A couple of weeks ago I reported on a news segment on CNN in which both Bill Nye and Jason Lisle were interviewed in relation to Paul Broun’s “lies straight from the pit of hell” comments. Predictably enough Lisle’s own comments in his interview were mercilessly edited – these things always are, creationist or not – and he isn’t happy. In a long post on his personal blog he promises to provide “the rest of the story,” complaining about the editing along with inaccuracies in the news piece:
Recently, I was interviewed by CNN reporter Lisa Sylvester for a brief news story regarding Congressmen Paul Broun’s comments about origins. CNN aired only a tiny snippet of my comments. So it seems appropriate to give a more detailed summary here.
At the time Lisle gave a short and vague description of what else he talked about besides the short segment that made it to the finished product. Appropriate or otherwise, this unexpected post is certainly welcome.
“By way of background” Lisle tells us how he sees the story. The most important detail to us is that he seems to whole-heartedly supports Broun’s comments. According to Lisle they were both “certainly true” and “perfectly appropriate” for the setting. He also hypes Broun’s qualifications and claims that Broun is an “obvious counter-example” to the “facade that all educated “scientific” people believe in evolution.” I don’t know who’s claiming that everyone with an education agrees with evolution (only a Sith deals in absolutes), but a man who believes that everything he was taught about the relevant subjects is a lie does not a good argument from authority make. Dr Lisle himself is a better counterexample to this straw man.
The motivations that Lisle implies the “secularists” have are as inaccurate as they are naive. This very much suggests to me that Lisle is not being completely up-front and truthful in this post. There is a continuum between deception and delusion that creationist material tends to lie on, and his post at times trends to the left.
Much of the early part of his post is not worth detailed dissection. He asserts that evolution is “unscientific” – though apparently creationism is not, for some reason. He gets hung up about the presenter, Lisa Sylvester, mentioning that “science says” that evolution is true. Lisle is not fond of that particular figure of speech, and accuses her of the fallacy of reification. Later on in his post he also makes much of the contrast between “belief in evolution” and “belief in creationism” – he pedantically points out that everyone believes that creationists exist. Lisle does that kind of thing a lot, and as usual it’s a case of “they know what they mean, I know what they mean, you know what they mean, and so while they may have technically mangled the Queen’s English it doesn’t really matter.”
There are, however, some more interesting parts of the post that deal with more concrete claims. For example, he quotes Sylvester as saying:
And once more Broun says the earth is only 9,000 years old…
We believe that 6,000 years is a better estimate. But Broun is in the right ballpark. I mentioned to Lisa a number of different lines of evidence that confirm the biblical timescale. Among others, the fact that c-14 is found in virtually everything that has carbon in it, regardless of how deep it is found in the fossil layers – yet c-14 cannot last even 1 million years. With a half-life of only 5730 years, it is a strong confirmation of a young universe. There is no known way to “recharge” the c-14 in deep rock layers, because cosmic rays do not penetrate, and the c-14 nuclear cross section is many orders of magnitude too small to be recharged by other radioactive elements that are found in the earth. Isn’t it unfortunate that none of these facts made it in to CNN’s story?
The “carbon-14 found in x, when it shouldn’t have” claim is quite common. The argument against it is that nuclear reactions in rocks produce a background level of 14C which can be detected by our instruments. When plugged into the equation for calculating carbon dates this background level produces a figure generally in the order of only tens of thousands of years old, which is occasionally cited as part of the claim. Contamination can also be a huge problem if you want to tell the difference between “precisely no 14C” and “some 14C.”
Young Earth creationists are well aware of this objection. As I mentioned a few days ago an article on the ICR website by Gerald A. Aardsma dating to March of 1989 actually debunks this creationist “myth” (as he calls it), specifically regarding to coal. Lisle’s comment is the first time I have ever seen a creationist actually defend the claim, though I have probably missed it elsewhere. Needless to say, he does a poor job of it.
When a carbon-14 nucleus spontaneously decays it becomes nitrogen-14, which has the upshot of there no-longer being a carbon atom there. As such the “c-14 nuclear cross section” is irrelevant to considerations and kinda suggests that Lisle is making things up (he provides no source for his “many orders of magnitude” assertion). 14C is originally produced by a neutron colliding with a nitrogen-14 nucleus, so the 14N cross section is what he should be talking about.
I can’t tell you the numbers here that could settle whether or not the nuclear cross-section is large enough for the production of 14C by this method to be a more important consideration than the elements of random statistical noise and contamination. However, I can point you towards a paper discussing the ways of ensuring that there is a minimum level of the isotope in volumes of hydrocarbon used as scintillating counters to study solar neutrinos. The paper says that it is important to minimise levels of Uranium, Thorium, and Nitrogen, and eliminate hydrogen sulfide – along with numerous other considerations. This paper, to me, is very strong evidence that the carbon-14 deep in the Earth is not there because the rocks are young but because of these other radioactive elements. Lacking the numbers (if you’ve actually got them, Dr Lisle, I’m interested) it will have to do.
