Curmudgeon’s Creative Challenge #19

It’s time for another Creative Challenge. This one is challenging for us to describe, because it violates our own advice.

You know that we are opposed to debates (or even conversations) with creationists, because Debating Creationists is Dumber Than Creationism. And we’ve advised against single-fact arguments, because there is no one piece of evidence that “proves” the theory of evolution. — see Where’s the Proof — Evolution’s “Smoking Gun”?

Nevertheless, we’re wondering: If you were somehow trapped in a conversation with a creationist, what one killer question would you ask him, or with what one undeniable fact would confront him?

Note — we’ve previously proposed A Few Questions for Creationists, and then A Few More Questions for Creationists. Although those two posts hint at what we’re looking for, you shouldn’t repeat our old questions.

The form of today’s challenge is that you must tell us, with reasonable brevity:

What one fact, or what one zinger of a question, would you present to a creationist?

You know the rules: A successful entry should be self-explanatory. You may enter the contest as many times as you wish, but you must avoid profanity, vulgarity, childish anatomical analogies, etc. Also, avoid slanderous statements about individuals. Feel free to comment on the entries submitted by others — with praise, criticism, or whatever — but you must do so tastefully.

There may not be a winner of this contest, but if there is, your Curmudgeon will decide, and whenever we get around to it we’ll announce who the winner is. There is no tangible prize — as always in life’s great challenges, the accomplishment is its own reward. We now throw open the comments section, dear reader. Go for it!

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54 responses to “Curmudgeon’s Creative Challenge #19

  1. ladyatheist

    If the Bible is a perfect transmitter of history, why are there four different versions of the empty tomb story? And why two versions of the Genesis story? How can you tell which of these is the perfectly correct one?

  2. michaelfugate

    Science has explained much – attributing natural causes to phenomena once thought to have supernatural causes – e.g. chemistry, climatology, meteorology, vulcanology, astronomy, etc. Given the success of science in explaining and in many cases predicting phenomena, what is different about abiogenesis, common ancestry, natural selection, speciation, etc.? Why does accepting evolution diminish God in a way that other science does not?

  3. michaelfugate

    Another one that I am baffled by and my logic may be faulty. The design argument asserts that as complexity increases the probability of occurring by chance decreases. The design argument also uses the analogy to human design and human designs are less complicated than their designers. Given these, does this make God the least probable of all things?

  4. Atheist in an evangelical family

    If the universe we see around us was all designed by a single, all powerful, all knowing God, why are there so many errors and mistakes in his creations (reducndant DNA, the backwards design of the human eye, the appendix, the clear anatomical evidence that males come from females – the male Uterus Mascularis. An all powerful creator would not make such obvious errors

  5. For something that happens in the world that could be otherwise, tell us how it turns out as it is, rather than something else.

    If that is too vague, take as an example the fact that the human body is most similar to the bodies of chimps and other apes, rather than like one of the myriad of other ways that life takes. Is it just a huge coincidence? Is it that the raw materials or the laws of nature limit the choices? Is it that there is a similarity of purposes? Is it a matter of physical relationship? Or what?

  6. Eddie Janssen

    The writers of the Bible are human. They claim the Bible is the word of God.
    Why do you believe them, and not for example Joseph Smith or Lou de Palingboer?

  7. If, as Luskin asserts, “high CSI and irreducible complexity ONLY come from intelligent agents”, then the presumed cosmic Intelligent Designer–which must be presumed to possess even more “high CSI and irreducible complexity” than anything else found in nature–must in turn be the designed artefact of an even more intelligent and complex Meta-Intelligent-Designer, which in turn could only be the designed artefact of a superior Meta-Meta-Intelligent-Designer, and so forth ad nauseum

    In other words: Who designed the Intelligent Designer?

  8. At what time in history has The Intelligent Designer (blessed be he!) directly intervened in our natural world with His supernatural powers, and how do we know? What evidence outside of the Bible is there?

  9. Great Scot!

    why do you lie about everything?

  10. My standard question is: How did your god do it?
    Never received an answer.

  11. Science has done wonders for human life and comfort. Now name any one thing that creationism has contributed to humanity? (other then increasing the stupid level).

  12. If we are called on to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God, and if our final judgement will be based not on how right we were about our facts, but on those we saw fed, and clothed, those we visited and comforted, how do you justify spending any time on this subject?

  13. michaelfugate

    As Bernard Shaw once remarked to the more credulous Henry James: “No man who doesn’t believe in a ghost ever sees one.”

    In a like manner, why are the only people who see evidence of intelligent design, those who already believe in god?

  14. 98.5% similarity in human-chimp DNA, together with the fact that creationists (specifically Jeffrey Tomkins and Jerry Bergman) had to commit scientific fraud to claim the similarity was 70%. If you people really believe “common design implies common designer”, why do all your frauds– excuse me, errors– always make the human and chimp designs less common? Why are none of your errors in the direction of making our design more similar, if you really believe DNA similarity proves a “common designer” did it?

