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A surreal journey among the creationists

by Donald Prothero, Nov 07 2012

Last winter I received an email from a producer of a BBC reality series, “Conspiracy Road Trip.” The premise of the series is that the host (Andrew Maxwell, a British comedian) travels with five young believers in some crazy idea, taking them to key locations and putting them in front of evidence that challenges their beliefs. They had already done episodes on UFO nuts, the 7/7 bombings in London, and 9/11 Truthers, so naturally the next group of crazies in line were the creationists. The producer explained that he wanted me and a number of other scientists to meet at important locations (I was to film on the rim of the Grand Canyon) and show these creationists the actual scientific evidence, and let them squirm in front of the cameras. After I checked around to make sure it wasn’t some stealth creationist documentary like Ben Stein’s pathetic “Expelled” (which ambushed its subjects like Michael Shermer, Eugenie Scott, P.Z. Myers, and Richard Dawkins under false pretenses), I agreed to travel out there to meet them. Even though I’ve battled creationists in debates and TV panels before, and done documentaries in the field on prehistoric animals, I’d never done something that combined the two. I’ve written and argued enough with creationists to know them and their arguments (and the scientific reality) down pat. Still, I prepared for anything. I even brought along a bunch of real fossils to pass around, and put my key diagrams on a series of huge laminated flip charts.

So in mid-April 2012, they flew me out to Vegas, where the first glitch occurred: they told me to go to the wrong hotel, and it took until later that evening before I reached the right one. Once I did so, I went out to a late dinner with the producer, who looked over my materials, and walked me through his plans for filming. He wanted to hold off my confrontation with them until the cameras were rolling, so he asked me to try to avoid them at breakfast in our hotel that morning. This was nearly impossible since they were only group at breakfast, and one of them recognized me while we waited in the airport. Then we flew out of Henderson, Nevada, airport on small prop planes to see the entire Grand Canyon from the air (an amazing flight that I had never done before). The five creationists and Andrew Maxwell, plus the director and two cameramen were in one plane, while the producer and another camerawoman were in a smaller plane with me. After landing on the South Rim airport, the five creationists then rode in a mini-bus to lunch at Grand Canyon Village (where they tried to chat me up again), then we all went out to Lipan Point on the South Rim, one of the best places for an unobstructed view of the eastern Grand Canyon with no fences and almost no crowds or background noise. After they got a chance to glimpse over the rim, the film crew set me up back to the Canyon and began our first segment.

As I began my spiel for the cameras (I come in at about 7:50 into the show), I tried to be very straightforward and clear about the rules of science, why science must reject supernatural events as untestable, why the principles of geology require huge amounts of time to explain things like the great angular unconformity at the base of the Grand Canyon (which cannot be explained by a single flood event), why each layer has clues in it that refute the Noah’s flood model (like mud cracks indicating drying, or millions of cubic km of clean limestone full of delicate fossils in life position that cannot be produced in turbulent muddy flood waters, or giant crossbeds that only form under sand dunes, not water flow).  I even pulled out my small collection of representative fossils to show that the Grand Canyon records the changes in fossils through time. I pointed out that although “flood geology” was widely believed before 1800, by 1840 devout British creationist geologists themselves rejected it because the rock record clearly does NOT support the notion of Noah’s flood. Only one of the five, a guy named Phil (no last names were given) was familiar with all the standard “flood geology” interpretations of the Grand Canyon by the likes of Steven Austin and John Woodmorappe. Naturally he tried to argue with me about arcane points that only he and I knew about (driving the producer and director crazy). The only other one to speak out was a tall Muslim creationist named Abdul, who was very loud and assertive and spent most of his time shouting down others, and arguing that science is crap (not a very good way to convince people). The two women and the other guy were almost silent the whole day, with nothing much to contribute. We filmed for better than an hour before the producer and director had had enough of our arguing in circles, then we hopped into our vehicles and headed for our next stop.

