7.7.07

I reject your reality and substitute my own.

I tend to view Creationists the same way I view people who don't wear seat belts.

You don't like being told what to do? I can see your point. You don't find them comfortable? Really, no one does. You've heard horror stories about people being severed by a tightened strap? Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but there is a basis for those concerns. Your father's car never had them? Hey, you're talking to a guy who owned a Sega Master System. I know all about nostalgia's sweet selectivity. Now, I still think you're wrong, and I desperately hope your kids make their own decisions about the matter, but at least we can agree to disagree.

Usually, though, that's not the case. Instead, they'll keep going, bragging about how either they'll never be in an accident, or if they are, they'll be able to throw open the car door and roll to safety. Then, they'll stand up, dust themselves off, and look pitiably at those poor fools trapped upside-down (and half-severed) inside a burning wreck. (Yes, this was an actual conversation I had with one guy. He also loved the euphemism "pooched", which is why I hate that word to this day.)

Sir, I was willing to let matters stand. All you had to do was not say anything utterly moronic, and I might have still respected you. Instead, you retreat to your own little world, where your hypothetical situations pan out exactly as you'd like, and where you can fault seat belts for not living up to the unrealistic expectations you've placed upon them.

It's the same way with Creationists, except that the stakes are higher -- in both directions. After all, there are still things which the Theory of Evolution doesn't cover. It's vital to have people dedicated to pointing out its flaws, and asking hard questions about its conclusions. A critical eye is fundamental to science, and who's more critical than someone trying to defend his faith?

That's one reason that I went to the Big Valley Creation Science Museum with an open mind, not spoiling for a fight -- if they're a civil bunch which alert the scientific communitry to flaws in their theories, they should be encouraged.

The other reason is that I didn't want to be a jerk. Either way, if you're hoping that the spittle is flying onto my keyboard as I type this, I apologise. Regardless, I hope you'll read on, and decide for yourself. (Gee, I'm detecting a theme...)

The first item of note is that the drive from Medicine Hat to Big Valley takes you through Drumheller. It's pleasant, it's friendly, it's a bit beaten down... it's the sort of town Tourism Alberta would have you believe exists everywhere, but there's something about the Badlands that puts the town in a class of its own. Another thing about the Badlands...


It's impossible to live there without developing a working knowledge of geology. Big Valley isn't so lucky, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

By the time I got to Big Valley, the sun was shining brightly overhead. A perfect day for a picnic. Thus, I wasn't initially surprised to see two hundred people out on the grass... but then, I remembered that the total population of Big Valley was 350. Either there's an insane amount of community spirit here, or this museum's grand opening was a bigger deal than I had figured. A bit of both, most likely. Regardless, I found my parking spot, and stepped up to see just what a Creationist museum looks like.

Not quite what I'd expected.

Yes, I admit it: that's a cheap shot on my part. Sorry, but it's hard not to notice a giant "Liquor" sign on the front lawn of your museum.

Here it is again, from a better angle. It's not really much to see from the outside, is it? Then again, just outside the frame are three pavilion tents and an accordion. That adds quite a bit extra to the atmosphere, believe me.

Here's the side yard:

(Note the firepit/garbage bin in the back. Cute.) I overheard one lady speculating to her friend about how the dinosaurs could have easily been mistaken for dragons. That makes perfect sense, since dragons are so central to the story of Genesis... oh, wait, I'm thinking of Tiamat. My bad.

At this point, I went inside and started taking pictures. The curators smiled at me, but didn't say anything. I kept taking pictures. They watched me the entire time, but kept smiling, and remained silent. It wasn't until I'd left the museum that I realised that I was wearing my CBC T-shirt.

Whoops. Still, that's a handy trick to keep in mind, and yet another reason I want one of those bright orange sportscaster's jackets. Alas, my "credentials" didn't impart any photographic skills, since nothing I took of the first two exhibits turned out.

The first display was "The History of Evolution". Here, they post some early fallacies, such as Ernst Haeckel's Biogenetic Law from the 19th century. They tended to gloss over the fact that people have learned from these mistakes, but these were issues I didn't know about, and some valid points were raised.

Next was an explanation of DNA, with a very nice helix sculpture in the corner. The thrust of this exhibit was to correlate "mutations" with "deadly spelling errors in the language of life". That's actually a fairly accurate assessment, but they go a bit further, claiming that mutations can't generate information, but can only remove it. They don't mention the possibility of plasmids introducing new DNA, and they get a bit hung up on the "grammar with a proper syntax" metaphor, but I honestly don't know enough biology for a proper rebuttal. They also refute the claim that chimpanzee DNA is 98% similar to a human's, but the distinction depends on the measurements the two sides use to describe "similar".

Next, we have the living fossils:


Here, they provide fossils of animals from 50 million years ago, which are still identical to their modern counterparts. Shouldn't they have evolved into something else by now? This question also hides a pet peeve in its assumptions: a species doesn't evolve into something else, it evolves from something else.

