Over the years I have maintained an eye on the ever-changing organizational structure of several creation science ministries. The growth and in some cases retraction of some organizations is not unlike what happens to many non-profit or other para-church organizations. The growth of para-church organizations is frequently caused by one of two main drivers: a dynamic personality or a niche need and an organization that is adept at filling that need with quality resources. Of course having both can be fantastic. But the personality driven model is by far the easiest and quickest way to grown an organization whether the product is good or not. A non-profit if it wasn’t started by a high profile person may employ a famous spokesperson to instantly gain credibility and recognition. Of course such a strategy has a high amount of risk since its success is tied to an individual rather than a product. Recently we have seen a case where an organization has been decimated by the fall of its founder and high profile spokesperson. I’m referring to Lance Armstrong and his Livestrong charity (a Lance Armstrong foundation). You can probably already predict where I am going to go with this but let me back up a bit first.
Over on the blog, EyeonICR, it was recently reported that one of ICR’s new blogs has been terminated. That blog was part of the “Science Essentials” curriculum support sites meant to help science teachers. The person responsible for maintaining this blog has left the Institute for Creation Research to pursue other interests. That blog was of little consequence as it has attracted very little attention during its year of existence but it got me thinking about the history and future of ICR. I’ve written in the past (The Current State of the Creationism in the Reformed Church and Creation and the Internet: where do we go to learn about origins?) to the effect that I thought that Answers in Genesis was taking a larger and larger share of the resource pie from other creation organizations. In the future this would begin to have a negative impact on their abilities to provide the same level of commitment that they have today. I showed it was already true that AIG was getting a larger percentage of website traffic but as long as total traffic to creationists sites steadily grew everyone was still benefiting even it AIG was gaining in percentage. Correlated with that increased traffic organizations were still increasing their total revenues including donations. Now I believe we are seeing a flattening off (I don’t have the numbers to prove this yet but will work on securing some data in the future) of the total available resources (donations but probably not book sales) for creation science but AIG is almost certainly continuing their growth. This can only mean that other organizations are feeling the pinch. A proxy for these problems is their total output of goods (research, seminars and other events, publications etc..) and I think there are some clear trends downward for ICR in these areas.
Hearing about the demise of one of their new blogs I looked over ICRs website again and several things about their site really struck me, especially when I compare them to Answers in Genesis. First, ICR’s output has clearly contracted over the past 4 years. In 2007, ICR moved from California to Texas. Some of this had to do with difficulties they were having with the “graduate” degrees they were offering and it was hoped that Texas would offer a better educational environment for them to operate. They had many other reasons which you can read about on the Wikipedia page on the history of ICR. I used the wayback machine at the Internet Archive to look at old versions of the ICR page to remind myself of what I already new and that was that no less than 6 years ago, ICR offered several graduate degrees, they ran a creation museum, they had numerous research projects on-going and many conferences each year, they had a very popular kids radio show (Jonathan Park) and were publishing books by ICR authors right and left. In the past couple of years they have shed the museum and Jonathan Park, they have no graduate program other than a Christian Worldview curriculum and their book publishing has slowed way down. I looked at their list of “technical articles” published under their current page for scientists and the list has many for each year from 2000 through 2008 and then only two in 2009 and then NONE since that time published on their site. I doubt this is due to a lack of web maintenance since they have upgraded their site recently including this page. They did have a highly publicized project called RATE that seem to have taken all their resources and netted them a large single volume but hardly anything else of substance has been produced by them in the past three years. All told the reduction in the visibility and productivity at ICR is becoming quite obvious. How much of this is the result of resource limitation, purposeful withdrawal, or just lack of leadership is hard to say.
ICR vs AIG: Contrasting Marketing Models
What is ICRs strategy as an organization? As I mentioned above there are a number of strategies but ICR started as the brainchild of Henry Morris who was the father of modern-day creation science. His fingerprints were all over the organization from the 1970s through the early 2000s. Two of his sons are now CEO and President at ICR but they both play much lower profile roles in the organization than their father did. In fact, this is what really struck me when I looked at the web pages a few days ago. You would have to dig a long time to even find out who is in charge! I had to go to the events page and then look at the event speakers to see their profiles before I could confirm what I already new about the leadership of ICR. I can’t find anywhere on the site where it lists the organizational structure rather everyone looks rather equal when you see them on lists or as names on articles etc.. So the organization started with a high profile personality but has ended up focusing not on a particular person but putting the product ahead of the producer. This might be a conscious choice or it could be that there just isn’t a personality at ICR that can put a face to the organization right now. But I can not help but think the low profile of the people at ICR is purposeful.
The low profile of ICR leaders is in marked contrast with the personality driver organization that is Answers in Genesis. Can anyone doubt who runs every aspect of AIG? A quick visit to their home page will reveal at least one image of Ken Ham, a third of the front page dedicated to Kend Ham including an introduction, Ken Ham events, Answer with Ken, the Ken Ham blog, and today an article highlight that is by Ken Ham and numerous books to buy that always include at least one or more by Ken Ham. Nothing that is published there doesn’t run through him and have his fingerprints on it. The model here is very clear, Ken Ham started the ministry, grew the ministry on his reputation, and controls all aspects of it. His brother is now a vice president and his son is being groomed to take on more and more responsibilities. This is an organization that derives is legitimacy via personality first and its products second. I am sure he won’t see it that way but it is obvious that Ken Ham sells or why else would his name and figure be found on every single page? In fact, we know that many in the organization have feared that the organization was far too dependent on a person rather than a message since the split of AIG with what became Creation Ministries International had much to do with those that were cut off (by Ken Ham!) believing that Ken Ham had too much power. The transcripts of messages and letters as part of that break up make this very clear (send me a message if you are interested in the evidence).
ICR has taken on the polar opposite of the AIG approach. This could be partly the result of an attempt to paint themselves as the serious arm of creation science. They have tried to be the research arm of the creation science world providing the presumably in-depth analysis while AIG has really been just a user of information rather than a generator of new ideas or any form of critical analysis. I will say more about this in a future post that looks at the publications of these organizations. Is this approach working? I guess the jury is still out for ICR but it doesn’t look very good right now. ICR may not wish to be personality driven but if they don’t maintain a strong presence in the Christian community it is going to be hard to maintain the donations needed to run their research projects and publish their newsletters. AIG will become more and more synonymous with “creation science” to the point, if is isn’t already there, that they will be the go to source for all creation science information. Given that AIG is run so tightly by Ken Ham this means that creation science or young earth creationism is apt to become even more and more one-dimensional than it already is because the range of views allowed to be held at AIG (eg. by Ken Ham) is much narrower than it is in the broader creationist community.
The Future of ICR and AIG
I have suggested that ICR has not been particularly successful in the past five years but if they survive the next five they have a chance of becoming a dominant voice in creationism again. I say this because the history of organizations like AIG is quite clear. They do not maintain their dominance (market share to be overly commercial about this) in the long run. When Ken Ham can no longer maintain active control of the organization if he hasn’t already been able to transfer his clout to his son the organization will experience very difficult times. His building program has generated increased concern for the long-term viability of AIG because of this very fact. By putting so much money into marketing (the Creation Museum and now the Ark project) rather than into research products and other people he is counting on the popularity of AIG which is really the popularity of Ken Ham to sustain it. If that popularity suddenly wanes the financial burdens will be tremendous. The next few years should prove to be very dynamic and important for the future of the young earth creation movement in the US. Stay tuned for more analysis in the near future.
A follow up to this post: The Next Generation of Creation Scientists?