Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ken Ham's Comedy Museum

In testimony to P.T. Barnum, Ken Ham's $27 million practical joke is set to open on May 28th to no doubt adoring fans and giggling critics. It is proclaimed to be "a wonderful alternative to the evolutionary natural history museums that are turning countless minds against the gospel of Christ and the authority of the Scripture." Funny, I've never seen anything in a natural museum that gave an opinion on Christ or biblical writings. Perhaps Mr. Ham has a finely honed intuition that we mere atheists lack, similar to the one that allows ID proponents to see design where no one else does.

A quick run through of the FAQ reveals much about the mindset of the people running this project, and the danger therein:

"Why is this museum needed?
Our increasingly anti-Christian country must return to a belief in the authority of the Bible and be presented with the life-changing gospel message. Evolutionary indoctrination has undermined the Christian foundations in America."


America anti-Christian? A country with a bible in every hotel room, where being president requires you to proclaim your faith, and where one cannot watch a boxing match without seeing a boxer thank the all-mighty creator of the universe for helping him beat the crap out of his fellow man, is anti-Christian?!?! Pray tell, how would Mr. Ham describe Iran?

His strategy for restoring belief in the authority of the Bible is to focus on the part of it that is most easily disproved? Wouldn't it be far more effective to admit certain parts of the Bible are allegorical, dismiss the idea that it is a science text, and focus on the religious message instead? There is a reason people with such a wide variety of philosophical, cultural, and theological presumptions accept the findings of evolution, and it has nothing to do with any mythical indocrination. The evidence is simply overwhelming. Ham has boarded a sinking ship.

"What is so different about this museum?
Almost all natural history museums proclaim an evolutionary, humanistic worldview. For example, they will typically place dinosaurs on an evolutionary timeline millions of years before man. AiG’s museum will proclaim the authority and accuracy of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and will show that there is a Creator, and that this Creator is Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-20), who is our Savior."


Again, I've never seen anything about humanism in natural museums. It's not humanism, but a willingness to examine the geological record, or tree rings, or ice cores, or the stars, and the ability to count, that leads one inevitably to the conclusion that the earth is far older than 6,000 years, and that dinosaurs lived millions of years before humans.

I'm sure glad however, that Ham gave us a Bible quote justifying his claim that Christians believe Jesus is their savior. I keep forgetting that part. Doh! But what in the world does Jesus being our Savior have to do with the age of the dinosaurs? Jesus can't save us unless the Flintstones was real history? I missed that in my years of Catholic school.

Some other comments by Ham are revealing. He responded to criticism from scientists thusly:

"[T]hey're worried about one creation museum? I think they're really concerned that we're going to get information out that they don't want people to hear."

This is typical of heads-I-win-tails-you-lose creationist thinking. If a huge majority of scientists came out in support of Ham, he would no doubt be beating his remaining critics over the head with that fact, as creationists have done in the past any time any science appears to support them (of course ultimately it never does). But since a huge majority of scientists are critical of him, that means, per his convoluted logic, that he must really be onto something, and they are only trying to suppress it out of fear. Interpreting criticism as justification is a sure sign of a crank. Oh, but not accoring to Ham:

"We use the same science they do. What they're really saying is they disagree with our beliefs about history, about the Bible, but we use the same science and genetics they do."

Riiiiight Ken, that's why practically every scientist in every field relevant to the subject: biologists, geologists, paleantologists, etc., say what you are doing is crap, and doesn't even rise to the level of bad science. Typical of the criticism that comes from scientists is this from Eugenie Scott, executive director of National Center for Science Education, "The nature of the science process that's presented at the Answers in Genesis museum is very different from how science is really done by real scientists." Indeed it is. Science proceeds by forming hypotheses, subjecting them to falsifiable experimentation, subjecting those results to the scrutiny of one's peers, and revising or eliminating those hypotheses that don't hold up. Ken Ham and his ilk begin with what they CHOSE to believe as true (that's all faith realy is), and then cherry pick any data that appears to support that view, while ignoring everything that doesn't, and rationalizing that any new fact discovered is consistent with one's view. They are the adult equivalent of the snotty-nosed loser kid who claims he controls the world and answers all criticisms with "I knew you were going to say that."

That's not science, and it's lousy epistemology, which is why while science has made remarkable progress over the last century, often with ideas that appeared absurd at first glance (evo-devo, plate tectonics, DNA, quantum mechanics, and relativity for starters), creationists like Ken Ham can (and do) recycle their speeches and arguments from 20 years ago, and get raving applause from the true believers. Never mind that they never produce any new knowledge of any kind about the world.

This is not a museum in any meaningful sense of the term. It is a tragically comic monument to fictions born of the intellectual stagnation that is the inevitable result of a worldview like Ham's. Laugh at your own peril.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi….

Interesting article, you make some interesting points. However, I can’t help but thinking this museum has you scared as well.

A good argument should always stand or fall on its own merits, for example, if you listened to a speaker extolling the virtues of a vegetarian diet, would you believe him or her less if you caught them eating a burger in the break? Or perhaps if your doctor told you to give up smoking because it was very bad for you health and would probably lead to cancer; would you considerate it ok to smoke if you met that doctor at a party and saw him smoking?