Lisle then quotes the second part of Sylvester’s sentence:
which lines up with some Christian’s literal approach to interpreting the Bible.
I find it comical when people talk about some Christians taking a “literal approach to interpreting the Bible” as if that were unnatural. How many other history books do people interpret in a non-literal way? Imagine someone arguing, “We all know that the War of 1812 was fought millions of years ago – except of course for those strange people who interpret their history books literally!”
The War of 1812 makes a poor comparison. Better would be a legend like Beowulf, or similar (yes, that MonsterTalk episode was quite good, listen if you haven’t already). The argument that the bible is somehow a “history book” (have these people even read the thing?) is circular, relying on the premise that it is accurate. We could say the same with any other holy book.
After this Bill Nye is quoted comparing creationism to flat-Earthism. Lisle responds:
Ah yes. No evolutionary diatribe is complete without a reference to creationists being like those who believe in a flat earth. Here Bill Nye repeats the old false analogy fallacy by conflating observable science with absurd conjecture. The roundness of the earth (which is Scriptural – Isaiah 40:22, Job 26:10) can be confirmed by the methods of observational science. Can particles-to-people evolution be demonstrated today? Of course not. If Bill Nye thinks that evolution can be proved, then let him prove it. So far, no one has been able to do that.
Isaiah 40:22 says:
It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in
While Job 26:10 says:
He hath compassed the waters with bounds, until the day and night come to an end.
Neither of these really say that the Earth is spherical, though the first does say it’s circular. And the word used really does mean “circle,” and not “sphere.” But, of course, Nye wasn’t really saying that creationists believe that the Earth is flat (though some might, you never know), but that it was the same kind of reality-denying position. I’m sure if there was a flat-Earther reading they would be quick to point out that you can’t prove that the Earth is spherical either. They always have an out of some kind, which is part of the reason why the comparison is so apt.
Lisle then quotes Nye as concluding:
To claim that it’s 9,000 years is not off a million years. It’s off by a factor of a million. It is extraordinarily wrong.
Indeed it is. Lisle responds:
Here Bill commits the fallacy of begging the question. He seems to want to prove how wrong creation is by pointing out that it is very, very different from the evolutionary age estimate. But this argument presupposes that the evolutionary position is true – which it isn’t. I could just as well say, “Bill Nye’s position is not off by a million years. It’s off by a factor of a million! It is extraordinarily wrong!”
He most certainly was not using the difference to show that creation is wrong, but to show just how wrong it is. That may or not be a case of begging the question, but if it is then it’s fairly trivial. You know what he meant.
According to Sylvester Nye also said something about radiometric dating. Lisle says:
Apparently, Mr. Nye is not at all familiar with the RATE research conducted at ICR, nor the assumptions involved in radiometric age estimates, nor the general unreliability of radiometric dating when it is tested on rocks of known age. When Lisa asked me about radiometric dating, I mentioned all of these things. Apparently those facts were not compatible with the story CNN had prepared.
It’s possible, though unlikely, that CNN was familiar with the arguments and/or looked at talk.origins before they went to air. We don’t know how much of a case Lisle really made during his interview – they may have thought he was babbling on about some talking point that they didn’t care about. In any case, it is best not to jump to conspiracy too quickly.
He then quotes:
We can also look at fossils…
Fossils are fantastic evidence that there was a worldwide flood. Most fossils are marine fossils, and yet they are found on land. Many of these still contain preserved soft tissue, which would be totally unreasonable if they were millions of years old. I mentioned this to Lisa in the interview. Why was this not mentioned in the story? I don’t expect the folks at CNN to automatically agree with my claims. But it would have been nice if they would have at least objectively reported them.
Yes folks: the fact that marine fossils are found on land is evidence for the Flood. We are back to the days when they couldn’t explain the shells on Mt Everest, it seems. And soft tissue? Some of it doesn’t actually exist, it seems, and the survival of the rest is not unreasonable. Indeed, we ought to see much more if the Earth really was so young.
…and the layering of the earth…
This is also consistent with the worldwide flood. Most of the Earth’s surface is covered with sedimentary rock – the kind of rock deposited by water.
Yes, but how do you even explain the existence of the layers, let alone their arrangement. Some of the rock on Earth comes from deserts too – how does he explain those showing up in the middle of the column?
… and dinosaurs are believed to have roamed the earth 225 million years ago.
This is a fairly weak statement, and Lisle pounces:
Belief is not evidence. Children believe in the Easter Bunny, but that doesn’t lend any support at all to the position. The evidence (soft tissue in dinosaur fossils, evidence of rapid deposition of the rocks which contain these fossils, historical records of people encountering dinosaurs, dinosaur petroglyphs, and so on) is consistent with dinosaurs living at the same time as people; it confirms the biblical timescale.