For the rest of this scenic and geologically amazing drive, I had originally thought about giving them a broader overview of the wonders of the geology of the Colorado Plateau from places like the Echo Cliffs monocline, or the Navajo Sandstone dune crossbeds (as I long did for my college geology classes). After our first encounter, I could see that it was pointless. Instead, the producer had the clever idea to take them to Horseshoe Bend, just south of our hotel in Page, Arizona. Here one can see an example of huge river meanders (normally formed near the mouth of a river, where the gradient is very low and the river cuts sideways rather than downward). These meanders are then incised into deep canyons like the Grand Canyon (or an even better example, the Goosenecks of the San Juan River in Utah). Steep-walled canyons like these are indicative of rapid uplift far above sea level, and to a geologist, they only make sense if the Colorado Plateau was once near sea level (as many lines of evidence now support), then later uplifted to cause sea-level river meanders to carve down into hard bedrock. Whatever you think of these features, they are NOT consistent with the rapid draining of water from the earth’s surface after Noah’s flood, the mechanism that creationists claim cut the Grand Canyon. We set up a very simple demonstration where we simulated the draining of the floodwaters with a bucket of water running down slope. Although our sand substrate was pretty porous and most the water soaked in, you could still see the straight stream channels that form any time river waters are moving rapidly downslope during a flood. What’s more, it was clear that there was no way such a flood could form the broad lazy meander beds we saw before us.

Sure enough, the producer was right: this demonstration was very effective, and caught the smug Phil and others completely flat-footed, since it was simple laws of physics and geomorphology in action. As often happens, creationists were unable to answer this puzzle, since they have no real understanding or first-hand experience in geology, but simply have memorized ad hoc explanations for specific areas like the Grand Canyon. Rather than admitting they didn’t have the answer,  Phil just argued that he was sure there was a creationist answer to this puzzle. Nevertheless, Andrew Maxwell kept at them and made them confess that they couldn’t deny basic physics.

By the time we finished filming this segment, it was nearly dark, so they drove us to our hotel, let us loose for dinner, and let us wash up. The producer and I had once talked about the possibility of taking them out stargazing at a Lake Powell campground with a telescope, so I could explain the Big Bang to them, but that idea was dropped after the exhausting day of flying and filming and arguing.  I went to dinner with the director, the producer, and evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago (who gives his own version of the experience on his website, www.whyevolutionistrue.com), who was to meet with them the next morning on a houseboat on Lake Powell and talk about the problem with the Noah’s ark explanation. I warned Jerry about what he was likely to get from Phil and Abdul, so he was not surprised like I was (as I was the first one to face them).  I heard later that they were particularly obnoxious to Jerry, and he had a big challenge keeping his tone friendly and non-hostile at their intransigence and provocations. Meanwhile, I flew out the next morning on a long aerial trek from Page to Vegas to Phoenix to home. (If the British secretary who booked the flights had let me do it, I’d have flown from Page to Vegas and then Southwest Airlines straight home). I later heard from other scientists about how their segments went, but really didn’t know what to expect of the final finished film.

It was finally released in the U.S. after it aired in the U.K. in early October (where it soon got Ken Ham’s usual attacks). I knew they had to cut it down to an hour, so it was about what I expected. Two hours of filming at the South Rim was reduced to 2 minutes, with nearly all my fossils and charts and other strongest points left out (along with most of the pointless arguing by the creationists as well). The segment with the water at Horseshoe Bend was kept nearly intact, because it successfully showed how they don’t know what they’re talking about, and refuse to accept even the most straightforward aspects of physics even as it’s demonstrated right in front of them. Jerry Coyne’s segment was short, too, along with a short segment at Sharktooth Hill with Christian geologist Greg Wilkerson (who defused their usual idea that scientists are atheists, and pointed out that there were no humans along with those Miocene sharks and whales), and another segment at a Nevada geyser to show bacteria comparable to the earliest life on earth. The most effective segment of all was with paleoanthropologist Tim White at U.C. Berkeley, who laid out casts of a bunch of hominid skulls and had them sort them by their anatomy. Once they had done so, he pointed out that this was the exact sequence that these skulls were found in a single place in Ethiopia, and that primitive ones were never found on the level with the advanced ones, and vice versa. It was a remarkable bit of scientific theater, and they were unable to respond coherently to it, since there IS no creationist response. The most primitive skulls look like “apes” to them, the most advanced ones are clearly “human”—and there are all the intermediates in between.

