Creationist Wisdom #85: Salem Hypothesis

FOR your weekend contemplation, dear reader, we present a letter-to-the-editor which is much more than the usual “maniac in a shack” job. This one appears in the Orange County Register, our biggest source of information about the plight of Dr. James Corbett. Our last post on that topic was here, about a letter written by one of Corbett’s lawyers and two of his students.

Today’s letter-writer is responding to that letter, so this is in the nature of a follow-up. This morning’s gem is titled Debunking myths seculars spin against creation.

We’ll copy most of today’s letter, omitting the writer’s name and city, and adding our Curmudgeonly commentary between the paragraphs. The bold font was added for emphasis. Here we go:

My rebuttal is not related to the specifics of Dr. James Corbett’s case, but to the lack of scientific scholarship from writers Hannah Block, Michele Tyler and J. Craig Johnson [AP teacher challenges untenable views” Commentary, Nov. 15].

Ah, so this isn’t a follow-up about Corbett — it was inspired by the Corbett imbroglio, but it’s all about “lack of scientific scholarship.” Okay, now that know what we’re getting, let’s read on:

These scholars are not trained in theology or in its relationship to science. Otherwise, they would not make misleading statements about the Bible’s position on the placement of the Earth in our solar system, and its account of creation. Their understanding of evolutionary theory is also faulty.

We sense that a massive load of something will soon be showing up. The letter continues:

As a computer scientist who has completed all M.A. requirements in Science and Religion, and who is working toward a Masters in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, I believe I’m on solid ground when I say that these writers may understand a few things about their respective domains, but they honestly need to avoid making public comments on the relationship between science and religion. Masters in education or a law degree does not qualify one to be a theologian, though some may think it does because they don’t view theology as representing a legitimate form of knowledge. As a result differing creation views are treated as equivalent regardless of the level of effort it takes to understand them.

Now we are confirmed in our suspicions. According to the Salem hypothesis, engineering types — and that often includes computer scientists — have a tendency toward the creationist viewpoint. Today’s letter-writer has taken that to the next level by seeking an additional degree of a religious nature. We’re in for a treat, so hang on!

There are two key falsehoods in this article that must be addressed: the belief that the Bible 1) endorses a geocentric model that the Earth is at the center of the universe and 2) specifically advocates a Young Earth Creation view.

This guy can’t be serious! Or can he be?

The view that the Earth is at the center of the universe is the original work of Aristotle, who considered the Earth an imperfect place where heavy and corrupt things fell. Copernicus introduced the heliocentric model, but his observations were not accurate enough to be verified, and his intent was never to challenge “untenable religious views,” since geocentricism had been the prevailing scientific view since Aristotle. It was the observations of Galileo along with Kepler’s laws of planetary motion that verified heliocentrism. Far from demoting the status of the Earth, Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler saw the new scheme as exalting it. Newton was not a part of the story. So clearly, the writers of this article didn’t do their homework.

There’s more! The letter-writer continues into his next paragraph to further exonerate the bible from the “false” accusation of being geocentric:

The Genesis account in the Old Testament was produced well before the Greeks, and the Bible never mentions the Earth was at the center of our solar system or the universe. So this cannot be a flaw in the Bible when such a claim doesn’t even exist.

No flaws in the bible! How could there be? It was written before Aristotle, who was an idiot, and all that goofy geocentric nonsense came from him. This is great stuff!

Alas for the letter-writer, the bible is beyond question a geocentric book. At Galileo’s heresy trial, which the letter-writer conveniently fails to mention, the Church’s prosecutors weren’t acting on behalf of Aristotle. They used two specific scriptural passages against Galileo — they might have used more, but we know of two that were actually used by the Inquisition at the trial. One was the account of Joshua’s ordering the sun to stand still, and the other was Ecclesiastes 1:5

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

After crudely attempting to dump all the blame for geocrentrism on Aristotle, and after ignoring the role of the Inquisition in the Galileo affair, the letter-writer goes on to claim that — get this! — the bible doesn’t support young earth creationism (YEC) either:

Second, in the Old Testament it is hotly debated what the Hebrew word for day (yom) means. It can be interpreted as a literal 24-hour day in some contexts and as a long period of time in others. Most who hold the Old Earth Creationist model, such as myself, are of the latter view with respect to creation.

It’s not the bible’s fault; there’s nothing but good science in there. All of those silly YECs are misinterpreting the bible. Incredible, isn’t it?

Never mind the fact that all young-earth-creationists get their data from scripture, and their technique was probably perfected in constructing the Ussher chronology. Today’s “computer scientist” letter-writer has exonerated the bible from any blame for the YEC position.

