Friday, 23 December 2011


CFI UK and The Ethical Society present:
Arranged by Stephen Law (Provost CFI UK)

Saturday 14th January 2012
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London

Bookshop by Newham Bookshop


General: £10 general public. Members and students: £8 BHA, AHS and SPES members and students with valid ID. Free to members of the Centre for Inquiry UK.

***Special offer*** Tickets to this event and the Blasphemy! event on the 28th January £16 general, £12 members and students):Members and student ticket offer and General public ticket offer.



Spirits on the brain: Insights from psychology and neuroscience

Chris French is a Professor of Psychology and Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and former editor of the Skeptic.

Belief in spirits can be found in all human societies and a substantial proportion of the population claim to have had direct contact with a spiritual realm beyond ordinary experience. This talk presents an overview of scientific research into sleep paralysis, near-death/out-of-body experiences and reincarnation claims in support of the claim that such topics can be understood without recourse to paranormal explanations.


'Is there anybody there?'

A ghost hunter that doesn't hunt for ghosts, Hayley Stevens has been researching paranormal reports since 2005. She is the co-host of the Righteous Indignation Podcast, blogs at 'Hayley is a Ghost', occasionally writes for numerous publications, and has spoken internationally about ghosts and critical thinking.

As someone who used to actively hunt for proof that ghosts existed, Hayley has first hand experience with the weird and scary lengths that ghost hunters will go to, to contact the dead and prove they exist in spirit form. 'Is there anybody there?' will give insight into the modern world of ghost hunting where a scientific approach is more likely to be an updated version of seance parlour antics - from the evolution of table tipping, to the revolution of the Ghost busting Smart phone apps.

1.00-1.30 LUNCH BREAK


Mediums at Large

Paul has been a professional trickster for almost thirty years during that period has appeared countless times as performer, presenter and pundit on numerous TV shows across many genres. As someone who spent a brief period (in his admittedly misguided youth) as a fortune-teller and 'psychic', and as a lifelong student of cons, scams and swindles, he is well qualified to talk about the current crop of mediums and the media bias towards their promotion. He would like to take the precaution of prefacing his entire talk with the word 'allegedly'.

A mild rant about TV mediums and the similarity to their predecessors of a century ago.



Richard Wiseman is the Professor for the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He has been active in the skeptical movement for many a year, does Twitter stuff, has recently written 'Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there', and likes dogs.

Do ghosts really exist? What actually happens at seances? How do you go about testing mediums? Why do these sorts of paragraphs often involve a long list of questions? All of this and more will be revealed in an exciting talk that will dig deep into the psychology of belief. Free packet of peanuts for the best question.


You Are The Magic

Ian Rowland is a writer and entertainer with an interest in various aspects of how the mind works or sometimes doesn't. He taught FBI agents how to be persuasive, and taught Derren Brown how to read fortunes. In America, in front of 10 million TV viewers, he proved that he could talk to dead people - or at least fake it well enough to convince complete strangers. He knows an awful lot about cold reading (look it up), but tries not to drone on about it at parties. He is good at drinking tea and waiting for interesting invitations to come his way. Ian will perform a few miracles, just because he can and it's fun, while explaining the truth about psychic powers, miraculous gifts and the afterlife. He will also demonstrate that you are just a little bit more magical and miraculous than you may realise.

4.00 END

Talking of blasphemy, Tim Minchin cut from tonight's J. Ross show

Tim Minchin's blog has very cross post about ITV's decision to cut his recorded appearance on the J Ross show tonite. Tim writes...

"And then someone got nervous and sent the tape to ITV’s director of television, Peter Fincham.

And Peter Fincham demanded that I be cut from the show.

He did this because he’s scared of the ranty, shit-stirring, right-wing press, and of the small minority of Brits who believe they have a right to go through life protected from anything that challenges them in any way."

Here's what was cut...

PS Tim's "I am not saying I'm Jesus" reminded me of king of the blasphemers (Jerry Springer musical case) Stewart Lee - go to 1min30.

I have sent my thoughts to Their explanation is: "We often make changes to programmes before transmission and on this occasion we felt that the song didn’t quite work editorially."

BLASPHEMY EVENT 28th January! CFI UK event!

I have organized this upcoming event for CFI UK. Really excellent, knowledgeable and entertaining speakers...

“Blasphemy!” - Blasphemy, religious hatred, and human rights: Who speaks for the sacred?

This event focuses on the criminalization of religious hatred, defamation, and insult under European human rights, and how this functions as a de facto blasphemy law.

Jointly presented by Centre for Inquiry UK and SPES.

Saturday 28th January 2012
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square Holborn EC1R 4RL

Tickets: £10 (£8 student).


11.00AM Kenan Malik
Beyond the Sacred

Kenan writes: The idea of blasphemy is closely linked to the concept of the sacred. Detachment from the sacred, the former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor claimed at the installation ceremony for his successor, has been responsible for war and terror, sin and evil. In this view the acceptance of the sacred is indispensable for the creation of a moral framework and for the injection of meaning and purpose into life.

I want to deconstruct the concept of the sacred and to challenge the idea that without a notion of the sacred there can be no boundaries to human behaviour, no anchor for our ethical beliefs, no meaning to our existence. The sacred, I want to argue, is less about the transcendent than it is about the taboo. ‘The sacred order’, as Leszek Kolokowski, the late Polish Marxist-turned-Christian philosopher, observes, ‘has never ceased, implicitly or explicitly, to proclaim “this is how things are, they cannot be otherwise”.’
The certainties of the sacred, I will argue, provides false hope and in so doing undermine our humanity by denying human choice.

Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster. He is a presenter of Analysis, BBC Radio 4's flagship current affairs programme and a panelist on the Moral Maze. He used to present Nightwaves, BBC Radio 3's arts and ideas programme. He has written and presented a number of radio and TV documentaries including Disunited Kingdom, Are Muslims Hated?, Islam, Mullahs and the Media, Skullduggery and Man, Beast and Politics.

Kenan Malik’s latest book is From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy. The book was shortlisted for the 2010 George Orwell Book Prize.

12.00 Andrew Copson
Blasphemy laws by the back door

Andrew Copson has been chief executive of the British humanist association since 2010 before which he spent five years coordinating the association's campaigns work including on blasphemy and free speech issues.

After decades of campaigning the criminal offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel have been abolished but censorship of blasphemous content and even threatened prosecution of blasphemes continues in the UK. Andrew explores how corporate interests, opaque advertising regulations and new criminal laws continue to stifle free expression and free criticism and mockery of gods and religions.

1.00-1.30 Lunch

1.30 Austin Dacey
The Future of Blasphemy

Austin Dacey, Ph.D., is a representative to the United Nations for the International Humanist and Ethical Union and the author of The Future of Blasphemy. He writes:

If blasphemy is an affront to values that are held sacred, then it is too important to be left to the traditionally religious. In the public contestation of the sacred, each of us—secular and religious alike—has equal right and authority to speak on its behalf and equal claim to redress for its violation. Laws against blasphemy and "religious hatred" are inherently discriminatory because they give traditional faith communities a legal remedy that is not available to religious minorities and secularists when their sense of the sacred is violated.

2.30 Jacob Mchangama
Between blasphemy and hate speech: How hate speech laws are being used to enforce blasphemy norms

Most European states have abolished or ceased enforcing blasphemy laws. Yet “controversial” criticism of religion still risk falling afoul of speech restrictions in the form of hate-speech laws prohibiting incitement to religious hatred. A term which is defined differently in many jurisdictions and may include anything from satirical religious cartoons to harsh criticism of religions. Rather than securing tolerance and social peace modern hate speech laws reinforce group identities and illiberal religious norms to the detriment of freedom of expression and conscience.

Jacob Mchangama is director of legal affairs at Danish think tank CEPOS and an external lecturer in International Human Rights law at the University of Copenhagen. Jacob has a special focus on freedom of expression and has published articles in international newspapers such as Wall Street Journal Europe, Jerusalem Post, Spiked, Globe and Mail, The Australian and Jyllands Posten. His work on human rights and free speech has been mentioned in The Economist, and Courrier International.

3.30 Maryam Namazie
Blasphemy, Offence, and Islamophobia limiting Citizen Rights

Maryam will be speaking on how accusations of blasphemy, offensive speech and ‘Islamophobia’ censor and restrict free speech, limit citizen rights, and aid and abet Islamism.

Maryam Namazie is Spokesperson of the One Law for All Campaign against Sharia Law in Britain, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Equal Rights Now - Organisation against Women's Discrimination in Iran. She is also National Secular Society Honorary Associate and the NSS' 2005 Secularist of the Year award winner and was selected one of the top 45 women of the year 2007 by Elle magazine Quebec.

4.30 end

Thursday, 22 December 2011

THINK contributions welcome

I am looking for contributions to THINK: Philosophy For Everyone, which is a journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy published by CUP three times per year I'm the editor).

Pieces must be 4k words max and very accessible and clear. No endnotes or footnotes and minimal refereneces.

Mostly we publish stuff by professional philosophers but do include other pieces too if they're good. I also encourage unusual approaches, such as using dialogues. If you have a piece or an idea that might be appropriate let me know.

If you're a professional philosopher with a short piece for which you hold copyright that would be suitable, do please send it over.

