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December 21, 2003

Dinosaurs of Eden
Posted by Teresa at 12:05 PM *

Kids just naturally think that dinosaurs are cool. The Creationists have noticed this; and in defense of their belief that the universe was created c. 4004 BCE have responded with a slew of sophisticated and grossly mendacious books for children (including some pseudo-SF, feh!), which explains how all the trilobites and dinosaurs and Pleistocene megafauna lived alongside humans during biblical times, were present in the Garden of Eden, and had berths on Noah’s Ark.

Yeah, I know. It does funny things to my imagination, too, especially the scene where Adam is naming the animals. It’s like the guy in GalaxyQuest who’s sure he’s going to die because he doesn’t have a last name. The beasts of Eden gotta figure that if all they get tagged with is some jawbreaking piece of binomial nomenclature, they’re not going to be there for the season finale.

I should note that some other Creationists are still sticking to the old explanations about how all these extinct and fossilized species were killed off during the Flood. I still haven’t figured out how they reconcile this with God’s commandment that Noah take all the animals with him on the Ark. Maybe they blame it on the ticket agent. I imagine it went something like the shibboleth exclusion, only they were checking for double-barrelled Greco-Latinate names:
“Name?” “Naked mole-rat.”
“Clean or unclean?”
“Go ahead. Next?”
“Camel.” (Spits.) “Unclean.”
“Uh, check. Go ahead. Next?”
“Goat … I mean, goats. Clem! Get over here! We’re boarding!”
“Clean or unclean?”
“Go ahead. Make sure you use the second ramp, and give this card to the stewardess when you board. Next?”
Acadoparadoxides briareus.”
“Uh, right. Can I get you to stand in that waiting area over there?”
“Over by the Merycoidodon culbertsonii and the Archaeopteryx lithographica?”
“That’s the one. Just find a seat and wait for your name to be called.”
When they’re not explaining away the geological evidence of glaciations as the remains of gigantic submarine landslides, the Creationists also teach that there was one Ice Age, one glaciation, during their allowable span of historic time, and that it followed the Flood. Kids can read all about it in Life in the Great Ice Age, which follows a tribe of “Japhethites” as they spread into Europe during the Big Chill. To get a real sense of the lack of scientific integrity in this field, I recommend this review of Life in the Great Ice Age and Skeletons in Your Closet, put up by National Review’s Book Service:
What really happened during the Great Ice Age

After the Flood, Noah’s descendants had to learn how to survive in a strange and hostile environment. The climate was undergoing drastic changes. The world was very different than it had been before the Flood and very different than it is now.

In Life in the Great Ice Age, Michael and Beverly Oard first take your children on a trip to a valley in central Europe thousands of years ago. There they spend a summer with 11-year-old Jabeth and his family who are living with a small group of people near a great glacier. Kids thrill to a battle with a cave bear, go on a woolly mammoth hunt, survive a saber-toothed tiger attack, and keep busy during the short summer preparing for the long, cold winter.

But where did these people come from? Why was there a big sheet of ice? How much longer would it last and will it come again? The Oards answer those questions, in the second half of the book, using the Bible, archaeology, and science. Here is a sampling of what your children (and dare we say you?) will learn from the Oards:
  • Why and how people lived inside caves, and how these cave dwellers fit into the Bible. Were they backward, ignorant savages or intelligent and skilled?
  • How people spread out all over the world after the Flood. (“But wouldn’t it take millions of years to populate the whole earth?”)
  • How the Ice Age people cooked and stored food and made tools, weapons, clothes, and musical instruments
  • The why and how of cave art
  • Siberia—warmer during the Ice Age than today
  • How the woolly mammoths became extinct, why hippopotami could have lived so far north during the early Ice Age, and other mysteries to evolutionary scientists that can be explained by the Flood
  • 60 theories proposed by baffled secular scientists to explain the Ice Age. Are any right? How scientific evidence really supports one ice age not long ago.
  • Why did the earth cool after the Flood? Where did all the moisture for the snow come from?
The missing links—still missing Then what about the “creatures” identified by evolutionary scientists as missing links—brutish, unintelligent, evolving “ape men”? Who were they? What story do they really tell? Dr. Gary Parker and his wife, Mary, have special training and experience in the study of fossils. They know all the fascinating facts evolutionists hide, and they reveal them here in Skeletons in Your Closet. What will your children say when they discover that Nebraska Man was illustrated from the find of a single tooth! Or that Java Man was constructed from widely scattered bones? The Parkers fill their book with answers to questions asked by their children, the same questions your own children may be asking right now, such as
  • Why were the Neanderthals so hairy? Could the artist who drew the Neanderthal model have given him a different shaped face?
  • Neanderthal brains: smaller or larger than today’s average-sized human brain?
  • Why could Cain marry his sister without the fear of birth defects common today among marriages between close relatives? Does this teach the opposite of evolution?
  • Since we all came from just two people, how did humans get so many skin colors? (An important lesson in genetics for children.) In how many generations could all the different skin colors have appeared?
  • What about the famous Australopithecus called Lucy? Haven’t evolutionists finally found the missing link here?
  • Evidence from bones that dinosaurs lived thousands, not millions of years ago
  • The Bushmen in Australia—once believed to be missing links (a story with tragic consequences)
  • Mary Leakey’s great discovery—that helps disprove evolution. What her son recently found that lends even more evidence to creation
  • How zoos and museums distort the facts on purpose, just to teach evolution
  • Records of ancient peoples that show evidence of abilities in art, science, business, and technology
  • The Tasaday people, pretending to be “Stone Age” to fool National Geographic
  • How a camel skull can be drawn to look like a vicious meat eater
Popular cryptozoology has more rigor.

