Saturday, 3 August 2013

Fantastic (not in a good way) Unbelievable? show

What's next for Unbelievable? Raëlians? Scientologists? Moon hoaxers? 9/11 truthers?
Today on his radio programme Justin Brierley played host to a conspiracy theorist: one Andy McIntosh, a young earth creationist who seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time inventing circumstances which could somehow fit his wacky non-mainstream beliefs. His argument was an object-lesson in doing science backwards: start with a conclusion — the Earth is less than 10,000 years old — then look for evidence that could fit that conclusion. If something else contradicts that evidence, invent some additional circumstance in order to shoe-horn it into the story. Don't bother if there's no independent evidence for the additional circumstance, just declare that the evidence fits and choose the conclusion you prefer. This is Carl Sagan's "dragon in my garage" argument — it's unfalsifiable, and therefore scientifically worthless.

My sympathies were with McIntosh's sparring partner on the show, palaeontologist Robert Asher, whose aim appeared to be simply investigating the natural world. Andy McIntosh, however, was doing everything he could to make the evidence fit with a preconceived idea. At the beginning of the show McIntosh — perhaps unwittingly — disclosed the intransigent depth of his preconceptions:
"…as a person thinking into these issues as a Christian, I became aware, actually, that if the Bible's not true on the first few pages, I might as well dump it for the rest…"
So for McIntosh the Earth is young because anything else conflicts with his literal interpretation of Genesis. I'm not sure why he bothers with all that re-interpretation of scientific data when he already knows to what conclusions it will lead him.

What's amusing about "creation scientists" is the extraordinary lengths to which they will stretch the evidence in order to reconcile it with their unshakeable worldview. Young earth creationism inevitably requires the denial of so many different branches of science that its adherents end up living in a kind of alternative universe that could have been invented by Terry Pratchett. Sure, they somehow make it all fit, but in doing so they arrive at a scientific model that can only be described as speculative fantasy.

Direct link to mp3 of today's Unbelievable?:
http://media.premier.org.uk/unbelievable/ccec9398-7132-4965-b3de-073d928861cb.mp3
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