Not long ago, we talked about a bunch of stuff—like apologetics arguments—that Christians mistakenly think is evidence supporting their various claims. Now, I want to zero in on one particular flavor of apologetics: the kind we encounter in Creationism.
Yes, this sad, weird ideology still exists. Its leaders still cheerfully distribute their dishonest ideas to their adherents. But in recent years, they’ve experienced a bit of mission drift. I can see why. Today, let’s explore what’s been going on in Creationism lately so we can see why they’ve moved away from their former apologetics mission.
(This post went live on Patreon on 10/12/23. Its audio ‘cast lives there too and should be available now!)
A brief rundown of the rise and fall of Creationism
When we talk about Creationism, we generally mean the Young-Earth variety shilled by major Creationist grifters. In this variant, Yahweh magicked the universe into existence about 6000 years ago. All the life-forms on Earth were magicked into life alongside humans, with no major evolutionary changes ever occurring anywhere. There are plenty of other variants, but that’s the one Creationist grifters usually push. (If you’re wondering about dinosaur bones, those are either a demonic trick to sow doubt or a divine puzzle meant to get humans working together more effectively; I’ve literally heard both explanations myself from Creationists.)
As strange as it might seem, modern-day Creationism is a pretty new beast. It didn’t really get started in earnest until the 1980s and 1990s. The lawyer usually credited with starting the movement, Phillip E. Johnson, didn’t even get his marching orders from Jesus until the mid-1980s!
By the mid-1980s, of course, I was Pentecostal. As such, I fully believed in a literal, inerrant Bible. But I’d already learned about real science, and nobody was really talking about Creationism anyway. So I wasn’t Creationist. At most, I was one of those people who thought Yahweh had guided things along, or gotten things started and then let it all happen. I just didn’t think about it much. Creationism wasn’t a required belief in my end of Christianity at the time, either. It was embarrassing when my Evil Ex and I heard sermons from men who made Creationist claims. We’d look at each other with a pained grimace, like we were asking if the other had heard that bullshit just now.
For the leaders of Creationism, though, this was all very serious business. Within a very short time, they’d managed to convince evangelical and fundamentalist leaders alike that their worldview was not only correct but required.
And then they turned their sights to taxpayer-funded public schools in America. They knew that to survive, they needed to start their indoctrination early—and to reach children whose parents weren’t exactly taking the family to church every Sunday. After some minor skirmishes and squabbles with real scientists and science teachers, they finally got their wish for a big huge upper-level court blowout trial in 2005: the landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.
And Creationists lost that case miserably. They would never again get close to being allowed to teach Creationism in public-school science classes.
Years later in 2014, one of their biggest grifters, Ken Ham (who started Answers in Genesis) debated science presenter Bill Nye about his favorite subject. Objectively speaking, Nye absolutely wiped the floor with his opponent.
Those two years—2005 and 2014—were the high-water marks for Creationists. It was all downhill from there. Not even Ham’s pathetic theme park, Ark Encounter—with its hilariously, distinctly, obviously un-seaworthy model of Noah’s Ark—could revive the movement.
Nowadays, I don’t hear a lot about Creationists or Creationism unless it’s part of a discussion of literalism.
Creationism as apologetics
Though Creationist leaders try very hard to pretend that Creationism is a valid scientific model, it’s actually just a branch of apologetics. And Creationist leaders themselves know this. We see this admission on the “About” page of Answers in Genesis:
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics (i.e., Christianity-defending) ministry dedicated to enabling Christians to defend their faith and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively.
Their “About” page hasn’t changed much at all since 2014. So Creationism = apologetics represents a standard belief for them. These evangelicals utilize Creationist ideas and arguments to PROVE YES PROVE that Christianity’s claims are totes for realsies true.
The other Creationist sites take similar tacks, though none specifically described themselves as apologetics-based. Creation.com says that its ultimate purpose is “Proclaiming the truth and authority of the Bible.” The hilariously misnamed Discovery Institute exists, in its leaders’ own words, “to advance a culture of purpose, creativity and innovation,” which they express through a racist, colonialist screed about protecting and advancing “Judeo-Christian culture,” which they conflate in turn with “Western culture.”
Whether explicitly stated as such or not, though, Creationist arguments completely rely upon the format of apologetics. All they’ve got is words, words, words. For decades now, Creationists have performed almost no original research whatsoever.
(Their researchers kept deconverting after realizing that Creationist claims are false. Whoopsiedoodleboodle! In the Dover trial, a prominent Creationist, Michael Behe, described a “thought experiment” he thought would PROVE YES PROVE something or other. But then, he had to admit on cross-examination that neither he nor any other Creationist had ever bothered to actually perform that experiment.)
When someone doesn’t have facts to discuss, then all they’ve got left is emotional manipulation if they want to persuade others.