  15. OT: The Onion’s profile of Bobby Jindal says this about Jindal’s education: “Education: Pretty impressive for a man who questions evolution”.
    BWAAAAAHAHAHAHA!

  16. If a creationist fell off the back of a Harley Davidson would that be a
    miracle or proof of Darwin’s Theory?

  17. What is the purpose of god’s biological designs and, if you’re not sure, how have you evaluated the likelihood of design?

  18. It was said differently and better by other posters above, but this is one I actually used once when cornered at a party.

    You say you believe in a literal 6-day creation, as detailed in Genesis, and that you believe the literal interpretation of the Bible in general. So why don’t you believe in a flat world at the center of the universe with a solid bowl for a sky, with Sun, Moon and Stars whizzing underneath?

    Followed up with:

    You know the world is round and orbits the Sun. You know the Moon doesn’t give off light of it’s own, but merely reflects the light of the Sun. You probably also know and accept hundreds of other scientifically verifiable facts that directly contradict a literal reading of the Bible.
    If you are unwilling to change your viewpoint about the Bible being the inerrant word of God, you may want to apply whatever rationale allows you to stomach all these other contradictions to your current view on evolution.

  19. Since the bible was not literally dictated to its writers, and since the bible has been edited over and over, i.e. certain sections were deleted as they conflicted with the editors as to what should be included as holy content, is it not simply bible idolatry that you profess? After all, you weren’t there to actually hear god speak those words, in the KJV english version no less.

  20. “Do you feel it would be more or less difficult for you to be a good person if there was no promise of eternal paradise or punishment in an alleged afterlife?”

    My weak attempt at a Socratic question.

  21. Dave Godfrey

    if creating the world and life were such good ideas, why not make them infinite? Why fill the universe with so much emptiness?

  22. For ID Creationists: Show me an example of something that was not designed and explain how we can tell.

  23. You know the Moon doesn’t give off light of it’s own, but merely reflects the light of the Sun.

    But why is that important?

    You probably also know and accept hundreds of other scientifically verifiable facts that directly contradict a literal reading of the Bible.

    That an infamous Bill Nye blooper. The Bible does not claim that the moon generates/produces its own light. (But this one is an excellent example of how people don’t understand the meaning of “literal” and use it in odd ways.) Even putting aside the fact that Genesis 1 was written in Hebrew, there is no rule in English lexicography which claims that a “light” must be a light producer. A “light” is simply a means of illumination. (Examples: A skylight doesn’t produce its own light. And a light in an entry door merely transmits the light from outside–and that use of “light” has gradually been overtaken by the word “pane”. Of course, the more important consideration is the meaning of the Hebrew word that was translated by “light”.)

    Nevertheless, I’ve often used Bill Nye’s silly “the moon is not a light argument” to point out that what he thought made himself look clever actually made him sound foolish–and he accomplished an amazing feat at the Waco speaking engagement where he used it, because the audience was far more familiar with Genesis 1 than Bill was. He immediately discredited himself and the audience realized that, while Bill never did.

  24. Holding The Line In Florida

    Thought long and hard about this topic. The best I can come up with is this, “if God exists, then why would he allow Justin Bieber or the Kardashians to exsist?”

  25. Many science books and Natural History museums display an approximate timeline of evolution based on scientific discoveries. If Creationism/ID is science, can you show us a reasonable Creation or ID timeline based entirely on established science?

  26. My favorite question for Young Earth Creationists is to ask why they claim uniformitarian methodologies in modern science are hopelessly flawed and presumptuous–but then they proceed to provide “101 Evidences for a Young Earth”, nearly all of which use present day rates of natural processes and shamelessly extrapolate them into the past! (Were you there?)

    We see the same kind of self-contradiction when they claim that the universe is rational, logical, and consistent because a Creator with those characteristics stands behind the universe–and then they insist that uniformitarianism is flawed because we allegedly have no reason to believe that physical constants like the speed of light or the half-lives of radioisotopes could not have been trillions of times greater at another time or place in the universe. So apparently they don’t consider the universe to be rational and consistent at all! (Of course, that is very handy for them–because when evidence points to billions of years, they simply multiply one side of the equation until everything fits a young earth of 6,000 years!)

    I’ve always wanted to meet Dr. Jason Lisle, author of The Ultimate Proof of God and ask him to make up his mind: Is the universe “rational” and predictable or can physics change at any time in any place to where we can’t count on anything to make any kind of logical sense? After all, we could wake up tomorrow morning and the speed of light could have dropped to match the speed of sound! Or not! And every equation in a physics textbook might be inapplicable next week or on the planet Mars right now.

