When I was in college I began dating (we called it “courting”) a young man who believed that God created the world through evolution. His name was Sean. I had been taught young earth creationism, and it would be hard to find a young earth creationist more ardent than I was. Sean and I spent a good deal of time arguing this point through. We both enjoyed debate and we were both passionate (Sean had been a young earth creationist himself before spending time in the creation/evolution wars online).
Much of the time we spent arguing about creation and evolution involved me throwing out a criticism of evolution that I’d learned from Answers in Genesis and Sean refuting it by explaining how geology, biology, cosmology, etc., actually worked. I was still sure that I was right and Sean was wrong, ultimately, but I was learning a lot of science as we went along. I was homeschooled using young earth creationist textbooks, and while I learned about evolution I was mainly presented with a strawman. Now I was getting to know the actual thing.
One day I found out that Answers in Genesis would be putting on a conference at a local evangelical church. I was very excited because I was sure that this was what Sean needed—that if he heard it from the experts, it would “click” for him. Surely he couldn’t withstand talks by actual Answers in Genesis speakers! He would become an young earth creationist practically overnight, I was sure of it. As for Sean, he thought the experience would be interesting, and so we went.
As it turns out, the conference not only failed to change Sean’s mind, it also made me very uncomfortable. I came away from the experience extremely unsettled. Why? Because the talks sounded completely different when I actually had a handle on the science being discussed. This point and that would be made, and I would sit there squirming, because I knew they were misrepresenting the theory of evolution or making arguments that were simply ludicrous. The entire thing appeared incredibly shallow and uninformed. To say that it was disappointing would be an understatement.
Shortly after attending this conference I told Sean I wanted to call a timeout on discussion of creation and evolution. I had gotten to the point where I felt confused and befuddled and wanted to do some independent research of my own. So I did. Rather than just relying on Answers in Genesis for information, I compared their materials to arguments for evolution, especially those located at the Talk Origins archive. I looked up original studies, read the words of scientists, and tried to understand rather than to fight. After about a month, I had seen enough.
The nice thing about Sean is that he never said “I told you so.” Even to this day, he hasn’t uttered those words. He respects it when people are willing to admit they were wrong and change their minds in response to new evidence.
Some time after this, my parents took both Sean and I to the Creation Museum run by Answers in Genesis. I think they honestly thought it would change our minds. It didn’t. Once again I found myself disappointed, but this time I was not surprised. I expected it. It’s not that the displays weren’t beautiful or well put together. It’s that now that I actually understood science and the theory of evolution, what Answers in Genesis said no longer made sense. Half of what they presented involved misrepresenting the theory of evolution and the other half consisted of Bible verses.
I can’t help but return, again, to the Answers in Genesis conference I attended with Sean in the midst of our ongoing discussions of creation and evolution. If asked, I’m sure Ken Ham would say that Answers in Genesis holds its conferences to strengthen evangelicals’ adherence to young earth creationism. In my case, though, their conference did the opposite. It turns out that their presentations and materials are easy to see through when one already has a solid understanding of science and the theory of evolution.