How to lie about radiometric dating, evolution, and even nuclear physics

Revelation TV’s favourite “creation scientist” Grady McMurtry has featured heavily in the station’s holiday schedule in a series of programmes in which he claims to be able to debunk evolution. Paul Braterman’s blog provides an eloquent and expert deconstruction of the psuedoscience which is the stock in trade of creationists like Grady McMurtry.

Primate's Progress

Have you heard the one about the live snail with a carbon-14 age of 3000 years? Or the lava erupted in 1800 in Hawaii with a potassium-argon age in the millions? It’s all true, true I tell you. But does this signify a major problem with radiometric dating?

Spoiler: no.

I don’t know who first dug up these examples, but they were popularised by the creationist comic-book writer Jack Chick, in a publication called “Big Daddy”. The first page, available here if you’re lucky (the links to Chick Publications only seem to work at random), shows a well-primed creationist student arguing with a singularly ill-informed biology professor. The professor has been leading such a sheltered life that he’s never met these creationist arguments before. And he doesn’t understand anything about evolution or dating of rocks or embryology or indeed anything else. Surprise! the student wins! A skilled cartoonist, Jack Chick manages…

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Scotland refuses to ban teaching of creationism

We tend to think that the teaching of creationism as being a problem in some American schools. The problem is rather closer to home than that.

Why Evolution Is True

Schools in England and Wales aren’t permitted to teach creationism, but for reasons that I can’t fathom, the Scots refuse to join them. This came to light when, as reported by Scotland’s Sunday Herald, the Scottish Secular Society (SSS) discovered that a group of American creationists “had been working as classroom assistants at a primary school in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire.” (Note: it’s not clear whether this group actually taught creationism as science.)

The SSS petitioned the Scottish Parliament requesting explicit guidance on this issue (i.e., banning creationism the same way it’s done in the rest of the UK), but were turned back with this disappointing statement by a government official:

Tim Simons, Head of Curriculum Unit at the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate, has written to the parliament’s petitions committee that there are no plans to introduce ban guidance called for by the SSS.

Mr Simmons [sic] said: “I can…

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Revelation TV & Dr Grady McMurtry

Dr Grady McMurtry is a big favourite of Revelation TV. He features regularly in their schedules and barely a week goes by without him making several appearances, either recorded or live. In particular, he is a regular guest (via Skype) on The Q&A Show along with Revelation TV founder and host, Howard Conder. In December 2014 Revelation TV embarked on The Q&A Roadshow which involved Conder and McMurtry visiting eight venues in various parts of the UK.

Who is Dr Grady McMurtry? He is the head of Creation Worldview Ministries based in Orlando, Florida, USA. According to his website, the organisation consists of himself and one associate. He’s not a big player on the creationist scene. Creation Worldview Ministries is more Conference North than Premier League, Stockport County rather than Chelsea FC.

What are his qualifications? Creationists are always keen to portray themselves as well qualified scientists and McMurtry is no exception. His website claims he is a Biblical Scientific Creationist and his qualifications are:

  • B S, University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture – 1968
  • M S, State University of New York, College of Environmental Science – 1972
  • D D, School of Theology, Columbus, Georgia – 1996
  • D Litt, Mid-Continent University, Mayfield, Kentucky – 2011
  • Past Regent of the School of Theology, Columbus, Georgia
  • Adjunct Professor, School of Theology, Columbus, Georgia
  • Florida Christian College, Guest Lecturer
  • 10 Years a Teacher of Evolution
  • 1 1/2 Years a Theistic Evolutionist
  • 40 Years a Biblical Scientific Creationist
  • Ordained Minister
  • Church Elder
  • Expert School Board Witness

Impressive? Perhaps not. Ecalpemos has taken a closer look at his credentials and it would seem that all that glisters is not gold.

Dr Grady McMurtry’s qualifications appear to consist of an undergraduate degree in agriculture (majoring in forestry) and a master’s degree in environmental science. His doctorate is in theology and from a non accredited private college that does not make doctoral theses available for public scrutiny. His second doctorate is honorary.

Ecalpemos concludes that his academic record suggests that he does not have an appropriate background to speak about science with any authority and I agree. Nevertheless, and I’m sure Ecalpemos would agree, we can form an opinion based on what he says rather than the letters behind his name.

The Q&A Roadshow visited the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Belfast on 6th December. The show was recorded and broadcast on 18th December.

