Lisle vs Nye on CNN

In breaking news Your Origins Matter informs us that Jason Lisle, the ICR’s Director of Research, was recently (though briefly) on CNN as part of a story on U.S. congressman Paul “lies straight from the pit of hell” Broun. You can see the clip, which also features Bill Nye, here (Lisle starts at 1:57). Lisle says:

The idea that the universe is sort of- is a big cosmic accident, well if that’s the case then why would it obey laws? Like E=mc2. That’s kinda convenient, isn’t it? I mean, if it’s just a big accident why would it obey nice neat mathematical laws that the human mind can understand. It doesn’t make sense for it to just be a big explosion. It make sense that it was created by the mind of God.

But before you jump to the conclusion that Lisle only has at his disposal the kind of arguments that a ten year old would come up with, he said on the YOM facebook page:

They cut about 95% of what I said in the interview – including specific examples from science that confirm creation. I also refuted radiometric dating as an infallible method, pointing out that it gives wrong answers on rocks of known age. And I gave specific examples that confirm a young earth, c-14 in diamonds, etc. I gave concise, sound-bite answers, so they could have used many more.

Ok, you can jump to that conclusion now.

The argument that made it into the news segment is of the ‘why are there rules’ style. I fundamentally disagree that it requires a God for there to be laws to the universe, though I have yet to find a way to properly explain this. In short, a universe without rules is a contradiction in terms: not having rules is itself a rule. Physical laws are merely a description of what we observe – they needn’t actually reflect reality – and not actual rules that have been made for things to follow. If we observed a rule-less universe, our laws of physics would be along the lines of ‘there are no rules, everything is uncertain.’ We know from quantum physics that uncertainty and randomness can themselves be tamed by statistics and other mathematics. And if it comes down to it, the “nice neat mathematical laws” that we think we have found and that “the human mind can understand” may just turn out to be a giant case of the Dunning-Kruger effect – I hope not, however.

The arguments that Lisle claims he also made – at least the ones that he names – are old PRATTs. Carbon-14 in diamonds, as I have mentioned many times before, is due to the fact that a background level of 14C is produced by other radioactive decay processes which will ensure that there is always some quantity of the isotope in any sample of anything. You can do testing on that, you even can produce a “date” from it, but you’re stupid if you think it’s going to tell you anything about the age of the sample being tested.

The “rocks of known age” are most likely an allusion to radiometric age dating attempts made by creationists of rocks from volcanic eruptions, particularly Mt St Helens. The techniques they use are analogous to using a meter ruler to measure the thickness of a piece of paper. You will get an inaccurate result from such a measurement, and you should not expect anything otherwise. This isn’t the only flaw with these tests, either…

The YOM post - Congressman calls evolution ‘lies straight from the pit of hell’ – is itself of interest. You’ve probably already seen a fair number number of posts and articles about Broun’s speech. The parallels between YOM’s post defending Broun and those articles – which are very much against – are quite amusing. First, in what capacity did Broun make his comments?

It would be good to keep in mind the context in which these words were given – a Baptist church, with a predominantly Christian audience; not a public venue or political event – yet that simple statement has offended those with opposing views.

I’m not sure that “offended” is the word, but I’ll let it past. Broun may well have been inside a church, but he was at a ‘sportsman’s banquet’ where the organisers had brought in a member of congress to talk to them for the better part of an hour. He may have been within his rights to say what he did, but he’s also fair game to be made fun of etc.

It’s worth noting that he also went on to say:

And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.

I’m pretty sure that you’re not supposed to do that in the U.S.

YOM also says:

Broun asserted that, “a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth.  I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old; I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says” (emphasis YOM).  This 40-second comment out of a 47-minute talk has drawn a barrage of fire from the “other” side.

And later on:

Unqualified? Really?  Paul Broun has a B.S in chemistry from the University of Georgia and a medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia.  These schools are not exactly bastions of creationism!

Broun is a doctor, something that other articles pick up on quite a lot. Doctors aren’t scientists, and a B.S in chemistry doesn’t change that. After all, he did say that it was “that stuff I was taught” that came from the pit of Hell – it would appear that little actually sank in.

