419 Creationism

I’m in St. Louis this morning at the Peaceful Science workshop. This morning during the introductions I brought up a point I wrote about in a blog post a few years back, which a lot of people here (especially Joshua) did not agree with. My point is about how Creationists - and Ken Ham in particular - tend to make outrageous claims that weed out people prone to questioning, leaving them with a group of strong core believers. That point was accepted, I think, but the objection was there is more going on than just a scam. I accept that Ken Ham is sincere in what he is trying to do, but I’m not sure that was the entire point I missed.

Today I’m looking for criticisms of the opinion I am presenting here. If you agree, greet, but really want a look at what I might be missing. Set phasers to criticize! :slight_smile:


Hey Dan! It was nice to meet you IRL the other day.

As someone with the personal experience of following creationist organizations for many years your hypothesis does not ring true to me, but it will take some time to gather a coherent critique. In the meantime I will simply ask a couple questions.

(Actually - first - let me state my understanding of your hypothesis, to make sure my questions are relevant. You see creationist organizations making claims that appear so ridiculous to you that they seem intentionally outrageous to you. Your hypothesis is that creationist organizations like AIG and ICR are not sincerely trying to coherently explain their interpretations of reality but rather are intentionally making ridiculous claims to select for gullible followers - i.e. the outrageousness is “intelligently designed” rather than simply a consequence of complex factors whereby behavior emerges that merely gives to you the appearance of design)

Question 1: Do you have EVIDENCE for your hypothesis or is it simply an inference by analogy to Nigerian scammers along with the fact that the alternative seems implausible to you?

Question 2: Does your hypothesis have PREDICTIVE value? (i.e. How would you expect scammy creationists vs. sincere creationists to behave and how do we in fact see them behaving? Since there are a variety of creationist organizations with a variety of activities can we group them or rank them according to such terms? A possibly dependent question: Is there a way to quantify the difference between a sincere claim and a scam-selecting claim, whether by kind or by degree?)


@joshuahedlund It was great meeting you too! This meeting was a great opportunity. :slight_smile:

You see creationist organizations making claims that appear so ridiculous to you that they seem intentionally outrageous to you.


Your hypothesis is that creationist organizations like AIG and ICR are not sincerely trying to coherently explain their interpretations of reality but rather are intentionally making ridiculous claims to select for gullible followers - …

No and yes. They are sincere in their beliefs, they do not attempt coherence in their explanations, and this selects for a certain sort of follower. Gullible may be a bit harsh - as we see with 419 scams, sometimes even smart people get fooled. Maybe naive is a better word?

I think of this as an analogy, but a very strong sort of analogy. I’m heard Ken Ham give his “Seven C’s” presentation, and nothing he says about science** withstands even a very casual scientific questioning. If that qualifies as evidence, then maybe I could strengthen this to a hypothesis, but I don’t have my heart set on that goal.

** Edit for clarity: Ham’s claims about how the world unfolded, particularly after the flood, (Flood Geology, Hyper-Devolution) are scientifically indefensible.

Question 2: Does your hypothesis have PREDICTIVE value?

Interesting! This is very pertinent because I have Kirk Clayton (a sincere Creationist) sitting right here with me. I could make certain sorts of vague predictions, like every new discovery in biology potentially being taken as a “problem for evolution”. We see lots of examples of Creationists doing this, but I don’t see people like Kirk doing this. – To be very honest I don’t see a lot of people like Kirk AT ALL. This voice is mostly missing from the discussion.

(… A possibly dependent question: Is there a way to quantify the difference between a sincere claim and a scam-selecting claim, whether by kind or by degree?)

Let me think about that.


Thanks Dan for this topic. I’m incredibly sympathetic toward you in regards to this comment/question, because I have often wondered it myself. Every affinity group has its own staunch supporters, whether it is religious, political, or other. Consider sports teams… Rabid fans (root: fanatic) will universally proclaim that their team is “number one” despite the universal acceptance of the fact that they all couldn’t possibly be right. Yet, all fans persist.