Soft tissues I already mentioned, rapid deposition is irrelevant and isn’t the case for many fossils, the “historical records” are legends of dragons, and the dinosaur petroglyphs are not.
Sylvester said “Still many in the country brush aside the empirical evidence.” Lisle retorts “Yes. They are called “evolutionists.”” Har, har.
After this, we get to the about belief in creation vs belief in creationism. Then Lisle himself is introduced:
Jason Lisle is an astrophysicist who represents a group trying to debunk conventional scientific wisdom and prove creationism.
What?! I certainly am not out to debunk anything scientific. I mentioned to Lisa in my interview that we at ICR love science, and our research team is comprised of many Ph.D. scientists. I pointed out that it is the creation worldview that makes science possible, and that evolutionary notions are contrary to the principles of science. This was the context for the quote they used below. So why did CNN choose to misrepresent our position? The report also does not mention by name “The Institute for Creation Research” though I mentioned it several times in the Interview. To their credit, CNN did at least post the name on the video feed at the bottom during their brief clip of me.
He also complains a bit more about the “ism” thing.
For a refresher, here’s what made it into the news clip itself:
JASON LISLE, INSTITUTE FOR CREATION RESEARCH: 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 equals MC squared. That’s kind of 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 makes sense that it was created by the mind of God.
He says now:
On the positive side, they did quote me accurately, and did not take my comments out of context. On the negative side, why did they not air any of the footage where I dealt with the specific claims that were made? Why did they not air the clips where I listed particular instances of scientific evidence that confirms creation? I gave concise sound-bite answers that would have been perfectly suitable for dealing with any of the claims brought up in the story. Yet, these were not shown. It’s almost as if the folks at CNN didn’t want people to be informed that creation researchers have thoroughly refuted the claims made by evolutionists. (But of course, that would be poor journalism.)
Lisle gave sound-bite answers, and they wanted a sound-bite answer. So they picked one. By happy coincidence it was the argument that seems to be one of his favourites, and the one that makes him most obviously sound like a crank! What’s he complaining about?
After Lisle’s short piece they move on to “man on the street” interviews:
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think anyone who is overtly and strongly Christian in our neo pagan age is going to get backlash.
True. Jesus took an overtly strong Christian position in His earthly ministry to a pagan world, and He certainly got some backlash.
Classic, that is. There was a second woman as well:
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don’t think that someone who is in a high- ranking of power should say something like that.
Why? Broun’s comment was (1) accurate and (2) perfectly appropriate to the setting. If Dr. Broun had been speaking to a group of scientists on the scientific problems with evolution, then it might have seemed unusual or out-of-place to address the spiritual implications, even though they are true. But what’s wrong with addressing these issues at a church? Secularists have already attempted to suppress all freedom of speech for Christians to talk about the Bible in every other setting: “Keep that stuff in church.” Now they get upset when these things are mentioned in church!
He also adds:
Christians are verbally assaulted and misrepresented all the time in our culture. It would be counter-productive to respond to each attack. Besides, what guarantee does Broun have that CNN would give him a fair interview? For example, would they edit down his interview so that they only air five sentences? If so, then it would probably be just a waste of Broun’s time to go on the program.
Lisle has quite the persecution complex. About how many US public figures aren’t Christians? How does a tiny minority “assault and misrepresent” Christians so effectively?
Most of the rest is just a rehash of what we have already seen – more “ism” business, more “literalism is normal.” The final quote he gives is:
There is also a substantial about a third of the country believing in sort of this middle view, which is, you believe in evolution, you check the box, yes, believe in evolution, but you believe that that evolution was guided essentially from a higher power that you believe in the big bang theory but something had to give that spark.
In a way, this is the worst position because it attempts to mesh two diametrically opposed philosophies. Theist evolution has a god who isn’t quite powerful enough to simply create what he wants, but must take billions of years of gradual, inefficient tinkering to get things to eventually work out. Evolution is a merciless and gruesome concept of the strong destroying the weak, and gradually changing due to genetic mistakes – most of which result in disease or death, but a handful of which “improve” the organism. That’s certainly not consistent with the God of Scripture. So if you’re going to believe in evolution, okay, but don’t blame God for it!
Theistic evolution is not all that bad. Creationists often bring up examples of structures that evolution supposedly can’t evolve – instead of taking the time to properly refute such claims a theistic evolutionist can just say “omnipotent God” and be done with it. Young Earth creationists, for their part, believe in a God who took six days to create the universe and had to take a break on the seventh. “God moves in mysterious ways.” There’s really no arguing with religion.
At last, Lisle concludes:
So there you have it. That’s the rest of the story – including the many points I made that were conspicuously left out of the CNN segment. If this is what passes for journalism at CNN, it makes me wonder how accurate many of their other stories are.
You should always wonder how accurate a news story really is – mistakes are made. But this segment does not make a particularly great posterboy for such vigilance – try something like ENCODE, or the arsenic life saga, instead.