Along with the rest of my crew, I entered the theater. Not just any theater, mind you, but a special effects theater. This meant that at certain points during the film your seat would vibrate ominously and a small spritz of water would shoot out from the seat in front of you. More on that later.
The film was Men in White, a light-hearted romp in which Satan’s minion’s, i.e. scientists and college professors, receive their comeuppance from a couple of well-informed, clear-thinking, super-cool angels, named Michael and Gabriel. It was the familiar creationist story — the one where they’re the folks who know what’s going on and all those dullards who spent their best years earning PhD’s would have done better reading thier Bible’s instead.
As the film opens an animatronic young woman named Wendy sits before a campfire with her back to the audience, pondering the mysteries of existence. “Does anybody even know I’m here?” she asks. “Did God create all this, or did we just invent God?”
Angels to the rescue! Our heroes appear on the screen to reassure the young woman that God did, indeed, create all this. “The whole enchilada,” no less. Not specific enough for you? Okay:
He created the light and the dark and the skies and the seas, the land and the plants and the birds and the trees, the Sun and the stars …
and sundry other things that didn’t come out with sufficient clarity on my little recorder. After rattling off this little list, the angels expressed disbelief at the idea that our young heroine thinks believing in God and creation means you have to reject science. What a silly bint. Doesn’t she know that God loves science? Doesn’t she know that God wants us to understand how he built everything? (“Everything” includes neutrinos, eagles and the Milky Way, in case you were wondering.)
The angels begin to fear Wendy is not listening to them. Indeed, we hear her speculate that, “Life is probably just a big accident. The predictable result of an infinite number of matter/anti-matter asymmetric collisions.”
What. A. Moron. She’s lucky to have two such perspicacious angels around to set her straight. She’s obviously spent too much time listening to “the culture.” I suspect that’s code for people like me.
There follows a montage of clips of various scientist and teacher stereotypes lecturing in a style that is either painfully boring or frighteningly dogmatic about the importance of evolution and all of its soul-destroying corollaries. “What if I don’t believe your idea?” asks one reasonable young man. “Well then you’re in violation of the Constitution of the United States’ separation of church and state!” shrieks a Wicked Witch of the West like schoolmarm. Looks like my suspicion was correct.
For me this was a very useful way to start my afternoon at the museum. As regular readers of this blog are aware, I spend a considerable amount of time attending creationist conferences and presentations. And since I am cursed with both the ability and the willingness to look at things from the perspective of people with opinions different from my own, all of this exposure occasionally leads to bouts of Stockholm Syndrome. Maybe, I start wondering, it’s unfair for me to go into their hidey holes for the sole purpose of later writing snide accounts of my experiences. Maybe I should just leave them alone. If they want to live according to their own idiosyncratic religion, who am I to pass judgment on them?
Then I see things like Men in White, and like a bucket of cold water I am reminded of a fundamental truth of creationism. They are not wasting even one single second worrying about presenting their opponents fairly, or of understanding the views they criticize with such venom. There is no stereotype so crass, no argument so foolish, and no misrepresentation so egregious that they won’t use it if they think it will give them a rhetorical edge. There isn’t a college professor, scientist or teacher on the face of the Earth who behaves anything like the caricatures on the screen, but one suspects that fact means nothing to them. Their shameful behavior does not justify similar behavior on the part of their critics, of course. But it is useful to be reminded that while I worry about fairness and open-mindedness, there is absolutely none of that sentiment coming the other way.
Back to the film. Dismayed that poor Wendy has succumbed to the despair to which secularism always leads, they launch into a “multimedia presentation” intended to set her straight. They begin with a brief recounting of the events of “creation week,” as they refer to the days in Genesis One. The most amusing part of this came when they included mushrooms among the plants created on day three. At the end of this we have God’s perfect creation. Animals? Didn’t die! Neither did people, of course. There was no disease. No destruction. No genetic mutations (!!) Man was without sin and could walk “right there” with God.
During all of this there was happy, triumphant music playing, and the angels were speaking in delighted tones. That stops on a dime, when Michael says, “Until the rebellion.” Things suddenly become considerably more somber. The world began to suffer. Everything that’s gone wrong with the world started right then, we’re told. “And so it began. Humanity’s legacy of hate, anger, murder and deception.” Who knew that eating a forbidden fruit was just a gateway drug into far worse transgression?.
Well, clearly there was only one thing for it. Best just to destroy the world with a global flood and effectively start all over. This is where the special effects kicked in. The seats started vibrating in what I think was meant to simulate the violence of the flood, but really felt more like getting an electric shock. And then came the spritz of water from the seat in front of me. The adorable five-year old girl sitting nearby spoke for me when she said, plainly puzzled, “I just got wet, Mommy.”
As for me, I launched into MacGyver mode. The map of the museum handed to us after paying our admission was worthless as a map, this wasn’t the cavernous AMNH after all, but it did make a convenient device for covering up the offensive water jet. I spent the next few moments patting myself on the back for my cleverness, and thinking about the one whole employee whose job it is to make sure that the water tanks in the seats remain full.
