Creationist Nonsense: Science assumes no God

Still on the subject of Ken Ham’s creationism (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/conspiracy-against-creationism-and-ken-hams-intollerance/) and his Facebook response; one of Ken’s followers made a comment that I wish to address. Hopefully this will be the last of my posts on this particular episode, for now at least.

On Ken’s Facebook (yes, I did stalk Ken’s Facebook profile to see what was being said about my blog posting) page a commenter made the following remark.

 

So, wait… he claims that scientists don’t begin with the assumption that there is no God, then goes on to say that, because we can only observe the natural world, then that must be all there is… How is that not an assumption?

 

Every part of me wants to shout “Read the freaking context and get with the understanding numbskull!”.

However, this is one of those misunderstandings that is widespread among the Christian community. The negative side of this is that it undermines the scientific process and makes it harder for science to be viewed as credible. The really sad part of this is that its often people in the congregation hearing this nonsense who don’t get science commentary from anyone other than the person in the pulpit. At its worst, this is damaging to the wider populace.

The section of my post that the commenter clearly didn’t get is this paragraph.

<blockquote>This is a basic understanding failure. The fact that its made by a leading Creationist apologetic is damning and pathetic. He really should know better. Scientists who claim there is no god do so because of the evidence they see. Its this evidence that has lead them to the conclusion of evolution and its this evidence that falsifies the Biblical accounts of Adam and Eve and The Flood. Its not then unreasonable to conclude there is no god. Science looks at natural processes because that is all that we can see and gather evidence from. That evidence is explained by those natural processes only and therefore its an easy conclusion to make that no god was involved. There is no predetermining the non-existence of any god and then building a theory which excludes it, as Ken Ham would have people believe. </blockquote>

The commenter clearly didn’t get that those scientists who don’t believe in god (or people like me who believe there is no god) do so because there is no evidence. The commentator clings to the misapprehension that is conclusion is an assumption.

I understand the misunderstanding because I was there once and I’ve heard this same misunderstanding preached at conferences.

The very important point here is that seeing the natural world and concluding no god is far more than an assumption. For starters there is the very valid null hypothesis, which leads from nothing being assumed. If you can’t see it or measure, assume its not there.

Yes I know, I used the assume word and creationists everywhere are pointing and shouting “See he even admitted he assumes no god, right after denying that was the case. Atheists are so inconsistent.”.

That would miss the point of course.

Without the evidence evolution is not assumed either. Both the creationist god and evolution start at the same point of validity when there is no evidence on the table.

Its not until the evidence comes out that the scales begin to adjust. This is the point at which conclusions are made and tests are created for the expressed purpose of disproving the conclusion. Its at this very critical point that creationists again fall over. They argue that god is supernatural and so not bound by our man made laws of science and so he can’t be tested. Not to mention the passage somewhere that expressly forbids testing the lord. I’m not sure if it applies to the scientific process, but then a heathen like me probably won’t care.

Anyway, with all the claims that Creationists will have for the existence of god, you’d think that somewhere there would be some evidence that at least merits a second look. Creationists will make a whole song and dance about the issue of testing evolution in the lab and how timescales simply don’t allow it. Yet where are the tests for god in the lab?

Multiple fields of science have independently confirm various aspect of evolution and the age of the earth. Yet nothing can come up with a test to show even a hint of god.

Its not an assumption to say there is no god, it’s a valid scientific conclusion after many years of study have shown no evidence for supernatural activities. If everything that we currently know shows a natural explanation time and time again, at what point is it acceptable to say “There is no evidence of any god and until that changes I shall not believe in one.”?

The commenter I quoted will likely still claim this is an assumption, they would be wrong.

Creationist Nonsense: Were You There?

It seems that a previous post of mine caught the eye of Ken Ham (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/conspiracy-against-creationism-and-ken-hams-intollerance/) and he felt the need to comment on it. I should feel honoured that one as humble as me has caught the attention of such a high profile Creationist.

One commenter on my post kindly copied Ken’s Facebook comment to my blog post, otherwise I may never have known.

