To: Tommy Huxley
From: Francisco Torres
I found your Web-page fascinating, and a welcome addition to my
favorite page list. The best part, at least for me, is the "Fan Mail"
section and your responses. I don't know if you chose only those
e-mails which were the looniest, but some of the people who wrote to
you write like deranged individuals, immersed in self-deception. Even
though they are religious fanatics, these seem particulary eccentric
persons, even though my fellow Catholics here in Mexico have their
share of single-minded individuals.
There were some factual errors in one of your responses, however,
regarding the age of the Earth and the begining of complex life: the
Earth supposedly formed at least 4.5 billion years ago. Life occured
about 3.5 billion years ago, but complex life forms appeared just
about 600 to 500 million years ago. That leaves us with almost three
billion years of the Earth's life forms being only single-celled
This is because the process from lifelessness to single-celled life is
somewhat easier to achieve for a young Earth, than the single-celled
to multicelled process. There were many steps required for this, the
most important of which was the appearance of a self-replicating,
protein-making coding molecule, RNA first, maybe, then DNA. Once DNA
appeared, multicelled life forms were possible. For evolution to
happen, this first step was to be achieved. Evolution depends on the
self-replicating molecule, as much as on natural selection. So, we can
imagine (based on fossil evidence) that evolution-regulated life
started somewhat around 600 to 500 milion years ago.
I really enjoyed the responses you gave to some of your "fans", plus
your knowledge of the Bible is impressive. I've only read so much and
didn't know God "ordered" the Israelites to slaughter a whole
population. That story, of course, strikes me as being false, and
self-congratulatory, a way of saying "Yeah, we're mean, we're tough.
Also, a point of controversy you could have created at the ICR museum,
was asking how high the Tower of Babel had to be in order for God to
decide it "touched Heaven" and punish the builders. As high as the
World Trade Center? Or the Sears Tower? We have certainly traveled
outside the atmosphere, just "above" Heaven (the visible side of it).
Why haven't we been punished? Because, if we had, I wouldn't be able
to write this e-mail to you.
Obviously, the first problem between the Bible and the real world has
to do with space mechanics: the first paragraphs of Genesis tell us
that God created Heaven and Earth (but no Sun, stars, or Moon). So,
Earth is THE center of the created universe (it has to be, it was
created first). Then, how come the Earth spins around the Sun? Sorry,
but THAT problem makes any other claim highly suspicious, like the
Noachian Flood or Adam not having a belly-button.
About the Noah's Ark story, if somebody tried to build a boat as large
as the Bible says the Ark was, and put it in water, the boat would
probably leak badly and break apart from the strains generated by
rolling and yawing movements in the water. Wood is not the ideal
material for big boat building, since long planks tend to twist under
compression forces, opening gaps between planking. Imagine a few
persons building a boat with no modern tools, and no way of getting
the water out once the damned thing started leaking. It takes an
extraordinary leap of faith to believe such story is historical fact
(in fact, it's more an elaborate retelling of an excerpt from the
Sumerian's Saga of Gilgamesh).
Most of the Old testament was compiled and/or written around the time
most Jews were living in Babylon (after being brought there by the
Assyrians). Since the jewish scholars were influenced by the Babylonian
culture, much of the Bible inevitably showed Babylonian (or Sumerian)
stories, numerology, astrology and mythology. The seven day week, as
known to us, was invented by the Sumerians. The creation story is
Babylonian in concept with Jewish undertones.
This leads me to think (but, ovbiously, I'm not certain) that the
Bible, rather than being some kind of account of the people of Israel,
is more like a STORY about Jews and their relationship with their God.
And the Creation stories are not supposed to be the literal truth,
just a way of saying to somebody: "This is how great a god is God. He
is the Creator of the Universe." Taking the Bible as literal truth,
word for word, is missing this point. Much of it teaches us about
human nature, moral ideals, immoral acts, and grave crimes in the
name of God. We should take them as that, teachings. Otherwise, we
corrupt its meaning.
As a skeptic, I don't think science and religion will ever be
reconciled one with the other, for one regards empirical research as
the basis for knowledge, and the other relies on established,
irrefutable dogmas. Such different approaches to reality cannot find
common ground, however we wish for this to be. And, as we have
experienced, science has been succesful in describing the inner
workings of nature, something religion cannot pretend to achieve, if
we are to take it seriously.