Word documents sent as attachment to my email address (see the title bar above) are best, please.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Illustrator needed

I am putting together a philosophy poster for my college and need an illustrator who can do, e.g. fun Quentin Blake style cartoon illustrations in colour. Preferably not too expensive! Anyone out there?

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Glenn Peoples' moral argument for God

Glenn Peoples' blog has been interesting me lately. He has just out up his version of a moral argument for the existence of God.

Glenn argues, as does Craig:

If there's no God, there are no objective moral values.
There are objective moral values
Therefore there is a God.

Of course, Glenn realizes his premises, especially the first premise, will require considerable support, so he makes his case for it here.

Here's part of my comment on People's moral argument...

Glenn – I’m tempted to start investigating your argument more but it would be really helpful if you could set out the argument more formally, so that the most basic premises supporting your conclusion are clearly identified. Make it very clear why there is objective moral value only if there is an all-powerful, all-good, personal God. E.g. why moral Platonism won’t do, for example. Why non-natural objective moral facts won’t do either. Why it’s got to be a person. Exactly how the is-ought gap plays a role in delivering the conclusion. It would also be good to see what your assessment of the probability of each of the basic premises of the argument is.

Notice by the way that as more premises are introduced that you may consider to be much more probable than not – that have, say, an 80% probability of being true – the probability of your conclusion being true may nevertheless drop like a stone. With, say, just five required basic premises of 80% probability each, the probability that your conclusion is true drops to just 32%.

That’s to say, the probability that your conclusion is FALSE is nearly 70% (p.s. given just those premises).

(Wes Morriston also points this out, I believe)

However some theists (not you) are very good at disguising this problem of plummeting probabilities with amazing rhetorical flourishes!

Post Script.

In case it's not clear, I am pointing out that a deductively valid moral argument based on even say five basic premises with an 80% probability of truth each, produces a conclusion that has 68% probability of being false, given just those premises. It's much more likely to be false than true!

Now your moral argument, which you putting up against the problem of evil (which it apears you've entirely failed to deal with, and which itself renders the moral argument more or less useless, even if its first premise *could* be established), seems on the face of it to be based on a series of thoughts which you find fairly plausible which you think entail your God exists. But even if (i) your argument makes say just 5 basic assumptions with an 80% probability of truth each, and (ii) they do collectively deductively entail your god exists, your argument is still a dismal flop.

I asked that you clarify what your argument is so we can check if this obvious seeming flaw in your argument is really there. But you say you haven't got the time.

POSTSCRIPT 21 DECEMBER. I have just added this comment...

Glenn and others want to create a smokescreen of technicality to disguise the fact that his argument, looks, prima facie, like a dismal flop given its based on a series of "more probable than not" premises. The rule I am applying is: to get the highest probability you can assign to the conclusion in a valid deductive argument, you just multiply the probabilities of the basic premises.

Now yes, there are some exceptions to this general rule. So for example, when a premises is redundant, like so: A, B therefore A. Here, you don't factor in the probability of B, for obvious reasons. Also, when the conclusion is a tautology, its probability will be 1, irrespective of the probability of the premises (though the premises are then all redundant, of course). Also, simple multiplication is not appropriate where there's a logical or known causal connection between premises. The probability of the conclusion may then be either higher or lower than the figure you get by simple multiplying. E.g.

A is male
A is female
Therefore A is male and A is female.

Given our background knowledge that being male makes it highly unlikely you are female (unless a hermaphrodite), it's clear we should not give a value of 26% to the conclusion given a prob of 51% to each premise. The probability is LOWER than you get by simply multiplication. Given that further background knowledge. Ditto (and here the we’re dealing with logical exclusion – the conclusion has a mathematically guaranteed probability of 0):

A is 60 years old
A is 61 years old
A is 60 years old and A is 61 years old.

Other times the probability of the conclusion can indeed be higher.

So yes, there are exceptions to the rule. But the point is they are exceptions to a general rule that does otherwise generally apply and which we'll be entitled to suppose applies in the case of Glenn's moral argument too, unless Glenn can explain why it doesn’t. At this point, we cannot tell for sure, because Glenn won’t even clearly set out what the basic premises of his argument actually are. In which case, we should just shrug and walk away. Glenn’s given us nothing.

Incidentally the “upper bound” stuff, while it looks awfully impressive especially when articulated using long strings of formulae, appears to be based on some rather dubious ideas. I cannot find any reference to it outside of theistic circles (e.g. Tim McGrew). Can you point me to some?

Craig’s reference to it is opaque, btw, in the context of what he says. That looks like an attempt to baffle with bullshit.

But I note in any case that the “upper bound” point, even if it is correct, appears to give us no reason at all to suppose that we cannot, on the basis of saying that Glenn’s basic premises are five with a probability of 0.8 each, draw the conclusion that the probability of his conclusion cannot reasonably be estimated as higher than 0.32, given knowledge of just those premises. Indeed, that’s exactly the conclusion we’re usually entitled to draw in such cases (noting, of course, that there are indeed a few exceptions – perhaps Glenn will say “God exists” is a tautology? In which case the premises will have a lower probability than the conclusion but will be redundant!). So why not in this case? That’s what Glenn would need to explain, once he’s actually identified what his premises are (hint: Glenn might insist there’s some connection between the premises that means the probability of the conclusion should be higher – but the onus is surely then on him to identify this connection). Remember, I am not saying the probability of Glenn’s conclusion will be low. I am saying that if it’s based on a series of merely more-probable-than-not basic premises then (unless this is some sort of special case – see above) the probability of the conclusion cannot be considered, on that basis alone, very high.

POST SCRIPT 23 DEC. Well, I have been getting clearer about how all this upper bound of 1 stuff works, largely thanks to Tim (McGrew?) who is v knowledgeable about it and has been commenting on Glenn's website. It now seems to me that the logic concerning an upper bound of 1 is indeed impeccable. And, it turns out, once all the logical symbolism etc. has been unpacked and understood, completely irrelevant to the point I'm making.

I'll explain exactly why in another full post. It's important to get this stuff straight because, if I am correct, saying "Ah but that's just the lower bound of the probability; the upper bound of the probability of the conclusion is 1" in response to the objection that the probability of the conclusion (assuming independent, non-redundant premises) given just validity and the probabilities of the premises is just those probabilities multiplied, is a complete red herring (indeed, the person who says this is committing the straw man fallacy).

Friday, 16 December 2011

Glenn Peoples on the Evil God Challenge

I have been having an exchange with Glenn Peoples on his blog about the Evil God Challenge. Glenn thinks the problem of evil (and reverse problem of good) is neutralized by the theodicies (and reverse theodicies). Hence there's no reason provided by the vast quantities of evil/good we observe to conclude that belief in a good or evil god is unreasonable. So all Glenn has to do to show that belief in a good god is quite reasonable is, he thinks, to come up with e.g. a fairly good moral argument for the existence of God. So here's my latest comment...

Let me explain how things look from my end.

I give you what appears to be overwhelming empirical evidence against the existence of your particular God - the evidential problem of evil (e.g. hundreds of millions of years of horror before humans show up, a million plus generations of children around half of which are killed through disease and/or starvation before they reach the age of 5 before Jesus shows up, etc. etc.)

You appear to respond, in effect, by saying: (i) but we theists have all sorts of explanations for all this evil (theodicies), which I think are quite good explanations (ii) even if they are not that good, they can be supplemented by sceptical theism which I don’t rule out, so (iii) the onus is on you to show all these theodicies collectively fail and that sceptical theism is untenable, before you can say that you have provided good evidence against the existence of my God.

But the thing about the theodicies, Glenn, is that they are what Popper calls ad hoc. They lead to now new tests. Or, if they do, but the further test fails, there’s always another gerrymandered explanation for the failure that can be cooked up. Similarly, appeals to God’s mysterious ways and facts-beyond-our-ken are ad hoc. There’s no way empirically to test the claim that such facts-beyond-our-ken is indeed the correct explanation for why there’s so much evil.

Much the same intellectual strategy that you are employing to defend theism is also employed by Young Earth Creationists (YEC), conspiracy theorists, Erich von Daniken style alternative historians (aliens built the pyramids) and countless other wackos to convince themselves and their followers that what they believe cannot be so silly after all.

For of course, if I present a series of evidence-based arguments against YEC, its proponents can say, “Ah, but we have some, we think, quite good explanations of the order of the fossil record, for light from distant stars, etc. - hundreds of such explanations in fact” (explanations cooked up at the Institute for Creation Research and other multi-million dollar funded “research” institutions), and (ii) in any case, God might have his mysterious reasons for arranging the fossils, etc. like that, so (iii) the onus is on you to show all these YEC-type explanations collectively fail and that such appeals to God’s mysterious reasons is untenable, before you can say that the facts to which you point provide good evidence against YEC.

Of course, when we then try to show the failings of the YEC explanations offered, the proponent of YEC can always gerrymander up yet more explanations, and then even more, thereby continuing to make their theory “fit” the evidence. They thus render their theory empirically unfalsifiable (this is the strategy I call “But it Fits!” in my book Believing Bullshit).

But that is, indeed, all bullshit, isn’t it? The fact is, YEC IS pretty straightforwardly falsified by the available empirical evidence, notwithstanding the possibility of endlessly explaining that evidence away by ad hoc means and/or appeals to mystery. Most of us can see that straightaway (those of us whose minds have not been captured by YEC, that is). The endless ad hoc-ery and mystery-mongering is just a smokescreen.

