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.

Added 2019 September 18

I found another explanation for creationists' abominably bad behavior. Basically, they are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that they are victims of hate and persecution because of their beliefs when in reality they are hated because of their own hateful treatment of others.

I found this reposted on Facebook. The original was taken from Quora as images which I have transcribed.

Why do people get angry when I try to share the word of God with them? I only do it because I care about them deeply and don't want them to end up in hell. I feel like some people avoid me because of this. Is there any way to get through to them?

by Doug Robertson, studied at University of Maine
Updated Dec 11 2018


The entire process is not what you think it is.

It is specifically designed to be uncomfortable for the other person because it isn't about converting them to your religion. It is about manipulating you so you can't leave yours.

If this tactic was about converting people it would be considered a horrible failure. It recruits almost no one who isn't already willing to join. Bake sales are more effective recruiting tools.

On the other hand, it is extremely effective at creating a deep tribal feeling among its own members.

The rejection they receive is actually more important than the few people they convert. It causes them to feel a level of discomfort around the people they attempt to talk to. These become the "others". These uncomfortable feelings go away when they come back to their congregation, the "Tribe".

If you take a good look at the process it becomes fairly clear. In most cases, the religious person starts out from their own group, who is encouraging and supportive. They are then sent out into the harsh world where people repeatedly reject them. Mainly because they are trained to be so annoying.

These brave witnesses then return from the cruel world to their congregation where they are treated like returning heroes. They are now safe. They bond as they share their experiences of reaching out to the godless people to bring them the truth. They share the otherness they experience.

Once again they will learn that the only place they are accepted is with the people who think as they do. It isn't safe to leave the group. The world is your enemy, but we love you.

This is a pain reward cycle that is a common brainwashing technique. The participants become more and more reliant on the "Tribe" because they know that "others" reject them.

Mix in some ritualized chanting, possibly a bit of monotonous repetition of instructions, add a dash of fear of judgment by an unseen, but all-powerful entity who loves you if you do as you are told and you get a pretty powerful mix.

Sorry, I have absolutely no wish to participate in someones brainwashing ritual.

I think that this explanation has a lot of merit.

It also ties into Bob Altemeyer's (https://www.theauthoritarians.org/, which includes his 2006 book on the subject available in several formats for free download; it's a very interesting read) description of how right-wing authoritarians (those who score high on the RWA scale) view the world, which is tribal. High RWAs tend to view the world as "them versus us" in which they have their own in-group ("us") and they view everybody else as being in an out-group ("them"). And they believe that the out-group is hostile to their in-group and threatens it. Thus high RWAs live in near-constant fear and hatred of "them".

Bob Altemeyer is a retired associate professor with the Department of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. After receiving his PhD, he specialized in authoritarianism, conducting research and writing several papers on the subject. His papers were filled with mathematics, so in 2006 he wrote a book, The Authoritarians, which summarizes his decades of research and presents his findings in a much more accessible format (eg, with minimal mathematics). This page on his site offers copies of his book in four different formats, two of which (PDF and ePub) make it available for free download. It is a very interesting read and directly addresses what's happening in the USA today.

Return to DWise1's Creation/Evolution Links Page
Return to DWise1's Creation/Evolution Home Page

Contact me.

First uploaded on 2002 May 20.
Updated on 2019 September 18