Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Fun Creationist Weekend, Part Five. Mysteries of the Cretaceous World at the Baugh Museum

Before I begin this essay, I want to let you know that the National Center for Science Education has posted its Upchucky Award winners for 2011! And now, on with the essay.

I visited Carl Baugh’s Creation Evidences Museum on March 5. After Baugh had finished his presentation (see two previous entries), I looked at the displays I had driven down to Glen Rose, Texas, to see. The bed of the nearby Paluxy River is famous for the trackways of footprints that dinosaurs left in the mud 110 million years ago (according to scientists). But Baugh claims that it was only about 4000 years ago, and that humans had left their footprints in the mud also. In his museum you can see excavated pieces of Paluxy River limestone that have what are supposed to be human footprints in them. One of the stones has what is supposed to be a human footprint overlapping the print of a three-toed predatory dinosaur (see photos). Think about what it would mean if these displays are genuine. It would mean that the entire timeline of evolution, in which dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago but the human genus did not evolve until about two million years ago, is wrong. If you glance quickly at these displays, as most people visiting the museum were doing, it seems to be pretty clear that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time on a young Earth. But if you look closely at the stones, as I did, you begin to notice a few things.

During the Depression, when the dinosaur footprints of the Paluxy River were already famous, some enterprising individuals carved human footprints in the stone and sold them. One might naturally assume that the footprints in Baugh’s museum were also carved. Baugh claims that, while some Paluxy human footprints were fakes, the ones in his museum are genuine. Unfortunately, the only way you can evaluate this claim is by looking at the footprints, as I did. They did not look like fakes to me, at first glance. But, I am not even a geologist, much less an ichnologist (expert in fossil burrows and tracks). How would I know? I was, however, suspicious. The footprints looked good—a little too good, as a matter of fact. Every toe was perfect. I could see no chisel marks, but I concluded that the human prints are fakes, even if Baugh did not carve them himself. For a summary of the human footprint story, click here. In other displays, you can see putative human sandal prints which are supposedly the same age as the dinosaur prints. And even what Baugh claims is a child’s handprint.

One of the footprints is quite large. Baugh has an explanation for this. The footprints were produced by a species of giant humans, which Baugh, no stranger to ego, decided to name after himself (Homo bauanthropus).

There are other items on display at the museum that, according to Baugh, prove that not just humans but technologically advanced humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs. One is the Cretaceous hammer (see photo). It is an iron hammer with a wooden handle that was found, according to the display, embedded in Cretaceous rock further south in Texas. How could a hammer get into a Cretaceous rock? There is actually an easy answer to this question. Somebody in the nineteenth century dropped a hammer into a crack in the Cretaceous deposits, and then erosion filled in the gaps. You can see eroded limestone filling cracks in today, down at the river.

The museum is designed for a quick glance at the displays, rather than careful thought. If you think carefully, however, you quickly realize that the creationist explanation makes no sense. Cretaceous deposits, in Texas and all over the world, are above the Paleozoic, Triassic, and Jurassic deposits, all of them full of fossils. And, in many parts of the world, there are Cenozoic deposits on top of the Cretaceous layers, and they, too, have fossils. That is, if all of the fossil-containing layers were formed during Noah’s Flood, then these Cretaceous layers had to be deposited in the middle of the Flood. Here’s what had to happen. The Flood had been going on long enough to deposit thick layers of sediments full of plants, animals, and technologically advanced people. Then the waters receded, and dinosaurs and humans who had been hiding somewhere came out and walked (not ran) over hundreds of feet of mud without sinking into it. One of the humans lost a hammer. Another lost a finger (see below). Then the Flood came back and buried all of them.

By the way, you don’t want to miss the Cretaceous finger. It looks like a finger from a statue, since there is no evidence of any internal structure such as bone. But Baugh claims it is a real finger, which apparently broke off of a giant who was fleeing the Flood.

The visit to the displays, just like the experience of Baugh’s lecture, creates an alternate psychological reality. Quickly glancing at the displays gives you the impression that humans and dinosaurs lived together on a young Earth. But one of the displays, as I describe in the next entry, proclaims that evolution is the major source of evil in the world in the past and today.