As usual, much science they’d once have denounced as false is now acceptable, since it can be incorporated in the construction of their latest version of what the Bible supposedly says. It’s funny. These guys are constantly reshuffling their arguments on behalf of literalist readings they claim are plain, clear, and eternal. Meanwhile, they’re constantly bashing science for not having complete and true answers, first time every time: a thing which science explicitly does not claim to do.

They’re not making a defense of religion. They’re defending their own pet proposition, that the Bible should be approached via unnaturally simplified reading conventions that are less subtle than they’d use to read a paperback romance, and less sophisticated than their own face-to-face speech. I have real trouble with that.

And where’s their faith in the unmediated reading experience? If the basic deal is that you should read the Bible for yourself, as literal truth, how come so many of these guys publish books explaining what it says, and what you should understand from reading it? How come they keep telling other people they’ve read it wrong? There is no such thing as a single literal reading of a complex text. Pretending there is just puts you in the middle of a covert game of “my reading can beat your reading.”

One thought consoles me about those YA psesudo-paleontology books. Kids have a remarkable abiity to pan gold nuggets out of the mud. What they truly love in their reading sticks with them. The rest falls away. If they go on reading about dinosaurs, they’ll learn more; and when they do, the people who wrote those awful books won’t be there to intercept and reinterpret the data for them. Lies have to be constructed. Truth accretes. I put my faith in the narrative integrity of the world.

Last bit, for dessert: A long, thoughtful, and diverse list of things creationists hate.

Comments on Dinosaurs of Eden:
#1 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 04:01 PM:

I can't tell from a cursory investigation of the site (I already have a headache, I don't feel up to a thorough investigation) - is the National Review Book Service affiliated with the National Review magazine? Just curious.

I'm also curious as to what makes the Parkers (or the review writer) think that

Records of ancient peoples that show evidence of abilities in art, science, business, and technology
demonstrate the errors of non-fundamentalist-sanctioned scientists or historians.

#2 ::: Edward Liu ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 04:19 PM:


For a good, child-friendly book to counter this claptrap, I suggest Jay Hosler's _The Sandwalk Adventures_ (info at It's got the audacity to counter creationist arguments using a metaphor that involves no less than Charles Darwin himself.

The premise is that a follicle mite named Mara who lives in Charles Darwin's eyebrow discovers that her host is not, in fact, God, whereupon she makes the dual mistakes of getting Darwin to explain evolution to her AND trying to spread this knowledge to her blissfully ignorant follicle mite friends. Hilarity ensues.

It's actually a pretty good primer on Darwin's theories, and counters a bunch of the awful science that's taught in elementary school. Fun for the whole Evil Secular Humanist Family!

-- Ed

#3 ::: Edward Liu ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 04:23 PM:

Howdy again,

Boy, that plot synopsis sounded a lot better in my head...

I also realize I forgot to flog Hosler's _Clan Apis_ (, which makes the life cycle of bees a lot more interesting than you'd think it would be.

-- Ed

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 04:25 PM:

Nice post.

Books like these can get away with being sloppy because they deliver exactly what buyers are looking for: Superficially convincing arguments. Validation through bullet points. Sunday school talking points. Ammunition for school board meetings.

I find solace in the frequency with which I see volumes like these turn up in the great grey bins of unsorted, unloved, mostly-likely-doomed books at the Goodwill Thrift Outlet.

#5 ::: Jack Womack ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 04:34 PM:

Popular cryptozoology can at least pose as a far more rigorous discipline, though it generally doesn't.

Can only refer (as I have done in the past) to one of my favorite books, "Biblical Dinosaurs," a sort of Burgess Shale variant creationist text -- it posits that the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel were, in fact, dinosaurs.

Those who doubt the existence of such an prime example of Unintelligent Design may go at once to and order:

Baker, Ronal J.
Biblical Dinosaurs
Klamath Falls, OR: Ronal J. Baker, 1988. Spiral binding/softcover. Very Good/No Jacket. Signed by Author. 4to - over 9e" - 12" tall. 324 pgs. + appendix. Bookseller Inventory #6998
Price: US$ 8.00 (Convert Currency)
Bookseller: Basin Book Trader, Klamath Falls, OR, U.S.A.