But that scientific message was a tiny part of the hourlong episode, which is largely filled with footage that one finds in many reality shows, from “Survivor” to MTV’s “The Real World”:  people are cooped up together on camera and begin to squabble amongst themselves. Most of the episode focused on the antics of the five creationists as they rode their bus through 2000 tedious miles of the American interstates over an entire week, got into fights, split into factions, argued with each other, and generally acted immature and thoughtless. Occasionally, Andrew would get one to interview with him directly. Although the blonde girl JoJo seemed to be changing her mind, the rest were still dogmatic and inflexible. (Amusingly, Abdul was completely unaware of how much he had alienated everyone, failed to make good arguments, and believed that Islam had triumphed over Christianity and science in this exercise). None of them could give coherent answers to the scientific evidence, yet nonetheless were determined to stick with their beliefs. This was no surprise to any of us, since evidence doesn’t matter to creationists. They have an entire worldview which is wrapped about the salvation of their immortal soul and the fear of rejecting the literal interpretation of the Bible, so that comes first and everything else is unimportant. They reject evolution only because they’ve been told to do so by religious leaders, even though they have no clue what it’s about; what they think they know about it is wrong. Indeed, they showed the classic response of a true believer: when something threatens your worldview, you cling to it even more strongly and find any way you can to dismiss or ignore contrary evidence. That, apparently, is the point of the entire show, since the 9/11 truthers and the UFO nuts act the same way. But given the way the show was framed, it’s clear that the producers want to put these creationists on camera as object lessons on how irrational and dogmatic and impervious to evidence they really are, even while showing less dogmatic viewers that scientists can be friendly and reasonable and have all the evidence. Given the low level of creationist beliefs in the U.K., this is probably not a hard sell, but I’d be interested to see if it airs in the U.S. where creationism still claims about 40% of the U.S. population.

Long after the filming ended, a creationist told me that they had FINALLY come up with their own explanation for the meanders at Horseshoe Bend. One look at the site and it’s clear they missed the point, and don’t have the faintest clue about real geology. They claim that the meanders were cut in days (these things take many years in the real world) because the world was flooded to the top of the plateau, and so the Horseshoe Bend area was near the mouth of the ancestral Colorado River as the floodwaters retreated. But then what about all the other meander bends much further upriver, including the Goosenecks of the San Juan in Utah, or most of the meanders in Canyonlands National Park? As any intro geology student could tell you, when meandering systems like the Mississippi DO flood, the high-energy flood waters cut straight channels and slice through the narrow “neck” at the base of each meander loop. Only AFTER the flood waters recede do they begin to form meanders again over the course of decades. And even granting them their premise, how do they then explain that such a slow-moving river of water was then able to cut deep canyons all up and down the course of the Colorado River basin, leaving vertical cliffs in the soft soupy flood sediment—all without any slumping or collapse of that soft sediment that had just been laid down and was still wet? As I pointed out in Chapter 3 of my 2007 book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, their version of events ignores all the evidence outside the narrow problem that they try to explain. They focus on the Grand Canyon and maybe the Scablands Floods, and ignore 99% of geology that cannot possibly be reconciled with any version of “flood geology”. Such is the nature of their dogmatic commitment—but such special pleading, supernatural explanations, ignoring evidence, and cherry-picking only the tiny handful of possible favorable cases is not acceptable in the world of science or reality.

 

 

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56 Responses to “A surreal journey among the creationists”

  1. rob says:

    Andrew Maxwell is Irish he’s from Dublin

    • Donald Prothero says:

      Sorry. I think I might have heard someone during the trip mention his Irish roots, but I wrote the piece long after the event, because they asked me not to publish anything about the event until it had already aired.

  2. Roy says:

    Seeing as we just had elections yesterday, I can only think that the same things you are saying here about creationists are true of the ideologically faithful in the political parties. Regardless of objective fact, there is always an answer that supports your ideology if you want to ignore some facts, and only accept those that support your beliefs. Most humans are essentially not much smarter than apes. ;-)

    • Nyar says:

      Humans are apes.