Don’t miss my new book, Life of Earth: Portrait of a Beautiful, Middle-Aged, Stressed-Out World, just published by Prometheus Books.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Fun Creationist Weekend, Part Four. The Lost Paradise of Carl Baugh

In my previous entry, I described the psychological experience that I had when I visited Carl Baugh’s Creation Evidences Museum in Glen Rose, Texas on March 5. Baugh created an aura of scientific truth by presenting little fragments of information, just enough to mesmerize the audience. I mentioned that the actual claims he made were incredible, and had no scientific or Biblical basis. I present these claims here.

First, Baugh claimed that a chemist in Louisiana (Edward Boudreaux) had proved how God created the Earth from a ball of plasma (which is a form of matter in which electrons are torn away from nuclei in atoms). The chemist’s calculations proved that such a ball of plasma would have cooled down in 47 hours, which was plenty of time for the “dry land to appear” on Day 3 of Genesis 1. There is, of course, no mention of any ball of plasma in Genesis. So why would anyone go through the trouble of inventing the idea that God created the Earth from a ball of plasma? According to Genesis 1, before God began to create the heavens and the Earth, there was water. Therefore, some creationists claim, God made everything out of water. Everything, including uranium and lead and other heavy atoms. The only way for God to do this would be to transform the water into plasma, which could then form into every kind of atom. Therefore one motivation for this theory was to make sense out of the Biblical statement that water existed before the universe.

The second motivation was to prove how there could be both uranium (a radioactive element) and lead (a product of radioactive decay) in the crust of a very young Earth. The fact that there is lead in the rocks makes it look as though the Earth is old. But, Baugh claimed, Boudreaux’s plasma theory shows how the original rocks could have had both uranium and lead in them. (Baugh, and the chemist he was quoting—the one who had written the book the last copy of which sold for a hundred dollars—seem to have overlooked the fact that it is not just uranium and lead that allows scientists to calculate the age of the Earth, but the fact that zircon crystals contain both uranium and lead.) It may have occurred to you that, while God was performing miracles, he could have just made the uranium and lead and all the other atoms, skipping the plasma stage. Boudreaux’s calculations are totally unnecessary, because they simply posit a different set of miracles.

Next, Baugh started telling tall tales about what the Earth was like before the Flood. What a fantastical world! Creationists often claim, without Biblical evidence, that the pre-Flood Earth was surrounded by a vapor canopy, which would have created worldwide tropical conditions and very high atmospheric pressure. I expected to hear about this from Baugh, but he barely mentioned it. Instead, Baugh made the claim that, prior to the Flood, the Earth year consisted of only 336 days, allowing the moon to circle it exactly twelve times at 28 days per cycle each year. In some unexplained way, the Flood slowed down the revolution of the Earth but not of the moon. Now, what is so important about the 28-day cycle of the moon? You guessed it—because the moon regulates the ovulatory cycles of women! Most of us would assume the ovulatory cycle fits the moon, but Baugh claims God made the moon fit the ovulatory cycle, and the Earth fit the moon. The whole movement of the Solar System was originally created for the sake of the ovulatory cycle of women. None of this is in the Bible but, well, at least nobody can accuse Baugh of misogyny, can they?

Baugh was on a roll. We all know that the surface of the moon has dark patches created by volcanic eruptions. But, Baugh claimed, before the Flood, the moon had a perfectly smooth surface. In some unexplained way, the Flood caused volcanic eruptions on the moon. A pure white moon would have been seven times brighter than it is now, and it would have emitted light at 518 Hz (I didn’t quite follow this part) which would have stimulated DNA repair enzymes that would have allowed people to live over nine hundred years—but only if the moon was brighter. (It is not quite clear how moonlight could have gotten through a thick canopy of water vapor.) The moon had phases before the Flood just as it does now, explained Baugh. Apparently the reason for this, if I understand his explanation, was that an unrelenting full moon would have worn people out by making them have sex every night for nine hundred years. I may be misunderstanding this just a little, but I am not making it up. (From what I have read about Baugh’s look-alike Garner Ted Armstrong, the latter might have attempted such a marathon.)

