Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Robertson vs. Ham vs. science

You know it's gonna be a surreal day when Pat Robertson starts making sense.

Yup.  The same guy who said that the Haitian earthquake and Hurricane Katrina were punishments sent by god because of voodoo curses, and Americans' acceptance of abortions and homosexuality, respectively.  The same guy who said that kids shouldn't go trick-or-treating, because Halloween candy had been cursed by witches.  The same guy who used to claim that he could leg-press a Volkswagen.

A couple of days ago, Robertson announced on his show, The 700 Club, that James Ussher, the 17th century clergyman who gave us our current scientifically accepted date of 4004 B.C. as the time of the creation of the universe as per the Book of Genesis, was just... wrong.  He was responding to a woman who had written in saying that her children were in danger of walking away from god because they were questioning the bible -- all because some lousy science teacher had told them about dinosaurs:  [Source]
Look, I know people will probably try to lynch me when I say this, but Bishop Ussher, God bless him, wasn't inspired by the Lord.  He said it all took six thousand years.  It just didn't.  You go back in time, you got radiocarbon dating, you got all of these things, and you've got the carcasses of dinosaurs, frozen in time up in the Dakotas, you've got Sue, that big... Tyrannosaurus Rex...  They're out there!  And so there was a time when there were these giant reptiles on the Earth, and it was before the time of the Bible, so don't try to cover it up and try to make like everything was six thousand years.  That's not the Bible, that's Bishop Ussher.  So... if you fight revealed science, you're going to lose your children.  I believe in telling it the way it was.
Predictably, the firestorm started immediately, with Ken Ham of the Creation Museum leading the fray.

"Not only do we have to work hard to not let our kids be led astray by the anti-God teaching of the secularists, we have to work hard to not let them be led astray by compromising church leaders like Pat Robertson," Ham said.  "Pat Robertson gives more fodder to the secularists.  We don't need enemies from without the church when we have such destructive teaching within the church.  I still shake my head at the number of church leaders who want to appease the secularists and accept their anti-God religion of millions of years and even molecules to man evolution.  Such leaders (including Pat Robertson) have a lot to answer to the Lord for one day.  Such leaders are guilty of putting stumbling blocks in the way of kids and adults in regards to believing God's Word and the gospel."

But despite the criticism of Ham and others, Pat Robertson's spokesperson announced, "Dr. Robertson stands by his words."

So.  Okay.  Is it too much to hope for that Pat Robertson has finally come to his senses?  Unfortunately, I think the answer is probably "yes," given that other broadcasts from The 700 Club this month have suggested that liberals "want death" because some of them support abortion and euthanasia, and that we atheists are trying to "steal Christmas" because we are "miserable and want to spread that misery around to others."  (As an aside, I don't know about you, but isn't the "war on Christmas" thing getting a bit old?  Most of the atheists I know give Christmas presents and attend Christmas parties, and many of them put up trees and lights and so on.  So for warriors, we're remarkably lazy, hedonistic ones.)

So I think that Robertson's momentary departure from the party line is only a glitch.  But still, it does give me hope.  If the obvious rationality of science can be evident, even through the fog of superstition, and even to a fire-breathing demagogue like Pat Robertson, maybe we rationalists have reason for optimism.


  1. I think a certain element of calculation goes into these things. The whole point of a religion -- from a certain perspective -- is to attract followers. To a point, ridiculous beliefs build community because it pits the religious community against the world and/or makes them feel like they're in on a secret. Once people are in the community and have made it part of their identity, you can get progressively sillier and the sunk costs and upheaval involved in making a change, will make people accept the lunatic beliefs.

    But if it's very obvious to outsiders that the group's beliefs are ridiculous, it can hamper recruitment efforts, because a potential convert is aware from the start that if they join up, most people outside the faith will regard them as ridiculous and stupid. It becomes a barrier to entry.

    So, say what you will about Scientology, at least they have the right approach for winning converts -- keep basically all your beliefs under the covers until you've got the new people thoroughly broken in.

    1. This, by the way, is also why you no longer hear much about how Transcendental Meditation can make you levitate. Remember that?