Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Ham salad

When I was young and foolish, I went through a period of messing around with Tarot cards.  They were cool-looking, and the book I got that explained their meanings was steeped with arcane and mystical terminology.  The whole thing seemed ancient and magical and terribly attractive.  The fact that I was still living at home, in a staunchly religious Roman Catholic family which disapproved of anything smacking of witchcraft, only gave it that much more of a frisson.

So yes, True Confessions time:  At one point in my life, I experimented with woo-woo-ism.  But don't worry, I didn't inhale.

What eventually pulled the plug on all of it was that when I talked about it with my friends, I started sounding ridiculous to myself.  I had to explain (when I was doing a Tarot reading for someone) that I was selecting a card to represent them based on their gender and appearance, and that this would establish a psychic connection between them and 78 pieces of glossy card stock with weird designs that I'd bought for ten bucks in a local bookstore.  And in the back of my mind was this constant mantra of, "How the fuck could that actually work?"  I was able to shout the voice down for a while, but sooner or later, I had to admit that Tarot cards were nothing more than a pretty fiction, and any accurate readings I did could be attributed to a combination of chance, my prior knowledge of the person being "read," and dart-thrower's bias.

The reason this all comes up is that the experience of having a sense that what you're saying is ridiculous is, apparently, not universal.  Some folks are able to spout utter bullshit and never flinch, never question it, never bat an eye at saying things that are so off the rails that you'd think it'd be immediately apparent.

Which brings us, as you might predict, to Ken Ham.

Those of us who expected Ken Ham to fade into well-deserved obscurity after basically having his ass handed to him in the debate with Bill Nye were fated to be disappointed.  He's still in full swing, still overseeing the building of the Ark Encounter Project, using a team of thousands of builders, architects, electricians, and plumbers in order to convince all of us that a 600-year-old man and his three sons did the same thing in a few weeks using only hand tools.

But of course, the evolutionary biologists aren't sitting still, either, and a lot of the creationists seem to sense that they're losing ground.  Recent polls have established conclusively that both church attendance and overall religiosity in the United States are on the decline.  As you might expect, this puts people like Ken Ham on the defensive, and when a couple of weeks ago there was a lot of publicity surrounding Darwin's birthday, he went on a word-salad rant.

He was interviewed on the radio show "Crosstalk," hosted by Jim Schneider, on VCY America radio ("VCY" stands for "Voice of Christian Youth.)  He had a lot to say, and he was not pulling any punches:
There is no such thing as separation of church and state.  The First Amendment doesn’t even have that first terminology in it, you know.  The Establishment Clause is about the state not establishing a church, but the state has established a church, it’s the Church of Evolution with Darwin as the high priest, if you like, and a lot of these teachers and professors as priests in this religion of evolution that they’re imposing through the schools.
Except for the following problem, of course.

But Ken never lets a little thing like evidence get in his way:
What we’ve got to understand is molecules-to-man evolution, that’s not observational science, that’s a belief, that’s a story that people made up to try to explain how life arose.  Christians have an account of origins in the Bible that God has given us.
Because that, apparently, is observational science.  Thus the extensive use of the bible in college chemistry and physics classes.

Ham continues:
The study of genetics, geology and biology confirms the Bible’s account of creation and the flood and the Tower of Babel, it does not confirm molecules-to-man evolution.  Molecules-to-man evolution is a fairy tale.
So let's see; you believe that after the kangaroos left the Ark, they hopped all the way back to Australia (presumably hitching a ride on the back of a friendly whale to cross the Gulf of Carpentaria), and you call evolutionary biology a fairy tale?

But he's not done yet:
There’s no evidence for evolution, so it’s not even a theory, it’s actually a belief, it’s someone’s belief, it’s a blind faith belief and there is no evidence for evolution. 
You don’t observe evolution.  When you look in the glass cases in museums, you don’t see evolution, you see fossils, you see creatures that live on the earth.  Evolution is pasted on the glass case, not in the glass case.  It’s man’s interpretation, man’s belief, man’s religion.
Which brings me back to an observation by Richard Dawkins, that you could get rid of every fossil ever discovered on the Earth, and the evidence for evolution would still be overwhelming.  So Ken Ham is half right; evolution isn't a theory any more.

It's a fact.

The truth is, evolution has been observed over and over again -- not just its results (genetic and morphological changes in populations), but the process of change itself.  (I wrote a post a while back on some observed examples of evolution, if you're curious about finding out more.)  But the problem is, none of that matters.  Ken has decided what he wants to be true, and after that, all he does is stick his fingers in his ears and go, "la la la la la la la, not listening."

But it does bring up the question of why it never seems to occur to him that what he's saying is nonsense.  He's articulate enough that I would imagine he has a decent IQ; so it's not that we're talking about someone who is simply incapable of understanding.  Yet he goes on and on, spouting complete bullshit, and that little switch never seems to flip -- the one that for most of us triggers the thought, "Wait a second.  That can't be right."

So I simply don't get it.  I can comprehend the desire a person might have for the universe to work a particular way.  I've been there.  In a minor way with my aforementioned dalliance with Tarot cards; in a much deeper and more devastating way when I was battling with myself over the truth of Christianity.  But in the end, I was forced where logic and evidence led me, whether I wanted to be or not.

For Ken, though, this never seems to happen.  However, I have to wonder if occasionally, in the wee hours, he wakes up and thinks, "Genesis says that night and day happened before the Sun was created.  How's that possible?"  But I guess he just takes a deep breath, remembers the White Queen's dictum of believing six impossible things before breakfast, rolls over, and goes back to sleep.


  1. I'm not sure it's as simple as people believing that they sound crazy. More like they think others are crazy for not wanting to believe in the same things. In the end you reach an impasse. But I'll say this, they certainly have more imagination than we do.

  2. Think of it like currency . . . both literally and allegorically. Think of the investment he has on said currency.

    He has both an emotional and physical investment in what he believes. It's what defines him, gives him purpose, and, coincidentally, provides him with a livelihood.

    Say he does "see the light", so to speak . . . he literally loses his identity and income.

    Not saying is callously propagating the illusion, but people rationalize things all the time. He needn't admit fears of obscurity and having to get a real job for him to forge forward.

    After all, you struggled with facing evidence with regards to Tarot cards, but your investment in them was small at the time. Imagine you have been doing Tarot readings your whole life and now you have doubts . . . it might not be as easy to divest yourself of the belief. You might even call on "evidence" they work (remembering hits and forgetting misses).

    I mean, what would Ham do if he were to convert to reason? Start preaching evolution? Preach rationality? Very small audience for that, and they expect, reasonably so, to not pay for the privilege of hearing what they already know. Again, not saying he doesn't believe or that he's lying. It's just easier lying to yourself when you have strong motives for doing so.