The onus is clearly not on us to refute all the explanations on offer by the YECs. In fact that’s an impossible task given the ad hoc character of their explanations and the fact they're prepared to keep constructing them ad nauseum. It’s entirely reasonable for us to insist that the available empirical evidence DOES indeed very effectively undermine YEC, and that it does so precisely because the YECs’ method of explaining it away is so hopelessly ad hoc.

This is why, before we are presented with any argument FOR classical theism or YEC that might be furnished to save or support the theory, it is indeed entirely reasonable to conclude, on the basis of the kind of observational evidence outlined, that classical theism/YEC is false.

POSTSCRIPT. Glenn has responded with three points, to which I've responded. Here's the points with my responses...
PPS 18th Dec. I have now expanded the explanations below because they were too sketchy.

Hi Glenn

my quick response to your three comments.

First, here's what an ad hoc hypothesis actually is (as Popper and I use the term). It's a hypothesis introduced to save a theory from refutation, a hypothesis that is not independently testable.

Illustration. The Aristotelean cosmology said the heavenly bodies are perfectly spherical. Galileo observed mountains on the moon through his telescope. One Aristotelean attempted to save his theory by insisting there was an invisible substance on the moon that covered the mountains, making it perfectly spherical. This theory-saving hypothesis was ad hoc because (at the time) it was untestable.

Not all theory-saving hypotheses are ad hoc. Newton's theory of universal gravitation predicted a smooth orbit for Uranus. Uranus was observed to have a wobbly orbit. To save Newton's theory, scientists introduced the hypothesis that there was a further planet tugging Uranus out of orbit. This new hypothesis was not ad hoc as it led to new tests - astronomers looked at where the mystery planet would have to be, and found it - that's how Neptune was discovered.

Even when individual theory saving hypotheses are not individually ad hoc, they can be collectively rendered ad hoc if the defender of the theory is prepared endlessly to cook up new hypotheses to save the theory. Or appeals to mystery, of course, which are also, in effect, ad hoc. This is the strategy I call "But it Fits!" in the book Believing Bullshit.

Now to Glenn's response. He says...

GLENN: 1) I’m not even close to being persuaded that the plausibility of theodicies is anything like the plausibility of explanations for why we should believe in a young universe.

ME: What you’re persuaded of is irrelevant. I have pointed out why your method of dealing with the problem of evil is essentially similar to that employed by Young Earth Creationists to deal with counter-evidence.

GLENN: 2) Theodicies don’t strike me as ad hoc. Things like the free will defence or the soul building defence (etc) are generalisable. E.g. the might be stated something like “For any perfectly good and all powerful being, it would still be conceivable that they allow X provided it has some outcome that is compatible with their good character, such as Y.” Ad hoc explanations are really one-off explanations of a sort that are just made up to explain one very specific situation by appealing to principles that are of no use otherwise. So it’s not ad hoc at all.

ME: That’s not what ad hoc means, Glenn. Ad hoc explanations lead to no new tests. The theodicies are ad hoc, by Popper’s definition (he coined the phrase). Look it up. Or, when the theodicies are not ad hoc, and the further test is failed, they are salvaged by yet another defensive manouevre, just as in the case of YEC, thereby rendering the theory unfalsifiable (or an appeal to mystery, of course). Nutters who believe dogs are spies from the planet Venus, etc. employ the exact same strategy.

Ad hoc hoc defences CAN be generalizable. For example, to defend my theory that the Earth is ruled by alien lizards, I can deal with an apparent counter-evidence by saying: "Ah, but that evidence was of course planted there by the alien lizards to fool us." That's a great general, blanket immunizing strategy. it's not one off.

GLENN: 3) Even if things were different and theodicies were ad hoc, they are intended as explanations for why a person might do or allow something that you didn’t expect them to. If anything is allowed to be ad hoc, surely it’s something about why so-and-so might do something. If you rejected the explanation because it was ad hoc, you’d be effectively stacking the deck against any explanation in terms of a person’s intentions, which would be unfair in this case, to put it mildly. But this is moot, since theodicies aren’t ad hoc in any important sense anyway.

ME: The theodicies are indeed ad hoc in Popper's sense. They lead to no new tests (either that, or further explaining away is done ad nauseum to deal with further explanatory failures, or they're supplemented by appeals to mystery). This is NOT like when someone does something out of character and we say, ah, but they probably had this reason for doing it. Often, we can test our hypothesis. So the suggestion is not ad hoc at all. And the occasional ad hoc explanation for anomolies is in any case acceptable (even Popper thought so). However, when there’s considerable evidence against a theory and it’s all dealt with by ad hoc means (and/or appeals to mystery), then that counter-evidence is NOT neutralized.

You’re strategy is, in short, very much like a wife who, when presented with a husband who very often acts in seemingly cruel and vicious way, beating her and her children, maintains he is nevertheless entirely noble and virtuous. She simply explains all the bad stuff away in a manner that is entirely ad hoc (or, when her excuses and explanations for his behaviour clearly fail, just constructs yet more explanations ad nauseum, and/or appeals to his having mysterious unknown reasons).

You, Glenn, say: "If you rejected the explanation because it was ad hoc, you’d be effectively stacking the deck against any explanation in terms of a person’s intentions". This is just false. You have misunderstood what "ad hoc" actually means, as I and Popper use the term. Explanations in terms of people's intentions usually aren't ad hoc, as it's usually possible to test the explanation. E.g. We believe Tom is kind and non-violent. We discover he has killed someone with a knife. We postulate that he killed in self-defence. That it was a case of self-defence is something that can be investigated and indeed potentially shown to be false. It's not ad hoc. But even if it were, it would acceptable if it's a one off example. What's not acceptable is to rely almost entirely on ad hoc means to save your theory from refutation. That's what you are doing, Glenn.

To return to the beaten wife - the wife is being irrational if she insists there’s no prima facie good evidence that her husband is NOT entirely noble and good. She’s deluded. You seem, to me, are a similar case.

Now of course, the wife might insist she has these other very good reasons for thinking her husband really is noble after all. Perhaps she has. But, as things stand, her husband’s horrific behaviour really is excellent evidence that he’s not entirely noble and good, notwithstanding the wife’s endless supply of untestable excuses and explanations.

That’s right, I am suggesting you’re deluded, Glenn. Not very gracious of me, but it’s what I think. Clearly, when we are both so very confident of the reasonableness of our respective, but mutually exclusive, positions, one of us very probably is pretty deluded. The above considerations suggest it’s you.

PPPS. That this is the fundamental problem with the theodicies (and skeptical theism, actually), a problem that the EGC brings out at an intuitive level, is something I'm writing up as an academic paper.

Postscript 20 Dec. Glenn has responded again. Here's my (slightly edited) reply (quoting him):

Glenn you say: "you've got to insist that even explanations that are compatible with all the facts an are true will be discarded by your method of labelling explanations as ad hoc, basically ensuring that no explanation at all will get through your filter,"

Of course true explanations can quite rightly and justifiably be rejected. Happens all the time. But in any case you haven't shown your explanations are true, at this point (considering just the evidential problem of evil prior to considerations favouring theism). You are just assuming they are, at this point!

"No explanations at all will get through your filter." Not sure what this means. Non ad hoc explanations of counter-evidence are fine. Even the occasional ad hoc explanation is acceptable. The only thing I am ruling out is a theory defended against seemingly very powerful counter-evidence more or less entirely by ad-hoc means (plus mystery-mongering). I'm saying, very sensibly, that that does NOT neutralize the counter-evidence! This must, by now, be blindingly obvious to you.

But the key point, Glenn, is, once explaining away all counter-evidence by more or less entirely ad hoc means (plus mystery mongering) is allowed - and that IS your strategy, as you seem finally to have realized - EVERY NUTTY THEORY BECOMES ENTIRELY IMMUNE TO COUNTER EVIDENCE. Indeed, this is the preferred method of dealing with counter-evidence by nutcases the world over.

I can now quite reasonably believe the world is ruled by evil, shape-shifting alien lizards. A wife can quite reasonably believe the husband who beats her and her children is wholly noble and good. Any counter-evidence can quite reasonably be endlessly explained away by ad hoc means (supplemented, if required, by mystery-mongering). Our absurd beliefs will be just as reasonable as yours. And yours as reasonable as ours.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Naturalism, Evolution and True Belief

This article on Plantinga i just published in Analysis. It's a fairly short attempt to refute Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Go here. PDF is here.


Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism aims to show that naturalism is, as he puts it, ‘incoherent or self defeating’. Plantinga supposes that, in the absence of any God-like being to guide the process, natural selection is unlikely to favour true belief. Plantinga overlooks the fact that adherents of naturalism may plausibly hold that there exist certain conceptual links between belief content and behaviour. Given such links, natural selection will favour true belief. A further rather surprising consequence of the existence of such links is this: even if semantic properties are epiphenomenal, unguided evolution will still favour true belief.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Answers in Genesis responds to my 4thought slot

Answers In Genesis, the bonkers Young Earth Creationist website headed by Ken Ham (who gets special mention in my book Believing Bullshit), singled out my Channel 4thought slot for comment. Go here and scroll a little over halfway down. I am very pleased.

All I need now is to be attacked by "Mad Mel" Melanie Phillips and I can die happy.