It is both entertaining and disturbing to see that many creationists think that God has given them permission to just make stuff up and claim Biblical authority for it. This practice is without theological justification, but it works. Baugh craves adoration, and there was a room full of people giving it to him, gladly yielding to him the authority to invent scripture as he goes along. Meanwhile he raises thousands of dollars to buy Bibles to prove what the exact words of the Bible ought to be. I wonder why he does this. Since he just makes stuff up, about changes in the length of the year and the face of the moon, why does he need to be so careful about the exact wording of the Bible?

The high air pressure underneath a vapor canopy would, Baugh claims, have caused giant vegetables to grow and animal wounds to quickly heal. Off to the side of the museum is what looks like a gigantic barrel, which Baugh intends at some future date to make into a hyperbaric chamber, with high air pressure (and presumably a source of 518 Hz light). Maybe he will grow some giant vegetables in the barrel, or maybe he will experiment on himself to see if he heals up quickly. Hospitals do in fact use hyperbaric treatment to help wounds to heal. If this is all that Baugh wants to prove, there is no need for him to have his own hyperbaric chamber. So why is it there? Maybe he and his staff someday will disappear inside and live forever, in complete separation from the world of inconvenient reality.

I then proceeded to look at the displays in the museum, about which I will write in the next entry.

Don’t miss my new book, Life of Earth: Portrait of a Beautiful, Middle-Aged, Stressed-Out World, just published by Prometheus Books.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Fun Creationist Weekend, Part Three. Into the Land of the Dinosaur Preacher

On March 5 (which was Lynn Margulis’s seventy-third birthday), I continued my fun weekend of learning about creationism (see previous two entries). On this morning, I visited Carl Baugh’s Creation Evidences Museum in Glen Rose, Texas. This museum, as some of you may know, is the one that purports to prove that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. The museum is on the banks of the Paluxy River, which is famous because the bed of the river contains entire trackways of dinosaur footprints. And, Baugh claims, human footprints as well.

I was in for a real treat. It was not just creationism that I saw. It was an entire world of psychological illusion.

I arrived just after 11:00, just in time to hear Baugh’s monthly sermon. I parked my car in the gravel lot, walked past a big yellow school bus (wondering about the legality of using a public vehicle to take kids to this place), and slipped in through the front door. It was standing room only; all the seats were occupied by the approximately 100 people who had come early to hear Baugh. A man was singing hymns to a music track.

Then Carl Baugh came to the microphone (see photo). A late middle-aged man, he bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the late Garner Ted Armstrong. His mellifluous baritone voice announced that all of the money from the collection that the ushers were taking would go to benefit the singer. And then he began his sermon. The first half hour was not about creation-science at all. It was about old editions of the Bible. Baugh’s museum had recently purchased a Bible, using funds provided miraculously by a donor, which had been edited by Desiderius Erasmus and published just prior to the King James Bible of 1611. The King James Bible is the one that many fundamentalists revere, even more than original documents. Some churches, like the Baptist church just outside the town where I work, actually proclaim “KJV 1611” on their sign. Why? Because, Baugh said, the King James Bible is the one that has saved more souls than any other version. I suppose this means that nobody actually knew what the actual words of God were until 1611, perhaps (I may guess) even the people who heard Jesus himself. This Bible that Baugh had purchased contained editorial revision marks. This Bible, therefore, represented the final step before the publication of the King James Version. Baugh told the audience that one of the world’s foremost experts on seventeenth-century Bibles, at Oxford, was going to verify the authenticity of the book.

Now it was time to build some excitement in the crowd. Baugh’s cell phone rang. I thought it was odd that an experienced speaker would forget to turn off his cell phone, and then would pointedly refuse to turn it off after it had interrupted his presentation. He announced he would ignore the call. The phone rang again. He said he would answer it because it just might be the manuscript expert calling. Guess what—it was! The world expert on seventeenth-century Bibles just happened to be starting his work at what would have been 5:00 pm on a Saturday in England. Well, guess what, said Carl. There is a whole audience here who wants to know what you are finding out about the manuscript! It did not take long for me to figure out that the phone call must have been from one of Baugh’s associates, perhaps standing outside or in an office. It was a smooth attempt to manipulate the audience. This was just in time for Baugh to announce that he was looking for a new donor to buy another old Bible. A local informant tells me that Baugh has conducted bids before, using a cell phone with a fake bidder on the other end.

