In previous posts I argued discussions that aim at a representation of reality are a game, bound by rules of rationality and evidence. But, it’s not the only game in town and another one is apologetics ― bound by rules of contrived reason, aiming to look like rationality but aiming in a completely different direction.
The literal definition of apologetics is present a defence of a particular idea, particularly religion and originally only Christianity. The entire game has picked the conclusion already, and is now playing the game of contrived reason to try and point things at the predetermined conclusion. This is done regardless of where honest assessment of the evidence leads.
To highlight what this looks like, this post will dissect White Rabbit’s video, which is a highlight reel of work presentations by Kent Hovind. To be absolutely clear, the point of this post is not to rebut Kent Hovind, that game is old hat and could suggest that Hovind means to engage honestly and is actually playing the Representation of Reality game, just pointing out that he played that badly. Instead, this post will show that Hovind is misrepresenting where the evidence leads to trick people into agreeing with a conclusion his topics simply don’t point to.
(You may have a better argument to lead an honest game of Representation of Reality, but that’s not the point. The point is this case study in what playing Apologetics instead looks like.)
To do this, I am going to dissect individual claims made throughout the video.
Teachers are told to stress that the Earth is millions of years old
Hovind presents the following text on a screen during his presentation, and highlights the text presented here in bold:
Introduce the concept of one million of something, and then expand to one billion. (See “Motivating Your Students”) Stress that the earth is thought to be at least 4.5 billion years old, thus it is necessary to divide up time into manageable units called eras.
He says the following while this text is up:
The teacher are taught, though: be sure to stress to the students that the Earth is billions of years old. Make sure the kids believe this.
Taking this is the order presented here, start by looking at the paragraph and what Hovind highlighted. There is a difference between the stand alone meaning of the text he highlights and the meaning of the text in its entirety. But then, what he says means something different again.
The original text has the nuance of saying that the Earth “is thought” to be this age, and stresses it in the context of understanding “eras” are for: “to divide up time into manageable units”. Remember, also, this is advice given to a teacher in delivering a topic aimed at secondary school children, published in 1979. You do stress key facts to children. You drive home the importance of understanding that gravity is proportional to mass or that natural change in population size is a function of birth rate and death rate. You may ask them to share their knowledge or work it out from data provided, but it is a learning outcome they must have by the end. It is the goal of science classes to stress the best science.
You particularly want to stress the best science in a context of a country where bad science and nonscience gets all out in the media.
Does Hovind know this? Yes. He is a science teacher. He knows you stress key facts. He knows that advice is given in the context of a different lesson objective.
But he highlights the bit that sounds a little bit like indoctrination. And then actually says something that sounds even more like indoctrination: “Make sure the kids believe this.” That is not what the book says.
Hovind is misrepresenting the text he is providing.
Hovind is trying to make something completely valid appear sinister.
Science relies on direct observation of the topic
Next Hovind provides a Webster’s Dictionary definition of science:
n. [< scire, to know] 1. Systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, etc. [His emphasis]
The fact this definition is numbered suggests the dictionary offers other definitions. The current Webster’s Dictionary definition of science is here; there are five definitions. The definition Hovind uses is harder to find because it is old now. But, the point is, he’s offered one of the definitions, and not honestly assessed it against all definition. It is cherry picked.
Hovind then implies that to know something via science, you have to able to directly observe that thing. But this would entirely exclude the cosmology and forensics from science. Science is about building explanations and models from observations. In terms of evolution (which is what Hovind is trying to challenge) we have observed variation over populations and across time, skeletal similarities, genetics similarities, biogeographical communities, carbon or lithium dated fossils showing progress in anatomy over time. Hovind, as a science teacher, would know this.
Hovind is misrepresenting even the simplest of models of science.
Either somebody made the world or the world created itself
Here, Hovind argues that because matter cannot be created or destroyed then the origin of matter can only be explained by somebody making it all or the matter making itself. This is a false dichotomy, which means that the options offered are not the only options: for one, matter may have always been around, or there may never have been ‘nothing’.
Hovind claims to talk to a lot of lecturers and scientists, so he would know this. (This post is ignoring current cosmology, because that’s not fair: it is not rebutting Hovind, it is pointing out things he most likely knows but is ignoring to pedal his conclusion.) More importantly, a ‘false dichotomy’ is a very simply error.
A false dichotomy: Hovind is offering two options as if they were all the options.