P.S. This guy at "They Don't Fool Me!" has also got cross about the Channel 4 thing, after reading the above Answers in Genesis post. Apparently anyone who thinks the world is older the 6k years is a "leftist". I just posted this comment (which I suspect won't ever appear):

Stephen Law December 8, 2011, 8:04 am Reply
Your comment is awaiting moderation

Yeh, let’s string up this leftwing atheist commie punk for insisting the Earth is older than 6 thousand years.

P.S. 12th December: As I predicted above - They Don't Fool Me! blogger refused to put up the above comment and instead put this up in a post: "Today in the House of Horrors, we have the Christian hating philosopher Stephen Law responding to my post that included “Are Christians Mentally Ill?” in comments saying something nutty about ‘stringing up atheists’ and linking to a youtube video."

Seems They Don't Fool Me! is not too keen on me posting a link to William Lane Craig Lane explaining why the universe is very probably 13.7 billion years old and Young Earth Creationism is implausible.

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The next event is this pretty amazing one on ghosts, spirits, etc, btw. Sat 14th Jan. Magicians are involved so it will be entertaining as well as educational.

To subscribe to email updates about Heythrop and other conferences and events of interest to pupils doing A Level RS and/or Philosophy, please email me the phrase "subscribe Heythrop".

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The next Heythrop Conference is this one on Sat 21st Jan 2012 with Keith Ward, Richard Harries, John Cottingham and myself. It's free but you need to book.

Philosophy Conference Sat 21st Jan

Here's an upcoming event I have organized for my college. Venue is Heythrop College, Kensington Square. It's free. Aimed especially at VIth formers and their teachers.To book email me or Karoline Wilhelm-Brown



21st Jan 2012

Particularly aimed at students of RS, though all are welcome.

Bookshop by Newham books. Book signings.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Keith Ward is a Fellow of British Academy, one-time Professor of the Philosophy of Religion, King's London, Regius Professor of Divinity, Oxford, and now Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop.

Ethics and Religion: How They Fit Together

John Cottingham is Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop College, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Reading University, and an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. He is Editor of Ratio, the international journal of analytic philosophy.”

1.00-2.00 lunch

The Evil God Challenge

Stephen Law is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, university of London, editor of THINK (journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy) and author of The Philosophy Gym (Headline) and The Philosophy Files (Orion).

Justice for hedgehogs: Ronald Dworkins’ ‘value holism’ in theological perspective

Richard Harries is Gresham Professor of Divinity. His latest books include Faith in Politics? Rediscovering the Christian Roots of our Political Values (DLT) and The Re-enchantment of Morality (SPCK) which was short-listed for the 2011 Michael Ramsey Prize for Theological writing.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Al Jazeera - my contribution to discussion

Here's the Al Jazeera discussion programme I appeared on last night. It was a very good discussion I thought. Al Jazeera produce exceptionally high quality TV. The other contributors were Salman Hameed and Imam Joe Bradford from the US.

The discussion was prompted by an article by Geneticist Steve Jones in the Telegraph. In fact I had not seen this earlier interview in the Australian where Jones does say the problem of students boycotting evolution classes is predominantly with Muslim students.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Stream, Al Jazeera tonight

I'll be on the Stream programme this evening, talking about Muslims who (it's alleged) walk out of or boycott lectures on evolution that form part of their university course.

Steve Jones has previously expressed a concern.

From 7.30-8.00 via Skype, along with some others.

I'll be tweeting afterwards....@stephenlaw60

Monday, 5 December 2011

Believing Bullshit chpt 2


“But It Fits!” is one of the most popular strategies for immunizing beliefs against refutation. In fact, “But it fits!” does double duty. Not only is it a great immunizing strategy, it can also be used to create the illusion that a ridiculous belief system is not, after all, ridiculous, but at least as well confirmed as its rivals. I’ll explain how “But It Fits!” works by means of a particularly impressive example: Young Earth Creationism.

Young Earth Creationism

Young Earth Creationism is a theory based on a literal reading of the Old Testament. Young Earth Creationists maintain that the entire universe is less than ten thousand years old (a typical estimate is about six thousand years old). They claim that the universe, the Earth, and every living species were created literally as described in Genesis, over a period of six days.

So, according to Young Earth Creationists, the theory of evolution, which says that new species can evolve, and have been doing so over many millions years, is false. So are current cosmological theories that say that the universe came into existence several billions of years ago (between 13 and 14 billions years ago).

Young Earth Creationism is popular. Polls fairly consistently indicate that around about 45% of U.S. citizens believe it. Nor is it restricted to the uneducated. A 1972 Gallup poll suggested that about a third of U.S. graduates believe we are all descendents of Adam and Eve. For many, Creationism is a moral crusade. According to H. M. Morris, a leading proponent,

Evolution is the root of atheism, of communism, nazism, behaviourism, economic imperialism, militarism, libertinism, anarchism, and all manner of anti-Christian systems of belief and practice.

Young Earth Creationists typically see themselves fighting a battle over the souls of coming generations, and are particular keen to have their beliefs taught in schools.

Extraordinarily, not only do many millions of Americans believe the universe is only about six thousand years old, many also believe that Young Earth Creationism is good science. They consider the Biblical account of creation to be at least as scientifically well-confirmed as the theories of evolution and a billions-of-years-old universe.

How, you may be wondering, can any sane, reasonably well-educated person believe that Young Earth Creationism is just as scientifically credible and well-confirmed as its more orthodox scientific rivals? After, isn’t there overwhelming empirical evidence against Young Earth Creationism? What about the fossil record, which reveals the species currently living on this planet have evolved from common ancestors over many millions of years? And of course, you might well add that the fossil record is merely one piece of evidence for the theory of evolution. The theory is also powerfully confirmed by discoveries in genetics (indeed, an overwhelming case for evolution can now be made even without appealing to the fossil record at all) . Surely there’s also a mountain of evidence that the universe is much older than ten thousand years. For example:

What of the light from distant galaxies, which, given the speed of light, would have taken hundreds of millions of years to get here (and even that from stars within our own galaxy can take tens of thousands of years to arrive)?

What of the movement of tectonic plates, which we know to be very slow, but also have succeeded in separating the Atlantic coasts by thousands of miles?

What of the seasonal layers of ice found at the Poles, the drilled out cores of which reveal a seasonal history dating back hundreds of thousands of years?

What of radio-carbon and other forms of dating which reliably date objects to be much older than Young Earth Creationists claim they must be?

What of the chalk beds revealed by the white cliffs of Dover, which are over hundreds of metres deep? Under a microscope, chalk is revealed to be made of the compressed shells of tiny micro-organisms. They died, their shells sank to the bottom producing a sediment that finally solidified into the chalk beds we see today. At current rates of deposit, the deepest beds would have taken tens of millions of years to produce. According to Young Earth Creationists, the entire universe is less than one thousandth as old as that.

We might go on and on. There’s hardly a branch of science that doesn’t supply us with evidence that the universe is vastly older than Young Earth Creationists claim it to be. These sciences together provide a consistent, coherent and increasingly detailed history of life, the Earth and the Universe that is almost entirely at odds with the Biblical account.

How, then, do so many Young Earth Creationists convince themselves that their theory is not falsified by the empirical evidence? How are they persuaded that it is in fact scientifically confirmed? Let’s begin by looking at how they approach the fossil record.

The Flood theory

Most Young Earth Creationists appeal to one or more catastrophes to explain geological features – mountain ranges, sedimentary layers, etc. – that might otherwise seem far older. There’s nothing wrong with catastrophe theories as such. Even orthodox scientists suppose catastrophes – comet strikes, volcanic eruptions, floods, and so on – have played an important role in shaping this planet and the life on it. According to most contemporary Young Earth Creationists, however, the key catastrophe involved in shaping our contemporary landscape was the Biblical Flood: the flood on which Noah famously floated his Ark. They believe that Old Testament story is literally true. Noah really did build an Ark onto which he was instructed by God to put seven mated pairs of every kind of clean kind of animal and every kind of bird (Genesis 7.2). The waters then rose, drowning the rest. The current inhabitants of the land and sky are the descendents of those who boarded the Ark.

So how does the Flood supposed to account for various geological features, such as the fossil record? It’s claimed that, when the waters rose, they produced huge amounts of silt and mud. This material settled and solidified, eventually forming many of the sedimentary rock layers we find today. Most of the fossils we find within these layers are fossils of creatures drowned by the rising waters. The Flood also explains other geological features, such as the Grand Canyon, which was carved out when the flood waters subsided.

Perhaps you are wondering why creatures are not buried randomly within the sedimentary layers, but arranged in a very specific order? Why, if the Flood theory is true, do we never find the fossils of large mammals within the same layers as dinosaurs? Why do the lower layers contain fossils of only simple sea creatures? Why does man only appear in only the very topmost layers? Why, if they were all buried by the same catastrophic flood, aren’t their remains largely jumbled up?

Young Earth Creationists have their answers. They say we would expect the simple sea creatures living at the bottom of the ocean to be buried first. Birds would be restricted to the higher layers as they would be able to fly from the rising waters. Mankind, being the smartest, would probably have found ways to avoid being drowned until the last moment, so it is not surprising we find human remains only in the top layers. We should also expect to see some order in the fossil record due, for example, to the fact that different ecological zones were submerged at different times, and also because of the different rates at which the corpses of different species bloat and then sink. “So you see?” say Young Earth Creationists. “The fossil record is, after all, consistent with our theory!”

