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A Response to Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D., F.M.
Barry Williams, Editor of the Skeptic

I've just looked at Jonathan Sarfati's risible posting, and I must say that I'm delighted to see it on the site. If it's not to turn-off the casual viewer, even the most serious site needs a bit of comic relief, and Sarfati's contribution certainly provides that (albeit, I suspect, unconsciously). It is so nice to see that even creationists are capable of graduating from the use of colouring-in books (which they sell to their customers as "scientific texts") to being able to do pretty colours on a computer. I'm almost tempted to say it's an example of evolution in action, but that might be a little inaccurate (I'm not a scientist, after all).

While most young males of our species grow out of the "I can pee higher than you can" phase by the time they are old enough to attend high school, it appears that some sort of arrested development strikes those who subscribe to creationist thimble-and-pea tricks, leaving them floundering around in pre-adolescent braggadocio. Jonathan just had to boast that "AiG has most fields of science covered by highly qualified scientists" and then, by scraping the bottom almost out of the barrel, manages to adduce as evidence of this spurious claim: 

bullet one medical practitioner
bullet one plant physiologist
bullet one physical chemist (himself)
bullet one molecular biologist
bullet one engineer (with a side interest in geology)

(He neglected to mention that they used to have a real live geologist too, but they sacked him and he now works for their competitors in the Salvation-for-Sale stakes.)

Most of science, eh? I rather think not, but it might seem that way to Jonathan. He doesn't appear to understand very much about science, despite having quite a high qualification in one of its many disciplines (though one that has nothing at all to do with any of the fields that creationists like to misrepresent in their published rubbish). Perhaps he should have stuck to designing paint, or whatever it was he was doing before.

Well, I'm getting a bit long in the tooth for peeing up the wall games, but if that's the way Jonathan wants to play, then so be it. Among the Skeptics' network we have hundreds of medical practitioners and engineers, not that their skills are particularly relevant to the argument. We can also call on the knowledge of dozens (each) of biologists, botanists, chemists, physicists, astronomers, geologists, physiologists, anatomists, palaeontologists, anthropologists, pathologists, entomologists, geneticists and zoologists, among many others. But it is not so important that we have orders of magnitude more practitioners of every science (and of considerably more sciences) in our network than AiG can muster. The important distinction is that the scientists in the Skeptics' network actually work in science. They work in universities, museums, industry and government, doing research, keeping up-to-date with the literature, teaching students, contributing ideas and knowledge, and generally putting to use the skills they have learnt (at taxpayers expense) for the betterment of our society. The Skeptics' scientists have not sold-out to become mouthpieces for far-out-fringe, quasi-religious marketing organisations.

Incidentally, we also have quite a large number of psychologists who, while they might not be qualified to point out how silly the creationists' arguments are (though, doubtless most of them can, it's not all that hard), are well qualified to point out to this merry band of five, how dangerous to their mental health is the cognitive dissonance that arises when they fervently mouth pseudoscientific drivel that their brains tell them is not true. And we have a number of theologians who could no doubt instruct Jonathan and his mates in just how juvenile is their  (mis)understanding of the Bible.

Now for a piece of free advice, meant with all possible best intentions.

If I were a management consultant I would advise the board of AiG to sack their small band of people with qualifications in scientific disciplines, especially as these are of dubious relevance to their enterprise. There is no need to have scientists (or even "scientists") because the organisation engages in no science at all. The only purpose they seem to serve is to recognise what the big words mean in newspaper reports of science, thus enabling the organisation to misquote them in the publications they sell to their cash-cows in their push to keep solvent. I would then advise them to hire a couple of people with MBAs or some other marketing skills. That would seem to be much more in line with the purposes of the organisation.

It hardly seems worthwhile to counter the gratuitous attacks that Sarfati makes on various prominent Skeptics. They will be seen to be the same old tired (and often inaccurate) tirades that his master, Dr Carl Wieland, has been trotting out for (seemingly) decades. Like the Bourbons, creationists remember everything and understand nothing. (For Jonathan's benefit, the Bourbons were a line of French kings, not a range of alcoholic drinks.) I suppose, given that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we should take some satisfaction for giving these literacy challenged folk the notion of "would the real .... stand up?" Although it originated as the name of a panel show, Alex Ritchie (a real scientist) first used it in this context, as the title of an article about Dr Snelling in the Skeptic several years ago. The creationists have been recycling the phrase ever since. Which is not really surprising; original thought is not one of the skills they value. (Come to think of it, I needn't have qualified that; thought itself doesn't rate a premium in creationist circles - it's far too dangerous.)

