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Brad Harrub Presentations – Part 1 May 3, 2008

Posted by Ian in Religion.
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Hi all

Apologies that it’s a bit (i.e a LOT) delayed but here is my summary of Brad Harrub’s presentations on young earth creationism given in Palmerston North on the 20th-23rd April 2008. Dwayne Bryant (unsure of spelling), a colleague of Harrub’s, also presented over the four nights but his discussion mostly focused on painting atheists in a bad light and such arguments don’t merit much response – even if he could demonstrate atheists were the worst people in the world, correlation does not equal causality and the nature of the person who states an opinion has no bearing on it’s truth. As it happened he failed completely to demonstrate atheists are any worse (or better) than Christians so the point is irrelevant.

This post covers the first night. The others will follow hopefully fairly quickly.

Night 1: The Evidence for Evolution

Harrub opens with a clear indication of where the rest of this presentation is going by stating:

 

If atheists are correct then man is merely a product of evolution. If their religion, if their belief system is true then the only reason that you and I are really here is by chance, by accident, by the right lucky combination of gene mutations. And that leaves us with only two options: Either man was created by god or man is the product of evolution and we imagined god.

This is precisely the kind of statement that starts things on the wrong foot. Clearly Harrub sees god as being true unless science’s view is true and he presents this false dichotomy in several different ways. In fact the entire argument over all four nights rests on the notion that if evolution is false then what he believes is true. This kind of thinking is obviously weak, and it is telling that there was no attempt by Harrub to offer positive evidence for this alternative view. Having said that the audience was mostly sympathetic so perhaps leaving that out was fair enough.

Anyway the bulk of the first night was dedicated to deconstructing the evidence for 28 million years of hominid evolution starting from Aegyptopithecus Zeuxis through to the more recent ancestors like Homo Habilus based on a hominid evolutionary path which he presented and discussed in detail. There were two basic points made through the night:

The first point was that there are not enough fossils to make the conclusions that have been made. Harrub made the point repeatedly that only teeth of some species or only fragments of others had been found. While it is true that we don’t have billions of hominid fossils to draw on, one has to remember it only takes one to disprove evolution. As it happens all the fossils found pretty much square up with the predictions of evolution – and even if the details are hazy, they certainly don’t show details that disprove it. Also in my opinion he tended to underestimate the ability of science to make inferences from fairly limited data. A lot can be learnt from a single tooth (and the context it was found) and much more from jaw bones and leg bones. It is over simplifying it saying “it was just a leg bone” and dismissing any inferences that followed.

The second point he makes, building on the first, is that in the evolutionary path, the first 3-4 species were clearly apes, the next 3-4 were clearly humans. Seemingly unwittingly he makes one of the strongest cases for evolution in an attempt to discredit it. His point is that the early fossils are all apes, and the latter ones are all humans, so no evolution occurred and there are no transitional fossil. He conveniently forgets to mention two key factors. Firstly evolution predicts that there should be a distinction between human-like and ape-like species over time (which will of course vary depending on how you define “ape-like”). If evolution is true then there shouldn’t be any hominids that appear early in the record and that is exactly what we see, and exactly what he said. Secondly each of the species mentioned does show changing traits in a remarkably linear fashion, a transitional fashion one might say.

Harrub also makes an interesting point near the end of his first presentation which turns out to be a recurring theme.

 

When you truly evaluate the scientific evidence you realise that the theory of evolution, folks, it can’t explain how life came from non-life. It can’t explain the origin of the original matter of the universe, it can’t explain the design that we find in nature. But there is a theory that can and that would be the creation model.

And that is the crux of the nights discussion – the remarkably fallacious argument that if I can poke holes in the evolutionary theory, that my theory of creationism is true. This might have some credibility if either the dichotomy was real (it isn’t) or if he succeeded in falsifying evolution (he didn’t) but as it is, it was an argument devoid of a solid foundation of logic.

In the conclusions of the presentation we get offered this gem:

 

At what point along that tree that we just looked at, did god finally look down and give man a soul? Because folks, each and every person in this room has one.”

So to summarise, he spent the whole night talking about how evolution is not based on real evidence and then makes a categoric statement about something that has infinitely less (i.e. zero) evidence as if it was further proof he was right? I suspect the irony was lost on most of the audience 🙂

Part 2 coming…

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Comments»

1. A. J. Chesswas - May 25, 2008

“Having said that the audience was mostly sympathetic so perhaps leaving that out was fair enough.”

I think this is key. Was Harrub pitching at atheists as well as Christian, or merely Christians.

Because the problem for Christians isnt that we have no evidence for God, it’s that there is this other stuff people call evidence that people use to try to discredit God’s existence. His aim wouldn’t be to try and prove God’s existence in a way that could persuade someone. It would be rather to show you can reject evolution and atheism as a reasonable person, that nothing in science necessarily conflicts with the divine revelation you have received.

If Harrub were trying to persuade a group of atheists, I’m sure his approach would be different. But then, he’s a scientist, not an evangelist. He’s an apologist, not an evangelist. An apologist merely defends the faith intellectually , rather than making conversion their priority.