A 1933 quote from the Humanist Manifesto
Hovind presents a quote from the Humanist Manifesto, published approximately 70 years before this presentation. The quote then does not say what Hovind says it does:
Humanists regard the Universe as self existing and not created. [His emphasis]
Hovind says Humanists think the universe created itself, but the Humanists say it is not created and self existing. Hovind’s attempt at ridicule may be an ad hominem or is may just be a red herring. Either way, it is not an attempt at playing Representation of Reality.
Hovind’s representation of the content of the Manifesto he shows is inaccurate.
Hovind chooses text that is 70 years old as an attempt to attack modern ideas.
This Professor at Berkeley didn’t answer Hovind’s questions on cosmology
Hovind tells a story of being on a plane with a professor at Berkeley. He does not state the professor’s subject, or whether they are trained in cosmology and cosmogony. The story goes that Hovind asked this professor about the Big Bang and the professor gave an answer that sounded like it came from a text book. Hovind then reads from a 6th grade textbook ― undermining the whole idea that he was talking to a knowledgeable professor in the first place.
Hovind then goes on to describe an oscillating universe claiming this is the only model of the expansion from a singularity that this professor described, then though there are many models. The point being, if this is a true story, Hovind wasn’t talking to a cosmologist. (Maybe it was a professor of literature.) But he presents this as the best explanation an expert could give.
This story is unverifiable.
This is a sort of reverse Argument from Authority: because some authority can’t answer questions to Hovind’s satisfaction, it’s not valid. But, that’s not a reasonable argument, even if this professor was an expert in the relevant field, which is not established.
Making a wash between origins of matter and God
Hovind says his professor admits to not knowing where the “dirt” (used as a pejorative synonym for “matter”) came from, and he tried to make this into a wash; that the ignorance on origins of matter are comparably problematic to the origins of a God. But this isn’t the case.
When it comes to the expansion from a singularity, or any inflationary model of the early universe, we have a lot of evidence: the last scattering background, cosmic background radiation, red shift etc. But, the existence or origins of a God ― which is entirely Hovind’s point ― isn’t evidenced in anything like the same way. It is not a wash: only is a model with details that need ironing out, the other lacks evidence for its central claim.
It is also worth pointing out this pejorative use of language. Saying “dirt” instead of matter, “dot” instead of singularity and “Big Bang” instead of “expansion from a singularity” is a persuasive technique; it’s rhetoric, not reason. It’s a game for apologists and salespeople, not rational discussion.
Use of rhetoric/pejoratives. Simple but accurate language exists, and yet Hovind persists in pejorative language. The content isn’t the issue here, the effect on an audience is; it’s an attempt to discredit through content-free ridicule.
Making it a wash. Not all challenged are equal. Wondering where matter comes from is interesting, but a lot less significant a challenge than ‘how is anything about God possible?’ But Hovind tries to make these equal challenges.
The conservation of angular momentum
Hovind describes the laws of angular momentum using the imagery of children sat on a merry-go-round getting faster and faster. The idea is that as the children fly off the merry-go-round, they will spin in the same direction as it does. He then says the same applies to all the bodies of the universe as they came from a spinning singularity.
This may be why Hovind uses the term “Big Bang”: it allows his to use the image of things being flung out of the “dot”. Even if this is what happens (which it isn’t), not even Hovind would believe that the singularity propels formed galaxies and planets. The earliest matter was actually energy that condensed into subatomic particles. These particles became accretion discs which became clouds and stars and then planets. There are many stages and uneven distribution of gravity which will affect or effect the spin of different bodies. But Hovind skips the detail.
But, actually, things weren’t flung out of the singularity. The singularity expanded, and the universe is still inside it, it’s just a lot bigger. The universe may still be spinning (for all I know ― and without a point of reference, I’m not sure what it would even mean to spin, so was the singularity spinning?).
A straw man. This whole section relies on a completely inaccurate account of a particular cosmological model. But, you’d need some understanding of the model to realise this, which isn’t fair on an uninformed audience.
The Big Bang would mean all the matter is evenly distributed
Hovind argues that the Big Bang would lead to evenly distributed matter. This would stop the early subatomic particles coalescing into atoms or clouds or accretion discs or galaxies or stars or solar systems or planets. He then compares this prediction of the Big Bang with actual observations, where the matter is actually “lumpy”, with clusters of stars and then great voids.
The problem is that Hovind entirely misrepresents the Big Bang here. Quantum activity in the early universe during the inflationary period would have massively expanded those quantum particles, making the distribution of matter “lumpy”. The prediction of the expansion from the singularity is “lumpy” distribution of matter. The prediction of God’s creation is anything is possible.
As one of the sources Hovind cites is dated in 2002, he should be fully aware of this. If you Google “Map of the Universe” you will get this NASA page which states that the unevenness is the result of early fluctuations.
