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, October 28, 2019

Trick or tract

Halloween is this Thursday, so you know what that means: pumpkin decorations and skeletons and ghosts everywhere, candy of all kinds for sale in the stores, people excitedly coming up with creative costumes for parties and trick-or-treating, and the extremely religious telling people that indulging in any of the above will doom them for all eternity.

This time the harbinger of fire and brimstone is none other than Ken Ham, who runs Answers in Genesis and is most famous for "Ark Encounter," a museum (to use the term loosely) in Grant County, Kentucky that has as its mission convincing people that a book documenting the beliefs of a handful of Bronze-Age sheep herders is the best resource we have for understanding science.  According to Ham, here's the way it all went down:
  • The Earth is only about six thousand years old.  Any evidence to the contrary is either flat wrong or was put there by Satan to fuck with us.
  • In a matter of a few weeks, Noah built a boat capable of holding two of each of the nine-million-odd species on Earth, using only hand tools and materials he could find in the desert.   [Nota bene: The Ark Encounter itself, supposed to be a modernized replica of the Ark, took several years and a few million dollars to finish.  And that was using huge work crews equipped with power tools.]
  • The dinosaurs died because they missed getting aboard the Ark.  Oh, and before the Fall of Man, the dinosaurs were all peaceful herbivores.  T. rex, apparently, used his Big Nasty Pointy Teeth to munch on carrots.
  • It rained enough to cover the entire land surface area of the planet, and after forty days all the water just kind of went away, presumably down a big drain in the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean or something.
  • Afterwards, the kangaroos, dingoes, and wombats hopped, skulked, and waddled their way back to Australia unaided, conveniently leaving behind no traces of their thousand-mile journey.
But other than that, it makes complete sense.

Looks to me like there's an issue here with the lions.  Maybe they're gay lions, I dunno.  But even though I applaud them for coming out of the closet, it would still be problematic with respect to rebuilding the lion population, post-Flood.

So anyway, we're already on shaky ground, reality-wise, with Ken Ham weighing in on pretty much anything.  That didn't stop him from giving the devout some suggestions on how to deal with the upcoming Day of Evil.  "One way you can make the most of this once-a-year opportunity is by giving gospel tracts to children and/or their parents," Ham said.

Yeah, that'll make you popular in your neighborhood.

He also recommended buying (from his online store -- of course) some "million-dollar bills" printed with a picture of a T. rex on one side and a picture of the Ark on the other, with edifying messages such as:
  • Have you ever lied, stolen or used God’s name in vain?  If so, you’ve broken God’s law.  The penalty for your crimes against God is death and eternal hell because God is holy and just.
  • If you have engaged in lust, this is the same as committing adultery.  God sees you as guilty of sin.  The penalty of sin is death and eternity in hell.
  • We broke God's law, but Jesus paid our fine.  Proving He satisfied God's justice, He rose from the dead.  Now God as Judge can legally dismiss our case!
Now wait a moment.  "Legally?"  What does that even mean in this context?  Isn't the whole point of the Bible that God can pretty much do whatever he damn well pleases, and we humans just have to suck it up and deal?  Seems like if God wanted to forgive us, he would have just done it, and not gone through the whole nasty crucifixion business.  So that "Jesus paid our fine" thing has never made a scrap of sense to me.  It's kind of like if your brother pissed your dad off, and your dad spanked you.  Then he says to your brother, "You're forgiven now."  When you understandably object to all of this, your dad says, "Well, I had to spank someone, right?"

In any case, I wouldn't throw away your bags full of Snickers bars and replace them with gospel tracts.  For one thing, it seems like a good way to get your house egged.  Second, warning trick-or-treaters about the dangers of lust seems to me to be targeting the wrong audience, even if you think lustful thoughts are evil, which I don't because that would mean that 99% of humanity is destined for eternal hellfire.

So have fun with your costumes and scary decorations and whatnot.  Honestly, it seems a lot more sensible than all the stuff Ken Ham is trying to get you to believe.  And that's even if you account for the gay lion couple.


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is a really cool one: Andrew H. Knoll's Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth.

Knoll starts out with an objection to the fact that most books on prehistoric life focus on the big, flashy, charismatic megafauna popular in children's books -- dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurus, Allosaurus, and Quetzalcoatlus, and impressive mammals like Baluchitherium and Brontops.  As fascinating as those are, Knoll points out that this approach misses a huge part of evolutionary history -- so he set out to chronicle the parts that are often overlooked or relegated to a few quick sentences.  His entire book looks at the Pre-Cambrian Period, which encompasses 7/8 of Earth's history, and ends with the Cambrian Explosion, the event that generated nearly all the animal body plans we currently have, and which is still (very) incompletely understood.

Knoll's book is fun reading, requires no particular scientific background, and will be eye-opening for almost everyone who reads it.  So prepare yourself to dive into a time period that's gone largely ignored since such matters were considered -- the first three billion years.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

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