For a couple years now, creationist like Ken Ham have been delighting in teaching little kids to challenge scientific claims regarding the age of the Earth or the universe with the clever, albeit disingenuous, response: “How do you know? Were you there?”
Setting aside the question of whether teaching young children fiction as fact is a form of child abuse (I believe it is), the fact that the “Were you there?” strategy is so ridiculously flawed, together with the fact its proponents don’t seem to realize it’s flawed, is just more evidence that creationists are desperately grasping at ever-receding straws.
How is this strategy supposed to be persuasive? Was the creationist there 6000 years ago to see God spin up Adam from dust? (Or a few days earlier, when God spun up the entire universe?) Of course not. So, how do they “know” it happen that way? The answer is they are relying on “evidence” of the bible.
Scientists, too, rely on evidence. But there’s a huge difference. In the creationists’ case, it’s really, really poor evidence. The veracity of the bible as a model of reality is not, itself, supported by evidence. Rather, it is accepted on faith (which, by definition, is belief in the absence of, or even contrary to, evidence). On the other hand, a scientist asserting that the earth is 4.6 billion years old, or that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, can point to literally millions of pieces of evidence, from numerous disciplines, gathered independently, repeatedly verified, all of which support the same internally consistent, elegantly reinforced conclusion.
And the scientific approach has another HUGE advantage. It’s conclusions are provisional. Should new evidence be discovered that suggests a different conclusion, science will adjusts its views. Thus, over time, the veracity of scientific models of reality continues to increase. Meanwhile, the creationists remain forever stuck, trying to fit evidence to a static belief, and thus are forced to invent ever increasingly twisted “logical” arguments such as “Were you there?” The next step in the evolution of the creationists’ argument may just be to tack on a “Nya, na, nay, nya, na!” As Tim Minchin so eloquently told Storm:
“Science adjusts its beliefs based on what’s observed
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved.”
This post is based on my April 26th “Were you there?” Facebook posting.