Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Eye Candy for the Believers

I've been eagerly awaiting P.Z. Myers's account of his recent tour of the Creation Museum. It's up now, and it does not disappoint. A taste—one which makes for a nice microcosm of the entire critical thinking-vs.-creationism dispute:

This is their core premise. They claim that scientists and creationists are all working from exactly the same set of facts, and the only difference is in how we interpret them…and that they have an extra source of information that scientists reject, the Bible.

Their first big exhibit is a perfect example of the principle in action. It's a model of a dinosaur dig, with two men working away at excavating the bones. There is a video accompanying it in which the two views are presented. The younger Asian fellow in front says, and I paraphrase, "This animal died about a hundred million years ago. Its body dried in the sun for several days before being slowly buried under layers of sediment in a local flood." Then the avuncular creationist says, "I see the same bones, but I believe this dinosaur was killed suddenly about 4400 years ago in a huge global flood, which buried it deeply all at once." And then he goes on to explain that see, they have the very same evidence, but he understands it in the light of God's word.

It is a profoundly dishonest display. No, they are not using the same evidence: the creationist is ignoring all but the most superficial appearances. The scientist says a few details about this particular dinosaur, but what Ken Ham hides is that every statement would have a large body of evidence in its support. This isn't two guys stating their mere beliefs in a field…it's one guy, the creationist, closing his eyes to the evidence and spouting Biblical gibberish, and one scientist stating the conclusions of substantial investigations.

The scientist does not say a particular fossil is 125 million years old simply because he feels like it. It's a conclusion built on careful observation of the geology — if you read a paleontology paper, you'll often find a substantial discussion of the details of the rocks surrounding the specimen — and by the morphology of the rocks, the history of the area, the physics of the radioisotopes present, the other animal and plant fossils found in the same plane (which, in turn, had their ages evaluated). It is the product of an impressive consilience of evidence, all of which the creationist is rejecting, or more likely, of which he is utterly ignorant.

Read it all—it's both enlightening and enjoyable. P.Z rocks.


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