This evening, I took DJ Mo to visit a local church, for the purpose of attending a presentation from the Institute for Creation Reseach. Although I don’t generally attend any sort of church, I thought it might be a good educational opportunity for DJ Mo to see how religion is used to abuse otherwise decent folks and relieve them of their money.
And although it would have made for a far more interesting blog, I didn’t ask any questions, start a debate, or otherwise draw attention to myself–my general opinion is that these sort of folks have their minds made up regardless of what is presented, and that logic or evidence just doesn’t matter to them.
Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience, so I’ll share it with you.
First off, the presentation was given by James Gardner, of the ICR. He referred to the presentation as part of a “loop” of speeches being given, which the pastor stated was the only way they could afford to have someone from the ICR show up in our town. Following the presentation, I thought this was fairly amusing– I sure hope they didn’t pay TOO much!
Gardner mentioned that he had previously spoken at Virginia Tech, where he said he had been “verbally assaulted” by a member of a Freethinker group while giving a speech there. He also said that he doesn’t often get an opportunity to speak at colleges. While he was getting ready, some PowerPoint slides were on a loop– photos of dinosaur footprints, human footprints, and “mummified duckbill dino” which I have a picture of here. Oh! Please understand that I was taking these photos from a few pews back, while they were displayed on a bright screen. I have obviously Photoshopped some of them to bring out detail, so don’t get all freaked out if you see where I fixed something. I didn’t feel like working on them forever– I just wanted you to be able to see things more or less decently.
Gardner told everyone that he had grown up in Thailand as the son of two missionaries, had been home-schooled, and also taken schooling in Vietnam at a Christian school of some sort. Eventually, he made it to the US as a teenager (I forget where) and first encountered evolution at that time– he said “evolution totally messed me up.” The way he said it made it sound as if he’d gotten hooked on heroin or something– this was a new twist on the usual “I-used-to-be-an-addict-but-now-I-found-Jesus” story you hear so often from these people. Weird!
I did my best to take some notes on the back side of a donation envelope, but I don’t think I did a very good job. Taking good notes has never been my strong point, and I was also really thrown off– I was expecting something a bit more based in nonsense “facts”, but Gardner just seemed happy sort of riffing on dinosaurs, Jurassic Park, evolution, and home-schooling in a fairly discombobulated way. I wouldn’t say he was incoherent– he was lucid and clear-spoken– he just didn’t really have any sort of “flow” from one set of statements to the next.
Most notable for me was how when Gardner made a point against science or evolution, it was almost entirely made by setting up ridiculous situations that were actually somewhat comical. He seemed sort of hung up on what dinosaurs actually looked like, and kept mentioning that they were “on average” the size of sheep. Eventually, he put up a slide depicting a cartoony scientist and a painter. The scientist is gesturing to a pile of bones, and saying something to the effect that one dino died while getting his tail bitten by the other one. The painter is painting the scene, also in a very cartoony manner. Gardner’s point was that this is how science is done, and how silly it all seems. Of course, the audience ate it up, with a few scattered “amens,” etc…
I’m not sure how much DJ Mo took away from the presentation, but we did talk about how no real evidence was presented, but that the audience responded to the silliness of Gardner’s examples. I think this is a pretty valuable lesson.Some stuff hit me out of left field. As a vegetarian, I was aware that some religions are interested in the Genesis quote having to do with seeds and meat (can’t recall how this goes at the moment.) Gardner used this quote to basically say that before the flood, dinosaurs and all animals were vegetarians, and that T-Rex teeth were too brittle to eat meat, and that T-Rex would have been toothless in a hurry if it had tried. I wasn’t really sure what the point of this was, until he said that the dinosaurs’ vegetarian diet was the reason that all people weren’t devoured by these beasts. Gardner also said that following the flood, human beings ate all the dinosaurs, which is why they’re extinct now.
Gardner occasionally threw in some scientific-sounding words, enough to gloss over a tricky point, but not so much that I was fooled into thinking it was substantial. He mentioned that dinosaurs couldn’t breathe the air after the flood because it possessed a different percentage of oxygen (I believe he said it was 36% instead of 40%?) and that their “small lungs” could not adapt to this situation. Earlier, he said that secular, atheist scientists say that “particles evolved into people;” and threw out the idea that there is “horizontal change, not vertical.” He really didn’t explain this at all, so I have no idea what he meant.
Gardner also presented a slide of Ceratops “kinds,” which he said would not all have been present on the ark. I thought it was interesting that he mentioned that after the flood, the “variation could show up again later…” I assume me meant that the different “kinds” would again produce variety through breeding. He compared this to dogs, which he also said have different “kinds,” including one which he said you could squish up their face so it covered their ears. I suppose he meant a sharpei, but who knows?
Finally, Gardner said that dinosaurs lived with humans, and that we just used to call them dragons. He displayed a picture of the Chinese Zodiac, which I also took a picture of– I’m pretty sure this is a rare sighting in a fundamentalist church! Gardner said that some scientists have advanced theories that dinosaur extinction was caused by a meteor, by overeating, and actually by burping themselves to death. These were all accompanied by very silly slides, which DJ Mo and I did laugh at. I have never heard that dinos burped themselves to death, so I thought this might have been what he thought was the truth, but it turns out he figures we ate them all up. He showed a picture of KFD “Kentucky Fried Dino” in sizes small, regular, and large.Gardner ran over time by about 20 minutes, and finished by saying that there might still be dinosaurs alive. He added a mysterious statement about “reports from the Congo,” which I thought was overly dramatic and silly, but everyone seemed to think this was totally normal.
DJ Mo and I chose to bug out before the next presentation “What is Truth?” (or “True,” I’m not sure, actually!) but stuck around long enough to view the large amount of merchandise for sale, and to get a bottled water, courtesy of the church. I should mention that Gardner did not travel lightly in the merchandise category– there were at least 30 books for sale, numerous audio tapes, DVDs, and possibly computer software as well. I’m not sure on the software– the room was crowded, and hard to see everything well. The prices were fairly high– $10 for a small children’s board book– but from the look of it, people seemed to be quite excited about the ICR offerings.
All in all, DJ Mo and I were well-treated, aside from the numerous handshakes we were forced to endure from folks who did not recognize us as normal members of the church. I overheard one man saying that he had received an e-mail on a homeschooling list of some sort, and had driven his family around 2 hours to attend. When we left, I saw his wife in their van– from my dealings with little kids, I imagine she was tending to a sleepy or fussy baby– that must have been LOADS of fun for her! However, the new term I learned from Gardner’s speech– “helpmate”– sprang to mind. I’m pretty sure that’s the last time I’ll have an opportunity to use it.
I am curious how much of this jives with YOUR experiences with presentations of this sort. Is this all recycled material, or was Gardner flying by the seat of his pants? Would you have tried to debate, or sat quietly? Let me know!