Ken’s final paragraph gave me cause to chuckle:

Well this person wouldn’t like our Starting Points Room at the Creation museum now would they!! This person has no concept of the difference between historical science and observational science. Your kids will they–particularly those who were taught to ask ‘Were you There?’

The “Were you there?” question is one that I’ve known about for some time. Children are encouraged to ask prominent evolutionary scientists this question in response to their assertions about how we know certain facts. The implication behind it is that if you didn’t see it happen, how can you be so sure? I imagine that Creationist preachers taking this line can then go on to explain that we know the Bible to be accurate because its written down for us by eye witnesses to these events and so if they ask themselves the same question the answer is “no, but I know a man who was.”

This line of logic may work on children, but it doesn’t survive the critical examination of intelligent adults. So to see an intelligent adult actually using it in this way genuinely makes me sad.

The worst part of this line of reasoning is that it actually misses the point of the scientific study of evolution. I wonder if that’s intentional.

The scientific study of evolution is about the physical evidence and the corroboration of that evidence across different disciplines. People and their testimonies are neither sought nor trusted. A man might lie, rock strata, tree rings, varying fossil shapes and genetic relationship maps do not lie. These are there for people to examine and draw their conclusions from. If someone gets it wrong, there will be someone else along to spot it. When different interpretations come up, there is a healthy scientific discussion about it. People get impassioned and eventually the more accurate descriptions survive. Occasionally, when further evidence pops up, long held ideas get to be overturned.

This is good science; and it means that if your radical idea is to be accepted by anyone other than yourself, it has to survive immense scrutiny.

Asking “were you there?” is neither good science, nor intellectually sound. It’s the equivalent of sticking out your tongue, putting your thumbs in your ears and waving your fingers while blowing a raspberry. It serves no useful purpose.

The temptation is great to ask back, “were you there in the garden of Eden? Or on Mount Ararat? Or at the battle of Jericho?”. I’ve already given the hint as to what the answer will be. “I didn’t need to be, those who were there wrote it down, see.”

Poorer is the Creationist who takes that line and considers it weightier than the history we see in world around us.

Creationists like Ken Ham will mock the use of evidence taken from the physical world, calling it “observational science” and “garbage”. I wonder how much of this observational science is utilised at the creation museum. Does he only use physical evidence that the Bible specifically mentions? Surely he wouldn’t use fossils with an interpretation of his own that’s not mentioned in the Bible would he? What about a description of erosion that contradicts science but is not found in the Bible? I don’t know the certain answers to those questions, but given the creationist stance on evolution and the global flood, I think I can safely say that the Creation museum interprets observed science and uses an explanation that doesn’t match the prevailing understanding.

Dare I label this hypocrisy? I think I do!

I’m no longer interested in Church at all

A few months ago I made a decision that I was not interested in attending church any longer and that included being involved in activities there.

Its not all long ago that I was happy to attend and happy to help out. I’m not entirely sure what sparked the change in attitude. I suspect it was no individual thing that drove this decision; rather it was a gradual adjustment of perspective.

The final straw came when my wife volunteered us both to help out in the weekly youth club. I didn’t particularly respond positively and the result was the accusation of me putting on a face like I’d been told to do something I didn’t want to do. The back story here is that some members have become unhappy with the church and withdrawn. This included some who had been involved in the youth club. Being in dire need of assistance, my wife did the honourable thing and offered help from a couple with past experience of youth club.

I went along for a couple of weeks and did my best, but frankly my heart wasn’t in it and it showed. Its hard to pretend to be an enthusiastic youth leader when you really aren’t engaging with the bigger picture. I had fun in the games but found the story time and biblical elements even more uncomfortable than when I sit in church.

The result was I had to admit that I was being turned off church and was at a point where I really didn’t want to be there at all. My wife has been very gracious in this and I suggested that I stop altogether because the last thing she wanted was a husband who resented church because it was forced to be there for the sake of appearances.

I didn’t see this coming

The honest truth here is that this has taken me by surprise. I never expected to be in a place where I was stopped church altogether and would seriously wonder if I was heading along a path towards being ‘anti church’. I’m not there now, but I do wonder if one day I will become disillusioned with people of faith to the point that I become anti organised religion to the point of some of the vocal atheists I know.

