Magical Narrative Thinking

Before I begin, this focuses on a very specific example – so, if you have time, have a think about how it generalises. There are countless examples out there, in fiction especially, but where it bleeds over into real life we can run into serious problems.


Yes, it’s a post dedicated to Ken Ham, the dumbest person on the planet not named Ray Comfort, who recently said this in “celebration” of the same-sex marriage ruling in the United States:

hambow

Specifically, I want to look the part that says “Well, the president did not invent the rainbow; God invented it.” (emphasis added)

I’m sure many Christians out there think God is the de facto inventor of the rainbow by virtue of being the creator of the universe, but I’m not talking about that. That’s actually fairly self-consistent, and I can’t really fault it much. This is different. Remember: Ken Ham is a literal Biblical creationist.

He genuinely, literally believes the Bible is the historical book of record for all of history. And by extension, all of physics, too.

He honestly, really, genuinely doesn’t believe in any science that contradicts the Bible, never mind any historical fact that contradicts it.

He literally, actually, genuinely, really believes that the Book of Genesis is correct that the atmospheric phenomenon we call a “rainbow” is a sign from God, an apology for taking his anger management issues out on the entire population of the world in the single biggest act of genocide in “recorded” history.

Ken Ham literally, really, honestly, actually, literally, genuinely, properly, really, actually thinks that the rainbow was invented by God after the flood.

It didn’t, therefore, exist before the flood.

This is what Ken Ham actually believes – otherwise his entire world collapses in on itself faster than the rectal prolapse suffered by a homophobic televangelist after too much anal sex with gay hookers on speed.(That’s quite enough of that, Ed.)

Now to cut a long-winded pseudo-intellectual story short; we simply cannot build a universe where a rainbow cannot exist.

Well, we can, but we have to understand its wider effects. I’m perfectly okay with God Almightly clicking his non-corporeal fingers and altering physics in such a way that one moment there was no optical phenomenon in the sky and then suddenly there was… but we have to follow those changes to their logical conclusion. In stories, with their narratives, you can get away with changing one thing, but in real life you can’t.

There are three things you can change in order to stop a rainbow from being physically possible: the light, the principles of optics, and the source (I suppose one could call it the “material cause”?) of the refraction. Remove one of those components, and no rainbow is physically possible.

The details makes a fun and entertaining thought-experiment: what would happen if we stopped a rainbow from happening?

  1. Remove the light – No light, no rainbow. But then we can no longer see, either. Our vision requires light, so any antediluvian civilisation would be blind and incapable of sight. It doesn’t stop there, though. Without photons, chemical reactions that are sensitised by photons or that emit photons wouldn’t happen. Energy level changes at the quantum level would all have to take place non-radiatively. There would be no mechanism to masslessly transfer energy about the universe. Quantum mechanics breaks at the seams as it can’t shed energy around as photons. At the very least, the Earth would freeze solid as the sun was no longer capable of warming it from across the void of space with a massive influx of solar radiation.
  2. Remove the optical effects –  Now we’re cooking! We can keep the light, but let’s kill the concept of refraction. Okay… now we can’t see either, since our (allegedly “intelligently” designed) eyes have to bend light twice in order to focus. Once through the main cornea and then through our squishier lens. Antediluvian civilisation is still blind. Light now travels at the same speed through all media, not slowing down or altering. Light is no longer interacting with matter in the way it should. Quantum mechanics as we know it again shatters into a thousand pieces, the universe dies of entropic heat death before it is even born.
  3. Remove the water – Okay… let’s keep all the physics behind the rainbow! The universe exists, light interacts with matter, let’s just kill the rainbow at its source – the condensed water droplets in the atmosphere. Immediately we all die of thirst and starvation as there’s no water, so let’s put the water back. Oh, wait, the hydrogen bonding between water molecules, as well as the mass of two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom give bulk water very specific properties such as its vapour pressure, and its melting/boiling points – that means if we put the water back we’ll have water vapour, and it’ll condense around any particulate matter in the atmosphere… back to the drawing board, let’s alter conditions so that water vapour can’t condense! Aha! Let’s lower the pressure of the atmosphere, that should keep it in the gas phase… oh, wait, now people can’t breathe because the partial pressure of oxygen is too low for haemoglobin to work properly. Let’s up the molar proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere so the partial pressure is still ca.0.2 atm as it is now…. oh great, now not enough nitrogen for nitrogen-fixing bacteria to work with and we all die of starvation and let’s not even start with what the lower pressure does to the boiling point of the oceans and the gases dissolved in them… okay, so let’s boost the temperature above the dew point of water… bah, we’re all dead again… quantum mechanics remains in tact, but chemistry explodes in fireball of icy self-contradicting death and destruction that renders the planet inhospitable to everything that isn’t a self-contained abstract concept.

That’s consistency for you. There isn’t a world where you can’t have a rainbow yet let it still work exactly as it does today. You can’t pick it apart from the rest of the universe and treat it as a narrative block, a piece of magic with its own separate rules. If you change one rule, it changes for everything.

