Time to wrap this up. So here are a few more interesting moments from the conference.
The one genuinely interesting talk I attended had nothing to do with science at all. It was entitled “A Critique of the Precreation Chaos Gap Theory,” and was delivered by John Zoschke, a pastor from Kansas. Zoschke was keen to refute one particular form of the Gap Theory, which, in an attempt to reconcile Genesis with the long ages revealed by geology, inserts a long gap of time between two of the early verses in Genesis. (Which two depends on the particular version of the Gap Theory under consideration.)
Zoschke’s talk was a far cry from the usual “Scientists are wrong about everything!” revival tent atmosphere so typical of creationist presentations. There were no pyrotechnics, no ambitious claims, and no acrimony of any kind. Just sixty minutes of calm Biblical analysis, returning to the original Hebrew and making a serious effort to get at the original meaning of the text. Zoschke also referred to several different translations of the Bible, comparing their different versions of certain key verses. It was a useful counter to those who accuse creationists of being dogmatically attached to the King James version.
Obviously I am in no position to judge whether Zoschke’s understanding of ancient Hebrew is up to the task. But I do think a remark is in order. If we are to judge them by their best representatives then creationists take their Biblical analysis very seriously indeed. They endorse the young-Earth position because they genuinely believe (with considerable justice) that this is what was intended by the writer of Genesis. I am sympathetic to this view, as I have written before. The arguments I have seen defending alternatives like the day-age theory, the gap theory, or the framework hypothesis are not convincing.
(Along those lines, can someone explain to me the argument that the days in Genesis could not be twenty-four hour days because the Sun was not created until Day Four? The Earth and light were both created on Day One, and it seems to me that is all you need to talk about a normal day.)
Anyway, we should also note that Noah’s Ark was a big topic of discussion. John Woodmorappe, he of the famous treatise Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study (recently out of print, as he sadly informed us before his talk) discussed some new research showing, in his view, that a wooden, ark-size, boat could have been seaworthy for the duration of the great flood. Here’s tha abstract of his paper:
Ark-size wooden ships are not only possible, but were actively contemplated in the early twentieth century. Incomplete composite action, historically a weakness in wooden ships, can be greatly mitigated through the use of a sufficient number of low-tech, high-stiffness dowel connectors. The deflection of the ark could have been held down to no more than 1.75-2.0 times that of a completely composite ark that experienced no shear lag. In addition, the effects of limited lengths of timber, relative to the length of the ark, are not significant when such dowels are used.
Good to know!
Nor was Woodmorappe the only one thinking ark-thoughts. A team of four unleashed this haymaker on us (in a talk entitled “Structural Dynamic Stability of Noah’s Ark”):
If the Genesis flood was a catastrophic event that induced large-scale wind-driven waves, then the ark that carried Noah and his family needed to be very stable upon large, sometimes random, loads. This particular study has several research components that give greater insight into the structural dynamic stability of the ark: (1) a combined numerical-experimental modal analysis on a 1/200th scale ark structure quantifying the first three fundamental resonance frequencies and associated mode shapes: 528 Hz in pitch bending, 800 Hz in yaw benidng, and 1000 Hz in torsion; (2) a computational modal analysis that links the 1/200th scale ark structure with the full-scale structure of Noah’s Ark showing that the first fundamental frequency ranges from 1-4.5 Hz below the range of human resonances that typically range between 5-10 Hz; and (3) a 1/200th scale ark experimental study on turbulent random loads with waves that scaled as high as high as 500 ft (152 m) showing that Noah’s Ark would be stable even under these extreme loads. This combined computational-experimental study clearly shows the stability of the ark under extremely large-scale, deleterious conditions.
And here you thought that whole Noah’s Ark story was implausible.
Less heady was the talk “A Review of the Search for Noah’s Ark.” Short version: They haven’t found it. They’re not sure where to look. There’s probably little left of it anyway.
That’s about it for the talks, at least the ones I feel are worthy of comment. Let’s see, what else? Well, there was the fellow who explained to me sternly that materialism was plainly ridiculous, since the laws of logic exist and they are not material. There was the special session with the Association of Christian Graduate Researchers, trying to figure out how to attract hot young talent into creation science. There was that scary dinosaur outside the meeting rooms:
And that’s about it.
Well, not completely. You know how when you see a good movie you can lose yourself for a while. You can immerse yourself so completely in the world of the film that you are only barely aware you are sitting in a theater. But once you leave the illusion fades very quickly, and you come back down to reality.
Creationist gatherings have a similar effect on me. Surrounded by so many true believers it is easy to get lost in their world. You find yourself thinking, “Yeah! I wish those mean ol’ scientists would stop dumping on them!” But then I get back into the car, hit the road, and ten minutes later I’m thinking “What was that about?”
After leaving the conference I headed East on the Pennsy Turnpike, destined for New Jersey. But along the way I stopped off in Harrisburg to meet up with fellow Panda’s Thumber Burt Humburg and journalist extraordinaire Lauri Lebo:
If you’re only going to read one book about the big Dover trial, it should definitely be Lauri’s The Devil in Dover: An Insider’s Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America. If you’re only going to read two books about the big Dover trial, read hers twice. (If you’re going to read three, read hers twice, then have a look Ed Humes’ book which is also pretty good.)
Anyway, thanks to Burt and Lauri for hastening my return to reality. Always good to get the creation cooties off as quickly as possible!