Science and the Sacred

Science and the Sacred


Tiny Tails Wagging Gigantic Dogs

posted by kgiberson

st_george_dragon.jpg

Every Monday, “Science and the Sacred” features an essay from
one of The BioLogos Foundation’s co-presidents: Karl Giberson and
Darrel Falk. Today’s entry was written by Karl Giberson.

In my last blog post I addressed some questions of logic that had been raised on a popular anti-evolutionary blog, and how scientific arguments are often caricatured to make them appear to be committing logical fallacies.

In this post, I examine another example of the misuse of logic and evidence by the opponents of evolution. I want to suggest that anti-evolutionists don’t actually use evidence as evidence. Rather they use evidence as rhetoric–a debating tool designed to score points in arguments. Evidence is not, by these defocused lights, a pointer toward truth. Rather evidence is a distraction, undermining truth.

There are several examples we could look at but I think one of the best relates to the dinosaurs. I was reminded of this recently when I had dinner with an enthusiastic young earth creationist and witnessed firsthand how comfortably he wielded the arguments against the well-established scientific consensus that dinosaurs went extinct millions of years before humans first appeared.

There are four arguments that creationists use against the scientific picture of dinosaurs, all of which came up in my dinner conversation:

  1. Dinosaur and human footprints have been found together in a riverbed in Texas.
  2. There are cave paintings of dinosaurs that could not have been made unless the human artists had seen dinosaurs.
  3. Dinosaur soft tissue/blood cells have been discovered that cannot be millions of years old.
  4. Worldwide legends of fire-breathing dragons are based on human encounters with dinosaurs.

In a discussion about evolution, the age of the earth, or even the general reliability of science these “arguments” are launched into the conversation as if they prove something significant that scientists don’t understand. But most people wielding these arguments have no clue about them. Consider the following:

  1. The dinosaur and human footprint argument has been so thoroughly repudiated that even the two leading young earth creationist organizations have repudiated it. The head of the Institute for Creation Research, geologist John Morris, has written an article about the collapse of this “evidence” and Answers in Genesis includes this logical clinker on its list of “arguments that should be avoided.”
  2. Cave paintings contain a vast roster of interesting and inexplicable patterns, not unlike contemporary museums of modern art. Just as people see clouds that really do resemble Homer Simpson, or smears on windows that look like the Madonna, we should not be surprised that cave art contains things that look like dinosaurs–and unicorns and flying horses and space ships and various monsters. But here we have to ask a question: what is the best explanation for a cave drawing that resembles a dinosaur? Let me offer some possibilities: a) a cave-dad is using visual aids to tell cave-kids a horror story about giant lizards; b) a cave artist is drawing a picture of an actual lizard; c) cave artists are being creative; d) a cave artist is drawing a picture of an actual animal he saw. Is “d” really the most reasonable explanation?
  3. The dinosaur “blood” that can’t possibly be 70 million years old was a highly speculative inference and far from conclusive. A recent analysis concludes “What previously had been identified as fragments of blood cells due to the presence of iron were actually microscopic spheres containing iron, known as framboids.” To jump on this isolated a curious fact as “conclusive” is far from scientific. And to suppose that it refutes the entire geological column, which clearly demonstrates that dinosaurs were long gone before we got here, is absurd.
  4. The “dragons were dinosaurs” argument is incredibly fanciful and unbelievable on so many fronts. For starters, dragons are only one of a roster of mythical beasts. Are unicorns and griffins also real, because folklore speaks often of them? How about abominable snowmen? Men on the moon? Flying horses? In the days before cameras, people relied on stories from travelers about fascinating creatures from afar. Very few medieval Europeans ever saw a lion, and yet they all believed in lions based on stories they heard. Some people told stories of dragons and, not knowing what existed beyond their horizons, people accepted these stories as real, and passed them on.

All four of these arguments circulate with vigor in anti-evolutionary circles. I have heard them many times, most recently over dinner. Web sites proclaim them. The “true believers” that wield them as arguments against evolution, however, don’t understand them and are blissfully unaware that they are simply irrelevant.

The most peculiar feature of this phenomenon, however, is the selective endorsement of science. If a scientist reports that he has found evidence–like soft dinosaur tissue–that dinosaurs are not as old as we thought, that scientific conclusion is treated respectfully by the anti-evolutionists because it agrees with their interpretation of the Bible. But when those same scientists report later that there may be a better explanation for the data–one that is compatible with evolution–this evidence is rejected as a part of the “conspiracy” to suppress the evidence against evolution. Science, it would appear, lacks integrity, except when it is undermining evolution.

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Gordon J. Glover

posted November 9, 2009 at 8:22 am


“Science, it would appear, lacks integrity, except when it is undermining evolution.”
Karl, It’s also funny how Carbon-14 dating is lauded by Young-Earth Creationists when it confirms the accurracy of Biblical dates (which it has done on many occasions). But when applied to anything over 6,000 years old, C-14 dating is “worthless” and laden with “evolutionist” assumptions.



