How The Creation Museum is Like a Nigerian Banker Scam E-Mail

My colleague Brent Hege recently gave an excellent lunchtime talk about the Creation Museum, focusing on how the phenomenon of “creation science” is a radical departure from historic Christianity in its definition of key concepts such as faith.

As he was talking about the circularity of the argument presented in the Creation Museum, I found myself recalling something I had heard about the Nigerian bank scam e-mails that we've all seen.

The latter often seem to be so riddled with errors of language that it is hard to believe that anyone could fall for them. But it has been suggested that that is intentional. Only those who will not notice such details are likely to fall for the ongoing scam and give away money and/or personal information. If the scam e-mail was written credibly, people with slightly less honed hoax-detection skills might take the first step, then realize what is going on, and get angry and notify authorities. It is better to weed out from the start all but the most gullible. A poorly-worded e-mail increases the chance that they, and they alone, will take the next step – and of course they are the ones most likely to continue all the way to the end.

In the same way, only the truly gullible or poorly informed will fall for the Creation Museum's claims. Those who don't know enough church history or haven't read enough Augustine to realize that the claims being made there are recent and modern ones rather than expressions of historic Christianity. People who won't see that the claims being made about “Man's Word” vs. “God's Word” actually have the words of human beings on the side that is allegedly the words of God. People who don't know that what is being offered is not just at odds with the scientific evidence, but also with the Bible as understood by scholars who place it in its historical and cultural context.

Schliermacher warned about this back in 1829, and he was simply following the lead of Augustine and many others whose approach to Christian faith the folks at Answers in Genesis reject. Schleiermacher wrote:

What then do you suppose the future holds, not only for our theology, but for our evangelical Christianity? . . .Do you intend to barricade yourself behind … fortifications and cut yourselves off from science? The barrage of ridicule to which you will be subject from time to time causes me no concern, for it will do you little harm once you are resigned to it. But the blockade! The complete starvation from all science, which will follow when, because you have repudiated it, science will be forced to display the flag of unbelief! Shall the tangle of history so unravel that Christianity becomes identified with barbarism and science with unbelief? To be sure, many will make it so. Preparations are already well underway, and already the ground heaves under our feet, as those gloomy creatures who regard as satanic all research beyond the confines of ancient literalism seek to creep forth from their religious enclaves.

Would that we could find a way to lead young-earth creationists back to historic Christianity, of the sort expressed by Augustine:

We are talking about God; so why be surprised if you cannot grasp it? I mean, if you can grasp it, it isn’t God. Let us rather make a devout confession of ignorance, instead of a brash profession of knowledge.

But alas, like the Nigerian bank scammers, they are making a profit, and as long as that is so, are unlikely to repent of their sinful ways. But in the mean time, the question remains of how we can help protect more gullible people from being duped and having their lives ruined by scammers and swindlers.

 

  • Dan Ortiz

    FASCINATING Article !!!!!!
    Well done James, so well presented and so many leads. Thank you :)
    And to answer your question, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yousufzai has a good idea on how to protect people (and in this case churches): Education Education Education!!!

  • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

    A similar thing happened when internet advertising went from pay per thousand views, to pay per click. It suddenly became important to word your ad so that people didn’t click on it. People who wouldn’t go through and buy the product.

    I struggled with this for a while. My instinct was to write copy that was as appealing as possible, but I gradually found that I was better off losing a few possible sales, to get rid of unqualified buyers. To maximise the number of people clicking who bought.

    Interesting correlation with creationism. I’ve been reading legal papers about Scientology court case today, which also talks about how people get involved in cults. I think there’s probably mileage to look at that in the same way, worth musing on I think.

    tl;dr – excellent post, thanks!

  • Jamoche

    I would’ve guessed that the poor language – assuming it’s intentional – is meant to make the recipient feel smarter than the scammer, so that even if their hoax-detectors go off, they’ll rationalize it by thinking they can turn the tables and rip off the scammer instead.

    The poor language never stopped me from forwarding it to the email address set up for those (419.fcd@usss.treas.gov (Nigeria No Financial Loss —For Your Database)).

    The comparison still works, though – both of them are trying to make the marks feel like they know something nobody else does.

  • dangjin

    Typical bait and switch. You say someone presented a lecture on the topic and instead of providing the text, you provide the advertisement. You say Ham is making circular arguments yet provide no evidence to prove your point, then you de-divine God’s word and instead of pointing to what you claim to be God and His word, you point people to secular, fallible humans who have rejected God’s word.

