Ken Ham Mad at Miley Cyrus for Not Being As Stuck Up as He Is

Ken Ham, best known these days for losing a debate to Bill Nye the Science Guy, has always held some… colorful opinions. The best that I can say for him, really, is that at least his organization distanced itself from Kent Hovind (see Arguments to Avoid at Answers in Genesis, and Maintaining Creationist Integrity at talkorigins’s Hovind page).

But now he’s gone off in a rather unintentionally-entertaining manner against Miley Cyrus, who posed nude at Paper. In particular, Ham didn’t like this part of the article:

Although she was raised Christian, Cyrus maintains a particular contempt for fundamentalist lawmakers who rally against this sort of progressive, potentially life-saving change. “Those people [shouldn’t] get to make our laws,” she says. Those people — the ones who believe that, say, Noah’s Ark was a real seafaring vessel. “That’s fucking insane,” she says. “We’ve outgrown that fairy tale, like we’ve outgrown fucking Santa and the tooth fairy.”

except that the two instances of the word “fucking”, even when reduced to “f–king” by Fox News, were enough to give him the vapors, and he had to bowdlerize them still further.

He also has the sads because Cyrus doesn’t share his superstition (emphasis added):

The same expletive was used a number of times in the interview. As you read what she reportedly said, it becomes very obvious that it’s not just the biblical accounts of the Ark and Flood in Genesis she is dismissing, but she is rejecting our Ark of salvation—Jesus Christ.

Of course what she means is that she wants to make her own “laws”! And she uses her “laws” and beliefs to judge Christians as her aggressive judgmental attitude toward Christians is so apparent, though in reality it is really about her attitude toward God and His Word.

Um… of course. Don’t we all want our values to be represented in the law? And of course we use our beliefs to judge those around us. As for making her own laws, isn’t that what democracy is about?

The article goes on to state,

Sexually, Cyrus said she is “down with” anything. She views her sexuality and even her gender identity as fluid. “I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult—anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me,” she said. “I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.”

Question for her: Why not involve an animal? On what basis does she decide that?

I’ve highlighted the word “consenting”, because Ham seems to have missed it. Animals can’t give consent. Neither can children. In the latter case, it’s more complicated, but our society has come up with 18 years as a not-entirely-arbitrary dividing line between children who can’t give consent, and adults who can.

He goes on to quote a bunch of Bible passages because he’s a Christian fundie, and that’s what they do. But I think this post says a lot mor about Ham than it does about Cyrus. In particular, that he thinks of morality in terms of obedience and disobedience; that he can’t think of a reason why he wouldn’t, say, fuck a sheep if he thought he could get away with it.

It also sounds as though he’s been drinking his own Kool-Aid, and actually believes that

in her heart she knows God exists (Romans 1) […] she has a conscience (as seared as it is because of her sinful rebellion) because the law is written on our hearts (Romans 2).

Someone who’s been telling himself he’s right so hard and for so long that he’s now convinced himself that everyone knows he’s right, and anyone who disagrees with him is only doing it to be contrarian. And that’s sad.

Won’t stop me from laughing at him, though. Just, maybe, not quite as hard as I would otherwise.

Water Is Wet. Dog Bites Man. Answers in Genesis Maligns Atheists.

Terry Mortenson has a blah blah blog post, ironically posted under “Thoughts“, and favorably linked to by loser-to-science Ken Ham, that opens thusly:

Over the years the American Atheists have been having some serious problems with social behavior at their national convention. So they have developed a code of conduct for the 2014 conference. It is interesting to observe the things they tolerate (e.g., many kinds of sexual immorality) and the things they will not tolerate (e.g., lack of social etiquette). It should also be noted that Christian conventions do not need to post such a code of conduct because the attendees have been redeemed by the grace of God and gladly submit to His code of conduct in the Bible.

But in an atheist worldview, these atheists have no basis for this code. In their view there is no God and therefore no moral absolutes.

This is straight from atheist bingo, right next to the one about atheists eating babies. The idea that you need an invisible father figure to tell you whom not to stick your baby-making bits into has been around since before this selfsame invisible father figure created the world 6,000 years ago. But these days, it’s usually considered ever so slightly gauche to so blatant about it.

Can we put the immoral atheist, along with the lazy Mexican and the hook-nosed Jew, in some box marked “Bogus stereotypes: do not use”, and padlock the box and then encase it in cement and dump it in the ocean?

