Skeptics in the Pub Review - Paul Taylor from Answers in Genesis

Last night I freed up enough time to go to the Skeptics in the pub meeting in that there London. It appears I managed to stay longer than one of the Skepchicks who had to walk out after the first few minutes. Giving the talk was Paul Taylor (thats him on the left) from the Answers in Genesis "peer reviewed" creationist journal (which I've talked about before). As such I thought I would try something a little different for Skeptobot and review it.

Firstly I have to admit I had a lot of respect for the guy in actually having the balls to turn up in front of so many skeptics and say the things he said. But man did he talk a lot of crap. Well spoken and with humour but still crap. The crap itself wasn't the problem, it was it's rate of change (dcrap/dt). I could go on for page after page breaking apart each and every slide (of which there was a lot), I could just focus on the areas I'm specialized in (his claim that the homogeneity of the Cosmic Microwave Background disproves the age of the universe, and Einsteins relativity allowing for 6000yrs to be long enough for the whole universe to reach what it looks like now). But that misses the bigger picture.

Indeed most people in the questions did pick their topic and try and hold him to account on it (I tried to talk about the CMB, stalker fans, but as the microphone went dead I panicked and rather than shout about relativity I ended up asking a rather awful question about which bible he believed in, and what set christian creation science ahead of other religions creation science). Most people did much better than me and hammered home individual points, but it still didn't matter.

Taylor had sprinted through Cosmology, Astrophysics, Timescales, Geology, The Fossil Record, Biology, Evolution, Education. For each one he explained how the evidence supported Creationism and moved on. Anyone trying to bring him to account on any of those topics was faced with 'I'm not an expert, and I don't pretend to be, I am a generalist, a populist' (paraphrased).

Now in this situation, that's fine. The audience is experienced with science enough to see the game he is playing. But what has scared me since is pondering on how that talk is normally used.

Taylor's main claim was that science is colored by the assumptions and beliefs you have going into it. And that the data supports an atheists view as equally as a creationists. Which is of course a ludicrous, but subtle perversion of what science is about. In reality he's just attempting to create the illusion of debate. That wonderful wedge strategy to get it taught in schools.

But what is worrying is that my take home message was how successful his shotgun approach to whole realm of science was. He typically gives church talks, presumably he races non-scientists through every sphere of science in 60mins and tries to plant a little seed of doubt in their mind about each area.

A skeptic can follow him up with weed killer and destroy each seed in turn with ease. But the effort it takes to plant a seed is so much less than the effort to remove it that you worry that enough will escape to leave that doubt in the publics mind.

And that, I suspect, is all he wants. It doesn't matter how many individual ideas come crashing down, as long as he can keep the pace up he can win.

Now how do we face that?


Darkwinter said...

Hey hey. Followed your link from Skepchick.

I think the answer to your final question - which is something I too very much took away from the talk last night - has to be about education.

We need to raise the level of public debate and public knowledge of science; it's the only way I can see of preventing - or at least limiting - those seeds taking root.

How we go about that gets a little more sticky. Certainly one area which I think needs swift and comprehensive change is science in the media. But then, there's an argument that the media is only dumbed-down because people are more receptive to it that way - which brings us right back to education.

If we can get children more interested in science and more capable of using critical thinking skills, then we're on the right path to a long-term rational solution. But, again, going into the "how" of that gets awfully sticky.

Mojo said...

"Now in this situation, that's fine. The audience is experienced with science enough to see the game he is playing. But what has scared me since is pondering on how that talk is normally used."

Did you notice his slide with the full title of On the Origin of Species, with the second half highlighted, that was shown when he was talking about racism?

Lave said...

I agree darkwinter, it's not a simple problem at all, and involves a lot of effort. But I think we are up to it.

@ mojo: I was stuck in a corner and didn't get a long enough look at that slide to be sure what he was saying, so I don't feel I can condemn him for it. But I got the same impression.

Anonymous said...

It's a form of ecclesiastical spam to all intensive purposes.

It may seem obviously illogical, refutable and badly intentioned, but if you spread something out through so many sources eventually someone bites.

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