    In other words, you don’t point people to God or the truth, you point them to the alternative which you like. You disobey God and lead people to disobey Him. You are wrong! Not Ham or the Bible.

    You have the problem not those who stick with God and HIS word.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      What a load of insane nonsense you spout! If the talk were not a talk but rather a written text available online, then obviously I would have linked to it. Ham’s circular arguments are well-known. Here’s one example. He claims that the Bible is inerrant and creation science shows the Bible and science to agree, and yet he claims that secular scientists (and most scientists who are Christians, but he usually doesn’t mention that) draw the wrong conclusions because they don’t begin with the Bible as their assumption. It is standard circular reasoning, in one of its most famous examples.

      And then you have the audacity to merely assert, with no evidence provided, that Ham is not wrong, and you talk about “HIS word” which either means that you deify the Bible’s authors, which is idolatry, or you are pretending that they are not the writings of human beings, and thus are joining in with Ken Ham’s deceitful tricks.

      I understand why you might choose a life of sleazy dishonesty. But how can you live that way and yet pretend that you are somehow on the side of God and the Bible?

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    I think that Ken Ham and his gang have driven much more people away from God than Dawkins and his minions could ever dream of.

    Their utter hypocrisy about being the victims of persecution and academic censorship appalls me:
    https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/evangelicalism-intellectual-honesty-and-academic-freedom/

    But what can we do to change their minds? To my mind the end does not justify the means so that it is not permissible to ridicule them as persons as long as they remain respectful.

  • Peter Kirk

    “If the scam e-mail was written credibly, people with slightly less honed hoax-detection skills might take the first step, then realize what is going on, and get angry and notify authorities.”

    By the same argument, should I conclude that your post is a scam directed at those lacking in hoax-detection skills, deliberately intended to be ignored by real scholars who wouldn’t read past your mis-spellings of “Schleiermacher”? ;-)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      “Of course it was intentional to illustrate my point” (he said while frantically trying to fix the error…)

  • Lee

    While I get your point, I do not believe that those who buy into creationism are always stupid and gullible. People have a tremendous capacity to deceive themselves. They will accept what they want to hear. Thus Ken Ham and others are giving them exactly what they want.

    For many years I just did not want to look too deeply at the contradictions between the creation story and evolution. I was not an ardent creationist so I never looked that closely at it. But I had a vague idea that the evolutionists were misinterpreting the evidence. That is what most fundamentalists believe. So imagine their joy when they find people like Ken Ham to “confirm” what they already “know”!

    If they actually wanted to look closely at the bible they would realize that there are other scientific misconceptions in the bible that very few Christians would accept today. A flat earth, geocentrism, bats being classified as birds and four-legged insects are among them.

    I encountered one person who thought “michondrial Eve” confirmed the creation story. When I showed him the original conclusions of the scientists he had never heard of that and questioned my source! It was all over the news and yet the only sources he relied on were creationist sources. I have seen so much deception in these sources as far as what they CLAIM are the conclusions of mainstream scientists and then they try to refute something that the scientists NEVER SAID in the first place.

    People can believe what they want, my only problem is that they want everyone else to kowtow to them and agree with them.

  • generation4Him

    I love the Schleiermacher quote….thanks for digging that up and sharing it!

  • Kareem Jordan

    As an atheist, I’m always fascinated by the religious people who insist that faith is a virtue, but never want to admit their beliefs are based on faith.

  • ArthurPaliden

    If Creationism is correct you must reject the underlying science that supports the Theory of Evolution. This includes rejecting the fundamental principles of chemistry since it is the fundamental principles of chemistry that cause the variations in DNA replication which in turn cause the mutations that drive The Theory of Evolution.

    So if you reject the fundamental principles of chemistry, that chemical reactions are automatic and rule based, then you must believe that God Himself preforms each and every chemical reaction in the Universe.

    Now according to the Bible Man has free will. This means that God does not know what Man is going to do nor when he is going to do it.

    So if I have a glass of vinegar and a spoon full of baking soda, it is up to me alone if and when I put the baking soda into the vinegar to to produce CO2. God does not know when this will happen because I have free will.

    Yet when I do put the baking soda into the vinegar the expected reaction happens. Which because the fundamental principles of chemistry are in error can only happen if God is doing it.

    Therefore I have summoned God to do my bidding. I have dominion over God.


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