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Bearding the creationists

By Kim - Posted on 16 December 2010

In our Friday mailing, while trying to get people to come to the creationist meeting at Potton, I asked whether creationists have horns, whether they were blue, or whether they looked like normal people.

On the night we met up at David’s house and set off from there to walk to the hall. In Potton‘s main square it was very busy, because it was the town’s evening to switch on their christmas lights.

Although the meeting was organised by Potton Baptist church it was to be held in the Community Hall, not far from the square. We went into the hall separately, and sat apart. This proved to a futile attempt to not be noticed. The rest of the audience were the Baptist congregation and knew each other. We stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. Of course, it was a while before we realised this.

There were 28 people in the audience, including our contingent. Also present were Mr Stan Evers the Baptist Minister, Mr Philip Bell of Creation Ministries, and one helper manning the book sales stand at the back. I had a quick look at the books before I sat down. They were a collection of quite professionally produced tomes containing evidence for creation and refuting Darwin.

We hadn’t long to wait before Mr Evers thanked us for coming. He said that this presentation had been given at Wilstead earlier in the year, and on the basis of that the children, no less, had suggested it be presented at Potton. There was one child in the room. After his short introduction he handed us over to Mr Bell. Mr Bell gave a short introduction of his own, during which he gave us his qualifications (he has a BSc in a science subject) and assured us that from a science perspective things look designed.

Then the main feature of the evening rolled. This was the infamous DVD ‘The Voyage that Shook the World’.

Oh boy - what a slick production. Think on-location filming. Think lavish sets. Think wildlife photography that would grace David Attenborough. This had it all. This was serious money.

All this was intercut with interview snippets from scientists.

Now, here’s the clever bit. The scientists were introduced with their name, and their position, and the name of the university at which they taught, on screen. How many professors in this field can you name? One, I bet, one Prof. Dawkins. So would you know whether, say, Prof. Peter Bowler, was a real scientist or a creation scientist? Sure, Prof. Bowler works at Queens University of Belfast, and he sounds respectable. I actually believe he is respectable (1). But with some it was hard to tell. Their educational institutions were ones I’d never heard of, but which might be perfectly genuine. Some, by the end, had blown their cover and were undoubtedly creationists. Others it was still hard to tell. The short interview snippets were out of context and could have been taken either way. I later heard that the real scientists who were involved were led to believe that they were being interviewed for a real programme, and have distanced themselves from this production since its true purpose was revealed. The creationists acknowledge that this was so. Openly. They say that the scientists would never had agreed to take part had they know the truth.

I don’t know about you, but I find it disturbing that people with such wacky ideas are allowed to work in universities. I mean, how can you even be a scientist if you start from a desired conclusion, which you cannot accept might be false, and then sift the evidence to find anything in favour, ignoring anything that doesn’t fit? They have obviously sought out positions of power where they can influence others, to the detriment of real knowledge.

The approach of the entire film was to give little nudges in the creationist direction. It sowed little seeds of doubt. Something you thought you knew for certain was presented in a way that was just different enough to make you wonder if you had it right. Had there been developments you were unaware of? Had scientific opinion shifted slightly as a result? Our minds were being played with. It was very, very effective.

After the film, which lasted...I don’t know, I lost track of time...Mr Bell took to the lectern to present a PowerPoint presentation. This was also very cleverly done. It subtly undermined science, to the point that creationist ideas could be slipped in as possibilities of equal consideration to evolution. We were encouraged to ask questions. We were presented with addresses of creationist websites, and also invited to check out pro-Evolution websites and to make up our own minds. In fact, wasn’t it reasonable that creationism should be taught alongside evolution, so that schoolchildren could make up their own minds too? So reasonable. So discriminatory to not allow it.

Mr Bell also built on information given in the film. We learned that Darwin was a liar and a racist. Again, these things were out of context, with no consideration being given to commonly held views at that time, or indeed even of Darwin’s age? Don’t most children lie at some point?

I recognised some slides from the description Lisa gave after her write-up of the presentation at Wilstead, (see ‘The Bedfordshire Humanist’, it was the April 2010 edition I recall).

The presentation went on a bit. We knew that we still had to sit through the question and answer session before we got to the coffee! Alas, David did not make it to the end. He interrupted to ask when we would be allowed to ask questions. This was unfortunate. It blew his cover, allowed Mr Bell to play the reasonable victim, and the vibes from the audience suggested that were in the midst of the already converted and that these people would not be considering our views with anything approaching an open mind. Mr Bell said that he needed a minute and a half to wrap up.