The myths at the heart of Creationism
For the most part, Creationists tend to focus on the biggest myths in the Bible:
- Creation, Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the Fall of Man, etc (Genesis chapters 1-3)
- Great Flood/Noah’s Ark (Genesis 6-8)
Very occasionally we see these:
- Tower of Babel (Genesis 11)
- Fall of Jericho (Joshua 6)
- Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19)
Creationists don’t tend to focus much on smaller myths like Jonah and the Whale (the Book of Jonah). Nor have I ever seen a Creationist adequately tackle the question of exactly how Jacob’s magic sticks made sheep and goats give birth to strong young with speckled or spotted coats.
Not that they haven’t made piss-poor stabs at that last one. Answers in Genesis’ attempt invokes “medicinal herbs.” The livestock in that myth are not depicted as consuming any of the sticks, only seeing them. That is precisely why this ancient bit of folk-magic is so, well, miraculous. But even Answers in Genesis realizes that shrugging and saying DUHHH, it’s MAAAAGIC won’t cut it.
Creationists tend to act like once they’ve explained why their myth of choice totes for real happened, then their marks must fall to their knees, admit the rest of the Bible must be similarly true, and convert on the spot. When that utterly fails to happen, Creationists accuse their marks of being poopyheads in denial.
The mission goal and general format of apologetics remains the same even if it tackles Creationism
In apologetics, the goal is always to make targets perceive Christianity as less ridiculous and more plausible. That’s it. An apologist operates like a lawyer in a courtroom, which isn’t at all surprising given Creationism’s origins. In a courtroom, lawyers argue cases not to determine what actually happened, but to sell their particular version of what might have happened. The winner is the lawyer who made their side sound most plausible and least ridiculous. That’s why really good lawyers cost so much money: they’re really good at making audiences (juries) believe a desired scenario really happened.
That’s a big reason why so many Creationists felt that Ken Ham actually bigtime won his 2014 debate with Bill Nye. Everybody but Creationists came out of that wincing and cringing on behalf of Ken Ham. But Creationists all thought he’d done a stellar job. They declared victory. Ken Ham still even has the full debate up on Answers in Genesis’ YouTube channel.
Here’s how that happened:
Bill Nye acted like a scientist in that debate, while Ken Ham acted more like a lawyer. People who value and understand science saw Ken Ham using apologetics arguments and other manipulation to sell his ideas rather than facts, and so they deemed Ham the loser. But Creationists don’t value science. They don’t even know how to approach fact-based presentations like what Nye provided. Rather, they value fancy apologetics footwork and the regurgitation of tribalistic beliefs. Ken Ham more than met that low standard, and so they cheered for him.
I think Creationists kinda knew deep down, though, that Nye had made them and their beliefs look absolutely bees-headed. After that 2014 loss, what had been a very lively debate scene for fundagelicals just fizzled out.
Once again, Creationists had gotten exactly the big huge showdown they’d wanted for years, and once again, they’d utterly lost in the worst and most humiliating way possible.
Sidebar: The end of the grand apologetics debates
I only noticed a year or two ago, incidentally, that debates in general with apologists had fizzled out too. Once upon a time, these debates were everywhere. Maybe scientists finally realized it was time to engage more with these wackadoodle sorts and pseudoscientists, as Dr. Sean Carroll, an astronomer and cosmologist, did when he debated apologist William Lane Craig just a few weeks after “Ham on Nye” in 2014.
In that debate, Carroll kicked Craig’s ass up one side and down the other. And that had to be a real surprise for Craig, who is an excellent debater. (Hey, credit where it’s due. There’s got to be a mighty short list of people who can best Craig in a formal debate. I’m sure not on it.)
As we saw with Ken Ham proudly posting his utter failure to his site, Craig listed his own 2014 failure on his official list of debates (he lists it as 2015, but under that he gives it the correct date).
Neither evangelical is shying away from displaying these debates on their official sites. And that is likely because both of them regard these debates as successes by their tribalistic standards. The two men use similar strategies, similar arguments, and similar attempts at emotional manipulation. But Craig isn’t even a Young-Earth Creationist, which as you might guess really torques them.
In Creationism, as in apologetics, actual little-f facts take a major backseat to the presentation of the tribe’s cherished big-T Truthiness claims. Eventually, I think audiences began to realize that and reject Creationist claims of victory in these debates.
The main tactics used in apologetics, Creationist and otherwise
To see the tactics that Creationists use in their apologetics, let’s take an in-the-wild sightseeing tour of both regular Creationists and non-Creationist apologetics. We’ll stick with Answers in Genesis and William Lane Craig as sources, since we’ve gotten so cozy with them already. Remember, Craig’s not a Young-Earth Creationist, just an upper-tier debater and apologist.
