The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Genesis’

Creationist Proposes Show Trial to “Disprove” Genesis

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 29, 2013

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:

Creationist Wagers $10,000 That No One Can Prove Genesis Wrong


…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? 🙂

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Are Christian Evangelicals coming around on evolution?

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 21, 2011

It was with much interest that I read the following NPR story on the question of Christian evangelicals acceptance (or not) of evolutionary science. I wanted to just highlight a few key parts of the story and give my thoughts on this interesting development…

Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve

Let’s go back to the beginning — all the way to Adam and Eve, and to the question: Did they exist, and did all of humanity descend from that single pair?

According to the Bible (Genesis 2:7), this is how humanity began: “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” God then called the man Adam, and later created Eve from Adam’s rib.

Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe this account. It’s a central tenet for much of conservative Christianity, from evangelicals to confessional churches such as the Christian Reformed Church.

But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.” …

What I find so interesting about this situation is that these evangelical scholars are going against the grain of the traditional belief in a literal Adam and Eve.  One has to wonder how the broader evangelical community will react: will they seriously reconsider these traditional beliefs, will they dismiss the scholars because their creationist interpretation of Genesis trumps all, or will they seek to label these scholars as “heretical” and seek to purge them?  I think the likely scenario is a combination of all three, but it seems that some prominent Christian evangelical institutions are seeking the second and third possibilities.  On the one hand, some institutions are choosing to ignore scientific reality:

“From my viewpoint, a historical Adam and Eve is absolutely central to the truth claims of the Christian faith,” says Fazale Rana, vice president of Reasons To Believe, an evangelical think tank that questions evolution. Rana, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Ohio University, readily admits that small details of Scripture could be wrong.

“But if the parts of Scripture that you are claiming to be false, in effect, are responsible for creating the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, then you’ve got a problem,” Rana says.

Soooo, when hard scientific evidence from nature contradicts you interpretation of Genesis, you ignore what nature says?  Yeah, that’s dumb.  No wonder people who don’t already buy into this particular theology tend to think it’s downright silly.

What’s worse, other Christian evangelical institutions are going even further and actively working to “expel” scholars who don’t toe the literal line on Genesis:

Several other well known theologians at Christian universities have been forced out; some see a parallel to a previous time when science conflicted with religious doctrine.

“The evolution controversy today is, I think, a Galileo moment,” says Karl Giberson, who authored several books trying to reconcile Christianity and evolution, including The Language of Science and Faith, with Francis Collins.

Giberson — who taught physics at Eastern Nazarene College until his views became too uncomfortable in Christian academia — says Protestants who question Adam and Eve are akin to Galileo in the 1600s, who defied Catholic Church doctrine by stating that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa. Galileo was condemned by the church, and it took more than three centuries for the Vatican to express regret at its error.

The great irony here is that so many of these same Christian evangelical organizations made such a big deal a few years back when the failed film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” came out.  “Expelled” argued that secular academia was forcing out scholars who dared to question evolutionary science; now, in fact, we see the hypocrisy behind these arguments.  For years, we’ve heard these folks bitch and moan at length about some supposed conspiracy to discriminate against them, yet they are the ones purging “heretics” from their ranks because these scholars follow science as opposed to a blind allegiance to certain theological interpretations of the Bible.

Last, but not least, is a word of warning from the article.  Christians, take note:

“When you ignore science, you end up with egg on your face,” Giberson says. “The Catholic Church has had an awful lot of egg on its face for centuries because of Galileo. And Protestants would do very well to look at that and to learn from it.”

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Science Confirms the Bible? Hmmm, Not So Much…

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 2, 2011

So while I was at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, as I was hanging around the vendor tables I encountered a nice man who came up to me, handed a small pamphlet to me, and said, “Carl Sagan would want you to read this.”  He then went on his way and repeated this process all around the hall.  When I looked at the pamphlet, I was rather amused by what I saw: it was titled “Science Confirms the Bible”.  A virtual copy of the handout can be found at Living Waters, the website of evangelical Christianity espoused by none other than Ray “The Banana Man” Comfort.  Here’s what it looks like…

Yup, the folks over at Living Waters are seriously making these arguments.  Ray Comfort should have just stuck with the banana thing; at least that bit had a sight gag 🙂

Now I’m going point out just a couple of specific things about this pamphlet that shows it (as well as the argumentation behind it) are just way off base.  Suffice it to say that others have already analyzed some of these points, such as at a recent Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, but I’ll just give my thoughts here:

First, look at the format of this pamphlet: it shows a Biblical verse, a claim about what science “then” was saying (btw, “then” was supposedly 2000-3000 years ago), and a claim about what science now says.  The implication is that current science supports what the Bible is saying.  Now before I get to specific claims in this pamphlet, let me first say that it is ironic that Ray Comfort and his band of evolution-denying evangelicals are claiming that modern science supports their interpretation of the Bible, because their interpretation of the Bible conflicts with modern evolutionary science!  So if Ray Comfort is claiming what he is in this pamphlet, then he’s messing things up from every direction (but what do you expect from a guy who thinks that banana’s are “The Atheist’s Nightmare”?)

Not to mention, if a literal reading of the Bible (according to the manner in which Ray Comfort would read the Bible “literally”) is supposed to be scientifically accurate, then how can one account for blatant inconsistencies such as that in these verses from Genesis?