In fact it was 5 minutes, and then he handed over to David to ask his question. David asked about the stars, and the distances between them and us, and the speed of light, and the fact that more than 6,000 years, the supposed age of the created Earth, would be needed for the light to reach our eyes.

Mr Bell of course had his answer. He had references. No less than John Hartnett of the University of Western Australia had the answer to this one (2). But in fact, he said, creationists have several answers, of which, he said, obviously only one could be right. One, but not the usually accepted theory of course. He mentioned the time dilation effect and asked if David was familiar with it. David said he was. He asked if Mr Bell was. The sarcasm was lost on the audience.

David is a man passionate about science, and his strong tone had already lost us the case. But this audience would never have sided with us. There were mutterings and suggestions to carry this argument on privately.

I put my hand up with a question as a way to break this tit for tat cycle. My question was a simple one. Mr Bell had spoken of Adam and Eve and the apple. I wanted to know if the apple was a real one or an allegorical one. It was a fruit apparently, a real fruit, but not necessarily an apple. The garden of Eden was real as were Adam and Eve. So I asked if the whole of the Bible were to be taken literally. “No, I didn’t say that”. In the same way that there is fiction and non-fiction, the Bible contains fact and allegory and poetry. The fact is typically in the form of narration. There was something said about Greek and Hebrew, but it was beyond me. I stopped there. I could have gone on to point out that ‘Treasure Island’ is also told as narration but is fiction, but I didn’t. To any normal audience I would have revealed that I was dealing with an idiot, but this was not a normal audience, that particular penny hadn’t dropped yet.

Ian asked about the actual age of the Earth verses the claimed age. He tried to bring in the various atomic clocks available, but all his augments were rebutted. Mr Bell kept dragging it back to Carbon 14, which is irrelevant for dating rocks. Mike came in to help the argument, but now the muttering was very loud. Somebody interrupted to suggest we stop for coffee. We had not only lost, we had been thrashed.

So that was that. Nobody other than us asked any questions at all.

Cathy, Mike, Ian and David left. I would have liked a coffee! And they had mince pies! So I looked around and approached a guy to ask if he thought it was good. He did. He was a believer and he believed in creation. I found he’d trained as an electrical engineer to HNC level. I asked if his training had taught him to look for evidence. He said it had. I asked if he applied that same evidence to the Bible. He said yes. I asked for an example of evidence. He said that he once had seen a man who had had his leg amputated. The man’s leg grew by 1.5 inches, purely as a result of prayer. A few arguments did occur to me here, but I realised I was not going to shake him and so I thanked him and went to find somebody else.

Next I approached a family, man, woman, daughter, and the daughter’s boyfriend. The boyfriend turned out to be an atheist, of rather weak leanings. The other three were Christians though, creationists. I asked about evidence and I found that they were confused about theory and evidence. I told them to forget theory for a moment and consider evidence. They said yes, but I could not prove anything with my evidence. I tried to explain the nature of evidence, but they would not have it, they kept coming back with the statement that nothing could be proven. I sincerely hope they are never asked to attend for jury service. But, I said, you can’t prove what you say. No, and they were quite happy with that fact. The man even tried Pascal’s Wager on me!

Conscious that the others had gone I had to leave at that point. I caught them up two thirds of the way neck to David’s house. David regretted being so abrasive. He realised that it enabled Mr Bell to play the victim and did us no good at all.

On reflection, would I do it again? No. Firstly, we cannot win because these people are too highly trained. We work in terms of logic, they don’t, and they know exactly how to make any argument unwinnable. Secondly, there are few innocent bystanders in the room, there are the converted and there is us. We cannot de-convert them. Third, we become too passionate and reinforce the idea of the aggressive atheist.

No, the way to counter them is to promote science. We need to produce slick presentations of our own, and we need to campaign for rational education.

The only exception I would make is if there were children, of impressionable age, who had been frogmarched in. Too young to understand, don’t bother. Too old to be affected, don’t bother.

Oh, and here’s the worst bit. The people I spoke to were smug. They had had their faith tested by the atheists. Their faith had survived. They would indeed stand at god’s right hand.

To answer my question from the opening paragraph. They are not blue. They do not have horns. They do look like ordinary people. But they are slick and have all the answers. Their followers wouldn’t know common sense if it had a label on it.

(1) He is actually a critic of creationism, having written books on this theme.
(2) He may have a PhD in Physics but he turns out to be a young Earth creationist who challenges the ‘cosmic numbers‘ and claims that Physics has gone down a wrong path by considering only atheistic theories.

(Written by Kim Northwood)



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