    These are just two of the “Seven Deadly Questions YECists Fear Most” from my first person account of the infamous April Fool’s Day Massacre: When “Creation Science” Suffered Its Worst Public Humiliation:

    https://bibleandscienceforum.wordpress.com/2014/11/22/a-trip-down-yec-memory-lane/

  27. if creating the world and life were such good ideas, why not make them infinite?

    Do you mean life that is “infinite” in terms of the “eternal life” that Jesus promised his audiences?

    And as to a world which would be infinite, do you mean the “new heaven” and “new earth” that will “last forever and ever” as described in the Book of Revelation?

    Seeing, obviously, how both an “infinite life” and an “infinite world” are major themes of the Bible, I wasn’t quite sure whether you were posing these as rhetorical questions or what.

  28. docbill1351

    M’Lady A underestimates the compartmentalization, willful-ignorance and delusion exhibited by our best creationists. I give you famous Internet troll creationist FL aka Floyd who answered the so-called Genesis conundrum years ago on the discussion blog of the Kansas Citizens for Science.

    FL said, “They’re all true.” Yes, he said, they seemed inconsistent but they were not. They were all true and accurate.

    That is the Bizarro World of the True Creationist ™. Up is up or down, depending, but both are correct. Left is right and left and both are correct and consistent. To a creationist it just doesn’t matter. I recall the time Behe got smacked down pretty good in public about the irreducibly complex mousetrap, but a week later old Behe was mousetrapping away as if nothing had happened. And nothing, in his mind, happened. He woke up to a new day and all was well.

    So, the question is not really what one could ask a creationist, rather, it’s how quickly can we build the B Ark?

  29. After reading all the comments and giving much thought, I can’t come up with a better idea than dweller42’s:
    “If we are called on to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God, and if our final judgement will be based not on how right we were about our facts, but on those we saw fed, and clothed, those we visited and comforted, how do you justify spending any time on this subject [creationism]?”

    First off, it doesn’t imply that they are stupid. Any question that does would not be a “zinger” — they would stop listening.

    Secondly, it speaks directly to what should be their core religious belief. There is no way they can disagree with your premise.

    Third, when couched in these terms, there is no way they can justify their obsession with creationism.

    I wish Bill Nye had thought of this before his debate with Ken Ham.
    Ham’s audience would have completely agreed with Nye, and Ham would know it. I would have loved to see Ham’s reaction.

    Your thoughts on this, Professor Tertius? You seem to have taken on the role of the Curmudgeon’s resident biblical scholar/theologian, and I’d be interested to know how you think a creationist would react.

  30. And why two versions of the Genesis story?

    An educated creationist would say, “What’s wrong with having two?” (and he/she would be quite correct.) Hebrew culture and language is far less temporally oriented (as in focusing on chronologies) than we might expect in our culture. So the fact that Genesis 2:4ff ignores chronology entirely poses no problems for creationists just as it poses no problems to anyone else who studies the Hebrew texts. Some of the “new generation” YEC professors even accept the idea that both “creation pericopes” may have circulated as their own oral stories before being written down in the Torah. English Bible readers often worry about chronological differences which don’t matter to Hebrew readers in the least and the “new wave” creationists are beginning to understand this.

    I’ve talked with a few creationists who even accept the fact that the ERETZ in Genesis 2:4ff is focused on the Land of Eden while Genesis 1 is dealing with the broader ERETZ in a more general way (as part of the idiom “the heavens and the earth”, which is a Hebrew idiom for “the universe.”) Some academic creationists (such as seminary professors with stronger backgrounds but teaching at fundamentalist schools) appear willing to accept Genesis 1 as the story of the creation of the universe and Genesis 2:4ff as the origins of Adam’s first homeland (the garden ERETZ.) They realize that details like it hadn’t rained yet and the local ecology of underground water and a mist providing irrigation potential once human’s harnessed it point to a particular, specific ERETZ/land, not the world in general.

    There are two stories because they are focused on different topics. Genesis 1:1 to 2:4 is a “Creation Hymn” with six verses (each with a chorus) and structured in a 3+3 chiasm pattern. Genesis 2:4ff is focused on a specific ERETZ, the garden paradise in the Eden region. It is the background preface for the creation of that garden reserve and the Adam and Eve story to unfold there, not the creation of the entire universe or world in general.

    There is no “rule” which says there can only be one “origins story” and there is no reason there can’t be four Gospel accounts describing the ministry of Jesus.

    Young earth creationism has diversified considerably in the past twenty years or so and that is why there have been some major divisions and “denominational splits” among creationists. For example John Whitcomb Jr. (The Genesis Flood, 1962, with Henry Morris) resigned from his fundamentalist seminary campus to found his own school because he considered his former employer as becoming “too liberal”. Yet, both schools are solidly young earth creationist and hate evolution equally.