Followed by the recently-living fossils:


An interesting exhibit of newly-fossilized things such as teddy bears, stalactites which can grow incredibly quickly, and out-of-place artifacts such as iron pots found inside a coal seam. It's interesting in a Ripley's-Believe-It-Or-Not sort of way, but it might have been more convincing, had they mention carbon dating even once.

Come to think of it, they don't mention carbon dating anywhere. Hmm.

Next up, we have the geology exhibit. A pattern is emerging at this point: present exception to current scientific theory, claim scientific theory null and void, laugh triumphantly and boast, "Let's see your "science" save you now, heathens!", and repeat. Like I said, I support the criticism, but the tone's been consistently off-putting. Here's an off-center (sorry) close-up to give you an idea.

(click for larger view)

These generalisations are starting to get to me. Us vs. Them. The scientific community is a faceless horde of dogmatic yes-men, and they are the heroes of rational thought. If it's something that they want to contest or belittle, it's "Scientists believe...". If it's a genealogy of King Henry VI descended straight from Adam, then they're able to cite the authour, year, and the different popes who have viewed it.

Just then, it gets weird.



On the left, we have reconstructions of dinosaurs. Not counting certain omissions, hardly a word deviates from any scientific literature about the beasts (although once again, they can't resist pointing out mistakes that early paleontologists made). Then, on the right, we have ancient cultural depictions of giant lizards and birds which "prove" that dinosaurs and humans co-existed. I wonder if these are the same cultural depictions which offer proof of the Loch Ness Monster... sadly, Nessie isn't mentioned anywhere.

Besides the left turn into cryptozoology, it seems a bit insincere for the museum to embrace dinosaurs like this. Three-quarters of the building are devoted to proving that there's no link between dinosaurs and birds, but that doesn't stop the curators from putting up a big, toothy display for the kids to enjoy. Still, I suppose I should be appreciative that they can accept the fact that dinosaurs existed, at least.

I hoped that when I visited this place, I'd find a few good questions I could ask about modern biology. And I did, even if I suspect that the people here wouldn't be too interested in my answers. So, that's something, I suppose. Perhaps it's even a... compromise?

And that's when I saw the final exhibit.


(click for larger view)

What the...? Are you seriously going to claim that the Earth is 6,000 years old? You're going to tell me that Noah could fit dinosaurs on the ark, because he only brought baby animals? And that the Ark's two lion cubs turned into carnivores only after the flood, because of the stressful conditions on the ark? And that the dinosaurs didn't eat the other animals, because those same stressful conditions can induce a state of hibernation? And -- And! -- You're going to sell me a $600 fossil (click for a larger image) in your gift shop, dated "2348 B.C."???

No, no, no... it's the seat belt argument all over again! We're driving along, we're arguing about directions, and then you grab the wheel and swerve us into a five-car pileup on Crazy Street. Smooth going, people. You get me talking about the need for scientific inquiry and skepticism, and I philosophize about mediation and compromise and learning from each other, and then it turns out that, no, you're just holding your hands over your ears, and singing so that you can't hear anyone else.

Which, frankly, is what I suspected, but at least now I know for sure. At this point, I had given up, and I was only too glad to return home. But on the way back, I made one last stop:

I took the time to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum. It's a beautiful place, and as I looked up at the mounted Tyrannosaur skeleton, I got cold chills and a lump in my throat, just from the sublime realisation of how strange, wonderful, and vast our world really is. It was almost a religious experience, really.

4 comments:

Alan said...

Why, why why did you even bother (other than to provide fodder for the blog)? ;)

wouldn't it have been a better use of your Saturday to just go to Tyrell? or hell I think there are days worth of things to see in Drumheller...

Even if half the people who walked through the door yesterday were of the same mind as you (and as you can gather myself) and half again tell people about it, that is still giving the impression to the operators that there are people who are interested in what they are pushing... and inevitably the attendance figure, multiplied by 3 or 5 will probably end up as a statistic of how good a job, or how important their information is...

It is impossible to win a logical argument when logic isn't invited to the table.

As they will probably say... if they can convince one person, then they have done their jobs... however, if they succeed with a single person, it is a sad sad day for logic and honest and open education.

Laina said...

That was an interesting read. I believe that the exhibit would be worth seeing. I too cannot agree with a pure creationist outlook, but still the museum seemed interesting especially because of all the controversy it has ignited. It had at least two articles in the Edmonton Journal.
However, the fact that you could also see the Royal Tyrell is awesome. There are few things I love more in life than museums devoted to dinosaurs.

Alan said...

You know... in retrospect... you could have bought the $600 "fossil" in order to have it carbon dated.... Not that CBC would be terribly interested in the story... but it does offer a possibility to prove something...

That fish looks remarkably well preserved and mounted for being 4500 years old...

Alan said...

Interestingly Mioplosus fossils are pretty common and it is plausible for that to be a real specimen... however, Mioplosus is estimated to have existed 50,000,000 years ago... and have a modern relative in the Perch... however, the specimen for sale does still look better than most that are available on the web....

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.