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Michael Thompson

posted November 9, 2009 at 9:47 am


There are a couple more,
Behemoth in the book of Job, and loch ness monster, my YEC friend mentiones those time to time.
What they don’t understand is that even if it was true, that a few dinos survived long enough to come in contact with humans, or even if one was found alive today, it would not prove their case in the slightest.



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Glen Davidson

posted November 9, 2009 at 12:39 pm


What makes it pretty clear that creationists (including IDists, of course) aren’t thinking from the evidence is that every time they’re shown to be wrong about the evidence, they don’t change the “conclusion” that they made “from the evidence,” they simply look for some other piece of evidence to “disprove evolution”.
I mean, it didn’t occur to Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort that maybe they were entirely off-track when their “banana proof of creation” fell apart, so that even Comfort admitted as much. They just resorted to almost equally bad “arguments,” some of which have been repeatedly demonstrated to Comfort that they don’t give evidence for what they claim that it shows.
The “science” they use is expendable. The “conclusion” (really, the prejudice) is all that matters.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Mere_Christian

posted November 9, 2009 at 12:51 pm


The Christians you spent time with should have just patted you on the head, made you feel all eltist and everything, and then just went on with living the Gospel. (Hopefully this is what they did.)
As long as Charles Darwin is the equal or better of the Apostles, you evolutionarians are just another denomination with its wierd fruit we have to deal with.
Evolution? OK.
Now get on with it.
Old school is fun to remember, but the here and now is where the Church is at.



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A Greenhil

posted November 9, 2009 at 1:58 pm


Mere_Christian: “you evolutionarians are just another denomination with its wierd fruit we have to deal with”
If you’d like to live without the “fruit” of modern biology, by all means, go ahead.
Btw: you should learn the difference between a “claim from authority” and a scientific theory (emphasis on “scientific”, not the colloquial use of the word ‘theory’)



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Beaglelady

posted November 9, 2009 at 8:43 pm


If dinosaurs didn’t co-exist with humans how do you explain the Flintstones?



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Sam

posted November 9, 2009 at 9:45 pm


Completely agree with this post. Keep up the good work!



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Your Name

posted November 10, 2009 at 3:18 pm


So we don’t have any hard evidence that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. No human fossils or footprints in the same geological layers. I agree with Kent hovind that dinasaurs are still alive. Barney the puple dinosaur is a great example. Are we all just blind.
Ironically the young earth textbooks and curriculum still teach the palauxy river human footprints arer real and prove that humans existed with dinosaurs even though this was completely debunked almost 20 years ago. Where is the integrity in this.



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Ricky

posted November 12, 2009 at 9:01 pm


I am a young earth creationist and the arguments you just “debunked” are so old that my grandma didn’t use them



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Knockgoats

posted November 13, 2009 at 8:36 am


Ricky,
1–RATE group findings
There are multiple radioisotope techniques for dating. All show that the Earth is far more than 10,000 years old. Scientific evidence points unequivocally to an age of about 4.65 billion years.
2–Flood evidence
The evidence against a worldwide flood is conclusive.
3–Lack of transitional fossils, how come it jumps around
There are many fossils with features transitional between major groups, and there are effectively complete records of inter-species transitions.
4–Existence of irreducibly complex systems
None have been shown to exist.
5–How RNA or DNA could survive the UV without ozone
In the oceans – duh!
6–How RNA or DNA even APPEARED
Possibly in undersea vents where alkaline exudates reacted with the early acid ocean to produce carbonate rocks honeycombed with tiny pores and a “foam” of iron-sulphur bubbles. These conditions have been shown experimentally to produce nucleic acids.
7–How micro evolution could EVER lead to macro evolution
We know it does, because we have multiple present-day examples of species at various stages of splitting – look up “ring species”.
Description of Behometh: nowhere said to be a giant reptile. In fact it says his bones are tubes of bronze: no dinosaur with such bones ever existed.
0/8, MUST TRY HARDER!



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Rene

posted November 14, 2009 at 3:34 am


Good post, selective use of science is a hallmark of creationism.
However, your dismissal of soft tissue in dinosaur fossils with that one reference is a bit too simple. I’ve corresponded with Mary Schweitzer by e-mail and written a blog post and a newspaper article about her findings – both in Dutch however… (You’ll find the post here: http://www.sterrenstof.info/?s=zacht+weefsel , the newspaper article here: http://www.nd.nl/artikelen/2009/mei/11/dinoweefsel-wijst-niet-op-jonge-aarde)
Schweitzer beliefs that collagen, possibly cross-connected by iron from blood, can be very resistant to degradation. The tissue she found was not ‘fresh’, the bones were treated with acid and the remaining material was rehydrated. Then, it looked kind of fresh, but in a highly artificial way.
So: lots of scientific questions, many possible explanations. But the explanation that this proves dinosaurs are recent does not appear likely.



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curcuma 

posted November 17, 2009 at 4:17 am


Hello
Hey its really very good to know about those argument and its answers.Actually I do not have that much knowledge about it.I came to know many new things about it.Thank you very much for improving my knowledge.



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