2. Damian - May 25, 2008

Harrub is a scientist in exactly the same way that I am a ballerina.

Ian, you must have the patience of a saint. Good on you for bothering to document the utter nonsense spouted by people like this.

Personally, I think that derision and marginalisation is about the only appropriate response to those who are wilfully ignorant.

I do feel sorry for those who are being fed this tripe (because I once was one) in the guise of Christianity and hope that Christians With Half A Clue™ will take on the challenge of showing them why they shouldn’t trust the likes of Harrub.

3. A. J. Chesswas - May 25, 2008

I’m glad you attached “TM” to that label Damian. But there is a great deal of irony in that comment. Be nice if you actually included some content, substantial meaning or facts in your comment though, rather than reverting to your own form of derision.

4. Ian - May 25, 2008

Allan:

It was mostly worded as a smear campaign for sympathetic listeners, but that is no excuse for strawmen arguments. I don’t mind that he didn’t try and prove god’s existence, but what I do mind is that he presented counter arguments in such a way that if you were inclined to believe him, you’d accept them, and he added to this by using appeals to authority and scientific sources (sans context) to make his argument seem impressive. The argument could have been destroyed by any evolutionary biologist worth their salt so if his goal was to demonstrate that “you can reject evolution and atheism as a reasonable person” he still failed dismally. He only succeeded in demonstrating you can do so if you are unreasonable.

Also I am curious – why should the audience of a presentation about the factuality of hominid evolution have anything to do with it’s content?

Damian:

I understand he is a scientist with a PhD in neurobiology from a fairly reputable university. However I would suggest his approach over the four nights was anything but scientific (despite hiding under a thin veneer of scientific language).

Sands - June 25, 2010

Ian, If you feel that “any evolutionary bologist worth their salt” would be able to put to rest Mr. Harrub’s position, Arange it. He has stated several times that he is more than willing to debate this subject at any time.

Ian - June 25, 2010

I think he should just be directed to the talkorigins website – it answers pretty much every claim he makes.

5. Damian - May 25, 2008

Quite right Ian. I should have said “Harrub is behaving scientifically in exactly the same way that I am performing at the level of a Prima ballerina assoluta.”

I made the mistake of associating the person with his actions.

6. Ken - May 27, 2008

These sort of arguments are almost always aimed at Christians. That is where the fight is – that is who the creationists see as their natural constituency.

I find it sad that so many Christian’s in NZ are receptive to such arguments. It seems that while 75% of NZers accept evolutionary science it is rejected by 40% or more of Chrsitians.

Really, it’s a fight that pro-science Christians should be getting stuck into.

I think it is one of the reasons Chrsitianity (and other religions) is getting such a bad name amongst most people – these creationist arguments just make them look silly.

7. Ryan - May 28, 2008

It is true that some species are known only from teeth, but there are so many species that we know from multiple specimens and very complete skeletons.

For instance:
http://www.msu.edu/~heslipst/contents/ANP440/index.htm

Thanks for adding me to the blogroll and don’t forget to check out the permenant site I’ve set up:

http://www.aigbusted.com

-Ryan

8. Ian - May 28, 2008

Good point Ryan and a good link too.

9. Damian - May 28, 2008

I just did a bit of searching on Harrub and came across this discussion (and this) where it turns out that Harrub was involved in a creationist forgery (or was at least duped by one) where a fishing reel was supposedly found embedded in phyllite rock. If true, this would have had serious implications for fossil evidence.

As it was the original article was removed from their website and no mention was made of it again. Hardly the actions of someone seeking the truth eh?

BUT, thanks to the almighty power of the Internet Archive I’ve located the original item for your viewing pleasure. Take a look.

A shame you didn’t know about this before hand? It might have made for an interesting question from the floor.

10. Ken - May 28, 2008

Thanks for the information Damian.

What I keep coming back to with these creationists is the way they are prepared to lie. I would have thought that as god-fearing people they would be looking over their shoulders. After all if they are caught out (and a divine being should always catch them out) they have sinned – surely. And this should have dire consequences.

Perhaps they don’t really believe in their god. Its just a device for arguing a point of view. Why else should they be so willing to lie?

11. Damian - May 28, 2008

That’s a good question Ken but I think it’s a lot more complex than simple out-in-out lying. I have a bit of an understanding of it because I’ve been there but I’m sure there’s more to it. I suspect it has something to do with cognitive dissonance and the ‘patches’ we apply to appease this feeling which, over time, means that we are lying to ourselves first.

I’m struggling to define it properly…

Once we’ve lied to ourselves about certain things it becomes easier to abstract our minds in order to believe a lie even though another part of our mind feels righteous.

Gaaah! I’m going to have to think on this more. What I’m really trying to say is that I believe that people who put forth these kinds of lies aren’t lying in the same manner as we expect others to lie because part of them genuinely has fallen for the lie. They become both the victim and the offender.

I’ll get back to you in a couple of years on this when I’ve thought more on it!!

