I intended to give this post more time and thought, but I owe it to those posters on Pharyngula and UTI - who generously answered my request for ideas - to convey a record of my encounter with the consummate showman of the young-earth Creationsists, Kent Hovind. (My boss reads my blog, so, for the record, this was written over a long lunch, off the clock…)
First, a bit about my background. For those of you that don’t believe that an indoctrinated YEC mind can muster the intellectual velocity to escape the orbit of a fundamentalist upbringing, I am the exception. I was home schooled and home churched throughout my childhood and adolescence in an isolated environment of fundamentalist doctrine and Biblical literalism. My science education was learned physically at the feet of Ken Ham, Henry Morris, John Morris, and Russell Humphreys. Their word was my confidence; their books, an extension to my Bible.
Enlightenment began for me at 16, when I entered college early, as many home schooled students do – academically ahead in all aspects except turning a trained intellect on the Bible. A complete biography of my de-conversion will wait for another post, but suffice it to say that now I consider myself an honest agnostic religiously and a methodological naturalist scientifically (Yes, that means I “believe” in evolution).
With this background, I entered the Hovind talk with no small amount of roiling emotion welling in my gut. I was five minutes late to the talk, and the 450 seat auditorium in our student center was packed to the aisles and walkways with at least 500 people – standing, sitting on stairs, listening from outside the auditorium. The church busses and vans outside betrayed that people had traveled from several surrounding counties for their science lesson, many, I’m sure, receiving “credit” in their home/church schools for attending. A vote requested by Kent at the beginning revealed a 75% pro-Creationist audience.
Kent did not stray from his usual talking points. These have been well-described at http://www.kent-hovind.com and http://www.talkorigins.org . He spoke only for 75 minutes before stopping to use the rest of the session for Q&A – a straight 3 hours!
Ah, the stupidity of the students who came to the mic! They came ill-prepared with their sophomore-level understanding of science and evolution and played right into the hand of the master performer who deftly redirected the audience with his 1000 PowerPoint slides – with the same vapid, well-worn answers for every evidence for evolution – ready with the click of a hyperlink to redefine any given question to fit the answer for which he had colorfully, graphically prepared. These kids did not realize they were dealing with a master manipulator and a very intelligent man who knows how to anticipate questions, redefine them into straw men, and burn them at the stake to the delighted cries and laughter of his self assured, uneducated audience.
I thus decided to take a different tactic. Knowing the audience to be predominantly YECs, I chose to draw upon my experience within that mindset to drive a wedge between him and more respected YEC thinkers. I thought this might get a few people to realize that hell does not await all those who counter Kent; lots of well-respected Christians do, without the expected lightning from heaven.
My conversation went thusly, as best I remember. He interrupted me during each sentence, so it did not come off this cleanly. The only actual quotes are in quotes. My comments in .
ZE: Creation science, as you’ve described it, is largely an observational science…
KH: Oh, no it’s not. [Begins rapidly flipping around his PowerPoint slides]
ZE: Observational sciences include the practice of creating hypotheses that best fit observations and checking those hypotheses for accuracy based on how well they fit existing and new evidence. It is on that basis they are accepted or rejected.
KH: [Motioning to his slide showing the Wright Flyer] The Wright brothers were Creationists and they were the first to fly. That’s not observational science.
ZE: That is completely off topic. The creation science you’ve been discussing has to do with the age of the earth. That is observational.
ZE: Please give me three examples of creation science ideas or hypotheses that you have rejected on the basis of a close examination of observed evidence. [Intending to show that he does not apply any critical thinking to the evidences he uses for a young earth – anything works as long as it makes the earth look young.]
KH: There are many evidences for a young earth. [He then went, slides and all, into a discussion of the Recession of the Moon argument.]
ZE: That’s based on a flawed model that assumes a constant rate of the moon’s orbit extending [a bit more back and forth]. But it’s off topic. Let me be more specific. In your talk you claimed that the speed of light has changed throughout history to prove that distant supernovas are less than 6000 years old. You also quoted Dr. Russell Humphreys' Creationist work, Starlight and Time, to prove the same point. Humphreys assumes that both general and special relativity are accurate – a point you discount in your educational material – and that the speed of time is constant and has been throughout history. Which is right? Is it constant or not?
KH: Humphreys is wrong, the speed of light has changed.
ZE: On the basis of what evidence?
KH: [Flipping back through his presentation] All these physicists who say the speed of light has changed.
ZE: Then why did you quote both to support your argument? Humphreys is a member of a Creationist group, Answers in Genesis, that has several web pages dedicated to debunking the science that you use.
KH: They shouldn’t do that. I think they should take them down. [And, upon further inspection, I think they have.] It comes down to this: “I’m right and they are wrong.” [A direct quote, emphasis mine.]
ZE: On the basis of what? They have trained scientists such as Kurt Wise from Harvard and Russell Humphreys – you have a degree from Patriot University!
KH: OK, now you’re doing an ad hominem attack. [Motions to cut off my mic.]
ZE: It’s not ad hominem since you just established yourself as the only basis of authority for your claim! I'm attacking the authority you established! [Realizing my mic is off, I get very angry and return to my seat.]
Again, the exchange was not this clean, and, I must admit, I made the mistake of getting angry in the face of his ever-smiling, happily-defending-the-faith visage. I got stuck winning the logic, but losing my composure. In all, I think most people got lost due to his indirections. Note that by appealing to the authority of better educated Creationists, I was not agreeing with them, just establishing them as a more respected source for the audience to use as a basis for critical thinking within their insulated minds.
And it worked. The end result was that I was treated afterwards by the exiting audience as a source of counterpoint to what they had just heard. I spoke to at least 10 people – both students of evolutionary biology who were confused about what they had just experienced and YEC kids who ranged from inquisitive to belligerent – about my alternative point of view. I pointed lots of folks to good websites. It may be a minor victory, but one that means a lot to me, since my mind was similarly opened by taking the first baby steps towards independent, critical thinking.
In closing, a few comments to those YECs that read my blog. When you see a guy like Kent Hovind, meditate for a moment about where you are putting your faith. Are you really putting your faith in the literal truth of Genesis, or are you putting it in the perceived confidence of an intelligent showman? As you leave the show, are you on an emotional high or an intellectual high? Will you follow up? Please read the Index to Creationist Claims on Talk Origins. Then answer me this one question. If you claim to believe by faith the literal accounts of Genesis that can be and have been demonstrated false by Christian and Atheist scientists alike, why should rational thinkers listen when you claim to put the same faith in Jesus for the sake of salvation? If your faith is tested this one way and fails, why should any thinking person believe you when you claim, by faith, anything else? Please consider the damage you are doing to a faith that, in my opinion, has a lot more to offer than rhetoric, illogic, and misdirection.