If science can do a much better job at describing nature, then why is
it attacked so furiously by many? Starting from the very government,
to right-wing or religious-right groups, to left-wing groups, some
philosophers, some feminists, psychologists, environmentalists, ethnic
minorities (those who disdain so-called "white science"),
anthropologists, social "scientists," therapists, you name it.
In fact, even though social sciences do not rely on scientific method,
they sometimes regard natural sciences as passing "fads" (!) Have you
heard of "constructivism"? It's the idea that we make reality as we go
along living, there are no set "truths". So, forget about empirical
knowledge... It's on your mind, anyhow. Unfortunately, as ridiculous
as it sounds, some schools from elementary level up towards college
teach science in this manner, kids doing science projects with no
direction, no manuals, no formulae, no CONCEPTS (we should maybe call
it the "Montessori way of learning about nature"). As an engineer, I
can only hope this trend stops before we see a new generation of
engineers who work with this set of values.
(Writing from Laredo, TX)
To: Francisco Torres
From: Tommy Huxley
Date: UnknownThank you for your response and generous compliments. I appreciate them, very much.
When I read your Spanish name and Mexican residence at the end of your e-mail, I was astonished. You write better English than most Americans! Did you attend school here in the United States, or did you have a good English teacher in Mexico?
I was also surprised to read that you are an engineer. Most “professional” creationists in the U.S. hold engineering degrees, including Henry Morris. I suppose that’s because engineering projects require human intervention, and most engineers can’t fathom the idea of self-replicating molecules designing their own machinery without an architect dictating instructions along the way.
I briefly lived in Del Rio, Texas, and the only two Mexican cities I visited were the border towns Ciudad Acuna and Piedras Negras. Are you just working in Laredo on a temporary assignment?
Also, I thought I’d respond to a few of your comments:
The best part, at least for me, is the “Fan Mail” section and your responses. I don’t know if you chose only those e-mails which were the looniest, but some of the people who wrote to you write like deranged individuals, immersed in self-deception.I don’t stack my e-mail with Christianity’s worst apologists. The Fan Mail section posts my correspondences exactly as I get them, and I don’t get that many letters.
Still, I won’t label my critics as “loony” or “deranged” either, because I used to believe exactly as they believed. Fundamentalism can be powerful, persuasive, and make perfect sense of a complicated world.
But the more I studied the Bible on my own, the more problems I had with it. Some of its history is frankly preposterous, and I got sick of listening to Christians tell me that I had to believe in the Bible’s infallibility by virtue of its authority.
For example, take the Exodus story. The sheer size of Israel’s flight from Egypt is absurd.
In Exodus 12:37, over 600,000 men on foot, besides women and children, depart Egypt. At the beginning of the 40-year exile, there are 603,550 men over twenty years old (Exodus 38:26 and Numbers 1:46). At the end of the exile, there are 601,730 men (Numbers 26:51).
If you factor in all the women, children and elderly, at least two million Israelites fled Egypt! In addition, you have to include all their oxen, bulls, sheep, rams, goats, turtledoves, pigeons, and first fruits required for regular ritual sacrifices (Leviticus 4-6).
In Deuteronomy 23:12-14, God commands all the Israelites to relieve themselves outside of their camp so that it remains holy and decent before the LORD. If so, every man, woman and child would’ve had to walk six miles to relieve him or herself before burying their waste. How did all their infants and toddlers relieve themselves? What about old people with weak bladders? Sick people with diarrhea? If you had the squirts, could you run six miles before relieving yourself? Where did all their animals defecate? Did frantic Israelites run all over the place carrying pooper-scoopers around the clock?
In Deuteronomy 7:1-2, God tells Moses to completely destroy “seven nations LARGER and STRONGER” than Israel before burning their cities to the ground. If taken literally, Israel annihilated a population in the Middle East larger than Tokyo, Japan. Where’s the historical evidence?
In Numbers 31:16-17, Israel obliterates the entire population of Midian without losing a single soldier in combat. Then, Israel captures Midian’s 32,000 virgin women, 670,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, and 61,000 donkeys to boost its existing population.
How could all these people and animals survive in the desert? They’d need a freshwater lake the size of Lake Erie!
Furthermore, how did Egypt enslave two-and-a-half million people? Could the Pharaoh really incarcerate that many captives? Would it take ten plagues to force his hand, or could the Israelites simply make a run for it?