12. Damian - May 28, 2008

(By the way, I’m not defending their lies… just trying to explain a possible mechanism)

13. Ian - May 28, 2008

Nice work Damian on the reel; I looked for stuff on Harrub and missed that one completely – believe it or not he actually did mention that fishing reel one of the nights! (Dammit)

As for the lying thing, I know how you feel Ken and I know where you are coming from Damian. In my view it is a combination of enthusiasm about the topic and a desire to be right. Often the person pushing the ideas simply hasn’t taken the time to really dig into what various evidence really mean because on face value they support their position and therefore why question it? It is more intellectual laziness than out and out lying IMO. Of course in the case of the fishing reel it sounds suspiciously like it might be closer to dishonesty than laziness… (but who knows lol)

I think everyone is guilty of intellectual laziness from time to time – for example if I’m honest I probably haven’t dug into every pro-evolution argument in the same depth I have the anti-evolution ones. However creationists seem to take this problem to new levels and the dishonesty comes, in my opinion, from refusing to do something about the laziness when called on it.

Cheers
Ian

14. Ken - May 29, 2008

The issues of deception and self-deception are interesting. I’m sure that as a species we are not “designed” to accurately represent reality. We always try to map our perceptions against preconceived models in our brain. It’s a survival/reproduction thing.

Consequently “honesty” in our attempts to understand reality is difficult. Even in scientific research it doesn’t come naturally. Individuals have their own pet theories, prejudices, etc. But at least in research there is the social aspect of science to “keep us honest” – the peer review and critical consideration of colleagues. There is also the fact that ideas are always (or almost always eventually) tested against reality. This has a sobering effect on individual researchers who know intuitively that they can be “caught out” and therefore tend to develop a more “honest” or “objective” approach.

However, when the social science environment and the need to map ideas against reality are removed individual scientists can become just as “dishonest” as the next person. We see this when science enters the commercial world, product endorsement, etc. It’s also common when scientists act as consultants for commercial, political and ideological interests. Examples are the climate change dissenters, and of course the Discovery Institute fellows. These areas usually never test ideas against reality and there are strong pressures to conform to preconceived ideas.

I believe most ethical/moral systems do encourage honesty and I have tended to see Christians as having at least some discipline in these areas – Ten Commandments, etc. Maybe I’m naive about that but it does tend to shock me that an advocate of high morals can resort so readily to breaking an important commandment.

I wonder if there is something special about theistic belief and deception, especially self-deception. By it’s nature such belief is not derived from reality – is very much originating and developed in the mind. And it’s personal – put 10 theists side by side and their concept of their god will be different for all of them. I’ve noticed that theists can have quite strongly developed logical argument skills – aimed at justifying belief rather than changing their belief. And, by it’s nature, always avoiding any real test against reality. Quite different to the scientific approach where one “wins” an argument with evidence – no matter how good or bad one’s debating skills are.

Maybe the theist goes naturally to argument and logic whereas the scientist goes naturally to evidence. It’s natural for the former to therefore “use” evidence opportunistically and selectively. And it’s more acceptable to the later to give up on ideas because of evidence – especially if they are surrounded by a research social environment and standards.

15. Damian - May 29, 2008

Good thoughts Ken.

I’ve just recently finished reading Shermer’s Why people believe weird things and he has a special section in the latest edition entitled Why smart people believe weird things. In essence, he sums it up as “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”

He later goes on to list the reasons people supply for the questions “Why you believe in God” and “Why do you think others believe in God”. In essence, he found that people rational reasons for their own beliefs and irrational ones for those of others. This is a little bit like how 90% of the population consider themselves “better than average” drivers.

Either way, it’s all good fun laughing at other people’s errors of logic but I took it as a good pointer to be ultra-critical of my own beliefs because I suspect that I might be fairly good at justifying myself.

I think that there is definitely something in what you say, Ken, about our natural (dis?)ability to perceive reality. I wouldn’t be surprised if a side-effect of having the ability to make abstract representations of ourselves in our minds might be conducive to a kind of dual-personality when we are faced with large enough cognitive dissonance. In fact, I wonder if there is a link between people who have multiple personalities and having to have at some stage be of ‘two minds’ about something? (Like, ‘Daddy loves me but Daddy hurts me’ or ‘The earth was created in 6 days but evidence says otherwise’).

16. Damian - May 29, 2008

“…found that people ascribe rational reasons for their own beliefs…”

17. Ian - June 11, 2008

New comment shifted from old blog from ADParker:

I was the only other atheist at those lectures. I missed this first one, but Ian is right on the money as to it’s tone.

A. J. Chesswas said “Was Harrub pitching at atheists as well as Christian, or merely Christians.”

It was to Christians (mainly a national Church camp thingy) but nothing changed when he realised that there were atheists there as well.

And he was pitching it as if it were scientific facts he was presenting, on top of his presenting himself as a scientist – He isn’t by the way; he got the PhD, did some science, but is now exclusively a Christian Apologist – and evidence is evidence, no matter the audience, and what he presented was nothing of the sort; just the typical Creotard drivel seen everywhere else.

18. Olan Bassham - June 24, 2008

Atheists need to build an idol god named Nothing, because that is what they believe, that all life came from nothing. If nothing is so powerful to create all life then he is a great God deserving worship.


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