Friday, July 27, 2012

My Simple Question to YECs

The Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) out there have tried a number of modes of arguments, and the latest of these appears to be the presuppositional apologetics.  It seems, at least, that they accept that it's beyond the realm of possibility for them to attempt to play the science angle and have a hope of holding a candle to anyone reasonably well-versed in science.  There is simply no way, with science, to show that the universe was created on October 23, 4004 BC.  They accept now that people with brains will always be prepared to show them that they will never have the capacity ever to be right on that.  So instead, the approach is to say that facts don't matter, and the universe is less than 10,000 years old because la-la-la-la-la-I'm-not-listening!  La-la-la-la-la-facts-are-inventions-of-Satan!  Nur-nurny-nur-nur!

There's the general pattern where YECs always try and play games with atheists, and always try and redefine words.  In general, the Sye Ten Bruggencates and Ken Hams of the world take the approach of redefining the word "truth" to mean "whatever agrees with the Bible."  It's necessarily wrong in every way, but it's so aggravatingly, inexcusably, earth-shatteringly opposed to all semblance of reason and logic that it is impossible for people with functioning brain cells not to respond with explosive rage at the unbounded stupidity and anti-knowledge that is laid out before them.

As such, the discussion often trends down the path of pointing fingers at the content of the creationists' beliefs.  For instance, the "does the Bible condone slavery?" (which it unarguably does) type of arguments.  It's easy to do this because of the fact that literalists always like to act as if their scripture is without flaw, and that is something which is easily refuted without exception.  Of course, because you're dealing with YECs, getting them to admit to things which are factually true is a lost cause.

I think there are different ways of approaching the YEC problem.

Although I'm in any case fond of some of the other alternative arguments such as Hitchens' argument about the god of the Bible not favoring a _literate_ race thereby guaranteeing that "His" alleged word is destroyed in translation, that is really more like another example of an argument that points out the outright idiocy of the proposition.  Which works only as well as trying to give people facts.  The response will always be the same -- quote Bible verses, because they are proof of everything.  So as far as I'm concerned, you have to take the Bible away.  They like to play games of "what if?" with us...  so I turn it back on them.

These guys will say, for instance, that the Grand Canyon proves that there was a global flood and there was a man on a boat who saved all the animals...  Oh, and volcanoes hurled all the kangaroos from Israel into Australia.*  These are people who believe that the Loch Ness monster disproves evolution** because it proves that dinosaurs are still around and that makes it plausible that Moses rode a triceratops.  You simply cannot get through to people who are this crazy with facts.

As far as I can tell, there is no way to get a YEC to willingly involve themselves in a serious conversation unless you at least feign that you are considering their position.  This at least lets them think they have you on the hook.  Of course, they're wrong.  One thing that I think we've all found in dealing with other fundamentalists that simply believing in a magical being isn't the end of their fallacious thinking.  It is certainly among the foundational concepts, all right.  Christianity requires one to believe that Jesus was the messiah; Islam necessarily requires one to believe that Mohammed is the final prophet of Allah, etc.  Fundies seem to believe that for anyone who accepts that foundational falsehood, all the other nonsense intrinsic to their belief system will naturally follow.  If you want to see a great example of how badly this fails, though, you can listen to the radio recording of Todd Friel's interview of Christopher Hitchens.  Friel could not even begin to comprehend that it was possible for Hitch to make the same ground assumptions, but still come to different conclusions.  In that spirit, I lead down an alternate path of trying to get the YEC to listen while basically stripping his power base away.

I begin by offering a hypothetical (since YECs are typically Christians, I'm posing this in reference to the Bible, but there are such things as Jewish and Muslim YECs as well as, surprisingly enough, Buddhist YECs)...

Let's say that everything is stated in your holy book is actually true.  It all happened that way, or we'll just say alternatively that even if there is some folly in the word, neither you nor I have any of the knowledge that might expose that.  But for now, we'll just assume that Jesus really existed, really rose from the dead, Moses really led the Jews out of Egypt through the sea of reeds and so on.  However...  let's also say that for some reason or other, none of this was ever recorded.  That is to say, the events and content that would otherwise have been described in the Bible is more or less accurate, but in this hypothetical, we have no such book to go off of...  nor even any of the related manuscripts like the Dead Sea Scrolls or anything of the sort.  Not a single lick was put to parchment at any time, or if they were, every last copy ever made has been burnt to ashes.  It simply doesn't exist.  Now in this hypothetical,  Given all that, how would you make the "truths" that would otherwise have been there apparent to me?

The trick here is that you're essentially giving them a license to try and justify their beliefs, but their sole source is not part of the equation.  In a manner of speaking, it's a bait-and-switch, but it's technically a fair one.  The idea is to try and get them to argue for the truth of their beliefs without using a single reference to the book.  The moment you get away from a single individual source being the arbiter of truth, you're already out of the grasp of their only means of support.  As young-Earth creationism is, at its heart, is all about literal interpretations of scripture, taking the scripture out of the picture pretty much destroys them.

Generally speaking, there are a few common responses.  Those who are more prone to parroting the arguments of others, will not go more than a sentence or two without referring to the scripture or some verse therein, which means you have to remind them that within the hypothetical, there is no such book...  and since you can't refer to something that doesn't exist, you force them to find some other way.  Generally, though, no YEC will ever last very long before they just have to say the "word" can't be taken out of the context.  Even then, you have to remind them that you are not really talking about the holy book itself so much as the events described, and moreover, even though the Bible/Torah/Qur'an were never recorded, we're not putting forth a hypothetical context in which nothing else was ever recorded either.  What that means is that other sources are still open to consideration.

In a sense, forcing them out of this comfort zone is not strictly a bad thing for religious believers in general to do when they are arguing for their beliefs.  The thing is that atheists are atheists not because there is something they don't know, but because the arguments creationists put forth are simply not convincing.  I mean, if you have to go so far as to deny the sheer existence of facts and make up preposterous ideas about water under the crust of the Earth shooting out into space to cause all the craters on the moon, you are seriously not helping your case.  On the other hand, if you do rely on real sources outside your holy book, you have the power to make an argument that has the potential to be convincing to an outsider.  Meaning that if, in fact, a person's beliefs are true, then requiring them not to confine themselves to the single source from which everything they believe is laid out (note that I don't say derived, but laid out, meaning that these are the beliefs themselves) means they will be able to argue effectively for it without having to be so circular all the time.  In effect, you'd actually be helping the creationist in this case.

Of course, since the claims of pretty much any creationist are necessarily false, and for creationists/deists in general (assuming we want to get that vague), at the very least impossible in every way to corroborate through fact, forcing them out of their beliefs is enough to send them reeling, and they'll just complain some other way.  If you've ever listened to Insufferable Moron Jr. (AKA Eric Hovind), here's a kid who with a totally straight face tries to argue that it isn't appropriate to use reason and logic.

That's...  great... Reason and logic are off limits.  Well, if that's what it takes to put your beliefs into the realm of "acceptable", what does that say about your beliefs?  If your strongest argument is to denigrate the intellect, then guess what?  The game is over, and you've lost.  The end.

* I wish I was kidding, but this is in fact a real claim by Kent Hovind. Yeah, I know the conviction that put him in prison was tax fraud, but something like this alone should have given cause to lock him up in a mental institution permanently.
** Yep, the creatard governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, believes not only that this is true and demonstrated, but that science textbooks must teach this as fact.