      • Herr Uhren says:

        Why argue a point he clearly made in his closing thought? Moreover, to say that humans are apes is confusing the issue, we come from a common ancestor with the extant apes.

      • Nyar says:

        All hominoids are apes, including humans. We don’t just share an ancestor with extant apes, we are apes.

      • Leslie Griffiths says:

        Aren’t humans more closely related to chimps that gorillas are related to chimps. If so, how can you say chimps and gorillas are apes, but humans are not?

        Humans are “The Third Chimpanzee”

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

        Nitpicking the biology in a comment on biology, especially it is a biology blog? How rude!

  3. Chris Howard says:

    It must have been akin to banging ones head against a wall. Which reminds me, thanks for your contributions to skepticism, and science. They’ve enriched my life, and made me rethink some base assumptions I held.

  4. Ashley Haworth-Roberts says:

    I will flag this blog post on the British Centre for Science Education community forum (where someone who apparently knew one of the creationists in the programme recently claimed that the water did not run straight when poured out of the bucket the first time – maybe the creationist shook the bucket as he poured the water?)

    • Donald Prothero says:

      Well, if they make that claim, the video disproves it. You can see clearly the braided channels the bucket of water formed on the surface (most soaked in the porous sand)–NOT curving meanders like Horseshoe Bend…

      • Ashley Haworth-Roberts says:

        The person alleged that what was shown in the programme was a second/later pouring of the water, the first version not actually being broadcast because the water didn’t flow straight enough. You appear to be saying that that isn’t correct (I was speculating that if it was correct Phil might have shaken the bucket to try and get the ‘wrong’ result).

      • Donald Prothero says:

        We did the demonstration only once. There was not enough water available (we drained all our personal water bottles) to do a second try. If they allege otherwise, they’re lying.

  5. Ashley Haworth-Roberts says:

    There was NO article on the CMI website (likewise the AiG website) about Horseshoe Bend before 18 September 2012 – Tas Walker’s article which (as is now clear) was looking ahead to the part of the recent BBC Three Creationism Road Trip programme featuring Don Prothero. I am convinced that after filming Phil Robinson contacted former colleagues at CMI seeking a ‘response’ to the Prothero Horseshoe Bend claims that the Flood could not have ‘done it’ – and that the Tas Walker article was specially written so that the YECs would have an ‘answer’ by the time the programme was broadcast in the UK.
    See also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvarphP_vYk

    • Donald Prothero says:

      Sorry if I implied the wrong sequence. Some creationists notified me of Tas Walker’s post weeks before the BBC released the video online, so I know it must have been Phil Robinson telling his cohort to come up with the “response” before anyone actually saw the footage. But what really counts is that we caught one of Britain’s “top creationists” flat-footed. He may have memorized a lot of crap from Austin et al. about the Grand Canyon, but his knowledge of geology is so superficial that anything he’s not memorized catches him by surprise.

      • Ashley Haworth-Roberts says:

        Donald
        In fact I now see that THIS was on the CMI website previously – I searched for ‘Horseshoe Bend’ rather than ‘Horseshoe Canyon’: http://creation.com/canyons-and-fossils
        The recent Tas Walker article appeared not to draw from the earlier Emil Silvestru article. Neither article links to any references from peer reviewed science papers.
        Ashley H-R

  6. Edwin Lee says:

    Personal beliefs, including those of creationists, are interdependent complex systems… like the infrastructure of a city such as New York. Trying to pry a fundamental belief out of this system with the pickax of reason is futile because that belief is anchored in place by muliple layers of other beliefs and personal relationships. For example, to change basic beliefs also involves changing some or all of your friends and family loyalties. The brain, like the body, has a multi-level immune system that defends the integrity and stability of its world view from foreign invaders. The levels of defense include denial, anger and blame, bargaining, and depression (Kubler-Ross). We all have to work around our mental immune systems to change our core beliefs.

    The consequences of this experiment are all too predictable and have little to do with the intelligences of the creationists. I don’t suggest that their beliefs are valid. I ‘m certain they aren’t. I simply suggest that their intransigence is not a matter of stupidity, and we shouldn’t gloat because we are equally blind in other areas. It’s human nature as it has evolved thus far.

