) to claims that conclusions about the Earth’s age are just based on the presuppositions of scientists. ie… if you have biblical presuppositions, then science supports a 6,000 year old Earth… otherwise it supports a 4.5 billion year old Earth. He made the same claim about radioactive dating techniques, too, interestingly.

    I think your point about the cross-discliplinary sciences supporting each others’ conclusions is key. It’s not just geologists saying this. It’s just about EVERY scientist.

    To ignore the evidence by essentially putting on biblical blinders is being willfully ignorant. It’s inexcusable but, sadly, all too commonplace.

    • justfinethanks said,

      “Everything from claims that radioactive dating and carbon dating were invalid (and evidently PROVEN to be invalid)”

      This one really bothers me, not just because it’s false, but also because scientists (Christian, creationist scientists to boot) were virtually unanimous that the Earth is a very,very old place about fifty years before radioactivity was even discovered. It’s THAT obvious. Even if you took radioactive dating off the table, you can still prove YECs wrong using tree rings, ice layers, geological erosion, geomagnetic reversals, distant objects in space, rock varnish, etc. etc. My favorite, though, is probably impact craters. I have yet to have a YEC explain to me, assuming they are right, why it is that we have several impact craters on Earth caused by asteroids that should have wiped out massive chunks of humanity, if not cause our rapid and violent extinction, yet NO ONE IN HISTORY SEEMED TO NOTICE.

  3. jackd said,

    The bit about science using “invalid assumptions” and “uniformitarianism” is doubly irritating because the people making it are usually utterly ignorant of how the geological record was first established. The English naturalists who developed the science were generally Christian and many were clergy. Many assumed that Ye Fludde of Noe had taken place and were looking for the evidence.

    Another thing worth pointing out to YECs is the scale of disagreement between them and actual scientists. Convert from age to distance: Science tells us that the spots labeled “now” and “beginning of the earth” are about a kilometer apart. YECs are saying no, the actual distance is about a millimeter.

  4. Gaga said,

    hello there
    I’ve been reading the blog for a while, first time posting 🙂
    this > Fifth, I have never seen a good refutation of a global flood,< is the kind of statement that makes me cringe…
    1) The concept of global flood has been, for the last 100 years, at best a source of hilarity, not a scientfic concept that anyone should bother to refute.
    That aside, it’s not the job of the scientists to refute every silly notion they come across. Those making the claim have the burden of proof.
    Going to the academy of science and telling them:”your doin it rong” is not enough. Bring out the positive evidence and they’ll evaluate it. Your holy book doesn’t count as evidence.
    This is true for any claim and creationism (YEC or otherwise) is a constant failure in this regard.
    2) A cursory reading of any decent textbook is enough to conclude that the Flud (TM) never happened.
    If someone, after having looked at the geological record, can, e.g. affirm with a straight face that trees outrunned velociraptors running to the hills to save their lives, sorry, I have to conclude that he’s insane.

  5. Amadán said,

    The argument isn’t about science. In my experience, YECs don’t care whether the science is right or wrong. What matters is that the Bible is right, and anyone who disagrees is either sad, mad or bad.

    DanielG, if he replies, will not try to refute biology, geology or the rest, because he knows he can’t. He will point to the fact that you rely on the expertise and good faith of scientists and the peer-review process, and rail against group-think, presuppositions and so forth. He may point to some abstruse (and obtuse) articles in AIG but will not attempt to defend them. If or when someone points out the errors in one of those papers, he will shift to another one. Rinse. Repeat.

    Daniel will always be right (and he will blog about it), because you are in opposition to his YEC interpretation of the Bible, and therefore wrong. He only comments here to remind you of that.

  6. “Fifth, I have never seen a good refutation of a global flood…”
    How about hydraulic (hydrodynamic) sorting doesn’t work like that?

    Amadán “He only comments here to remind you of that.”
    Without a literal Y, there’s not need for a literal X…or a literal B, or a literal Adam, which means no literal Fall. That Ussher’s math was right is then just the result of GIGO, a pretty good estimate based on grossly inaccurate numbers, which doesn’t really matter as it means Jesus (whose references to the Tanakh indicate that He took it literally, a la Lk17:26-27, Matt19:4 & Mark10:6) died for a metaphor. Literalists, for obvious reasons, tend not to be big on higher criticism, either, but that’s a whole other ball of wax.

  7. Amadán said,

    It’s kind of quiet here. Presumably DanielG agrees with you 😉

  8. “Ultimately, the controversy about the age of the earth is a controversy about the authority of Scripture. If millions of years really happened, then the Bible is false and cannot speak with authority on any issue.” (emphasis mine, fm answersingenesis.org)

    In short if it really is God’s word (and He’s the 3O’d type who is incapable of messing up) then it all has to be right or it’s not worth anything, because if some of it is wrong then you don’t know what else is also wrong (a point of view with which I can empathize).
    In short(er); certainty good, doubt bad.

    Also…

    “When one takes away a literal Adam and Eve, there is suddenly no reason for Christ to come and no reason for a Savior to die.” (emphasis mine, fm answersingenesis.org)

    Which must come as quite a shock if you thought the world was X but all the data pointed to it really being Y. Worse, new data continually reinforced it’s Yness means that X keeps getting less tenable, requiring more denying/twisting/ignoring/quotemining with each passing day.


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