Prior to the show questions were submitted by audience members. Howard Conder was responsible for choosing which questions were asked and Grady McMurtry provided the answers. The questions were predictable and covered most of the familiar creationist tropes, the age of the earth, carbon dating, second law of thermodynamics, genetic entropy, dinosaurs, the flood and so on. The topics were largely science related although evolution didn’t feature very much. The answers were also predictable, particularly to anyone familiar with creationist talks and writings. Dealing with all of the errors and misconceptions in the programme would be a major undertaking so I shall limit myself to the most egregious examples.

Throughout the show McMurtry refers to ‘evolutionists’ regardless of the topic being discussed be it geology, cosmology, astronomy, paleontology or archaeology. The term is, of course, used in a pejorative sense. Evolution is defined as descent with modification and the theory has nothing to say about the decay of the earth’s magnetic field or the geologic column. It’s almost as if McMurtry doesn’t understand what evolution is. At one point he says, “Evolutionists say things are getting bigger, better, faster, smarter.” No they don’t. Evolution doesn’t have a purpose. McMurtry either doesn’t understand evolution or is deliberately being misleading.

Speaking about the age of the earth McMurtry states that, “Evolutionists (there’s that word again) do not have one single scientific proof that [the earth] is old.” There is no such thing as a scientific proof and no reputable scientist would claim that there is.

Proofs exist only in mathematics and logic, not in science.  Mathematics and logic are both closed, self-contained systems of propositions, whereas science is empirical and deals with nature as it exists.  The primary criterion and standard of evaluation of scientific theory is evidence, not proof.  All else equal (such as internal logical consistency and parsimony), scientists prefer theories for which there is more and better evidence to theories for which there is less and worse evidence.  Proofs are not the currency of science. Psychology Today

During the course of the programme McMurtry dealt with carbon dating, genetic entropy, the earth’s magnetic field, the flood and the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs. Throughout, his lack of understanding of the scientific method is evident. Like his Premier League counterparts Ray Comfort and Ken Ham he starts with a conclusion,(the bible is the inerrant word of god) and attempts to construct evidence to support that conclusion.

Unfortunately the audience McMurtry speaks to are generally hearing what they want to hear.

Continue reading “Revelation TV & Dr Grady McMurtry”

Ray Comfort & Revelation TV

Let’s start with some background information about Revelation TV.

Revelation TV is a Christian channel broadcasting in the UK on the Sky platform which has an interesting history of Ofcom involvement. On a number of occasions the channel was in breach of Ofcom rules with regard to their views on homosexuality, Islam and abortion. In order to escape Ofcom’s ‘censorship’ Revelation TV is now has a Spanish broadcasting licence which seemingly allows it to disseminate its prejudices without the hindrance of being fair and even-handed. Most of Revelation TV’s output is centred around creationism, end times prophecies and readings from the bible and the Daily Mail.

Howard Conder is one of the founders of the station and one of the main presenters. He hosts one of the channels flagship programmes, the Q & A show, most nights of the week. This usually features an interview with a guest on a topic dear to the heart of the presenter, end times, biblical prophecy, and quite frequently, creationism. On the 18th July 2013 the guest was Ray Comfort.

Ray Comfort (aka Bananaman) was there to promote the release of his latest DVD, Evolution Vs God, a film which, according to its Facebook page promises to shake Darwinism’s foundational beliefs.

At this point it’s worth pointing out that Howard Conder’s interviewing style is mostly about feeding lines to his guests. They are generally given an easy ride. On matters of science, Howard Conder is a self-confessed ignoramus. Some years ago, he interviewed Richard Dawkins. The YouTube video is here. It is 58 minutes long but it is worth watching because Conder is so excruciatingly inept. Unfortunately, Conder learned nothing from the encounter.

The ‘interview’ with Ray Comfort followed its predictable course, with Comfort being given free rein to give an extended sales pitch for his DVD.

Ray Comfort started off by saying that he had interviewed four evolutionary scientists who ‘could not back up evolution with any scientific evidence’. He then went on to say that ‘evolution is responsible for so many of the vices we see’ and that the movie ‘debunks evolution in sixteen minutes’. We then see an excerpt from the movie, with Comfort interviewing students and challenging them to give him evidence that evolution has taken place. Most of them give the impression of being totally overwhelmed by the experience but some make a reasonable attempt to answer the question. Darwin’s Finches feature in their replies but when that is mentioned Comfort plays his trump card. Birds are still birds, evolution is about changes in kinds! Speciation doesn’t count as evolution. One of the rules of the game is that Ray Comfort gets to decide what the rules of the game are.

Creationists often talk about ‘kinds’ without ever defining what they mean. No-one apart from creationists use that term.

