Answers in Genesis all at sea in a bathtub
7 April 2005
The fundamentalist creation ministry, Answers in Genesis, have surpassed their usual inanity with an analogy sent out to their subscribers via their Answers Update weekly newsletter on 2 April 2005. Posing the question -
What do bathtubs have to do with the age of the universe?
which in itself seems an absurdly pointless question, Answers in Genesis (AiG) proceed to answer with their now familiar spectacular misrepresentations of science and the scientific method.
The answer, according to the doyens of AiG, is apparently that bathtubs have a lot to do with the age of the universe, providing, of course, that one subscribes to the narrow, dogmatic and pointedly unscientific methods of AiG.
The analogy employed is of a person coming home to discover the bathtub half filled with water at, say, ~120° F (or ~49° C), and then attempting to ascertain how long the water has been in the bath. Not surprisingly, AiG come to the conclusion that only an eyewitness could give a trustworthy answer. Following a very familiar pattern, they relate this to other dating methods used in the natural sciences. In essence, this is empiricism gone insane. AiG admit there can be a number of theories (actually hypotheses, given that they ignore all avenues of evidence bar one) which could give an estimate of the time elapsed, yet claim that any one theory is as good, or bad, as any other without "eyewitness proof". This ignores the tried and tested scientific methods of deductive reason and inference, which have been part of scientific theorising for a long time. By advocating a purely empirical approach, AiG takes science back a few centuries. Better throw out General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics too, after all, no one has ever seen a graviton or a gravity wave, nor an electron or a quark. In fact, throw your computer away (after reading this of course), because it probably only works by sheer luck.
After listing a few possible "bathtub" scenarios, none of which are accompanied by any examination of possible methods to test their veracity, AiG announce that -
Mathematically there's no way that you can prove any one theory to be more accurate than the other. The only way to really know is to ask someone who was there when the water was run in the tub.
Mathematically? Perhaps not. Competing hypotheses are not necessarily tested against each other mathematically. One could assume that the maths involved in any given hypothesis is accurate. The normal scientific method would have you test related systems which would have a direct bearing on the outcome. AiG are advocating making inaccurate judgements based on limited observations of an artificially isolated system (the bathwater in this case), yet ignoring the basics of the scientific method to draw a conclusion.
If we have a number of scenarios (hypotheses) to explain the warm bath water, it is reasonable to assume that all can explain it, however, the next step is to investigate each possibility. The scientific method dictates that an hypothesis should not conflate its explanations beyond what is required minimally. For instance, one could say that initially boiling water was poured into the tub, then ice was added to quickly reduce the temperature, and all this occurred only moments prior to your arrival in the bathroom. However, that scenario involves two unlikely, if not bizarre, suppositions. Occam's Razor* would apply here, unless there was evidence to support this unlikely hypothesis.
However, is it really true that the bathwater is all we have to go on? And is it also true that an eyewitness is the only allowable, or dependable, answer to the conundrum? In both cases, no.
Are there related systems, that can directly affect the bath water, which can be studied and which may yield dependable results? Yes.
The hot water tap itself could be examined. Its temperature could be an indicator of how recently it was used. The household hot water system could also be examined. Typically, electric heater systems are usually thermostat-set for ~60-70° C. However, even if that information is unavailable, one could always run the hot water tap and measure its delivery temperature. Secondary effects, such as moisture or condensation in the room, could also be examined, which may also give some indication of how long ago the bath was drawn. And, of course, AiG's own suggestion of an eyewitness (the mysterious "filler of the tub") is still a possible avenue of investigation. However, despite AiG's contention, it is not the only option, nor even the only reliable option.
Why, you might ask, is AiG wasting email resources to send its supporters dubious stories about bathtubs? Well, the answer comes in their stunning finale -
The same holds true for the age of the universe. The only way to know is to ask someone who was there. Since God was the only One there when the universe was created, we find our answers in God's Word—and the universe is only thousands, not billions, of years old.
The problem with this "theory" is that it assumes, a priori, that there is a God, that this God actually witnessed creation, and that God's Word (i.e. the Christian Bible) is an accurate, historical document. None of these assertions are universally accepted and are, in fact, the subject of much debate (now and throughout history). The Christian Bible is judged by many scholars to be virtually worthless as an historical document, but even leaving that aside, the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch), which includes the creation story of the Hebrews, was quite possibly not recorded in writing until ~600 BCE. Even allowing a few centuries leeway, we still have a period of some 3000+ years after the alleged creation (if one applies the young Earth creationist (YEC) assumed age of the Earth/universe of ~6000 years old) for the story to be transmitted orally before being put down in writing. Secondly, the Bible was written by man, not God, regardless of claims of divine inspiration, and some considerable time after the supposed events.
What about eyewitness reliability? Is an eyewitness account always the "gospel truth"? Not necessarily, if you ask any judge or lawyer. Even in court, eyewitness testimony is questioned, scrutinized and tested for its veracity and coherence. Usually it comes down to the physical evidence and what can be inferred or deduced from it. According to AiG's standards, forensic science should be abandoned, because without an eyewitness, anything it tells you is next to worthless. Luckily for us, the courts are slightly smarter than those at AiG, and realise that physical evidence is more reliable than possibly dubious testimonies.
So, AiG claim that the Universe should adhere to its fundamentalist dogma and be only a few thousand years old, not because that's what the scientific evidence indicates, but because that's what their interpretation of the Bible says. Unfortunately for AiG, science has provided a wealth of data about the universe, none of which conforms to their dogma. Parallax measurements of distances to various star and other galaxies, along with the speed of light, tell a different story. As does the discovery of the expansion of the universe, the cosmic background microwave radiation and even the geology of the Earth and Moon. These, too, are "eyewitnesses", but unlike the God of AiG, they are here to give their testimony. The evidence we examine is the eyewitness account of the Universe itself. However, it is also physical, testable and re-testable. It tells us of billions of years, not mere thousands, and it is overwhelmingly more awe inspiring than the closeted, superstitious and dogmatic pseudoscience of AiG.
All I can suggest for the AiG "scientists" is that they have a nice, long, relaxing hot bath and try to think up something slightly less absurd for their next article.
*Occam's Razor: "One should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything."