A Laundry List of Misinformation a la Ken Ham in Edmonton

A dramatic re-enactment of every time a YEC person tells me why they scientifically disagree with the theory of evolution.

Ken Hem himself was up here in Edmonton this week giving a bonus talk after being the keynote speaker at a big homeschooling convention in Red Deer. Why bother going to such a thing? It was free, and if honest Christian scientists don’t show up to things like that, then the echo chamber stays tightly shut. I believe every Christian who has any scientific training has a responsibility to point out this kind of awful stuff in their communities.

I also think it’s important to lead by example to show that only ignorance needs to fear hearing opposing ideas. This may be the most important thing because of the echo-chamber nature of YEC culture.

The event was hosted in a big church, and despite getting there 20 minutes early, the place was already packed. Easily over 500 people there. I wonder if such a church could be packed with folks interested in hearing some real science whether it agrees with their interpretation of the Bible or not? Y’know, just out of a felt duty to learn about something important to your community before forming an opinion on it? In my experience: no. Frankly, I think that should be cause for some soul searching for many Christian communities.

Honestly I came away from the the event with a headache. There was much chest thumping about the importance of truth (despite what you can read below) and teaching young people YEC claims (despite YECism being in the top 3 reasons young people leave the church). It was a bit unbelievable, but unfortunately not surprising.

The title of the talk was “How Science Confirms the Bible,” but 30 minutes out of 90 were a commercial for AiG propaganda (books/dvds). I can honestly say that at no point during the 1 hour of actual content was there any serious or honest engagement with real science.

There was, however, a fairly predictable gish gallop of various creationist claims about science. I took notes on as many as I could, but the BS was flying so quickly, honestly, I’m fairly certain I missed a few.

I used my notes to create the following laundry list of every relevant scientific claim that Ham made, and a comparison of those claims to stuff real scientists actually think. If you’re an interested reader who was there, feel free to let me know of any I missed.

Evolution Claims

“We’ve never seen matter produce one bit of information”

According to Ham: DNA is a code, and codes contain information, and matter doesn’t create information. Intelligent Design folks love claims like this too. It is convincing to say things like this because most people have no idea how to measure information, and if you can’t measure something how can you tell if someone is being dishonest about more or less existing?

Well if you want to know and you’ve got 10 minutes, you can watch this great video introduction from Khan Academy on how to measure information. For a fun bonus assignment: calculate how many megabytes of information your 6 billion base-pair genome contains.

If you don’t have 10 minutes, suffice to say that amount of information depends on the length of the message in a given code. Does human DNA get added to? Heck yeah. Gene duplication is just one way. This is intro-level stuff.

Want way more information? Check out Dennis Venema’s blog series about new genes over at Biologos.

“Natural selection produces no new information. It’s the opposite of evolution”

Speaking as a teacher, you can tell when your students haven’t bothered to do their homework when they’re using basic scientific terms wrong. What is evolution? It’s any change in the allele frequency of a population. That’s what us biologists mean when we say it. Period.

Want that phrase unpacked a bit? Go have a look at this comic I made to explain what evolution is. It’s not too complicated for anyone.

Note how “new information” has nothing to do with evolution. Anyone whose taken an intro evolution class can tell you that. But I suspect one could spend their whole life consuming Ken Ham propaganda, and form a very strong opinion against evolution, and still have no idea what evolution is.

Seems like an oversight, if the goal is having an intelligent opinion on the subject.

Life doesn’t come from non-life, so evolution can’t be true

This is another great example of the importance of learning what words mean before using them. This is a complaint about abiogeneis. How did life come to be? We don’t know. What do we know for sure about life? It has, and does, evolve.

I don’t need to know exactly where my breakfast cereal came from to understand that I ate it and it was digested. Those two things are different topics that require different evidence.

All speciation is just genetic sorting

Apparently all speciation is just genetic sorting. Y’know,  original dogs had alleles “A” and “a,” but if a new species broke off of those dogs then they would just have either “A” or “a”.  So all of the differences in modern dog breeds are because they got different versions of the alleles from their 2 ancestors on Noah’s ark of course. It’s just increasingly specific sorting of alleles originally given to them by God. Why can’t scientists figure this out!?

It might have something to do with the fact that two hypothetical ark-dwelling individuals can have exactly 4 different alleles for a gene. 2 + 2 = 4 after all. Want to know how many alleles humans alone have for some genes? Have a look at this table of the number of alleles for Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) genes. Some of the loci have over 4000 alleles that we know about. A few more than 4.

Mutations create genetic diversity. That diversity is a part of different species coming to be. This is uncontroversial. Much like 2+2 = 4.

Another interesting thing here is that Ham claims that any new dog breed (not even species) is due to a decrease in “information.” That means no new genes if you know what information means. In reality, we know some dog characteristics are from an increase in DNA code, not less, such as the case for short legged dogs.