God bless us, everyone!

#6 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 04:41 PM:

I got as far as the hypothetical herbivorous rattlesnake in that list of things Creationists hate before I lost it.

#7 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 04:55 PM:

About the flood, and the ice age: I'd come to the conclusion some time ago (no concrete reason as to how or why) that the Flood was the ice age (that is, the last one, ~15K years ago), and that all the holy-book / mythological flood stories were all tellings and retellings and mistellings (and so on) of racial memory.

I haven't looked through the other things in TNH's post yet; this sort of thing gives me a headache right in the backs of eyes after a while.

#8 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 04:57 PM:
Can only refer (as I have done in the past) to one of my favorite books, "Biblical Dinosaurs," a sort of Burgess Shale variant creationist text -- it posits that the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel were, in fact, dinosaurs.

That certainly puts The Malacia Tapestry in a whole new light.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 05:11 PM:

I have seen this book Jack refers to. I got a buzz off it. People talk about "audacious theories", but how often do you get to see the real thing?

#10 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 06:14 PM:

"Ten Lost Tribes of Israel were, in fact, dinosaurs."

My goodness. Perhaps we should be taking the "Land Before Time" series a lot more seriously.

#11 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 06:17 PM:

It might actually make a pretty good Biblical animated cartoon series. Small-dinosaur David using his slingshot against T-Rex Goliath, Saul's adventures with the Witch of Endor, or the story of Chanukah. I can kind of visualize Paul Dini producing it, with the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammil for saur-Judah Maccabee and Antiochus.

Does Baker explain how the Judah-bipeds replaced the Israelite-saurs? (A branch in the family through secret wives of Solomon? Or maybe Rehoboam-saur is cursed by a wood Dryad, for his children to be bipeds forever after.)

#12 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 06:26 PM:

Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study broght me to a crashing halt -- after 20+ years of stupid corporate proposals all I can do now is sit and wonder what the Power Point was like . . .

#13 ::: Teep ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 06:39 PM:

I have to put in a second vote for Hosler's _Clan Apis_, a graphic novel (Man, is there any way to make that sound less pretentious? It's a comic book, really.) about bees. Worth your dollars, and a fun read besides.

I haven't picked up the Darwin one yet, but it's on the 'eventually' list -- world enough and time problem, there. Iirc, I found out about these because the tart ( pimped both as very nicely done educational graphic novels (there's that phrase again) once upon a time.

#14 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 06:47 PM:

A Christmas Carol

Away in their "stranger than fiction" mind set
The Answers in Genesis crew felt regret;
The list of their arguments held to be true
Was shorter by far than the list to eschew.

Computers at NASA that found a long day
Were found to be fiction, but Grigg's quick to say
That Joshua did battle while God slowed earth's spin --
No effort's too great when you're slaughtering sin.

What Einstein and Darwin believed in the end
Turned out to be lies they could not recommend
To all the dear children trained by Ham's machine
Who find disillusionment by age fifteen.

#15 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 06:49 PM:

"Tyrannosaurus Rex. You smell nummy."
"Clean or Uncl..AAAAAGHHHH!"
(Chomping noises.)

Besides, all you need is Nellie the Apatosaur to lean against the starbord side, and the whole Ark flips.

#16 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 07:33 PM:

Oh, my. Perfect Christmas gifts for the little tykes in Beulah City.

#17 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 07:52 PM:

The National Review Book Service, btw, is Whois-registered to Eagle Publishing, Regnery Publishing's parent company.

#18 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 07:54 PM:

A fundamentalist neighbor kid gave me a book of this ilk as a birthday present when I was about six. Among other things, it explained at great length that the big empty spaces in crested hadrosaur skulls were combustion chambers for a hydrogen peroxide / hydroquinone reaction (along the lines of the one used by the bombardier beetle), thus giving rise to the popular legend of the fire-breathing dragon. Some nice pictures, but none of Saint George and the Parasaurolophus, unfortunately.

#19 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 08:06 PM:

When I took world history in college, the teacher explained that the neolithic period meant "modern stone age." That's when it all fell into place. The Flintstones were neolithic! They co-existed with dinosaurs, before the flood, just like the creationists said. Then they were wiped out for their hubris, for having fancy consumer goods, like mike-rock-wave ovens and cordless phones, and for commercializing Christmas before it even happened!

That's when I started to worry, because the period we are living in looks just almost exactly like theirs, except for some insignificant surface details.

(Naming the dinosaurs reminds me of what may have been the only memorable joke I saw in Larry Welz's underground comic "Cherry Poptart." In a story called "Cave of the Bear Clan," the Cherry character -- hairstyle like Pebbles Flintstone, of course -- is engaging in a popular form of non-procreative sex. Watching nearby, a bearded primitive caveman is inspired, and says, "I -- I think I'll call it [and here he uses one of the few four-syllable words that 99% of the readers would know]!" Okay, I guess it wasn't all that funny, but in its context, it was real Algonquin Round Table material.)