I once heard a YEC from Australia present “evidence” that the earth was young. The man was quite knowledgeable regarding geology and cogently (and correctly) described physical processes such as erosion and petrification in the textbook manner.

Erosion occurs relative to the velocity of the water and is caused by vacuum, not by pressure. He described how a creek near his visitor center had flooded and washed out some trails just above the normal waterline. He described how the velocity of the water increased, causing vacuum, which pulled the soil away from the banks. Once the water rose above that point, to the elevation of the surrounding land, the velocity slowed considerably, because the width of the waterway had increased tenfold, and the velocity decreased proportionately. Once the water level returned to normal, one could barely tell where the high water mark had been, because there had been very little vacuum and almost nothing was disturbed.

Similarly, he spoke of petrified forests, explaining how this phenomenon occurred. That fallen trees would become impacted by water pressure at one end due to the flow of a stream or river. These trees, now heavier at one end vs. the other would gather in a location such as the base of a waterfall, sink, become covered in silt, and, finally, petrify.

Yet, when he spoke of the flood and evidence for it being global, his points regarding erosion and petrification were entirely contrary to the physical properties of erosion and petrification that he had described earlier. It seemed to me that, while it should be obvious to everyone in attendance, almost no one was seeing that the processes were working entirely differently in the flood narrative vs. the real world. Despite the dissonance that I experienced, most of those in attendance followed right along without missing a beat. As I surveyed the crowd, I could tell that some others were experiencing the same symptoms as I.

I concluded that this man, being an expert in his knowledge domain, knew full well that what he was saying didn’t make sense, but that, like a hypnotist who is skilled at discerning which audience members will be most affected by his efforts, he was winnowing the crowd, separating us into followers and detractors.

I have no evidence of this, other than the fact that his MO was to interview the head pastor prior to agreeing to come to a church and present in order to determine if the crowd would be friendly-enough. There was no confrontation because he was an expert at controlling the conversation. Though questions were asked that raised concerns similar to those described above, he steered away from them and did not address them.

So, I cannot say for certain that the point you raise, Dan, is an actuality, though I can say that I have often wondered the same.

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I have to agree with @joshuahedlund on this one. I don’t think YEC is an outright scam. I really do think the YEC leaders are “true believers”. What also sets it apart is that they get paid the same whether YEC is true or not.

There is one bit of testimony that might help: Glenn Morton. He was an author of many YEC papers and was fully within the movement. Things changed when he actually started learning geology and working in the field.

The last paragraph says a lot. Morton talked to other YEC’s that were faced with the same evidence he was faced with. What he saw was people having a crisis of faith. That tells me that they were true believers within the YEC movement, at least in this limited case.

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I’m inclined to agree with your position!

If we look at the history of the NRA, not only is there a question about how many members they actually still have… (see below)…


… but when you look at even the purported 5 million members as a percentage of gun owners in the USA, it’s paltry! By anyone’s count it’s less than 5% and maybe even a fraction of that.


Because by “purifying” their membership by sending around strongly worded surveys, they have ended up with a group that provides them with strong unanimity when lobbying Congress. Members of the House and Senate hear the percentages (97% in favor of, 92% against, and so on) and imagine a monolithic slice of Americans favoring a strong stance against any kind of gun control.

But in fact, the NRA membership is not Monolithic… it is the very tip of one end of a spectrum … “punching above it’s weight” through the perception that they represent a centrist position for much of America!

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I do think there’s some selecting going on but I have a little bit different take on how it operates.

First, I think contradictory logic happens in a lot of groups, but it’s far easier to see from the outside than the inside. An easy example is politics - I feel like I’m constantly seeing inconsistent arguments from the far left or right as people try to fit complex situations into a simple worldview or maintain polarized/tribalistic identities. And intelligence doesn’t necessarily save you - due to cognitive biases and motivated reasoning, sometimes more intelligent people are just cleverer at coming up with convoluted reasoning and additional confounding factors, however implausible, to justify a position that is strongly held for some other reason. So there are many situations where what sincerely looks like an obvious contradiction to an outsider sincerely does not look like a contradiction to an insider.

