Sir Jim R Wallaby
The Skeptic (Vol 11, No 4)
All right, Ill confess it. I, along I suspect with most other Skeptics, have been sucked in by a remarkable hoax.
From time to time, I have perused items from a magazine entitled Creation Ex Nihilo [now called Creation Magazine], which purports to present the case for the scientific truth of the biblical creation myth, and I have been astonished that such patently dubious drivel could possibly command an audience among people capable of tying their own shoe laces. Recently, however, I came into possession of a copy (June-August, 1991) and, reading it from cover to cover, I now have cause to believe that its real purpose is something entirely different. Far from presenting a case for creation "science", the magazine now appears to me to be a very subtle and clever satire on such childish beliefs.
The clue that alerted me to this underlying purpose came from the Letters to the Editor page, wherein an American correspondent stated inter alia "I detect that you have a lot of fun, as your sense of humour is reflected in your delightful articles". This set me to thinking. While I have often laughed at the magazine, this hilarity was due to my amazement that anyone could take it at all seriously. To me the humour appeared to be inadvertent and certainly not intentional. But now that I comprehend the satirical purpose of the journal, I have re-read it in this new light with results that are salutary. Let me just quote a few examples.
In an article entitled Creationism and the U.S. Supreme Court, the author John Heininger with, I suspect, his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek, makes the pretence of portraying the members of that august judicial body as a gang of black robed terrorists, bent on destroying the religious freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Baldly stated, it is of course an absurd notion, but Mr Heiningers clever use of selective and out of context quotations is sufficiently acute as to make it almost plausible. Bearing in mind that the art of successful satire is to keep as close to the original as possible, his use of these standard creationist techniques make his article all the more pungent. And his targets are not confined to the puerile fantasies of creationists, rather they encompass the incongruities inherent in all dogmas based on received TRUTH. In one of his footnotes, while ostensibly explaining the different perceptions afforded to the word "liberal" in the Australian and American contexts, Mr Heininger clearly has his sights set on the linguistic inconsistencies inherent in the assignation of political labels more recently displayed in reports of activities in the former Soviet Union. In that context, the portrayal of the proponents of centralised state ownership and control as "right wing" and of those who sought the introduction of private property rights and a market economy as "left wing" has doubtless bemused many readers apart from me. Mr Heiningers exposition drew from me admiring gasps at his encapsulation of these linguistic acrobatics.
A somewhat unsatisfactory article by Dr Russell Humphries, uses a quite startling sequence of non sequiturs to show that the earth is young. Its thesis is that selected natural phenomena, allegedly requiring an upper age limit of tens or hundreds of millions of years, are evidence that the age of the earth is only 6-10,000 years old. This author tries hard but he does not have the deftness of touch exhibited by Mr Heininger and is unlikely to convince even the most fundamentalist of creationists that he is serious. This is unfortunate, as the underlying idea is an excellent vehicle for the satirical approach and a little more thought would have made it just that.
The piece de resistance of this hilarious collection is saved for the last page. In a brief item entitled "Is there life on other planets?" the unnamed author comes down firmly on the side of the negative. Indeed, not only does he eschew any possibility of other life in the universe, he sees no scientific reason for assuming the existence of any planets outside our solar system. [Presumably this was written before the recent discovery of very strong evidence for the existence of a planet orbiting a pulsar in our galaxy. Ed] His reasons? Because the "heavens, the earth and everything therein were created in six days"; because "Man is the crowning glory of creation and all creation is to be subservient to him" and because "For mans sake, because of Adams fall, all creation is cursed and subject to futility and 'bondage to despair', (then) "Other civilisations, presumably sinless, would then have to share in the effects of this cursed cosmos".
This, the author implies with clever understatement, would be a very unfair action on the part of God, thus inviting us to differentiate between this example of unfairness and the actions of a deity who, having invented sapient entities and who omnisciently having prior knowledge that the first specimen would eat an apple, would then condemn every other member of the species to be part of the "final catastrophic judgment ... in which the very elements will burn with fervent heat, and in which the heavens and earth will be rolled away, passing away with a great noise, and no place will be found for them". He does not seek to gild the lily with explanations, leaving us to contemplate for ourselves the masochistic futility of worshipping such a deity.
The story so far is a fairly accurate pastiche of the ideas promulgated by creationists, but then the author oversteps the bounds between satire and plain absurdity. This descent from the sublime to the ridiculous occurs in a throwaway line, which baldly states "The earth was made first, and the other heavenly bodies made on the fourth day were for signs and seasons for the earth".
Now it is possible, indeed history shows that it is commonplace, for religious sects to postulate capricious and viciously cruel deities. But to seriously suggest that anyone (even a creationist), living in this modern technological age, could create a deity who would construct a Universe at least 13 billion light years in diameter, consisting of hundreds of billions of galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars and most of which is invisible, just so we humans would know when to plant our spuds is stretching credulity far beyond the bounds of reason. Surely a simple calendar would have sufficed.
Still, these are mere quibbles. Creation Magazine, if read as a satirical magazine, cleverly succeeds in puncturing the preposterous anti-intellectual pretensions of the creationist sects, and is well worth the read.