Answers in Genesis wants to have its cake and eat it too

I noticed a few short articles in the July-September 2012 issue of Answers in Genesis that I found interesting (page 13). Here is an excerpt from one called Hoosier Hopes Dashed:

Though Answers magazine has never advocated forcing public school instructors to teach creation, at a minimum teachers should have the freedom to present significant problems with evolution. Such academic freedom would serve the best interests of all scientific research and teach students to think analytically, rather than accepting popular views uncritically.

And this from Academic Freedom Not OK in the UK:

Once again, evolution activists have succeeded in muffling challenges to their worldview. Just as disturbing, these activists are preventing students from exercising their critical thinking skills to differentiate between observations and hypotheses so that they can judge for themselves which model of origins is more reasonable.

When I read these excerpts, I just had to laugh. Why? Because when Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham and Georgia Purdham responded to some of my critiques of their ministry a couple months ago, they said something very different – something that didn’t seem to have much at all to do with “academic freedom” or letting people see the evidence judge for themselves between creation and evolution.

I explained in my Why I Am An Atheist that I had been taught Answers in Genesis’ version of creationism and had thought it was true – after all, I’d never actually been exposed to evolution outside of the straw man versions of evolution explained by creationist organizations and textbooks. As I explained, when I went to college I was exposed to the actual science behind evolution and heard the theory actually explained, rather than interpreted through creationist texts. It was at this point that I held up creation and evolution side by side and sought to examine and compare them analytically and critically, just as the excerpts above seem to endorse. After months of thought, argument, and study, I found that the evidence lay on the side of evolution, and against creation. And so, valuing honesty, I changed my views on that subject, and after several years of spiritual journeying ended up an atheist.

Answers in Genesis’ Georgia Purdham and Ken Ham both responded to my Why I Am An Atheist post. But rather than either congratulating me on critically examining both sides of the issue and judging for myself rather than any views uncritically or arguing that I’d missed some evidence and showing me where I’d gone wrong in my study of science – which, given the above quotes, is what you would think they would do – they instead appealed to the authority of the Bible.

Libby seems to have things backwards. It’s not that “we know the Bible is true because young earth creationism is true,” but rather because the Bible is true we can believe what God said in Genesis about the time frame in which He created.

This reminds me of a statement in Answers in Genesis’ statement of faith:

By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.

Answers in Genesis seems to want to have its cake and eat it too. It claims to be in favor of students approaching both creation and evolution analytically and using critical thinking to determine for themselves which is most sound, but when one of its own young people does so and comes to a different conclusion the organization is quick to jettison its argument from evidence and argue that we can know creationism is true because the Bible says so. Furthermore, Answers in Genesis is quick to appeal to argue for teaching both sides in public schools, but it does no such thing for its captive audience in Christian schools and homeschools, who are taught creationism and only exposed to a straw man version of evolution in order to pillory it.

So what is it? Are we to believe creationism because of critical thinking and unbiased analysis, or because the Bible says its true? Are we to teach both creation and evolution so that students can “judge for themselves,” or are we to teach children that creationism is categorically true and evolution is a joke?

Answers in Genesis is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. When it tries to trot creationism into the classroom – whether it be Indiana or the UK – it speaks of academic freedom and analytically examination and critical thinking and people judging for themselves between differing hypotheses. But when it comes to its own audience, it appeals to the Bible first and foremost.

Which is it? Sometimes Answers in Genesis appeals to science and scientific thinking, and other times it appeals to the Bible and faith. The name of the organization makes it clear where its real priorities lay, but when speaking to a wider audience Answers in Genesis downplays the Bible and faith and appeals to science and scientific thinking. This strikes me as incredibly deceptive. Which is ironic for an organization taking its name from a book that condemns lying. And it’s also maddening.

The truth is, Answers in Genesis seems to think it can have its cake and eat it too.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Latebloomer

    Just like for many other issues (homosexuality is another example), there is “what you say to fellow fundamentalists” vs. “what you tell the rest of the world”, and the two are widely divergent.

    • AztecQueen2000

      It ain’t just the Christians who have this problem. I became Orthodox Jewish about 6-7 years ago, and find a lot of the PR was an out-and-out lie.

  • Didaktylos

    I can’t remember where I read this but I commend this for your consideration:

    When you are the one in power, I demand that you tolerate my dissent, because that is according to your principles. When I am the one in power, I decline to tolerate your dissent because that is according to my principles.

  • Eamon Knight

    When Pharyngula had rotating sidebar quotes, one that came up, by some Enlightenment figure was something to the effect that, when there are reasoned arguments to be made for religion, then the apologists make them. But when reason goes against religion, suddenly it’s all a matter of faith.

  • Jenora Feuer

    Really, it seems to me that they have three statements based on the beliefs of who they’re talking to:
    * When talking to someone who believes in creationism, they use appeal to the authority of the Bible, because pretty much anybody who believes in creationism will be following some religious text for it.
    * When talking to the vast majority of people who don’t really know enough to decide between creationism and evolution, they use the ‘academic freedom’ argument, because it can sound reasonable to those who don’t know better.
    * When talking AT (not to) people who actually understand and accept evolution, they use Gish Gallops and massive straw armies’ worth of apologetics; not because they actually expect to sway the scientist, but because for that they’re playing to the audience and more interested in making the actual scientist look bad to the undecided.

  • Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    It’s remarkable how much fundamentalists are afraid of critical thinking. Science has no issues with critical thinking or going at a theory with the question of ‘where is this theory weak?’ It’s funny that they are saying evolution should be taught with its weaknesses, and indeed I agree with that thought. Yes, teach the weaknesses of the ToE. Maybe one day, that curiosity will put a scientist in a lab to close that weakness or find better answers.

    Of course their version of ‘teach the weaknesses’ are to undermine the theory rather than show support for it, so it’s completely disingenuous.

  • Fiona

    Hi, just found your blog, hope you don’t mind, I linked it to the FSTDT facebook page as the ppl there will appreciate it. I have noticed this business of ‘teaching the controversy’ before. On several documentaries, including Dawkins and Bill Maher, Creationists, when interviewed, put themselves across as disingenuously open-minded: “We only want children to have access to knowledge. You’re not against knowledge, are you, Mr Dawkins”, etc. What struck me was how they all used the same words. Are they trained to say this stuff? I have seen Fundie websites that provide set answers for the blind-faith crowd to give to atheist challenges. And I cannot imagine, if a school board struck down evolution teaching that the creationist crowd would cry: “No, that’s not what we meant! We want to teach the controversy!” Not likely, is it?

    • Eamon Knight

      Promoting “free debate”, “academic freedom” and so forth is standard boilerplate among pseudo-scholars of all stripes. They always want an “open, honest debate” on evolution or global warming or the Holocaust or homeopathy whatever — and it’s always just cover for pushing their own agenda as if it hadn’t already been thoroughly discredited. Knowledge advances, which means questions get answered, and past a certain point acting as if there’s still doubt isn’t open-minded, it’s either ignorant or dishonest or both. Might as well have an “open debate” on the controversy over geocentrism vs. heliocentrism.