We might say, in reply “But these moves made by Creationists only postpone their difficulties, as they generate a myriad of further puzzles. What about flightless birds, such as penguins and ostriches, which would not have been able postpone being drowned? Why do their fossils never show up in layers lower than other birds? Why do we find sharks, but no dolphins in the lower sedimentary layers, given they occupy similar ecological zones? Surely both would have been buried in the early stages of the Flood? we could go on, and on, and on, citing a mountain of fossil evidence that contradicts the Flood theory.” However, Young Earth Creationists have in some cases constructed Flood-friendly explanations for these observations, and continue to work on developing Flood-friendly explanations for the rest.

Of course it’s not just the fossil record that generates puzzles for Young Earth Creationism. Let’s think for a moment about the logistics of Noah’s expedition. Genesis 16.2 says the Ark was 300 x 50 x 30 cubits – that’s about 460 x 75 x 44 feet. Not a particularly large vessel (a cross section of 75 by 44 feet is, coincidentally, similar to that of my four-bedroomed Victorian terraced house). How did at least two of every kind fit aboard this rather small vessel? Noah didn’t just need specimens of modern creatures such as African elephants, rhinos and giraffes. If dinosaurs were drowned in the Flood, then Noah must have put at least two of each species of dinosaur on board his Ark. Young Earth Creationists accept this. But then how did he get two T. Rex, two Stegosaurs, two Brontosaurs, and so on, safely aboard? And these aren’t even the very largest dinosaurs. What about, for example, two Argentinosaurs, at 120ft long and 100 tons each?

Other questions arise. What did Noah feed his creatures during their voyage? How did Noah round up the known 900,000 insect species from around the planet, and how did he ensure they weren’t trodden on during the voyage? Also, how did Noah acquire polar bears from the Arctic and possums from Australia – how did they cross the vast oceans and continents to reach the Ark?

However, Young Earth Creationists are not so easily defeated, and have constructed answers to all these and other obvious questions about Noah’s voyage. For example, the website of Christian Information Ministries suggest that Noah did not need at least two of every named species of dinosaur, merely two of every “kind” (whatever that is, exactly):

…some creationists believe there may have been far fewer animals if Noah only took on board pairs of "kinds" as the word is used in Genesis 1. God created these "kinds" with potential for rich genetic diversity.

Creation Ministries International endorses this explanation, adding that:

Although there are about 668 names of dinosaurs, there are perhaps only 55 different ‘kinds’ of dinosaurs.

The same source also suggest that Noah did not need full-sized adult specimens – young examples would do:

Furthermore, not all dinosaurs were huge like the Brachiosaurus, and even those dinosaurs on the Ark were probably ‘teenagers’ or young adults. Indeed, dinosaurs were recently discovered to go through a growth spurt, so God could have brought dinosaurs of the right age to start this spurt as soon as they disembarked.

So how did Noah feed all his creatures while they were at sea? Christian Information Ministries suggests they hibernated:

How Noah and his small family could have cared for this large menagerie is unknown, not to mention the sanitation problem! What we must remember is that this event, i.e., the Flood, had supernatural elements. For instance, the animals came to the Ark against their natural instincts (Gen. 6:20). It is therefore reasonable to assume, as some creationists do, that the animals' metabolism may have been slowed down during their confinement, even to the point where some of the animals may have gone into a state of hibernation.

Of course, once we allow “supernatural elements” to play a role, we could just say that God shrank the dinosaurs to pocket size during their journey. That would also deal with many of these problems.

How did Young Earth Creationists explain how polar bears and possums made it all the way to Noah’s Ark across the great oceans? According to Ken Ham and Tim Lovett at Answers in Genesis, there were no separate continents at that time. There was a single continent that the Flood subsequently broke apart, as they here explain:

As even secular geologists observe, it does appear that the continents were at one time “together” and not separated by the vast oceans of today. The forces involved in the Flood were certainly sufficient to change all of this.

Really? The forces were sufficient to push vast continents around the face of the planet, but not enough to sink a wooden vessel with a cross section of 75 by 44 feet? I guess God must have somehow protected the Ark from these extraordinary forces.

Even setting aside Ark logistics, the Flood theory raises a host of other questions, such as where did all the water sufficient to cover the Earth’s great mountain ranges go? Answer: there were no great ranges at that time – they were created by the Flood. Because the surface of the Earth was relatively flat, there was, and still is, more than enough water to cover the land, as Ham and Lovett also explain:

Simply put, the water from the Flood is in the oceans and seas we see today. Three-quarters of the earth’s surface is covered with water.

So how did creatures get back to their respective newly-created continents after the Ark was finally deposited on the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8.4)? The marmosets could hardly have walked and swum half way round the world, across the Atlantic Ocean, to the Amazonian rainforests where they now dwell. I guess Noah must have dropped the marmosets off in South America and the possums off in Australia as the waters receded (though how, then, did the Ark end up deposited high on the mountains of Ararat?) Or perhaps Noah built them rafts.

So you see? Young Earth Creationists can deal with very many of these questions! Admittedly, they don’t have all the answers – and don’t claim to. But, as they correctly point out, who does? Even orthodox science faces questions it is not currently able to answer, and perhaps never will.

Explanations such as those outlined above are continuously being developed and refined by people describing themselves as “scientists” in multi-million dollar “research institutes” dedicated to the pursuit of something called “creation science”. These “scientists” insist that, far from falsifying Young Earth Creationism, the empirical evidence is broadly consistent with it. Young Earth Creationism, they maintain, fits the evidence at least as well as its orthodox scientific rivals. Surely, they add, good science is all about developing theories to fit the evidence. But then, because they are developing their theory to make it fit the evidence, what they practising is good science. Moreover, if theories are confirmed to the extent that they fit the evidence, then Young Earth Creationism, developed and refined in these ways, is as well confirmed as its rivals.

“Dogs are spies from the planet Venus”

To summarize: Young Earth Creationism is supposedly:

(i) not falsified by the empirical evidence, but actually consistent with it.
(ii) good science
(iii) at least as well confirmed as the theory of evolution, etc.

All three of these claims are false. To begin to see why, let’s start with an analogy.

Dave believes dogs are spies from the planet Venus. He views any canine with great suspicion, for he believes they originate on Venus, and are here to do reconnaissance. Dogs, Dave supposes, secretly send their reports back to Venus, where the rest of their fiendishly cunning alien species are meticulously planning their invasion of the Earth. Their spaceships will shortly arrive from Venus to enslave the human race and take over the world.

Unsurprisingly, Dave’s friends think he has a screw loose, and try to convince him that dogs are comparatively benign pets, not cunning alien spies. Here’s a typical example of how their conversations with Dave go.

DAVE: It’s only a matter of weeks now! The spaceships will arrive and then you’ll wish you’d listened to me. We must act now – let the government know!
MARY: Look Dave, dogs are pretty obviously not space invaders, they’re just dumb pets. Dogs can’t even speak, for goodness sake, let alone communicate with Venus!
DAVE: They can speak – they just choose to hide their linguistic ability from us. They wait till we leave the room before they talk to each other.
PETE: But Venus is a dead planet, Dave. It’s horrifically hot and swathed in clouds of acid. Nothing could live there, certainly not a dog!
DAVE: Dogs don’t live on the surface of Venus, you fool - they live below, in deep underground bunkers.
MARY: But then how do Earth-bound dogs communicate with their allies on Venus? I’ve got a dog, and I’ve never found an alien transmitter hidden in his basket.
DAVE: They don’t use technology we can observe. Their transmitters are hidden inside their brains!
MARY: But Pete is a vet, and he’s X-rayed several dog’s heads, and he’s never found anything in there!
PETE: In fact, I once chopped up a dog’s brain in veterinary school – let me assure you Dave, there was no transmitter in there!
DAVE: You’re assuming their transmitters would be recognizable as such. They are actually made of organic material indistinguishable from brain stuff. That’s why they don’t show up on X-Rays. This is advanced alien technology remember – of course we cannot detect it!
MARY: But we don’t detect any weird signals being directed at Venus from the Earth.
DAVE: Of course, we don’t – like I said, remember this is advanced alien technology beyond our limited understanding!
PETE: How do dogs fly spaceships? They don’t even have hands. So they can’t hold things like steering wheels and joy sticks.
DAVE: Really, Pete. Think about it. You are assuming that their spacecraft will be designed to be operated by human hands. Obviously they won’t. They’ll be designed to be manoeuvred by a dog’s limbs, mouth, tongue and so on.

You can see how this conversation might continue ad nauseum. Mary and Pete keep coming up with evidence against Dave’s belief that dogs are Venusian spies. But, given a little ingenuity, Dave can always salvage his core theory. He can continually adjust and develop it so that it continues to “fit” the evidence.

Confirmation - the “fit” model

Clearly, Dave’s theory about dogs is not well-confirmed by the available evidence. The first moral we can extract from this example is that, whatever is required in order for a theory to be well-confirmed, rather more is required than achieving mere consistency with that evidence.

As Dave illustrates, any belief, no matter how ludicrous, can be made consistent with the available evidence, given a little ingenuity. Believe that the Earth is flat, that the Moon is made of cheese, that the World Trade Centre was brought down by the U.S. Government, are that George W. Bush is really Elvis Presley in disguise? All these theories can be endlessly adjusted and developed so that they remain consistent with the available evidence. Yet they are not well-confirmed.

