Monday, April 11, 2011

A Bad Time to be a Creationist

As a student of both esoteric spirituality and science the whole concept of being a young earth creationist strikes me as particularly ridiculous. It's not that I find the idea of an intelligent organizing principle underlying the creation of the universe in some manner entirely implausible, but rather the idea that scriptural interpretation can trump hard scientific evidence. And make no mistake, young earth creationism is an interpretation of scripture - it is not the inevitable conclusion of scriptural literalism that most of its supporters make it out to be. It's not clear from the text of Genesis that the word normally translated "day" means a 24-hour day, especially in light of several other passages which imply that either the creation account is referring to "days" as arbitrarily long periods of time or phases of a process that took place outside of linear time altogether.

The main problem with young earth creationism is reflected in the sheer number of gyrations and assumptions that believers must adhere to in order to keep their worldview marginally coherent with the ever-increasing scientific evidence that our planet is billions of years old. "The measurements aren't accurate because the laws of physics worked differently a few thousand years ago." "Archaeological evidence of the world's vast age was planted by Satan to trick humanity." And apparently dinosaurs only went extinct because they were all killed in a worldwide flood less than ten thousand years ago for which no hard evidence can be found, at least in terms of a catastrophe that affected the entire world all at once.

I don't personally see where science and spirituality have to automatically be in conflict with each other, but scriptural interpretation is by no means a sure thing whereas scientific inquiry is much more factually accurate. This should lead to the eminently logical conclusion that if your scriptural interpretation contradicts science it means you're doing it wrong. But not everyone sees it that way.

One of the sillier notions that young earth creationists like to insist upon is that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, despite ample archaeological evidence that many millions of years separate our species from the extinction of most sauropods. One of the pieces of evidence that has been cited in the past to support this are cave paintings from a site in Utah that believers contend depict dinosaurs. Unfortunately for this contention, scientists recently examined the paintings and concluded that they represent no such thing.

At the site of Kachina Bridge in Utah — an immense sandstone formation resembling an arch more than 200 feet (60 meters) high and wide that was formed by the undercutting of a rock wall by flowing water — prehistoric cultures decorated the walls with paintings and engravings known as petroglyphs. Among them are what young-earth creationists, who believe all life was created on the same day about 6,000 years ago, have said are depictions of dinosaurs, claiming these images as proof of their beliefs.

Now, closer investigation reveals these ideas are just wishful thinking.

"The most important implication of these findings is that one of the creationist camp's favorite piece of 'evidence' for the coexistence of dinosaurs and humans — a dinosaur petroglyph — doesn't even exist," researcher Phil Senter, a paleontologist at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, told LiveScience.

The researchers analyzed the four alleged dinosaur images with the naked eye and with binoculars and telephoto lenses while the pictures were illuminated by direct and indirect sunlight and when they were in shadow.

"Dinosaur 1, which I've nicknamed Sinclair because it looks like the Sinclair Gas logo, really does look like a dino when seen with the naked eye," Senter said. "But the archaeologists who did the subsequent fieldwork knew exactly what they were looking at when they came out to examine the figure. This just goes to show that a trained eye can often see what an untrained eye cannot."

The researchers found the "neck" and "head" of Dinosaur 1 are a composite of two separate petroglyphs, while the "legs" appear to just be stains.

"I wonder if, during the process of weathering, chemicals from the man-made, [etched] part dripped down to form the 'legs,'" Senter said. "Lots of mineral stains are all over the canyon that contains Kachina Bridge."

"Until our study, this was the best dinosaur petroglyph — that is, the hardest to argue about, because it looked so much like a dinosaur that there was no way to interpret it as anything else," Senter said. "The 'best' dinosaur is now extinct."

But even if the petroglyphs had turned out to look like dinosaurs, I'm still left wondering what it would prove. European and Chinese artwork, for example, are filled with images of dragons which certainly look like dinosaurs of one sort and are accompanied by mythological stories of said creatures. In fact, my wife is apparently a direct descendent of Saint George the Dragon Slayer according to Scotish clan records. But no serious archaeologist believes that humans really lived alongside dragons. It's much more likely that the stories originated with discoveries of fossilized dinosaur bones that led people to wonder what sort of creature they might have belonged to. There's no reason to think that Native Americans couldn't have made such a discovery and worked their best uesses of what such a creature might have looked like into their artwork, though we have yet to find a convincing example of such art.

In more bad news for the creationist demographic, scientists have recently discovered what may represent the burial site of a gay or transgender caveman.

Cavemen were traditionally buried lying on their right side with their head pointing west and cavewomen were buried on the left side with their heads pointing east.

The exhumed caveman was laying on his left side with his head pointing west and he was surrounded by domestic jugs and other kitchen implements.

Men were often buried alongside weapons and tools such as flints and they would often have food or drink beside them.

Cavewomen were buried with jewelry such as necklaces made from teeth and copper earrings, as well as kitchen items such as pots and jugs.

Some scientists have speculated that the caveperson in question may have been a transgender individual or early "third gender".

If this discovery pans out it's sure to make more than few creationist heads explode. Because if there's anything they care about more than insisting that Jesus could have ridden dinosaurs it's that homosexuality is an abomination and that strict gender roles need to be upheld at all costs.

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Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

Everytime I think of dinosaurs and Jesus, I flash to the Eddie Izzard bit that he did in one of his comedy shows. "Dad---they bit my head off!"

Jack Faust said...

My friend, I bring thee bullets for thy gun: