Posted on : Aug-17-2009 | By : Rebecca | In : Blog Post, Event, skepticism
How does one adequately sum up a lecture delivered by a grown man who believes the Earth is only 6,000 years old despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, and who in an attempt to validate his absurd belief discounts centuries of astronomical and geological evidence with one Powerpoint slide each?
Such is the challenge I face this morning in attempting to describe for you the idiocy I and my fellow Boston Skeptics and Boston Atheists witnessed last night. Luckily, creationist and recent Harvard PhD Nathaniel Jeanson delivered identical lectures yesterday morning and evening, and Jeff Eyges, who attended the morning lecture, did a wonderful job of summing up the basics over on Pharyngula. There’s also a very nice overview from a member of Boston Atheists, and Boston Skeptic Andy Clayman gave a recap in the comments here. Read those, and in the meantime I’ll give you my own quickie recap:
Jeanson’s talking points came almost 100% from his “colleagues at the ICR [Institute for Creation Research],” a phrase that was uttered about a dozen times throughout the lecture. Because his work at Harvard focused on biology, that was the bulk of his talk, but before reaching that discipline he first dismissed both astronomical and geological evidence for evolution and a multi-billion-year-old universe. Of the former, he declared that when we observe galaxies around ours, they are spread out equally to the “north, south, east and west” of Earth, and therefore we are literally at the center of the Universe (and therefore blessed by God?). This is silly. Mountains of research suggest that the Earth occupies a wholly unremarkable corner of a Universe that is vaster and more ancient than Jeanson’s comparatively puny philosophy can imagine.
Of geology, Jeanson highlights variations in different dating techniques and suggests that this disproves the validity of any dating technique that puts the age of the Earth older than 6,000 years. He didn’t bother talking about how those different techniques are used, of course, as that would defeat his point. Instead, as Boston Skeptic Jared said, “He just put up the pictures and said “I’m not going to go through all of this” – well, why not? It’s awful hard to know what you’re talking about when you WON’T TELL US what you’re talking about!” He then briefly compared the aftermath of Mt. St. Helens’ eruption to the strata of the Grand Canyon, glossing over the fact that the two are very, very different, as would be obvious with a scientific evaluation.
With those two disciplines out of the way, Jeanson was ready to spend the most time on his field of study: biology. As mentioned in the other recaps I’ve linked to, Jeanson here claimed that his own research showed irreducible complexity. He also claimed that the differences between organisms like yeast, plants, and humans show that the evolutionary “tree” isn’t the best way to demonstrate interconnectedness. Instead, he attempted to create his own chart that literally could not incorporate more than four data points because he ran out of dimensions. During the Q&A, an attempt was made by Boston Skeptic Aaron to get Jeanson to explain his bizarre, string-theory-like chart, but to no avail. Jeanson couldn’t explain it and we couldn’t understand it, but somehow it disproves evolution. Checkmate, Darwinists. (Aaron has since put up a full explanation of WTF was going on with that chart, here on his blog. Thanks, Aaron!)
The Q&A was far and away the best part. I found it difficult to ascertain how many people in the audience were creationists, because nearly the entire Q&A consisted of scientists hammering Jeanson until he looked like he was going to curl into the fetal position and weep. I was shocked to read that he had already gone through a similar treatment during the morning session, because you’d think he would have been more prepared for our talk. Instead, he looked like a deer in the headlights for some of the questions, and for most of his answers he simply attempted to restate the question in a way he could weasel out of. If the questioner tried to refocus him on the point more than three times, he or she was informed that the three-question per person limit had been exceeded and to STFU.
I was very amused to read about David Levin’s experience at the morning session in Jeff’s recap on Pharyngula, since that nicely explained why the pastor/moderator laid down so many rules before beginning Q&A, including a warning that we were only to ask questions of Jeanson and to not address anything said by another audience member. That was a shame, because our session was filled with people much more interesting and knowledgeable than Jeanson and it would have been more productive to just talk to them. However, then we would have missed the joy of seeing Jeanson wriggle around on stage, attempting to talk around such questions as (summarizing): “What makes you smart enough to overturn all of 21st century physics?” and “If the Bible is so accurate, why doesn’t every culture describe the same exact worldwide flood?” The person who asked that last question added, “I mean, it’s not like they’d just forget to write it down or something.” Ha! Jeanson’s answer was that only Noah’s family survived, and all the cultures came from them. I bit my tongue rather than ask him where black people came from.
While normally I’d find a lecture like this depressing—and it is depressing to think that this kid got all the way through Harvard and learned so little just so that the creationists would have someone with initials after his name to validate their idiocy—I went home feeling pretty invigorated. The scientific community of Boston really rallied together to make sure that Jeanson’s lies and obfuscations didn’t go unanswered. While I’m sure that the entire audience didn’t leave disbelieving creationism, I think it’s fair to say that a large number of them learned something they wouldn’t have learned had we all just ignored Jeanson. The questioners were all very polite, on-point, and persuasive, and I’m optimistic that they helped those in the audience while leaving Jeanson battered and bruised, and possibly reconsidering ever delivering a lecture again.
That said, if he does ever deliver a lecture like that, now we know what to expect: more of the same long-debunked creationist lies.
EDIT: Awesome chick Jessica has uploaded WMA files of the lecture and Q&A here.
EDIT PART TWO: As I’ve inserted above, Aaron posted his complete explanation of Jeanson’s bizarre and confusing alternative to the evolutionary tree, here.