#20 ::: Kass Fireborn ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 08:10 PM:

My favorite 'What are you on?' moment for extreme Christianity (no relation to extreme sports) came courtesy of OBJECTIVE: 4 Kidz, and stated with authority that T-Rexes were herbivores. I suppose it wasn't entirely the assertation, as I'm willing to at least listen to theories even when they make me spontaniously create odd faces, as the way they immediately followed the fact up with, "The Ark's passengers were safe from harm!" (And then there's considering this in the context of the rest of the page.)

Some friends and I once spent a long while debating whether or not that site was real or a parody. We eventually gave up the discussion sometime around the thousandth time we moused over the kanga-jew's ears to make them wiggle. Put beside a disembodied spinning lamb's head, what is authenticity, really?

#21 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 08:14 PM:

Interestingly, and only tangentially apropos to the topic, there is some thought now that T Rex was primarily a carrion feeder, not a predator.

T Rex, hyena of the Jurassic.

#22 ::: ben ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 08:23 PM:

Heh. I did the literalist-Creationist-bashing on my own site back over the summer - check the comments, and beware f-bombs (the topic originally addressed was upsetting on a personal level).

Pardon the horn-tootin', I've been waiting for a good time to disseminate that entry to a broader audience...

It trips me out. The literalists say they have all the answers, when according to the Bible in which they purportedly believe it's made repeatedly clear that faith is about learning to accept that one doesn't have all the answers. Bueller?

I suppose it's gauche to edit the editor, 'specially after so much time has passed, but the subjective clause "I recommend" is inadvertently repeated in the sixth graf of the post.

I make that sort of mistake on about every third or fourth post.

#23 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 08:48 PM:

Laura J -

That's almost all due to one Jack Horner, a serious and accomplished paleontologist who finds the "controversy" a useful source of publicity (adn thus funding).

It's very hard to find a non-volant terrestrial vertebrate specialized as a scavenger, though all predators will scavenge given the opportunity. (consider what was discovered about hyaena hunting habits after infrared cameras got cheap).

The consensus about tyranosaurids is certainly 'predator'; there are no other large predators known from that ecosystem, and the herbivores all got larger, presumably in response to having a larger tyranosaurid to deal with as the local apex predator.

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 11:44 PM:

Fixed, and thank you. It was a cut-and-paste error left over from Patrick making a good suggestion for a change in that sentence. I'm not sure whether that qualifies as correcting two editors at once. It happens. If editors didn't miss errors, what would copyeditors and proofreaders do for a living?

#25 ::: ben ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 12:46 AM:

...Literary criticism.

#26 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 12:50 AM:

So, let me get this straight: The Flintstones was true?!

#27 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 12:57 AM:

Yup. And the Great Gazoo died for your sins.

#28 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 01:14 AM:

Graydon, thanks for setting me straight on the current state of scientific consensus. I'd read about the proposal of T Rex as scavenger but didn't know its context.


#29 ::: PZ Myers ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 08:13 AM:

You never saw Mo Rocca's interview of Carl Baugh? Go to this page on the Daily Show site and view the RealPlayer episoded titled "Creation Scientist".

"Land of the Lost" and "The Flintstones" get praised for their scientific accuracy. Except that T-Rex was a vegetarian and really wouldn't have eaten any Martians.

#30 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 10:02 AM:

Laura J -

You're welcome. I have a certain amount of Pavlovian conditioning about that theory due to one of the mailing lists I hang out on getting it pretty regularly, to the despair of a number of the theropod workers there, so I hope I wasn't overly abrupt.

#31 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 10:05 AM:

Among other things, it explained at great length that the big empty spaces in crested hadrosaur skulls were combustion chambers for a hydrogen peroxide / hydroquinone reaction (along the lines of the one used by the bombardier beetle), thus giving rise to the popular legend of the fire-breathing dragon.

That's swiped from Peter Dickinson's The Flight of Dragons. And I've just discovered that there is a Rankin-Bass adaptation of that book which also, apparently, incorporates Gordon Dickson's The Dragon and the George. After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

Anyway. One question about the Noachide flood for which I'm sure They now have a stock answer, but which still should appeal to anyone who has anything even remotely approaching an open mind: If the Flood killed all of the dinosaurs, what killed all of the hundreds of thousands of known aquatic species, like trilobites and fish?

#32 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 10:28 AM:

If I remember what I read in the Book right, it says the sun was created on the third day. How is this possible? How could there have been such a thing as a day before there was such a thing as the sun?

(unless you redefine the word "day" to mean anything you want it to mean, in which case scripture can be read to be consistent with everything else)

Am I the only person ever to have said something like this? Or has this idea come up elsewhere?

#33 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 11:46 AM:

Kevin J. Maroney: If the Flood killed all of the dinosaurs, what killed all of the hundreds of thousands of known aquatic species, like trilobites and fish?