    • tmac57 says:

      We don’t need to work around our ‘mental immune system’,we just need to make sure that we are all ‘vaccinated’ with a healthy dose of rationality,critical thinking and skepticism.

  7. Peter Henderson says:

    Don: Phil is Phil Robinson, quite a well known young Earth creationist and the chairman of Northern Ireland based Creation Outreach Ministries:

    http://www.creationoutreachministries.com/com/committee/

    He has no qualifications in science and is an ex P.E. teacher (now a physical instruction trainer). He has a masters of divinity degree from Union Thological College (part of Queens University). He was also a full time speaker with Creation Ministries International for several years and continues in this role as a part time associate speaker:

    http://creation.com/phil-robinson

    Although your comments were heavily edited, what they did show in your encouter with Phil was very effective indeed.

  8. Peter Henderson says:

    P.S. In Northern Ireland young Earth creationist beliefs are held by 25% of the population, not as bad as the U.S. but much higher than the U.K. average. Indeed Don, Northern Ireland would appear to be the YEC capital of the whole of Europe.

  9. Bruce says:

    Great story, and for a side note I’ll say that flying from Vegas to the South Rim in a Dehavilland Twin Otter was a once in lifetime experience for me, even without the extended tour you got. I had my nose pressed to the window the whole flight. It is a great way to get to the Canyon!

  10. d brown says:

    True believers beliefs are part of them. Part of the people they were and are with. Creationist, Nazis, really most people do not want to know anything outside of the box the people around them say and act. It makes you weird to them, like a white crow. If you are in a box thinking outside of it hurts. And the other true believers are likely to want you to stay in it. They may be very mad and take it out on you for weakling the group. It has nothing to do with outside facts.

  11. Willy says:

    I seriously wish we could get all the BBC programming here in the US. I would gladly pay for it as much of it is way better than the crap we get in the US.

    BTW, we COULD do that with BBC iPlayer but the cable networks in the US have blocked that by threatening to pull BBC America if BBC makes iPlayer available. So once again, US interests are keeping us stupid.

  12. Hannah Johns says:

    Though the ‘bucket pour’ might be tampered with (can’t really see how) an actually sudden tremendous flow of water from a burst dam, or tsunami, or similar could not be. I think these earth history deniers might benefit from multiple examples.
    ps i am a bbc fan and so frustrated that we cannot see it here. also the cbc, which has some great documentaries i am dying to see. we don’t have teevee.

  13. Scott the Aussie (in Devon!) says:

    I’d just like to say I appreciated your efforts Don. I watched all three shows that were recently aired on the Beeb and the only success Andrew had was with the 7/7 conspiracy theorists.

    Its had to keep cool when they come out with such straight crap.

  14. Larry says:

    While I agree with your science, something in your blog strikes me as inverted. The dictionary definition of a “Skeptic” is one who questions the “conventional wisdom or belief or consensus”. You are the one defending the “consensus” position. It is the Young Earther’s who are the skeptics not you.

    • Donald Prothero says:

      Dictionary definitions vary, and they are of no use here. Creationists are skeptical of science, and scientists are skeptical of creationists. In the context used here, we are skeptics of ideas which have not met over 150 years of the harsh scrutiny of peer review and skeptical cross-checking that is inherent in real science. Creationists, on the other hand, not only refuse to subject their ideas to skeptical scrutiny, and even if they DO fail the tests of science, they cling to them dogmatically anyway. As Carl Sagan reminds us, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and creationism has failed this miserably.

  15. Matthew Taylor says:

    Don’t be so negative about the effects of good demonstrations on creationists.

    10 years ago I had the pleasure of visiting the grand canyon and at that time was a hardened creationist. As I stood there looking at the rock formations I pondered the creationist scenario and struggled to made it fit. I left with an uncomfortable feeling that I may just have been wrong for all those years.

    It took some time but that Grand Canyon visit was the start of my journey away from creationism.

    It takes many adventures and conversations and moments of honest questioning to break the tie to creationism. It will never happen in a single conversation so leave them impressed with science and challenge them to look into it more.

