A fat tailless rat emerged from his winter lair in western Pennsylvania this past Sunday.
Thousands of people drove in, flew in or caught the train to the normally yawning outpost just to see the thing. They even gave it a name: “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.”
But all Phil really is is just a big, fat, tailless rat.
In addition to the thousands gathered on Gobbler’s Knob (I shit you not), millions across the country anxiously waited to see what P-Squared was going to predict. If he didn’t see his shadow and hang out for a bit, then spring was on the way. But if the sun was out and that lazy marmot got spooked, then the rest of us would keep our winter coats out for another six weeks.
As the legend goes, ol’ Phil is really old, having made his first prediction back in 1886.
Anyway, here’s what went down on Groundhog Day:
Don’t worry. While event organizers proudly claim Phil has an accuracy of 100 percent, climate experts say he’s right only 37 percent of the time, slightly higher than pure chance (33 percent).
Yet, here we are in the 21st century, still getting our weather from a mythical woodchuck.
And here we are, in the 21st century, still debating the scientific and historical accuracy of the Old Testament.
As many of you may know, Gozamos live tweeted during a debate between Ken Ham, a Young Earth creationist, and Bill Nye, known lovingly by my generation as “the Science Guy.” The debate was held at the $27 million Creation Museum in Kentucky, owned and operated by Answers in Genesis, where Ken Ham is the executive director.
They were there to debate not whether Darwin or Moses provided the more reasonable version of how life began and evolved on our planet. The question posed by CNN’s Tom Foreman was seemingly much less controversial, at least for the 21st-century person: “Is Creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?”
Clearly the answer to that is “hell no.”
It should be clear, anyway, because on hearing Ken Ham explain the creationist position, you quickly realize they have no qualms with basing their understanding of how it all began on a book (the Book of Genesis) as modern and up-to-date as ancient Mesopotamia.
If you don’t know what Mesopotamia is, that’s because it’s literally older than Christ.
Basing your knowledge on the scribblings of remote desert dwellers requires you to believe in at least one of two things: 1) that a small group of people living in Persia in the 6th century BCE knew all that we will ever know about the origins of existence and life; or 2) that a Supreme Creator of everything gave them this knowledge.
Impressively, every Young Earth creationist alive believes both, and a lot of other fantastical things.
In fact one of my favorite parts in the debate came when Ham gave a brief rundown of the history of mankind as told by the Bible, which among other things means “taking Genesis as literal history, as Jesus did” — including the introduction of “sin and death” into the world sometime after the creation of Adam and Eve, the dawn of different languages after the Tower of Babel, and Jesus as the son of God coming down to earth “to die on the cross [and] be raised from the dead.”
Guess they’ll give a science degree to anyone these days.
For his part, the Science Guy did an excellent job presenting the merits of the scientific method over faith-based conclusions. Bill explained how scientists rely entirely on evidence and how researchers are able to use the information provided by past discoveries to accurately predict future ones.
“What we want in science is an ability to predict,” he said with a tired face, as though he were trying to explain the vastness of the universe to a room full of toddlers. “We wanna have a natural law that is so obvious and clear, so well understood, that we can make predictions about what will happen. We can predict that we can put a spacecraft into orbit and take a picture of Washington, D.C.”
It’s a good point, but I’m with Michael Schulson over at The Daily Beast: “Nye never had a chance. Ham won this debate months ago, when Nye agreed to participate.”
This is coming from a young writer with a degree in religious studies from Yale. And he’s right. Bill shouldn’t have agreed to the debate in the first place.
An actual scientist debating a Young Earth creationist makes it seem to the gullible public like the Big Bang and Creation are on equal, debatable footing. They’re not.
“When you accept a debate, you are accepting there is something worth debating,” wrote Dan Arel at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science:
Creationism vs. evolution however is not worth debating. … Evolution is a scientific fact, backed by mountains of evidence, peer-reviewed papers you could stack to the moon and an incredible scientific community consensus. Creationism is a debunked mythology that is based solely in faith. It has zero peer-reviewed papers to back up its claims, it has absolutely no scientific consensus and is not even considered science due to the fact it cannot be tested.
And because creationists don’t base their knowledge on science, a person who does base what they know on science will have a hard time debating them.
Nye should’ve known you don’t debate someone arguing that the sun is made of lemonade because their god says so. You don’t debate someone who is unwilling to hear your arguments or even consider them out of fear of being banished by their god to a lake of fire for all eternity.
“No one is ever going to convince that the word of God isn’t true,” Ham defiantly said toward the end of the debate.
And what Bill said in return should tell you all you need to know about the whole Creation vs. evolution, the Bible vs. science debate:
“[Scientists] would just need one piece of evidence. … We would need evidence that the universe is not expanding … that the stars appear to be far away but are not … that rock layers could somehow form in just 4,000 years … Bring on anything of those things and you would change me immediately.”
Despite all our strides and discoveries in science, faith and superstition seem to be gaining ground lately. They’ve always held a special place in the Latino community.
You can’t tell me I’m making it up. I have eyes and ears.
A lot of my Latino friends and family members are deathly afraid of things they call “la Llorona,” “la Lechuza” and “el Diablo.” I don’t know anyone with a Spanish last name that would willingly be under the same roof as a Ouija board, a toy invented by an entrepreneur in the 1890s.
Every Latino circle has stories of ghosts, phantom animals, sinister figures and even gnomes. Faith and religion have nurtured our fear of the dark.
With all the issues still threatening humankind, debating whether faith-based stuff like this — things we have no evidence for, just a feeling — is a complete waste of our time. It’s like wondering if the moon is made of cheese and when it’ll expire.
I’m not saying we should trust science because scientists are so much better than we are. Scientists are people like you and me — well, maybe not like that crazy neighbor of yours who lives a few doors down.
What makes scientists special is their method for separating what we readily believe from what is most likely the case. Science never claims to be the definitive truth on everything. That would be unscientific. All it offers is an explanation of the natural world based on evidence.
Where as religion simply suggests, “If you believe in God, buy his book.” There are too many variables with that way of thinking — too many holes in the ol’ Ark, if you know what I mean.
But fine. Believe the old bedtime story about the snake in the garden if you want. And believe that lying rat Phil while you’re at it.
The rest of us will be busy evolving.
[Photo: gnuckx via Flickr]