Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ken Ham and the Failures of Creation Science

It's been out for a while that Ken Ham (wikipedia) of the Creation Museum in Kentucky (wikipedia) will be debating Bill Nye "the Science Guy" (wikipedia).  The debate is scheduled for 7PM Tuesday, February 4, 2014 and you can sign up for information on the live-streaming at

This debate apparently arose in response to Bill Nye's video 'Creationism is Not for Children' (YouTube).

Ken Ham has released a video response, 'Ken Ham Responds to Bill Nye "The Humanist Guy"' (YouTube).

Maybe Ken Ham needs some press to revive his fortunes

In the video, Ken Ham tries to make this debate about science vs .God but that's a serious exaggeration.  It is about science vs. Ken Ham's (and his followers) interpretation of God, and more specifically, a BOOK.  I know many Christians who are uncomfortable with the insistence of Young-Earth creationists and other Biblical 'literalists' that God be small enough to fit in just one book.

In his video response, Ken Ham again taps on his bizarre claims of a distinction between "historical" vs. "observational" science.  I've written a lot about this false distinction used by creationists and other pseudo-scientists (see references below).

But if we want to check out the success rate of the science advocated by Ken Ham, let's look at some of the failures of 'Creation Science'.  Examples of many of them are now published on the lists of "Arguments we think creationists should NOT use" published at creationist sites such as and Ken Ham's own "Answers in Genesis".

Let's look at some of the astronomy-related claims from these lists which creationists ADMIT are failures:
  • Geocentrism.  Believe it or not, there are still some creationists advocating this (CrankAstro: Geocentrism).  We could ask if America would have successfully competed with the Soviets in space if Biblical Geocentrism had been taught in American science classes?  One wonders if creationists would be rejecting geocentrism if space flight didn't make it look so silly.  After all, the Geocentrists take an even more literal interpretation of the Bible than Ken Ham.  If Biblical literalism is correct, what, according to Mr. Ham, makes Geocentrists' literalism less credible?
  • Light created in transit or stars are closer than astronomers claim.  I've written a lot on the speed of light decreasing over time (CrankAstro; A Changing Speed of Light?).   Many creationists, when they're not denying relativity, now advocate various distortions of general relativity to make a young cosmos appear old, none of which have passed more rigorous testing.
  • Moon dust (TalkOrigins: Index to Creationist Claims: Moon Dust)
  • Joshua's missing day.  I remember hearing this one in churches I attended in the 1970s (Snopes).
  • Missing Solar neutrinos.  The neutrinos have since been found and neutrino oscillations have been demonstrated on Earth.  These neutrinos do not need to be there if the cosmos is only thousands of years old (wikipedia).
Can anyone name an actual SUCCESSFUL young-Earth creationist astronomy claim? 

This list of 'arguments creationist should not use' should probably be significantly expanded.  And remember, these ideas were not just wrong, they were WAY wrong.  While science in the past 300 years has had its share of failed theories (and some of the original theories started out as creationist hypotheses), creationist 'theories' today are failing by factors of MILLIONS and more.

How can you build a technology out of a science as bad as that advocated by young-Earth creationism?

But let's have a quick tour of the successful scientific theories tied to astronomy:
  • Newtonian gravity, and later General Relativity, and its implications for the age of the cosmos, was understood through observations of distant planets and stars for nearly 300 years before we could demonstrate Newton's prediction of orbits by launching satellites into orbit and out to the planets.  No crystals spheres were holding the planets to their paths.  Then there's that whole 'Geocentrism' embarrassment as noted above.
  • The element helium was discovered in the spectrum of the Sun many years before it was identified in Earth laboratories.  Astronomers detected the helium ion by spectra in stars (zeta Puppis stars) before it was identified on Earth.  This would be important in recognizing the success of Niels Bohr's first atomic model (wikipedia) which eventually lead to the development of quantum mechanics which made modern microelectronics possible.
  • Much of our knowledge of nuclear physics was explored by astrophysicists trying to understand how stars could shine for billions of years, as suggested by other astronomical evidence.   Many of the scientists working in the Manhattan project for the atomic bomb, and later the hydrogen bomb, were doing nuclear reactions in stars prior to these efforts (Hans Bethe, Edward Teller).
  • Carbon-12 resonance.  While old-Earth creationists like to use the carbon-12 resonance as evidence of Design, the fact is that resonance only needs to be there if the cosmos is billions of years old (wikipedia).
  • The Doppler effect was originally proposed to solve a question in astronomy.  In the case of light, the Doppler effect was being measured for distant stars BEFORE we could measure it in the laboratory.  Today it is vital for space flight. 
  • General Relativity was first tested based on astronomical observations and cosmological models derived from it indicated a cosmos many billions of years old.  Today, it is a vital component of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and other precision timing systems.  Would a creationist have been able to design the algorithms needed to successfully build the GPS system? (CrankAstro)
For these scientific results to be incorporated into technologies requires people with technical experience in the science to apply it correctly.  You need people with the knowledge ready-to-go and in some cases, the people were originally trained in astronomy or astrophysics.  Astronomy provides many leading-edge problems at the limits of our technology.  The technologies that work are based on science that demonstrates the Universe is billions of years old, and some of this science was known from astronomy years, decades, even centuries before we could do engineering or laboratory testing.

Now there are a lot of engineers who are creationists and have made significant contributions in areas that do not (obviously) conflict with their ideology, but that is the limit of their contributions.  Unless they're working on a satellite, an electrical engineer's cosmological beliefs beliefs have little impact on their ability to design a new consumer electronics device.  Similarly, there are many famous scientists with significant contributions whose contributions essentially ended when they adopted limited religious and other ideological dogmas.

So if Ken Ham wants to claim that only 'observational' science creates technologies, creationism eventually boils down to the belief in a Diety who has built the cosmos to actively deceive his followers.  Or is it Ken Ham and other young-Earth creationists who are doing the deceiving?  Which is the simpler assumption to any reasonable person? Why would you trust someone who preaches that their Diety is actively deceiving its creation?

Additional Resources:
Some other thoughts about religion and philosophy:

Sunday, January 5, 2014

223rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society

This week I'll be attending the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

I've already attended some of the first sessions, specifically a session of the Historical Astronomy Division where a number of presentations examined the early history of our present day notions about the Milky Way and cosmology.  Many of the talks were basically a 'what did they know and when did they know it' re-examination of some popular notions about who contributed what in the development of our modern picture of cosmology.  Some of the presentations may result in revisions in future textbooks.

Some of the things I'm learning will be integrated into a future post.

My poster presentation, in collaboration with Stuart Robbins of  "Exposing PseudoAstronomy", describes more exercises on using crank astronomy theories as teaching tools in the classroom.

So...What Happened?

Wow.  It's been over eight years since I last posted here... When I stepped back in August 2015,...