Another straw man. Hovind is simply criticising a false version of the expansion from a singularity.
The Sun is shrinking at a rate which means it would have been touching the Earth in cosmologically recent time
Hovind argues that the sun is “burning” (which it isn’t) and therefore losing mass, and observations about the rate of the decrease in size means that the sun’s surface would have been inside Earth’s atmosphere at some point in cosmologically recent time. He cites the figure 158 million years ago ― which is a problem to the model of 3.5 billion years of life on Earth.
This just simply isn’t true. This article (which is not dated, but its latest reference is 1999) points out that 5 billion years from now, the sun will only have lost 0.04 percent of its mass. And that figure only talks about loss of mass, not mass gained by wayward comets and asteroids.
The article figures this out by calculating the mass lost as energy from the sun. (The sun is not combusting. It’s a thermonuclear reaction.) Most of the important figures in this article have been available in textbooks since 1994, so Hovind probably would have known this.
To be charitable, it may be a conclusion based on selective and debunked observations.
Or it may be a lie. Hovind may have picked observations he knows have been debunked.
Human existence on Earth can be dated by its exponential population growth
Hovind argues that if historical trends in human population size had actually been going on for 3 million years, then the current population density would be 150,000 people per square inch.
This post isn’t interested in whether that back of envelope calculate is correct. Instead, are the assumptions made in is things Hovind would likely believe?
Populations do not normally grow. Populations are normally in balance: the death rate is approximately equal to the birth rate. This is because populations tend to grow very quickly to fill a niche and put pressure on the resources, then the population bounces back a little and remains in struggling equilibrium with its resources. Natural population growth is not the norm.
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari describes how Homo sapiens (us) were unremarkable among other primate species for millenia. It was the taming of fire and control of farming and resources that began to differentiate us. And even then, farms only supported local environments until there was an infrastructure to carry food far away. These are slow technological changes that have an incrementally effect natural human population growth.
To reiterate the simplest primary school geography point which Hovind will have known: populations tend to be stable in size. So, his interpretation of the population growth chart is misleading.
An extrapolation fallacy. Hovind extrapolated current trends back knowing we have a good reason to believe they didn’t hold.
There are no missing links
Hovind provides some quotes that look like they say intermediate fossils have not been found. But he also provides sources they say they have been found, and merely dismisses that as a lie.
The things is, on a cursory glance, even without context, this is not what the quotes say. One quote from David Raup, published in Science volume 213 in 1981 said “In the years after Darwin, his advocates hoped to find predictable progressions. In general, these have not been found ― yet the optimism has died hard, and some pure fantasy has crept into the textbooks”.
There is nothing in there about fossils. Nothing in this quote tells us what the “predictable progressions” refer to. So, I looked up the article and it is actually a letter available here. What the article quite clearly states is that progressive fossils of a particular lineage in chronological order do not express generally true patterns; a particular lineage may be wrought by particular evolutionary pressures, but the next lineage may not be ― or even the next example in the same lineage.
Again, the rebuttal is not the point. The point is that Hovind misrepresented the source. Complexities, like the fact an evolutionary lineage makes more sense in the context of known environmental changes, are irrelevant. What’s relevant is that the Letter was making a point about statistically predictable progressions, and Hovind knew that from reading the article.
If I had to speculate what the “fantasy” in the textbooks is, I would wager it is things like a straight lineage Homo ergaster to Homo sapiens. The truth is, Homo sapiens lived contemporaneously with a lot of those species. But that’s speculation and not what Hovind was on about. He wanted you to believe the fossil record was the fantasy.
Here’s a thought experiment to see what asking for the missing link is disingenuous: imagine a series that runs from A to E. If all that is presented is A and E, then we have a big gap which needs to be plugged with missing links. It becomes more complete with the discovery of C: A – C – E. But now that’s two gaps and two missing links. More discoveries give this disingenuous approach more fuel for their rhetoric.
Dr Colin Paterson, author of the book Evolution got into a letter exchange with Sutherland, a Creationist, and is quoted as saying in those personal letters “If I know of any [transitional forms], fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. I will lay it on the line ― there is not one such fossil.” As far as I can tell, the full letter hasn’t been published and the context is impossible to find. Prima facie the quote could be talking about the complexity of interpreting fossils, especially as they tend not to carry the DNA evidence with them, and so the transitional forms take the form of many fossils. However, this TalkOrigins page puts the quote in the context of the book. Paterson’s Evolution does talk about transitional forms (and the second editions warns against engaging in conversations with creationists, in case the entire exercise is simply them mining for quotes they can use.)
