Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Genesis Expo, Portsmouth, UK (part 2)

This is part 2 of my assessment of Genesis Expo, the creation museum in Portsmouth. (Click here for part 1.)


Display 7 – ORIGIN OF MAN

From the concluding paragraph of this display: "Measurements of the actual mutation rates of mitochondrial DNA, reported in Nature Genetics in 1997, lead to an estimate of some six to ten thousand years since the first woman." I'd like to see this report, as it makes little sense here. What is meant by "the first woman"? A woman who had no parents? How can you tell, from DNA, that an ancestor has no antecedents? What about the possibility of near extinction of an already ancient race? This display, visually feeble as it is, seems to be an attempt to baffle with pseudo-science.

Display 8 – QUOTES


Here we have an incredibly tacky mock-up of a tombstone – a relief of Darwin's head, in profile, under which is inscribed "HERE LIES THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION". The grave and stone are crudely modelled in unpainted polystyrene – is this a not-so-veiled reflection on the creationists' view of Darwin? Subtle it's not. Three quotations from Dr. Albert Fleischmann, Dr. Michael Denton and Prof. Louis Bounoure are followed by one from Charles Darwin himself:
"To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting focus to different distances, for admitting light and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."
This is a favourite quote of creationists, and it comes from The Origin of Species. The very next sentence - not quoted in the display - is this:
"Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real."
(page 217 of the 1979 Gramercy/Random House hardcover edition)

This is quote mining, and it does the creationists no credit, as anyone who bothers to check on the original will find out.

Display 9 – APES AND MAN


Differences between apes and humans are listed in this display, and they all sound plausible (I'm no expert). But in the middle is one emphasised (in Pamphlet 344) sentence: "Apes come from apes and men come from men." It doesn't appear to be derived from anything else in the display, and no evidence is presented to support this assertion, nor to suggest why it might be an argument against evolution.

Display 10 – BOMBARDIER BEETLE

Now we get on to even shakier ground, muddling up an argument from irreducible complexity with the proposition that fire-breathing dragons existed in the past. The display contains an enlarged model of a beetle that defends itself by projecting hot noxious gases at a potential predator. The insect does this by a complex chemical process within a reservoir at its rear end. The display claims that this process has to be exactly right, with the precisely correct mixture, otherwise the beetle would be eaten, or blow itself up, and is therefore irreducibly complex, and must have been designed by a rocket scientist (or other intelligence).

Apparently this is not so - a Google search for "bombardier beetle" leads to the Talk Origins website, where an entirely plausible evolutionary process is described in detail. Once again the creationists are saying that because they can't imagine how a living creature could evolve, it must therefore have been designed. This is called the argument from ignorance (though it might be more accurately described as the argument from failure of imagination).

And what about the fire-breathing dragons? Some dinosaurs apparently had skull passages similar to the bombardier beetle's impressive ductwork, and since by creationist standards dinosaurs existed alongside early humans, this would explain the stories of dragons.

Display 11 – CHINESE CALLIGRAPHY

This display illustrates Chinese writing, and claims – somewhat tortuously – that the Chinese language incorporates the Genesis story: Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood. It didn't make much sense to me, and seemed a bit irrelevant. It seems to be claiming that each Chinese character contains a story, separate from the use of the character in language – and the story is that of creation as told in Genesis.

Display 12 – ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE

The Big Bang, Dark Matter (called "Cold Dark Matter" here), the Anthropic Principle, and a quotation from Sir Fred Hoyle, lead to this final paragraph:
"The Genesis Expo declares that this precise Universe was designed meticulously, and that 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.' Of course He did!"
Cosmology is a big subject, and an important one, and some of the world's best brains are working on the question of the origin of the universe. That the universe isn't instantly understandable is no excuse for falling back on obsolete myths, or pretending to use pseudo-science to support non-scientific ideas. Creationists' opposition to evolution comes down to one thing: evolution science contradicts scripture - in their eyes therefore, it must be wrong. As for the Anthropic Principle, I refer creationists (and anyone else interested) to Douglas Adams' excellent explanation of why this is no argument for special creation:
"...imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in - an interesting hole I find myself in - fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise."


That's all 12 displays, which taken singly or as a whole, don't add up to much. The arguments seem dated and simplistic - though I suspect that the target audience includes schoolchildren. The many pamphlets on sale, however, are a different matter. Whether these are as soundly researched and referenced as they first appear remains to be seen (which I hope will be the subject of another post), but before we get to the pamphlets we will no doubt want to browse in the shop - that will be next.

UPDATE 2009-03-08:

Click here for part 3.

2 comments:

  1. As for the Anthropic Principle, I refer creationists (and anyone else interested) to Douglas Adams' excellent explanation

    Yep, unjustified "copernicanism" runs rampant among scientists and laymen alike when it comes to this subject, which is the reason that Adams analogy is bogus, having absolutely nothing to do with the reason that physicists, (and creationists) say that the universe is "fine-tuned" for life, (over a very specific region of the observed universe, and at an equally specific time in the history of the universe), and it typically comes down to a certain degree of convenient ignorance of the facts.

    But from looking at the blog roll, I'd guess that it is a pretty safe bet to say that willful ignorance and denial will rule the mind here, and is the reason that you fall back on Adams' lame argument from wishful thinking, rather than bother to try to figure out what good physical reasons might exist for why it might possibly be true that we are some how bio-oriented to the structure mechanism of the universe... like an honest unbiased scientist would do.

    Or at the very very least, THE OBSERVATION, deserves equal time... duh.

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  2. Rather than the universe being fine-tuned for life (us, here and now) the evidence (simply, that we are here) suggests that life is fine-tuned to the prevalent conditions in this particular part of the universe at this particular time. We don't (yet) know anything about any other life in this or any other universe, so it's a bit difficult to extrapolate from the specific to the general.

    As for "what good physical reasons might exist for why it might possibly be true that we are some how bio-oriented to the structure mechanism of the universe..." - we are products of this universe, having evolved in it, so it would appear entirely natural that we are shaped by it. But not the other way around, which is the point Adams was making.

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