Now for the science. You ready? We were asked to ponder certain natural oddities that fall neatly into place in the light of the Bible. Marine fossils on mountain ranges? Those mountains were once covered with water! Volcanic dust in ice cores? Just think of all that volcanic dust in the atmosphere after the flood! The similarities in the DNA found in all living things? God made it so that all living things can live and eat in the same world. Isn’t this fun?
Whereas everything falls into place when you start from the Bible, starting with ideas about “goo to you” evolution forces you to interpret everything through that one, blinkered, lens, called “billions of years.” Evolution, you see, does not make sense unless you also have billions of years with which to work. It was an interesting moment in the film, and it represented a theme that appeared over and over again. Most of their scientific fire was aimed at the question of the age of the Earth. Evolution, for the most part, was only attacked obliquely. They were far more interested in arguing for a young Earth than they were in arguing against evolution.
Several minutes had gone by without a vicious stereotype appearing on the screen, and it is possible the audience was getting restless. Anticipating that fear, the filmmakers now presented a fake news broadcast in which a pretty halfwit named Suzee Teevee interviewed one Professor Ed. U. Cation. Get the idea? So meticulous was their attention to detail that a fake stock ticker crawled along the bottom of the screen. One stock was “Hate” with an arrow pointing up, another as “Love” with an arrow pointing down.
Anyway, Professor Pompous was lecturing with familiar dogmatic certainty about the marvels of radiometric dating, much to the delight of the insipid, giggling anchorwoman. It was quite possibly the first example I have seen of a television news personality getting it right on a question of science.
Our friend Wendy was impressed by the Professor’s dogmatism. The angels? Not so much. Radiometric dating? Pshaw. That’s a method based on “a ton of assumptions.” Rest assured that further studies are suggesting far younger ages for the Professor’s rocks. Might have been interesting to see the bibliography on that claim, but alas, no references were provided.
“And there really can be no questioning of Charles Darwin any more,” intoned the professor, “I mean virtually every thinking person on the planet agrees wholeheartedly with virtually everything he ever said.” I’ll let you imagine for yourselves how they responded to that one. All I can say is, do not be like that nitwit Wendy who thought the professor might have a point. She came in for a serious angelic dressing-down for that bit of foolishness.
Moving ahead a bit, the angels whipped out two of the standard tropes of young-Earth geology: Helium dissipation in zircons and errors in radiometric dating on rocks of known age. I won’t belabor the minutiae of these arguments here. Go here and here for information about the helium, and here for some information about radiometric dating.
On the subject of radiometric dating, the angels were keen to point out that it was a dating method based on assumptions, as if that were enough to show that it is false. But when it comes to their own dating methods, based on vastly more dubious assumptions, suddenly they were all credulity. As Wesley Elsberry notes, consistency is not really a strong point of creationism.
Having refuted a century’s worth of accumulated geologic wisdom in ninety seconds of screen time, the angels got down to business. “Of course there is one place that you must never, ever bring out any of these observations, any of this science, any of these questions.”
Have you guessed where that is? School, of course! That seething den of secular brainwashing and anti-Christian bigotry made into a God-free zone by liberal militants in black robes. Cut to a classroom setting in which the white jacketed hell spawn of Professor Pompous is doing his best to corrupt the souls of America’s youth. But wait! Do I see our two angels, now decked out in the raiment of the youth culture, waiting in ambush in the back row? Oooooh. Someone’s about to get a smackdown.
If you’ve ever seen the classic creationist tract Big Daddy, you know what’s coming. It’s the standard creationist wet dream in which a boring and dogmatic science teacher parroting caricatures of scientific arguments is totally flummoxed by the relentless logic and boundless patience of some curiously well-informed high school students. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that things did not go well for the poor teacher.
We should probably mention that, not content merely to stereotype scientists and teachers, the filmmakers seem to have some interesting ideas about how modern teenagers speak. Our two undercover angels were constantly using words such as “dude” and “gnarly.” They used the word “like” at least twenty-five times in every sentence. Clearly these were deeply cool individuals.
Five minutes later the teacher had been reduced to a simpering pile of goo, trapped by his own logical inconsistencies. All that was left was the big finale.
GABRIEL: You see, Wendy. Atheistic evolutionists can’t see the hand of God, because they really believe there is no God. That’s a huge act of faith on their part. But look for yourself, okay. God is clearly evident, just as clearly as you can assume that there is a designer of that chair you’re sitting in.
MICHAEL: Right. Obviously your chair isn’t just random pieces of wood that accidentally fell into place and glued themselves together. Life, even in its simplest form is way more complex than that. Doesn’t it make sense that there should be a designer for life? A designer who is obviously very intelligent. But God is way more than that. He didn’t just create the universe. He entered it. And he cares for it and sustains it. He loves it.
And after telling Wendy that God wants to have a personal relationship with her, the angels fly off.
Did it work? Did Wendy manage to resolve her existential quandary? Not quite, but she’s clearly getting there. As the show ends we hear her say, “Evolution or creation? I don’t know. I guess there could be a God. I don’t want people to think I’m stupid.”
That was it from Wendy. The angels reutrned briefly to implore us to study God’s world and go spread the Good News. Some Bible verses were placed on the screen. Roll the credits.
Coming Up: Same Facts, Different Worldviews, The Seven C’s of Creation.