    As to “Justin Bieber or the Kardashians”, hardships and endless sufferings are major themes throughout the Bible.

  31. longshadow

    Megalonyx | 25-June-2015 at 3:19 pm |

    If, as Luskin asserts, “high CSI and irreducible complexity ONLY come from intelligent agents”, then the presumed cosmic Intelligent Designer–which must be presumed to possess even more “high CSI and irreducible complexity” than anything else found in nature–must in turn be the designed artefact of an even more intelligent and complex Meta-Intelligent-Designer, which in turn could only be the designed artefact of a superior Meta-Meta-Intelligent-Designer, and so forth ad nauseum

    In other words: Who designed the Intelligent Designer?

    The turtle Meta-Designer of Special Pleading.

  32. The turtle Meta-Designer of Special Pleading.

    This topic is outside of my areas of experience in philosophy–but it is my understanding that those who debate such topics assert that the Designer concept is actually “the epitome of simplicity”. From what I’ve heard, the concept is somewhat analogous to the idea of the M factorial multiverse [if I recall their terminology correctly] where if every possible reality path is included, the resulting set is actually very simply expressed, even though it involves countless permutations of complex choices. Thus, you will hear such philosophers speaking of the “grand simplicity” of that kind of creator.

    As to special pleading, I often see that term misapplied, much like the ways the “No true Scotsman” argument is misapplied. As my philosophy professor used to say, “Pointing out the obvious fact that a Tibetan monk is not a Scotsman is not a violation of the No True Scotsman fallacy.” Likewise, in the case of the “Who designed the designer?”, it is not special pleading to notice that an entity posited as existing outside of the matter-energy universe is not governed by the properties of entities within the matter-energy universe. (This is a matter of standard definitions in philosophy, not a matter of belief. That is, one doesn’t have to be a theist or non-theist to deal with standard definitions of God in philosophy: “the uncaused cause” or “the beginner who has no beginning.” As Doug Hofstadter toyed with such definitions in his first book, where he defined God in recursive terms: God=God Over Djinn.)

    Among many philosophers, both atheists and theists, Richard Dawkins’ obsession with the “Who designed the designer?” question is considered one of his most embarrassing logic failures. (It is just one of many reasons why so many atheist scholars gave Dawkin’s God Delusion book such bad reviews. Dawkins thought he could cluelessly wade into centuries long debates from philosophy and religious studies and easily settle all of the scores with his off-the-cuff trite answers. It serves as a reminder that young earth creationists don’t have a monopoly on the Kruger-Dunning effect.)

  33. I’d be interested to know how you think a creationist would react.

    The average creationist would reject the premise–and label it “works salvation” and “the Social Gospel”, and certainly a reversal of prioirities. It would hand over to Ken Ham a huge gift–and he would very happily take it down court for the easy lay-up slam-dunk, to the delight and rousing applause of his audience. He would follow it up with another of his standard spiels on how Genesis is absolutely foundational to the entire Bible and a reminder that “ultimately, we are dealing with the question of who is your authority?”

    If someone were to cite Matthew 25:31–46, my hunch is that Ken Ham would point out that “the least of these” who need to be fed and clothed are not the poor and needy in general but those who have forsaken all for the sake of the Gospel. He would then point to the absolute priority of the Great Commission and justify his Ark Park on that basis.

    If someone were to press Ham on the priority of feeding the poor, he would cite Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” He considers his projects absolutely a top priority because they carry out the Great Commission (in his opinion.) So he would have the crowd in his pocket on this challenge, from start to finish.

    It brings to mind an AIG webpage dealing with a criticism the $165 million Ark Park is getting from both Christians and non-Christians: “Why spend so much money on a tourist attraction when you could be feeding so many starving children around the world with that kind of wealth?” Ham fields the question with a full page explanation.

    Ham is incredibly ignorant on many topics. But he’s an expert at knowing and manipulating his audience. Ham would be delighted by Dweller42’s “challenge”. So many debate opponents have thought that they could defeat Ham using his own Bible and turf–and sometimes they even think they’ve succeeded. But just as in the Nye debate, it gives Ham the home court advantage and Ham’s answers to Bible-based questions almost always carry his audience. (Nye’s silly “The moon isn’t a light!” nonsense was a prime example. It only takes one big blooper like that to totally discredit the amateur. Nye continues to brag about his “moon argument”, but anybody with a modicum of Bible knowledge is saying, “What an idiot!”)

  34. Dean asked “Do you feel it would be more or less difficult for you to be a good person if there was no promise of eternal paradise or punishment in an alleged afterlife?”

    Most creationists would say, “It would make no difference because we can do no good on our own–and the Bible says that all of our good works are as filthy rags.”

    Obviously, there are all sorts of creationists, and have learned answers to all of these types of questions in Sunday School and Bible studies and on their own….while some have little background and will say whatever comes to mind. (In other words, they are much like other people groups.)