Well you shouldn’t; you should take the evidence and let it stand and fall on its own merits, independent of who presents it.

Also, when your comments are ad hominem in nature you lose your credibility. As one seasoned barrister said to an up and comer,’ when all else fails attack the character and credibility of the opposing lawyer, his or her clients and their witnesses’.

You said, “Jesus can't save us unless the Flintstones was real history? I missed that in my years of Catholic school”. This is exactly their point isn’t it? You were taught a version of religion with a humanistic world view.

Again from your Blog: “Typical of the criticism that comes from scientists is this from Eugenie Scott, executive director of National Centre for Science Education, "The nature of the science process that's presented at the Answers in Genesis museum is very different from how science is really done by real scientists." “

This is another ad hominem attack, because some scientists look at the same data eg the geological record, or tree rings, or ice cores, or the stars and have different conclusions doesn’t mean they are fake. How much controversy and disagreement is in everyday science, everyday – heaps. Write to 10 paediatricians and ask them if they think ADHD is being over diagnosed, and what their evidence is in support of their position – I bet you get heaps of different answers. Will you call the minority answers fakes? Will you call the paediatricians you disagree with quacks?

You continue: “Indeed it is”. Are you a scientist? What is your evidence? And further: “Science proceeds by forming hypotheses, subjecting them to falsifiable experimentation, subjecting those results to the scrutiny of one's peers, and revising or eliminating those hypotheses that don't hold up”. This is exactly what Ken Ham does!

And again: “Ken Ham and his ilk begin with what they CHOSE to believe as true…” no they don’t; how do you know this? From my reading of his work, he uses the evidence (Ice cores, tree rings, stars [and his ability to count]) and tests it scientifically.

And again; “…and then cherry pick any data that appears to support that view, while ignoring everything that doesn't, and rationalizing that any new fact discovered is consistent with one's view. They are the adult equivalent of the snotty-nosed loser kid who claims he controls the world and answers all criticisms with "I knew you were going to say that." Again, ad hominem, ad hominem, ad hominem, are you a lawyer or barrister perhaps?


So let’s look at your argument. The main proposition you make is that the creationist science of Ken Ham is floored. Well here’s a challenge: visit the museum and provide some examples. If you can show me examples of floored science I will write him a letter telling him he is a crack pot and cc a copy to you!

Cheers
Tom

ScienceAvenger said...

"you should take the evidence and let it stand and fall on its own merits, independent of who presents it."

Yes we should, and that's what the scientiic establishment does: publish their finding in peer-reviewed publications, and let the merits speak. You can find the general findings on evolution here.

"Also, when your comments are ad hominem in nature you lose your credibility."

Agreed. However, when you pawn off all criticism as ad hominem, as you do, you also lose credibility. An ad hominem attack is a dismissal of substantive arguments due to irrelevant character traits, as in "you're a Republican, therefore you are wrong." Nowhere in my post do I do anything like that. Saying that the "science" Ken Ham promotes is different than that in the mainstream is not ad hominem, it's a fact, and a very relevant one.

You claim Ham does real science? Fine. Show me where he has published in the peer-reviewed literature, and I'll stand corrected.

Your ADHD example also reveals a very unscientific approach, as you assume the two topics are equivalent (they aren't by a long shot), and more importantly, you justify your speculation with more speculation ("I bet you get heaps of different answers"). That's not how science is done, and does little for your credibility.

One doesn't have to visit Ham's comedy club, er, museum, to debunk it, because the material never changes. That's another sign it isn't science. And yes, I and any American who values our scientific advantage over most of the world should fear the likes of Ham getting control of our education system and stunting scientific minds.

trichronos said...

Dear Science Avenger:

While much of what is in the Bible is political cant, the fact is that spirituality is an aspect of human experience that cannot simply be explained away by the complexity of the brain.

Scientists don't spend much time thinking about problems they can't analyze - what would be the point of a peer-reviewed article that simply said: "Gee, we really don't know."

For this reason, science tends to focus on the easy problems, rather than the fundamental ones.

For example - I heard a speech by the Physics director for the NSF. He pushed the dark matter problem really hard, stating that the theorists were going to have to come up with some "really crazy ideas" to explain it.

He then reviewed the available clues: for example, the high-order power distribution in the cosmic microwave background.

As gently as I could, I pointed out that we still cannot explain particle masses: an order 1 phenomenon that will CERTAINLY have an enormous impact the the dark energy problem.

For myself, I have found that taking spirituality seriously has been an extremely interesting and fruitful exercise in organizing thinking about the fundamental assumptions of particle theory.

There's another way of looking at the Creationist Museum of Natural History: it's a means available to people who are deeply involved in spiritual experience to goad scientists into paying attention to what is perhaps the most important problem in the universe.

That they have chosen to ignore it may be a matter of policy (strange things happen when women take advantage of the fact that time is not uni-dimensional), but it is hardly an excuse.

Finally, my ruminations have also provided me some leverage in analyzing Scripture - I'd be happy to sit down with Mr. Ham and explain to him how I believe spirituality and politics collide in the Bible to make the document exceedingly difficult to analyze.