Narcissistic complaints about how very, very mean and stupid their critics are:
- “Genesis 30:37–31:16 is a section of Scripture often held up to ridicule by skeptics, and even some of those committed to biblical inerrancy and authority struggle with understanding and explaining to others.” (Answers in Genesis)
- “‘Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge’ [Quote from scientists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow]. The professional philosopher can only roll his eyes at the effrontery and condescension of such a statement.” (William Lane Craig)
- “Standing Against the Secularists Who Want to Outlaw Christianity” (Ken Ham re: Ark Encounter)
- “So those who say that apologetics is not effective with unbelievers must be speaking out of their limited experience.” (William Lane Craig)
Begins with a conclusion and works its way backwards to shoehorn in arguments that support it:
- “The Bible—’the history book of the universe’—provides a reliable, eye-witness account of the beginning of all things, and can be trusted to tell the truth in all areas it touches on. Therefore, we are able to use it to help us make sense of this present world. When properly understood, the ‘evidence’ confirms the biblical account.” (Answers in Genesis)
- “Religion furnishes the conceptual framework in which science can flourish. Science is not something that is natural to mankind.” (William Lane Craig, and I’m guessing he thinks religion being older than the scientific method makes it more “natural to mankind;” that’s an appeal to age/tradition/custom!)
Attacks on our perception of reality and ability to discern objective facts:
- “True science corroborates Scripture” (subheading, Answers in Genesis)
- “Unfortunately the current neo-Darwinian synthesis seems to be explanatorily deficient in its explanation of the gradual rise of biological complexity. In the first place, the neo-Darwinian mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection work far too slowly to produce, unaided, sentient life.” (William Lane Craig, and later in the same paragraph he name-checks the same Michael Behe that we already know conducted no research at all)
Appeals to the consequences of rejecting Creationism/apologetics:
- “I would say the decline is happening for the same basic reason: God’s people didn’t stand on God’s Word from its beginning. In this era, the compromise between evolution/millions of years and Genesis began in England and spread around the world. [. . .] If God’s people don’t contend for the faith, we will see Christianity outlawed even further in our culture!” (Ken Ham, re: Ark Encounter)
- “While not necessary for warranting Christian belief, it [apologetics] is, I believe, nonetheless sufficient for warranting Christian belief and therefore of great benefit. Apologetics plays a vital, and perhaps crucial, role in shaping culture, strengthening believers, and evangelizing unbelievers.” (William Lane Craig)
Flat declarations of victory without all those irritating middle steps of demonstrating one’s evidence:
- “For the authors affirm and argue for the facts of an absolute beginning of time and the universe and of the apparently miraculous fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.” (William Lane Craig)
- “Given the desperation and/or irrelevancy of their proffered answers to the questions that motivated their inquiry, their book turns out to be quite supportive of the existence of a transcendent Creator and Designer of the cosmos.” (William Lane Craig)
Incomprehensible reworking of Bible verses to support a bizarre reach that makes no sense at all:
- “We need to keep in mind that this was a vision and that the striped/spotted animals were most likely God showing Jacob the underlying genetic makeup of some of the flock.” (Answers in Genesis; they also claim the sticks functioned as “herbal remedies and extra feed” to make for stronger offspring, and no, they don’t cite any sources for ancient Near Eastern cultures doing anything like that. Nor do we see this totes-for-realsies advice used anywhere else in the Bible. Nor do they offer any animal husbandry sources like this one that could potentially advise shepherds to use watering holes/troughs as a mating site.)
Appeals to authority that don’t actually rise to the level of supporting evidence:
- “The former agnostic physicist Paul Davies comments, ‘Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact.’  Similarly, Fred Hoyle remarks, ‘A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics.'” (William Lane Craig)
Actual evidence presented:
- [this space left intentionally blank]
Creationism is still very much a thing in evangelical Christianity
Creationists have never once presented a single reason to believe that Creationism is a thing that really happened. Despite that challenge, Creationists are still alive and well in America. They’re just not quite as obvious as they once were. They might not even be as numerous.
Gallup claimed in 2019 that the number of Creationists has stayed fairly stable at 40% of Americans. But as usual, the way the question is presented matters a lot. Pew Research estimates them at 18-31% of Americans, which is an interesting drop.
And they’ve learned to adapt a little to changing circumstances.
Yes, they’ve evolved!
Over at Answers in Genesis, we can see that almost none of their recent writings actually deal with, well, Creationism. Instead, they’ve completely thrown themselves into the culture wars. Recent headlines attack abortion rights, trans people, racial diversity, and any forms of marriage that don’t align with evangelical men’s fantasies.
But really, they’ve trended this way for years now. At a rough count, it looks like no more than about 10% of their articles within the last couple of years actually discuss Creationism. Five years ago, they ran a lot more Creationism articles. (Here’s their news tag, scrolled wayyyy back.) By contrast, William Lane Craig has stayed more on point.
