Monday, May 14, 2007

A right way, and a wrong way, to protest Ken Ham's fantasy "museum"

On the one hand, I fully believe that Answers in Genesis' new "museum" of creationist quackery in Kentucky (as if the south didn't have to deal with enough ignorant-hick stereotypes) ought to go down in flames as any monument to folly and ignorance should.

But I worry about the effect a formal protest will have, which, I think, will be next to none at all in terms of letting the public know about real science, and instead give Ham and his other little Hamsters plenty of material to work with in order to mount one of their famous "Oooo, the godless Nazi evilutionists don't want us around because they know we're telling the truth" lines of nonsense. Anyone who has ever dealt with creationists will know that they lie and lie and lie again, as if they are drawing from a bottomless well of rank dishonesty which is entirely justified, to them, by the belief they're saving people from their God's hell. Lies are to creationists as water is to fish. Even a court of law will not stem the tidal wave of their falsehoods, as the Dover trial proved.

Ham and his ilk have a common ancestor: P.T. Barnum. And this "museum" is little more than the present-day equivalent of the Cardiff Giant rolling tent show. Not only are there thousands of uneducated people who will lap up Ham's nonsense as eagerly as people lapped up the Giant hoax back in the 1800's, but they'll be all too eager to buy the conspiracy/persecution theories offered by Ham once supporters of real science allow themselves to be made angry and come out with signs. All Ham has to do is tell the flock that the protestors hate Jesus and are out to take away everybody's Bibles and turn their children gay, and the airlocks will slam shut on everyone's ears and minds.

I say if we're going to do this, is ought to be with mockery. (And maybe that's the protest's real plan.) Don't just stand around holding a sign. Go into the "museum," tour it, and ask the tour guides (if they have those) pointed scientific questions they won't be able to answer. Challenge them on their knowledge. Every time a creationist used to call the TV show when I was host, and claim to be very knowledgable about evolution, I'd ask him a simple Biology 101 question: what's the difference between a genotype and a phenotype? I never got a correct answer, and mostly got indignant huffing and puffing. (This isn't to say that no creationists know the answer, only the ones who called us.) The point is to let these people know that evolutionary biology is a vast field of science they just don't know. And that actually knowing facts should not be a scary thing. Remember the myth of Eden: the tree Eve ate the fruit from was — all together now — the Tree of Knowledge. That myth is at the root of all fundamentalist antiscience right down to the present day. Reality must be denied in favor of "faith," because that's what keeps the sheep in line and the collection plates full. Knowledge = bad = going to hell, Belief = virtue = going to Heaven.

That's a seriously emotionally powerful meme to have to overcome with, you know, boring stuff like evidence.

I think it'd be a good exercise to come up with funny ways to demolish the "museum" with satire, and then submit those ideas to people actually planning to attend the protest. If our side is shown to be confident in the facts, rather than being scared of a potential threat to "Darwinist dogma" (because remember, that's always how the creationists frame it), then a good dose of sarcasm and wit will go much further than you'd think. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and South Park hit bullseyes as often as they do for a reason. Their way of treating things that are stupid really works. We ought to model after their example.


  1. If I remember correctly, the tree was called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, not just the Tree of Knowledge.

  2. Well, either way...the myth implies that knowing how to distinguish good from evil is something God wanted to keep from Adam and Eve, disallowing them the ability to make informed decisions. Suppressing knowledge in any case can be argued to be a bad thing, I'd say.

  3. Steve makes an important distinction that is worth emphasizing, I think. According to the Eden story, it's not merely knowledge that God fears, but moral knowledge in particular. In other words, he fears healthy moral consciences. Presumably, the Yahweh character doesn't want people to recognize the immorality of his behavior. The rest of the Bible certainly seems to bear out this motive. So does the ease with which Christians and other Abrahamic theists continue to ignore, dismiss, or rationalize the Problem of Evil.

    It amuses me to no end that the Bible basically begins with a story that says God hates and fears morality, yet Christians never seem to notice this. It almost makes the existence of that God, and the authority of the Bible as his "Word", plausible!

  4. The Eden story is something I’ve knocked around with several people on different occasions. It is very interesting, the twists that come with it.

    1. God not only creates people with no moral compass, but forbids them from obtaining one—labeling it as the single law in all of Eden. [It also sets the scene for the dualistic nature of this particular religion. Christianity rejects a wholistic philosophy in favor of a dualistic one.]

    2. This is supremely ironic in that it’s unfathomable that an omniscient god (or even a learning disabled god) could expect Adam or Eve to understand and obey a command, if Adam and Eve were created lacking any concept of “good” and “bad” or “right” and “wrong.” Telling Adam it’s “wrong” to do X, has no meaning. Adam cannot know that it’s “wrong” to disregard god’s advice—and god, as Adam’s creator, should understand this—since he’s the one who made Adam without the capacity to understand that he “should” even follow such commands. “Do this and you’ll die” doesn’t carry much weight with a person who is incapable of having any opinion of whether “death” is good or bad.

    3. Christians often state that people were created as immortal beings; but nowhere in the creation myth is this indicated. Christians say this, because god’s threat that Adam would die the same day he ate from the Tree, never came to pass. So, rather than say, “Adam didn’t die; I guess god was wrong or lied,” Christians will say Adam metaphorically “died” that day, in that his immortality was taken from him by his own disobedience. But this is a clear misread of the text, even from a literalist standpoint: When god tells Adam and Eve that they shall die the same day they eat from the tree, it appears that his plan all along was only to deny them access to the “Tree of Life,” another mythical plant in the garden that can, apparently, grant immorality to anyone who eats from it. So, the “death” that the Christians say Adam suffered, was a death that he had coming regardless, unless at some point he had randomly opted to eat from the Tree of Life. With no sense of good versus evil, eating from that Tree was never a “given”—because, as noted before, “death” and “life” are no different if you can’t grasp the idea of something being “good.”—there is, literally, in this case nothing “better” than anything else. Death is not better than life—because that requires some gauge of “good,” which man is said to have lacked. So, in truth, Adam lost nothing with regard to “life” the day he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, expect an opportunity that he may or may not have stumbled upon at some point in wandering aimlessly in Eden.