Evidence of a Global Flood Claims

Mt. St. Helens: Scientists think many layers mean millions of years, but many layers were formed quickly here

No, scientists do not think that. Scientists think layers of ice or sediment mean a certain number of years only where here is good evidence for the time-frame.

A good example is a varve, which is when the annual deposition of sediment in a lake gives a very distinctive layer pattern. One layer means one year of annual deposition cycle with the seasons, and that is also double checked with other dating methods. Some of these show many tens of thousands of varve-years.

No geologist just thinks “oh, lots of layers, it must be millions of years old.”

Want to know how geologists actually figure out geological ages? Here’s a pretty thorough introduction to the topic. In fact, it’s so simple that even I have used these methods to find the ages of some fossils I found here in Edmonton.

Mt. St. Helens: Fast floods can make canyons like the Grand Canyon

It depends what you mean by “like the Grand Canyon.” If you mean “a sort of trench dug by moving water” then sure. That’s not news to geologists. However, real geologists ask much more intelligent questions. Like how does a canyon from fast water look different from slow water?

A great example of (usually) slow moving water is most rivers here on the prairies. An important characteristic is that they have long, serpentine switch-backs instead of just flowing straight.

Qu-Appelle River in Saskatchewan as seen via satellite view on Google maps.

Sometimes we do get floods, and by the shape of the river valleys it is clear where the much faster moving water jumps the banks and just flows in a much straighter line over the flood plain.

“Horeshoe Bend” in the Colorado River, upstream from Grand Canyon National Park. (source)

Now have a look at the second picture above. Some pretty slow moving water there too. No flash flooding over a short time caused features like this.

Note: This is just one of many reasons the Grand canyon was not formed by a global flood 4000 years ago. Biologos has this great introductory article on a bunch of others.

Christian Leaders don’t accept the Earth is 6000 years old because of “Academic peer pressure and pride”

This isn’t so much a science claim as just being an uncharitable jerk. I’ve had people accuse me personally of this for coming to conclusions like common descent and an old Earth. Any church community where this kind of toxic attitude is welcome, honest scientists like me are not.

Age of the Earth Claims

90% of dating methods show a young earth

Here Ham just showed a slide with a long list of sundry “dating methods” that show the Earth is really young. Y’know, things like the amount of sodium in the sea, or Niagara falls. Not things any sane geologist would use, like radioisotopes.

I’m just going to refer readers to Talk Origins here. Just go there and search for whatever looked interesting to you on the list. Plenty of real geologists have already provided explanations for why there is a good reason no competent geologist would use these things to measure the age of the Earth. For example, think about Niagara falls: why would any sane person expect a waterfall has been or will be around for the entire duration of the planet? How is this an intelligent dating method for the planet?

Basalt found dated to 45 milllion years, but embedded wood dated to 45,000.

Apparently in Australia somewhere there is some basalt that was radiometrically dated to be 45 million years old. But there was wood in/under it that was dated with C-14 to be just 45,000 years old.

Maybe this sounds surprising to some, but even the most ameture geologist (such as myself) can spot the issue. One problem is that there is C-14 everywhere. If you try to run a C-14 measuring machine with nothing in it, it will still spit out a number around the minimum it’s capable of measuring, just because it’s picking up background levels of the stuff and can’t tell the difference.

If you guessed that the minimum amount of C-14 (and maximum age) it can measure is about 45000 years then you’re right.

For more details on that, and how new C-14 can in some cases be created in buried materials, check out this Talk Origins article.

Interestingly the opposite problem happens too. Here in Edmonton there is a layer of volcanic ash that is too young to date with things like K-Ar dating, but the plant material just under it can be reliably dated to ~7500 years. Life lesson: tools only work right when they are used right.

Want to know more about how real scientists use tools like Argon dating? Check out this awesome post over at Age of Rocks.

C-14 found in diamonds!

Ugh, see above. This isn’t news folks. Geologists know it, YEC geologists know it, and they know most average churchgoers don’t know it. That’s why they keep saying it.

K-Ar dating on recently formed rock showing millions of years!

Remember what I said about trying to measure C-14 but not being able to tell the difference between none and the background levels? Yeah, some story.

K-Ar dating labs will tell you explicitly that they can’t reliably date modern lava flows. The machines just spit out unreliable dates close to the minimum possible measurement age. The labs know it, professional creationists know it, now YOU dear reader too know it, but the creationists have sent samples for testing anyways. Then they act surprised when the dates are unreliable.

In Conclusion

Now if you were an audience member at this event or a similar one, I will leave you with an invitation to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Are presentations like these – from people like Ken Ham – a proper exercise of the Christian responsibility to seek out the truth and be honest?
  2. Was the presentation careful to not bear false witness against most mainstream Christian scientists and what they believe?
  3. If your church welcomes people like Ken Ham, how welcome do you think people are who come to non-YEC conclusions simply because that’s the obvious conclusion with the evidence they have?

If you answers to those questions give your conscience as much concern as they do for me, then here’s a final question: What are you going to do about it?

 

 

 

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