    Most evangelicals would probably give similar answers.

    I’ve noticed that people unfamiliar with YEC culture rarely have a good understanding of what questions are considered difficult by them. That’s why those who debate them rarely score as well as they assume when they drift into Bible territory. They should instead play to their strengths. (For example, when Bill Nye focused on science, he did extremely well against Ham. But when he tried to fight Ham on Bible turf, he failed miserably–and lost a lot of gained ground with the audience. Ham’s followers were actually very disappointed in his performance surrounding the science questions. And the more evangelical audience at ChristianityToday polled at 88% for Nye winning the debate. It was rather obvious to all.)

    So my advice to anyone who would debate a YEC:
    (1) Ask yourself yet again if it is a good idea to debate them.
    (2) Focus on science only.
    (You will be tempted to debate Bible issues. Don’t. Few are equipped to do well in the Bible arena.)
    (3) If you are tempted to debate the Bible, see #2.

  35. “If you are tempted to debate the Bible, see #2.”

    #2) Debating the Bible is akin to arguing over the rules of Dungeons & Dragons. Both are fictional inventions of man. Now, this is not to say the Bible is not worthy of scholarly study, but then so too is Shakespeare.

  36. God is all knowing.
    We have freewill.
    Those statements are mutually exclusive. So which one is correct?

    If god is all knowing, doesn’t that prove that Adam and Eve were set up to fail?

  37. Professor Tertius notes (my bolding)

    it is not special pleading to notice that an entity posited as existing outside of the matter-energy universe is not governed by the properties of entities within the matter-energy universe.

    But my post was in the context of Luskin’s claim that “high CSI and irreducible complexity ONLY come from intelligent agents”, but his apparent meaning is “high CSI and irreducible complexity ONLY come from intelligent agents—EXCEPT for the highly complex Intelligent Designer (Blessed be He/She/It/Them!), which is an ineffable mystery, the Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused First Cause, etc. etc.”

    What is that “EXCEPT” if it isn’t a textbook example of Special Pleading?

    But the real problem, for me, is the portion I’ve bolded in the quote from your post–“posited as existing outside of the matter-energy universe”—to which one is compelled to ask, “Posited how?” or “Posited by what means?” And the one certain thing about the possible answers to that is not “by means of empirical evidence.”

    Now, one can speculatively (it can be no more than that) consider how ideas, concepts, myths &c. may have arisen in human prehistory. Our physical senses have evolved within the constraints of our particular physical scale, e.g. our eyes perceive only a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (so no surprise the pre-Socratics knew nothing of gamma radiation), and Mesopotamian archers doubtless derived a good working understanding of Newtonian ballistics (without even remotely considering the possibility of quantum mechanics). One can readily understand (and even appreciate as an important chapter in the history of ideas) Aristotle’s arguments for an Unmoved Mover, and all the resulting logic-chopping around final vs. efficient ‘causes’, and the contradictions that arise from teleological explanations, and so forth.

    But we know quite a bit more now than Aristotle or Aquinas. One is of course still free to ask how many angels can dance on the end of pin–or even, how many pins can be stuck in the end of an angel—but these are not empirical questions.

    To invoke an entity posited as existing outside of the matter-energy universe in order to answer any empirical question (whether a question of planetary motion, the best treatment for disease, or the origin of life) strikes me as at best a sort of category error, a form of intellectual onanism furtively practised in the barren cul-de-sac of theology.

    The Discoveroids forever protest they aren’t ‘Creationists’, but the only distinction I can detect is that Biblical Creationists (like Ham) openly reject empirical knowledge while the Disco’Tute struggles to borrow the prestige of empiricism while simultaneously rejecting its proven methodology.
    Ultimately, of course, this only goes to illustrate (as our Curmudgeon noted at the outset ) ‘Debating Creationists is Dumber Than Creationism.’ Science, which ever seeks to extend human knowledge, is more than happy to say of so many intriguing questions about nature, “We don’t know the answer—but we’re working on it.”

    Creationism—which is to say, Religion—looks at those same questions and says, “The answers are not permitted to mere mortals, and even to ask the question is not allowed!”

  38. @Third Prof: indeed “the Moon is not a light” is silly. As I teach my third graders: there are direct sources of light and indirect sources of light. Like tables, chairs and paintings the Moon is an indirect source of light.
    What’s worse: there are better examples to be found, especially the list of bird including bats. Even then this only works for an audience consisting of literalists.

    “So the fact that Genesis 2:4ff ignores chronology entirely poses no problems for creationists”
    I beg to disagree, at least partly. It is a problem for literalist creationists (not so much for IDiots though). That’s why they spend pages, even on internet, to explain it away. They care about Hebrew language and culture as little as Bill Nye does.