Here’s more:

To counter one of the article’s essential points, “religion” is not in a position of “catching up” in the case of Young Earth Creationism because, Young Earth Creationism has never believed in geocentrism, and second, doesn’t accept standard evolutionary theory. The Old Earth Creationist view accepts an old Earth, but does not accept the standard evolutionary view either.

We think the letter-writer is wildly slipping & sliding here in order to achieve a very dubious and morally shady reconstruction of history. No rational historian doubts that before Galileo, probably everyone believed in both YEC and geocentrism. The letter-writer seems to rely on the fact that the “modern” YEC movement is relatively recent, and by the time it came along almost everyone had accepted the solar system. Thus, YEC “never” believed in geocentrism. Yeah, right. Moving along:

As for “denominations” reconciling their account of creation with evolution and an old Earth, that is the Theistic Evolution position, which has nothing to do with denominations. I don’t understand why these writers avoided seeking out people that are knowledgeable in this area.

Knowledgeable. Right. Another excerpt:

Finally, regarding evolutionary biology, I want to make the key point that Young Earth Creation proponents do believe in natural selection within species (i.e., microevolution). What they don’t believe, in common with the Old Earth Creationists, is in macroevolution. Macroevolution refers to evolutionary change at or above the level of species.

Micro-yes, macro-no. We’ve been there before. On with the letter:

While I do agree with the writers that the Young Earth Creation view should not be taught as a generally accepted view, it should be acknowledged as an alternative with arguments for and against, since it does have some merits (I say this as an Old Earth Creation proponent).

We never yet encountered an OEC who didn’t have a great deal in common with the YECs. Here’s more:

The problem is that evolutionary theory presents macroevolution as fact, without any weaknesses. Evolutionary theory also does not address the origin of life, which continues to defy explanation, even for the best researchers. And even though evolutionary theorists argue that the evidence for macroevolution is “overwhelming,” there are few examples of transitional species, and there is no detailed evolutionary path for any species.

Nice little medley of oldie-goldies. It’s good to see them still being recycled. And now we come to the end:

Finally, and I know this is controversial, the scientific community rules out theistic approaches a priori, as if no theistic view could have any truth content. I believe the Old Earth Creation view best accords with the evidence. Is this a “god of the gaps” argument given what we don’t know? Hardly. It has merit and deserves serious consideration as a viable alternative to macroevolutionary theory, which has serious explanatory gaps.

That conclusion had some great flourishes, displaying zero knowledge of the scientific method, the meaning of a God of the gaps argument, or the meaning of the word “theory” in a scientific context. All in all, a great letter!

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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41 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #85: Salem Hypothesis

  1. Curmudgeon: “We never yet encountered an OEC who didn’t have a great deal in common with the YECs.”

    The biggest thing they have in common is to downplay their own differences, which they know, and essentially admit, are at least as great as any scientific differences they may have with evolution. Between the lines they are shouting: “We know that our objections to evolution are not about the science, otherwise we’d devote at least half of our time demolishing other creationist accounts.”

    I strongly suspect that this engineer has much more than zero knowledge of the scientific method, but his mission to “save the masses” prevents him from displaying it.

  2. retiredsciguy

    The theologian/computer specialist letter writer writes,
    “…the scientific community rules out theistic approaches a priori, as if no theistic view could have any truth content.”

    I would think that the scientific community rules out theistic approaches not because they have no truth content, but rather because theistic approaches are untestable, and therefore not disprovable.

    This guy has completed all the requirements for a Master of Arts degree in Science and Religion, eh? I’d say his education has been light on the science and heavy on the religion, at least in the areas of science that bear on evolution, such as biology and geology.

    I wonder if he is truly as arrogant as he appears to be in this letter.

  3. retiredsciguy: “I’d say his education has been light on the science and heavy on the religion, at least in the areas of science that bear on evolution, such as biology and geology.”

    Do you think he’d say anything different if his education was heavy on the relevant science?

  4. I find it ironic that he starts out by criticizing, “These scholars are not trained in theology or in its relationship to science.” Then has no problem making pronouncements about evolution for which he has no apparent training in. He says he has, ” completed all M.A. requirements in Science and Religion”, whatever that means. He seems to think that means he is some sort of expert.

  5. Frank J says: “I strongly suspect that this engineer has much more than zero knowledge …”

    I think he’s telling us exactly what he knows.

  6. retiredsciguy says: “I wonder if he is truly as arrogant as he appears to be in this letter.”

    I suspect so.