The next excerpt features three of the four scientists interviewed by Comfort, PZ Myers, Craig Stanford and Gail E Kennedy. They are given the same treatment as the students with Comfort rejecting their answers out of hand. There is no debate, no discussion and no exchange of ideas. PZ Myers has blogged about his experience and has accused Ray Comfort of selective editing. In the Revelation TV programme Comfort denies this charge and claims that the interview was edited with integrity. He also said he would not be releasing the unedited interviews. Craig Stanford tweeted, ‘Ray Comfort’s new creationism video does the most un-Christian thing; uses misleading editing to take an immoral and frankly sleazy low road’.

Howard Conder then gives Ray Comfort the opportunity to reel off the familiar list of creationist tropes, all received uncritically by the host and, I suspect, most of the audience.

The missing link is still missing.

Everyone has an inbuilt, innate knowledge of god.

Evolution gets rid of moral accountability.

Evolutionists believe that nothing created everything.

There is observable evidence that god exists.

Inevitably, Richard Dawkins gets several mentions. According to Ray Comfort, Dawkins has ‘opened up the golden door to the delirious pleasures of sin’. Talking of delirious pleasures, the interview then moves on to discuss Christian fundamentalists second favourite topic – other people’s sex lives.

Howard Conder mentions that the Queen has recently given her royal assent to the same-sex marriage bill in England and Wales. Ray Comfort is shocked that our Queen (?) should do such a thing. He has no doubt that she came under pressure from other members of the royal family who ‘don’t have a standard of righteousness’. We can add Constitutional Monarchy to the ever-growing list of things that Ray Comfort doesn’t understand.

Howard Conder points out that the teaching of evolution is now being extended to the primary curriculum. Ray Comfort is appalled. Bizarrely the Queen gets the blame for that as well – she has compromised again.

The programme ends with yet another swipe at a great British institution. Howard defends the one-sided approach of the programme by informing us that the BBC spends billions of pounds promoting evolution and that Richard Attenborough is largely to blame. Yes, that’s right, Richard Attenborough.  Howard must have been thinking of Jurassic Park.

At that point the programme ended.

The sub-title of Evolution Vs God is ‘Shaking The Foundations Of Faith’. It is Ray Comforts claim that evolution is based on faith, not science. I’d guess that the scientific foundations of evolutionary theory will remain unshaken.

Links to my other blog posts about Revelation TV

Quacking for Jesus

Revelation TV and Felicity Corbin Wheeler

Revelation TV and Felicity Corbin Wheeler Revisited

Creationism In The UK

I’ve never really encountered many creationists. There’s been the odd religious nutter in the streets of Newcastle trying to convert the shoppers but that’s about it. In forty years of teaching evolution I’ve been challenged in the classroom twice, once by a Jehovah’s Witness and once by a Christian fundamentalist. So I was a little surprised when I came across this article by the National Center for Science Education which reports on a poll about the public acceptance of evolution in Great Britain, Canada and the United States. Respondents were asked “Which of these statements comes closest to your own point of view regarding the origin and development of human beings on earth?” and offered the choices “Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years” and “God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years.”   In Britain 68% chose the evolution statement, 16% the creationist statement and 15% were unsure. This compares to 61%, 24% and 15% in Canada. In the USA it was 35%, 47% and 18%. I might take comfort from the fact that we enlightened Brits have a better grasp on reality than our scientifically backward American cousins but it was cold comfort. I’m concerned that over 30% of the British public don’t accept evolution as an explanation for the way things are.

It would seem I am not alone. It’s not the religious nutters in the streets we should worry about, it’s what is happening in schools. There are concerns that creationist organisations are visiting schools and sending them materials promoting their cause. Sciencemag carries an interesting report on the situation. This has prompted a number of eminent UK scientists to call for a re-think about the teaching of evolution in schools under the heading of, “Teach Evolution, not Creationism!”  Speaking of creationism and intelligent design, they say that, “There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly-funded school of whatever type.” 

Professor Richard Dawkins, one of the scientists supporting the campaign, has called for evolution to be taught in primary schools. The Daily Mail carried a report which provoked some interesting comments in the online version.

Darwin’s vile book of 1859 was followed by the murder of up to 15m people in the Belgian Congo, followed by all of the various genocides of the twentieth century – probably more than 100m in total. There were atrocities committed before 1859, but very few on a comparable scale to what has happened since. Presumably Richard Dawkins wants more genocide to occur in the future.

To be fair to the Daily Mail (not a statement I ever thought I’d use) that comment is not typical of the responses and has been heavily red-arrowed by other readers. Nevertheless, there is a justifiable concern that creationism is creeping into schools and that needs to be confronted. As a first step, readers of this blog might follow this link and sign an e-petition calling for the teaching of evolution to be mandatory in all publicly-funded schools.