    The set backs in my journey were only because of bad experiences when arguing with others. It was when I looked at the science critically that the weight of evidence eventually overwhelmed me.

    • Donald Prothero says:

      Thanks for your comments! I try to be non-confrontational and let the data speak for itself, but most creationists DON’T have open minds and don’t allow reality to shake their illusions. But for the show, the producers wanted all of us scientists to be friendly and non-confrontational and just present the data for the 5 British creationists to see for themselves–so the audience could see how blind they were, and also how clearcut the evidence really is. I think that part came off pretty well in the show.
      In my 2007 evolution book, I try to lay out LOTS of evidence, and let it just pour over any reader who is open to it. The best comments I’ve received (both from emails and also from my Amazon.com reviews) are from people who are caught in between the camps and don’t know what to think. Apparently, my book has been effective in convincing many of them.

      • Matthew Taylor says:

        Hmmm, my first sentence comes across more harsh than it was intended when I wrote it. I apologise.

        You are right, creationists don’t have open minds and they judge scientists by those same standards. So the challenge to the scientist is not just to show the evidence but to also show that the process behind that evidence is not biased. Its not easy to break that barrier.

        Watching the programme and seeing familiar attitudes, that I once held, was a tad cringeworthy and it was good for me to be reminded just how silly those views are.

        There is no substance to the creationist claims and I hope that this programme helped to show a few more people why that’s the case.

  16. Mike says:

    I wonder, Don, if the producers would be willing to honor a request from you, to allow the footage of your full presentation to the creationists (as well as that of Jerry Coyne, etc.), to be posted on YouTube. I would hate to think that work was wasted, and guys like me would probably learn something new from it.

  17. Donald Prothero says:

    I doubt it. They own all the rights, of course, and the folks who worked on my episode have long since left Renegade Productions.
    I’m used to it though–that’s the nature of the biz. MOST of what they shoot ends up on the cutting room floor and is never used. My colleague Dr. Kevin Padian of UC Berkeley spent a day filming with them, and they used NONE of his footage. My first appearance in a science documentary was an episode of “Paleoworld” in the 1990s. I spent a WEEK with the BBC film crew shooting across Nebraska, then flew home–and after I left, they filmed Mike Voorhies at Ashfall Fossil Bed, and used almost all his footage in the final show. My part was less than 2 minutes left, even though I’d been script consultant as well.
    That’s the entertainment biz for you…
    BUT I DO have several episodes from Skeptic Society lecture on DVD, and some are also on YouTube, so my shtick is out there…

  18. Armando Ortega says:

    I was expelled from richarddawkins.net because i wrote and said that Dawkins was too naive to accept any interview without checking the background and intentions of the interviewers, and also accepting debate formats that were obviously slanted to believers agendas.
    In this and similar cases, scientists could, I am sure, be co-owners of the original footage to use as they see fit, or be allowed to co-film the scenes for personal use. I am not referring to competing with the film makers. You are the propietary of your ideas, thoughts, phrases and thinking processes and even hypothesis and theories. You have a right to not relinquish them to anyone to be used without your having a say on them.

  19. Mark S says:

    Hi Don,

    That’s a shame. I’ve seen some of the full interviews from a couple of Richard Dawkins documentaries and they’re fascinating. I’ve been fortunate enough to have just started reading your book (about one third through so far). It’s informative, clearly written and very enjoyable. Cannot thank you enough for producing such a great work.

    I can only admire the patience that yourself, Jerry Coyne and others display when dealing with creationists. I have only a very limited knowledge of biology but even I struggle to keep my cool with people who ignore plain facts. Can’t imagine the frustration for experts.

    • spectator says:

      When I actually watched Expelled for myself, Dawkins, Shermer, etc. didn’t come off looking all that bad. It was obvious that Stein was intentionally needling Dawkins by asking him whether he believed in any of the Hindu gods, etc. Although, they claimed they were duped into appearing in a pro-I.D. documentary, I don’t think they’d have said anything differently. They certainly stood their ground against I.D.

