Friday, February 14, 2014

If This is How You Question Darwin...

After the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate that showed just how clearly Ham has no hope of ever being considered scientifically-minded to any degree, there's been a lot of stressing the point.  All over the web, there's a lot of harping about the most important moments of the debate, and most of all, the Q&A where Bill gives examples of evidence that would change his position, while Ken Ham says flatly that nothing would ever change his mind.  The biggest thing about this is that it completely shatters Ham's contention that science is closed-minded and locked on to philosophical naturalism, while simultaneously showing that it is he who is indisputably closed-minded.  It's amazing how clear-cut he makes it for us.

Well, not long afterwards, HBO aired a documentary that featured Ham as well as plenty more incredibly closed-minded people who think...  uuhhh...  well, maybe "think" is the wrong word...  approach reality with the same fractured intellectual modality as Ken Ham and his ilk.  Doing the rounds through the atheist blogosphere are clips from the film, specifically of die-hard creationists and fideists who make even Chuck Missler (Mr. "Comets-aren't-made-of-ice-because-ice-cubes-don't-form-a-tail!") look almost sane.

See the video on Gawker for yourself, and read my thoughts below the jump --

The very first point I want to make clear is that I haven't actually seen the film, nor will I any time soon.  I'm one of the many cord-cutters across the world who has resorted to streaming media only, so I don't even have TV service let alone a premium network like HBO.  I am at least aware (from the trailer) that the actual film itself isn't entirely made up of people like those in the clips above, but that video captures a few of the most extremely terrifying moments.  Whatever else it shows, it at least says that these sorts of people aren't all that rare.

So the very first clip included a guy who says that if the Bible said 2+2=5, then he'd accept that as the truth and "work it out and try to understand it"...  this is the sort of thing that makes one cringe, because you have a grown man who says that his approach to knowledge is that it is far preferable to take something wrong in the Bible and actually perform all sorts of mental gymnastics to make it sound right or work it out acceptably.  I mean, there are definitely mathematical errors in the Bible, many of which (e.g., the pi=3 example in 1st Kings) can be shoved away as rounding errors and approximation, considering the concepts of decimals and standardized measurements didn't really exist in those days (though, for a perfect god, Yahweh sure inspires some imperfect measurement).  Others, however, aren't so easy to hide.  Ezra 1 has an inventory of gold and silver which does some bizarre arithmetic to show that 1000 + 29 + 30 + 410 + 30 + 1000 somehow equals 5469.  You can't hide ~118.8% error by rounding.  But instead of accepting that this indicates the fact that the authorship of the Bible is flawed, missing information, copied or written by illiterates, and in short, just plain unreliable even if you could otherwise argue that it was originally supposed to be the "Word of God"...  this man would say that error in the Bible is impossible, and it means something else.  This sort of absolute view towards one individual source is the sort of thing that is just a terrible image of brainwashing.  Chances are this guy isn't just plain stupid...  his capacity for independent thought has been completely wiped from existence.  This is the real danger of religion -- the sort of absolute deference to the unquestionable authority of a single source to the point where people don't even believe that it is acceptable to have thoughts of their own.  That is why there can never be any place for religion in this world.  Even one such incidence is one too many, as far as I'm concerned.

Next clip produced this quote --
I can't even fathom coming from this little thing that crawled on the ground to apes to being human.  It sounds crazy to me!
...  that sounds crazy, but a talking snake tricking people into eating a fruit that gave them knowledge so that they would only live on another 900 years or so (instead of infinity years), different races and languages coming into existence because a magical being was pissed off that people were building a tall building, a magical flood that covered every inch of the planet with a boat carrying two of every animal that somehow got to another place, leading up to the magical being sacrificing himself to himself to save us from himself because masturbation is wrong...  that sounds perfectly fine, right?

I think this is the sort of quote that really drives home how poorly people understand any bit of science.  If people at least got that it's populations that evolve, and that the gradual transformations come forth in the form of fractions of some population that have certain characteristics and their success causes the probability of those characteristics spreading to future generations to increase.  I wonder if evolution was presented only in those terms, how hard people would have to try to make it sound preposterous.  Those of us who find Christianity absurd don't think that it is about a sleeping deity that sires zombie children with 50,000 miles of foreskin through remote intercourse in order to deliver a message... we find what's actually in the scripture to be preposterous, and largely without any valid means of support.