Baugh then showed another old Bible. It was one of the original King James Bibles, only the printer had changed just a single word, and for this crime he was imprisoned by order of King James. Almost all copies of this Bible had been destroyed, but Baugh had gotten hold of one. What was the word that the printer had substituted? (While driving down into Texas, I had been listening to NPR, and there was a report that a new edition of the Bible had been published that changed the word “booty” to “plunder,” but I doubted that this was what Baugh had in mind.) The printer, Baugh said, had changed “Jesus” to “Judas” in just one verse of the New Testament. After the presentation, people lined up to see the “Judas Bible”, but only if they washed their hands and made sure they did not drop any dandruff on it.

The reason I have gone into this part of Baugh’s presentation in some detail is to show you that the Baugh’s entire purpose is to cultivate followers and donors, rather than to convince anyone of the truth of his creationist evidences. What I witnessed here was not just an atmosphere of psychological manipulation, but acts of psychological manipulation. And it was working. Whenever Baugh asked if the audience was agreeing with him, there were mesmerized nods, rather than affirmations. The audience was not enthusiastically engaged, but hypnotized. I could feel it myself—I could feel my own brain becoming soft. It was at least fifteen minutes before I realized what was going on.

When Baugh got into his “scientific” presentation, the astonishing content of which I will present in the next entry, it was clear that he was manipulating the audience with the aura of science, rather than trying to present evidence to them. He made some incredible claims, but verified them by saying that they had been published in a book that had sold out, and the last one had been bought for a hundred dollars by a professor, who just happened to be in the back of the room. (By this time I was wondering if any such thing had happened, but I have no proof that it had not. I cannot locate the book on Amazon.) Anything in a book that sells for a hundred dollars must be correct, I suppose.
Baugh rushed through a PowerPoint of “evidences”, skipping the details, claiming that the scientific terms like “nucleosynthesis” were really big and complex and hard to pronounce, then ending with the triumphant claim that he had found scientific evidence for God’s Truth. Wow, all these scientific terms and even a few Greek symbols—that settles it. How could he be wrong, when he could almost pronounce the word nucleosynthesis? And how could you doubt him? He spoke so smoothly, and slipped in jokes. He had time for jokes and homey stories, but not for the evidence, which flashed by on the screen. (There needs to be a term for this. It is not quite like Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness,” or Charles Seife’s statistical “proofiness.” It is the illusion of proof that comes from flashing through a series of scientific-looking slides. If any of you know a good term to describe this, feel free to post a comment.)

In the next entry, you will find out some of the scientific claims that Baugh made that morning—claims without evidence, and even without Biblical basis. It is all part of the mind-numbing psychological effect that he deliberately cultivates in his museum.

Don’t miss my new book, Life of Earth: Portrait of a Beautiful, Middle-Aged, Stressed-Out World, just published by Prometheus Books.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Battle of the Church Marquees

In an entry earlier this year, I posted a photo of a church marquee in Durant, Oklahoma that renounced evolution. A few years ago this same church had a marquee that renounced the Big Bang. (Both of these photos are on my website, under "Evolution photos."

But a different kind of church marquee appeared in Tulsa, Oklahoma on March 20, 2011. It was a marquee announcing the celebration of Evolution Sunday. And it had my name on it, as the guest speaker.

Fellowship Congregational Church, under the leadership of Rev. Paul Ashby, is to be commended for embracing the truth of evolution and trying to figure out its spiritual insights and consequences. I publicly announce my thanks to Paul Ashby, to Jim Derby (retired geologist who arranged the meeting), and to the people who attended my lecture and asked good questions.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Fun Creationist Weekend, Part Two. Noah's Ark! Wow!

In my previous entry I wrote about my visit to Mr. Bill Gordon’s Museum of Creation Truth outside of Bokchito, Oklahoma, which was crammed full of replicas of items and copies of photographs that were mostly about a mythical pre-Flood world rather than about creationism.

