Yeah, that figures. I wouldn’t trust ‘em either.
I’m not sure exactly how I got to this oddly apposite error, though I do know why it happened, and will bore those of you intrepid enough to make it all the way through this latest Wall-O-Words™ post with an explanation.
It all started when I read An Evolutionary Biologist Visits the “Creationism Museum”, which is by PZ Myers, the Pharyngula guy and well-known desecrator of all that is holy.
The Creation Museum is a product of Answers in Genesis, or AiG, not affiliated with the other AIG, but similarly untaxable. AiG was founded by Ken Ham, an Australian-born evangelist whom we exported to the USA in 1987.
(In case you were wondering, there also exists a Web site called “Answers in Revelation“. It’s pretty much what you’d expect - a little like “The Lord’s Witnesses“, but less apologetic.)
AiG’s Creation Museum is a place which surely ranks among the Seven Wonders of the Whacko American Christian World (there obviously isn’t really a Christian world outside the USA; it’s like the World Series). The Museum is up there with the Crystal Cathedral, the even-more-gigantic Lakewood Church, the sadly-diminished Precious Moments Chapel, Touchdown Jesus and… actually, that’s all I’ve got, off the top of my head. I’m sure commenters will help me out, here, with some more examples of the various US Jay-sus-uh enterprises’ attempts to top each other in visible-from-geostationary-orbit violations of Matthew 6.
PZ Myers’ article linked to the Christian page of this Cracked piece about baffling Web comics. One of the less peculiar comics told its readers to visit Answers in Genesis for the answer to one of the real posers of the Book of Genesis.
I speak, of course, of the bit where the recently-Marked Cain suddenly acquires an (un-named) wife. This is a bit surprising, seeing as the Bible has to this point mentioned a world population of exactly four people, the only female among them being Cain’s mother, Eve.
Christians who bother to address a silly creation-myth plot-hole like this fall into two camps.
The first camp asserts that there were other, pre-Adamic humans, and Cain married one of them. Many white-supremacists hold that these pre-Adamic “mud people” are the ancestors of modern-day black people, who are therefore subhuman pre-Genesis prototypes on their ancient mother’s side, and on their ancient father’s side cursed by God. So, uh, you needn’t feel bad about lynching, raping and/or enslaving ‘em, ‘cos they’re not really people at all.
Answers In Genesis rightly deny this outrageous calumny.
They, instead, belong to the camp which reckons that Cain’s wife “was either his sister or a close relative”.
Because, for reasons having to do with Original Sin, AiG are certain, to the point of putting up a display on the subject in the Creation Museum, that it is impossible for any humans alive today to not be descended from Adam and Eve, and Adam and Eve alone.
Well, unless AiG’s whole huge edifice of biblical literalism is to collapse.
(Given the extreme ages people allegedly lived to back in Genesis, and the parallel and unconnected Sethite and Cainite lineages, it’s conceivable that Cain’s wife was not actually his sister, but could have been his great-great-great-grandniece. Which is much less disturbing, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Note that the completely unconnected Sethite and Cainite lineages each contain a dude called Enoch and another dude called Lamech, not to mention about four other pairs of guys with very similar names; there are actually only four people out of 16 who don’t seem to have been struck by this extraordinary nominative correspondence. AiG assure us all that there’s no way this could just be two differently-Chinese-Whispered versions of the same list of names. Obviously, the real question is if, when and how angels cross-bred with humans!)
Reading on through An Evolutionary Biologist Et Cetera, I had to admit that the Creation Museum has got some pretty cool displays. I mean, check out this awesome Noah’s Ark diorama! And it’s not nearly their whole Ark exhibit; they’ve got plenty more, including a recreated chunk of the Noah’s Ark Construction Site! Don’t miss the dinosaurs!
People like AiG, who believe the Noah story is literally true, have had to enlarge their Ark size estimates. The Bible clearly says that the Ark was 300 cubits long, but it doesn’t say how long a cubit was. The road is therefore open for people like AiG to discover ever-larger sizes of “cubit”, and thereby make their Ark bigger and bigger as those troublesome scientists keep discovering more and more species.