Ken Ham's moment was actually really, what I think, is the ultimate point of fundamentalist creationism.  It's not that they care that people believe that the Earth is 6000 years old or not...  it's whether or not they believe that the authority of Christian dogma should be absolute or not.  His theology demands that god's word is absolute, and more so than the claims about reality, it's the whole moral code issue, and he has a problem with that coming at odds with the world around him.  While plenty of politicians believe that "freedom of religion" means "freedom to be whatever brand of looney-bin Christian wingnut you like", Ken Ham's idea is that freedom of religion must be eradicated from the planet.  As bad as politicians are, the population as a whole is generally more socially progressive than nearly any of the legislators in this country. This sort of fear is similarly echoed by another Answers In Genesis fellow, along with a few others, who appear later in the collection of clips.  He speaks of the significance of his god in day-to-day life spiraling down into total irrelevance and being forgotten.  This doesn't sit well with Ham and others like him, because that clash between his approach to religion and that of the mainstream only serves to drive people away from religion whether or not they continue to believe in a god otherwise.  His position is so extreme that it is one of those which runs the risk of fading away into absolute disrepute, and that's something which is uncomfortable for him.  The further away people get from his viewpoint, the harder it becomes for him to keep convincing himself he's not crazy.

This moment from a Baptist preacher really made me laugh --
" say that man is an animal, and God created man in his own image; so does one come back and say 'are you saying God is nothing more than an animal?'"Ummmm...  wow.
Here you have a guy who is so brainwashed that he can't even begin to couch anything in terms outside of his own theology.  Right after he makes his puerile contention, he has this triumphant look on his face as if he played out some sort of of celestial checkmate.  It staggers me that he doesn't even get that what atheists actually say is that his premise that his god "created man in his own image" is entirely false.  It's man that created god...  but an idea like that will never even enter his head or be included in his sphere of consciousness.  No thoughts from outside sources will ever be allowed in that empty head of his.

Related to this are some other quotes which seem to suggest that people still view Christianity and evolution as diametrically opposed philosophies that preclude one another.  This sort of "is God an animal" questions seem almost as if it was more directed at the theists out there who still accept the truth of evolution.  At least with this approach to religion, you've still got a god and you've still got acceptance of things which are actually true.  For most of these people, IIRC, the notion of god creating man in his image is one that isn't one that lies in the physical domain.  In Judeo-Christian theology, it is generally considered to be the case that only man has a soul, while animals do not, meaning that Yahweh saw fit to project a fragment of the divine onto mankind (supposedly availed by "witness of the Holy Spirit"), and so that's the "image" to which it refers.  Someone who has a different approach to this question would be welcome to correct me on this.

It should be noted that the belief that Darwin overturned Christian dogma at the time he published is really based on the faulty notion that the Biblical literalists of today are a rebirth of an ancient cultural trend, and that's really not the case.  It existed since the start of Judaism, all right, but was hardly a movement worth mentioning until at least the 18th century, and even then, were not a powerful political presence until the early 20th century.  The advent of evangelical mega-churches, which I think we all accept to be a modern invention, really spiked up their presence in recent years starting their seemingly meteoric rise in the 1920s or so.  The majority of Christian dogma of Darwin's day was more literal on matters relating to the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life, but not necessarily on the early chapters of Genesis.  People accepted an old Earth and the existence of evolution (the key point is that Darwin's theory explains how it happens) in general in those days.  What Darwin really overturned was the notion of separate creation, or what Ken Ham refers to as the "Creation Orchard".  In fact, it only took a decade or two after the publication of On The Origin of Species for the majority of naturalists as well as church leaders to accept his proposition.  The dichotomy only started to appear as an issue around the last few years of Darwin's life.

Lastly, I wanted to point to the final few clips where their are some interviews with some youngsters.  I find some of these moments to be almost chilling.  You have one girl who basically says that anything that disagrees with the Bible is automatically false by definition.  You have one guy saying that society relies too much on science, and a followup that the Bible is more than just "mere" science.  This is the sort of thing that makes me frightened for the future.  Prior examples were all people who are far beyond any semblance of hope for demonstrating a sliver of sanity, but at the very least, they're of a generation that will not live very much longer...  and good riddance.  Sure, it makes you hang your head in shame that such creatures could ever rightly have been designated as belonging to the same species as you...  but you at least can convince yourself that these people will not carry on outside the padded cell they truly belong in for very long.  These last few clips, on the other hand, are the ones that show that you still have to worry about the next generation of kids who have been trained into a belief system that admonishes that thinking for oneself and intellectual rigor are moral ills.  You cannot have a worse philosophy than that.  Those people are vying for a voice in the future and becoming the same sorts loudmouthed demagogues extolling the virtues of anti-thought worldviews of which we have infinitely too many as it is...  That is the future...  and we are totally screwed.