Translating YEC Propaganda: Anti-Evolution Equivocation Fallacies Sound Even Stupider in Another Language

Ever since the Hollywood trades announced the greenlighting of a Disney film about Charles Darwin and the epic voyage of The Beagle, rumors of a creationist boycott have cheered comedy writers for the various late night TV talk show hosts. After all, this is a topic with everything a comedian could possibly want. Well… perhaps not literally everything a comedian could want in a current events topic. But it’s got literally clueless, science-illiterate young earth creationists. And that beats a maximally flexible modern-day-dinosaur (also known as a rubber chicken) any day of the week.

I do hope the Disney movie will include the public’s reaction to Darwin’s theory, especially the various Christian ministers who praised Darwin “for explaining how Our Creator chose to fill the earth with wondrous creatures”, among whom was one of the great heroes of fundamentalist Christians, Dr. Benjamin Warfield, “the Father of Biblical Inerrancy.” And that’s something they won’t pick up from any Ray Comfort video.

When the movie portrays how Darwin’s journey gave him first-hand observations of the horrendous treatment of African slaves and ignited his life-long impassioned opposition towards slavery, I also hope they mention how Darwin’s royalties from sales of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life funded the printing of scripture-filled Abolitionist tracts written by the various Christian ministers Darwin also generously supported. Then perhaps Ken Ham can explain to his followers how he and other millionaire origins ministry entrepreneurs justify their pathological lying about Darwin supposedly being such a rabid “racist.” (Yeah, right. We all know how “creation science” purveyors are always so conscientious about setting the record straight and publishing errata compilations when caught red-handed in their lies.)

That would also give linguists and lexicographers like me yet another opportunity to explain to overly trusting Hamites that in 19th century English the word race meant “variety of organisms”, as in this updated title translated into 21st century English:

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Varieties of Organisms in the Struggle for Life.

Indeed, today’s readers of recently translated editions of The Origin of Species in other languages have this potential advantage over most English-speaking readers stuck with Darwin’s original text: New translations generally bypass (and re-word accordingly) the archaic features of Darwin’s language from a century and a half ago and thereby avoid the reader’s likely misunderstandings which would have accompanied that outdated language from another era. Of course, that general observation fails if the translator(s) have limited working knowledge of 19th century English. Yet, the best publishers understand that potential problem and assign translator contracts accordingly.

After all, between Darwin’s day and our own, inevitable changes in English language vernacular rendered many Bible translation editions seriously “outdated” (and Bible paraphrase editions even more so) within a generation or two, if maximal reading comprehension accuracy trumps all other translation goals. (Despite the accusations of Bible critics that profit motives drive every new Bible translation edition, even an often cynical “insider” like me–one who regularly calls out the disingenuous spins and the duplicitous misdeeds of every “side” in most such conflicts and controversies–must agree that most modern day English translations pass their prime in twenty years, at most.)

Considering how Ken Ham and many other YECists and IDers regularly exploit such equivocation fallacies as exemplified in the “…the Preservation of Favoured Races…” clause, I’ve wondered how such language-dependent equivocations “underwhelm” the non-English-speaking audiences and readers of their anti-evolution propaganda. AIG, CMI, and many other organizations in the origins propaganda industry proudly brag about the numbers of foreign language editions of their books and videos. Yet, I wonder if any of their multilingual staff or donors have ever explained to them how and why their many equivocation fallacies only “work” in English (and perhaps sometimes with a few other related Indo-European languages with similar words and cognates.) Indeed, this “Darwin’s evolution book has a racist title!” argument of nonsense makes even less than zero sense in Mandarin Chinese, Tagalog, and Hindi. [Yes, I do enjoy exploiting the irony of illustrating the total nonsense of this particular example of Ham’s propaganda rubbish through “repayment in-kind”!]

Frankly, the more I think about the difficulties of conveying such English-based equivocation fallacies in other languages, I realize that an honest translator of YECist and IDer propaganda would find it extremely difficult to explain the argument in another language without also debunking the argument at the same time! Think about it: A typical Ken Ham tirade-filled, anti-evolution sermon would sound even more ridiculous in translation, depending upon and varying with the particular target language involved. “The Theory of Evolution is only a theory, not a law” already evokes a bored “Duh!” from science-literate English speakers. Yet, when translated into a language which lacks the word coincidence of theory=hunch and theory=scientific explanation, one gets a double-Duh! In other words, with this dishonest attempt to fool readers and audiences, the English language ploy only works in the target language if the target word’s semantic domains closely parallel the source word’s semantic domains.

Ham’s favorite violations of the “EtymologyLexicography” maxim could similarly fail. In the Bill Nye debate, Ham pompously tried and failed to bolster his arguments with “The word SCIENCE simply means KNOWLEDGE” when it would have made more sense to say “The Latin word SCIENTIA is where English gets the word SCIENCE.” Obviously, such etymological histories of a word do not necessarily dictate what the word actually means. [In fact, sometimes a word makes a 180-degree turn over time, such as the word AWFUL, which originally meant what its component morphemes would suggest, that which makes one feel full of awe but which now means extremely bad or inferior. Because of that negative shift in meaning, English speakers today often rely upon AWESOME to convey their sense of being awed by something.]

