I’m sensitive to Wood’s desire not to make this an endless back and forth of rebuttals and re-rebuttals, which is why I kept my original responses here to a minimum. It’s also less than ideal to respond on a forum…unfortunately my Medium blog is not well-suited to this kind of back and forth.
I agree. I appreciate Wood’s response. It’s thoughtful and well-reasoned. However, there are a few points I feel I should raise.
First…I was raised on a steady diet of Answers In Genesis, specifically. We had some material from Apologia and ICR, but the vast majority was AiG, and they were always treated as the ultimate authority on how the Bible ought to be interpreted and how science ought to be wrangled. We would drive for hours to go to a church where one of their speakers happened to be appearing. I read every single ex Nihilo and Creation and Answers magazine cover to cover for years. So when I talk about what Answers In Genesis teaches, I’m not just talking about a couple of articles they’ve recently posted; I’m speaking from long and consistent experience.
With that context, I stand by my assessment of the stark contrast between the history of creationism as elucidated by Wood and the way it is described by AiG. Ham and Mortenson and their colleagues present a history with only two sides: the brave biblical creationists who never doubted a six-day creation with a global flood, and the wicked, faithless “compromisers” who subjugated Scripture to the whims and imaginations of the vile uniformitarians and evolutionists. They characterize “uniformitarian geology” as a deliberate plot to undermine the authority of the Bible. AiG teaches, explicitly and implicitly, that uniformitarian geology and Darwinian evolutionary biology were part of a systematic campaign to create a new kind of science that would discredit the Bible and Christianity. To hear Ham tell the tale, every position on Genesis short of full six-day creationism and flood geology (Gap Theory, Day-Age, etc.) was the result of spiritual decay and moral compromise.
So there’s definitely a big difference. Wood associates the origins of the science-vs-religion problem with Galileo, not Lyell. He is honest about the struggles and disagreements in early Christian thought on the issues of interpreting Genesis. He goes into detail about the diversity of ideas and interpretations and how people were mixing and matching exegesis in ways that would seem foreign to creationists today. It was, as I said, a very good and very detailed history. Ham and Mortenson certainly acknowledge the plurality of Christian opinions, but cast them all within a strict good-and-evil dichotomy, rather than the diverse spectrum described by Wood.
The reason for this is fairly straightforward. Ham’s organization is about power, money, and control, and his messaging is finely focused on creating an us-vs-them mindset. Much of Ham’s material, like Raising Godly Children in an Ungodly World, Rescuing Our Kids, and Already Gone insistently raises the spectre of compromise as an existential threat that only their organization has the ability to counteract. Wood, on the other hand, doesn’t lean hard into the culture war dichotomy…or at least he doesn’t appear to. So Wood can be honest about the history of creationism rather than needing to characterize everything as part of an existential culture war.
This contrast is evident in one of the statements Wood makes in his response:
[E]ven though we can find symbolic readings of Genesis throughout the history of the church, we must remember that premodern theologians held to a multiplicity of interpretations that were held to be simultaneously true of the same text. In our modern world, we insist on only one textual meaning, which we think then falsifies other possible interpretations. This was not the way of the church fathers.
He is, of course, very accurate here. However, this is not the kind of idea AiG is willing to countenance at all. Whether they realize or admit it, AiG takes an extremely modernist approach to exegesis and is aggressive toward any suggestion that the church fathers held a multiplicity of interpretations. They cannot allow any hint of a “symbolic interpretation” to get its foot in the door. When they acknowledge the multiplicity of interpretations at all, it is typically only to suggest that the theologian in question was “confused” or misled as they do with Charles Spurgeon: “[A]s brilliant as Spurgeon was, even he did not understand the age of the earth issue.”
This brings us to the other point from our paper.
David expresses disappointment with what he perceives as my ignoring his main point:
“[T]his modern hyperspeciation view … is a qualitative departure from the creationism that solidified around Morris and Whitcomb, as well as the neocreationism that came after it. If Wood argues he was a ‘Native Creationist’ from the beginning, he needs to look closely at whether the evolving acceptance of expansive common ancestry is actually aligned with the ‘native’ creationism he grew up with.”
There’s a tone here to this response that I admit riled me up to write this rebuttal. So let me assure you, I do not speak out of ignorance or ideology. The history of creationist thought on this issue is simply not as you portray it, and I can demonstrate that.
My tone was probably overzealous, so I apologize. I admittedly may be a touch snide when dealing with Jeanson but that’s certainly not my intent with Wood.
In writing our paper, we wanted to inform scientists and science educators that there has been a qualitative shift in the way creationists present ideas surrounding speciation and common descent. It is important, not because they need to engage creationists directly – it’s not like we can publish in ARJ or creationists can publish in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology – but because they need to be aware of ideas that lay creationists may bring with them into classrooms and other areas of public discourse. We focused specifically on the Ark Encounter, both as the most obvious and probably the most familiar example of creationist thought.
