Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XXIV: Wherein We Are Told Tall Tales

Should you read Earth Science Fourth Edition’s Chapter 5 for your own selves, you’ll discover we just spent a whole post on a few scattered paragraphs about mammoths. That probably seems a bit excessive, even in light of the copious amount of glaring wrong. And then you’ll look at the next few paragraphs, and, depending on your temperament and the sort of day you’ve had, you’ll either a) scream “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” b) begin sobbing uncontrollably, c) develop a semi-permanent nervous tic, d) laugh until you’re in danger of a rupture, or e) all of the above, followed by moving to your own desert island, where all mention of creationism is strictly forbidden by Article I, Section I of your constitution.

Yep. The BJU folks are about to tell us the story of Earth. The effect is rather like having a snide and supremely smug young-in-years-but-ancient-in-ignorance young earth creationist person reciting their version of “the facts” to you in the auditory equivalent of a funhouse mirror showroom.

First, let us begin with our Section Objectives. We will, at the end of this bit, be able to:

✓explain why creating a history of the world depends on one’s assumptions about the beginning of the world. [Erm. No, it doesn’t, thanks. Signed, the creationist geologists of the 19th century who looked at the evidence with every expectation of having the biblical account proved true and were forced to conclude the Bible is not a science textbook.]

✓compare and contrast the processes and sequence of the origin of the earth from the old-earth and young-earth viewpoints. [Woo-hoo! Teach the controversy! Billy, please fetch the strawmen from the closet.]

✓evaluate the scientific problems with the old-earth origins theory of the earth. [Note: we will not be evaluating the scientific problems with the young-earth origins theory. My gosh, I wonder whyever not?]

That’s all clear enough, then. No bias here, nosiree.

Before we even get fairly started, the ES4 authors wish us to know our limitations:

  • No people were there when Earth began. You may recognize this as Ken Ham’s famous “Were you there?” retort.
  • “No human records exist that can be accurately dated from before about 5000 years ago.” And surely the Egyptians mentioned being completely drowned and their civilization utterly destroyed in a great flood, then. No? And there’s no break in their written records? How very odd…
  • “Records of interest to geologists that extend far into the past are incomplete.” Yes, drat Adam and Eve for running around eating forbidden fruit rather than carefully inventing writing so they could record all they knew about rocks in the Garden, and also which plants the vegetarian T-Rexes liked best.

Image shows a model of a T-Rex walking through a forest beside a stream. It looks like it's about to take a bite out of the palm plant in front of it. It's mouth is open, showing rows of sharp pointy teeth. Caption reads, "Totally vegetarian. Lookit ma fruit teeth."

They then poison the well (not realizing they’re drinking out of that very same well) by saying, “The best theory would account for everything we observe.” Well, sure. That would be the bestest theory evar – if it were true. I mean, speaking as a Right Irreverend here, the theory that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created and controls everything in the universe accounts for absolutely everything, but it can’t predict diddly shit, and also it isn’t true. Young earth creationist “theories” don’t even come close to accounting for everything and have no predictive power. Their first mistake was going beyond just saying “God did it” and trying to extrapolate things like vapor canopies and mammoth dust storms. It’s trivially easy to show that their theories don’t actually account for what they say they do. So, while they’re trying to cast doubt upon secular scientific theories because no theory at present can account for everything, they’re inadvertently doing the same thing to themselves.

That’s not their only mistake. They say we must assume a particular starting point for our models, and limit us to three:

  • The earth has always existed; or
  • It was formed by natural processes out of pre-existing materials; or
  • it was supernaturally created out of nothing.

No, we don’t have to assume any of that. We don’t have to stay in one rut. We can start in one place and end in another – possibly even one we’d never thought of before. Evidence, not assumptions, can modify our models. If, for instance, we find solid evidence that God “supernaturally created [the earth] out of nothing,” well, we’ll modify our models to accommodate that information. But I can tell you, based on the evidence we have got, that even if God started off the whole thing, it’s vanishingly unlikely to change theories like plate tectonics much. Unless, of course, God has faked all the evidence. No, it would be more like the tweak relativity made to Newtonian mechanics, which still work just fine in many situations.

Next, we’re going to get “The Old-Earth Geologist’s Story.” If you were hoping for a fair, unbiased, teach-both-sides-so-kids-can-make-up-their-own-minds approach like they always claim they want, you are adorably optimistic. I hope you’re not allowed into potentially dangerous situations without a pessimist to restrain you.

We’re told that the old-earth geologist (aka secular scientist) is either totes ignorant of the Bible, “or someone who wants to deny the historical accuracy of the Bible.” Now, when you phrase it this way, you are implying what these fundies believe: that a person who has any knowledge of the Bible will admit it’s completely true in every way, except for those awful sorts who deny the obvious truth because they want to sin without consequences (or have been possessed by Satan or similar). No, it can’t be because the secular scientist is completely aware of the Bible, and perhaps even believes it reveals important truths about God and morality and people, but has seen enough of its historical and scientific mistakes to conclude that mebbe God didn’t intend for the thing to be used as a textbook. Nope! Foolish person, the Bible is perfect in every way (even though it’s not) and isn’t contradictory at all (even though it is) and is completely right about science (even though it isn’t). So any scientist who doesn’t believe it 100% must be ignorant or in denial. Since most scientists whose work they argue against are perfectly aware of the Bible, that leaves the conclusion that they “want to deny” the holy writ, because silly reasons.

“Their models rule out the supernatural,” we’re told. What’s not mentioned is that scientists have ruled out the supernatural because of having failed so spectacularly in finding it, or never got an accurate representation of reality when assuming it. And yes, some scientists who want to throw believers a sop, or who truly need to believe it themselves, or have any of a myriad of reasons, say “NOMA!” and pretend that solves the problem. But, as we can see here, they’ll just be painted as icky denialists anyway.

We are two pages in, and have already found enough lies, spin, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and mistakes for two posts. Next, we will be told about the nebular hypothesis. Does it contain enough fail for a post of its own? Do fundies believe in the literal truth of the Bible? You betcha! So in our next installment, we’ll see what Bible-believing Christians think secular scientists believe about the formation of the Solar System. Stay tuned, and try not to grind your teeth down to nubs.

Find the complete series of AiCESE here.

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Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XXIV: Wherein We Are Told Tall Tales

3 thoughts on “Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XXIV: Wherein We Are Told Tall Tales

  1. 2

    No people were there when Earth began. You may recognize this as Ken Ham’s famous “Were you there?” retort.

    I guess he’s forgetting about Doctor Who and possible companions. And other time travellers. What’s that Ham? They weren’t there? How do you know – were you there?

    “Their models rule out the supernatural,” we’re told

    In fairness here, its pretty hard to see exactly how models of the natural world would include the supernatural -pretty much by definition. Any such model is likely to fail peer review – oh & the test of “Does this have any actual evidence” and also of course lacks in the whole predictive value and (possibly?) reproducibility factor.

  2. 3

    ^The other thing supernatural of course does not specify which god is involved Invisible Pink Unicorn, Flying Sphaghetti Monster or Huitzilopctli of Aztec mythology all make the same sort of sense here as Yahweh does.

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