With that much rain, there was a heckuva lot of of runoff; and it changed the pH balance of the ocean. The many fishies' electrolyte balances were too sensitive to take it.

#34 ::: Lee Hauser ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 11:56 AM:

All this about dinos on or off the ark, and nobody wants to talk about unicorns?

I've been reading Marcus Borg's "Reading the Bible Again For The First Time: Taking The Bible Seriously But Not Literally." He makes the distinction between "natural" and "conscious" literalism in interpreting the Bible. A natural literalist believes the Bible is literally true, taking the truth of the Bible for granted. Conscious literalists take nothing for granted; they insist on the literal interpretation of the Bible in the face of all contrary evidence -- as he writes, "it requires 'faith,' understood as believing things hard to believe."

(No, Erik, you're not the first to think about the order of creation. Borg talks about the creation story,.essentially saying the whole Bible, rather than being God's direct revelation to humanity, is humanity's response to the experience of God, and no one ever intended Genesis to be a scientific account of creation.)

Most modern literalists are conscious literalists -- they have to work at their belief, much as Darwinian literalists have to work at their belief in natural selection. Both sides require "faith" (as defined above) to sustain their beliefs. I think the only natural Bible literalists left in the Western world are children and people raised in sheltered circumstances. As a born-again Christian who finds literalism repugnant, I sometimes just want to give these people a good shake and say "God gave you BRAINS, you idiot! Open up and USE them!"

Merry Christmas.


#35 ::: Jack Womack ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 12:21 PM:

Ah, Lee, happy to help out. Presented for your reading pleasure: "Historical Evidence for Unicorns." (Teresa, I think I have shown you this one as well.)

For those who may doubt, here we go -- as currently available from our friends at

Radka, Larry Brian
Historical Evidence for Unicorns
Newport, DE, USA: Einhorn Press, 1995. Soft Cover. Very Good. Used. Signed by Author. 152 pages, B/W Photos & Illustrations. Clean, tight & bright, authors inscription on reverse of front cover. Contents include: Ancient Evidence-Sumerian, Egyptian, and Babylonian Unicorns; Godly Evidence-The Assyrians and the Unicorn Hunt; Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Indian Unicorns; Medieval and more recent confirmations of Unicorns; The Unicorns that still Exist Today; The Hebrews; The True Biblical Unicorns. ISBN:0930401816 Bookseller Inventory #004792
Price: US$ 45.00 (Convert Currency)
Bookseller: Timeless Books, Sedona, AZ, U.S.A.

The author as you see employs pagan belief in support of Biblical theory, but hey, whatever works.

I'll further note that the price requested is as ridiculous as the book itself(I found my copy in the dollar bin at the Strand).

#36 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 12:26 PM:

Erik, I think I remember the sun/day thing coming up in Inherit the Wind. I don92t know if it came up in the actual Scopes trial.

#37 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 06:06 PM:

Another note along this line via Boing Boing:

This fall, the Park Service also approved a creationist text, 'Grand Canyon: A Different View' for sale in park bookstores and museums. The book by Tom Vail, claims that the Grand Canyon is really only a few thousand years old, developing on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale. At the same time, Park Service leadership has blocked publication of guidance for park rangers and other interpretative staff that labeled creationism as lacking any scientific basis."

#38 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 07:16 PM:

Lee -

I may regret this, but just what do you regard as a "Darwinian literalist"?

#39 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 07:59 PM:

The only sensible meaning I can think of for 93Darwinian literalist94 is those folks who claim to believe in the science without really understanding it. The ones who cite evolutionary biology to back up their political or other beliefs. For example, the Social Darwinists. Or the people who believe that whatever set of sex roles they grew up with are the One True Set Of Sex Roles, and that anyone behaving differently is acting at odds with the forces of evolution.

#40 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 07:59 PM:

Kevin J. Maroney writes: "If the Flood killed all of the dinosaurs, what killed all of the hundreds of thousands of known aquatic species, like trilobites and fish?"

The real question is, why weren't all the fish (and presumably other aquatic species) also killed by the pH change caused by salt and fresh water mixing.

Coral is another puzzler.

#41 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 01:15 AM:

There really is no use pointing to all the scientific holes in the young earth view. It isn't an argument about science, even though the pseudo-science that the creationists publish is designed to appear that way.
Every time a creationist manages to get an issue debated in a serious scientific discussion, he (or less likely she) wins a point in the eyes of those who don't understand the issue. I'm not sure whose comment it was, but the idea of equal school time for all the different religions' creation viewpoints has a lot going for it. Such a scheme would make it easier for young students to see the frailty of literalist creation position.

#42 ::: Lee Hauser ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 11:39 AM:

Graydon, I have to agree with Avram's definition of a Darwinian literalist. Perhaps a better term on my part might have been "Darwinian fundamentalist" -- someone who believes in Darwinian evolution to the exclusion of other belief systems. To me, there are as many holes in evolutionary theory as there are in creationist theory. My 13-year-old son likes to quote someone (one of the great astronomers, I think) who said the chances of life starting out of some primodial soup are about as great as a tornado ripping through a junkyard and producing a working 747.