The point the TalkOrigins post makes is that Archaeopteryx may not be an ancestor to modern birds, because it may be from an extinct contemporaneous “cousin” lineage. With the DNA information, distinguishing ancestors from cousins of ancestors is a problem.
These explanations exists for all the quotes Hovind uses. In this case, Sutherland may be the one at fault, not Hovind.
Quote mining. This is looking for quotes that, without their context, sound like they mean something other than their intended meaning. In context, Paterson was probably talking about DNA evidence and how fossils don’t provide that, but a particular sentence or two sounded like fossils are entirely absent; in context, Raup was talking about difficulty in making generalisable statistical predictions from single evolutionary lineages, but one sentence made it sound like transitional forms were absent ― even though Raup was talking about generalisable predictions.
Haeckel’s Embryos are a fraud still in the textbooks
Haeckel’s Embryos are meant to show how the gestation stages of embryology mirror evolutionary descent. There are remarkable similarities between early embryos across different species, and the closer the species are meant to be in evolutionary terms, the longer these similarities persist. The problem, however, is that the diagrams used are hand drawn and fraudulent.
Expect, Haeckel’s embryos are now demonstrated with photographs, not drawings. And all the important details are, in fact, absolutely accurate.
Irrelevance and misrepresentation. Haeckel’s diagrams were not proven a fraud; they failed to be properly defended at the time. Haeckel has been completely vindicated and his diagrams replaced with actual photographs.
Polystrata fossils disprove the geologic column
There is a phenomenon where fossils (nearly always trees) exist through many layers of the geological column, which shouldn’t happen in a pristine column where different layers can be thousands of years apart. Therefore, Hovind argues, the geological column is bunk.
The problem is that it is very difficult to find a pristine example of the geological column. Landslides and mudslides and slumping and orogenies and glaciers and floods all disrupt the column and any of these can unsettle the column. That’s why experts date things, and not any old person who can count layers.
Again, all these phenomena are basic to geology. Hovind should have known (or be able to find out, if he honestly cared!) This is another way of showing he is a playing Apologia and not Representation of Reality: if he is ignorant of these facts but this interested in these topics, then he has failed to open the textbooks. Alternatively, he already knows these facts and doesn’t want them for his game.
Argument from Ignorance. Hovind was basically arguing that because no other explanation had been presented for these polystrata fossils, his explanation must be accurate.
But even the Argument from Ignorance was dishonest, because the explanation has been available in geology textbooks for decades.
Living organism have been carbon dated as thousands of years old; therefore carbon dating is bunk
Hovind cites articles that have found living organisms to be thousands of years old, or dead organisms where there are thousands of years of discrepancy in the same of the organism depending on where the sample was taken from. Therefore, he argues, radiometric dating is unreliable and anything based on it should be ignored.
These papers didn’t carbon date a mollusc for fanciful fun: they had a particular point to prove. And the point was not that radiometric dating didn’t work. Like with the geologic column, these researchers were demonstrating the impacts of contamination.
The mollusk and seal that were dated for be thousands of years old both had one feature in common: they lived in a carbon cycle that was also contributed to by “dead carbon” from the deep sea or ancient humus (soil). Limestone is carbon rich and in the deep sea it is very old and so all of that carbon dates as very old. Consider it ‘fossilised carbon’ outside of the normal cycle of carbon-14 generation. The carbon in this mollusk and seal, then, was comprised of carbon from the normal cycle and this ancient carbon.
Here’s the mollusc paper for you to think on for yourself.
The point here isn’t that Hovind is wrong. The point is that the paper Hovind quotes does say what he needs it to say. The paper itself is about the explanation for the weird results, not the weird results. How disingenuous a reading is it, then, to focus only on the weird results?
Just lying. It hard to stop a lie if you don’t have access to the paper he’s discussing or aren’t trained in the relevant field. But, access to the papers he was using show that the results aren’t a problem to the principles of radiometric dating: they are methodology papers.
Thing petrify very quickly, not over millions of years
Hovind points to samples of modern things being fossilised: boots, pickles, hats, acorns, flour. Therefore, fossilisation is not the slow process science says it is, therefore pointing to fossils to demonstrate age is useless.
I don’t know if this is a good time to look at the conspiracy Hovind thinks must be happening cover all this up. He ignore the fact that science is actually very adversarial and if honest analysis demonstrated fossils could be quick forming that would mean a lot of funding and notoriety and prizes for whoever discovered that.