Apparently not.

Anyway, Mortenson continues:

In a related news item, the University of Virginia hosted a conference on February 10, 2014, involving top leaders of six secular colleges and universities to discuss the topic of sexual misconduct among college students. This is a vexing problem. Research shows that 20% of college women at secular schools have been sexually assaulted, but only 12% of the victims report the incident. But given the depravity of man and that these schools are dominated by evolutionary thinking that destroys any basis for moral absolutes, this behavior is not surprising.

My first thought was that while it’s appalling that 20% of women at these schools have been assaulted, and shameful that 88% of such assaults go unreported, Mortenson gives us no reason to think that Christian schools are any better. After all, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the ongoing Catholic pedophilia scandal is that if you got raped, it’s probably your fault for looking attractive and slutty and stuff, and that God hates people who rock the boat.

So if 20% of women at secular schools have been assaulted, what’s the figure for Christian schools, where demon evolution isn’t taught?

Let’s bear in mind also that in the past week or so, we’ve had the story of Bob Jones University shutting down an investigation about sexual assaults on campus, which certainly looks as though the investigators were about to uncover something that would make the school look very bad.

There was also the story of Patrick Henry College (“God’s Harvard”) blowing off allegations of sexual abuse.

And just for good measure, we’ve had the news of Archbishop Roger Mahony withholding information from police in an investigation into sexual abuse.

Mortenson can rail about evilution allowing child rape, but it doesn’t seem as though God’s law is much better.

If I have to choose between the tribe that says it’s not okay to rape women and also allows two men to have consensual anal sex in the privacy of their hotel room; or the tribe that pretends that rape doesn’t exist, and if it does exist, it’s the victim’s fault; then I know which one I’m going with.

The Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye Debate

I watched the debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham, director of Answers in Genesis, the outfit that runs the creation museum in Kentucky.

When I heard that Nye had agreed to the debate, I thought it was a bad idea, for all the usual reasons, and in particular that it would give creationism too much credibility: if you put Neil DeGrasse Tyson on stage with someone who thinks we can travel to mars by growing pixie wings, the latter has a lot more to gain than the former. Pixie-wing-guy gets to brag that he discussed issues with a prominent scientist, whereas Tyson has to admit that he wasn’t allowed to laugh pixiw-wing man out of the room.

And so it was last night. A man who basically believes that, as Robin Ince put it, “Magic Man done it!” got to share a stage with a man who has mountains of real-world evidence behind his assertions.

Having said that, it didn’t turn out as badly as I feared. Not so much because Nye did well, though for the most part he did. Rather, because Ken Ham did a pretty good job of explaining what young-earth creationism is: it has nothing to do with evidence (he said in the Q&A that there was nothing that could change his mind) and everything to do with believing a particular interpretation of the Bible.

It’s traditional to say that no one’s mind is ever changed by such debates, but that’s not always the case. I don’t know how many people were on the fence last night. But if any of them didn’t know what creationism was before, they do now. As stealth-creationist Casey Luskin puts it:

People will walk away from this debate thinking, “Ken Ham has the Bible, Bill Nye has scientific evidence.”

I haven’t done an extensive search, but the consensus seems to be that Nye won the evening. Yes, that’s what you’d expect from sites like Pharyngula or Friendly Atheist or Daily Kos, but Uncommon Descent, Evolution News & Views seem to agree as well. Charisma News doesn’t have any comments, gloating or otherwise. The Blaze’s comments seem about evenly split between “Ham won” and “Nye won”; given its readership, I would’ve expected it to tilt much farther toward Ham’s side.

I’m also surprised at how big a deal this was. I’ve seen plenty of these sorts of debates over the years, but typically they don’t interest anyone except the sorts of wonks who actually follow this stuff. But this one was streamed live on CNN, and covered in the Washington Post and on NPR. So it’s possible that a lot of people who haven’t thought much about creationism have now been introduced to it, and hopefully shown that it’s not science, not even close.