In the end, all I'm trying to say is that those who see things in black and white are rarely correct. My faith leads me to believe in an intelligent creator who is still at work in the world, and my eyes lead me to also believe that in some form evolution works and the earth has been here for billions of years, not just a few thousand. And if God does exist, and if he or she is powerful enough to create a universe, humans make a grave mistake in setting limits on what God can do.

#43 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 12:57 PM:

"Darwinian Literalist" might be an apt description of some hardcore believers in the Geek Rapture, aka, the Singularity.

#44 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 01:13 PM:

Lee --

While it is undoubtedly the case that, inside someone's head, there is no way to tell the difference between fact and belief, this is not the case outside people's heads.

So while inside their heads, there are certainly some people who might be called "Darwinian Fundamentalists", that isn't a proper description of everyone who uses (nor most of the people who use) the toolkit evolutionary biology provides to explain the diversity of life.

For one thing, it's explicitly a part of the toolkit that you don't have to believe it; it should work, and does work, in the complete absence of belief.

Rather like how there are Young Earth Creationists making a living as oil exploration geologists; geology as a science operates independently of their belief. And since natural selection also works in computers and in vats of DNA that are being used to solve problems rather than code for living proteins, we can be pretty comfortable that it's not a case of crypto-geological belief in the first example.

For another thing, there has been a very determined effort ever since The Origin of Species was published to find something in the observed diversity of life which natural selection is inadequate to explain. Some of this effort has been made by people who actively loathe natural selection as an explanation, who certainly do not believe it, or who believe it to be necessarily false. Yet, as a toolkit, as a mechanism of explanatory power, natural selection continues to work when those people who despise, detest, and distrust it use it, too.

So far, the effort to find something natural selection is inadequate to explain has not succeeded.

Which is all the answer one can get, in a universe which comes with error bars; "not yet".

The 747 objection either misunderstands or mis-represents (probably mis-represents in the case of the 747; the objection had a lot more plausibility in the early 1800s when it was a watch in a field and an argument for intelligent design) what is actually claimed for the explanatory power of natural selection.

Dawkins' Climbing Mount Improbable has a good chapter on that objection, if either you or your son is interested.

#45 ::: Lee Hauser ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 04:54 PM:

Graydon, I'm not disputing the reality of natural selection. Creationist oil geologists don't dispute the reality of oil, only its origins. Nor do I dispute the reality, and success, of natural selection as a medium of evolution, only the basis and origin of Nature. (And yes, I do believe some dinosaur, millions of years ago, gave his or her all so I can tootle about in my Taurus).

One of these days I'll read some Dawkins. Thanks for the reference.

It's not my intenet to turn this into a debate over theism versus pure randomness, which I think is beyond the original point of the posting...


#46 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 05:24 PM:

The holes in Creationist theory are bigger than the threads holding them together. The holes in evolutionary theory are so much smaller that I'm uncomfortable using the same word for both.

Any attempt to understand creation requires imagining limits on what God might do, since in discerning what He has done, we dismiss all the possible things we've learned He didn't do. A friend once told me how, as a child, she'd asked her fundie parents whether God could make a four-sided triangle. They'd automatically replied that God can do anything, and maintained that position through several rounds of questioning. It was a major blow to her faith.

I knew immediately what I would have told her if I'd been in her parents' situation: That while God could do anything, when he made this universe he decided against having four-sided triangles in it.


I'm been thinking about this some more.

People are of course free to believe in any and all varieties of literalism, if that's their pleasure; but those who do should give up this campaign to force rational secular thought to give them its blessing.

Personally, I believe that if God wanted us to have a User's Manual that's both true on a word-by-word basis, and explains everything -- the creation of the universe, the geological formation of our planet, the origins of biological life, the advent of *us*, the existence of sin, death, and evil, the diversity of human languages, the origins and many exciting adventures of His earliest worshippers, not to mention which of them begat which others and how long they lived, plus the history of a series of covenants between God and His Chosen People, and all the rules and commandments He told them to follow -- the whole shebang, moral and natural philosophy with history thrown in -- He'd have given us a document with a higher wordcount, and dawdled less over the specifications for candlesticks.

If you take Genesis and Exodus together, their total wordcount is only a bit over sixty thousand words. That's the length of a short paperback novel -- say, 176 or 188 pages. (The next three books of the Pentateuch, Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy, make a slightly longer paperback novel, 224 or 240 pages.) A hypothetical text the length of Genesis-plus-Exodus that does everything the Creationists say would be a miracle big enough to make the dry-shod crossing of the Red Sea look trivial.

