Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Science Ham

Last night Bill Nye the science guy “debated” Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (AIG) at Ham’s Creation Museum in Kentucky. Many people have questioned the wisdom of debating creationists. If people are not going to look up information and learn it on their own how is being humiliated in front of a crowd of people going to help? Beating a village idiot does not educate the idiot about much; it is, instead, more effective in educating everyone about your personal cruelty. Bill’s job was to step up to the lectern, state the obvious, and not appear too cruel while doing so. He succeeded, and I think the bow tie helped.

There were other tactical pitfalls Bill had to steer clear of. He could not go into much detail about any one aspect of Evolution lest he bog down his audience while Ken flitted off to some unrelated set of questions. Ken did not have to risk getting bogged down as his entire thesis is contained in 74 words within the 1st chapter of the first book of the bible:

“And God said, “Let us make humankind in our image and according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of heaven, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every moving thing that moves upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the likeness of God he created him, male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:26-27 Lexham

This is somewhat repetitive, and it could easily be reduced from 74 words to 20: “God created humankind in his image, in the likeness of God he created him, male and female he created them”. Actually the gist could be gotten in three words: “God created humankind”.

The second chapter of Genesis goes over the same ground as the first, and adds a bit more detail about the male:

“ when Yahweh God formed the man of dust from the ground, and he blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” – Genesis 2:7 Lexham

And an interesting twist about the female:

“And Yahweh God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man. While he slept, he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh where it had been. And Yahweh God fashioned the rib which he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man.” – Genesis 2:21-22 Lexham

In last night’s debate the rib and dust details were not used by Ken as additional evidence. This was undoubtedly because, although they flesh out the details of the story a bunch, they do not add to the believability of the story.

When I was younger the “fact” that women had one more rib than men was presented as evidence for biblical creation. In a strange twist several people I knew suggested that the extra rib was simply an accident of evolution. Ever the experimental scientist I obtained enthusiastic permission to count the ribs on a living woman, but due to significant distraction I kept loosing count, and my data was inconclusive. Nowadays all the modern “experts” and “textbooks” will tell you that men and women have the same number of ribs, but I think it might be worthwhile to repeat the attempts at counting just to be sure.

Abundant redundancy and trivial detail is a hallmark of biblical scripture. If the bible is the word of some god then that god is fairly trivial and redundant.

The level of redundancy and trivial detail in the bible makes it mind-numbingly dull. It will be of little use to anyone when fewer people demand that it is divinely authored. Even biblical literalists, who insist that every word is true, shy away from any questions about what use much of it is. I’m not just talking about the interminable “begats”; read Exodus 26 to a biblical literalist, and then ask them what purpose the chapter should play in your life.

Thousands are probably asking the same thing about last night’s “debate”. What purpose does it serve in our lives?

It may serve as the point in history where young-earth creationism (YEC) was identified as a marginal concept. Going into the “debate” many thinking Christians had already abandoned YEC as kooky. Coming out of the debate there is an alternative that wears a bow tie, and is more goofy than scary.

Bill may not have kicked ass and wiped the stage with Ham, but he is widely considered the “winner” of the “debate”. Christian Today’s site had put in place a poll widget to capture the reaction. It was apparently disabled when, after 10s of thousands of people had responded, Ken was trailing Bill by a 86% margin.

It is time to abandon YEC. Continuing to discuss it at all is unproductive… or at least it will be once the number of adherents decreases to a level as marginal as the ideas they espouse.

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