Saturday, November 21, 2009

Zaleski: Earth 6,000 years old? Dad would disagree

By: Jack Zaleski, INFORUM

My father was a smart man, not educated in the formal sense, but well-read, observant, curious, analytical. He valued education even though he was unable to pursue a college degree after he returned from World War II.

He would test me. I was a dinosaur nut. By the time I was 8 or 9 I was into everything dinosaur – from library books to plastic models, from museum visits to my own detailed drawings, from sci-fi movies to comics. Loved the stuff. Still do. Still have some of the old books.

Dad encouraged me to delve into the Jurassic and Cretaceous. He praised my sketches, which, I must say after rediscovering them in a dusty box of memorabilia, were good. But then he would say something like: “Dinosaurs? I don’t believe they ever existed. Prove it to me.”

I would take up the challenge by digging into library books and science magazines. I’d present my work to my father, who’d listen patiently as I made the case for dinosaurs. I can’t remember how often we repeated the exercise. In time, I realized it was a kind of academic stunt that was supposed to help me learn how to mine data to make a point. The reward for my sister and me was a trip to the Peabody Museum at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., which had (has) a spectacular collection of dinosaur fossils.

I was reminded of those sessions with my father when I got a bizarre phone call last week. The caller was adamant: “You need to stop printing stories about dinosaurs and fossils. That one about the 200 million-year-old dinosaur find – well – nothing but a sacrilege.”

I rummaged through my back-issue Forums and found the story in Thursday’s edition. It was pretty straight stuff. Scientists in South Africa had discovered a fossil they said was 200 million years old, and likely was a missing link in dinosaurs’ evolutionary chain.

Uh, I don’t understand …, I said to the caller.

“Sacrilege,” he repeated.

It’s just a news story about a scientific find, I said. How is that a sacrilege?

“It’s a hoax,” he said, “because the world is only 6,000 years old, so there can be no 200 million-year-old anything, certainly no dinosaurs. Nothing older than 6,000 years. You can calculate it from the Bible …”

I see, I said. And how do you come to that number?

“You can do it yourself,” he said. “I’ll give you chapter and verse so that …”

Gee, no, no thank you, I said. I’ll stick with the science on this one. Lots of evidence, you know, for a planet being a helluva lot older than 6,000 years …

“Hoax,” he repeated. “It’s all part of God’s plan. A test of faith, you see. But I guess you don’t believe what the Bible says? I shouldn’t be talking to you.”

He hung up.

People can believe what they want, even when overwhelming scientific evidence exposes their beliefs as hooey. The caller? He sounded content with his construct of the cosmos. Good for him. Still, it’s too bad he didn’t know my father or someone like him. Too bad no one planted the seed of curiosity and intellectual vigor that a common tradesman nurtured in me all those years ago. I thank God for that.


marcus l.
Fargo, ND 11/20/2009 2:59 PM

VE Please don't put all the people of ND in the group that actually believes the world is only 6000 years old. Thats very embarrassing. Our "good old fashioned values" have nothing to do with believing in nonsense.

Liz J.
Rochester, MN 11/20/2009 12:23 PM

Cheeze W: Where in the Bible does is say the streets are lined with gold? Are you disagreeing with a Bible verse or a church doctrine? There is a huge difference.

V E.
Fargo, ND 11/19/2009 8:09 PM

I'll just never know how Jack survives out here surrounded by such intellectually inferior, religious nuts. It must be painstaking work to have to write all these editorials mocking the people of North Dakota. Maybe he should move to Minneapolis - where the people are mostly liberal intellectuals like him? The Forum could then hire a Conservative (religious right-wing wacko) that better represents the people of North Dakota's old-fashioned values. Janey Ahlin should go to. She is clearly not in her "element" out here.

V E.
Fargo, ND 11/19/2009 8:01 PM

So then, logically, the overwhelming scientific evidence that a baby is a human child from the moment of conception should be enough to make abortion illegal - as it is murder.

