How (Not) to Challenge a Creationist

How (Not) to Challenge a Creationist February 8, 2014

I’ve seen Buzzfeed’s 22 messages from creationists to people who believe in evolution floating around facebook and the blogosphere for a couple of days now. It features pictures of individuals who attended the Ken Ham / Bill Nye debate holding messages written on notebooks. I’ve seen lots of people talking about how ridiculous the messages are, and I’ve seen some people talking about how stupid and profoundly ignorant those people must be. And in all of this, I almost missed that Buzzfeed also published 22 messages for creationists to people who believe in evolution.

Those of us who accept the science behind the theory of evolution all agree that questions like those posed by the creationists are ridiculous, largely because scientists have answers to them—and those answers seem blindingly obvious.

The second law of thermodynamics does not disprove evolution because the earth is not a closed system, there are numerous scientific theories on how the first single-celled organism originated, individuals who accept evolution do not generally give credence to the idea that aliens started life on earth, and Lucy is only one of many fossils from early human evolution.

But what I think we sometimes forget is that many of the questions posed for creationists by those who believe in evolution are equally ridiculous, and by that I mean that creationists have answers for them—and those answers seem blindingly obvious.

Creationists accept microevolution and have believe in evolution within kinds (such as finches). Creationists believe that the dinosaurs died out in the ice age that followed the flood as a result of huge changes in the earth’s climate—much like how scientists believe mammoths died out. Finally, creationists do read more than one book. The Creation Museum bookstore features hundreds of different creationists books, many of them written by credentialed scientists.

Yes, I am aware that many of the creationist messages reveal an ignorance of evolutionary science. But many of the messages for creationists also reveal ignorance—ignorance of what creationists actually believe or think, or at least of what creationists in the orbit of Answers in Genesis believe and think. I was raised a creationist, and I took to it with a passion. I grew up reading reams of creationist books and literature, everything I could get my hands on. I saw Ken Ham speak at conferences and eagerly obtained his signature for a keepsake. As I went through the images in that Buzzfeed page, I realized I could answer just about every one of them. Those messages were not so much challenging creationism as offering an invitation for creationism 101. A real challenge to creationism has to step beyond 101 questions and misunderstandings.

There are many enormous holes in creationist ideas that need to be pointed out. Answers in Genesis teaches that neanderthals, homo floriensis (“hobbit people”), and our own ancestors all evolved from the humans that were dispersed at the Tower of Babel in 2242 B.C., and that neanderthals and homo floriensis died out before our modern era. This would necessitate evolution on a timescale that not even evolutionary scientists see as feasible, and it would break basically every rule of genetics. Answers in Genesis also teaches that all of the rock layers in our geological column were laid down in a global flood, even though some of these rock layers show evidence of being laid down in dry, sandy conditions, some areas show evidence of animal burrows dug through multiple layers with long habitation, and there is no crossover of plants, animals, or even pollen between the layers. There are so many points where creationism confound both logic and science.

But unless we listen and respond to what creationists are actually saying, as long as we stick with responding to and laughing at a strawman version of creationism, creationists will see us as just as ridiculous as we see them.

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