Last summer a British film company, Renegade pictures, flew me to Arizona to engage in a dialogue with five British creationists. They, and comedian Andrew Maxwell, were touring the western U.S. and meeting with evolutionary biologists. The conceit was that the five of us (including paleontologists Don Prothero and Tim White), would try to change their minds and dissuade them from Biblical literalism about creationism. Of course it didn’t work (and I told them that it wouldn’t), but it made for an entertaining program that was aired on BBC3 (and is now on YouTube), “Conspiracy road trip: creationism” (BBC3). I wrote a post about it and embedded the video.
Despite the fact that each scientist spent several hours with the creationists—all in vain except, perhaps, for the slightly open-minded JoJo—our participation was edited down to only a few minutes, as I knew it would be. What I didn’t expect was that the program would be mostly about the sociology of the creationist group, including a double schism between Christians/the Muslim and gay-friendly Christians/homophobic Christians. But that drama makes for good t.v., I guess, and I thought the final program was pretty good, if not so enlightening about science.
You can find a 1.25 minute clip of my spiel on Noah’s ark at the BBC Three site (apparently not viewable in the U.S); here’s a screenshot of an amiable Dr. Coyne (soon to be less amiable) trying to explain why Noah’s Ark is implausible. Andrew Maxwell looks on; we’re on a houseboat in the middle of Lake Powell.
Now another scientist has described his experience. Over at Skepticblog, paleontologist Don Prothero details his day with the literalists in the post “A surreal journey among the creationists.” His take is pretty much the same as mine, though he did a bit of water-trickery at the Grand Canyon that flummoxed Phil, the most vociferous and defensive creationist.
I agree with Don that the most difficult part for the creationist was their encounter with Tim White at Berkeley:
The most effective segment of all was with paleoanthropologist Tim White at U.C. Berkeley, who laid out casts of a bunch of hominid skulls and had them sort them by their anatomy. Once they had done so, he pointed out that this was the exact sequence that these skulls were found in a single place in Ethiopia, and that primitive ones were never found on the level with the advanced ones, and vice versa. It was a remarkable bit of scientific theater, and they were unable to respond coherently to it, since there IS no creationist response. The most primitive skulls look like “apes” to them, the most advanced ones are clearly “human”—and there are all the intermediates in between.
Creationist responses to the hominin fossil record are never convincing, since they must arbitrarily draw a line between “ape” and “human” (there can be no intermediates), and the earlier “human” skulls are written off as individuals afflicted with diseases.
Don, like me, didn’t expect any changed minds, but did seem to think the show was effective in making at least one point: creationists are irrational.
. . . evidence doesn’t matter to creationists. They have an entire worldview which is wrapped about the salvation of their immortal soul and the fear of rejecting the literal interpretation of the Bible, so that comes first and everything else is unimportant. They reject evolution only because they’ve been told to do so by religious leaders, even though they have no clue what it’s about; what they think they know about it is wrong. Indeed, they showed the classic response of a true believer: when something threatens your worldview, you cling to it even more strongly and find any way you can to dismiss or ignore contrary evidence. That, apparently, is the point of the entire show, since the 9/11 truthers and the UFO nuts act the same way. But given the way the show was framed, it’s clear that the producers want to put these creationists on camera as object lessons on how irrational and dogmatic and impervious to evidence they really are, even while showing less dogmatic viewers that scientists can be friendly and reasonable and have all the evidence.
Although Don took the creationist aback by showing how river “meanders” at the Grand Canyon (the horseshoe bends that the Colorado River makes) are completely inconsistent with flood geology, some creationists later came back with a totally unconvincing response. I’ll let you read Don’s description of that response on his website. But all that shows, as did the entire program, is that creationists have a pre-existing worldview that cannot be changed by evidence. And if you can convey that in an hour, then you’ve been successful.
Appropriately, yesterday’s Non Sequitur comic is relevant here:
h/t: Linda Grilli