Monday, June 25, 2018

Creationism as (Un) Science

Judge Jones

My Facebook friends pushing for creationism – or under its current name of intelligent design (ID) – continue to fuss and fume.  They would prefer to forget they already had their chance to prove their point without shouting.  Experts in support of creationism came to a Federal Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania in November 2004 to argue their case.

They were routed.

No wonder creationists pretend it didn’t happen.

The case was heard by Federal Judge John E. Jones III, a Republican appointed two years earlier by President George W. Bush. It grew out of a decision by the Board of Education in the Dover Area School District to require that ID be taught on par with evolution.  Eleven parents then sued, resulting in the trial.

Professor Behe
In four days of testimony, Judge Jones allowed creationists to introduce their evidence and to explain their reasoning.

It didn’t go well for creationists.  Their lead witness, Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, a long-time leader of the movement, conceded that "there are no peer-reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.”

In fact, there has never been any articles that supports creationism ever submitted to any scientific publication.  That’s because there is no evidence.

Actually, Behe went even further and admitted that, under his definition, to get creationism accepted by science, even a field so discredited as astrology would have to be included.  Not even creationists can argue on behalf of astrology, which has been carefully studied and found to have zero scientific basis.

The one paper he did co-author (but not submit) didn’t help his cause.  Under oath, Behe admitted that the same biochemical outcomes he ascribed to creationism would also evolve in 20,000 years “even if the parameters of the simulation were rigged to make that outcome as unlikely as possible.”
Naturally, the 20,000 years caused creationists heartburn since many are wedded to the impossibly short time period of 8,000 to 9,000 years for the existence of the Earth.

None of the testimony for the defense got any better, as Judge Jones noted defendants' protestations to the contrary, it describes ID as a religious argument. In that vein, the writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity,” he wrote, concluding that “the overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”

Judge Jones cited basic flaws in theory:

“We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. … It is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.”

He ended by labeling the Board’s decision to require the teaching of creationism as “breathtaking inanity … when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial.”

The local population agreed.  In the school board election that took place Nov. 8, less than a week after the trial and before the judge issued his ruling, the eight candidates who opposed intelligent design swept every pro-intelligent-design candidate from the board.

If we have learned anything from this, it’s that scholarship and research mean nothing in the face of belief.  Creationists happily smother centuries of research and reason by making broad, unsupported claims.

Nor does any of these arguments matter, because belief is merely a guess.  Whether someone guessed right or wrong won’t change a thing.  Whatever is the truth will happen to all of us.  I personally believe there’s no God, no afterlife, no meaning to be life.

I could be wrong.  I’ll find out. 

In the interim, I will continue to oppose anyone’s attempt to impose on the rest of us a belief unsupported by a shred of scientific fact.


Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at wplazarus@aol.com.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  A recent book, Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

The Bible as (Non) History


Bible

For the past few days, several of my religious Facebook friends have climbed back on the old warhorse by claiming that the Bible is historically accurate.  One challenged me to show otherwise.  That’s not hard at all.  Anyone with a computer can go on line and find endless reams of material that details biblical inaccuracies.  

However, one religious friend who doesn’t use Facebook said that she couldn’t accept such findings since they are open to “interpretations.”  I accept that limitation and will present only evidence that isn’t open to any kind of argument. I do not claim this list is complete.  There’s not enough room on the internet for that.

Here are the highlights of errors from the Old Testament:

Moon rocks
Scientific research on chemicals found on Earth, in moon rocks and in meteors clearly shows a consistent result of about 4.6 billion years.  Such evidence from folds in the Earth, stratification such as visible in the Grand Canyon and multiple geological studies demonstrate the vast number of years needed to develop today’s environment. Simply adding up biblical years is pointless and completely refuted by scientific study.

In the beginning, the biblical order of creation starts with the Earth and places stars, birds and whales before reptiles and insects, as well as flowering plants ahead of animals. Science has easily demonstrated that’s the reverse of reality.

On the first day, God created light, but the sun and moon don’t arrive until the fourth day: “the greater light [the sun] to rule the day, and the lesser light [the moon] to rule the night.” However, the moon has no light.  It only reflects the sun. Nevertheless, repeated biblical writers in the Old and New Testament somehow think the moon creates its own light and that the stars are incredibly close.  Vegetation, created on the third day, would have no sun, based on the biblical version.

