Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Were You There?

Lunar Olivine Basalt, formed 3.3 billion years ago.
One of Creationist Ken Ham's proudest boasts is that he's tricked thousands of children into shutting down any discussion of evolution, the Big Bang, an old earth, or anything which might conflict with fundamentalist biblical creationism, in other words, almost all basic science, with the simple question, "Were you there?" and so helped them avoid learning because in their naivety they assume that we only know something if we see it ourselves.

In other words, to paraphrase Richard Dawkins, Ken Ham teaches children to be satisfied with not knowing, and even to be proud of not finding things out.

So pleased is Ham of this achievement that he proudly displays this letter from one such nine year-old victim on his Answers In Genesis website through which he markets his wares:

I went to a NASA display of a moon rock and a lady said, "This Moon-rock is 3.75 billion years old!" Guess what I asked for the first time ever?

"Um, may I ask a question?"

And she said, "Of course."

I said, in my most polite voice, "Were you there?"

Love, Emma B

Ken Ham, being a devout Christian who believes a god of truth is watching his every thought, no doubt believes this himself. So it's reasonable to assume if he got up in the morning to find the ground outside all wet, with puddles here and there, and water on the outside of his window, he would lecture his unfortunate wife and children on how they can't assume it rained during the night because they didn't see it themselves. Obviously, they should assume that God put all that water there and realise that the theory of rain, which claims that the water on the ground starts out higher up and just falls down by chance, is just a theory with no supporting evidence which Satanic scientists use to try to turn them away from God.

Or maybe not. Maybe when there is no money to be made from fooling people he uses perfectly normal thinking and everyday logic, not the special version which he reserves for fooling children and infantile adults with.

Now, I should caution against using this 'devastating' argument against Creationists by asking if they were there when their god created the Universe and then flooded the earth, or even when Jesus was resurrected, because there is no reason we need to lower ourselves to Ken Ham's level. Besides, pointing out their double standards and hypocrisy has never stopped them before so it almost certainly won't work this time either. "Were you there?" is probably the most disingenuous and intellectually dishonest question in the Creationist's armoury.

The biologist Professor PZ Myers composed a long open reply to Emma B which highlighted the fundamental difference between science and Creationism. Some of the points he made were:

One serious problem with the "Were you there?" question is that it is not very sincere. You knew the answer already! You knew that woman had not been to the moon, and you definitely knew that she had not been around to see the rock forming 3.75 billion years ago. You knew the only answer she could give was "no," which is not very informative.

Another problem is that if we can only trust what we have seen with our own two eyes in our short lives, then there’s very little we can know at all. You probably know that there are penguins in Antarctica, and that the Civil War was fought in the 1860s, and that there are fish swimming deep in the ocean, and you also believe that Jesus was crucified two thousand years ago, but if I asked you "Were you there?" about each of those facts, you'd also have to answer "no" to each one. Does that mean they are all false?


I'd like to teach you a different easy question, one that is far, far more useful than Ken Ham’s silly "Were you there?" The question you can always ask is, "How do you know that?"

Right away, you should be able to see the difference. You already knew the answer to the "Were you there?" question, but you don’t know the answer to the "How do you know that?" question. That means the person answering it will tell you something you don't know, and you will learn something new. And that is the coolest thing ever.

"How do you know?" is probably the most terrifying question you can ask a Creationist, which is why they have this obsession with science and with preventing people from learning any. The basis of science is asking questions designed to find things out. "How do I now this?" is what every good scientist asks himself all the time and every time he thinks he knows something. If he can't answer it, he doesn't know what he thinks he knows and needs to re-think.

This is why the last thing Ken Ham wants is children asking constructive questions designed to elicit new information. The last think Ken Ham wants is children asking themselves how they know something. Instead, it's important to him (and his very large income) that they shut out any possibility of learning something new as quickly as possible, even at the expense of compromising their intellectual integrity by being disingenuous. The last thing he wants is children realising they don't actually know why they 'know' something because they might realise they've been conned.

And to think that poor Emma B's mother was actually proud of having taken her unfortunate daughter to a NASA display so she could demonstrate her skill at avoiding learning scientific information or, as she referred to it, "yada, yada, yada, blah, blah…"

It would probably be wrong to assume that all Creation pseudoscientists are so lacking in morals that they willingly, gleefully and proudly trick nine year-old children for money, like a heroin pusher outside a primary school gate, but, to be perfectly honest, I can't think of any at the moment and most of them support the Wedge Strategy aimed at sneaking their mind-controlling substance into schools disguised as science just to expand their potential market and to use the resulting ignorance to subvert the US Constitution and take the political power they are really after.

Maybe they are just keeping their heads down rather than be associated with the likes of Ken Ham, Eric Hovind, Michael Behe, et al.

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  1. Was the old Hamster there too? When his god whipped up the Universe in week, was Ken there? When the baby jesus was nailed to a stick, was Ken there? Probably not, sorry Ken, you're a total loser and your nonsense more so.

  2. Ken argues that although he wasn't there, his God was. I'd like to see that used in a court of law.

  3. I thought this shut down the "were you there?" nonsense pretty well:


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