Genesis and Exodus are a series of stories, interspersed with genealogical chronologies and chunks of moral instruction. If every bit of incidental natural science mentioned or implied there were perfectly accurate, bookstores would still not shelve that 188-page Genesis-and-Exodus paperback in the science section, because that's not the kind of book it is. That's not what it's about. Its focus is on the stories and commandments and what they mean, not the bits of incidental worldbuilding detail you get along the way.

What the literalists are demanding is that those incidental worldbuilding details carry the impossible expository burden of encapsulating a universally comprehensible and straightforward system of natural science. I'm not saying they think the document is intended to teach science; I'm saying they expect that the text will always be responsive to scientific questions.

On top of that, they want the text to be responsive in such a way as to make sense to all people in every age of the world. If I hadn't balked earlier, I'd balk here. Language doesn't do that. Natural language won't hold up under that many stresses coming at it from that many directions. A literally accurate account of creation that was comprehensible and satisfactory to one age must needs be inadequate or inscrutable to another. And yet, the text doesn't change. We'd have to either conclude that the account of creation was devised for the people of one era but not for others, or that it wasn't intended to be read in such a fashion. I prefer the latter, since the former has catastrophic implications for the relationship of God to man, and makes the Bible unapproachable by any but gnostics.

If you want a clear example of this problem, see Joshua 10:12-13, where it says the sun and moon stood still while the Israelites were whaling on the Amorites. It's obvious from the rest of the story that the intended meaning is that time slowed down or stopped: the sun ceased to move in the sky. Pick one:

(a.) Copernicus and all the astronomers since him have been wrong, and the sun really does rotate around the earth.

(b.) The sun used to rotate around the earth, but at some point God hit the "switch modes" button on His cosmic orrery, and after that the earth rotated around the sun.

(c.) Thousands of years' worth of listeners and readers would have been deeply and pointlessly confused by a stipulation that on this occasion the earth, moon, and sun ceased to move in relation to each other; and anyway, celestial mechanics weren't the point of the story.

The first two readings are absurd. The third is obvious and commonsensical. Trouble is, the third reading isn't strictly literal, and the latitude of interpretation it implies is beyond what literalists and creationists are willing to accept in the interpretation of other episodes. And then there's the even less literal fourth reading:

(d.) As in (c.) above, plus: The point is that it was one of those moments when God is with you, time seems to stand still, and you can accomplish feats you have trouble believing when you recollect them afterward.

The fourth is what makes it a story worth telling and remembering. Without it, the incident is trivial, fodder for some scriptural equivalent of Ripley's Believe It or Not.

I don't like reading conventions that coax dumb, irrelevant meanings out of complex texts. I also dislike interpretive systems that pretend to rigor and simplicity, but only work when applied selectively.

And anyway, what's the point? Suppose that every word and implication about natural law in the book of Genesis were proved to be literally true. How would that matter? It still wouldn't be the point of the story; and what the story means about us and our relationship with God would still be a matter of faith.

#47 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 06:20 PM:

Footnote on a minor point in Teresa's last comment,
in the spirit of William F. Temple ....

>>Any attempt to understand creation requires
>>imagining limits on what God might do, since in
>>discerning what He has done, we dismiss all the
>>possible things we've learned He didn't do. A
>>friend once told me how, as a child, she'd asked
>>her fundie parents whether God could make a
>>four-sided triangle. They'd automatically replied
>>that God can do anything, and maintained that
>>position through several rounds of questioning.
>>It was a major blow to her faith.

>I knew immediately what I would have told her if
>I'd been in her parents' situation: That while God
>could do anything, when he made this universe he
>decided against having four-sided triangles in it.

I would have tried explain that the triangle shape is a physical thing, but that people made up the word "triangle" to describe it.

So asking whether God could make a four-sided triangle might be asking whether he could just turn a three-sided thing into a four-sided thing ((yes)), or it might be asking whether God could suddenly intervene and change all the human dictionaries to give the word "triangle" a new meaning. ((_Science-fiction writing people_ have certainly dreamed up stories like that about things or words changing without us noticing; but those are stories written by people. God hasn't done that yet, that we've noticed. ))

The "stone so heavy he can't lift it" conundrum may open up other logical and physical issues. This is a thought I posted to rasff, a couple of years ago, on the stone lifting paradox.

#48 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 06:22 PM:

It's not my intenet to turn this into a debate over theism versus pure randomness [...]

It92s just as well that you92re not, Lee, since 93pure randomness94 is not, and never has been, the Darwinian model.

#49 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 06:27 PM:

Lenny, that same matter came up more than a year later, when I posted my solution.

#50 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 09:57 AM:

My devout Mormon physicist father gave me a seriously condensed version of Teresa's comment above the first time I ran into a literalist Sunday School teacher (when I was 9 or so, I think). He said "The Bible is about why the world is full of glory. It's not meant to be a history or geology textbook. It's best to use the Bible for what it's for." Worked when I was 9; works pretty well still.

#51 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 10:49 AM:

On top of that, they want the text to be responsive in such a way as to make sense to all people in every age of the world.