The claim that Young Earth Creationism is at least as well confirmed as its scientific rivals relies crucially on what we might call the “fit” model of confirmation. According to the “fit” model, confirmation is all about “fitting” the evidence. But more is required for genuine confirmation than mere “fit”, which any theory, no matter how absurd, can, in principle, achieve. So what else is required?

Genuine confirmation

While scientists and philosophers of science may disagree on the details, most would sign up to something like the following.

In order for a theory to be strongly confirmed by the data, at least three conditions must be met. The theory must make predictions that are:

(i) clear and precise,
(ii) surprising, and
(iii) true

Let’s unpack these conditions.


First off, let’s say a little more about predictions. To be strongly confirmed, your theory must allow for the derivation of predictions about the observable. So, for example, from the theory that water freezes below zero degrees centigrade, we can derive the prediction that if the temperature of this particular sample of water is reduced to below zero, it will freeze. From the theory that all swans are white, we can derive the prediction that the next swan we observe will be white. And (a slightly more complex example), from Newton’s theory of universal gravitation we can derive the prediction that the planet Uranus will move in a smooth elliptical orbit around the sun.

Notice that, very often, the derivation of a prediction from a theory involves the use of certain auxiliary hypotheses. The reason the above example involving Newton’s theory is more complex is that it does not by itself directly entail that Uranus will have a smooth elliptical orbit. In order to derive that particular prediction, we have to help ourselves to certain auxiliary hypothesis, including the auxiliary hypothesis that there are no other bodies exerting a gravitational pull on that planet (which might distort Uranus’ elliptical orbit).

The fact that we can derive from a theory a prediction about the observable means that the theory can, in principle, be tested. We can check and see whether the prediction is true. Let’s suppose the prediction is true. What follows?

Notice that confirmation is a matter of degree: theories can be more or less well confirmed by a piece of evidence. For example, observing a single white swan provides some confirmation that all swans are white, but not very much. So what is required for strong confirmation?

Clarity and precision

Suppose the prediction I derive from my theory is ambiguous and vague. Then it won’t be difficult to interpret it in such a way that, whatever is observed, I can say, “Hey, my prediction came true!”

Predictions made by psychics often have this character. Take the claim that you will “shortly meet a tall, dark and handsome stranger”. What does “shortly” mean? Today? This week? This year? Is five foot eleven “tall”? Does brown hair qualify someone as “dark”? What counts as “handsome”? Because of the usually rather ambiguous nature of a psychic’s prediction, it’s easy to interpret it in such a way that it comes out as “true”. The same is true of the prophecies of Nostradamus, the medieval seer whose cryptic prose supposedly predicts all sorts of dramatic events, such as the rise of Hitler, and 9/11. Nostradamus’ writing is so vague that, when some major event happens, it’s not difficult to find a passage that “predicts” it (I look more closely at the work of Nostradamus in the conclusion to this book).

For strong confirmation, we need to be able to derive from our theory predictions that are clear and precise, and one very obvious way in which they can do this is if they concern mathematically quantifiable and objectively measurable phenomena. The claim that every dog will be “heavy-ish” is so vague as to be unfalsifiable, while the claim that every dog weighs more than five kilos can easily be falsified with the aid of a scale.


However, even a clear, precise and true prediction is not enough to guarantee strong confirmation. A further, key ingredient is required. The prediction must also exhibit a certain kind of surprisingness.

Suppose I believe fairies cause trees to grow more quickly during the summer months. From this theory we can derive the fairly clear and precise prediction that this copse of trees will grow more during the summer months. The prediction, it turns out, is true. Does that strongly confirm my theory that fairies cause trees to grow more in the summer months? Clearly not. For, though it is true that my theory predicts just such a growth pattern, that pattern is to be expected anyway, even on more orthodox scientific theories about why trees grow.

Similarly, from Dave’s theory that dogs are Venusian spies so ingenious that their devious activities will remain undetected we can derive the prediction that dogs will be observed to behave like harmless pets. This prediction is true. But of course, while consistent with Dave’s theory, the observed behaviour of dogs in no way confirms his theory, as this is just the sort of behaviour we’d expect from dogs anyway, even if they are harmless pets.

The moral is: if the prediction derived from a theory is of something that would not be particularly unexpected anyway, even on rival theories, then the fact that the prediction is true does not strongly confirm the theory. For strong confirmation, the prediction must be surprising in this sense: that, if the theory were not true, then what is predicted would not be particularly expected.

Putting these various points together, we can sum up by saying that, in order for a theory to be strongly confirmed, that theory has to stick it’s neck out with respect to the evidence. It has to be bold, to risk being proved wrong. If a theory either fails to make any predictions, or makes only vague and woolly predictions, or else predicts things that are not particularly unexpected anyway – if, in short, it takes no significant risks with the evidence – then not only is it not strongly confirmed, it can’t be.

Let’s now consider whether Young Earth Creationism and the theory of evolution are, or might be, strongly confirmed by empirical evidence.

Strong confirmation by the fossil record?

We have seen that Young Earth Creationism can be endlessly adjusted so that it continues to “fit” whatever happens to be dug up. Does that mean that it is strongly confirmed by the fossil record?

No. For Young Earth Creationists don’t predict very much at all about what fossils, if any, will be dug up. If we find no fossils, they will say, “Hey, this fits my theory – there hasn’t been enough time for fossils to form”. If we find, as we do, fossils of only simple marine creatures in the lower layers and larger mammals in only the top most layers, then Young Earth Creationist say – “Hey, this fits my theory – this is explained by the differential rates at which corpses decompose and sink”, or: “This is explained by the fact that different ecological zones were submerged at different times.” But suppose species had been found fairly randomly through the layers? Then Young Earth Creationists would say, “Hey, this fits my theory! – The Flood drowned these creatures more or less simultaneously.” Young Earth Creationists fail to make any bold predictions regarding the fossil record. They take no real risks with the fossil evidence. But then their theory can’t be strongly confirmed by the fossil evidence.

What about the theory of evolution? Can that be strongly confirmed? Yes. The theory is a theory of common descent. It says that contemporary species evolved from common ancestors in a tree-like manner, with contemporary species at the tips of the branches and the most common ancestor at the base of the trunk. If the theory is true, the sedimentary layers should reveal fossils arranged in a very specific order, consistent with such a tree-like structure.

In its fully-developed form, the theory of evolution also says that birds and mammals developed fairly late on in the history of life, after the Devonian period. So the theory predicts that not even one fossil of a bird or mammal will ever show up in the lower pre-Devonian deposits (which constitute over half the history of multicellular organisms). As one scientist puts it:

Even one incontrovertible find of any pre-Devonian mammal [or] bird … would shatter the theory of common descent.

These are both clear and precise predictions. They are also surprising predictions, in the sense that, were the theory of evolution not true, and, say, the Flood theory were true instead, there would be no particular reason not to expect, among the countless thousands of fossils dug up each year, at least one or two avian or mammalian fossils in the pre-Devonian layers (Young Earth Creationists would not be remotely surprised if they did). Nor would there be any reason to expect fossils to line up in precisely the way predicted by the theory of common descent. Indeed, that the fossils should happen to line up precisely that way would be a gob-smacking coincidence if the theory weren’t true.

So, in predicting no such fossils will be found, the theory of evolution takes a very significant risk. Which is why the fact that no such fossil has ever shown up very strongly confirms the theory of evolution. (And of course, this is just one example of how the theory of evolution is strongly confirmed. There are numerous others ).


We have seen that Young Earth Creationism is not strongly confirmed by the fossil record. The theory of evolution, by contrast, is. Let’s now turn from the notion of confirmation to that of falsification. What of the claim that Young Earth Creationism is not falsified by the fossil record?

A pivotal figure, so far as the notion of falsification is concerned, is the philosopher Karl Popper. Popper developed a philosophical theory of how science progresses called falsificationism. Few philosophers now embrace falsificationism, and I certainly won’t be relying on that theory here. Nevertheless, Popper did make a number of incisive points about falsifiability that are relevant to our discussion.

We have already seen how scientific theories can be falsified – we can derive from them observational predictions that can be checked. If the prediction turns out to be false, then the theory is falsified. However, Popper notes that various strategies can be employed by defenders of a theory to deal with an apparent falsification – to protect or immunize it against falsification.

For example, we have already seen that, in order to derive a prediction from a theory, it’s often necessary to employ auxiliary hypothesis. We saw that Newton’s theory of universal gravitation predicts a smooth elliptical orbit for Uranus only if no other planet is exerting a gravitational effect on it. When Uranus turned out not to have a smooth elliptical orbit – it wobbles slightly in and out of its predicted orbit – defenders of Newton’s theory insisted that, rather than falsifying Newton’s theory, this observation revealed only that there was another as yet unknown object in the vicinity of Uranus tugging it out of its elliptical orbit. In other words, the falsification was deflected away from the core theory and onto an auxiliary hypothesis. Scientists calculated where this mystery object would have to be in order to exert such a pull, looked for it, and discovered a new planet: Neptune.

