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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

This Old Earth Is Warming Up

By Phil Plait

As you may recall, last month Bill Nye “debated” creationist Ken Ham about evolution. There was a lot of pre-debate debate about it, mostly in the form of asking if it even makes sense for a science-based person to debate someone who clearly ignores any and all and overwhelming evidence he is wrong.

My own stance on this is complicated; personally I’d rather not do it, as I have done it in the past and find it unsatisfying. In general even when I destroy my opponents, they still claim victory. It has the risk of elevating someone with marginal and/or fringe beliefs to something worth debating. And it can also be used by your anti-science opponent to fundraise … which is precisely what Ham did.

Some good can come of it (for example, I was able to create what was essentially an FAQ of creationist questions about evolution). Perhaps people sitting on the fence can be swayed.

Certainly Ham was not. His creationist group, “Answers in Genesis,” recently posted this cartoon, making it clear what they think of Nye:

As you can see, he casts Nye as one of the townsfolk who mocked Noah (along with pro-science fighter Eugenie Scott and comedian Bill Maher). We all know what happened to them. I saw this cartoon on Scott's Facebook page, and when I read it, my first thought was how ironic it was.

Why? Because if the flood story were true (and have no doubt, Ham truly believes this), it would be the biggest example of climate change in history … but it’s also clear to me that a young-Earth creationist’s view of global warming must be perforce to deny it, or at least deny it would harm us. After all, in the Bible God says he won’t flood the Earth again, which is just what global warming, playing it out into the future, will do. I suppose if you want to be nit-picky, God said he’ll never send another flood to destroy all life on Earth, and even catastrophic sea level rise can’t kill everything.

Still, since the alliance of the Republican Party and the religious right years ago, it seemed like a pretty good bet that the folks at Answers in Genesis would take a dim view of global warming. So, being the evidence-based guy that I am, I went to the AiG site to see what it actually says. And to my unsurprise, I was essentially right. It discusses global warming many times and doesn’t seem to—pardon the expression—have much faith in it.

For example, in its “research journal” is this flat statement:

The contention that man’s activities are causing global warming, as described in the media and by its advocates, is a myth. There is no reason either biblically or scientifically to fear the exaggerated and misguided claims of catastrophe as a result of increasing levels of man-made carbon dioxide (CO 2).

Simple, eh? Completely wrong, but simple. It wasn’t hard to find more. This page uses a lot of denial tropes like warming is due to the Sun (it clearly is not), the rise of carbon dioxide follows warming and therefore does not cause it (nope, that’s wrong, too), global warming has not been seen to cause extreme weather (nope, though the AiG article was posted before Typhoon Haiyan), and so on. This page downplays the sensitivity of warming to carbon dioxide. This one is full of denialist doubt-sowing.

This is no surprise. In the end, if you think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, then how can scientists possibly say what the climate was like, say, 50,000 years ago? That’s an obvious conundrum for a young-Earth creationist, though far easier for someone who agrees with the overwhelming evidence that the Earth is 4.56 billion years old.

So I still maintain the cartoon published on the Answers in Genesis site is ironic. For more than one reason: First, if you believe there could be a worldwide catastrophic storm that floods the planet, climate change is hardly a big leap of faith, yet the group denies it. Also, it downplays the strong evidence of climate change while overly relying on very weak and self-contradictory evidence of a worldwide flood in biblical times.

I’ve said before that I think people can believe what they want, as long as they don’t try to act on those beliefs in a way that interferes with others’ lives. When they deny the reality of global warming, and preach it to their flock, that’s exactly what they’re doing (incidentally, a large fraction of Americans believe to some extent the Bible is literally true).

This confluence of anti-science beliefs is to be expected; as I’ve also said, once you step off the narrow path of reality, all unreality is equally plausible.

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