    “standard definitions of God in philosophy: “the uncaused cause” or “the beginner who has no beginning.”
    Not that I think high of Richard Dawkins, but it should be shown first that those standard definitions have any relevant meaning. That’s doubtful.

    I generally agree with your three point advise. Only when it has become clear that my creationist is also a literalist I offer a few, very few, carefully selected snippets. I don’t even think “the Bibles says the Earth is flat” very strong.
    It’s remarkable that Bill Nye made this mistake. Criticizing the Bible while taking it literally is a recipe for disaster in front of a non-literalist audience. They won’t take you seriously anymore and rightly so. It’s essentially a strawman.

  39. Professor Tertius says: “I’ve noticed that people unfamiliar with YEC culture rarely have a good understanding of what questions are considered difficult by them. That’s why those who debate them rarely score as well as they assume when they drift into Bible territory.”

    Your comments have been very instructive. All this time I’ve been advising against debates with creationists, it’s always been because of the hopelessness of getting them to grasp the points that we were making. The thought never occurred to me that we would appear to be ignorant to them. You’ve opened my eyes to an unsuspected world of what might be regarded as the philosophical folkways of creationists.

    However, if debates are avoided, as I still think they should be, then that “deficiency” on my part would never be revealed.

  40. Our Curmudgeon notes

    that “deficiency” on my part would never be revealed

    And Olivia–who could fill many volumes with the vast catalogue of your plethora of ‘deficiencies’ and failings–is restrained by her repugnance of those horrors and avoids recollecting them, leave alone publishing them.

  41. While I agree with Professor Tertius, I was surprised when first taking creationism seriously how ignorant of the Bible were a great number of the Biblical literalists. There are the memorized proof-texts (that is, quote mines). And there are the threadbare arguments that accepted without examination. The glossary of Strong’s Concordance represents the epitome of learning in the sacred languages.

  42. Professor Tertius, you’re quite right about how it would be treated in the formal setting of a debate. I took the challenge as being about the question you’d ask in any sort of debate, and as I’m unlikely to ever again be in formal debate, I was assuming a vigorous discussion over coffee or in the corner of the church foyer. I’ve used that question in personal conversation and in small groups – up to about five – and it’s consistently generated an interesting and useful discussion.

    I don’t think I need to tell you this, but it’s my observation that creationists, when spoken to individually, are typically less didactic and argumentative. Creationism is at least partly a performance art.

  43. @Prof Tertius: ” The Bible does not claim that the moon generates/produces its own light.”
    The big problem is interpretation. You may be correct that the Bible does not claim to produce its own light. But not everyone may interpret it the same way you do. While even Hambo’s ministry won’t contest that, others of the “literal” bent may take exception to it. The Bible talks more about the moon’s light than just what is in Genesis. There’s also Isaiah 13:10 (“and the moon shall not cause her light to shine”), Isaiah 30:26 (“the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun”), Isaiah 60:19 (“neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee”) and Ezekiel 32:7 (“and the moon shall not give her light”), as well as some others. Taken all together, I can easily see people thinking “the moon is its own source of light” because the Bible says so. (With apologies to SC for quoting so much scripture, but I thought it relevant to the discussion.)

  44. Creationism is at least partly a performance art.

    That is a very pithy and accurate statement, Dweller42!

  45. michaelfugate

    The thing about creationists is they may not have thought much about science, but they have thought a lot about the Bible. Daily readings, verse memorization, Sunday sermon riffs, etc. Mention any Bible story and they will know it by heart.

    Creationist leaders are weak on science and their constituents even weaker, even if they have had training; they aren’t practicing science on a daily basis – you can’t be when you know the answer won’t change no matter the data.

    It is kind of like reading a crime novel, but starting with the last chapter first. You don’t need to think much about the evidence presented to know who the murderer is.

  46. longshadow

    To invoke an entity posited as existing outside of the matter-energy universe in order to answer any empirical question (whether a question of planetary motion, the best treatment for disease, or the origin of life) strikes me as at best a sort of category error, a form of intellectual onanism furtively practised in the barren cul-de-sac of theology.

    Brilliant!

    “Quote of the Month” material, if not “Quote of the Year.” Definite centerfold quality.

  47. “Quote of the Month” material, if not “Quote of the Year.” Definite centerfold quality.

    If nominations for such awards are being compiled, I would nominate Dweller42’s:

    Creationism is at least partly a performance art.

    Yes, I’m praising it redundantly–but it aptly captures the podium antics of the clown princes of young earth creationism. I’m referring to Ken “Were You There?” Ham, Ray “Banana Man” Comfort, Chuck “Peanut Butter Jar” Missler, Kent “Convicted Felon” Hovind and his son Eric Hovind, and many more. These clowns aren’t just reciting the same old pseudo-science mantras and slogans again and again. They share the same old YEC tunes, but each performs those familiar lyrics in his own distinctive ways.

