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Creationists getting way more press than they deserve

November 26, 2007

I can’t stop what I’m doing right now and write a letter to the editor of NY Times, but I might have to.

This piece by Hanna Rosin really irks me…and, if I were in a slightly more angst mood, it might drive me to downright anger.

The way she goes out of her way to give these cranks a megaphone for the ridiculousness they spew is enough to make we want to take a walk to cool off a bit.

I simply don’t have the time to tear apart this ugly piece of journalism. The language feebly attempts to call them what they are (cranks), but never actually does it. And, then, she actually steps it up a bit with subtle implications of some “turning of the tide” amongst scientists. Like this piece of s@#t sentence:

Creationist ideas about geology tend to appeal to overly zealous amateurs, but this was a gathering of elites, with an impressive wall of diplomas among them (Harvard, U.C.L.A., the Universities of Virginia, Washington and Rhode Island). They had spent years studying the geologic timetable, but they remained nevertheless deeply committed to a different version of history.

Notice the well-placed “but” and mention of prestigious institutions. Nice try…but that doesn’t provide a single bit of support for their acceptance of a 6,000 year-old Earth. I don’t care where these people got their degrees…accepting the view that the vast majority of sedimentary rock on this planet is the result of a single flood a few thousand years ago is beyond ridiculous.

The scary potential result of an article like this is that your everyday normal NY Times reader might sit back and say “hmmm…I guess there is some disagreement within science regarding the age of the Earth”. Maybe only 1% of the readers, but that’s too many.

So, I call upon the free press of science bloggers to tear this apart. I don’t have the time right now. I’m sure Pharyngula and others will get on this if they haven’t already. Hanna Rosin needs to know she can’t get away with this crap.

I might break my keyboard.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2007 2:22 pm

    I have to respectfully disagree with you about this article and the NY Times’ editorial judgement in publishing it, Brian. When I read it I didn’t get the impression that they’re confusing creationism with science at all. The article is in the Magazine section, not Science, and it reports on a newsworthy story that sadly reflects the misunderstanding of the scientific method by far too large a number of my fellow Americans. I have faith in the ability of the majority of Times readers to think critically about what they read. Furthermore, I believe in the cleansing power of daylight. Better that these backward practices be exposed so mainstream scientists can better understand how these neocreationists think and work toward helping the public see the error of their method – which is decidedly unscientific despite their protests to the contrary. If their “science” is deserving of ridicule, then it ought to be ridiculed, but there’s no reason to be disrespectful of the individuals for trying to make peace between their religion and science, and there’s no reason to blame the messenger if the real problem is the inability of our fellow citizens to critically evaluate the facts before them.

  2. November 26, 2007 3:05 pm

    Ron … perhaps my knee-jerk reaction was overly emotional and it definitely lacked explanation, so let me try and express my thoughts on this a little better.

    Statements like this…

    “Creationist geologists are now numerous enough to fill a large meeting room and well educated enough to know that in rejecting the geologic timeline they are also essentially taking on the central tenets of the field.”

    and

    “…a small band of geologists…have set to work improving on the Morris-Whitcomb model using the modern tools of their field: close examination of rocks and fossils combined with computer models”

    …give an impression that this is a ‘field’ of study in the first place. She actually calls them ‘geologists’!! They are not geologists. They are not scientists. An unassuming reader not directly engaged in scientific practice now is confused that these people are actually scientists. This is what the Dover case told us…this is NOT science. That is the point…they can believe whatever they want, but this approach is not science and Rosin is calling them scientists. This is what I object to.

    Another statement says:

    “In a video [at Creation Museum], geologists use evidence from Mount St. Helens to show how a mud flow can cut a deep canyon in a single day. “This is what I see based on science,” said Andrew Snelling, one of the many creationist geologists at the conference in July who consulted with the museum.”

    Rosin does not even make an attempt to discuss why this notion is illogical. Why?

    “At the conference, participants got together to tackle some difficult questions: How is radioisotope dating flawed?”

    Rosin states they are scientists already…and then offers this as if it’s a valid scientific question. Rosin does not even make a remark of why that is an illogical approach to science. She is propping them up…perhaps accidentally, but she is anyway. We all know that creationists are not posing this question to refine/revise radiometric dating for the betterment of science, they are looking for holes to poke and then hype up. This practice is not science.