  7. retiredsciguy

    By the way, Curmy, what’s with the new icon peace symbol in place of the familiar WordPress “W”? Had to look twice on my list of favorites.

  8. retiredsciguy

    Frank J: “Do you think he’d say anything different if his education was heavy on the relevant science?”

    I’d suspect he wouldn’t have written the letter.

  9. retiredsciguy, I still see the big “W.”

  10. retiredsciguy

    Hmm. I tried to copy it here, but no go. Anyone else seeing a purple peace symbol in place of the big “W”?

  11. As one who has a BA in Computer Science (sounds like an oxymoron, ‘of Arts’ and ‘Science’ in the same descriptive) and my Father was a Certified Civil Engineer, I am appalled to learn of the Salem Hypothesis. Engineering and Computer Science require logical, rational thinking. One would think that would make those people more inclined to evolution than creationism as the former is based on reason and the latter is based on ancient books and legends. Then again, engineering and computers are both based on design, so I can see where they might be more prone to believing in ID. Rather disappointing, though understandable.

  12. retiredsciguy, I still see the “W” but have noticed other changes lately. It used to be if you checked the box to “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” they would just go ahead and send you emails when a comment appeared. Now, I am getting an annoying email from wordpress every time making me confirm I want those comments. Uh, that’s why I checked the box. Also, the “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” box used to disappear after I clicked it and the “Submit”, now it is there all the time. I looked on the wordpress home page and couldn’t see anywhere that I could complain about these changes. Guess I’ll just have to live with it.

  13. Do you know the scene in “The Jerk” where Steve Martin’s character gets the new phone book and finds his own name? Remember how he reacted? Well, I (an engineer) have just read for the first time the Salem Hypothesis:

    “Hey, I’m an engineer and I don’t believe in creationism! I’M SOMEBODY! I’M SOMEBODY! WHOO HOO!”

  14. Gary, haven’t you noticed that you’re out of sync with your colleagues?

  15. “Gary, haven’t you noticed that you’re out of sync with your colleagues?”

    Uh, yes. But it has nothing to do with creationism. (grin!)

  16. Curmudgeon: “I think he’s telling us exactly what he knows.”

    retiredsciguy: “I’d suspect he wouldn’t have written the letter.”

    One or both of you may be right, and until we can read minds we can never rule that out. Make of it what you will, but in my experience the great majority of those who write such nonsense generally reveal in subsequent writing that they know more than they let on at first. And even if not, they continue to write such nonsense after being corrected. In each case they keep learning to better avoid making specific falsifiable claims about their own “theory” and keep the focus on “Darwinism.” It looks like a retreat to us, but if anything it impresses the rubes even better.

  17. Curmudgeon: “retiredsciguy, I still see the big ‘W.’”

    Looks like 4 palm trees to me. 😉

  18. 4 palm trees? I wonder what Rorschach would say about that. On the other hand, maybe you need an eye exam or lay off the kool-id 😉

  19. re: weird icon substitution

    — In my experience, this is a local PC issue, not on the WordPress end.

    I’ve had all manner of website icons get switched around from time to time; it seems to be some sort of confusion within the PC on which icon gets assigned to which URL.

    FWIW, it eventually sorts itself out.

    Tried flushing your web browser’s cache?

  20. Well, all is now back to normal. The peace symbol is gone; the big “W” is back.

    I noticed a temporary change about a week ago as well. Ah, the mysteries of cyberspace.

  21. Frank J // 21-November-2009 at 9:59 pm

    Curmudgeon: “retiredsciguy, I still see the big ‘W.’”

    Looks like 4 palm trees to me. 😉

  22. Longshadow, is that you, or is that a photo you took of the Curmudgeon?

  23. Our letter-writer is completely correct that the bible does not promote a geocentric universe. The world view of the Old Testament consistently follows the Babylonian cosmology which has a flat earth, held up by pillars. Their “firmament” was an inverted bowl, on which the stars and the sun make their way in daily (or nightly ) cycles. This firmament was thought to be only a few dozen miles above the earth.

    This is substantially different from the geocentric model of the Greeks, with a spherical earth, around which the rest of the universe rotated. The Hebrew model was much more primitive than the Greek view. It is odd that the medieval church adopted the Greek model, and accorded it canonical status.

    Perhaps this anachronism occurred because it was widely recognized that the earth was round long prior to Copernicus and Galileo. The evidence for this was solid, even before the time of Aristotle. Not long after Aristotle, around 250 B.C., Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the spherical earth, with a result quite close to the correct, modern value.

