How should a movement dedicated to science denial warn its adherents against the evils of science denial? Young-earth creationism finds itself faced with just this problem as some of its followers slip toward the flat-earth fringe.
Answers in Genesis, the leading young-earth apologetics ministry, has responded by critiquing the flat-earth movement in a series of articles over the past several years. Ken Ham mentioned a flat earth just a week ago but a fuller—and most revealing, as we will see—response was issued in June (Reflections on the Flat-Earth Movement). Written by the organization’s resident astronomer, Dr. Danny Faulkner, the article comes hot on the heels of similar critiques in January 2019 and November 2018, both of which were preceded by several additional articles intended to debunk a flat earth.
Why is Answers in Genesis so obsessed with addressing the far-fetched idea that the earth is flat? Is it because flat-earthism is beginning to too draw some of its followers from the young-earth camp? Are flat-earthers criticizing young-earth leaders for compromising Biblical truth and not supporting flat-earth teaching? Whatever the real or perceived pressure that young-earth creationists feel, they are expending no small amount of effort to squelch a pseudoscientific idea they characterize as “cult-like.”
Calling the flat earth pseudoscience is ironic, given the language used by Faulkner. Jay Johnson made this especially apparent in a wonderful analysis of Faulkner’s June article first seen here.
Naturalis Historia guest contributor Jay Johnson spent 15 years as a journalist and publishing executive before God called him to a second career teaching English in the juvenile justice system, an experience he described in a 2004 article, School of Hard Knocks. His most recent piece, Practical Problems for Literal Adam, appears in the current issue of God and Nature magazine. Presently, Jay is preparing a paper for a theology-science conference at Northeastern Seminary and putting the finishing touches on a book proposal, Becoming Adam, Becoming Christ. Jay is represented by Bruce Barbour of Literary Management Group.
Jay realized, as others have, that the AiG piece well describes the problems with a flat earth, but all of Faulkner’s arguments apply equally well to a young earth.
To demonstrate, Jay decided to do an experiment. He copied and pasted Dr. Faulkner’s article into a Word doc and applied the “find/replace” tool to make five changes: Replace “flat” with “young,” “shape” with “age,” “a sphere” with “old,” “a globe” with “old,” and “astronomy” with “geology.”
The result? By switching just five terms, Jay discovered that Faulkner has inadvertently written one of the most articulate cases against young-earth creationism.
Danny Faulker has precisely identified, however unwittingly, the most serious problems with young-earth creationism, all the while intending to critique the flat-earth movement.
How can the exchange of just five words create a document that feels so natural as a critique of young-earth creationism? The answer is obvious. The young-earth movement suffers from virtually all of the same problems as the flat-earth movement, so the same critiques apply to both.
What follows are the portions of Jay’s modified version of Faulkner’s document that we found particularly prescient. Please note that we offer this analysis as a form of satire, which is protected under Fair Use. Like most satire, the piece is offered as a mirror, not as a joke. We hope that by turning Dr. Faulkner’s analysis around, he and other YEC leaders may recognize themselves and reflect upon their own biases, just as they attempted for flat-earthers. To that end, we offer some commentary at appropriate breaks in Faulkner’s edited article. Enjoy!
How Do We Know What We Know?
Young-earthers raise an excellent epistemological question: how do we know what age is the earth? For three decades, I asked this very question of students in the first semester of my introductory geology class. The context of this question was the early history of geology. I would ask my students what age they thought the earth had. All my students would answer that the earth was old… When I asked my students how they knew the earth was old, not one student could give me a good reason.
… if one becomes convinced that the earth is young rather than being old, that is a major change in one’s worldview. If the earth truly is young, then we have been lied to about the earth’s age our entire lives. One must ask how and why this lie was created and perpetuated. Ultimately, this line of thinking leads to the conclusion that there must be a vast conspiracy about the earth’s age that has been going on for a long time. … It seems that the conspiracy to hide the earth’s true age is the motherlode of conspiracies. All other conspiracies easily are subsumed by this one.
This is exactly what young-earth creationists expect us to believe: An ancient earth is a “vast conspiracy” that, once accepted, leads to other delusions such as evolution, stellar theory, and vain searches for extraterrestrial life forms.
