Ken Ham’s World of Wonder and Bollocks (written on the way to #TAM2012)

Recently Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, published an article where he wagged his finger at the “secular world” following the widely publicized revelation that a Christian “science” textbook suggesting that plesiosaurs might be alive in Loch Ness. As I have spent the last couple of days working with my students on logical fallacies, the deep logical errors in his argument popped out like…big…popping things.

Part of the problem that Ham has with coverage this goofy not-a-science-book has garnered, I suspect, is that he sees that his claims are not so very different, and that creationism has always been allied with cryptozoology. If you visit the Creation Museum, it quickly becomes clear that its directors believe almost exactly what the Louisiana textbook claims, that humans coexisted with dinosaurs in the recent past. So fervent is their belief that the Creation Museum actually presents medieval dragon stories like Beowulf as evidence of recent dinosaurs.

Mess with the Bible all you want, Ken, but when you start messing with Beowulf, you have English majors to contend with.

According to Ham:

As I wrote on Facebook last week, there is no textbook, whether Christian or secular, that is perfect! But what’s more is that the secular world has often put forth numerous scientifically untenable theories.

This is damned close to the tu quoque fallacy, which says, “Yeah, well, you’re wrong too!” This of course does not make the original proposition any more true or acceptable, but he seems not to realize the depth of the ridiculousness of even his medieval “dragons.” Pointing out problems with “secular” theories, does not give any credibility to your monumentally bizarre assertions. I like how he says that putting the Loch Ness Monster in a biology text makes it merely “not perfect,” not “completely laughable and misguided from its ill-conceived botch of a conception. Let’s take his examples of “secular theories” one by one:

1) Aliens seeded life on earth (known as directed panspermia). Francis Crick, a codiscoverer of the structure of DNA, promoted this idea.

Indeed, this assertion strikes me as unlikely as it is so unnecessary. Everything that we need for life is found in abundance throughout the universe. But the funny thing is how closely it mirrors the creationist argument: some mighty person from elsewhere shows up and seeds the planet with life. By your own logic, Ken, the only thing different between what you’re saying is feeble and what you preach is the fact that you believe it! And the other thing is that I suspect directed panspermia is more likely than the God hypothesis because you don’t need to invoke a deity to get that process started.

2) Birds are essentially modern, short-tailed feathered dinosaurs.

How is this scientifically untenable? This is actually pretty close to the standard model of evolution. Without evidence that it is merely fanciful thought, the claim that birds are little dino descendants is a bald assertion.  Life arose from non-life. (This goes against what biologists call the Law of Biogenesis, which says that living things can only come from other living things.)

Life arose from non-life. (This goes against what biologists call the Law of Biogenesis, which says that living things can only come from other living things.)

Alright. Let’s go back to Louis Pasteur. Pasteur’s formulation certainly still applies to complex life like bacteria, which was the original model. We’ll never see a bacterium spontaneously jump together out of atoms. However, we’ve learned things since the 19th century about the origin and nature of life. Science has moved well beyond the 19th century, Bucko. By suggesting that the Law of Biogenesis applies to the most simple chemical replicators out of which life evolved, Ken has created a straw man and demolished a weakened form of the argument that actual scientists make.

Humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor (which really means humans are just apes).

Yes. We’re apes. Apes with iPads and mortgages, but apes. The problem with this is that this is another bald assertion. It’s a lot like an argument from personal incredulity. “It’s untenable because I don’t accept it.” Wrong, kiddo. The universe is utterly indifferent to your malformed opinion of it.

Aliens from outer space built the pyramids.

Oh, that’s hardly mainstream evolutionary theory! This is not a bad argument because of its being secular. It’s a bad argument because it flies in the face of all available evidence. If the intended argument is: “Secularists produced ancient astronaut theories, therefore secularism is bad and somehow evolution is false…” Yeah, this is just a non sequitor. I’m not even sure that it counts as a thought.

Secularists can often say outlandish or wrong things—and get away with it. For instance, noted evolutionist Richard Dawkins admitted in an interview with Ben Stein that life could have been “seeded” on earth by aliens. And yet Christians are highly scrutinized in this very secular world.

Of course it “could” have happened, but what do you think the chances are that he thinks it is “likely”? I mean, we could have left some sort of hardy critter on the moon when we visited there. Such a development is completely plausible within living memory, and in the eyes of the descendants of the bacteria that we left there, we would have been aliens that seeded life there. So, what you are mocking might actually have already happened in recent human history!
Furthermore, Dawkins is scrutinized. He is a peer-reviewed professional. He doesn’t have to rely on an in-house vanity press like the Answers Research Journal. What makes you sad, it is clear, is that your religious beliefs are at all subjected to critical examination, and that when they are held up to the light of serious (or even casual) scrutiny, they are invariably rejected.
RJB
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3 Responses to Ken Ham’s World of Wonder and Bollocks (written on the way to #TAM2012)

  1. jiuguizi says:

    As always, thanks for saving me from contributing to his traffic. (ditto the WND). I have most of my education in liberal arts and social sciences, but it boggles my mind how hacks like Ken Ham keep churning out the same sad arguments that are easily refuted with five minutes on the Googles and a 7th grade science literacy. I think you handled it with the requisite levels of opprobrium.

  2. Bob says:

    Thanks! Sorry for the delay. Was TAMming. :)

  3. Pacal says:

    Aliens from outer space built the pyramids?! This is so off the wall that you just know tht Ken Ham is lying or he is bullshitting. I lean towards bullshitting. I don’t think Mr. Ham cares one bit if anything he says is true so long as he can throw mud at “Eviloution”.

    The mendacity of these people is amazing.

    That he regards the idea that Birds are Dinosaurs has self evidently absurd only illustrates his ignorance. Feathered Dinosaurs have been found and the differences between Birds and Dinosaurs, specifically Therapods are so minor that yes Birds are Dinosaurs!!

    But then we are talking about a website that argued that lying to Nazis looking for Jews you have hidden is a far greater sin than murder, and of course such people are morally inferior to Christian Fundamentalists who always tell the truth.

    To rephrase the mendacity and arrogance of such people amazes me,

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