There was one photograph on display that, were it really what Bill claimed it to be, would convince all of us of creationism. If it were real, we should all go to Turkey as fast as we can and check out the most important discovery in the recent history of humankind. I refer to Noah’s Ark. Yes, the real Noah’s Ark, in the Ararat Mountains of Turkey, according to its promoters, such as Ron Wyatt, an amateur archaeologist.

According to Wyatt and other promoters, the Ark was entombed within rock on the slopes of Mt. Ararat, where it came to rest at the end of the Flood. And there it lay, hidden from the eyes of humankind, until an earthquake revealed it in 1948, just in time for the Last Days before the Return of Jesus Christ. And there it is, for anyone who wants to see it. How do you get there? Well, conveniently enough, the government of Turkey has made it into a national park.

The putative “ark” is a geological formation that looks like a long pointed boat. Wyatt and others claim that this formation is the right size to be the real ark and that its sides contain petrified wood, the actual wood used by Noah. The promoters also claim to have found the anchor-stones that Noah used (which are, as you might have guessed, not mentioned in the Bible). The promoters make a long list of other claims about it.

It turns out that these claims are all false. For example, the sides of the “ark” are hardened mud, with fossils in them. I have no intention of repeating all of the evidence. You can read it from the mainstream creationist literature—this “ark” was even too much for them to believe.

And it is not simply a mistake; Ron Wyatt is either a fraud or seriously deluded. According to creationist writer Andrew Snelling in the hyperlink above, Wyatt also claims to have found such things as the following: the true site of the crucifixion of Jesus; the Ark of the Covenant; the true Mount Sinai (with a plaque announcing it as such); the true site of the Israelites’ Red Sea crossing, also with a marker ‘built by King Solomon’ as a memorial; chariot wheels from Pharaoh’s drowned army; the actual rock Moses struck to release water; Noah’s grave, complete with the skin that held the wine that made him get drunk and naked, as recorded in Genesis 9:20 (okay, I just made that last part up); Noah’s house, complete with the biggest flush toilet in the ancient world (okay, I just made that part up too); Mrs. Noah’s grave (containing a fortune of gold and jewelry—I did not make that part up); and Moses’ stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, held together with golden hinges. Hey, why not throw in the Holy Grail and the Holy Prepuce as well? Unfortunately, Ron Wyatt was a little too late to be the discoverer of the Holy Prepuce. During the Middle Ages, there were up to eighteen cities that claimed to have the true foreskin of Jesus Christ (I am not making this up). The Italian city of Calcata claimed to have the real one as recently as 1983. But then some thieves stole it while it was being paraded around the city.

The fact that the government of Turkey made the rock that looks like a boat into a national park means that the Turkish government knows how to get western tourists to visit and spend money. Sounds like a fun place to visit. But I don’t have enough money to go to Turkey. Instead I settled for Carl Baugh’s museum in Glen Rose, Texas, which I visited the next day, and will describe in upcoming blog entries.

Don’t miss my new book, Life of Earth: Portrait of a Beautiful, Middle-Aged, Stressed-Out World, just published by Prometheus Books.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Fun Creationist Weekend, Part One. The Creationist Museum in Rural Oklahoma

Greetings from the heart of creationist country, rural Oklahoma.

I devoted March 4 and 5, 2011, to learning more about creationism. I have spent a lot of time being angry about the way creationists twist the facts and make them fit into preconceived notions, and the way they use their theories to bolster ultra-conservative positions; and a lot of time carefully explaining why creationism is wrong. But on this weekend, I decided to just have fun observing the phenomenon of creationism and letting it warp my mind just a little, the way one might use recreational marijuana (which I have never done).

It was an ethereal weekend. In part this was because the air was filled with the scent of skunks, who were all out getting run over as they pursued or were pursued by mates. My first stop, on Friday afternoon, was the little creationist museum outside of Bokchito, Oklahoma. It was only a dozen miles away from the town in which I work, but I had never visited it before.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. The museum was in a post oak forest behind a heavy metal gate. And the name of the museum sounded like a clear condemnation of unbelievers: “Museum of Creation Truth.” And the proprietor likes to breed wolf-dog hybrids. And there was a statue of a sea serpent outside the museum (see photo). Should I have been scared? No, as it turned out. The proprietor, a late-middle-aged man named Bill Gordon, was the friendliest and mildest-speaking man you could meet. He told me that wolf-dog hybrids were just like puppies and they liked to nuzzle up against him.

