The Early Days of a Better Nation

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Spite of Woo

Marx, Stalin, Hitler, Hume, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Stirner, Anton la Vey, the Marquis de Sade ... I've read at least some of the works of all of these. None of them has ever given me the faint tremor of taboo-breaking, of danger, of subversion that I feel from just glancing at the cover of a book I got for Christmas. The dust-jacket shows the contorted remains of an entity that is not quite a bird, all splayed wings and feathers and tiny teeth.

The book is Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters by Donald Prothero. It's a detailed, superbly illustrated explication of the fossil record by a professional palaeontologist, specifically written to refute - no, to expose the lies and deceits of - Young Earth Creationism and Flood Geology. There's been nothing like it since Arthur Strahler's magisterial Science and Earth History, which came down on creationism like a ton of sedimentary rock. Though accessible to beginners, it doesn't talk down, and it doesn't mince words. Prothero isn't afraid to bring out the areas of evolutionary theory that are controversial, or where there are unsolved problems. Nor does he hesitate to call what the creationists write 'lies' and 'drivel'. He points out that Christians, even otherwise fundamentalist Christians, who work as geologists for oil companies just laugh at Flood Geology. They'd never dream of using it to find oil.

Creation science is a purely destructive enterprise, like comment trolling or wiki vandalism. Its entire impact results from scrawling across the work of real scientists questions and cavils phrased in a manner just scientific-sounding enough to trouble anyone who knows nothing in detail about the field being traduced. The habit of deceit starts early:
Q: What advice would you give young-earth creationists about their future education and research in their given field?

Initially, I would suggest that they contact creation scientists in their field of interest to obtain advice as to what area to study and which university is the best from which to obtain a Ph.D. Those creation scientists can then mentor and help students while they remain silent, get the best possible degree from the best suited university for the chosen field—one that would assist future creation research.
This advice is guaranteed to damage the lives of two young people: the 'silent' student, going through the motions of acquiring a PhD with a mind firmly shut, and the genuinely interested student who isn't there, because the place they might have had - the opportunity of a lifetime, perhaps - was taken by a creationist troll.

The creationists' claim to piety deserves no more credit than their pretence at science. What can be the faith of those who cut and crush to fit this ludicrous chronology the work of the Ancient of Days?

And the frisson when I look at the book? Well, that's another story, which I've told elsewhere.


Hey, I've got to the first reveal on The Execution Channel.

You rule!

Surprised to see this book not getting any flak from the creationists and ID'ers ... yet. I guess it will take a while to come up wuth arguments that can "refute" its rock solid argument.

A pedant writes: if it weighs the same, does it matter of what particular rock the ton is constituted?

Thanks, Andrew - hope you enjoy the rest of it.

Phil, I reckon the YEC attack will be that Prothero doesn't deal with their latest version of Flood Geology. They will ignore or distort what he has to say about everything else (i.e. how he wipes the floor with them).

ejh - sedimentary rock may contain fossils.

Just need to make a comment here. I'm a Christian. I also belive that proper science is vital to our understanding of the world around us. It's a shame that this needless battle causes so much ill-feeling. The Bible is not a sience book. It's not even a history book. But it does teach us about our relationship with God. By the same token, science does not disprove the existence of God. Proper science mustn't have any agenda other than to find the truth of the physical world. The sooner we stop trying to use it to either prove or disprove the existence of God the better!

Fair do's Anon, I have no quarrel with people who take the position you have. If you read the small personal note I linked to at the end of the above post you'll see I say that explicitly.

I got the book for Christmas too and a very good read it is. I also know Glenn from online creation-evolution debates and alerted him to the mention he gets.

I also agree with your anticipation of the YEC response. They will say there are far more sophisticated "evidences" out there now and that Prothero focuses too much on Morris and Gish. To a certain extent I agree; I do wish Prothero had looked at some of their more recent stuff, which does have a greater veneer of superficial plausibility. However, the book is a great starting point and much of the debunking makes points that are fatal to YEC, no matter what special pleading (sorry, model) they use. I applaud Prothero for getting his hands mucky (and writing a bloody good book) and wish more of my fellow geologists would do the same.

I also got two of your books, my first, for Christmas; Learning the World and Cosmonaut Keep. Finished the admirable Perdido Street Station last night and began LtW straight after.

Steve, I hope you enjoy Learning the World. The YECs do have more sophisticated-sounding theories now, with maths and computer models and everything: 'runaway subduction' for the Earth and rapid, recent, local space-time expansion for the universe. It would have been nice if Prothero had looked at these, but it's not really his job - after having been in the trenches against Gish and Morris I'm sure he had better things to do with his time, and as you say he does demolish the central contention that the entire geological column and fossil record are artefacts of a recent global catastrophe - and, of course, that the record doesn't bear out evolution.

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