Encounters with Creationists

by David C. Wise

One thing that almost all of us involved in creation/evolution end up doing is encountering members of the other side of the issue. Furthermore, most of those encounters involve some kind of a discussion. Or at least the attempt to discuss the issue, since what ensues is rarely what you should expect, yet has sadly come to be expected.

Of course, I am writing from the perspective of trying to carry on a discussion with proponents of creation science. While I am sure that several creation science opponents also display less than commendable behavior, I cannot help but notice that there seems to be a very definite pattern in the conduct of the vast majority of creation science proponents. So much so that I feel it to be a worthwhile exercise to examine and analyze that conduct. I feel that it results directly from their goals and methods and that it has a direct bearing on the merit (or rather the lack of merit) of their case. Especially since the conduct in question is most often observed in the more experienced creationists.

Here is what I and others have observed in our dealings with creationists:

  1. At first, they are most willing and eager to talk with you about creation science. Some will even offer to go very much out of their way to "show you the truth".

  2. As soon as they realize that you know too much already and that you can see through their claims, they are no longer so eager to talk but rather start looking for ways to end the discussion. Some creationists will still try to convince/convert you, but as soon as they realize that they cannot then they too will try to break contact.

  3. If you try to continue the discussion, then they will resort to increasingly unpleasant conduct in order to drive you away. (examined in more detail below)

This is my understanding of what is going on:

I'm not the only one to notice this conduct of young-earth creationists. Carl Drews is a Christian who never had any real problem with evolution but has very definite problems with creation science's lack of truthfulness and how it leads other Christians to abandon truthfulness. On his site, Evolution, One Christian's Perspective, he sums up his own experiences with young-earth creationists:

Typical Encounters with Young-Earth Creationists

A few times I have written to the authors of young-earth creationist publications, pointing out some inaccuracy or a faulty analysis. The encounter follows the following pattern:

  1. I write to them.
  2. They write back to me refusing to admit error; "I make no apologies." They defend their position and manner of expressing it. I notice some misinterpretation of my letter, or ignoring of what I clearly said.
  3. If I write back to them a second time, rebutting their response or bringing up another point,
  4. Their communication becomes unpleasant.
  5. At this point I have nothing further to do with them.

(http://www.theistic-evolution.com/theisticevolution.html#Typical Encounters with Young-Earth Creationists)

Look familiar?

In more detail, here is the typical general pattern I've seen:

  1. At first, they are glad to talk with you about their claims. However, that means you accepting their claims without question.
  2. Once they find that you know what's going on, they become reticent. This reaction is usually triggered by your commission of one of the following "offenses":
    • You question any of their claims.
    • You try to discuss their claims with them. It's surprising how much they hate that!
    • You ask them to present some of that evidence they keep claiming to have.
    • You ask them to present their scientific creation model. They keep claiming that they have one, but they absolutely refuse to present it.
  3. They immediately clam up and try to break contact, maybe by using some of the following tricks:
    • They try to divert your attention away from your question with a "rabbit trail":
      • They might flatter you in an attempt to "smile you out the door".
      • They might try to raise another unrelated issue in the hope of miring you down there.
      • They might throw an "unanswerable" question at you in the hope of scaring you away or luring you off into an untenable position.
      • They might try to reverse roles and/or claim the complete opposite of what had actually been said and then work to frustrate all attempts to set the record straight.
      • They might just try to change the subject completely; eg, start insisting on a unacceptable personal meeting.
    • They immediately drop the claim in question, with or without explanation or retraction, and throw a different claim at you. In a number of such cases, I have then seen the same creationist later use that very same first claim on somebody else.
    • They will find any excuse they can for not discussing or defending their claim. And they will almost never say why they had chosen to present that claim in the first place nor what they had personally thought it meant.
    • They will pretend to "answer" the question, but their response will be vague and will avoid your actual question.
    • They will try to reverse roles and insist that you produce the evidence/information that you have requested. It is shocking how commonly used this trick can be. Duane Gish used it to avoid supporting his bullfrog-protein claim that he had made on national TV, a few creationists have tried it on me over the years on CompuServe, and a creationist just now tried it to avoid presenting his "research" on protein comparisons.
    • They will distort or misconstrue what you had said and take you to task for it.
    • They will construct a strawman opponent that they will claim is your position, even though it does not even remotely resemble your actual position and even if you had already presented your position. Too often, I have witnessed YECs thus accuse fellow Christians and non-YEC creationists of being "anti-Christian atheists."
    • They will accuse you of having insulted them. Usually, they will refuse to tell you what that insult was supposed to have been. That makes it very difficult to apologize or to resolve misunderstandings, which appears to be exactly how they want it.
      For example, a YEC emailed me recently with general claims concerning his research in comparing amino-acid sequences and how it "disproved" evolution. I expressed my genuine interest in seeing his data and examining his methodology, to which he responded: "Your response was so offensively hostile that I have decided to terminate any further discussion." Of course, he completely avoided having to support his claims in any way. I have observed the same YEC on an on-line forum that he adminsters and where he repeatedly uses personal attacks -- both against the person he is "responding" to and against any source with which he does not agree -- as a primary method of argument.
    • They will become increasingly hostile and will insult you.
    • They will mock you.
    • They will switch to blatant proselytizing.
    • They will resort to the "Christian Death Threat" in which they try to scare you with threats of eternal torment in Hell. I understand that Kent Hovind has concluded a number of his debates by promising that his opponent is going to burn in Hell; he has also told that directly to a high-school student.
    • They just plain refuse to respond.
    However they try to get rid of you, they will almost always have avoided answering your question.
  4. If you try to pursue the matter or try to get an answer to your question, then they will use a more drastic response from the ones listed above.
  5. Further attempts on your part will ellicit their escalation to even more drastic responses.

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First uploaded on 2002 May 20.
Updated on 2011 August 02