See also

Paul Taylor’s Fickle Exactness

Paul Taylor, who helps Eric Hovind run the family misinformation mill in the absence of his father Kent, accuses people who think Noah’s Ark was just a story of not having done our homework:

Question 1: How did they all fit on the boat and who put them in there? Don’t forget that there were two of each specie(sic) (male & female) 

[…] The questioner makes a more serious error, however, by not actually reading the Bible. If he had read the account in Genesis, then he would have realized that the biblical account does not even refer to “species.” Instead, it refers to kind. The Hebrew word for kind is mîn. For this reason, creation biologists have started to use their own technical term for this grouping of creatures—baramin. The Hebrew bara means “created,” so baramin is a created kind.

Got that, scoffers? Specific words have specific meanings, and unless you’re careful to use just the right word, you’re arguing against a straw man!

For example:

Question 4: Didn’t Noah have to wait for many years to get the snail on-board?

Noah did not take invertebrates onto the Ark, only animals with lungs (Genesis 7:15). Invertebrates can survive such conditions.

Spineless, lungless, eh, what’s the dif’?

Anatomical snail diagram
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Aside from the absence of a spine, note the presence of a rather large lung, which Taylor says doesn’t exist.

Of course, that’s just a diagram. That snail lung could be as fictitious as dragons and unicorns. How about a photo?

Snail lung. Photo by salyangoz, from here.

Yeah, but that’s ‘shopped. I can tell by the pixels. Pixels are scoffers. Well-known fact, that.

Flaming Telephone

(Note to people reading this in a future when they’ve grown up never using a telephone for voice communication with another human: we used to have a game where a message would be distorted by serial whispering, and we found this amusing.)

So apparently Thomas Nagel, who’s an honest-to-Cthulhu serious philosopher, published a book last year called Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False“.

Here’s what Brian Leiter and Michael Weisber wrote in their review in the Nation, on Oct. 3:

Nagel now enters the fray with a far-reaching broadside against Darwin and materialism worthy of the true-believing Plantinga (whom Nagel cites favorably). We suspect that philosophers—even philosophers sympathetic to some of Nagel’s concerns—will be disappointed by the actual quality of the argument.

Here’s how Steven Pinker linked to Leiter and Weisber’s review, on Oct. 16:

Here’s how the New Republic reported Pinker’s tweet on Mar. 8 (five months after Pinker tweeted):

[…] Steven Pinker took to Twitter and haughtily ruled that it was “the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.” Fuck him, he explained.

And here’s how Barry Arrington at Uncommon Descent links to the New Republic, today:

The New Republic reports that Pinker has taken to cyberspace to stir up the Darwinist mob against Nagel. Every whiff of heresy against the true faith must be ruthlessly stamped out. Torquemada had his Auto-da-fé. Pinker has his Twitter account.

With journamalism of this caliber, I wouldn’t be surprised if UD responded to this post by saying that I set babies on fire. After eating them.

But remember: it’s the atheists and Darwiniacs who are “shrill” and “strident”.

Who Needs an Ultimate Source of Authority?

Over at Creation Today, Paul Hovind (son of Kent “Dr. Dino” Hovind) and Eric Taylor have a video entitled What Is Your Ultimate Source of Authority?. The blurb says,

Paul and Eric welcome guest Jay Seegert of the Creation Education Center to discuss the importance of world-views, historical science versus observational science, and the importance of the authority of Scripture.

As much as I love each and every one of you, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video to critique its specific points for you, so what I say below may not have any bearing on their actual positions. If it helps, imagine I’m having a conversation with a fundie sockpuppet that bears only the most fleeting resemblance to any person or event, living or dead.

But presumably the point is that people are unreliable, observations are unreliable, historical records are unreliable, chains of reasoning are unreliable, and so you need some kind of pole star to guide you. And, of course, the only reliable guide is the word of God because we’ve made up our minds that God never lies; and that the Bible is the word of God because we’ve made up our minds that it is. QED.

But what if the Bible isn’t reliable? What if there aren’t any reliable pole stars by which we can unambiguously guide the truth or falseness of a proposition? Would that mean that we can’t know anything? Do we, in short, need an ultimate source of authority?

Actually, murder mysteries are an entire literary genre where stories often take place in a context where there are no 100% reliable witnesses. Any of the suspects might or might not be lying; any given clue may or may not have been planted; anyone might be concealing information or covering for someone or lying for some other reason. And yet, the detective usually manages to figure out whodunit.

The thing is that just because something isn’t 100% reliable doesn’t make it absolutely unreliable. The GPS unit in your car is only reliable to something like 7 feet (and it was worse back when they had Selective Availability turned on), so it may not be able to tell you whether you’re in the northbound or southbound lane, but it can tell you whether you’re in Washington or Baltimore. Weather forecasts are often wrong, but if you consistently bet even money on tomorrow’s forecast being wrong, you’re going to lose money.