Here’s an other example. When Galileo constructed his telescope, looked at the Moon, and observed mountains and valleys, it seemed that Aristotle’s theory that every heavenly body is perfectly spherical had been falsified. Instead of accepting this, some defenders of Aristotle’s view suggested that there must be an invisible substance covering the surface of the Moon, filling up its valleys right to the tops of the mountains, so that the Moon is, after all, perfectly spherical. The falsification was in this case deflected away from Aristotle’s theory and on to the auxiliary hypothesis that any material making up the surface of the Moon must be visible.

Other strategies for defending a theory include exploiting vagueness and ambiguity in the theory or the predictions derived from it - to reinterpret them so that what is observed turns out to “fit” the prediction after all. This is, as already noted, a favourite trick of psychics and soothsayers.

Ad hoc manoeuvres

Popper realized that even mainstream scientists can and do employ such strategies in order to defend their theories. He did not think this was always a bad thing. In particular, Popper thought that defending Newton’s theory of universal gravitation by postulating a mystery planet was entirely acceptable, because it led to new tests – scientists could actually look and see if there was planet in the place predicted.

What Popper considered particularly suspect were attempts to defend a theory by means of modifications that introduced no new tests. So, for example, the postulation of an invisible substance on the surface of Moon in order to salvage the Aristotelean theory that all heavenly bodies are perfectly spherical led to no new tests – there was nothing scientists could do at the time to check whether any such substance was there. Popper calls such untestable hypotheses introduced to immunize a theory against falsification “ad hoc”.

Popper noted that the more such strategies are employed to protect a theory from falsification, the less falsifiable it becomes, until eventually we end up with a theory that is not falsifiable at all. In Popper’s view, an unfalsifiable theory is not scientific. Theories that claim to be scientific, but fail to meet the test of falsifiability, are mere pseudo-science.

Two kinds of immunity to falsification

As you have probably guessed, I’m going to suggest that Young Earth Creationism is also an unfalsifiable theory. But, before we look again at Young Earth Creationism, it’s worth taking a short detour to look at two quite different ways in which theories can achieve unfalsifiability. We’ll see that, interestingly, there are two versions of Young Earth Creationism, that each achieves unfalsifiability in one of these two different ways.

Popper distinguishes two ways in which a theory might be rendered unfalsifiable. Indeed, he considered both Marx’s theory of history and the psychoanalytic theories of Freud and Adler unfalsifiable, but for different reasons.

The problem with Freud and Adler’s psychoanalytic theories, thought Popper, is that, whatever human behaviour is observed, it can always be interpreted to “fit” either theory. Popper, who knew Adler, remarks:

As for Adler, I was much impressed by a personal experience. Once, in 1919, I reported to him a case which to me did not seem particularly Adlerian, but which he found no difficulty in analyzing in terms of his theory of inferiority feelings, although he had not even seen the child.

The same, Popper believed, was true of Freud’s theories. They both appeared to fit the evidence, and thus be supported by the evidence, no matter what evidence might show up. Popper illustrated by considering two hypothetical situations – one in which a man pushes a child into water with the intention of drowning it, and one in which a man sacrifices himself to save a child. Popper claims each of these two events can be explained with equal ease in Freudian and Adlerian terms:

According to Freud the first man suffered from repression (say, of some component of his Oedipus complex), while the second man had achieved sublimation. According to Adler the first man suffered from feelings of inferiority (producing perhaps the need to prove to himself that he dared to commit some crime), and so did the second man (whose need was to prove to himself that he dared to rescue the child).

Popper found he couldn’t think of any human behaviour that wouldn’t fit either theory.

It was precisely this fact—that they always fitted, that they were always confirmed—which in the eyes of their admirers constituted the strongest argument in favor of these theories. It began to dawn on me that this apparent strength was in fact their weakness.

So Popper thought both psycho-analytic theories were unfalsifiable, and for much the same reason. Popper also thought that the Marxist theory of history was also unfalsifiable. But for a different reason. According to Popper, unlike Freud’s and Adler’s theories, Marx’s theory started out as a falsifiable theory. In fact, it made some rather risky predictions about how history would unfold. For example, it predicted the character of a coming social revolution (e.g. it predicted a revolution would happen in an industrially advanced society such as Britain). However, this prediction turned out to be largely incorrect (there was a revolution, but not in the way Marx predicted - e.g. it actually happened in industrially backward Russia). Marx’s theory was therefore falsified. Rather than accept this, Marx’s followers employed an immunizing strategy, re-interpreting theory and evidence so that the theory continued to fit the evidence after all.

…instead of accepting the refutations the followers of Marx re-interpreted both the theory and the evidence in order to make them agree. In this way they rescued the theory from refutation; but they did so at the price of adopting a device which made it irrefutable… [by] this stratagem they destroyed its much advertised claim to scientific status.

Whether or not we accept Popper’s claim that an unfalsifiable theory isn’t a scientific theory at all, Popper is surely correct that unfalsifiability is not a virtue in a theory, but a vice.

Dave’s immunizing strategy

Let’s now return to Dave’s theory that dogs are spies from the planet Venus. Mary and Pete tried to falsify Dave’s theory, but each time they try, Pete comes up with yet another explanation for why his theory is, after all, consistent with the evidence. While some of Dave’s moves are rather ad hoc in nature, others are not. His suggestion that the dog’s transmitters were located in their brains did lead to a new test – we could look inside dogs’ brains to check whether any transmitters are there. However, when no transmitters show up, Dave just makes another adjustment – he says the transmitters must be made of organic material indistinguishable from brain stuff. So while not every immunizing move Dave makes is ad hoc, his overall strategy renders his theory unfalsifiable.

In fact, Dave’s theory suffers from much the same problem that Popper found with Marxism. Dave’s theory starts off as potentially falsifiable. However, once it is falsified, Dave develops an immunizing strategy that makes it unfalsifiable. Then, e time his theory runs into trouble with the evidence, Dave just makes another modification to deal with it.

The kind of Young Earth Creationism outlined above is also unfalsifiable, and for much the same reason. The theory that the Earth was created just as described in Genesis starts out as a falsifiable theory. Indeed, it is straightforwardly falsified by a mountain of evidence. In response to the evidence, proponents of Young Earth Creationism, like Dave, then devise ever more ingenious moves to account for it. Once they have embarked on this strategy, their theory becomes unfalsifiable. It’s the strategy developed to defend the core theory, rather than anything about the theory itself, that makes it unfalsifiable.

Gosse’s omphalos hypothesis

There is a contrast to be drawn here with a rather different version of Young Earth Creationism, that developed by Philip Henry Gosse. In 1857, Gosse published a book titled Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot. Within it, Gosse tried to explain how the discoveries then being made in geology – such as the fossil record – that were beginning seriously to challenge the view that the Earth was just a few thousand years old, were in fact entirely compatible with Young Earth Creationism after all. “Omphalos” means navel, or belly-button. Some Christians wondered whether Adam had one. One the one hand, it seems he wouldn’t, because Adam had no mother to whom he was attached by umbilical cord. On the other hand, it would be seem odd if Adam didn’t have one, as it’s an otherwise universal feature of human beings.

Gosse thought Adam had belly-button, despite that fact that a belly-button might seem to suggest Adam had a mother. Gosse took a similar view about the trees in the garden of Eden, which he thought would have tree rings that might seem to suggest greater age. Gosse then extended this line of thought to the Earth itself. The sedimentary layers strewn with fossils were created by God just a few thousand years ago. Like Adam’s navel, they were put there, not to deceive or to test our religious faith (as some have suggested), but because such creations will inevitably bear the hallmarks of a non-existent past. “It may be objected” Gosse wrote,

that to assume the world to have been created with fossil skeletons in its crust – skeletons of animals that never really existed – is to charge the Creator with forming objects whose sole purpose was to deceive us. The reply is obvious. Were the concentric timber-rings of a created tree formed merely to deceive? Were the growth lines of a created shell intended to deceive? Was the navel of the created Man intended to deceive him into the persuasion that he had a parent?

Gosse concluded that the evidence provided by geology and other sciences failed to settle the age of the Earth: whether or not the Biblical account was true, the Earth would look just as it does.

A striking feature of Gosse’s version of Young Earth Creationism is that, unlike the contemporary version we have been examining, Gosse’s version is immune to refutation by geological and other natural sciences right from the start. It is, in this respect, much like Bertrand Russell’s famous hypothesis that the entire universe, with us in it, was created by God just five minutes ago, though with the appearance of a much longer past (including, of course, our own false memories of that non-existent past past). Both versions of creationism achieve consistency with the evidence. But they achieve it in different ways. Gosse’s version does so by virtue of its content. The currently dominant version, by contrast, achieves unfalsifiability through the use of immunizing strategies.

Biases and presuppositions

Let’s now nail the fundamental myth that lies at the heart of the modern Young Earth Creationist movement. Young Earth Creationists will often cheerily admit that they endlessly adjust and develop their core theory that the Biblical account of creation is literally correct to make it “fit” the evidence. But they typically deny that this entails that their account is not at least as well confirmed as the standard scientific account. Why? Because they think that those who believe in the theory of evolution and a billions-of-years-old universe are doing the same thing.

As this minister of a Creationist organization here explains, both the Bible-literalists and the evolutionists are doing no more than responding to the biases or presuppositions with which they start:

There were a lot of influences in Darwin’s background which would lead him almost inevitably to the point he reached. His father was clearly an atheist. And certainly there was a background of disbelief in the Bible. And certainly there was a belief about millions of years that existed before him. He started his theories from that point. Now I have a clear bias. The Bible. And I admit that. But most scientists do not want to admit these kinds of biases that they have themselves.