But that alludes to the point. None of these “petrified” things have ever been sent off for analysis. It’s some amateur’s opinion. To take this collection of things and make such grand claims about them without analysis should be suspect to the onlooker. But it should also demonstrate where Hovind’s loyalties lie, and it’s not with the game of Representation of Reality.
Unsupported assertion. These is no verification that these things have been petrified.
Equivocation fallacy. Sometimes Hovind said petrified, sometimes he said fossilised. Does he mean the same thing? Is he trying to obfuscate the difference?
There are a lot of flood myths
Hovind implies that because there are a lot of flood myths there may have been a global flood. He even cites three flood myths that had a patriarch and his family survive and repopulate the planet. Now, survivors are a necessary part of any flood myth ― because they repopulate the planet for you. The fact that a population creating a myth can figure out that logistic point is not impressive.
Are there other reasons for giant flood myths, though? This is important, beside what one concludes from evidence should be proportional to the evidence. Concluding a global flood on the back of flood myths without geological evidence on your side would be a stretch under basic tenets of the game of Representation of Reality: apportion your beliefs to the evidence.
There have been large floods. Floods in what is modern day southeastern Iraq may be what inspired the myth of the Genesis flood. This would suggest that the Genesis flood was inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh, which in turn may be inspired a real and devastating, but very localised, flood which wiped out the people of Shuruppak.
Other flood myths may date back to epic flood waters that never receded: the end of the last ice age. The last ice age ended approximately 8,000 years ago and is delineated by huge sea level rise. The deluge into the Persian gulf and the draining of Lake Agassiz into the Arctic Ocean may both be inspirations for their own local flood myths.
These events have their own geologic evidence to support them and, importantly, their extent. They were not global.
We are an estuarine species, living by the sea and in river deltas for food supplies, irrigation and fertile land. It is also plausible that water is simply a part of our psychology. The ritual cleansing with water is near-universal, and so the imagery in the flood myths makes some psychological sense. So, the myths don’t even need a real inspiration (shared or unique) to be explained.
So, is Hovind playing an honest game here? Is a global flood really the best explanation for flood myths?
Not apportioning conclusions to the evidence. If evidence is pretty weak and rather common or pedestrian things can explain the evidence, the extraordinary explanations shouldn’t be mentioned sincerely.
The whole structure of Hovind’s presentation
In this presentation, Hovind presents arguments against modern cosmogony, biological evolution, radiometric dating, the geological column and fossils. He does this through a mixture of rhetoric and misrepresentation of understanding available to him at the time. But, take a moment to consider the breadth of his presentation: cosmology, biology, geology.
This is known as a Gish Gallop (or “spreading”). It is simply a torrent of very weak arguments given at length. There is a lot to unpack and I’ve written nearly 4,000 words in response at this point. And I’ve done that with amateurish knowledge, not even addressing every point.
Some of Hovind’s points sound relevant, but aren’t: the spinning of the singularity (or not) doesn’t actually weigh in on the age of the universe at all. But it sounds like it might, because it sounds like a problem with modern cosmogony. As such, a credulous audience won’t consider Hovind’s points rebutted until each point, no matter how weak or unimportant, has been fully rebutted.
It’s not just the content of Hovind’s presentation that suggests he’s playing the game of Apologia, but the very structure of his presentation ― trying to talk about everything and doing it to such a poor quality that clearing up his mistakes, fallacies and dishonesty would run the clock out on anyone’s patience.
Just saying too much. Most academic speeches can be spotted by their incredible focus on a particular topic. This presentation stand out for it’s remarkable spread of content.
What to look out for
Each of my sections here has a “Problem” subheading to try to illuminate easy ways to identify someone playing Apologia. It comes down to fallacies and lies, but they’re not always easy to spot. So, here’s a quick look at features that might inspire scepticism in you, even if that’s not your natural approach.
If someone is telling you they have a quote from a scientist admitting the very foundations of their theory are mistaken, or a simple piece of evidence available to just about anyone that overturns what science actually concludes, that is a big warning that someone is being dishonest. Hovind does this, by suggesting scientists have admitted their are no transitional forms (which, as discussed above, they haven’t) or they modern things have fossilised in a human lifespan (which no one has submitted to analysis).
If someone tells you the options are A or B, instead of A or not A, they are probably hiding options from you. Hovind does this when he says the universe was either created by someone, or created itself. In actuality, it was either created by someone or not.
If someone represents a scientific model that is taken seriously in the scientific community in absurd terms, they are probably not describing that model very well. Some of science is weird and some if its interpretations do offend our intuitions, but if the presentation doesn’t take you on the journey to explain how they got there and just paints an absurd picture, there’s probably deceit going on somewhere.