Monday, April 2, 2007

Creationist Forum - Theo's view

We have been on the mailing list for the Ottawa creationist group CORE for some years. Recently, having received an invitation to their "Scientific Creation Forum" we rounded up a few members of the Humanist Association of Ottawa and the Ottawa atheist meetup/bookclub and assembled us a "posse" (ok, maybe I have been watching too much Firefly).

The meeting was to be held at the headquarters of the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, and we speculated for a bit as to whether there was any connection between the paper and CORE, and if not, whether the room could be booked by the public, and might be a possible location for Ottawa Humanist meetings.

Our posse of 4 was among the first to arrive, but eventually there were about 20 people seated, and the meeting started, unfortunately minus the promised scientist (Organic Chem PhD). The MC, Jonathan Cucan, opened with a bible reading/prayer, then turned the floor over to George Desjardins. Dejardins spoke on the "reliability" of the bible: that it was directly handed to humans from God, that it was accurate, that modern archaeology was consistently confirming "facts" from the bible, that the bible's authenticity was confirmed by fulfillment of prophecy, etc. I had heard all this before (not to mention the fact that I had at one time been convinced that it was true), so I raised my hand and asked when we were going to get to the discussion of Scientific Creation, which was the advertised topic of the meeting.

So, on we went to Scientific Creation. Cucan gave an account of his first challenge to his faith by the theory of evolution ("it's not even a theory, it's just a hypothesis", he says with a sneer and a smarmy laugh). Apparently, when he was 10 he came home from school and told his father that he was very upset because his science teacher had told him that the earth was billions of years old, but he knew that the bible said that God had created the universe only a few thousand years ago. His father re-assured him that the teacher was wrong and the bible was the authority on the matter, at which point young Jonathan decided to devote the rest of his life to defending Young Earth Creationism (YEC).

Cucan's view, typical of many creationists, is that any threat or challenge to the theory of evolution (or even any threat or challenge to conventional science) is a point in favour of of young-earth creationism. His technique is to fire off a series of objections which appear logical and plausible to the audience, and demand an explanation. Of course, all of these claims could be easily debunked in 5-10 minutes, with the assistance of Our Friend Google and the talkorigins archive, but it only takes 20-30 seconds to assert the claim (and in Cucan's case, laugh derisively and move on to the next one before giving anyone in the audience a chance to get a word in edgewise).

In addition to those listed in Eamon's report, here are a few more:

  • Ocean Salinity: The oceans are not salty enough for a multibillion year old Earth
  • Bromine caused the Ozone Hole (not related to evolution, just a general attack on conventional science): According to Cucan, when scientists got to Antarctica, they were shocked to find that the ozone hole was caused by bromine. (I think he actually got this from "Reasons to Believe" , where it is cited as evidence that the earth's atmosphere is such a complex system that there must be a Supreme Being personally supervising all the chemical reactions.)
  • Human/Chimpanzee DNA comparison: The ~99% similarity of human and chimp DNA is often cited as evidence that the 2 species have a relatively recent common ancestor. Cucan was delighted to cite recent research that "revised" the conventional statistic to 95-96%. This, of course, casts doubt on the validity of the Theory of Evolution!? (The actual quote from the NIH: The DNA sequence that can be directly compared between the two genomes is almost 99 percent identical. When DNA insertions and deletions are taken into account, humans and chimps still share 96 percent of their sequence.)

One of his major thrusts was regarding the complexity of DNA, and how it is utterly impossible that the DNA required to assemble something as "basic" as a blade of grass could just come together "by chance". Interestingly, when I stated that grass was not a very good example of a "simple" organism, he responded with glee, saying that if even grass was not considered simple, how could we expect the DNA for anything "really complex" like humans to have arisen, "by chance". At that point, I tried to explain natural selection. Cucan evidently was not listening, but apparently some members of the audience were, and there was some good discussion with them afterwards - they asked about how "something as complex as the eye" could have evolved "by chance", and we were able to provide some insight as to how natural selection works for making eyes - no ID required here.

At the end, I had a one-on-one discussion with Cucan. He first said to me that evolutionists were losing the battle since so many atheists were becoming Christians, and then said that the secular education system was being threatened since so many Christian parents were pulling their kids out of public schools and colleges where evolution was being taught. He proceeded to explain that both evolution and creationism were "just theories", and ought to be taught side by side. I confirmed his previous statement that he rejected evolution in favour of YEC for religious reasons, and asked him why it should be taught in science class. He responded that evolution was also religious, so I asked him how that could be, given that many religious people accept evolution and conventional science. That appeared to give him pause to think - he eventually conceded that he believed that Christian evolutionists are wrong, but not in peril of their immortal souls!

We skipped the March meeting (but did pause to wonder what account Cucan might have given to the audience about the "challenges" he had presented, and whether he would have suggested that the anti-creationists were afraid to return). We're back to the battle for the April 20 meeting - if you are in the Ottawa area, come one out for the show.

1 comment:

AJ Milne said...

Sorry I didn't see this earlier... While I'm extremely constrained in terms of when I can get out (kids, you know... and sadly those Thursday eve book things are always impossible), I might actually have been able to make the April 20 thing.

Did you go? How'd it go?

The RASC, I might be able to attend, some, for what it's worth. Haven't done a star party in a long time; might be nice.