June 05, 2007

Of Jehovah, Mammon, and Coconut-Eating Tyrannosaurs

Somewhere in the New Testament it says something about not being able to serve Jehovah and Mammon. I've never thought it worth my time to memorize chapter and verse as I've had more useful things to do with my time, but I do know it's in there (a quick Google search comes up with Matthew 6:24). That's apparently not a particularly important concept to the leaders of the Creationist movement, however. I'm referring here to specifically those leaders who like to promote their piety. So why is it that they all end up so firmly on the side of Mammon in the end?

My observation in this case is prompted by the recent story of Ken Ham, the founder of the stupefyingly dishonest anti-science Answers in Genesis and more recently of the equally moronic Creation museum. He and his museum make some of the silliest and unfounded claims in the history of human thought. In Ken Ham's bizarro universe, Tyrannosaurus rex was a peaceful vegetarian that used it's serrated six-inch teeth to dine on coconuts and humans rode around on the backs of sauropods. The degree to which Ham and his organization go to make up such fairy tales and pull the wool over their followers' eyes as to what the theory of evolution is and the evidence that supports it is the lowest kind of con, frankly.

It thus came as no surprise to me to learn recently via The Panda's Thumb that Ham is being sued by what was at one time an affiliated Australian Creationist organization, Creation Ministries International. According to CMI's website, the dispute boils down to Ham's organization strong-arming them out of a profitable magazine called Creation and The Journal of Creation. According to information intended for CMI's subscribers, Answers in Genesis backed out of an agreement to distribute these rags, then copyrighted the names of the publications and started selling their own version.

To cut to the chase, it always comes down to the money with these people. That Ham's group would stab their "fellow Christians" in the back, or that CMI would find it necessary to sue, take your pick. Both of these demonstrate the priorities involved here. That Ham should turn out to be a crook (allegedly, but since "real Christians" don't lie, I'll go with it) isn't a big surprise. Every time one scratches the surface with Creationist leadership, one finds another instance of "greed is good" being a guiding principle.

We had a demonstration of that principle at work right here in Florida recently. Leading Creationist and proprietor of anti-science theme park Dinosaur Adventure Land currently sits in prison after having been convicted of massive tax fraud. As I mentioned yesterday, Bill Keller served a couple of years in federal prison after being convicted of insider trading in 1989 and now makes his living mainly selling miracles by phone (Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends Network had nothin' on this guy!) It's all about the Benjamins; that ought to be clear to anyone who looked at the evidence that's right there, available to anyone.

The thing is, Creationism thrives precisely on not looking at evidence. It requires faith, and that extends not only to its dogmas but to the persons of its leadership as well. The Answers in Genesis website is a perfect example of this. At no point does it encourage its readers to actually become educated in any aspect of the physical sciences. Quite to the contrary, it attacks the very notion of empiricism and, having done that, quite literally tells the true believers what to think, what to say, what to do. When it does update its hackneyed "arguments," it comes with specific instructions on what information to use, what to stop using, and what to ignore. It's the very opposite, in fact, of thinking. It's rote memorization, in just the same way that elementary school teachers mandate that young children who don't know anything yet memorize their multiplication tables.

The continuation of that naïvete is, in fact, exactly what the crooks, bullies and con-men who lead Creationism are literally banking on. I frequently find myself wondering how much the rank-and-file followers of men like Ham and Hovind will take of their blatant, even criminal, dishonesty before they come to the realization that they're being fleeced, lied to, misguided... pick the word you like. The unfortunate thing is that the cults that men like this set up around themselves are self-perpetuating cycles not only of deception on their part, but of self-delusion on the part of their believers. The latter wind up very much like the aforementioned kindergarteners, throwing their hands over their ears the moment they start hearing something they don't like. They will readily believe that Hovind is being persecuted for his religious beliefs and deny that he was prosecuted for a criminal act. They'll insist that Bill Keller must be forgiven for his crime and trusted even as they dial an 800 number and fork over money to buy themselves a miracle. It won't end so long as these sort of people can keep their followers away from a critical analysis of what they're really up to.

Will this latest bit of underhandedness on the part of Ken Ham dissuade any of his believers? No, of course not. They'll come up with some ridiculous idea that the Australians who are suing him are tools of Satan, because its easier for them to believe that a lawsuit over the profits from a magazine is some part of a universal war between good and evil than they do that it's just plain old human greed rearing its head. Occam's Razor has long since been blunted into oblivion in the world of the true believers. There are, after all plenty of true believers who are still sticking up for Kent Hovind.

People are going to believe whatever they want to believe, and they have every right to believe it. Nonetheless, there does come a point where one has to examine one's beliefs in the clear light of reality and see how it matches up. This is the difference between faith and foolishness. Yes, everyone has the right to be a fool, too. But why would one want to be one? The fool has said in his heart that Kent Hovind and Ken Ham and Bill Keller are honest people. At some point, somehow, one can only hope that the Creationists realize that the degree of honesty with which these men deal with their finances and with one another is the same degree with which they treat the pursuit of understanding of the world in which we live.

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