Second, I think there’s an important element of theology that can be hard to appreciate if you’re an outsider. Suppose A) you are very strongly convinced that Christianity is true, for any number of reasons (personal experiences, shared experiences in your community, apologetics, etc). And suppose B) you are also very strongly convinced that from premise A it follows that the Bible is true and that a coherent interpretation of its text requires a young creation - you may even apply very detailed and coherent logical analysis of the text to conclude this. Now you are highly motivated to C) interpret scientific evidence in a way that supports your view and downplay evidence that doesn’t, or forever hope that future explanations will come along in the future to resolve all those pesky “mysteries” or “apparent contradictions”… Why? Because the weight of all of that evidence (depending on how strongly it is presented or how strongly you seek it out) does not feel as strong as the weight of A and B, so there must be some explanation.

I propose that members are not abandoning logic, but actually seeking to employ the same logic they developed to analyze the Bible in B to explain C, and not realizing the contradictions that it may lead to. And it’s actually kind of fascinating the level of plausibility you can reach depending on how closely you look. After all, lots of fossils were deposited by water… And fossil layers don’t always appear in the correct order… (It’s easy to imagine various configurations of Earth’s history where a global flood would be less plausible than it is.) Etc, etc.

So what kind of selecting is going on?

Here’s my working theory, first articulated just now: Well, as members wrestle with C, some of them never come across anything challenging enough to disrupt A and A=>B, and/or they reach a C that’s plausible enough for them that they chalk the rest up to mystery or the hope of future discoveries that explain them somehow. Others do come across information that is too challenging to be satisfied, and they tend to react in one of two ways. Some realize D) that the logical complexities they employed to deduce C from B are also applicable to the logic they used to deduce B from A, so they hold on to A while questioning their textual interpretations with the same rigor they questioned their scientific interpretations, and may find a theology that seems satisfyingly coherent with both A and their understanding of the scientific evidence. Others, however, don’t see a coherent way to disconnect B from A and end up E) throwing both out and leaving Christianity altogether.

Which route you take depends on a lot of variables, including 1) how strongly you’re convinced of A, 2) how strongly you’re convinced that A => B, 3) how plausible you find what you’ve heard of C, 4) what sort of anti-C information you come across, 5) how interested you are in seeking out that information, 6) what sort of alternate B theologies you’ve been exposed to, 7) how plausible you find those theologies and how interested you are in seeking those out, and probably other related factors.

But in general, for example, C may select for those who are less interested in seeking out anti-C information, those who are most strongly convinced that A => B, those who have been less exposed to alternate B’s or find them less plausible, etc.

I think you have a grain of truth, though, in the possibility of some leaders who come across enough anti-C information that they cannot maintain a personally plausible C, but are so strongly convinced of A and A => B that they justify minor amounts of misinformation/illogic/etc (or as much as they can tolerate) as a lesser evil than abandoning both.

That’s my working theory as someone who grew up C and went D. (Though I have no idea if any of this even makes sense outside my head or how well it resonates with other people’s experiences or even if it sounds patronizing or otherwise irritating to those who remain in C, and it remains wide open to refinement or abandonment…)


Here’s what I was thinking of with my question about predictive value. I just finished reading the 400+ page Genesis Flood, the 60’s book that recharged the modern YEC movement. Before that I read the 700+ page New Geology by George M Price from the 30’s that influenced that book.

The breadth of content in these books is impressive. In an attempt to explain everything, the content spans a continuum from plausible to wild, but you might be more likely to hear about the wild stuff.

If you’re just trying to select for the naive, I’m not sure you’d go to that much trouble. You don’t hear about. Nigerian scammers setting up elaborate websites responding to every accusation thrown against them with detailed theories about why the grammar errors in those emails actually proves they are legitimate, but that’s somewhat analogous to what AIG pumps out on a regular basis. They’re not trying to filter out the majority; they want to convert them all.

In fact, far from the wild stuff being a selector, I’m not sure the average YEC consumer even knows about the wilder stuff (ex. giant floating vegetation rafts?) - the breadth of content helps maintain a plausibility (for those who are less interested) that they have explanations for everything even if the consumer doesn’t take the time to examine it all. So in this view, rather than selecting for people who find out about the wild stuff, it’s part of a high-volume content that ironically selects for people who aren’t that interested in knowing what it is!


Most YEC leaders I am sure are sincere because YEC helps to solve some problems in fundamentalism and certain types of evangelicalism. One problem has to do with the authority of the Bible (as they narrowly see it) and the other has to do, oddly enough, with an issue of eschatology.

As far as the problem of the authority if the Bible, YEC is (with a few exceptions) most popular in churches that practice an extreme form of “Sola Scriptura.” In this case the authority is the individual believer reading the Bible in the local venacular. Here the Bible is essentially a book that stands outside of church history or even more so Jewish history - you read the Bible literalistically. Counting the years in the genealogies in Genesis and extrapolating from that the age of the earth is as “literally true” as the account that Jesus was resurrected on the third day. Reading about a “leviathan” in the book of Job and speculating about death before the Fall leads to the Creation Science dogma that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, and this is as real and important as the existence of Moses. So often you will hear a YEC preacher bring up a seemingly obscure point from “Creation Science” and say “the Gospel stands or falls on this!” Unfortunately, he means it. Of course there is a lot of eisegesis going on in their “literal” reading of the Bible, but they don’t see it. I do sense a lot of insecurity with them that compels them to as it were “help” the Bible.

The other thing YEC helps with is that it gives “scientific” credence to the dispensationalist eschatology that is central to all fundamentalist and many non-denominational churches. Basically, they think they have figured out a Biblical timeline that predicts future events and among other things this timeline predicts that human history will end when the earth is 6,000 years old and then Christ will set up a Millennial Kingdom. So Creationism validates the timeline that gives them hope for an afterlife in the Millennial Kingdom.

As long as YEC is seen as a useful tool to help with a “literal” reading of the Bible, or as long as it is seen as useful help validate a dispensationalist timeline, people will remain devoted to YEC because they have invested so much in it.

What might help those struggling with YEC is for them to find a way to have a high view of the Bible yet also be aware that one can read it “literally” and read into it things that might not be there.


I believe that they’re honest about their YEC positions. Yes, their ‘science’ is outrageously stupid but you shouldn’t make a mistake of believing that they actually care about science. What they care is what the bible literally says and, from there, they will twist the science, or outright reject it, so they can ‘validate’ their ‘literal’ interpretation of the bible.

No matter how problematic and outrageous that is.


Yes, they may be sincere. But YEC does not solve any problems, as best I can tell.

Yes, you have that right. The authority of scripture comes from the authority of the individual. Scripture can have no more authority than you are willing to give it.

But why? Isn’t it better to read the Bible with common sense?

When the Bible asserts that the sky is a domed ceiling over the earth, does not common sense recognize a problem? When the Bible asserts that the illumination of the sky was created before the sun, does not common sense intervene? Shouldn’t it be obvious that Genesis makes sense as a report of ancient traditions, but is a false description of the relation of earth to the cosmos?

Many of these people have proudly shut themselves off from any form of Christianity outside of their group. They would fear that a more historically informed and less literal reading would lead to Catholicism, and that is about the worst thing they can imagine. That and using reason outside of what they can construct out of a literal reading may lead to atheism. It is very either/or. No room for questions or nuance.


Don’t forget Orthodoxy! That’s just as bad, if not worse, than Catholicism.


