Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Part Two: Paleo Comics, Creationist/Intelligent Design comics, etc.

Read yesterday's post first, if you're just stepping into this one -- thanks.

The balancing act between "our understanding" of science and religion is indeed a tightwire walk, but the tipping point is inherent in that phrasing of "our understanding."

Basically, as all 56 pages (60, if you count the covers and inside covers) of Pinkowski's comic makes abundantly clear, "our understanding" is a loaded term that is divisive by nature: "our" is inclusive if you share the belief in God as an all-powerful being, and exclusive if you do not (or, more precisely, do not share that belief in the manner and mode of Pinkowski and his fellow Christian Creationists).

There is a conversational "common sense" devotional pragmatism at work throughout A Creationist's View of Dinosaurs that carries a seductive momentum (typical of this comics genre: it's part of what gives the Jack T. Chick tracts their curious potency). The fact that science is inherently founded upon constant questioning is immediately presented as a flaw, a chink in the armor. This is almost immediately defined (on page 6) in opposition to the absolute validity of Biblical verse, which should not be questioned.

Thus, after asserting and expanding briefly upon the notion that we as a species only "use" 10% of our brain, Pinkowski's surrogate narrator says (use of bold text and ellipses reflect the complete text as it appears):

"Now, you may have noticed that I said that this 'mindless' condition includes all of us -- so it includes me, too! So you might ask, 'Well then, what makes you think that you finally have the right answers??' And that would be a good question! And I'll answer it by first quoting this Bible verse:
"But the path of the just is as shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day"! (Proverbs 4:18) (And see Daniel 12:4!)"

In this first decisive wielding of Biblical verse, Pinkowski tips his hand: the narrator/author may not have all the answers, but the Bible does. Thus, science (herein, the sciences of paleontology, biology, geology, and the theories linked to Darwinian evolution) is suspect because it is not an absolutist belief system, whereas the Bible is unquestionably the word of God, and thus "true" in a way science never can or will be.

Thus, if you share the author's clearly devout and passionate religious beliefs, A Creationist's View of Dinosaurs and the Theory of Evolution may seem a completely rational and reasonable dissection of those issues.

If you do not, the comic comes across as a screed -- a well-drawn, beautifully lettered, and professionally executed screed, but a screed nonetheless.

Having dealt the first blow against evolution by tapping Biblical truth, however anecdotal, the narrator continues:

"Accordingly, the longer we keep investigating the evolution-creation controversy, the more light will come to shine upon it, and we will get closer and closer to the truth! And that truth is that a master designer created everything!

One of the simple, basic principles of science is this: 'The MORE we learn, the more we admit that we DON'T know"! Yet today's evolution scientists arrogantly choose to ignore this truth -- instead they prefer to thnk they 'know it all'!"

In a nutshell, then: unquestioning devotion to a literalist reading of the Bible (specifically Genesis) is truth, and any who do not share that absolutist literalist devotion are arrogantly denying the truth.

Now, this is a profound testimonial to faith -- specifically fundamentalist Christian faith -- but it is not, by definition cannot be, and never will be science.

On page 7, the narrator continues:

"Does it really matter who's right? YES! IT DOES! This is a matter of life or death... ETERNAL life or death!! Why? Because one of these belief systems --"

(Note the rather sly insertion of the term "belief systems" -- continuing:)

"-- embraces God and salvation in Jesus Christ, and the other belief system leads to doubt, emptiness, and a GODLESS UNIVERSE!"

Thus, in a short span of four word balloons and one slippery, barely discernable use of a term that equates science and religion, the implicit falsity of the "debate" becomes explicit: this is not a matter of religion and science, it is -- in the eyes of the Christians who maintain this struggle -- a conflict of belief systems, one (their own) founded on absolute devotion to literalist Biblical truth, the other (science, in their view of "science") on a Godless belief system that is inherently threatening and necessarily demonized.

What follows is a kangaroo-court procession of increasingly nonsensical attacks upon misrepresentations of biology, various scientific disciplines, and Darwinian evolutionary theory. Its a fascinating read, all the more for it's increasingly surreal deviations from any version of the Bible I've ever found or read. If mathematical attempts to enumerate how many animals could/might/did fit on Noah's Ark doesn't prompt confusion, the leaps of logic that follow ("When the animals got off the ark, God evolved changes into the animals so they could survive in this new world!") undoubtably will. Blithe redefinitions of terminology add to the confusion ("...for the rest of this book I will use the term 'evolution' to represent 'endless progression'", a caption footnoted thus: "Micro-evolution is perfectly OK! Macro-evolution is error!" Pinkowski neatly garbles, manhandles, then reconfigures and redefines into nonsense Darwinian theories by page 9). If your patience isn't tested beyond endurance by the subsequent pages of full text, in which the principles of mutation, the functions of organs, gender issues, etc. are further transmuted into battering rams against the Creationists's gross, glib misrepresentation of evolutionary theories and science, you'll arrive at increasing attempts to bring geological "evidence" of the Biblical flood to the fore.