But Bill’s mind was just like Noah’s Ark: it was packed full of pieces of information that seemed unconnected to one another, sort of like animals packed into the Ark with no ecosystem or phylogenetic arrangement. This museum was his life’s work. He must have spent a lot of money on the displays, which (he is a contractor) he must have built himself. (He does not seem to be making much money on it, unlike the fabulously rich televangelists.) If Bill could cram this much stuff into a museum, then we must reconsider the credibility of Noah’s Ark.

The question that was on my mind was, why? Why a creationist museum in rural Oklahoma? Aren’t most people already creationists? As it turns out, Bill’s answer was, in effect, that most people in rural Oklahoma may be creationists, and Christians, but lazy ones. On Sunday mornings, most of them sleep in or go fishing. Neither one of us mentioned the big news item of the week: the sentencing of a Bokchito woman who murdered her disabled daughter, hid the body parts, and laughed at the judge during her sentencing. Maybe rural Oklahoma isn’t such a religious place after all?

There was a fundamental disconnect between the displays in the museum and its proprietor. The displays (which are, as we will see later, typical of creationist museums) were offensive lies. The main one was the display of Darwin and models of slave handcuffs and shackles. Another display was entitled Nazism and Racial Policy. The clear message is that evolution leads to slavery and other forms of oppression. This message ignores the evolutionary science of altruism, and ignores all of the slaughters and tortures committed in the name of Christianity, from St. Bartholomew’s massacre in France to the massacre of the Pequots by the Pilgrims. Another display proclaims that there are lies in the textbooks—not errors, but lies. And several posters made it quite clear that only very, very, very stupid people accept evolution. The proprietor gave away Jack Chick tracts, including the “Big Daddy” tract that shows a Semitic-looking evolution professor screaming at a very Aryan-looking creationist student. I certainly felt the displays screaming at the local evolution professor, who is me. But Bill avoided these displays and was, as I said, very friendly. Which should I believe—Bill, or his displays? Does he tell other visitors that people like me are evil liars?

I did not have time to think about this, since Bill was leading me quickly around to his favorite displays. I could feel my mind (not for the last time this weekend) softening, under the bombardment of information and the soothing background of recorded hymns.

I mentioned that many of the displays seemed unconnected to one another. They included the following: replicas of items found in Carl Baugh’s museum, about which I will write in a later entry; a photograph of (supposedly) a fossilized giant human found in County Antrim in Ireland (an 1895 hoax, which the “discoverer” took on tour in Ireland and England, and he charged sixpence to view it); a poor-quality photo (supposedly) of a plesiosaur caught off the coast of New Zealand in 1977 (this must have been the sea serpent depicted in the statue outside); a photo of the Lake Champlain monster; a photo (supposedly) of another plesiosaur that washed up at Monterey, California in 1925; photos of purported sauropod petroglyphs; an image of the Oronteus Finaeus map of 1532 that supposedly shows Antarctica as it would appear without an ice cap; photos of the huge stones of the pre-Inca walls in Peru, and the giant stone of Baalbek; and of the Baghdad Battery, which is an urn that, if filled with grape juice, produces a couple of volts of electricity. I was genuinely surprised. I have seen all this information before, but not in creationist literature. I have seen it in those “mysteries from forgotten worlds” books, and from the “chariots of the gods” books by Erich Von Däniken, who claimed that visitors from other planets had revealed technological marvels to ancient people. What did any of this have to do with creationism?

