Friday, May 9, 2014

More Creationist Ignorance

With every episode of the new incarnation of "Cosmos" with Neil deGrasse Tyson, creationist organization Answers in Genesis (AiG) releases yet another embarrassingly ignorant response. The latest "controversy" - if it can be called that - is over the oxygen levels that previously existed on Earth. Scientists have shown quite convincingly that long ago oxygen levels were much higher by performing experiments such as testing bubbles of ancient atmosphere preserved in amber, but Answers in Genesis was having none of that. Predictably, they issued a statement questioning the scientific evidence, even going so far as to describe it as "dogmatic."

At the start of the episode, Tyson describes what the early earth was like and its oxygen levels, and discusses some rather large insects that were able to thrive because of the massive amounts of oxygen on the planet. AiG says:

"Actually the notion that atmospheric oxygen levels were higher (estimated at 31–35 percent compared to our 21 percent, not really 'almost twice') has not been demonstrated. But high levels of oxygen can be toxic, and not all insects preserved with these giants were giants. Biologists are not certain why some insects grew so large and investigation is ongoing."

What makes this so funny is not only how wrong they are—scientists do know why these bugs grew so large (hint: it’s oxygen)—but the only things AiG links to are more pages inside of AiG; they don’t use actual peer-reviewed studies to back up their claims. In essence they are saying it’s true because they say it’s true. This is called circular reasoning. They even go so far as to call scientific claims about the earth’s oxygen levels dogmatic:

"One cannot be dogmatic about whether the pre-Flood atmosphere differed from today’s. However, we need not invoke high oxygen levels or evolution to explain giant insects."

No, "dogmatic" doesn't mean what they think it means. Now I do realize that Answers in Genesis has no choice but to spin this as hard as they can, because their young-Earth version of creationism is probably the least scientifically tenable model of the universe out there. But I do find it kind of amusing that years ago I heard of another creationist group claiming that the reason carbon dating was wrong was because the oxygen level in the atmosphere used to be higher. So apparently Answers in Genesis replaces complete ignorance about how radioactive decay works with complete ignorance about atmospheric science. It's hard to say which is worse.

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