I suppose this is true in a literalist sense; but I think it's more accurate to say that they want all people in every age of the world to have thought (or be thinking) like them -- the notion that there are differences and that's ok clearly terrifies some literalists -- if only because that could mean it would be reasonable for the world around them to change.

You're very sympathetic in explaining Joshua; as one who doesn't hold with any theisms, I read this as literalist [but] propaganda. Which is an interesting reflection on the above; people still say what they will to cast themselves as the favored of the universe, but the parameters of what will be believed have been somewhat tightened. (Yesterday, the sun stopping; today, vague apparitions?)

I like to tell myself I've outgrown atheism's common arrogance of believing all other vision is clouded. (Although when asked I usually call myself an agnostic, or a militant agnostic if I've just been confronted with another reactionary !@#$%^&&*!.) Certainly theism is a pervasive meme, accepted by people far more acute than I ever was. It just doesn't make sense to me....

#52 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 01:41 PM:

"Four-sided triangle" -- a more subtle question than it seems. The question is not what limits there are to God in the physical universe (i.e. the laws of physics) but whether triangles exist as Platonic Ideals, as opposed to constructed items in the solid world, or arbitrary conventions about marks written on paper. Mathematicians don't agree on this, you know. Science may have a default metaphysics (Logical Positivism or its updates), but Math is split on the essential nature ofn its discourse.

C.S. Lewis wrote about this, speaking of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" to be shot in New Zealand.

Lewis was addressing the question of whether God could cause an immortal angel not to have existed, and otherwise change the past. We discussed changing the past in another thread.

An anguished mother had written Lewis, saying that her son had been in a battle on the front lines in WW I. By now, she said, he was either alive or dead. But was it okay for her to pray that her son, even if dead, had not have died?

I'm oversimplifying the point of a fascinating essay, but Lewis suggested that it's okay to pray for anything, but that God doesn't so much set limits on his own omnipotence, but makes an aesthetic choice to only do what is good and beautiful.

That leads to a question about whether there is an essential Good that God chooses to do, or only that Good is what God does. I've been reading Medieval Jewish Theology on this sort of question. There are the Jewish Philosphers most influenced by pro-science Islamic philosophers, the ones influenced by anti-science Islamic philosophers, the ones influenced by Aristotle, and various combinations.

This all leads to Baruch Spinoza, who was the Jewish (or technically ex-Jewish) philosopher who most influenced Albert Einstein's theology.

And let's not go into what Newton believed, because that's what Neal Stephenson got a $1,000,000 advance for 3 volumes to play with. Whcih my books would do too if they promoted me because they gave me a megabuck, whoops, wrong thread.

Original question rephrased: did God have any choice as the the value of "pi" or "e"?

#53 ::: Lee Hauser ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 03:26 PM:

If one believes in God as the creator, then he certainly had a choice as to the values of "pi" and "e". The thing is, if God gave those constants different values than the ones we use, how would we know? And if we knew, would we (as engineers, as opposed to philosophers) care?

#54 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 05:45 PM:

Lee Hauser:

My 14-year-old college sophmore son is way past me mentally. He recently asked me if the universe could have a different mass than it does, I said of course. This led to a discussion of Physics as a constraint on God (for those who believe), which he found fairly silly. Then I asked him "did God have any choice as the the value of 'pi' or 'e'"?

He smiled broadly. "GOOD question!" Then he was silent for a long time.

"Well," he said, "if pi is the ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle, the God could make it different, by curving space. But I don't think he had any choice on 'e'."

"Hah!" saith I. "But e to the power of (pi times i) = -1. So if he had no choice on e, he had no choice on pi."

This led to a long comparison of the various metaphysics of Mathematics (Idealism, Formalism, Contructivism, etc.). Now I know less than I did before, as we got ourselves slightly confused.

The wonderful novella "Luminous" by Greg Egan hinges on the possibility that more than one possible arithmetic can be embedded in this universe, which would give slightly different answers to some calculations, and maybe the stcok market. There is a boundary in space between our math and the other math. We mess with it. The boundary starts moving toweards us...

#55 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 10:30 PM:

All your links to the pseudo-SF reminded me of a time when I was small, still highly religious, and anxious to reconcile the missing link with a creationist viewpoint. So I came up with a story about how some renegade humans used human DNA combined with monkey DNA to make a race of drones to do their work (and create things like Stonehenge and the Pyramids and Atlantis).

Of course, it didn't help that a certain religious literary work reads like science fiction anyway. But well do I remember the whacky ideas I used to come up with just to explain away certain inconsistencies.

#56 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 05:04 PM:

Even curved spacetime is asymptotically flat; i.e., if you look on a small enough scale the differences between curved and flat spacetime become negligible.

So in this hypothetical curved spacetime where ? != 3.1415926535..., there still would "exist" the number that is the limit (as radius goes to zero) of the ratio of the area of a circle to the square of its radius; and that number has to be equal to the one we compute as ?.

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