DNA
Noah’s flood is impossible, not just from all the geological evidence to the contrary.  Scientific research into DNA shows that, for humans to be as diverse as we are, the population had to contain a minimum of 1,500 unrelated individuals, not just a single family on a floating zoo. 

Sodom and Gomorrah, two large and prosperous cities supposedly destroyed by God, are phantoms.  No other culture mentioned the cities despite voluminous records, and no trace of them has ever been found.  The tiny bit of ruins today erroneously called Sodom shows no sign of the “fire and brimstone” and contains maybe six homes in contrast with the biblical account. 

The story of Jewish slavery doesn’t match known history.  For starters, Egypt did not use forced labor to build anything.  Moreover, documented evidence, including archaeological, written language and other finds from the region, shows that Jews lived in what is now Israel the entire time period of their supposed sojourn in Egypt.  Moreover, many of the cities cited in the text did not exist until centuries later.

Scholars now think the Exodus account was a fabrication to justify a war with Egypt in the 8th century B.C.E., when the first texts were written down.  Yes, that’s an interpretation, but it matches the complete lack of evidence of any wandering in the Sinai Desert or Jewish presence in Egypt.

Coney
In Leviticus, we are told that hares and coneys (akin to a rabbit) are unclean because they “chew the cud” but do not part the hoof. However, those animals are ruminants; they don’t have cuds.

In Daniel, the author doesn’t know the name of the king.  He identifies Belshazzar as the king. Here’s actual history: Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 BCE.  His son, Awil-Marduk (who the Bible calls "Evilmerodach") followed him on the throne, but was assassinated by his brother-in-law, Nergal-shar-usur, in 560. The next and last king of Babylon was Nabonidus who reigned from 556 to 539, when Babylon was conquered by Cyrus. Belshazzar was a son of Nabonidus, but not king or a relative of Nebuchadnezzar.

Not one to stop there, the author then makes Darius the successor to Cyrus.  Actually, that was Cambyses.

The New Testament is no better. Here’s just a few known historical mistakes.  

Herod the Great
The census described in Luke took place, in 6 C.E., 10 years after Herod the Great died.  However, Matthew said Jesus was born when Herod was in power.  According to Luke, Emperor Augustus ordered the whole world registered. Not true. In fact, the census was held only to determine taxable property in Judea, which had been placed under Roman control.  No one had to return home, such as Joseph from Galilee to Bethlehem. Luke just wanted to get Jesus to Bethlehem for polemic purposes.  So did Matthew; he just used a different device that contradicted Luke.  Mark and John are sure Jesus was born in Galilee.

There was no murder of the innocents as described in Matthew.  Josephus, who left us a detailed history of the time period, hated Herod and yet knew nothing about this supposed slaughter.

One of my favorites in the New Testament is where Paul was bitten by a snake on Malta.  The pagans there decided Paul must be a god because he didn’t die.  Except there are no snakes on Malta.  Never have been.  (That’s true in Ireland, too, despite stories of Patrick.)

Close examination of records from the time of Pontius Pilate show that the description of the trial of Jesus bears no resemblance to documented Roman trials.  For one, judges were never seen.  There was no “tradition” of freeing anyone on Passover.  Romans never “wash hands” to free themselves from guilt.  That was a Jewish custom. The Sanhedrin didn’t meet on holidays; there’s no record of any earthquake in that time.  

Having written several books detailing many – but not all – of the textual problems, I see no reason to continue a familiar recitation.

I do not mind when anyone uses the Bible as a moral and ethical guide.  As long as readers overlook the massacres and zealous hatreds, there are lots of positive ideas.  Nor do I have any problem with someone believing in any of the known 4,600 religions.  Belief is personal, and no one can possibly claim any belief is wrong.  No one knows.  Besides, beliefs can have positive benefits for some people.

Albert Schweitzer

However, as soon as someone insists that the Bible somehow is historically accurate, I object strenuously.  The biblical authors were not trying to write history.  They were successfully transmitting religious concepts and eagerly distorting facts to fulfill that goal.  Historians, including a minister like Dr. Albert Schweitzer in the 19th century, have known that since the 1700s when the first examinations of the books began to reveal some of its flaws.

To claim inerrancy – which is a relatively new belief anyway, dating from the 1800s – is to ignore the extensive and readily available research that clearly and unconditionally proves otherwise. 

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at wplazarus@aol.com.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  A recent book, Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.