    The computer engineer is out of his depth. Perhaps if he studied science instead of theology…

  24. Bob Carroll writes,
    “The computer engineer is out of his depth. Perhaps if he studied science instead of theology…”

    Again, if that were the case, he probably wouldn’t have written the letter in the first place, and we wouldn’t be spending our time writing all these posts.

    By the way, your post was excellent, Bob. Do you think the Greeks figured out that it was the earth’s curved shadow on the moon that they saw during a lunar eclipse?

  25. retiredsciguy // 22-November-2009 at 12:00 am

    Longshadow, is that you, or is that a photo you took of the Curmudgeon?

    Actually, it is reportedly a pic of Casey Luskin, UnDiscovery Institute Factotum, during an intense but ultimately fruitfuless search for actual Creationist research…..

  26. retiredsciguy asks Bob Carroll: “Do you think the Greeks figured out that it was the earth’s curved shadow on the moon that they saw during a lunar eclipse?”

    They certainly knew it. Earth’s shadow on the moon was part of Aristotle’s reasoning for why the earth had to be a sphere — because only a sphere’s shadow is always circular.

    I agree with Bob Carroll that the Greeks’ cosmology was far more sophisticated than the flat-earth-on-pillars that we get in scripture. But still, the bible has the sun, moon, and stars all whirling around the earth.

  27. Bob Carroll: “The computer engineer is out of his depth. Perhaps if he studied science instead of theology…”

    Again, I can’t prove it, but I think he’d say essentially the same thing. I noticed recently that some of the more well-read anti-evolution activists use a similar tactic – using some of the dumber comments from a few critics to pretend that all their critics dismiss them as flat-earthers. Both of these tactics are just that – a way to deflect the focus on the critics and away from the anti-evolution activist and his nonexistent alternate “theory.”

    I just registered to post a comment. If I am allowed to post I will ask my usual questions. Since the letter writer admitted being an OEC, I will ask which “kind” of OEC he/she is. They range from the common-descent-accepting OECs who agree that life has existed for ~4 billion years, to the “young life” types who think there was a global flood, etc. Gotta make ’em squirm.

  28. Benjamin Franklin

    A quick shout out to Jonathan Winters, who just turned 84 on Nov 11th.

    Hard to think that Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad world was made 46 years ago, but still hilarious.

  29. Benjamin Franklin: “Hard to think that Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad world was made 46 years ago, but still hilarious.”

    Ditto. I may be younger than you (303, right? ;-)) and Jonathan Winters, but 46 years ago today is still fresh in my mind.

  30. To get an idea of the sophistication of the Greek science of the day, consider the “antikythera device,” an analog computer in use around 150 B.C. Used presumably as a navigational aid, it could, among other things, predict lunar and solar eclipses. It was discovered circa 1900 on the sea bottom off the island of Antikythera, near the Greek mainland. Recent research, including detailed CAT scans of its interior, have led to its modern reconstruction. There is an amazing article in the December 2009 issue of Scientific American.

    It’s true that Greek cosmology was stuck on the geocentric model. But considering what they accomplished with this flawed model, it’s not surprising that it stood the test of time for close to 2000 years, til Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo ushered in the heliocentric model.

  31. Bob Carroll says: “To get an idea of the sophistication of the Greek science of the day …”

    Not only that, but Eratosthenes ingeniously figured out the circumference of the earth using only geometry. They had a decent method of working out the distances to the moon and the sun, but their observations were a bit crude.

  32. A crude computer and decent geometry are not that surprising, actually. The ancients, particularly the Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, had some pretty sophisticated and clever people. It’s just that today, their seems to be this crazy idea that people who lived in the past were stupid since they didn’t have the modern conveniences. Personally, I think its a relic of the Victorian Era and beyond when Europeans were WAY to impressed with how civilized they were as they killed and enslaved millions of people.

  33. I am appalled to learn of the Salem Hypothesis. Engineering and Computer Science require logical, rational thinking. One would think that would make those people more inclined to evolution than creationism as the former is based on reason and the latter is based on ancient books and legends.

    This is not at all surprising to me. Science is not based on reason. Logical, rational thinking manipulates postulates; and has always been the main strength of the theological camp.

    Science, is based on empiricism; the very opposite of rational. We don’t believe in transistors because we believe in quantum mechanics; it is the other way around. Reason is a tool in our kit, it is not the foundation of what we do.

    Engineers, in my experience, are suckers for pseudoscience; they manipulate postulates well and they think they are smarter than everyone else.

  34. Gabriel, we could spend a lot of time quibbling over definitions. You manipulate well. Let’s just agree that if one starts from false or misleading premises, one can end up anywhere.