The inconsistencies and lack of a coherent doctrine in Creationist belief is eventually acknowledged in a dizzying word balloon that neatly meshes Creationism, pseudo-science, Cryptozoology, and fundamentalist sect divisions: "Not all Creationists believe the same way in regard to 'dinosaurs' -- perhaps some dinosaurs did go onto the Ark (there have been reports of small brontosaurs [sic] living in Africa); and other Creationists believe that the dinosaurs were 'amalgamations' wherein the Antediluvians messed with the genetics of God's original animals, which was why God destroyed them all in the flood. It would be nice if all Creationists could agree on one and only one scenario -- but it probably won't happen. So maybe all we can do is focus on the 'high points,' like how evolution defies all logic and how there's tons and tons of evidence that supports the creation story that is told in the Bible's Book of Genesis!"

Sooooooo, inconsistencies in scientific disciplines are suspect and relentlessly demonized; inconsistencies of theology and Biblical interpretation are, well, uh, too bad.

The only imperical "truth" referenced time and time again herein, as with all Creationist texts, is that of the Biblical Word as truth, God as truth.

The problem is, the Book of Genesis and the Bible really don't say much about all this. Thus, an increasingly bizarre series of sects have arisen, each proferring their own interpretive scenarios that speculate about matters that are neither explicit or implicit in the Bible, nor relevent to any genuine fossil or archeological record. Thus, statements like "in reality even that one 'evolved life form' would never make it all without God's help!" and "'Cavemen' are NOT links between apes and mankind, they are DEGENERATED HUMAN BEINGS! They are 'de-evolved' imperfect human beings that were genetically damaged by the curse of sin and the pervasive effects of CELLULAR ENTROPY!" are delivered with matter-of-fact urgency, though there's no specific Biblical verse to reference such speculative claims.

Thus, A Creationist's View of Dinosaurs eases further and further into faith-based science fiction of an increasingly delerious nature. It makes for neither good science or religion, but it does make for great comics by the time we reach page 36.

The cumulative weight of these arguments, absurdist as they often are, arrives at a truly staggering spectacle: Pinkowski's "Time for some FUN" sequence in which he illustrates a dinosaur attack upon Noah's Ark in three glorious double-page spreads (credited to "Pinkowski & Riolo"). Jim initially presents this as unabashed fantasy, but can't resist tipping back into Creationist rhetoric. Thus, captions like "The evil fallen angels stampede the dinosaurs toward Noah's Ark, hoping to destroy it...!" ultimately give way to "The Flood was REAL!! The flood waters drowned and killed the dinosaurs! This event is NOT a fable and NOT a 'myth'... it is a verifiable scientific FACT!"

Alas, Pinkowski lapses immediately into the nonsensical non-science emblematic of too much Creationist and Intelligent Design literature. He adds a caption to his eye-popping illustration of the Ark floating atop water peppered with shrieking saurian and dinosaurian heads that reads: "NOTE: The fossil remains of numerous dinosaurs have been found with their heads and necks arched upwards, as if in their death throes they were straining to keep their heads above water!"


As I observed as a mere lad, little layman child scientist-wanna-be I once was, during repeated visits to a chipmunk carcass drying on a patch of rock in Duxbury, VT, the neck muscles of drying animal bodies shrink and contort the body, pulling the neck back. This very phenomenon is indeed characteristic of some fossils that have been found intact enough to recognize the positioning of the neck and body. It is emphatically not evidence of drowning animals "straining to keep their heads above water" -- it's what the muscles and skeletal structures do when exposed to certain conditions of dessication, shrinkage, and the elements. What a curious child (in more ways than one!) observed and recognized in nature is now (completely misinterpreted) codified in the non-scientific gibberish embraced by Creationist and Intelligent Design advocates. This may not prove the interaction of dinosaurs and Noah's Ark, but it does demonstrate a woeful lack of biology studies or rudimentary grasp of forensic science, if nothing else.

As with all Creationist (and, now, Intelligent Design) literature I've read to date, Pinkowski inherently misunderstands and misrepresents what "science" is: among other things, science is an exploration process, a process of observation, experimentation and inquiry, rather than an absolutist system of belief. Observation, categorization, analysis, and a fundamental adherence to asking questions without prior assumptions of "truth" -- in fact, asking questions that may not have answers within reach, as yet -- are among the fundamentals of science. Science is not religion, much less organized religion -- hence, the ongoing conflict between the two, particularly from fundamentalist religious persons whose center is their faith.

Faith can be tested, of course, just as theories can, but that does not make the two interchangable. Religion is grounded in belief; specifically, belief in something that inherently resists imperical analysis, assessment, or proof. Belief in God, or Buddha, or Allah, or etc. is a powerful force, but that does not inversely make "belief" in a given theory -- in this case, Darwinian evolution -- by proxy a religion.

But there's the crux of the matter, in the deceptively simplistic phraseology: If belief in God is religion, and belief in a particular theory is science, doesn't that make religion a science?

As my buddy Rick Bates would say, "Why get into the argument at all?"

Well, damn it, because it still is thrust into our faces, time and time again. Here we are in the new Millennium, 80 years after the Scopes trial, still forced into the same obfuscating debates and legal battles that by their very nature avoid the real issue at hand:

Some of us accept the Bible as a literal truth; some of us do not.

Those that do insist that those of us who don't are, by definition, a threat.

Freedom of religion means freedom from religion.

For that sector of the American populace that finds that reality in and of itself heretical and threatening, I can only say you do not truly believe in freedom of religion if you cannot tolerate and support your religious beliefs, however "obvious" to you, not being foisted upon others.

Religion will never be science, and "science" founded upon religious doctrine is by definition not a science.

Still, the battle makes for some great comics.

(Continued tomorrow: Finally, real science! Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards reviewed...)