Wood also adds,
Just to really challenge me, they also state, “As will be shown, young-earth creationists depend on their rhetoric being perceived as ‘consistent’ or ‘unchanging’ and thus they would dispute any implication that their views have departed significantly from earlier conceptions.” For the record, I couldn’t care less whether I present my views as consistent or unchanging, and I celebrate true advances in creation science that have come about over the years.
Again, this really isn’t directed toward Wood. In fact, it’s probably directed less toward Wood than toward any creationist. Our paper is not about magnifying the minutiae of differences among the most technical of creationists, but about highlighting the contrast between what creationists are “officially” claiming now and how creationism has traditionally been presented to lay audiences.
When it comes to how creationism is presented to lay audiences, there is absolutely an emphasis on a “consistent” and “unchanging” understanding of creationism. Granted, Answers In Genesis freely admits that their “models” can and do change…but when it comes to their messaging, that’s easily missed. Just a few days ago, Ham wrote a blog post mocking mainstream science over a potentially younger age for the universe, saying “[W]hich is it? 13.8 billion years or 12.6 billion years? That’s just a difference of a ‘mere’ 1.2 billion years, after all, but why such conflicting results? […W]e can know the age of the earth and universe because Scripture gives us the information we need to determine how old earth and the universe are.”
Ham also commonly contrasts the Bible with “science textbooks” in the context of changing arguments, like in this article:
I’m glad the Bible’s not a textbook of science like those used in public schools, because it would change all the time. Many ideas have come and gone. For example, most of the evolutionary beliefs used by scientists in the transcript of the Scopes Trial have been abandoned—but God’s Word remains the same. It is the infallible Word of God—the true history book of the universe.
This messaging – that mainstream science is flimsy and unreliable, while “biblical creationism” is firm and unchanging – is everywhere, even in their cartoons:
So while Wood certainly deserves credit for acknowledging that changes in science can and do happen, our point remains. The lay presentation, at least by Answers In Genesis, emphasizes consistency and solidity in contrast to mainstream science. So when there is a qualitative shift in the arguments made by creationists, even to the point of being displayed at the Ark Encounter, it’s worth noting.
Wood gives several good examples of creationists who allowed common ancestry as high as the family level (though none as high as the suborder or order level, as AiG is now suggesting in some cases…and as even Wood suggests in this very post). He then concludes:
What David and his colleagues have “discovered” is that there are two quite different streams in the larger world of “creationism,” one of which focuses mostly on destroying evolution without much care for the right answer and the other is building a completely new understanding of the science of origins. The antievolutionist species fixists have long enjoyed prominence and popularity, and their views persist to this day. The creationists, with their created kinds and post-Flood diversification, have only recently come to positions of prominence and influence, most notably in the Ark Encounter.
He puts it quite eloquently. Yet while he doesn’t feel this “discovery” is worth any particular note, we disagree.
Consideration that “baramins” could encompass whole families may not be revolutionary in creationist publishing circles, although placing baramins at the suborder or order level is definitely a big step. Where it is revolutionary, however, is in public discourse. The Ark Encounter is the first exposure that most lay creationists have had to this hyperevolution and post-Flood diversification. Moving “baramins” from the genus to the family and from the family to the suborder and from the suborder to the order may not seem like a large shift to Wood, probably because he has the benefit of extensive experience and familiarity with creationist publications, but it is a huge shift for lay creationists who are unfamiliar with this trend of thinking. Many are still hearing arguments from the pulpit about how natural selection is impossible. And why wouldn’t they? Even the Answers In Genesis website STILL promotes falsehoods about natural selection in an article written in 2017 (and most recently promoted in 2019!!):
Darwin thought a drought could have led to early giraffes needing to stretch their necks to reach leaves in tree tops. But today, through a greater understanding of heredity, we know that a giraffe with a stretched neck from reaching wouldn’t pass on that characteristic to its offspring.
A modified idea suggests that the long neck evolved through mutation and natural selection, which favored those giraffes that could reach higher branches. Such an idea raises the question: What did the younger giraffes eat, and why do giraffes even today often eat at shoulder height and below? More importantly, the proposed progression from short to long-necked giraffes is absent from the fossil record.
How many giraffes blew their brains to pieces when bending down—how many passed out as they lifted their heads, becoming food for the lions—until the special features somehow evolved? It’s obvious that the very first giraffes had to have these special features right from the beginning.
Does Karen Viet, the author of this article, even realize that the Ark Encounter opened a year earlier featuring an antelope-like common ancestor for giraffes and okapis? Evidently not.
So we feel it is extremely useful for science educators to be aware of how the understanding of creationism among lay creationists may differ from what “technical” creationists are now promoting. So did EE&O, apparently.