PZ Myer at Pharyngula has produced another of his gems. A letter to a nine-year old girl who had been fooled by the creationist Ken Ham to think the question “Were you there?” is a clever response to scientific information (see via Dear Emma B ).
(I have always thought that response by creationists was really silly, and self destructive. After all, aren’t they making huge claims about the past – a past where not only they were absent, but one they consider they can describe without any evidence).
As the girl, Emma B says:
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
Myers see Emma B as having been manipulated by Ken Ham and he has written a hypothetical letter outlining what his response to Emma would be, if he had the opportunity. It’s considerate, thoughtful and educational – somewhat along the lines of Richard Dawkins’ “Prayer for my Daughter.”
I recommend you read the whole text at Dear Emma B .
He starts positively:
“I’m glad you were asking questions – that’s what scientists are supposed to do – but I have to explain to you that that wasn’t a very good question, and that Ken Ham is a poor teacher. There are better questions you could have asked.”
He conveys some of the wonder that inquisitive children must have to the world around them:
“we live in a big ol’ beautiful world, far older than your 9 years, and there’s so much to learn about it – far more than you’ll ever be able to see for yourself. There’s a gigantic universe beyond South Carolina, and while you probably won’t ever visit a distant star or go inside a cell, there are instruments we can use to see farther and deeper than your eyes can go, and there are books that describe all kinds of wonders. Don’t close yourself off to them simply because you weren’t there.
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.”
Myers devotes soem space to explaining to Emma how scientists have established the age of the moon rocks. A useful and relevant example of the scientific process.
He finishes the letter with:
I think you’re off to a great start – being brave enough to ask older people to explain themselves is exactly what you need to do to learn more and more, and open up the whole new exciting world of science for yourself. But that means you have to ask good questions to get good answers so that you will learn more.
Don’t use Ken Ham’s bad question, and most importantly, don’t pay attention to Ken Ham’s bad answers. There’s a wealth of wonderful truths that reveal so much more about our universe out there, and you do not want to close your eyes to them. Maybe someday you could be a woman who does go to the moon and sees the rocks there, or a geologist who sees how rocks erode and form here on earth, or the biologist who observes life in exotic parts of the world…but you won’t achieve any of those things if you limit your mind to the dogma of Answers in Genesis.
Best wishes for future learning,