    I’ve found that there are many YECs (such as the best educated professors at some of the larger fundamentalist schools) who are well aware that many of the “creation science” celebrities are buffoonish performers. In private some will even admit that to me. But they generally approve of most of them because they consider their performances an appropriate kind of mocking that irritates “those arrogant atheist anti-theists like Richard Dawkins.” Because they think of the theory of evolution and celebrities like Dawkins as buffoonish, illogical, and clownish show-offs in their own right, some of them think that responding in kind makes for great theater. [No pun intended.] To them, it is a show of confidence that YECs let “slapstick performers” [my term] like Ray Comfort “answer” the elite scientists of the academy. It’s roughly akin to “My 10 year old could beat their evolution arguments even with one arm tied behind his back!”

    I’ve come to this conclusion after trying one-on-one to get various young earth creationist science professors to at least admit that Ray Comfort’s videos are illogical, pseudo-scientific, and insulting to thinking Christians. I think they consider such clowns as the equivalent to a coach insulting a rival school by putting his B Team (or sub-varsity or second string team) on the basketball court and the varsity team didn’t even suit up for the game. They think that evolution is so easily debunked that any clown can learn a few standard lines and win the debate between “historical science” and creationism.

    By the way, and sadly enough, many of those types of YEC professors think that their “varsity team” and star players are the Senior Fellows of the Discovery Institute.

  48. Professor Tertius, I used to be one of creationism’s better actors, I’m sorry to say, but thank you.

  49. This specifically applies to the “young” portion of young earthers:

    Are Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all the nuclear power plants in the world conspiracies?

    When I get the usual blank stare, I explain that the same chemistry and physics underlying nuclear bombs and power also underlies radiometric dating.

  50. ^that underlying. May the all knowing Curmudgeon please correct my humble grammatical failings.

    [*Voice from above*] The Curmudgeon is engaged in other duties, so I stretched forth my mighty hand …

  51. Mnbo wrote: “What’s worse: there are better examples to be found, especially the list of bird including bats.”

    I’m not quit sure whether this is sarcasm to make a point or if this is considered a problem for “literalist creationists”. Whatever the case, I should mention that when scholars evaluate a religious tradition or a school of thought, we do so on the basis of what the leaders and teachers “officially state” about their beliefs, not what the least informed person from the last pew or someone loosely associated with the movement might say. Thus, we are not at all surprised that many elderly young earth creationists, for example, would be unable to answer various “stump the Christian” questions, such as this “Why does the Bible consider a bat to be a bird?” question. Yet, plenty of the YEC leaders and many pastors and Sunday School teachers would consider it a very simple question with a simple answer—and they would emphasize that the answer reflects a LITERAL translation of the Hebrew text of Genesis. (And their church’s Statement of Faith emphasizes that the original language texts of the Bible are inerrant, not the translations. The major exception is the “King James Only” churches, which are a very vocal minority of fundamentalist churches, though in some Bible Belt areas you may find them in greater numbers..)

    For example, many fundamentalist churches (many of which are young earth creationist) use the standardized adult Sunday School class “quarterlies” published by companies like the David C. Cook Co. [Perhaps I’m behind by a generation or so but I assume that large numbers of churches still use the verse-by-verse exposition approach of such teaching materials.] So when the Biblical text shows “birds of the air” in the King James Version, a typical commentator will explain that the Hebrew text literally reads as “wing-owning creatures of the air” or “winged creatures”. So when reading that text literally, is it erroneous to include bats? No.

    [Even Bible translations known for their emphasis on literal rendering will avoid overly literal renderings which would make the translation clumsy and hard to read. Thus, even though a Hebrew word could be defined as “wing-owning creature that is bigger than an insect”, most English translations will go for an approximation like bird instead. Why? Because nobody talks or writes that way! The word bird is 99% accurate and the translators wisely leave it to the study notes at the bottom of the page or a Bible commentary to explain that the Hebrews had a single word for flying creatures that didn’t distinguish between birds and bats because they had no reason to distinguish them in routine conversation. Translation is always a trade-off between multiple goals: accuracy, concise expression, and conveying underlying nuances even difficult features like plays-on-words. To excel at one characteristic often means compromising others. Multi-lingual Europeans tend to expect these sorts of trade-offs, but mono-lingual Americans often do not. As a result, websites like The Skeptics Annotated Bible is littered with atrociously silly “Bible errors” which illustrate nothing but the compiler’s ignorance of basic linguistics and the dynamics of language translation.]