It’s times like this that I’m even more glad than usual that I don’t live in the “land of opportunity” (for nutcases) known as the USA. The associate minister for education in my country, John Banks, is known to be a creationist himself. But at least he said:

That’s what I believe, but I’m not going to impose my beliefs on other people especially in this post-Christian society that we live in and especially in these lamentable times.

Compare that with what Congressman Broun’s comment about his voting record. It’s almost a shame, really, that Banks’ chances of re-election in 2014 are so slim.

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8 thoughts on “Lisle vs Nye on CNN

  1. But before you jump to the conclusion that Lisle only has at his disposal the kind of arguments that a ten year old would come up with …

    Ok, you can jump to that conclusion now.


    I fundamentally disagree that it requires a God for there to be laws to the universe, though I have yet to find a way to properly explain this.

    You might have to look into the philosophy of David Hume. Briefly, there are no “laws” (which imply a “lawgiver” ) … we live in a world where regularity exists. Indeed, we would all mostly die if that regularity did not exist. If that lake contained water one day and sulfuric acid the next, we would be fools to drink from it; if gravity wasn’t regular, we’d have no reason to stay away from the edges of cliffs. Now, with the universal experience of that regularity, it simply doesn’t matter what its source is … science exploits that regularity to explain just what the world is like. If you don’t want to believe that the world has regularity, you might not want to drink water or wander near cliffs.

    Science maintains that this regularity exists because of the fundamental physical nature of matter and that view has been very successful in such things as medicine, space exploration, computers and a host of other applications. To deny the regularity of “nature” leads to the “Omphalos hypothesis,” where everything looks like it does because … well … God just chose to do it that way to fool us into thinking the world is regular. When Philip Henry Gosse (a respected naturalist of his day who is responsible for the popularization of aquariums) first proposed it, much, if not most, of the opposition came not from scientists but from theologians who decried his “trickster” God, who would set out to fool people. The God of the YECs is, in fact, the God of the gullible victims of a grifter.

  2. Lisle’s claims are ridiculous. The idea that if God did not do it then it was an ‘accident’. The idea that if it was an ‘accident’ then the universe would be ‘chaos’ and lacking understandable or not understood scientific laws – and even mathematical laws!

    No wonder Nye doesn’t want to debate ‘make up your own facts and ignore all rebuttals’ YECs like him.

    YECs are always whinging about censorship and so forth – I expect Nye’s comments were edited too (and Broun himself would not appear).

    • I find it unlikely that Lisle honestly expected them to use any more of his interview – such cutting will be standard for all interviews.

  3. “I’m pretty sure that you’re not supposed to do that in the U.S.”

    I was totally in agreement with you throughout your blog…… (You do a great job!)…..until you got to that statement. It sounds like you’ve misunderstood the separation of Church and State principle. The government is not to ESTABLISH an official state religion nor to interfere in religious exercise. But if some public official wishes to look to a Koran or Bible or Mein Kampf or a Sears Catalog for moral guidance, ethics, fun facts, or whatever, he is certainly at liberty to do so. (I emphasize the word liberty.) A source of ideas or wisdom or ethics or whatever is not off-limits simply because it happens to be religious. Now if that elected official tries to get his colleagues to pass a law that says that every elected official must endorse the Bible or Koran or Scientology, that’s certainly a Constitutional matter.

    Oddly enough, a lot of Americans, both young and old, somehow picked up the myth that an idea is forbidden in public discourse and in influencing governmental officials if it happens to come from a religious source. Of course, that is nonsense.

    Even “In God We Trust” has managed to stay on our coins because it doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause. It has been determined that it is simply a traditional motto and it doesn’t endorse much of anything. (Whether or not I personally agree with that is another matter but that is how the Constitutional issue stands at present.)

    Paul Brown is well within his rights to make decisions (even his voting decisions in Congress) based on his religious convictions. Of course, the voters in his district are also within their rights to send the wacky science-denier packing in the next election.

    • You have a point there, thank you. Though given that teaching creationism is itself unconstitutional, I’m sure he walks a fine line. At what point would voting for something on religious grounds become itself unconstitutional, beyond the field of science education?

  4. “I mean, if it’s just a big accident why would it obey nice neat mathematical laws that the human mind can understand”
    Someone needs to show him some low-energy quantum chromodynamics. The best that can be done there is with approximations within known limits, or you get into territories that are incalculable.


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