Young Earth Creationism on Trial
The biggest evolution debate in some time took place this past Tuesday between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. Bill Nye argued for naturalistic origins of life, whereas Ken Ham represented the position of Young Earth Creationism. You can still watch the video here, though I’m not sure how long the link will remain valid. Though many beforehand felt the debate was a mistake, things probably went as much in Bill’s favor as one could imagine. If I had to pick a winner, it would definitely be Bill.
(Short note: if you’re unfamiliar with the subtleties of Young Earth Creationism (YEC), it is remarkably different from Creationism in general. Where Creationism only requires supposing a creator, e.g. God, YEC supposes that the Earth is roughly 6,000 years old and that all plants and animals were created more or less as they are over the course of 6 24-hour periods when God created the world.)
I certainly have my opinions on specific points, but the specific points were rarely all that important by comparison to the structure of the debate itself. Instead of focusing on these specifics, I want to deconstruct what Mr. Ham said in order to illustrate that he is little more than a conspiracy theorist preying on common fears in order to make his position look like a refuge from the hostile world outside.
Right from the start, Ken claimed that secularists had “hijacked” science; in fact, this is a key component of his first major point. While this is a specious claim of its own right, its place at the start of the debate is particularly telling. It shows that Ken hopes to frame the debate as some sort of anti-god conspiracy against good-natured Christians. Keep this in your mind as you read the rest of this article: Ken Ham’s first move is to try to incite you toward fear of others.
But think about the claim for a moment. If evolution is part of a secular conspiracy to “hijack science,” then these secularists must obviously be trying to keep it a secret. Conspiracies involve small groups of people behind closed doors trying to manipulate others in a way that works in the conspirators’ favor. Such a thing is easy to imagine if your concept of science is Richard Dawkins and a few other elite militant atheists scheming to end religion. And of course, to illustrate this hijacking of science, Mr. Ham does indeed quote from Dawkins’ website and from Discovery.com, giving his audience a series of quotations that they will likely interpret as hostile gestures on the part of scientists.
An Impossible Conspiracy
But think of the reality, not the perception put forward by the culture war. The reality is that there are thousands of scientists getting their PhDs every year. According to statistics from the National Science Foundation, there were roughly 10,000 scientists getting their PhDs in the natural and life sciences in 1982 just in the US alone. This figure increased to around 20,000 by the year 2012. Over those 30 years, you have somewhere between 300 and 600 thousand scientists who all contributed original research to their respective fields. Original research! That means they performed studies which helped confirm findings or falsify hypotheses. If just one of these hundreds of thousands could falsify evolution, he or she would be famous in an instant.
Once you factor in people with bachelor’s or master’s degrees in such fields and people like Mr. Nye who received undergraduate degrees in related fields and ended up working in science, Ken Ham’s conspiracy angle is absolutely incredible. The number of people who would have to be involved in some sort of secular conspiracy is staggeringly large to the point where it would be utterly impossible to maintain secrecy. A conspiracy of this sort would be public knowledge in a heartbeat.
But allegations of conspiracy on such an enormous scale are not only implausible; they are also curious. Why does Ken Ham need to implicate so many people in collaborating to “hijack science” for secularism? Well, it’s the structure of his argument. He needs to make you doubt science so he can get you to buy his snake oil. Once you think the secularist boogeyman is coming to get you, it’s much easier to get you to take refuge behind a wall of assertions that “there’s a book,” aka the Bible, with all the answers, as Ken reminded us at several points near the end of the debate. Never mind all the people who disagree with Mr. Ham’s interpretations of that book.
The rest of Ken’s argument, at least insofar as it concerns science, is just technobabble, i.e. using big words to fool his audience into thinking he knows what he’s talking about. Ken has to make us think he knows what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t. If any of his claims held up, then someone would publish them in a credible scientific journal. And again, I’ll point out the ludicrousness of trying to claim there is some sort of plot to keep scholars from granting recognition to Ken’s distinctions. It’s simply an impossible conspiracy.
The God Card
Then there is the theological part of this debate. Bill appropriately didn’t try to venture into those waters, because he knows he can’t. For Ken, though, this is his trump card. No matter how many impossibilities Bill may demonstrate, no matter how many pieces of evidence he may show, Ken’s followers have a conundrum: how can they abandon their positions without giving up on God?
Ken applies the same strategy here as he did previously: incite fear. While a great many Christians do not accept Ken’s model, Ken would have us believe that they are all slandering the Bible. I’m not sure how many people noticed, but the diagram Ken used to illustrate death before the fall had all sorts of horrifying images: smeared blood, a pile of skulls, etc. Views other than Ken’s are not just wrong but evil and scary.
Just as he did with science, Mr. Ham’s theological argument absolutely depends on depicting legions of credible, intelligent scholars and theologians as conspirators in some horrific evil. Nonsense, I say. It is nothing but nonsense and slander.
A Fearful Man
Ken’s whole debate hinges on whether or not he can instill enough fear in his audience to make his nonsense solutions seem like a welcome solace from the supposed horrors of the outside world. If he took this approach knowingly, I would call him diabolical, but my inclination is that he has taken this course in earnest. Thus, Mr. Ham exhibits all the classic signs of a conspiracy theorist.
My plea to whoever reads this is to see through Mr. Ham’s fearmongering. Have some faith in your brothers and sisters in humanity that they are following where the evidence leads and making sound judgments.
If you are a Creationist, ask yourself, what is Ken doing if not trying to make you fear the world outside his word? Why is he trying so hard to make you distrust everyone but himself? This behavior is troubling, to say the least. Thus, even more than any of evolution’s many evidences, this is the problem Young Earth Creationists must address: the model Ken Ham espouses doesn’t appear to be anything more than a conspiracy theory thought up by a fearful man.