Young Earth Creationists accuse the contemporary scientific orthodoxy of having its own bias – towards evolution in particular. Orthodox scientists are doing no more than taking whatever evidence shows up and making it fit their prior commitments. So they are, in this respect, really behaving no differently than Young Earth Creationists.

The Young Earth Creationist Ken Ham concurs:

Increasing numbers of scientists are realizing that when you take the Bible as your basis and build your models of science and history upon it, all the evidence from the living animals and plants, the fossils, and the cultures fits. This confirms that the Bible really is the Word of God and can be trusted totally.

According to Ham, Young Earth Creationists and evolutionists do the same thing: they take the evidence, and then look for ways to make it fit the axioms of the framework theory to which they have already committed themselves:

Evolutionists have their own framework …into which they try to fit the data.

It should now be clear why Ham is misrepresenting what real scientists do. Science is not essentially about achieving fit between theory and data. As we have seen, any theory, no matter how nuts, can achieve that kind of fit, including Dave’s ludicrous theory that dogs are Venusian spies. What a scientific theory requires if it is to be credible is not merely consistency with the evidence, but confirmation by the evidence - the stronger the confirmation, the better. That is why real scientists prefer bold predictions. They take risks with the evidence wherever they can.

As a result of taking such risks, scientific theories can be, and often are, falsified. Even theories towards which scientists are initially very strongly biased can be, and have been, shown to be wrong. Sometimes the theoretical framework with which scientists begin is shown to be mistaken, resulting in a major scientific revolution.

However, because real scientists are prepared to take such risks, their theories can be, and sometimes are, strongly confirmed. Today’s Young Earth Creationists avoid such risks. Like Dave, they have adopted an immunizing strategy such that, no matter what’s discovered, it’s never going to be allowed to falsify their framework theory. One way or another, the evidence will be shown to “fit”. But then, because Young Earth Creationists take no such risks, their theory can never be strongly confirmed.

That Young Earth Creationists take no risks with the evidence is nicely illustrated by the following quote from proponent Bodie Hodge’s “Why Don’t We Find Human and Dinosaur Fossils Together?”:

If human and dinosaur bones are ever found in the same layers, it would be a fascinating find... Those who hold a biblical view of history wouldn’t be surprised… Evolutionists, on the other hand… would have a real challenge. In the old-earth view, man isn’t supposed to be the same age as dinosaurs…. As biblical creationists, we don’t require that human and dinosaur fossils be found in the same layers. Whether they are found or not, does not affect the biblical view of history.

Hodge makes no risky predictions regarding the fossil record. Whatever shows up will be consistent with his theory. Dinosaurs and humans discovered in different layers – fine. Dinosaurs and humans in the same layers – no problem. Hodge is quite explicit that neither discovery would constitute a “surprise”.

What Hodge fails to realize is that it is, precisely, the Bible literalist’s lack of commitment about how human, dinosaur and other fossils should be found that gives the theory of evolution a huge advantage over their own. The bottom line is this: because the theory of evolution takes a significant risk with that evidence, it can be confirmed by it; because Young Earth Creationism doesn’t, it can’t. Young Earth Creationism is no more “confirmed” than is the Dave’s theory that dogs are spies from the planet Venus.

The Blunderbuss

The strategy of making your theory “fit” the evidence and then claiming it is not, after all, falsified, (and is perhaps even confirmed) is often accompanied by another argumentative strategy which I call The Blunderbuss (n.b. a blunderbuss is a sort of early shotgun that flares out at the muzzle). The strategy is this: at the same time as you are employing “But It Fits!” to render your own theory consistent with the evidence, fire off endless salvos of bullshit at your opponents’s theory. Your salvos will comprise (i) a few real but largely irrelevant problems, and (ii) various invented problems.

Of course almost every theory, no matter how well-confirmed, faces puzzles and problem cases. This is certainly true of the theory that life on this planet is a product of natural mechanisms. There remain unanswered questions. Currently, orthodox science is not able to explain how life initially emerged on this planet. Genetic and evolutionary theory can explain how living organisms evolve over time, but it cannot yet fully explain how life initially appeared. Not surprisingly, then, Young Earth Creationists flag up these kinds of question at every available opportunity. The truth, of course, is this: that life has evolved over many millions of years by means of natural selection is nevertheless overwhelming confirmed by the evidence. This genuine and intriguing puzzle for orthodox science does nothing to throw this into question. Nor does it lend the Creationist theory that the entire universe and everything in it was created six thousand years ago any credibility at all. So this “problem” is, in truth, irrelevant to the debate between Young Earth Creationism and orthodox science. The impression that Young Earth Creationists try to create by firing off such “problems” – the impression that their own theory is at least intellectual on par with its orthodox rivals – is entirely misleading.

That was an example of a genuine puzzle that orthodox science cannot currently solve. However, the vast majority of puzzles and problems with which Young Earth Creationists pack their blunderbuss aren’t genuine puzzles and problems at all. More often than not they are invented.

A nice example is polystrate fossils – particularly vertically fossilized tree trunks. Young Earth Creationists will often wow audiences with dramatic images of fossilized trees which can be seen extending upwards through many sedimentary layers. “How can our opponents explain this?” the Young Earth Creationists ask. “According to evolutionists, these sedimentary layers were produced over millions of years, far too long for this tree to have remained without rotting away! Clearly, this tree was buried by these layers of sediment very quickly. That only makes sense on our Flood theory!” One Young Earth Creationist concludes:

Such phenomena clearly violate the idea of a gradually accumulated geologic column since, generally speaking, an evolutionary overview of that column suggests that each stratum (layer) was laid down over thousands (or even millions!) of years.

Except, of course, the “evolutionary overview” suggests no such thing. It allows, indeed it predicts, that trees will sometimes be buried very quickly by a series of sedimentary layers, for example, if located near a river-bank, a volcanic eruption, or area of rapid subsidence. This so-called “problem” for the “evolutionary overview” – which is also supposed to confirm Young Earth Creationism – is pure bunkum.

Sometimes the so-called “problems” for the theory of evolution are quite literally fabricated. Attend a Young Earth Creationist event and you may well be presented with photographs of of dinosaur and human footprints in the same sedmintary layer. The tracks are right there in a rock bed at Paluxy River – “proof” that man and the dinosaurs walked the Earth at the same time! What those peddling these photographs don’t usually mention is that the grand-daughter of George Adams, the man who originally discovered the prints, admits her grandfather carved the human prints by hand to make money.

Young Earth Creationists have amassed a vast arsenal of irrelevant or invented problems to fire off at their opponents in debate. It usually takes time and patience to deal properly with just one example. Often it also takes specialist knowledge, knowledge that scientists specializing in another field may not possess. So it’s often quite easy for Young Earth Creationists to get their opponents bogged down, seemingly stymied by the “problems” they have raised. “Explain this! And this! And this!” they say, and watch with mounting satisfaction as looks of confusion and desperation begin to creep across their opponents’ faces.

As a result, Young Earth Creationists are able to generate the illusion that not only are they able to make their theory “fit” the evidence, their opponents face all sorts of devastating objections. The audience to such a debate many depart misled into thinking that, whether or not Young Earth Creationism is true, there at least remains a live, on-going scientific debate.

Young Earth Creationism in schools

Young Earth Creationism has been, and continues to be, taught in schools. Often, this teaching is done covertly (I know of two British schools where it has been taught by science a teacher without the knowledge or permission of the school or other members of staff – one was one of Britain’s leading independent schools). Obviously I object to Young Earth Creationism being taught as a rival to orthodox scientific theories. People often object to the teaching of Young Earth Creationism on the grounds that children should not be taught things that are known to be false. But that is not my main objection (though teaching known falsehoods is bad enough). My main objection is this: teaching children Young Earth Creationism is scientifically respectable involves teaching children to think like Dave.

The Vision Thing

So effective can “But It Fits!” be in generating the illusion that a theory is overwhelmingly confirmed by the evidence that its defenders may come to think its truth is just obvious for anyone with eyes to see. This may in turn lead them to suspect that those who can’t see its manifest truth must be suffering from something like a perceptual defect. We might call reaching this advanced stage achieving The Vision Thing.

Popper noted something like this effect in some followers of Marx, Freud and Adler. He says:

I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appear to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, open your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirmed instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refuse to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still "un-analyzed" and crying aloud for treatment.

Young Earth Creationist Ken Ham similarly puts down the inability of his opponents to “see” the manifest truth of creation to their arrogant and egotistical ways:

Why can’t the humanists, the evolutionists, see that all the evidence supports exactly what the Bible says? It is because they do not want to see it. It is not because the evidence is not there. They refuse to allow the evidence to be correctly interpreted in the light of biblical teaching.

Evolutionists deliberately choose not to see what’s right there in front of their noses. Clearly, Ken Ham has achieved The Vision Thing.

Young Earth Creationism, as defended and promoted by people like Ken Ham, is a very impressive Intellectual Black Hole. Indeed, Ham is one of the great contemporary masters of the “But It Fits!” strategy. However, “But It Fits!” is by no means restricted to Young Earth Creationism and fruitcakes like Dave. It crops up in all sorts of places. See the conclusion for more examples.