Apparently an important component of creationist theology is that the pre-Flood world was a planetary, biological, and technological marvel. There was, they say (without any Biblical basis), a vapor canopy over the atmosphere, which created high atmospheric pressure and made plants and people grow into giants, and created a worldwide tropical climate. This was the reason that people lived more than nine hundred years back then. It must have been one of those giants that carved what Bill called a giant’s hammer-stone in one of the displays. And apparently it was pre-Flood giants that built the pre-Inca walls and chiseled out the Baalbek stone. And these pre-Flood giants also knew what Antarctica was like before its ice cap formed, and they passed this knowledge down through a series of secret mapmakers, the last of which was Oronteus Finaeus. Postflood humans, they claim, forgot the secret wisdom of the ancients, and went back to making primitive stone tools. And, of course, evolution has to be wrong because there are still plesiosaurs swimming around in the oceans. (The problems with these claims are too numerous to mention. First, the pre-Inca walls are in the Andes, which have fossils in them that creationists believe were produced by the Flood. Second, the Oronteus Finaeus map does not, in fact, show an accurate Antarctica; in particular, it does not show the peninsula.)

Bill got nearly everything in his museum—mostly replicas and copies of photographs—from two men who are among the most unreliable sources of information on the planet, aside perhaps from Erich Von Däniken. One is Carl Baugh—whom we will meet in a subsequent blog entry—and the other is Kent Hovind, who is currently serving time for tax evasion. It became apparent to me that Bill is hopelessly credulous of certain infamous creationists. He seems to believe them as much as if they were Jesus, although he would deny this. If Kent Hovind or Carl Baugh (whom I was planning to check out the very next day) says it, Bill just drinks it in. Bill’s parting gift to me was a Kent Hovind DVD. It is a sad thing to see a man’s mind wasted on such credulity.

One photograph particularly caught my attention, and I will write about it in the next entry.

Oh, and he also had a photo of Jesus’ tomb. The real one. Really.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why I Do Not Read Philosophy Books

I grew up, in my child geekhood, thinking that the pursuit of philosophy was the noblest thing the mind could do. When I was in high school, entering adolescent geekhood, I still thought this. I didn’t actually read the philosophers; I didn’t even get through Philosophy Made Simple. But I tried. I remember sitting in the school library trying to read Plato in the Great Books of the Western World series. I was, of course, the only student in the library, which was part of the cafeteria. The librarian kept saying what a wonderful spring day it was. Of course, looking back on it, she was right. I should have been out observing the natural world. Come to think of it, watching grass grow would have been a good idea. But I focused on Plato. For just one afternoon, then I quit.

Since that time I have been too busy with science to read philosophy. But I always thought it a valid field of study. And it is clear to me that it is essential for everyone to think about the Big Questions, even if they do not have time to read what Socrates said about Them. Plato (or Socrates, whichever one it was) was clearly right: The unexamined life is not worth living.

I recently heard a radio interview of James Miller regarding his book Examined Lives, in which he explores the lives of twelve philosophers, noting that they seemed to always try to bring their personal lives into conformity with their philosophies, even if they frequently failed (especially Rousseau). The host asked the listeners to call in and say which philosopher they based their lives on. It was a rerun so I did not call, but my answer was clearly Charles Darwin.

Darwin understood how the world works and where it came from. His insights have been confirmed by all of modern science, including the brain sciences, which show how our very patterns of thought and feeling have evolved. He was no formal philosopher, but he did the best he could. For example, he understood that the eternal theological stumbling block, theodicy (why does God allow evil) is solved by natural selection: evolution favors whatever works, whether it makes animals happy or miserable. As Francisco Ayala (also a biologist, not a philosopher) says, natural selection lets God off the hook for the problem of Evil. Darwin tried to rationalize happiness and goodness, emphasizing that being good can provide evolutionary advantages. Most of all, Darwin felt the thrill and awe that one cannot avoid when studying the natural world. He got a little tired of studying barnacles, but otherwise he was constantly happy despite his illness, as he studied pigeons and orchids and worms. A philosopher asks, what is the good life? Darwin said the good life is to understand the beauty of the world. “…endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, have been and are being evolved” were the final words of the Origin of Species and, I think, better than anything Plato ever wrote. Certainly Nietzsche. (Did I spell that right?)

Perhaps Darwin’s most important contribution was to get us to realize that we cannot ascertain philosophical truth by just thinking about it. Our thoughts are the emotional, often illogical, self-deceiving patterns that allowed our ancestors to survive, and to reproduce more than other people who were not, therefore, our ancestors. To understand philosophy, then, we must understand brain science.