I grew up in a predominantly Anglican community, and heard lots of criticism of Catholicism. But, as I began to appreciate the teachings of Jesus, I discovered that the differences between Christian denominations weren’t all that important – well except for a few that seem very cultish.

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I must disagree with your points about evidence. The most obvious lie (in that it is a deliberate attempt at deception) is, “Both sides are interpreting the same evidence in different ways.” One has to have made a pretty deep dive into the evidence to have any reason to offer such an opinion.

It’s perfectly clear that IDcreationists are not even bothering to interpret the vast majority of the evidence, and it is trivially easy to demonstrate that, within minutes of the same person claiming that we’re dealing with the same evidence.

It happens nearly every day on this board.

And keep in mind the near-universal refusal of IDcreationists to engage in the very essence of science, which is using your hypothesis to predict data that you have yet to see.

That REALLY interesting, but I want to be careful not to derail my own discussion by starting a shootout over guns. :wink:

Would it be fair to describe both AiG style Creationism* and the NRA as having shaped themselves to become more effective political organizations? I think where my analogy ran into trouble is the implication that religion is a scam, but is it any better to characterize religion AiG style Creationism as a clever sort of cultural and political manipulation?

I think if I keep this up, I can probably insult EVERY single member of PS. :wink:

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Done. Well, done. :slight_smile:

A sort of epilogue; I went on to have a really good discussion with Kirk over lunch, and have no doubt he is sincere. I think my original statement too easily implied that Creationism is an intentional scam, but the intent is honestly sincere. We talked about the limits of science, and agreed (or at least understood) on an important point; scientific statements there is “no god” are not valid, AND AiG-style-Creationist claims for scientific evidence of God are also not valid, and for the same reason (limits of science).
For me to be able to come to that sort of agreement with a YEC minister, made it a pretty damn good day. :smile:

There were other comments I haven’t responded to yet, but I’m out of time for the present.

I also have a new dilemma - how to draw a distinction between AiG-style-Creationism and other sorts of Creationism with needing two paragraphs to explain every time I need it. :wink:


I think I would disagree. I do grant the possibility of intentional deception, I just think I’m placing greater emphasis on the powers of cognitive biases / motivated reasoning / self-delusion / etc. One can easily offer a sincere opinion like “Both sides are interpreting the same evidence in different ways” without deep diving into it; all one has to do is take a cursory look at some type of evidence, come up with a plausible explanation or motivated reason to doubt some part of the evidence, and then lose interest in exploring it deeper.

Here are a couple more predictions I would make about intentional selecting / scamming / deception / manipulation (we are starting to use different words but I think we are all roughly talking about the same thing)

  1. If you were trying to intentionally select for the naive, I predict you would not reject positions that were even more wild than your position and spend time coherently arguing against them. Evidence: AIG’s rejection of geocentrism - now there’s a position that I could more easily believe is intentionally selecting, although I think even they are mostly just caught up in their own motivated reasoning constrained by their interpretations of Scripture) How do you explain the coherence of AIG’s anti-geocentric arguments with the incoherence of other arguments? I say it could be sincere motivated reasoning and self-deception that plays out over the spectrum of finding geocentrism more obviously implausible and other aspects less so.

  2. If you were intentionally trying to deceive and manipulate, I predict you would not publish an expansive list of arguments that your own side should stop using because they are really bad. Evidence: CMI’s arguments we think creationists should not use - Why would they reject the dinosaur/human Paluxy tracks if they wanted to intentionally deceive - that’s like a instant classic hit that many people still believe! Why aren’t they motivated to just come up with some wild counter-defense of the tracks? How do you explain the coherence of these arguments with the incoherence of other arguments? Again, I say it could just be sincere motivated reasoning and self-deception, with people rejecting “wilder” arguments that are obviously implausible to them while accepting arguments that are farther along the spectrum.


I have to agree with @joshuahedlund here. I really believe Ham and others believe every single word they’re spewing.

Ignorance (or, delusion, rather) isn’t the same as deception.