    Here’s another:

    “The heads of all the leading scientific creationist institutes from several countries showed up for the Cedarville event…”

    Again…the assumption that this is a field of science is now clearly established in this article.

    And another:

    ““We have nothing to fear from data,” Ross told me. “If we’re afraid, it means we don’t trust God’s word.” The older generation of creationists “would come up with an explanation or a model and say, ‘This solves it!’ I’m a bit more cautious and at the same time more rigorous. We have lines of possibility that we continue to advance but at the same time we recognize that this is science, so the explanations are subject to change with new discoveries.””

    Rosin does not challenge Ross’s statement “we recognize that this is science”. Rosin does not challenge this either in person (or its unreported) or in her piece.

    My main objection to Rosin’s wording and language is that it accepts them as ‘geologists’ and ‘scientists’. This notion is fundamental and she is conveying the wrong message.

  3. November 26, 2007 5:21 pm

    I’m with both of you guys. I’m exasperated that the author, a religion journalist who’s on our side, didn’t debunk these people, but on the other hand the stuff they say makes me feel pity for them because they aren’t the typical preacher/lawyer creationist who relies on rhetoric, but folks actually taking the trouble to examine rocks. It will be a hard slog for them, and if they’re sincere they will go through an intellectual crisis sooner or later. Anyway, here’s my response.

  4. November 27, 2007 12:31 am

    The misrepresentation that really annoys me is the underlying premise – that trying to “scientifically” interpret the rock record in terms of the flood is somehow a new thing. It is not new. This is cutting-edge geological thinking from the 18th century, which was superceded because (in the view of mostly Christian geologists) it just didn’t work.

    It’s poor scholarship on the part of the journalist writing this article not to point out that this is an argument which had it’s day in scientific court 200 years ago – and that any of these jokers with geological training is well aware of this fact.

  5. magma permalink
    November 27, 2007 1:35 am

    I agree very strongly with what you wrote above Brian, particularly your comment. “Creationist geologist” and “well-educated” is a contradiction. These people are NOT scientists, they are NOT geologists, and treating their theories like they are anything more than a wildly implausible (when it comes to YEC, an *impossible*) hypothesis is plain journalistic dishonesty.

    Writing about creationists in a scientific context without pointing out the patent nutcasery of their ideas (and – once you get outside the U.S. – universal rejection) is like writing about the New Chronology (look up Anatoly Fomenko) in a historical context and treating it seriously.

    Any journalist honestly trying to respect reason, intelligence, and truth would not write an article like that in the NY Times.

  6. magma permalink
    November 27, 2007 1:38 am

    That ‘universal rejection’ is probably unfair to the U.S. But a lot of the world doesn’t subscribe to this nonsense… I am mostly thinking of the Vatican.

  7. November 27, 2007 9:47 am

    Notice the well-placed “but” and mention of prestigious institutions. Nice try…but that doesn’t provide a single bit of support for their acceptance of a 6,000 year-old Earth.

    No, it doesn’t. What it does do is demonstrate that the prestigious institutions made a point of judging their grad students on the basis of the work that they produced, rather than using some kind of litmus test of belief. (The University of Rhode Island, at the very least, knew that it was giving a degree to someone who believed the Earth was younger than any of the ages he discussed in his dissertation.)

  8. November 27, 2007 10:07 am

    Kim: Yep. Furthermore, every single one of these credentialed creationists rather bizarrely passed up the opportunity to research all those obvious, gaping holes in biology, geology, and physics which they now exploit their credentials to harp on about. Funny that…

  9. November 27, 2007 10:34 am

    “What it does do is demonstrate that the prestigious institutions made a point of judging their grad students on the basis of the work that they produced, rather than using some kind of litmus test of belief.”

    Kim, that is a very good (and important) point.

    When the Creation Museum was looking for someone to pose as a geologist, they even had this in the ad:

    Items needed for possible employment
    * Resume
    * Salvation testimony
    * Creation belief statement
    * Confirmation of your agreement with the AiG Statement of Faith

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