D L.
Fargo, ND 11/17/2009 3:13 PM

Well, gravity is only a theory, too. And, like evolution, gravity doesn't care if you believe in it or don't, it'll keep doing its thing regardless. The biggest difference is that, while we have a very good picture of how evolution works, we can see what gravity does but haven't a clue as to how. The Large Hadron Collider might give us hints about the mechanism of gravity. The flu virus gives a perfect illustration of evolution every year. If you're going to use the Bible as a science text, the world will have to be rearranged to have four corners, conservation of energy will have to be made a sometime thing, and the value of pi will have to be changed to 3, as per I Kings 7:23. Our circles may come out lopsided, but our science will be Biblically pure. Remember when during last year's Republican debates, when the candidates were asked "who believes in evolution?" And nobody dared raise a hand? This would be scary, except for knowing that biological science will continue to produce new and scary miracles all around the world, even if the U.S. decides head back into the middle ages. Evolution is the core principle of modern biology, and with it, the next few decades are going to see truly mind-boggling and possibly terrifying advances in genetics, vat-grown human organs, synthetic organisms, dogs and cats living get the idea. Whether these breakthroughs happen in the U.S. or China or Korea, they will come. The only downside for us the huge economic advantages for those countries that encourage scientific education, as against those who teach that cavemen rode dinosaurs and that Noah just didn't have room on the ark for pterodactyls. It slightly amazes me how people will accept the most esoteric but demonstrably true effects of physical sciences, like relativity and quantum mechanics. But biology? They recoil in horror at the idea that a little ape in Africa carried almost all of the same genes as we do.

Jon L.
Fargo, ND 11/17/2009 8:13 AM

The flood myth clearly predated the Noah myth. The myth of spirit/person who overcame death and lives somewhere else also predates Jesus. All ancient religions had such a spirit/person. So, why have these myths been a part of religious beliefs right up to the present day? I'd offer an amature's explanation. Through evolution, the humans who could hold to some optimistic view were more motivated to hunt for food and thus had higher rates of survival than those who were more discouraged. The myth that someone before us overcame a flood gives us hope. The myth that someone before us overcame death makes us believe we, ourselves, do not have to die. We do not want to hear that these are myths---though they most certainly are.

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claudia h.
11/17/2009 7:31 AM

Science AND the BIBLE .....Genesis 1:1-31 is not discussing the original creation of matter OR of the heavenly bodies. It describes the preparation of the already existing earth for human habitation. This included creation of the basic kinds of vegetation, marine life, flying creatures, land animals, and the first human pair. All of this is said to have been done within a periods of six "days". However, the Hebrew work translated "day" has a variety of meaning,s including á "long time":the time covering an extraordinary event. Such as the term, in Abraham's 'day'. the term used allows for the thought that each 'day'could have been many thousands of years in length. A person who studies the Bible knows that while the Bible does not purport to be a book of science, when it discusses scientific ideas, such as the order of appearance of life on earth, it is accurate. Ask Jehovah's Witnesses

John H.
Fargo, ND 11/16/2009 3:07 PM

"Was you there, Charley?" That was a quote that my dad used a lot. Apparently Charley was a movie actor who made a lot preposterous claims that he could not back up. His sidekick put him down by asking the question "Was you there, Charley?" Personally, I find no conflict between my Catholic Christian religion and evolutionary theory. However I feel there is only one honest answer to questions like: How or when did the universe originate? How or when did animal life originate? and, How or when did human life originate? The only honest answer to these questions is: We don't know. Why? Because, like Charley, we weren't there. None of the various theories about the origins of things, intelligent design included, can be proven one way or the other. Thus to impose any the various evolutionary theories through our public educational system is an establishment of religion, prohibited by the Constitution. If parents try to give their children one set of beliefs (like fundamentalism) it is not the business of public education to contridict those. Thus I believe public education should give the only really honest answer to these questions, that is, we don't know (and we may never know.)

marcus l.
Fargo, ND 11/16/2009 3:00 PM

I find it pretty funny they claim that the flood was global. Did they have contact with people in the western land masses? I'm pretty sure without technology, transportation, and communication, this spring's flood would have looked pretty global.

J G.
Hankinson, ND 11/16/2009 12:56 PM

You will notice, that despite some misinformation, that the Catholic Church rather easily reconciles the Bible and science.

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