I’m not there yet, so let’s not get too carried away just yet.

I think there are two main reasons for my change in stance. One is that I am not at all comfortable being in a church service environment any more. Everything is so familiar, and yet so strangely alien. I know most of the hymns and song off by heart, I have heard most sermons and children’s talks. However, its not a world view I identify with anymore and the arguments I hear all get disassembled in my mind. I simply can’t engage on either a spiritual or intellectual level.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to articulate how and why I made this transformation of attitude. For the moment I can’t, I only know its happened. Maybe it was inevitable and I was just being naive or denialist in thinking I could continue to be supportive of church; probably both.

 

Conspiracy Against Creationism and Ken Ham’s Intollerance

The BBC have been running a series called Conspiracy Files. The basic premise is that half dozen people who subscribe to a conspiracy idea are taken on a bus trip across America to visit various experts who can counter the conspiracy claim. At the end of the programme each person gets a piece to camera to see if they have changed their views.

Its not an especially great programme to be honest, you can tell that there is an element of manufactured conflict in that the people picked to the bus trip often have conflicting views themselves.

I watch it because I have in interest in conspiracies, not because I believe them, quite the opposite. Its because I don’t believe them, but I am interested in the arguments that conspiracists use so that I can better understand the argument and how to counter it. Classic conspiracies like 9/11 and UFOs have been covered.

Creationism as a Conspiracy

I very intrigued when I saw there was to be a programme on Creationism. Not just because I wanted to see what the people believed and who would be rolled out against them, but because I wanted to see what came up as compared with my previously held version of Christianity and Creationism. I was also puzzled by the inclusion of Creationism in the series; I don’t especially object to its inclusion but I’m not actually convinced that Creationism is a conspiracy theory in the way that 9/11 and the existence of crashed alien craft are.

A conspiracy theory requires agents actively working against the idea in an effort to hide the truth. I don’t think this is really the case. I certainly never believed that people were trying to hide the truth of a literal Creation from the wider public. I believed that evolutionary theory was a misreading of the evidence. Surely if scientists knew of a literal creation they’d become Christians and there would be no need to hide the fact of creation from the rest of the world.

The idea of the government and scientists actively trying to teach evolution and hide the truth of a literal creation just doesn’t make sense to me. I also don’t think I’ve ever read of anyone claiming this to be the case.

On to the Trip

Conspiracy or not, the programme rolled out a handful of folks from Ol’ Blighty. One hardened Christian Creationist, one hardened Muslim Creationist and some other people who, as far as I could tell, were a bit more ‘woolly’ in their faith, one I suspected was more spiritual than religious. Their creationist credentials did seem more suspect, though if they had filled the bus with identical Christian Creationists its wouldn’t have been a very interesting programme because the same arguments would have rotated round everyone so I can see why diversity was desired.

Predictably, the Christian Creationist sounded very much like I must have in my early argumentative years. It was interesting see those arguments come out in the way that I would likely have put them. Hearing them made me laugh. They sounded weak, and when countered with the detail of the science from the relevant expert in the field, the creationist arguments really had no foundation. It was clear as day.

Towards the end of the programme, one of the girls did appear to show a softening towards evolution and I did have hope that she would continue that journey.

The biggest giggle came from the ending comments from the two hardened creationists. The Christian claiming that his beliefs were shown to have held up and that the Muslim was shown to be false. The Muslim claimed the reverse. It was a classic case of preconceived bias leading one to interpret an experience to their own advantage, ignoring what actually occurred. Despite it providing me entertainment, I did genuinely feel sadness for them both as they were clearly unable to see beyond their beliefs.

Ken Ham’s Intollerance

I see that Ken Ham has made a comment on the programme (http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2012/10/22/more-intolerance/).  He headlines it as intolerance against creationism, which is frankly baloney. There was no intolerance shown, simply evidence and argument. If evolutionists are intolerant because they attempt to explain to Creationists why they are wrong, then Ken Ham’s comments are equally intolerant for declaring evolutionists wrong.