Genesis 1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

1:5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Genesis 1:13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

1:14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

1:15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

1:16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

1:17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

[Addendeum (8-2-11): How could there have been light before there were stars?  The only scientifically viable option is to invoke the big bang model of cosmology, which many creationists such as Ray Comfort are loath to do, since they don’t like the fact that it clearly shows the universe is about 13.7 billion years old.  So there’s another contradiction.] Okay, so there was day and night in the sky and on the Earth before there was a Sun (the greater light).  How exactly does that jibe with our understanding of modern astronomy?  Oh wait… it doesn’t.

Folks, this sort of thing is just a taste of the multitude of inconsistencies found between a “literal” reading of the Bible and modern science.  If you really want to see more, I suggest checking out the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.

Now, on to some specific criticism regarding this Living Waters pamphlet.  Let’s just take a look at the very first line in the claims about how the Bible supposedly predicts that the Earth is a sphere, from Isaiah 40:22.  What exactly does Isaiah 40:22 say?  Here it is…

Isaiah 40:22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

So the Earth is described in this Bible verse as a circle.  A circle.  For those who may not have mastered basic, high school geometry, a circle is a flat, two-dimensional object.  Yup, basically the Bible is arguing for a Flat Earth (because remember that, hey, circles are FLAT!!!) This is in direct conflict with the findings of the ancient Greeks (about 2000-3000 years ago) when natural philosophers such as Erastothenes of Cyrene proved, using simple measurements and geometry, that the Earth was a sphere.  Two additional points should be noted:

1. The fact that the ancient Greeks knew the Earth was NOT flat is also in direct conflict with the claims in the Living Waters pamphlet, which states that the ancients two or three thousand years ago thought the Earth was flat.

2. Modern science actually states that, due to the Earth’s rotation, our planet is not perfectly spherical.  In fact, it is an oblate spheroid.  So this fact is two steps removed from the text of Isaiah 40:22 – first that verse states the Earth is a circle, not a sphere; and second, if the Bible really were so accurate scientifically, why didn’t it just say “oblate spheroid”?

[Addendum (8-2-11): I would think that if the Bible were so amazingly accurate in predicting the behavior of the universe in scientific terms that it would have said something about quantum mechanics, general relativity, or how to do something practical like build an airplane or make a vaccine.  Nope, nothing like that in the Bible, either.]

I could go on, but I think that by now you get the idea.  Feel free to take a look at some of the other loony claims made by this pamphlet, read through the Bible verses for yourself, and have a good hearty laugh.  Because that’s all this pamphlet is good for: a laugh 🙂

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Noah’s Ark Found… Again?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 30, 2010

Recently a story getting a lot of press is yet another claim by yet another Christian-oriented organization that they’ve discovered the mythical Noah’s Ark. For many Christians of the more fundamentalist stripe, the myth of Noah’s Ark is kind of like the Holy Grail – many of them believe that if it can be found that it somehow proves the validity of their particular interpretation of the Bible.

noahs ark mt ararat

However, some deeper investigation past the headline shows that this story is likely just another exaggerated claim, because – as skeptic Ben Radford points out – we’ve been here before… numerous times.  Yes, apparently, the mythical Noah’s Ark has been discovered (and re-discovered) a number of times “with definitive proof” that it is authentic.

Noah’s Ark Re-Rediscovered

A Chinese Christian filmmaker claims to have found the final resting place of Noah’s Ark on Turkey’s Mount Ararat.

Yeung Wing-Cheung says he and a team from Noah’s Ark Ministries found the remains of the Ark at an elevation of about 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). They filmed inside the structure and took wood samples that were later analyzed in Iran. He claims the wood was carbon-dated to around the reputed time of Noah’s flood, which would be remarkable since organic material should have long since disintegrated in the last 5,000 years.

Yeung said that he is “99 percent certain that it is Noah’s Ark based on historical accounts, including the Bible and local beliefs of the people in the area, as well as carbon dating.”

While news of the find is making headlines around the world, there’s one part of the story that Yeung is conspicuously silent about: He is only the latest in a long line of people who claim to have found Noah’s Ark. In fact, there have been at least half a dozen others – all of them funded by Christian organizations – who have claimed final, definitive proof of Noah’s Ark. So far none of the claims have proven true.

Noah’s Ark is routinely re-discovered, because there are many who fervently want it to be found. Biblical literalists – those who believe that proof of the Bible’s events remains to be found – have spent their lives and fortunes trying to scientifically validate their religious beliefs.

There are several reasons why the new claims should be treated with skepticism. For example, Yeung refuses to disclose the location of the find and is instead keeping it a secret. This of course is inherently unscientific; for the claims to be proven, the evidence must be presented to other scientists for peer-review. Nor has the alleged 5,000-year-old wood been made available for independent testing.

… There is a long and rich history of Ark finds. Nearly 40 years ago, Violet M. Cummings, author of “Noah’s Ark: Fable or Fact?” (Creation-Science Research Center, 1973) claimed – without evidence – that Noah’s Ark had been found on Mount Ararat. According to the 1976 book and film “In Search of Noah’s Ark,” (Scholastic Book Services) “there is now actual photographic evidence that Noah’s Ark really does exist…. Scientists have used satellites, computers, and powerful cameras to pinpoint the Ark’s exact location on Mt. Ararat.” Yet again, no real evidence was offered.

Read the rest of this entry »

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