    4. Adam and Even don’t “die” from eating from the tree. They are effectively denied access to an immortality—they did not have inherently—as punishment because god is, as is clarified later, in fear of Adam and Eve obtaining godhood. In reality (from a literal read), there was no “harm” that came from eating the fruit; the only actual negative effects were the results of a defensive reaction from a very threatened god.

    5. Ironically, the villain in the story, the serpent, goes behind god’s back and, despite being labeled a terrible liar, tells Adam and Eve the truth about what god is plotting: [Gen: 3:4] “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

    6. The part that Christians really sweep under the rug is in the same chapter (3), verses 22-24. This is where god openly admits that the serpent was telling the truth: “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’— therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”

    7. In the myth, god is afraid of man becoming a god himself—just as the serpent indicated. And in response, he takes away access to immortality, which would make man immortal as well as having gained god’s knowledge.

    8. Lastly, it should be noted that in modern Christianity, the philosophy says that we cannot trust our own judgment because the fall in Eden introduced “sin,” and has made our moral compass untrustworthy as mere mortals. In fact, we not only, in the myth GAINED a moral compass; but the moral compass we gained, according to El, was just like god’s moral compass. We gained the same knowledge god has with regard to knowing right and wrong, according to the story. So, from a literal reading, our own “judgment” should be just fine in regard to making moral choices—since it is equal to god’s, according to the Bible.

    It is also fascinating to note that the Genesis writer starts us off using El rather that Yaweh. El was a Canaanite god, one in a pantheon, that existed in tales (found in the ruins of Ugarit) long before the OT writings. The Hebrews encountered El during their travels in the region (recorded in their own texts), and adopted him until they switched over to Yaweh. God speaks in the creation myth to other gods (the elohim), using plurals, “like one of Us.” For years as a Christian, I read grasping apologetic “explanations” of “who” exactly god was talking to—who was “like god”? The writings found in Ugarit make it clear. The elohim were like El—they were a family of gods. And El’s Ugarit wife, Asherah, is also mentioned in the OT, and her symbols of worship were in the “high places” where the Hebrew god was also worshipped. The Hebrew reformation king, Hezekiah, has them demolished (2 Kings 18:4—the “sacred pillars” are the poles of Asherah). Also in Deuteronomy 16:21, it states: “You shall not plant for yourself any tree, as a wooden image, near the altar which you build for yourself to the LORD your God. 22 You shall not set up a sacred pillar, which the LORD your God hates.” Asherah’s symbols included trees and poles/pillars. Her name in the old King James bible was mistranslated in one part, as “grove.” The reason for the ban is likely because Asherah and El were like peanut butter and jelly. The Canaanites always placed them together, since they were united as husband and wife—and getting people to stop worshipping Asherah, half of a set, was, I’m sure, no easy task. I guess the moral to the tale is “don’t borrow someone else’s god if you’re not into pantheons—better to just make up a single supreme being; it comes with a lot less baggage.”

    But the point is that the creation myth is like so many others. How many times were men chastised in tales for stealing the devine elixir, the devine fire, the divine sexual favors of gods? Punished for achieving the beauty, grace, or skill of some god or goddess? The wrath of jealous gods and goddesses is infamous in historic mythologies. But when it comes to the Bible, we can’t see the common thread, because, as someone once put it: “Mythology is other people’s religions.” Our own, must be different. To acknowledge it’s the same castrates the literalist reading of the stories.

    It’s unfortunate, in my opinion, that they can’t all be enjoyed for the wonderful and colorful stories that they are. The fight for the superior mythology ends up killing real people sometimes, and that’s just a sad statement about people’s insecurities.

    Sorry to drag it so off topic. I agree with your post that serious protest is not the way to deal with creationism, though. I think it should be handled like we handle any other superstitions. How do we react to people who believe their horoscope or that ghosts live in their home? The only time I think I need to involve myself is when they try to affect my life with their beliefs—mainly through legislation. I don’t really care if people believe in fairy tales, so long as they keep it separate from governmental legislation. That sort of forces a response, which 90 percent of the time, I believe, is exactly what they enjoy. It’s the “made you look!” mentality.

  5. Tracie -- and even the "lost their immortality" explanation doesn't hold water, because the Christian punishment for not accepting Jesus etc etc und so weiter is to be tormented for eternity in Hell.

    So humanity does have immortality. The only thing that changes is one's next address after one dies.

    And God says nothing about "death=Hell," or even about Hell at all, in those passages in Genesis....

  6. Hi Alyx: Right you are. It's hard to keep it all straight since it's such a conglomeration of different ideas pasted together in an attempt to form a cohesive ideology over thousands of years.

    Of course, the practical explanation for that is that the Hebrews didn't have a fully developed sense of "afterlife"--and the "soul" as a spirit being didn't really get fleshed out until the NT era. Prior to that, it was just "life" as we know it--same as a dog, a cat, any other animal. The word "soul" meant simply "life."

    So, yes, by tacking on the modern "everyone is immortal--it's just a question of _where_ you spend eternity..." it does sort of negate Adam's "death." Although, I think they'd respond that Adam would have lived forever as a human in Eden--not a spirit.

    Of course, the JWs do say we all die and are destroyed--except the saved, who will live in body form in Paradise for all eternity after the Second Coming.

    How does anyone keep this straight???


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