That aside, Ken Ham makes a basic Creationist error, one that I have seen made many times.

 

His determination to deal only with “natural forces” eliminates God automatically. In other words, he started with the assumption that God and His Word have nothing to do with explaining reality. He started with a bias against anything to do with the God of the Bible. He did not start by looking objectively at the evidence.

 

This is a basic understanding failure. The fact that its made by a leading Creationist apologetic is damning and pathetic. He really should know better. Scientists who claim there is no god do so because of the evidence they see. Its this evidence that has lead them to the conclusion of evolution and its this evidence that falsifies the Biblical accounts of Adam and Eve and The Flood. Its not then unreasonable to conclude there is no god. Science looks at natural processes because that is all that we can see and gather evidence from. That evidence is explained by those natural processes only and therefore its an easy conclusion to make that no god was involved. There is no predetermining the non-existence of any god and then building a theory which excludes it, as Ken Ham would have people believe.

Scientists reach their conclusions from the evidence and if the evidence does not fit a hypothesis, then its abandoned and a new one is formed. The evidence always dictates the conclusion, not the other way round. It is the Creationist who starts from the end result and looks for the evidence that matches the result or comes up with a hypothesis for fitting the evidence into the end result. Ken Ham wrongly asserts that because his idea of science is all arse over tits, so must the scientists’.

 

There’s a problem in front of the pulpit

I wasn’t expecting to get frustrated with the church we’re now attending, but now that we’ve been in our new location for a year the imperfections have begun to show and this time my wife and I find ourselves in the opposite position that we were in when I wrote this post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/there%E2%80%99s-a-problem-behind-the-pulpit/)

To set the scene, this church is predominantly an elderly congregation. The blunt bottom line is that unless the church attracts a significant number of younger people it will cease to be able to function. By younger I mean working people in the 20-40 year age group. Even the 40-60 age range is not that well stocked. The pastor and his wife are middle aged, placing them among the youngest church members.

The church has struggled along for a time with this elderly, however, its location in the town is an advantage and it has a thriving youth club setup where it is very busy each Friday night. Not many of these kids translate into young adults on a Sunday morning though. For that to happen there needs to be a change.

This is where the problems are.

When we first started attending the church more than a year ago, Sunday worship consisted of either a piano or the organ (which is a rather decent pipe organ) being played somewhat averagely or for a chorus, the song was played from a CD. It really wasn’t very inspiring.

The pastor has worked very hard to be relevant to a younger congregation because he knows this is what he needs to attract to the church. Other church members have apparently been praying hard for a long time for someone talented to come and improve the music aspects of Sunday services.

So when the pastor employs an office assistant, a lady with a good singing voice married to a man who plays keyboards in a band, and shortly after my wife turns up, also with a good singing voice, and music skills and a desire to lead worship; its seen by some as the answer they’ve been looking for.

If it was so perfect, what went wrong?

People, that’s what went wrong.

A year has gone by and my wife regularly leads worship and when she does the church gets treated to a very skilled keyboardist, a gentle drummer and two wonderful female vocals. Occasionally she pulls out her flute as well. She puts a lot of effort into making sure what she arranges is thoughtful, fits with theme and sensitive to as many needs as she can.

However, its still not good enough for some because now its like they are being performed to and they don’t want that. Its also been noted that the three couples mentioned above socialise a lot together and some think that’s not on. As it happens, the three men (Pastor, Keyboardist and myself) all go the local camera club and the three ladies have become good friends. Its only natural that there would be dinners between them all, after all, without each other the three couples wouldn’t have the essential social life of people the same age.

That’s not all that there is, there are some people with specific theological agendas, some of which conflict with the pastor. From what I’ve seen, I think the pastor is right and those with the agendas are on questionable theological ground.

So here I am, in the unexpected position of being an atheist in support of a pastor, who I call a good friend, while elderly Christians, people of long standing faith who should know better, threaten the church and spread bitterness. A sizeable number of people are apparently absent from services now and the pastor’s attempts to visit and reconcile have been rebuffed. I say apparently absent, because I no longer attend, but that’s for another post.