Sunday, November 2, 2014

Origin Summit: Hanlon's Razor

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
This past Saturday (1 November 2014) the Creation Summit, a non-profit organization based in Nevada and dedicated to the promulgation of (young Earth) creationist "science", hosted an event at the Michigan State University Business School, named the "Origin Summit".  The event consisted of several workshops led by four YEC scientists/professors, as well as an open question panel at the end.  Myself and several other members of the Michigan Secular Student Alliance attended the event, and I hope to write several more articles about the talks that I saw (and perhaps other articles will be written by some of my fellow attendees, too).

To kick this off, I'll actually start at the end: after the panel discussion, I joined another of our members Jon White to talk with one of the speakers—Dr. Charles Jackson—about more recent and numerous data that contradicts a concept he quoted in his talk.  That in particular will be the subject of another post; but, toward the end of our discussion, after I tried to yet again make a point he wasn't accepting, he asked me very pointedly,
"How important is atheism to you?"
This was rather out of the blue.  The discussion so far had been about a particular argument about a scientific concept, about data, and we weren't talking about religion.  I said it wasn't very important to me, it was more about the science, and he started to go off on a very defensive tirade about how he and other creationists were not stupid, and that we shouldn't believe what we were told about creationists: that they're uneducated, that they're ignorant, that they're stupid.  He brought up his collection of degrees from legitimate universities, and degrees other creationists there had; he mentioned the gene gun patent that Dr. Sanford (another presenter) had; he talked about how he was a professor at high schools and college, and that he had never attended a Christian university; so on.

He gave the impression that he thought my only experience with young Earth creationists was that day only, and that I only knew of them through other atheists and "evolutionists" that told me vicious lies about their intelligence.  I did not mention to him that I have in the past visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky, nor did I mention that I have seen plenty of debates between YECs and scientists, the most recent and popular being Ken Ham's debate with Bill Nye.  I also did not bother stressing the point that creationists have a very wide array of publicly available merchandise and "educational products" which contain all of their arguments, each and every single one of them debunked in only the most utter sense.  I don't need to be told anything about them: they speak for themselves.

All the same, Dr. Jackson insists that I do not think of him as stupid or uneducated.  And at that, I couldn't help but think of Hanlon's Razor, which I quoted at the beginning of this post.  If ignorance is not a sufficient explanation for the ideas he promotes, what shall be?  If his own admission to "not knowing" about the data we presented to him is not an admittance of ignorance, what is it?  Would it help you predict my stance if I said that his data is outdated by at least two entire decades?

Those familiar with YEC arguments will be well aware by now that most of them rely on either citations of "research" that they themselves conducted, all of which is quite bad, or rely on citations of research by other scientists that publicly state that their work is being misrepresented.  And therein must lie our answer.  It may be a matter of cautious character judgment that we take Hanlon's Razor seriously, but many of my next posts will illustrate that an assumption of ignorance flies in the face of very blatant evidence that the arguments presented by YECs are dishonest, misrepresentative, or—and I prefer this more succinct term—lies.


  1. Ignorance isn't a sin. Ignorance can be solved by learning, asking questions, and researching. My first impression isn't that these men are stupid. I think they are intelligent and that their accomplishments indicate this. Stupidity isn't ignorance.

    The fact that he is more concerned with appearing stupid rather than wanted to turn ignorance into knowledge is rather telling. Ignorance can be forgiven because it can be resolved.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I certainly got the impression that Jackson was a bit of a shyster. Between his cocky demeanor and his ability to recite just enough seemingly rational pseudoscience to confuse less scientifically literate audiences, it certainly seemed, to me, that there was more going on there than simple ignorance.