      The conspiracy theorists I can’t just roll my eyes and chuckle to myself about are 9/11 Truthers. When I examined why these crackpots provoke me at visceral level, I think it is a fear that they will rewrite history. JFK assassination conspiracies have managed to taint history in pop culture. I can’t stand the thought of that twisting the facts of what took place on 9/11/01. We vowed to never forget the atrocity of that horrific day. It plain sickens me that anyone other than the perpetrators who inflicted those mass murders of innocent Americans be implicated as an accomplice. Personal political disdain for George Bush is no excuse for betraying our country. Now that I am writing it out, I guess when foreigners make the allegation, it doesn’t evoke the same anger. But there is a special place in Hell (if it exists)for the Americans who brought us Loose Change.
      So I wonder if there is a similar reason why Creationists get under your skin, Donald. Do they threaten to displace the natural history that biologists have labored to unravel with a grievously inaccurate story?
      I’m probably making assumptions. If Christians embraced Darwinian evolution, would you be a little more tolerant of religion? I gained a bit of respect for Bill Mahr when he had security boot those obnoxious Truthers out of the audience. Natural processes explain how God creates. Creationists present a false dichotomy that grossly misinterprets Scripture into a ridiculous caricature.

      • Donald Prothero says:

        There are LOTS of religious people of all persuasions who accept evolution: Google “Clergy Letter Project.” My issue is the creationists who devote their time to lying about scientific reality in order to defend their ridiculous idea that the Bible is literally true. They ARE a serious threat to scientific literacy and acceptance of science in this country, as I have documented in previous posts. And since I’ve devoted my life to studying paleontology and evolution, it DOES get under my skin that these people who know NOTHING about fossils or geology go out there and indoctrinate 40% of the country into believing that my life’s work is phony, and that I’m a fraud trying to bamboozle people. That IS personal, not just an abstract idea. If they were a tiny minority with no influence, as they are in nearly every other developed country, I could safely ignore them. But their political influence is huge in this country, as evidenced by the size of their following, and the fact that they’ve now gotten laws allowing creationism to be taught as science passed in Kentucky, Texas, and Louisiana–and they have de facto power over schools in most other states, where teachers are too intimidated to talk about evolution. THAT is something worth worrying about–and spending my precious time fighting against!

      • spectator says:

        Thank you for that reply! I feel like I’ve gained real insight to why creationists are such a real threat to our appreciation of science.
        Keep fighting the good fight, Donald!

      • bigbird says:

        Are you saying Tas Walker and Andrew Snelling know nothing about geology?

  20. Kel says:

    “their version of events ignores all the evidence outside the narrow problem that they try to explain.”
    Can this problem ever be circumvented? This has been my experience too, unfortunately, but I’m lost as to how to respond to that.

    • tmac57 says:

      It’s a real problem.
      On the one hand you have a simplistic authoritarian ancient narrative,complete with an all powerful god to fill in all the questions that might arise,versus a multidisciplinary explanation that spans: biology,genetics,geology,paleontology,physics,and history to name a few,and all of the detailed analysis,and breadth of understanding that that requires,and it is no wonder that some people will just go with the simple comforting familiar tale that has been handed down to them by people whom they trust.
      Ever try to explain how to operate a home theater system to someone who “Just wants to know how to see their stories”? Yeah…it’s kinda like that sometimes.

      • Phea says:

        OK, Mac, you’ve convinced me, easier must be better. I’m giving up trying to understand all the hard sciency stuff, and getting me a Bible, (the very next time I stay in a motel).

      • tmac57 says:

        Note to self:
        Must remember to use my persuasive super powers only for good…not for evil…only good not evil…good not evil…

  21. Citizen Wolf says:

    How lucky is that Andrew Maxwell! He gets to meet all these great scientists and go to all these great places. In other programmes he meets up with Shermer and PZ Myers and Seth from SETI. Lucky fecker. He grew up just a couple of streets away from me. I’m glad to see programmes such as this. It won’t sway the hard-line believers but might just help some of those on the fence to come over to the side of facts. Nice one Andrew.

