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Some years ago the Australian geologist Professor Ian Plimer wrote a book about creationism called Telling Lies for God. On a Sunday night when I had nothing better to do I went to a meeting where someone from the Answers in Genesis Ministry (now Creation Ministries International) did just that. The speaker started out by saying that he wasn't there to rubbish "evolutionists" and atheists because everyone was entitled to an opinion. He then went on to accuse the theory of evolution of being responsible for abortion, homosexuality, divorce, war and most of the other ills of the world. We were told that we would be shown scientific evidence that would completely refute evolution and the false science on which it was based, and that this evidence would lead to the conclusion that the Earth and the universe in which it sits are only about 6,000 years old.
The quality of this "scientific evidence" was embarrassing to look at, and the only charitable position to take was that the speaker was abysmally ignorant of even the most basic science. The alternatives were that he was either extremely stupid (which did not appear to be the case) or that he was prepared to deliberately deceive people who were somewhat illiterate in science. Just about everything except the Paluxy footprints was produced as evidence, but one particular piece of sophistry is a good example of how obfuscation can be used to the advantage of someone who doesn't know or care about the truth.
One of the ways that creationists attack evolution is to try to prove that the tools used to show that the Earth is very old are faulty. The example used in this case was a test on sediments laid down in or near Spirit Lake by the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helen's. These were dated using potassium-argon dating, and the result indicated that they were millions of years old; therefore radioactive dating is faulty, as the real age of these deposits is known. It was pointed out by a skeptic in the audience that this was a totally inappropriate use of that technique as the half-lives of the elements in the decay chain are so long that it is only useful for dating rocks which are at least tens of millions of years old. The comparison was made with using a ruler a kilometre long to measure a baby. The speaker talked around the point for some time, and finally issued a challenge for proof that the rates of radioactive decay have not changed over time. It has been truly said that creationism is not just an attack on biology but on all science and all knowledge.
Another example of the dishonest approach of creationists could be found on the table of books and other merchandise at the back of the room. There was the usual array of books containing "facts" which have been refuted many times (and even some "facts" which the creationists say should not be exploited any more). Prominent amongst all this was a stack of video tapes titled "From a Frog to a Prince". It has been an open secret for five years that this tape contains a deliberate deception, but it is still on sale. Briefly, biologist Richard Dawkins was deceived into being interviewed for the tape (he has a policy of never giving interviews to creationists). He was asked a question which revealed the true purpose of the interview, so he stopped speaking for a while to recover his temper. When the tape was finally released for sale, it had been edited to make it appear as if Professor Dawkins could not answer the question (despite it being the topic of a chapter in a book he had just written) and that he had gone on to give a completely irrelevant answer. (You can read an account of this disgrace here, and Professor Dawkins' comments and real answer to the question here.)
Could there be a greater abuse of both science and Christianity than creationism? The first eleven chapters of Genesis comprise a collection of inspirational allegories, written to illustrate the principles that there is one God for the all people on Earth, that mankind is fallible with free will to choose between good and evil, that the wrong choice has consequences, that salvation and atonement are possible, and that not everyone will be saved. It is true to state that these chapters of Genesis are fundamental to the understanding of the significance of Christ's crucifixion. What is not true is to say that the words in these chapters (or more accurately, the words in these chapters in the 1611 King James Version of the Bible) are literally true. Claiming the literal truth of these writings places believers inside an insoluble paradox - either everything in the Bible is literally true, including all the contradictions and matters which are demonstrably untrue (a good example being that the first two chapters of Genesis disagree on the sequence of creation), or that believers are at liberty to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to believe. Saying that chapters 1 to 11 of Genesis make up a science text book is not only an affront to scientists, atheists, non-Christians and non-believers, but is deeply insulting to the intellect of the many theologians and believers who see the Bible as an inspired work of literature that explains the relationship between God and Man.
I am an atheist, but if I ever felt the need for a god I would want him, her or it to be the sort of being who could use a tool like evolution to carry on the process of creation. There is much to wonder at and be in awe of in the universe, but creationists deny this wonder and they belittle and ridicule the achievements of both man and the creator God. I cannot put this more eloquently than Charles Darwin did in the final sentence of On The Origin of Species, when he wrote: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved".
This article was published as the Naked Skeptic column in the July/August 2010 edition of Australasian Science
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