I’m not sure why AiG feel this is necessary, since it’s also normal for people presenting the literal-Flood argument to say that God preserved the Ark from harm, helped to steer it to Mount Ararat, after the Flood helped the koalas make it to Australia and the polar bears make it to the Arctic, and possibly also helped Noah with the gigantic engineering task of building the Ark in the first place.
(Check out how long it takes for the average backyard boat-builder to make a small vessel; adding more family members and making it a full-time job helps, but making the project about a thousand times the size would still leave Noah and family felling trees, dressing wood, hammering, sawing, carrying and caulking for decades, at the very least.)
So I don’t see what the big deal is about God making the Ark into a TARDIS as well, so it could hold as many animals as necessary without having to be as long as HMS Dreadnought, and much wider. This whole subject is a bit like discovering that there are people developing serious theories about how it was that Little Red Riding Hood failed to recognise a wolf dressed as her grandma, or calculating exactly how large a cottage could be built out of gingerbread.
But AiG reckon the Ark had to be big enough for all of the animals (and yes, they’ve got a Genesis Answer for the freshwater fish question). So the Ark had to be really, really, really big.
Different pages on the AiG site appear to disagree about how big the Ark was. I think the minimum is 450 feet - 137 metres. This measurement agrees with the New International Version’s, uh, version.
But then, there’s AiG’s printable “Kids Answers Noah’s Ark Bookmark” (PDF), which I consider as authoritative as anything else on the AiG site. The bookmark puts the Ark’s length at a magnificent 510 feet, 155 metres. They also have a page for adults which concurs, and they proudly present an analysis from the Korea Association of Creation Research (by an extraordinary coincidence, the biggest megachurch in the whole world is in Korea…). The analysis concludes that a 135-metre Ark would have been seaworthy. With a bit of encouragement, I bet it’d stretch another 20 metres.
In the boring old secular world, the SS Great Western was, as I’ve mentioned before, the biggest properly seaworthy ocean-going wooden ship ever built, and its hull was about 65 metres in length (including the bowsprit, it was more than 70 metres). Even this size was too much for wood alone; Brunel used iron bands to hold the ship together.
Wooden ships bigger than the Great Western have been built on several occasions, but none dealt well with waves, and they often disappeared on their maiden voyages. No wooden ship even close to the size of even a mere 450-foot Ark has ever ventured to sea. Nobody can prove that the Ark wouldn’t have worked just fine, of course, because nobody knows how it was built; there may be some amazing construction method lost to the ages, and proving there isn’t is impossible.
Ark-believers like to bring up the subject of other ultra-gigantic wooden ships from the pages of history. Or, at least, from the pages of books that say they’re history.
See, for instance, AiG’s buddies at worldwideflood.com, who’ve got this awesome Flash size-comparer, which assigns the “most likely size” for Noah’s Ark as a displacement of a mere “17000-28000 tonnes”.
So, from the Graf Spee to the 1915 Revenge. I can totally see a family building something that big out of wood. How hard could it be?
The most impressive wooden vessels, besides the Ark itself, in the WorldwideFlood comparer are the two greatest hits in the world of mythical giant ships. First, there’s Ptolemy IV’s “Tessarakonteres”, a mega-trireme alleged to have been rowed by four thousand oarsmen. And then, there’s the Chinese eunuch admiral Zheng He’s treasure ships, which were presented as vast beyond the imaginings of the Western world in that bestselling book by Gavin Menzies.
(Menzies’ claims received a less than entirely friendly response from those tiresome empirical-evidence fetishists.)
The Tessarakonteres and another outrageously large wooden ship also allegedly owned by Ptolemy IV, the 115-metres-if-it’s-an-inch “Thalamegos”, have a peculiar tendency to only be taken seriously on Web pages that also argue for the existence of Noah’s Ark. I’m sure the total absence of any substantive evidence that either of the Ptolemaic ships was ever paid for, built, crewed, sailed, sunk or salvaged has nothing whatsoever to do with the sad lack of orthodox academic interest in these extremely plausible ships about which it would be a terrible slander to say they’re as physically practicable as building an Empire State Building out of pine.
For comparison, consider historically-supported large wooden vessels like the Syracusia, which ended up in the possession of Ptolemy III, or Caligula’s giant round barge and “Nemi ships“. The Syracusia probably existed, but is only said to be a - possibly exaggerated - 55 metres in length. And Caligula’s ships pretty definitely existed, but were really just huge lake pontoons, that would have broken up at sea.
