Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Meet David Rives, "Creationist Astronomer"

Meet David Rives. David is a contributor to World Net Daily(a flaming conspiracy theory "news" site) who runs a Young Earth Creationist ministry and claims to be an astronomer. David was featured a while ago on Eric Hovind's show "Creation Today", where he claims that the Big Bang theory is "bad science" solely on the basis that it contradicts the Bible.

He then further claims that if we look at the science behind astronomy, it matches up with the Bible.

The Bible on Astronomy

According to the Bible, the universe is geocentric, with a flat Earth and shaped like a tent(Isaiah 40:22). To maintain this view, David would have to reject: heliocentrism, the fact that our Solar System exists on the Orion-Cygnus Arm of the Milky Way galaxy(which we're fairly certain is nowhere near the center of the universe), the discovery that the earth is round, and that current data has eliminated the "tent" hypothesis for the shape of the universe. And the results of these scientific, empirical discoveries have helped enable us to walk on the moon, GPS, send rovers to Mars, discover exoplanets and eventually have the first interstellar space probe.

Big Bang vs. The Bible

Now let's go for the jugular of David's claims: that science backs up literal Biblical creationism. First, it must be noted that the Bible has two incongruent creation stories(Genesis 1 and 2). But we'll focus on the first story for brevity. The first problem we see is that planet Earth is created first, before anything else. No sun, moon or stars. No light-producing objects at all. From what we've observed in the formation of solar systems, this is impossible without a light-producing object undergoing stellar nucleosynthesis first and then ejecting the new elements, which eventually coagulate into planets and moons. And from the same observation linked above, it's obvious that it takes so much longer than a single day. And of course, the Bible runs into major problems with the creation of plants and animals. On the third "day", plants are created. But there's no sun to drive their photosynthetic processes until "day" four. Then on "day" five, all the sea animals and flying animals are created - simultaneously. This directly contradicts observation of the fossil record indicating that sea life came first, then land animals and finally flying animals.

Now let's take a look at the Big Bang Theory. Quoting straight from the Wikipedia entry(emphasis mine):"The Big Bang is the scientific theory that is most consistent with observations of the past and present states of the universe, and it is widely accepted within the scientific community. It offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observed phenomena, including the abundance of light elements, the cosmic microwave background, large scale structure, and the Hubble diagram."

To be sure, there are some problems with the Big Bang Theory, but that doesn't mean it's disproven and we should adopt the already disproven creationist dogma, as David suggests. It just means there's some problems that need to be accounted for. And even if we never get these problems solved, there's still more than enough evidence that the Big Bang or a similar theory is the most likely explanation of the origin of the known universe.

Why "creationist astronomer" is an oxymoron

So why does David lie if he's supposedly a "real" astronomer? The answer: He isn't a real astronomer. He's an invested creationism peddler who uses the fact that he owns a telescope to fool people into thinking he's a qualified authority on the subject of astronomy. It's a common tactic in creationist circles: Dress up in safari gear and people believe you're a paleontologist or archaeologist. Dress up in a lab coat and you look like a physicist/biologist/scientist. Show off a telescope and you're automatically assumed to be an astronomer. Right, David?

The Misfit Atheist on the Sunday Assembly/Godless Revival Split

Earlier this year, British comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans started the first "atheist church", called the Sunday Assembly. It started out as an experiment, but quickly caught fire in the UK. On a very hot June summer day, coinciding with the gay pride parade, the first Sunday Assembly in America happened in a small bikini bar in Manhattan, complete with an actual protester next to the bar. I attended this event and found it wildly fun. From there, future assemblies started all over the United States. Things were going swimmingly well... up until last month.

Sanderson Jones was recently quoted as saying "I’d like to make this as un-atheistic as possible. Atheism is boring. We’re both post-religious." This, along with several anti-atheist ideas he agreed with, did not go over well with a majority of folks within the SA-NYC board of directors. The minority that did agree with Sanderson decided to relaunch the Sunday Assembly as something more of a general nontheistic congregation.

In response to Sanderson's apparent shunning of the word "atheist", the former board of directors decided to launch their own alternative to the Sunday Assembly, the Godless Revival.

I recently attended the relaunch of SA-NYC, and aside from the venue change(at the NY Society for Ethical Culture, which actually bills itself as a humanistic religion) and that the post-service socialization had tea and cookies rather than beer served(though afterwards many people went to a nearby bar for further socializing), there's virtually no change from previous assemblies. I plan to attend the first Godless Revival meeting later this month, but at this point I'd like to offer my thoughts on the split and where I currently stand on it.

While I understand why Sanderson would want to de-emphasize atheism in favor of greater inclusion, I think he should have used language such as "We'd like to make this more inclusive to where it's appealing not only to atheists, but anybody looking for a nontheistic celebration of life. Sunday Assembly isn't only for atheists, despite the media labeling us as an 'atheist church'". What he did say though certainly came off sounding anti-atheistic.

As for the folks organizing the Godless Revival, I totally get why the split is needed. Atheism is still treated like a toxic word in the United States, and for the founders of SA to bury it as "boring" after successfully showing that atheists can celebrate life just as(and arguably even more) positively as religious people, is a slap in the face to those of us(like myself) who find atheism as anything but boring.

But, I've seen a few conversations between certain GR and SA organizers(I won't name names, but you know who you guys are) on Facebook and I'm dismayed at the bitterness and mud slinging on both sides on display. I'm quite worried that this bitterness may harm the success of both SA and GR. So I'm suggesting both sides take a step back, cool down, get over it and work it out amicably. The last thing I'd want to see is either group devolving into something like what happened with "Atheism+" or worse. There's more than enough room for both endeavors to thrive with their similar yet distinctly different goals, and maybe some fences could be mended down the line.