To a certain extent, Answers in Genesis is simply trying to stoke outrage and fear. Their entire reason for existing is to keep children and America evangelical through nonstop hammering at Creationism apologetics. These articles paint a terrifying picture for their target audience. These Creationists clearly hope it’s terrifying enough to open some wallets!
William Lane Craig’s style of apologetics is a lot more evergreen. He doesn’t need to do much to sell his products beyond presenting them as persuasive evidence. These days, most evangelicals erroneously regard apologetics as actual evidence for Christian claims anyway. Young-Earth Creationism is a little harder to sell outside of a very fringe end of evangelicalism.
Still, there’s one very good benefit from both Creationism and apologetics using the same exact styles of persuasion. Once someone learns to recognize the problems in one, they’re set to notice them in the other. It’s all bad arguments and manipulation all the way down. There’s never a base of facts to support anything going on in Christianity.
“Logic makes a terrible God”
I’ve had this topic on my mind for about a week now. I’ve twisted and turned in my bed at night trying to figure out how to talk about this. And it all started with a fantastic Twitter/X post by a guy called “Zero HP Lovecraft.” I know nothing whatsoever about him besides what he wrote on September 30 this year about apologist Matt Slick, who runs an apologetics website called CARM, and his deconverted daughter, who goes by Aella online. I don’t agree 100% with it, but I want you to see it because it really about covers
flybys apologetics in general.
Here’s part of it:
There’s a type of person who thinks religion is a debate club. You know the type, these smarmy, or entirely too self-assured types; they are not particular to any one ideology, but they are always repellent wherever you find them.
Often these types are myopically convicted of their own rationality, or to be more specific, they are convinced that their own beliefs rest not on any kind of irrational moral sentiment but rather on a bed of pure unassailable logic and rationality. [. . .]
You meet these types who have memorized 100 arguments that supposedly establish the truth of their faith; ontological arguments, teleological arguments, cosmological arguments, moral arguments, and so on.
And you sort of have to wonder, if any one of these arguments were so convincing, then why do you need more of them?
There’s a perfect example of this, you might almost say God created him as a parable, to show us what is wrong with this approach.
This man’s name is Matt Slick, and you’ve probably heard of his daughter. Matt raised his daughter in exactly the way I’ve described, he thinks he has placed his faith in God, but no, he has placed it in logic. And logic makes a terrible God, because logic will take you wherever your heart wishes to go, it will bend any perception into the necessary shape to affirm whatever you already believe in your heart.
And when we look at Matt’s daughter, who goes by the name of Aella, What do we see?
We see in fact, that he has perfectly transmitted his faith to his daughter, she has apprehended the shape of his God not from the names that he prayed to, but from the functional understanding that he modeled for her in his integration with being. [. . .]
They are exactly the same person. They are the same ideology. When you try to reduce your religion to propositions and mechanisms of logic, there is no longer space for the divine.
This type of man thinks a single contradiction is enough to undermine an entire philosophy, or at best it is something to be excised, but he’ll never be able to understand how a contradiction becomes a source of strength.
He can never truly have faith in anything, not in Jesus or anything else, because the only space on the altar in his heart is occupied by his sad little god named logic. That’s why he collects so many arguments that supposedly marshal his faith, because he doesn’t actually believe in the first place.
I’d have so much more respect for Christians as a whole if they had the courage to accept that their Bible isn’t a history book or a science text, that it doesn’t always show their god(s) in a flattering light, that it really is just a product of its times—and even more so in translation. That their god probably doesn’t exist or do anything in the real world. That they’re the hands and eyes and lips of their religion, them alone, and it’s best that way anyway.
It’s not their lack of evidence that is unraveling their religion’s dominance from the inside out. It’s how they respond to that lack of evidence. Some accept it and go on to be decent human beings wherever they land religion-wise. Others shriek and screech and bellow that their claims are 100% literally true, hoping their voices will carry above the unraveling.
They do this because their entire basis for claiming power over all of us rests on their beliefs being 100% literally true, of course. We know that, too. Oh, we see them very clearly by now. We know how they structured their entire ladder of power according to their worldview. Back when it all started, it probably felt safe to do so. Now, though, it’s more and more obvious that their ladder of power rests on smoke and mirrors, not facts.
They were much better off claiming DUHHH, it’s MAAAGIC than trying to shoehorn logic into the form of a very ugly god stuffed into a very small box. Once the myth of the peeled sticks becomes just a possible herbal remedy for sheep, it stops proclaiming Yahweh’s mythic might. Take it from a former pagan: Once things degenerate that far, it’s impossible to recover that distinct sense of awe that pushes religions through the millennia to come.
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