Why is the cosmological conspiracy believed by young-earthers all-encompassing? The answer lies in the fact that the alleged conspiracy is cosmological. Cosmology is foundational to one’s worldview. If we have been lied to about such an important, fundamental issue, then all other conspiracies are relatively small matters in comparison. Once one comes to believe that there is a vast conspiracy about cosmology, it is a relatively easy step to believe in many other sub-conspiracies.
But young-earthers typically are undeterred by such advice. They dismiss it as the mere teaching of a man. They proudly proclaim that they want to stick solely with what the Bible says. They fail to understand the importance of sound teaching taught in the very Bible they profess to uphold. God has ordained the church for several purposes, including
instruction in the Scriptures. 1 Timothy 3:2 says that an overseer must be able to teach. But young-earthers frequently dismiss instruction from Godly men, insisting that they know more about what the Bible says than men who have devoted many decades to prayerful study of the Scriptures. It never occurs to young-earthers that they may be wrong in their understanding of the Bible. Nor does it occur to them that they have set themselves up as authorities on the meaning of the Bible, but their approach completely undermines the possibility of such an authority in the first place.
Wow! These are powerful arguments against a flat-earth, and no less so when turned on Faulkner’s own beliefs in a young earth.
Some young-earthers also fashion themselves to be experts on science and the methodology of science. Consequently, they think of themselves as competent to dictate to scientists, both godly and ungodly, on how science ought to be conducted. But their definitions and practice of science appear to be formulated to make science as generally understood impossible.
Where do these young-earthers get the notion that they are capable of rewriting so many disciplines of study? This is particularly galling when one considers the limited science education that most young-earthers seem to have achieved. Their ready stock answer is that they haven’t been indoctrinated by all those years of study. These young-earthers fail to realize that without all that study, they don’t even understand what they criticize.
Now, it’s true that Faulker has a Ph.D. in astronomy, which explains why the flat earth offends him. However, few YEC experts have ever done scientific research, and even those who have such credentials rarely speak on topics related to their expertise. For example, Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson’s training and research at Harvard has little to do with evolutionary biology or genetics, yet other YECs treat him as an expert in those fields. We also have heard many YECs make the claim that “they haven’t been indoctrinated” by studying under evolutionists, which somehow allows them to have a clearer understanding of evolution. Ken Ham regularly warns his followers to be wary of theologians and pastors with extensive seminary training. They are likely to have tainted thoughts! But, as Faulkner points out, flat earth “experts” lack training in astronomy, or they have degrees in unrelated disciplines. They “don’t even understand what they criticize,” which is absolutely true of most apologists for young-earth creationism. They speak confidently about that which they don’t understand.
It is intellectually lazy for Christians in their fear to insist on a strictly literal approach to all of Scripture. Sadly, young-earthers who demand this hyper-literal approach to the Bible readily abandon it when it suits them. Ultimately, young-earthers place themselves in a position of authority while simultaneously deconstructing the idea that there can’t be any authority other than Scripture. They are blind to the fact that they have equated their understanding of Scripture with what the Bible says.
Again, wow! Well said, Dr. Faulkner, and so true of the young-earth viewpoint.
Another irony is that while young-earthers regularly dismiss any teaching on Scripture that they disagree with as mere teachings of men, they readily embrace the teachings of men with whom they agree.
This reflects the teaching and followers of Ken Ham and other YEC apologists very well. They disparage Christians who hold to different interpretations of Genesis but tend to lack discernment in the scientific reliability of men who accept their statement of faith.
This raises the question of whether the Christian version of the young-earth movement is a cult. The young-earth movement has some elements of a cult. Young-earthers insist that their understanding of the Bible is the only true meaning of Scripture, dismissing all others as the mere teachings of men at best, and at worst, the work of the devil. This is the major defining characteristic of a cult. On the other hand, a cult often denies one or more cardinal doctrines of Christianity, such as the deity of Jesus Christ. While some individual young-earthers who identify as Christian may stray a bit from orthodoxy, there is no consistent pattern of denying central tenets of Christianity among young-earthers. Furthermore, a cult usually is led by a central figure. As of yet, there is not a single person who seems to be leading the Christian version of the young-earth movement.
Yes, we could provide countless examples of YECs who insist their understanding of the Bible is the only true meaning of Scripture and who discount other views as the work of the Devil. By itself, Ken Ham’s Twitter feed would yield nearly daily examples.