Anonymous said...

How many times has science posted a popular theory, only to change it when they learned later they were far off. The popular belief at one time was that the world was flat. Scientists of the day swore by it and people were thought to be heretics for believing otherwise. Science is as much of a speculation art as anything else, because we don't really know. It would not surprise me if 5-10 years from now they decide dinosaurs did not live more than 3000 years ago, and changed their theory based on the same scientific method they used to develop the original theory in the first place. Take the great minds from today and compare them with the great minds from just a century ago and tell me if they would agree. The same will be true 100 years from now. They can make however many museums they want, religious or scientific, and they will all be the same thing...opinionated, approximated, exaggerated, fabricated.

Webster said...

When you disagree with Ham's claim that his science is not different, make sure that you are understanding him. In this context, he is using "science" to refer to what they often call "observational science" -- things that can be observed & repeated, like mechanics, electromagnetism, rocket science, gravity, anatomy, medicine, chemistry, electronics, anthropology, astronomy, engineering, information theory, and other such things. Fields like paleontology, forensics, cosmologoy, archaeology, and many aspects of biology & geology look at evidence in the present to deduce what happened in the unobservable past, making them more about history, or what is sometimes called, "origins science".

ScienceAvenger said...

That is only true with regard to forming hypotheses. After that all the sciences are pretty much the same: hypothesize, test, repeat. This is what seperates real sciences like those "observational sciences" you listed and pseudosciences like Intelligent Design. The real sciences don't stop with the observed deduction. They procede from there to find a way to test the theory. You may not be able to go back and look at a herbivorious dinosaur eat, but we know a good deal about what sort of teeth such animals tend to have, and what sorts of body structure, and that leads to testable predictions about future findings.

There is a tendency to look at how scientists work as static, as if they found everything they have all at the same time. They find new fossils all the time, and every one of them comes with a ton of predictions from science. The fact that these fossils keep verifying evolution and other theories is what gives those theories their strength, and why they are far more than mere observations.

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Pointless said...

Hmmm, ok, why are we having this discussion?
If indeed there is no God. If infact the hypothesis of evolutionary thought (“That all reality as we understand it; Time, Force, Action, Space, and Matter, has by chance, spontaneously, systematically generated itself, beginning with simple elementary matter organising itself into ordered classes defined by rigid, universal, physical and chemical laws, eventuating in the accidental discharge of a single cell biological life form which over a period of some millions of years has culminated in the development of the vast array of animal and plant species we currently realise, not the least of which is of course Humanity”)is true;
Why all the fuss?
Why not let Mr Ham believe whatever he likes, spend as much of his and his supporters money and labour on his project as he likes, and indoctrinate as many americans as is humanly possible?
Who cares?
What difference does it make?
Before we were born we did not exist, when we die we will cease to exist.
We waste our time. We waste our time loving because even the objects of our affections are nothing and will become notihing. What vanity to hate when the object of our disdain is no more or less than we, and will hence become nothing as we are nothing!
What privilege do we have to cast aside the view of any man?
Who made us the judicial centre of the universe?
Oh the pride of this, the supreme being!
Who are we?
Who are you?

ScienceAvenger said...

Simple:

Evolution does not imply there is no god, or that Jesus didn't die for your sins, or any other religious tomfoolery you'd care to believe.

As to the rest of your pseudointellectual meanderings, god or no god, eternity in heaven or no, my desires towards me, my family and friends and loved ones to live long happy, intellectually and artistically enriched, painfree lives doesn't change.
Ken Ham and other purveyors of nonsense stand in the way of that goal, so I fight against him.

If the conclusion that there is no god and no eternity in heaven causes you to not love your family and wish them free from harm, I suggest you seek counseling and stop wasting your concern on those of us without such problems.

Anonymous said...

This comment is in response to Science Avenger's posted article concerning Ken Ham's creationist museum.

It is evident that you believe very strongly in the mediocrity of Ham's museum, and you can believe whatever you want. However, I have a problem with the fact that you continually attack the Christian faith despite your obvious ignorance toward the subject.

To begin with,in your article, you said "we atheists;" this leads me to believe that you are referring to yourself as an atheist. If you are an atheist, how would you know all that much about the Christian faith? Going to Catholic school doesn't teach people the truth about the Christianity that Jesus talked about in the Bible, or about the Christianity that Ken Ham believes in.

Why must you attack Christian ideals the way you do?

Anonymous said...

The comment right before this one: lame. Honestly sir. Or Madame, just for common courtesy. It is a totally irrelevant statement that atheists can't have any knowledge about religion. Take the case of Carl Sagan, who, although never an atheist, would classify as one yahoo of an infidel in the eyes of Ken Ham. Or, going back further to the time of Darwin: Thomas Huxley. Huxley too would be a third rate infidel all great for hellfire-barbecue if Mr Ham had his way. And now, take the case of true believers. Remember that evangelist who was jailed for some serious felony (Oh! Tough job, I know, but it isn't Kent Hovind.) who admitted that he never read Bible until he was jailed and that he was inadvertently taking quotes out of context? Woah! What?