  35. Gabriel Hanna

    Let’s just agree that if one starts from false or misleading premises, one can end up anywhere.

    Of course. But this isn’t a quibble over definitions. This is a big deal.

    The rationalist, or the theologian, gets his premises from his own mind, and shoehorns the universe into them.

    The scientist gets his from experience.

    Like Immaneul Kant, who thought that Euclidean geometry explained the universe. But he didn’t imagine that there were such things as non-Euclidean geometries, and you have to appeal to experience to determine which applies to the real world. If any.

    In a comment on another post I said appeals to reason are the Maginot Line of science. Reason is enemy territory. To defend science, you have to engage on our territory, the world of experience.

    If I tell you it is raining here, there is no use in you arguing me out of saying so. If we are both standing in the rain, arguing that we are not wet will not convince me. The parable of Samuel Johnson and the stone comes to mind.

  36. “But this isn’t a quibble over definitions. This is a big deal.”

    Ah, now you’re side-stepping into philosophy which is a whole other can of worms. People have been discussing the nature of experience and how much we can depend on that and our senses for centuries. Rationalism is a philosophical position which isn’t what I was talking about initially. You are doing what the creatinists do, redefining my terms to fit your viewpoint. The creatinists are fond of using a definition of ‘theory’ as meaning that evolution is just a ‘guess’, instead of the scientific meaning of the term. You are doing the reverse, taking my general use of the terms ‘logical, rational thinking’ and applying specific philosophical meanings to them. That is neither fair not useful.

  37. Gabriel Hanna

    How do most people use the word “rational”? They mean, “It makes sense to me”. And for the vast majority of people, God-based explanations make more sense.

    Quarks don’t make sense. Exchange asymmetry doesn’t make sense. I believe in these things because they make sense of my experiences. There are things that really happen which cannot be explained in a sensible way.

    Old Earth Creationism makes sense to people. But they know for a fact that nuclear plants work, and both things cannot be true…

    You accuse me of abstract philosophizing, but like Johnson I am kicking rocks and telling you to argue with THAT.

  38. Gabriel, you’re being obtuse. Samuel Johnson’s kicking a rock has nothing to do with this. We’re talking about two different things and I’m not interested in talking about it any more.

  39. I’ll stick up for dear old Kant: he was emphatic that we can’t have any knowledge about what we cannot possibly experience. Sure, he was wrong about the a priority of Euclidean geometry, but that’s a minor quibble. The important thing is that he argued that the things of importance to theologians — the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and freedom of the will — cannot be known one way or the other, since both the pro and contra positions go beyond experience — and it’s reason itself that, again and again, tempts to go beyond experience.

    One can, interestingly (I find), see this over and over in the comments at Uncommon Descent. Many of the folks there are actually not bad at rational argumentation. What they aren’t good at is explaining, because the very difference between argument and explanation is lost on them.

    I think that the reason why engineers are disproportionately (relative to other scientists) represented among cdesign proponentists is for the simple reason that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you’re familiar with how machines work, and haven’t spent much time with the messiness and complexity of organisms, you’ll find it that much plausible to think that organisms are machines of a very unusual sort. And so the argument from analogy will be that much more appealing.

  40. retiredsciguy

    Perhaps a higher proportion of engineers are creationists because, being designers themselves, they have a hard time accepting that anything so perfectly “designed” as a living creature could have come about through any process other than divine design.

    Also, engineering college coursework leaves scant time for any subjects not directly related to their field of engineering. I’m guessing here, but I’d bet very few engineering students have taken a course in paleontology, or even biology, for that matter, unless their major was petroleum engineering or bioengineering.

  41. retiredsciguy: “Perhaps a higher proportion of engineers are creationists because, being designers themselves, they have a hard time accepting that anything so perfectly “designed” as a living creature could have come about through any process other than divine design.”

    I spent many years conducting multistep organic synthesis (arguably more engineering than science), so I can see the superficial appeal of the “design argument.” That appeal is neatly canceled out, however, by the constant humbling reminder that Nature is far cleverer than any human “molecule builder”, and has magnitudes more starting materials, time and space to constuct complex molecular systems. And let’s not forget that organisms are complex systems of reactions, not static molecules.

    But even if one assumes that some biological system is designed, there’s no excuse to avoid addressing the crucial construction step. Whenever someone blabs about design, I make it a point not to take the bait and argue about the designer’s identity and/or existence. Rather I ask what exactly did that designer (or Creator if a different being) “build,” and when he/she/it/they built it. That’s when most IDers reveal that, deep down, they know they haven’t a prayer against evolution.