You could, of course, ask how we can know that the weather report was wrong. For all we know, meteorologists are always right and it’s only our lying eyes that tell us it’s raining on a day that was supposed to be sunny. Except that when we see rain, we usually have multiple lines of evidence: we can hear the rain, feel it on our skin, hear from friends who also think it’s raining, etc. So you have a cluster of information sources (sight, hearing, touch, friends) that confirm each other, and one outlier (the weather report).

As we grow up and observe the world around us through our senses and other sources of information, we can figure out how reliable those sources are, and under which conditions. For instance, if it’s broad daylight and I don’t see a cat in front of me, it’s a safe bet that there’s no cat in front of me; if it’s dark, then the fact that I don’t see a cat is a far less reliable indicator of the absence of cat (sorry about your tail, kitty!).

In fact, we can look at the scientific method as an ongoing search to figure out which observations are reliable and which ones aren’t, one that has so far come up with hundreds or thousands of Ways of Being Wrong. All the business with lab coats and double-blind studies and such is secondary, in service of the primary goal of avoiding Ways of Being Wrong.

Everything I’ve said above also applies if one of our sources of information is 100% reliable. If, say, the Bible as interpreted by Eric Hovind were absolutely correct in all cases, we should be able to figure it out by comparing it to other sources of information that we’re pretty sure are pretty reliable, like scientific observation. But unfortunately for him, we have far too many cases where multiple independent lines of evidence (such as radiometric dating, dendochronology, and historical records) agree with each other, and disagree with the Bible. That’s not what we’d expect to see if the Bible is 100% reliable and scientific investigation is 95% reliable.

But my broader point is that we don’t need to assume that there are any 100%-reliable sources of information or authority, so Hovind’s and Taylor’s question is premature; first we need to establish that there is an ultimate source of knowledge. It’s also malformed: the word “your” implies (with the caveats noted above) that he uses the Bible, and if I don’t, then I’m wrong. But if the Bible is the reliable source of information that he thinks it is, then he should be able to demonstrate that it is. But the fact that Hovind isn’t taken seriously even by a majority of other Christians tells me that he still has a lot of work to do in that regard.

What’s Three Orders of Magnitude Among Friends?

(Alternate title: “Numbers Mean Things”.)

The increasingly-irrelevant Uncommon Descent blag had a post today, commenting on an article in Science News.

Right now, UD’s post is entitled “Timing of human use of fire pushed back by 300,000 years”, but when it showed up in my RSS reader, it was “Timing of human use of fire pushed back by 300 million years“. This mistake survives in the post’s URL:
http://www.uncommondescent.com/human-evolution/timing-of-human-use-of-fire-pushed-back-by-300-million-years/

From skimming the Science News article, it looks as though a new study found evidence of fire being used one million years ago, pushing back the earliest-known use of fire by 300,000 years. So presumably the previous record-holder was 700,000 years ago.

The author at Uncommon Descent reported the 300,000-year difference as “300 million years”. But hey, what’s a factor of 1000 between friends?

To illustrate, imagine a student in school in 2012, writing a report about, say, e-commerce. At first, she dates the origin of e-commerce to 1994, when Amazon.com was founded. But upon further investigation, she finds an example of a company selling stuff on the Internet in 1987 and revises her report to say that e-commerce is 25 years old, not 18. That’s about the magnitude of what the scientists found.

Now, along comes UD and reports this as “Origin of e-commerce pushed back to 22,000 BC.” That’s the size of their mistake.

It’s easy to make fun of primitive people whose counting system goes “one, two, three, many”. But the truth is, we all do this to some extent. Imagine a newspaper headline that says, “Federal budget increases by $600 billion, including $300 million increase in NASA funding.” Did you think, “holy cow! NASA got half of that extra money!”? If so, I’m talking to you: you’re not counting “one, two, three, many”, but you are counting “ten, hundred, thousand, illion”.

At any rate, I still question the numeracy of whoever wrote that UD headline. If you’re going to spell out “million” in letters, it should trigger a reality-check mechanism in your brain that makes you ask, “Wait a sec. 300 million years ago. That’s the age of dinosaurs or earlier.”