This passage also reveals the first difference between the flat-earth and young-earth movements. In the final paragraph, the edits to Faulkner’s article say something untrue about young-earth creationism: There is a central figure. Fifty years ago, it was Henry Morris. Today, his name is Ken Ham. Ham establishes the mood, sets the agenda, and consumes almost all the resources of the current young-earth movement.
I have found that young-earthers readily believe almost anything that a fellow young-earther says. A young-earther comes up with a very lame argument that he posts on the internet; soon, another young-earthers endlessly repeat the poor argument, an argument that is easily refuted and often contains demonstrably false information. Yet it is nearly impossible to convince young-earthers of the folly of the claim. At the same time, young-earthers are highly resistant to any arguments for the conventional cosmology. Consequently, young-earthers have no skepticism for the claims of fellow young-earthers but have nothing but skepticism (or is contempt a better word?) for those critical of young-earth views… When young-earthers finally post the memes outside of the young-earth echo chambers, they often are surprised by the sharp, and well deserved, criticism that they encounter. Yet, the firm believers of a young earth are never deterred by this, because, as I pointed out before, young-earthers have zero skepticism of young-earth claims and impossibly high skepticism for any opposing positions.
In order to escape the delusion of a young earth, believers in such ideology must first realize that they have been duped by some very poor arguments. But this means that they aren’t at the head of the class. Perhaps they aren’t even the bottom of the class. They may be miles away from the school building altogether. This is humiliating, even to admit to oneself. But if a young-earther has been vocal, coming out to friends and family as a young-earther, this is even more difficult. … Many young-earthers who claim to be Christian use terminology about their supposed biblical arguments that appear to have been lifted from creationists. I don’t think that this similarity is a coincidence. I believe that part of the agenda of the young-earth movement today is to mock and undermine arguments for biblical creation.
Young-earth creationism is much larger than the flat-earth movement. There are those within young-earth creationism who are skeptical of other YECs claims, but their voices are drowned out by Ken Ham and other “mainstream” creationist organizations. Among the average YEC follower, there is little criticism of Answers in Genesis, and as a result even poor arguments are endlessly repeated. YECs are conditioned to believe that anyone who critiques YEC arguments must be “compromisers,” “theological liberals” or “atheists.” Inevitably, both factual and interpretive errors are propagated widely within the YEC community.
Also, don’t miss Faulkner’s innuendo that flat-earth believers “claim to be Christian.” This is a common refrain in YEC literature. Others may claim the name of Christ, but anyone who questions young-earth arguments is automatically under suspicion. This is a strong point of rhetoric for YECs, signalling to their readers that any departure from young-earth doctrine puts their identity as Christians, and possibly their salvation, at risk.
So, I continue to battle this threat to biblical Christianity. I’m not interested in debating young-earthers. I don’t even try to convince them. Instead, my target audience is those who are true seekers, not those who think that they’ve already found truth in the falsity of young earth, without doing the proper research. I also provide answers to those who have seen the unfortunate effects of the young-earth movement in people that they know and love.
Interestingly, we have learned that Faulkner frequently does debate flat-earthers on FaceBook and elsewhere, but his advice, even if not heeded by himself, is sound. We also avoid debating strident young-earthers with whom discussion is not really possible. But there is an audience of those who are truly curious and seek something more than pat answers or comforting memes to reaffirm their tightly held convictions. For them, we hope Faulkner’s edited words will provoke serious reflection about the feasibility of a young earth.
In the end, the young earth makes just as much sense as the flat earth, which is to say none at all. The final sentence of Faulkner’s essay strikes us as especially poignant. The “unfortunate effects of the young-earth movement” include shipwrecking the faith of millions of young people through the false dichotomy of “evolution or the Bible.” We would characterize that result in far worse terms than “unfortunate,” but that would reflect our own choice of words, not Dr. Faulkner’s.
REMEMBER: The portions of the essay quoted above were written by a Young-Earth creationist to criticize the notions of Flat-Earth believers. Other than the global search replacements of just five terms, the words are Dr. Danny Faulkner’s.
This article is an adaptation by Jay Johnson and Joel Duff of comments first published on the BioLogos Forum page on August 4, 2019.
Cover image: Coloration of black and white engraving,The Atmosphere, by Camille Flammarion, 1888.