Okay, so this news has been all over the Internet in recent days: a California creationist is challenging anyone to disprove the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. More on this:
…The wager is $10,000, the arena is a minitrial (featuring a bailiff and a court reporter along with the judge), and the rules state that evidence must be “objective, valid, reliable and calibrated.”
“They [evolutionists] are not stupid people, they are bright, but they are bright enough to know there is no scientific evidence they can give in a minitrial,” Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo, who has a PhD in kinesiology and taught biomechanics and physiology at a California University for more than 25 years, told The Guardian. “It turns out that there is nothing in the universe [that] is evolving — everything is devolving, everything is going in the opposite direction.”…
And here are the rules as outlined by Dr. Mastropaolo…
- The non-literal Genesis advocate puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
- The literal Genesis advocate and contributing writer for the Creation Science Hall of Fame, Joseph Mastropaolo, puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
- If the non-literal Genesis advocate proves that science contradicts the literal reading of Genesis, then the non-literal Genesis advocate is awarded the $20,000.
- If the literal Genesis advocate proves that science indicates the literal reading of Genesis, then the literal Genesis advocate is awarded the $20,000.
- Evidence must be scientific, that is, objective, valid, reliable and calibrated.
- The preponderance of evidence prevails.
- At the end of the trial, the judge hands the prevailing party both checks.
- The judge is a superior court judge.
- The venue is a courthouse.
- Court costs will be paid by the prevailing party.
Please make note of that bolded point in particular, because it really begs the question as to what exactly Dr. Mastropaolo (and other Young-Earth Creationists) consider to be “scientific evidence”. And this is nothing new, as Mastropaolo has been here before, calling this challenge the Life Science Prize in the past. As this excerpt from an article by Dr. Michael Zimmerman (creator of the Clergy Letter Project) details, in his previous attempts to put on these show trials, Mastropaolo seems to play fast and loose with definitions:
… When I proposed that we agree on definitions of evolution and creationism as a starting point, things went awry pretty quickly. In response to my suggestion that we use the classic textbook definition for evolution (a change in allele frequencies in a population over time), Mastropaolo’s second argued that “change in allele frequency is about as meaningless a definition of evolution as can be offered.” Mastropaolo himself countered with the following: “evolution is the development of an organism from its chemicals to its primitive state to its present state.” My Ph.D. in evolutionary biology didn’t help me make any sense out of that definition. Mastropaolo went further and said that I “may not be competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.”
He very much liked the phrase “competent to contend for the Life Science Prize, also warning me that “Evolutionist hallucinators so out of touch with reality are psychotic by medical dictionary definition, and therefore not mentally competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.” … [emphasis added]
This displays a flaw common to creationist thinking: they define evolution to be something other than what scientists (or “evolutionists”, as they call them) define it to be! So by playing around with the definitions like this, the creationists can stack the deck in their favor through simple equivocation.
But it gets better. This whole thing seems to be copied from the famous JREF Million Dollar Challenge; a problem with how this is set up which is different from the JREF challenge: it is asking the challenger to prove a negative, whereas the JREF challenge is asking the challenger to demonstrate a particular claimed ability. This is a big difference, because by asking the challenger to prove a negative, it allows the creationists in this case to play fast and loose with definitions, standards of evidence, etc. – just as Mastropaolo has done in the past.
Last, but certainly not least, creationism has been put on trial as recently as 2005, and it lost quite badly. Does anyone remember a little thing called the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial? :)