  22. Max says:

    The episodes are entertaining, but about as persuasive as conspiracist shows. Some informative tidbits, but lots of spin and missed opportunities. Like in the episode on UFOs, instead of explaining to the tinfoil hat guy that he had an obvious case of sleep paralysis, they take him to a gun range to prepare for an alien invasion. And then they interview Annie Jacobsen who has her own crazy UFO conspiracy theory.
    http://www.skepticblog.org/2011/05/25/area-51-ufos-roswell-commies-and-nazis%E2%80%94all-rolled-into-one-story/

    • Citizen Wolf says:

      Yes, of course, as you say, there were lots of missed opportunities. But c’mon, you gotta admit, still way better than things like Ghost Whisperer and other such rubbish. At least it’s a start.

  23. Florin Petre says:

    Are you familiar with the concept of “interplanetary lightning”/”electrical erosion” as explanations for the formation of the Grand Canyon or similar structures on Mars??
    more info here: “http://www.holoscience.com/wp/mars-and-the-grand-canyon/”
    There is even a take on fossil creation:
    “The material excavated from the Grand Canyon seems to be missing. On a watery Earth, the Colorado river simply took advantage of the sinuous channel carved by the subsurface cosmic lightning. The edges of the Grand Canyon are sharp and do not show much erosion into the mile deep valleys. That argues for very recent formation. Geologists cannot decipher the history of the Grand Canyon because their training never envisaged electrical erosion as a result of interplanetary thunderbolts. Nor did it teach that thick strata and anomalous deposits can be dumped from space in hours. Interplanetary electrical forces can raise mountains, twist and overturn strata, dump oceans on to land, preserve shattered flora and fauna in the rocks – all in a geological instant.”

    I’m not a paleontologist, so I would love to hear your take on this.

    Regards

    • Florin Petre says:

      never mind. found out by myself. Apparently Wal Thornhill doesn’t know what he is talking about ;))

  24. Hypatia's Daughter says:

    I was glad to see your comment on how the sedimentary “goop” would collapse – and mountains that rose AFTER the flood would slump.
    A few other issues with the Noah story:
    - there is an average of 1/2 mile of sediment over the world today (over a mile in the Grand Canyon). Every plant would be buried under and the animals would disembark onto 1/2 mile of wet “goop”. Forget getting to Australia – could they even make it past the end of the gangplank before they sank out of sight?
    - how long would it have taken for that “goop” to dry out and solidify into the rocky layers (like sandstone and shale) we see today? And we won’t mention metamorphic rocks….
    - where did the pitch come form that was used to seal the ark? Petroleum was supposed to have been created by the Flood.

    • Wm Ivey says:

      The “pitch” may be the resin from the coniferous trees felled to get the lumber to build the ark. I’m being facetcious. I’m an evolutionist.

  25. Ashley Haworth-Roberts says:

    I made a brief comment under this latest Tas Walker blog post, which I flagged to Don yesterday. Tas Walker has now piublished it and replied: http://biblicalgeology.net/blog/don-protheros-two-gallon-simulation-noahs-flood/#comments

    His reply suggests among other things that Don thinks “the water table was higher and so water would not have disappeared into the sand as occurred with the bucket” (around 4,300 years’ ago). I did not read any such suggestion in this blog of 7 November, nor in the Tas Walker blog concerned (his second of that date, see link above).

    I rather get the impression that Walker and likeminded folk make up their flood geology as they go along.

  26. Chuck Taylor says:

    I enjoyed your presentation and reaction of the “True Believers” but not relly true observers. As a retired Engineeing Geologist with over 50 years of field experience (faults, earthquakes, and landslides) and has worked a many different places in the US and Overseas, I am a true believer based on the word and wonders I have seen. The world is a true work of God.

    We are chanagled each day by the blind signtless people that have heard the word and believe it fully, but will not question or can not abmit that they are wrong about many thanks. There was not Noah’s massive flood nor no real Flood Geology.

    PS Have you two books on the rocks don’t lie, and what the fossils say. Great talent to be able to bring it together like that. You have the gift. Prase.

  27. Dave says:

    Two words: Monsanto

  28. Chris says:

    Wow that Phil is one sinister cat. I wonder who he’ll end up murdering in the name of his blood thirsty god.

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