    Obviously, neither ancient languages nor modern languages must apply Karl Linnaeus’ taxonomy to their animal naming categories. Why would they? To expect it of an ancient Hebrew culture would be the anachronism fallacy at its worst. Besides, would anybody complain if a modern English text listed various bat species along with birds when explaining that someone installed nylon netting to protect their fruit trees from flying creatures which would eat the fruit? Thus, “Keep out flying fruit-eating pests!” might appear in an English language advertisement for a nylon netting product. If the product was packaged for international sale, some languages might have a single word for “flying fruit-eating pests”, while other languages might even lack an appropriate word for “pest” and so the translators might resort to listing the specific targeted creatures: “Keep out birds, bats, flying squirrels, and Sicilian wombats!” Of course, some pedant would probably feel obligated to object and say, “No squirrel can fly! How ridiculous. They only glide, at best.” Yet that doesn’t matter. Everybody knows that squirrels don’t fly. But the traditional name for the animal is “flying squirrel.” A fundamental rule of linguistics is that words mean whatever the culture says the words mean. It is much like “sunrise” and “sunset”. The fact that no star “rises” or “sets” doesn’t change the fact that the terms are convenient, logical designations for what appears to take place.

    Individual churches tend to reflect the demographics of their communities. So, yes, there are fundamentalist churches with poorly trained pastors. Yet, even in those I’ve found that virtually every pastor users Strong’s Concordance and they are proud to include Greek and Hebrew explanations in their sermons. Indeed, in many such creationist churches, their Statement of Faith will even specify that they use the historical-grammatical method of Bible interpretation. So whenever they are faced with a superficial “error” of the “Bats aren’t birds!” type, you will find people trying to figure it out in their Strong’s Concordance or will ask the pastor, who they are proud to say “he knows Greek and Hebrew of the Bible cuz he studied it in seminary.” Even when they can’t remember the explanation they heard in Sunday School, they will point out that their Statement of Faith’s inerrant statement and their reliance on “literal interpretation whenever possible” is rooted in the “original manuscripts of the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic scriptures”.

    These kinds of common misunderstandings of “Bible literalism” help explain why Answers in Genesis, CMI, and other creationist websites often have articles explaining the most common “Bible error” complaints of which “Bats aren’t birds is a typical example.” With the rise of the Internet, today’s Sunday School classes in fundamentalist churches are much more likely to cover many other, equally lame taunts where a misunderstanding of languages and cultures and the nature of translation creates misplaced perceptions of error. I’d say that the most common are:

    1) “The Bible errs in saying that rabbits chew cud!”
    2) “The Bible thinks insects have four legs and we all know they have six.”
    3) “The Bible considers the whale to be a fish.”
    4) “The Bible approves of Jephthah sacrificing his daughter in thanks to God giving him victory in battle.”
    5) “Did the men with Paul on the Damascus road hear the voice or not? The two accounts are contradictory.”

    I used to hand out lists of such complaints from anti-Bible websites so that non-majors could get familiar Bible commentaries and the linguistic, cultural, historical, and misc. issues which can confuse the average reader. It allowed students with no background in the original languages to get a feel for the complexities of translation and how using multiple translations and commentaries can bring the reader closer to the understanding of the original audience. Many discovered that “What was this text from another time and culture intended to communicate?” can be much more interesting than the “How can I play gotcha with the Bible to insult people I don’t like?” game. (Of course, the classics listed above were way to easy for the grad students, but for the non-majors with no experience with such things, both theist and non-theist students found them quite interesting.)

    Even though a lot of creationists couldn’t answer that list of classic Bible questions, they are easy to find in fundamentalist instructional materials for laypersons. What may stump a lot of average church-goers is, nevertheless, not a problem for Bible literalism. In fact, their resolution is often based upon a literal reading of the Greek and Hebrew texts just as they emphasize in their Statements of Faith.

    With a class of honors students, I had them find similar sorts of translation complexities which impacted more recent world history and geopolitics. One of the most humorous of a far simpler lexical nature, though not as crucial as some of the others, was when an American traitor offered technical secrets to the Soviets and demanded that he be paid in bullion instead of cash. The Russians were baffled and wondered why “He wants paid in chicken soup!” (It also brought to mind General McAuliffe’s reply to the Germans at Bastogne.)

  52. @Prof. Tertius
    I agree with you on this, but I must say that the “literalists” make the same mistakes, just on different passages.
    As far as I know, even the most sophisticated scholars of the Bible in the “conservative Bible schools” must agree to there having been a world-wide flood etc. Yet it does not take a radical interpretation of the text to take the Biblical description to be using hyperbole, as is easy accommodated elsewhere in the Hebrew as well as Greek text. That is, IMHO, as naive as the “village atheist”.
    Yes, it is contrary to our understanding of the Ancient Near East that they would be interested in calculating the value of pi. But they would also not be interested in the fixity of species.

  53. @Prof Tertius: Where did you hear of the story about the American who offered classified info to the Soviets for bullion? It sounds vaguely familiar. Did you read about it in “Inside the Aquarium” about a GRU agent?

  54. “Creationism is at least partly a performance art.”

    Makes perfect sense. After all, what is preaching if not performance art?