But Ken Ham takes the cake…

I have no problem with people banning users from their Facebook pages, or their sites, or their blogs. I really don’t. People cry out “freedom of speech” when their posting rights are kicked to the kerb, but, frankly, you’re not actually suffering or having any rights challenged for having posting rights revoked on Facebook. You’re really not, you whiny little so-and-so. You still have your own profile, or an ability to create your own page, or set up your own blog for free (like this one). I’m not averse to banning someone myself because I am under absolutely no obligation to take bullshit from people when I’m calling the shots. But that is, at least, such a rare event that it hasn’t actually happened yet – my M.O. for idiots is to let them show themselves up, while my M.O. for intentional and repeated troublemakers is to simply deprive them of the attention they crave. Usually, by the time someone has triggered my threshold they’re bored and long gone.

I’m also not too bothered about, say, Ray Comfort’s zero tolerance approach to profanity with his use of the Ban Hammer. I find it a bit distasteful that his threshold is so low (anything stronger than “my golly gosh” gets your a spanking), that he has no concept of the use/mention distinction (so even quoting it hypothetically gets you the Hammer), that he bizarrely extends this into abbreviations (“OMG, your BS is appalling” gets you whacked) and, well, I haven’t yet challenged him on made up swearing like “frack” and “feldercarb” (but I imagine he doesn’t take kindly to it) – but it’s his prerogative to take such an overly simple approach and it’s not a difficult a rule to abide by. I don’t begrudge him this choice, it’s his to make. It’s a pain in the ass, but Fucking Deal With It.

But Ken Ham, however, is a bit of a different beast in this Ban Hammer regard.

Firstly, though, a caveat. Unlike Comfort, where I’m fairly certain he manages the page personally, I’m not sure if Ken Ham’s Facebook page and his respective Answers in Genesis page are ran by him or a subordinate. It’s not unusual to delegate social networking activity to a minion, especially when you have an organisation as well funded as Answers in Genesis. But it’s under Ham’s name, so I’m going to refer to him personally for this. I’m going to proceed as if he is the one physically typing out the messages and doing the day-to-day admin. So, that said…

I’ll demonstrate with my own experience. Okay, so in principle this is me being “butthurt” over being banned from posting on AiG and Ham’s personal page. But what was the crime? It was this: it was a single post (my second, I think), responding to another atheist about the now infamous creationist science quiz. I can’t remember the exact wording since it was quickly deleted and shoved down the Memory Hole. It wasn’t a profanity-ridden rant, it wasn’t a repeated trolling, it wasn’t egregious insults (and, people should be well aware that I’m capable of that). It was a single post, and of fairly neutral, matter-of-fact tone. But, because I had talked to someone else, I had basically outed myself as an “enemy”. This was enough.

Ham’s approach to the Ban Hammer is different to most others. Eric Hovind and Ray Comfort have a threshold for getting rid of troublemakers – and I take great pains to point out that this is their prerogative, and if I was on the receiving end of the shit that atheists hurl at them, I’d do the same. Seriously, most Internet Atheists are stupid, obnoxious pillocks with the reasoning abilities of sour cream that’s been left out of the fridge for a month. They get what they deserve. Yet Hovind and Comfort still have a threshold of sorts and are fairly open to discussion. I once dropped a minute-by-minute snark-filled review of a Eric Hovind video and he let me. Kudos to Hovind, he left it up there, even though my most meaningful definitions I was trolling the fuck out of him and I admit it. There is no threshold you have to go over with Ken Ham. There is no barrier to a ban. Any and all dissent is quashed immediately.

I’m not going to argue this as a freedom of speech issue. That would be to simplify the point and then miss the actual point entirely – after all, I’m writing this, my freedom of speech is not restricted or infringed, I’ve covered that already. I’m arguing it based on the deceitful nature of Ham’s approach to his flock, and why he goes about having this zero-barrier approach to the wielding good ol’ Ban Hammer.

This is what Ken Ham does. It’s why I think he’s one of the most insidious creationists out of the entire bunch. He quashes dissent, rails against any criticism as if it’s an undeserved attack on his oh-so-precious beliefs, and frames everything as a vast conspiracy of persecution against him and his followers. It’s this approach that’s concerning and objectionable. Comments are all disabled on anything Answers in Genesis puts out, his Facebook pages are cleansed and purified, and we’re lucky that the YouTube channel even allows the rating system. In short, he specifically selects all the options to create an echo chamber of agreement. He removes any sources of criticism except for the ones he allows through, which he then twists and frames as unjust persecution. This isn’t just the case with his forays into Web 2.0, this is true of his most well-known work. For instance, his “How do you know? Were you there?” which he drums into young children; this serves no purpose except to selectively immunise them from thinking critically about what they believe. All of his lectures specifically quash thinking in favour of rote repeating of his points and with zero exploration, thinking or questioning of them allowed.

Now, that would normally just be some hyperbole by people who equate “critical thinking” with “thinking exactly like me”, but in this case it’s actually true. Ken Ham chants his mantra, and makes sure the children he lectures to can repeat it back verbatim and unquestioningly before he releases them into the world. Until that immunisation is complete, they’re held in a bubble – free from dissent and protected from alternative views.

So, its not what he believes that concerns me, it’s how he goes about it. It’s not something anyone with any love of reason should tolerate, but an echo chamber like this isn’t something you can fight against easily.