Of course, Ham resorts to this lame etymological argument (a subcategory of the Equivocation Fallacy argument) when he wants an audience to believe his claim that “Atheist and materialist scientists have hijacked the word SCIENCE from its former meaning of KNOWLEDGE.” because he is employing the same tactic Michael Behe tried to defend in the Dover Trial. If what one is trying to “sell” is obviously not science in terms of being supported by the Scientific Method, one can only hope to somehow appropriate the natural appeal of modern science as well as the authority and prestige which comes with it in the minds of general public. The propagandist must pretend that the word SCIENCE is a far broader term than those ‘materialist scientists’ have defined it. Yet, I would suggest that this “Science is simply a collection of knowledge” argument from English and Latin etymology would sound even sillier in languages which lack similar Latin pedigrees.

I’m over-emphasizing and redundantly pounding this observation of “Arguments based on equivocation fallacies don’t always translate well into other languages” into the ground because (1) I think it would make a fascinating doctoral dissertation topic for a linguist or religious studies candidate focusing on the difficulties and obstacles of taking any such propaganda global when trying to appeal to an international audience; (2) I wonder if Ken Ham’s finds it much more difficult to generate a following (and donors) in countries where the language translation dynamics deprive him of some of his favorite logical fallacies. [Fortunately for Ham, some European languages probably share enough cognate vocabulary and a similar scientific heritage heavily dependent upon English language publication and terminology so as to allow some of these ruses to survive translation. I’ve not spent any serious time and effort investigating many of the most popular equivocation fallacy examples, but I’ll bet that some of Ham’s crowd-pleasing spiels which get strong audience reactions and laughter in the States produce “dead air” and blank looks overseas when he preaches one sentence at a time with a live translator.]

But let’s get back to those rumors of a Christian boycott of the Darwin movie. I’m neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet but I’m willing to make at least one prediction about this: Based on Hollywood’s reputation for strict historical accuracy in all of its bio-epics, I expect the Disney movie will have just about as much science content and educational value as a summer internship at the Creation Museum. Or a Ken Ham documentary based upon his authorized biography. Or a graduate degree from the Institute for Creation Research.

{Even though it should be obvious, I’m told that some Ken Ham biggest fans/groupies are angrily denying the following satire–because the fact that it is simply satire went right over the heads. Yep, just like most science. Apparently they don’t quite grasp the meaning of words like “fictitious” and the comedy which is based on Ken Ham’s well documented long history of litigation.

Hey, did you ever wonder why there is no such book as Young Earth Creationism for Dummies?

Answer: Intellectual property infringement. Ken Ham threatened to sue. That’s already the title of the Answers in Genesis New Employee Handbook. (There’s also a new employee orientation film of the same name and based upon the book. Can you imagine being a docent for the Creation Museum or the upcoming Ark Park?) Yes, this paragraph is satire. There is no such handbook, even if there should be.

Speaking of fictitious Ken Ham lawsuits, the newest edition of Ken Ham’s Answers in Litigation: Building a Mega-Ministry Through the Courts is soon to be released. All nine volumes. {Satire alert!} Several of the chapters of previous editions have been greatly expanded with updated material, including my personal favorites:

“Sue Ain’t Just a Dinosaur”
“I for an I Justice”
“Persecute Them Before They Persecute You”
“Bloodletting in the Courtroom: The Legal Way to Play Chicken”
“Ham on Nye”
“Who Peed in My Gene Pool?”
“Always Be the Underdog by Building Up the Boogeyman”
“Every Protagonist Needs an Antagonist”
“Propaganda: If It Makes Sense, You Ain’t Doing It Right”
“Jurassic Justice and the Jurassic Dark Arts”
“Dr. Who’s On First”
“How I Won the Dover Trial: Winning Without Even Playing the Game”
“Fighting to Repeal the Laws of Thermodynamics: We’s In It Till We Win It”
“Recognizing Satire When You Read it”

Some people don’t know when to quit. I do.

____________________________
(c) 2015. Professor Tertius & the Bible.and.Science.Forum at Gmail.com.
All rights reserved. Email us at Gmail.com address for permissions on reposting and publication.

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One response to “Translating YEC Propaganda: Anti-Evolution Equivocation Fallacies Sound Even Stupider in Another Language

  1. The concept of satire goes right over the heads of some Ken Ham fans–just like real science goes over Ken’s head–so the Bible.and.Science.Forum has decided to post reminders of {Satire Alert!} even when the satire and parodies should be obvious. (Yes, some Young Earth Creationist defenders thought the aforementioned employee handbook was for real and posted angry protests on their websites. It is satire, people!)

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