I was amused to see that Sarfati thinks he is making some sort of revelation apropos me when he says that I "admit" to having no scientific qualifications. I don't "admit" it - I have never claimed that I did have any - it is common knowledge, and wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Nor has my friend Sir Jim (who is away at the moment, and so is unable to defend himself against these limp and pathetic attacks). In fact, Sir J has gone out of his way in a number of articles, to eschew any knowledge of science at all, and I have no reason to doubt him.

However, Sarfati misses the point completely. One doesn't NEED any scientific qualifications to refute the ludicrous statements creationists use to keep their poor gullible and deluded followers in fear and trepidation, and the funds rolling in. We have no need of scientific qualifications in order to expose their threadbare pretence, because no science is used in creationist propaganda. Sure, the occasional scientific term is in there to help keep the wool tightly pulled over the eyes of the followers, but no science.  All one needs to expose this is a broad general knowledge, and an ability to see through grossly inaccurate and logically flawed arguments. Australian Skeptics has hundreds of people who can do that.

Quite a bit of the twaddle Sarfati regurgitates here, he seems to have gleaned from the "About our authors" column in the Skeptic. It will come as no surprise to any of our readers that the information in this column is not necessarily the exact literal truth (there is no evidence, for example, that Lloyd George knew Sir Jim's father, nor indeed his mother). No doubt Sarfati is one of those earnest souls who does not recognise literary licence when he sees it (hardly in doubt, given that he seems to believe that the Bible, with all its internal contradictions, was personally written by God on His Celestial IBM).

In this context, Sir Jim's exposure of Sarfati's article on fitting all the animals into the Ark didn't NEED to be any more comprehensive than it was. The original article was hilariously inept enough in itself. All that the good baronet had to do was to show that Sarfati didn't have a clue about what it was he was seeking to prove, and he did that admirably. Any more and we would have risked some of our older subscribers choking on their dentures. I'm surprised that Sarfati keeps bringing this item up.  If I'd written something as silly as he did, I'd be tempted to claim that someone else wrote it under my name in order to discredit me. But perhaps he still thinks it was good scholarship? (Which wouldn't surprise me for a minute.)

I'm astonished, however, to see him bringing up the case of Mrs Smith and the Baptist Union election. This is one of the most discreditable episodes in the creationists' entire, less-than-honourable, propaganda campaign.  Despite the spin Sarfati seeks to put on it, it was far from being a sign of Baptists rejecting a candidate because of the (supposed) sins of her husband. In fact, a stooge of the creationist camp sent a grossly defamatory letter about Helen and Ken Smith to a number of people who might have had an interest in voting in the election (which I understand is a voluntary procedure) attacking her candidacy. A kindly mole in the creationist camp also sent a copy to me, and I alerted the Smiths to its existence. They had heard about it, but hadn't seen it at that stage. To their very great credit (and to the utter disgrace of the creationist fringe) many members of the Baptist Church passed on copies of the letter to the Smiths, while expressing their disgust that such a dishonourable thing could happen in a Christian congregation. It is astonishing to see a creationist actually boasting about it (or perhaps it's not so surprising, after all).

On one level the whole creation "science" movement is just a sad, sick joke and we should feel nothing but sympathy for the unfortunates who are taken in by it. It IS a joke to science, and it IS an embarrassment to the Christian religion. But examples like that above show that beneath the surface it can be a very nasty cult indeed. This is a cult that preaches fear and hate, and which vigorously markets ignorance as its main stock-in-trade. These are precisely the dark aspects of the human personality that once led to the brutal excesses of Nazism and Communism that Sarfati and his cohorts, in their gross ignorance of history, pretend are caused by an understanding of evolution.

Yes, creation "science" is a bad joke but, left unchallenged, it could easily develop into something much more nasty and dangerous.  However, it won't be able to flourish as long as thinking people, with a wide range of personal beliefs, keep exposing it to the light of critical reason.  This site is helping to do just that.  Well done.

Barry Williams
the Skeptic

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