There has been some talk about the recent story in the UK paper The Guardian about a California-based creationist arguing for a debate on the subject of evolution and creationism in a legal context with $10,000 on the line. To be clear, the question would not be if a god had anything to do with the origins and development of life, but the question is about the scientific accuracy of a literal reading of Genesis. So we are talking about something we have known to be wrong for about 200 years.
Actually, more than that. A true literal reading of Genesis implies a flat earth with a sky dome holding back the waters of heaven, while windows are in place there to let rain in, while the land itself and the sky dome are held up by pillars. This is the sort of cosmogony that the ancient Babylonians had:
But when most Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) say a literal reading, then don’t me that literal reading. Because that’s obviously false. Then again, most of the people over at Answers in Genesis cannot read the words in Hebrew, so their literal reading is about as good as my literal reading of Finnish sagas.
In fact, it is worse than that. There is really the problem that we moderns do not know how to read an ancient book. Why? Because the way people wrote then and assumed about their audiences is different than now. We don’t understand how those ancient writers used chronotope and stereotypes and other literary tropes of the times without a lot of study. It’s almost like you’d have to get a degree in the subject before you knew what you were talking about. Heck, it could be that the authors of these books didn’t mean anything literally at all, no more than Plato literally describes a dialogue in The Republic. Now, if I remember correctly, there was this guy who taught in parables a lot. Hmm… Well, best not think about that. That means you’d have to change your mind, and we all know, God hates it when you think about things.
Now, in the particular version of this “debate”, the way the question is formed is also so confused I must wonder if the person is a functioning illiterate. According to the article, the contest be won by the person that “will prove in front of a judge that science contradicts the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.” Well, science is all about the consensus of experts on a subject. The experts have been almost unanimous in biology, geology, astronomy, and physics: YEC is wrong and not science. If we look at peer-reviewed publications, the number that support the YEC view over other theories: zip, zero, zilch. On that basis, can I have my 10 grand now?
As for the court room context, that’s also a loss before it begins. In courts, there is this thing called precedent: what decisions have been made before, especially by higher courts. Considering this issue of evolution and creationism has been before federal courts three times (including the Supreme Court), and in all three cases creationism was called religious and not science, while evolution did survive, then this lower court in this “minitrial” would have to agree based on that alone. So this shows that creationists understand neither science nor the law. All they want is the veneer of having the truth on their side. You can wear a lab coat, but that makes you nor more a scientist than when I put on a Batman costume it makes me a superhero. (BTW…I’m Batman *smoke bomb*)
But if all that wasn’t enough to make this a joke, apparently this same fool, Joseph Mastropaolo, has done this stunt before. Over at the Huffington Post, biologist and founder of the Clergy Letter Project Dr. Michael Zimmerman talks about his dealings with Mastropaolo in the past. Apparently, Mastropaolo will not actually use the definition of evolutionary scientists use of change in allele frequencies in populations over time, but instead he only wants to use his own convoluted mess of topics as the definition of evolution. In other words, he wants to make the debate subject the strawman he thinks it is right from the point of definition. As he wanted to define it, evolution was “the development of an organism from its chemicals to its primitive state to its present state.” Like Dr. Zimmerman, I don’t even know what this means. Then again, Mastropaolo doesn’t seem to know what an allele is since he thinks the definition scientists use (i.e. the real one) is “meaningless.” Well, considering there is an actual dictionary to use to define the word, that belies his ability to know what he’s talking about. (Note: an allele is simply a form of a gene, so allele changes can be seen at the DNA level; it is very measurable, and denying this is to deny DNA profiling and determining ancestors.)
After this point, it looks like any hope of a debate was killed when Mastropaolo said that the PhD biologist was not “competent to contend” for his prize. He also went on to say “Evolutionist hallucinators so out of touch with reality are psychotic by medical dictionary definition, and therefore not mentally competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.” So now, by his own admission, anyone that believes in evolution cannot attempt to win his prize money. Then again, he also shows he doesn’t know what words mean since he thinks psychotic people are out of touch and hallucinate. I guess that means he won’t be listening to the words of St. Paul who talks about having hallucinatory experiences, as did many in the churches he started and went to (cf. Galatians 1, 1 Corinthians 15).
So, this whole thing is a joke, at best. But it really just seems to be another example of how creationists are in fact dishonest. And in this case, not even a good one.
Update: PZ Myers also weighs in, showing that Mastropaolo is a well-rounded fool.