I can, at this juncture - quite a bit before this juncture, actually - hear readers begging me to stop poking at this nonsense and finish the review of that new computer you all bought me. But I think there’s something more to engaging with preposterous speculations, like AiG’s mania for persuading us all that the world began in the late Neolithic, than the mere sideshow-freak quality of the exercise. I think there’s a significant educational value to chasing these silly rabbits. It leads you directly to basic philosophy-of-science questions like, “how do we know something is true?”, and “what is truth, anyway?”, and “what is sufficient evidence for a given claim to be treated as true?”
These questions are absolutely fundamental to critical thinking for everybody, not just professional scientists. But I don’t think they’re on a lot of school curricula.
(Did any of you readers receive lessons in critical thinking before tertiary education, or even then? You’d think that there’d at least be room, somewhere in the school year, for a half-hour on the different levels of evidence needed to make plausible the claims “I own a cat”, “I own a horse”, “I own an elephant” and “I own a dragon”…)
Everybody, young and old, needs to know this stuff, and one of the most entertaining ways of learning critical thinking is by examining the writings of people who don’t quite get this whole “science” thing. (I think a kid could pretty much copy and paste this post into a history and/or science assignment and get a decent mark, as long as their teacher wasn’t a Young-Earther.)
The Creation Museum really does seem to be, as Myers says, the very opposite of an actual museum. If you want to read about what real science museums do, I suggest Richard Fortey’s excellent Dry Storeroom No. 1, (out in paperback soon!). As Fortey explains in his idiosyncratic wander through just a few of the numerous paths that exist in just his one museum, and as the Wikipedia article on museums also currently says, a museum acquires, conserves and researches the heritage of humanity and its environment. People who work in the parts of proper museums that visitors never visit devote their entire lives to collecting, collating, categorising and analysing stuff from the real world. Fortey writes of several museum employees who, after their retirement, keep coming in and working for free, so dedicated are they to the pursuit of knowledge.
I presume the Creation Museum has some actual fossils and such, and every now and then there’s another News of the Weird story about hopeful fundamentalists heading off on yet another doomed trip to find the big floating Ark or the little magic one. But such efforts have all the actual substance of a dolls’ tea party. The Creation Museum is, like AiG, nothing more than a great steaming heap of ad-hoc hypotheses, built on faith and making no predictions (if you don’t count failed prophecies about the end of the world). The Creation Museum performs no real research, has nothing to conserve but what their exhibit-builders constructed, and is uninterested in the acquisition of new evidence, because they’ve already got the primary source to end all primary sources.
The Creation Museum even manages to, as Myers also notes, get the layout of a real museum wrong. Instead of letting visitors pick their own path, it funnels them through its didactic exhibits in sequence, like a haunted house or Ikea shop. (Or like a Hell House, for that matter.)
Once again, the Bible-thumpers have approximated the form, but failed to deliver the content, of the scientific endeavour. This is pretty much the definition of “pseudoscience“; pseudoscience is to real science as patent medicines were to real medicines.
Actually, that’s a little unfair to patent medicines, which often contained desirable substances like alcohol, opium or cocaine. But I suppose people in hopeless situations could gain just as much comfort from religious hoo-hah as they could from opium.
Oh yes. The funny error. Remember the funny error that kicked off this bulging tumour of a post?
The error happened because I followed a link, from some damn place, to https://www.answersingenesis.com/something_or_other, which attempts to use the SSL encryption certificate for https://www.answersingenesis.org/, whose suffix doesn’t match the one in the certificate - and hey presto, there’s the snigger-inducing error.
The main Answers in Genesis site is answersingenesis.org, but they also own answersingenesis.com, thus protecting that domain from being hijacked by the vile Satanists who dare to question AiG’s Answers. AiG do actually have their act together as regards this stuff; if you go to answersingenesis.com it redirects you to the .org site, and neither of them try to use SSL so no certificate error appears. http://www.answersingenesis.com/anything redirects, not entirely elegantly, to the home page of answersingenesis.org, but that and the .com/.org SSL certificate thing is the only other bug I’ve found.
And now a reminder for any intrepid readers who’ve made it this far: Please nominate further Wonders of the American Religious World, and/or tell us all who, if anyone, taught you critical thinking!