And the Noah’s Ark story is even more farfetched. But I suppose most Christians accept these historical accounts uncritically.
There were some factual errors in one of your responses, however, regarding the age of the Earth and the beginning of complex life: the Earth supposedly formed at least 4.5 billion years ago. Life occurred about 3.5 billion years ago, but complex life forms appeared just about 600 to 500 million years ago. That leaves us with almost three billion years of the Earth’s life forms being only single-celled individuals.You must be talking about my response to Mr. Fillmore. In that letter, I said, “The fossil record suggests that complex cellular organisms existed almost as long as the Earth itself (geologically speaking).”
You’re right — I goofed! I should’ve said single-celled organisms. Scientists think these microorganisms are related to modern Archae (pronounced Ar-KEE-uh), living fossils that can endure the most hellish environments. In tests, they’ve survived in frozen nitrogen and toxic acid boiling at 220-degrees Fahrenheit. Archae don’t even need oxygen. They literally breathe iron and excrete magnetite.
Thanks for the correction!
Also, a point of controversy you could have created at the ICR museum, was asking how high the Tower of Babel had to be in order for God to decide it “touched Heaven” and punish the builders. As high as the World Trade Center? Or the Sears Tower? We have certainly traveled outside the atmosphere, just “above” Heaven (the visible side of it). Why haven’t we been punished?Here:
The people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens…” But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then NOTHING they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the LORD scattered them over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel — because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world.That’s an amusing story. God confused the language of the whole world to stop people from scaling to Heaven. He failed, though. Our Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft have escaped the solar system on their way into interstellar space. God must be pissed! What can he do now, confuse the language of the spacecraft’s computer code?
— Genesis 11:4-9
If somebody tried to build a boat as large as the Bible says the Ark was, and put it in water, the boat would probably leak badly and break apart from the strains generated by rolling and yawing movements in the water. Wood is not the ideal material for big boat building, since long planks tend to twist under compression forces, opening gaps between planking. Imagine a few persons building a boat with no modern tools, and no way of getting the water out once the damned thing started leaking. It takes an extraordinary leap of faith to believe such a story is historical fact…You’re absolutely right! According to Genesis 6:14, Noah put the whole thing together with gopher wood and pitch. That’s hardly seaworthy. God also told Noah to install one window! I’m surprised that two-thirds of his cargo didn’t suffocate! Can you imagine the smell?
If science can do a much better job at describing Nature, then why is it attacked so furiously by so many? Starting from the very government, to right-wing or religious-right groups, to left-wing groups, some philosophers, some feminists, psychologists, environmentalists, ethnic minorities (those who disdain so-called “white science”), anthropologists, social “scientists,” therapists, you name it.I’m a bit more optimistic. I don’t think those crackpots will ever dictate building codes or architectural designs. Would you drive your car over a bridge built by a social theorist? (“I make up my own reality!”)
Those afrocentric nuts really spook me. They claim that all blacks originated from Egyptian kings who had the ability to fly until the Greeks conquered them and stole their technology. Some of the kookier Black Muslims have concocted their own version of the Rapture, where Minister Louis Farrakhan pilots a spaceship that carries God’s chosen into heaven.
Their appeal to black self-esteem is like the Institute for Creation Research’s appeals to fundamentalist self-esteem. And like the ICR, afrocentrists relish public debates where they claim they’ve never lost a match, either.
The best part, at least for me, is the “Fan Mail” section and your responses.Have you ever been to the Talk.Origins Archive “Feedback” page? Every month, Talk.Origins posts all the comments about its web site with the web administrator’s responses and, of course, creationists always dominate. Their tortured how-it-might-have-been scenarios are often hilarious. One angry Christian even accused Talk.Origins of deliberately posting the worst creationist rebuttals, but the Web managers denied that.
Taking the Bible as literal truth, word for word, is missing this point. Much of it teaches us about human nature, moral ideals, immoral acts, and grave crimes in the name of God. We should take them as that, teachings. Otherwise, we corrupt its meaning.I agree. The Bible is an eastern book, not based on our Aristotelian views of logic and cause and effect. It is full of paradox that reflects God’s progressive revelation. That’s why I hate it when 20th-century redneck Protestants claim to speak for God. Their perspective is totally warped from ancient Judaism.
Thank you again for your comments and helpful corrections. I appreciate them all!