But philosophers do not often take that step. I started to read a book several years ago entitled Philosophy in the Flesh which took this approach. I got lost, and discontinued the book, but the idea is commendable.

When a listener called in, asking about science, I expected Miller to say something like what I just said. It would have been a welcome convergence of science and philosophy. But Miller made some truly confounding statements. He implied that science is very specialized, that ordinary people cannot understand it, that scientists only think about their specialized fields, and therefore science is not very useful for thinking about the Big Questions. It sounded to me like, if you want to understand the world, study the philosophers; if you want to make carbon nanotubules then go home and turn your brain off, study science. (In fairness I must add that I have not read his book. I base this just on the interview. But, am I likely to read his book? Not now.)

It is because most philosophers take Miller’s approach that I consider philosophy to be a waste of time. Science leads to reality because it tests hypotheses about the physical world, and because it helps us understand how our brains work. If philosophers embraced this, it would become a useful discipline. But philosophers seem to be stuck in the rut of thinking about what Socrates said (or Nietzsche [did I spell that right?] for God’s sake, nor not). Philosophy is a valuable subdiscipline of history (which, by the way, is an extremely important field of study): the history of what people who loved to think thought. But you are no more likely to come closer to truth by embracing Aristotle’s categories of reality than you are by coming up with your own; maybe less so, since Aristotle’s thinking may have been influenced by Macedonian aspirations to empire.

One time, I planned to write a book called Everything. If I ever do this, I will start with science, not philosophy; Darwin, not Socrates.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Biodiversity and Noah’s Ark: The Solution You’ve Been Waiting For

I have sometimes wondered if the indifference that many creationists feel toward rescuing biodiversity from extinction is that they do not want to believe there is very much of it. In particular fundamentalists must believe that there have never been more animal species than could fit into Noah’s Ark.

The obvious problem is, how could two of every kind of animal fit into the Ark? This question has been asked thousands of times on websites and in blogs and books, including several of my own, which criticize creationism. The dimensions of the Ark are fairly well specified by Genesis (there is only so much leeway that you have in defining the length of a “cubit”). Creationists believe that Noah had all of the species of dinosaurs on the Ark also, since dinosaurs had to be alive before the Flood and Noah took two of every kind onto the Ark—though dinosaurs apparently became extinct in the post-Flood environment. We know that this is what they believe, for kids sit on saddles to ride dinosaurs in the creation museum run by Answers in Genesis.

The problem is that scientists keep finding the bones of new species of giant dinosaurs. It’s not just brontosaurus (Apatosaurus) anymore; it is Supersaurus and Ultrasaurus and Argentinosaurus. How would a pair of each of them fit onto the Ark? Creationists have an answer: hibernation. Noah could just pile them up, and not have to feed them, if the dinosaurs came in and fell asleep. This would require a miracle, not recorded in Genesis. But creationists have no problem just making stuff up. However, creationists would need to make up a lot more miracles than just hibernation. How can you physically fit all of those giant dinosaurs in the Ark? If you take the volume of the Ark and divide it by the number of species, you find that there is, in fact, space for all of them. But in order to use that space for giant dinosaurs, you would need the following miracles. First, God made all of the giant dinosaurs turn rigid. Then, God levitated them. Then, God guided them into slots, as if He were playing Tetris. If you admit the possibility of these miracles, then the problem of space on the Ark is solved. And to creationists, made-up miracles is an unlimited resource.

I would like to suggest a much more elegant approach for creationists to use, one that would be harder for evolutionists such as myself to answer. The approach is for creationists to assume that God is like Dr. Who. Dr. Who had a time travel spaceship called TARDIS, which stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. On the outside it looks like a red British call box (phone booth). But inside, it has infinite volume. Now, if Noah and family built an Ark, then God changed it into a TARDIS, then there would be plenty of room for everything inside—and only a single big miracle would be necessary, rather than lots of little ones.

I’m just trying to be helpful to the creationists. I hope they appreciate it.

This essay will also appear on my website.