How Answers in Genesis convinced a former adherent to give up young-earthism

Photo by Ghosh Ujjwal, via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s note: Last week, Samantha Field shared the story of her conversion from a devout foot soldier in Ken Ham’s young-earth creationist militia to the progressive Christian she is today, and she has graciously agreed to let me repub the piece here.

Unfortunately, such stories — of the toxic and unbiblical worldview preached by Ham cannibalizing and ultimately destroying the faith of its own adherents — are far from rare. That Field has managed to reclaim her identity as a Christian is worth celebrating, because those who burn out on the young-earth superhighway often just as easily wind up going the other way.

But what really makes Field’s testimony unique is that, in her crisis of faith as a YEC, she reached out to Answers in Genesis for help — and was chastised for it. And in that, we the church get an unusually clear glimpse of the young-earth charlatans’ true colors, and the rotten core that lies festering beneath the facade of their feigned “mission” to preach the gospel of Jesus and nourish the faith of those who follow him.

The original post follows:

Many of my high-school days were spent reading books like “Darwin’s Black Box” and “The Case for a Creator.” My church and family were six-day young-earth creationists, and defending this interpretation of Genesis 1-2 from neo-Darwinism or the gap theory was central to my faith system at the time.

Without a literal understanding of those chapters, I believed, the Gospel fell apart.

For many years I made it my mission to stay current with all the creationist arguments — I’m fairly certain I’ve read any layman-accessible book on the subject that was published before 2005, and I read the Answers in Genesis blog and Ex Nihilo (now called Journal of Creation) fairly consistently up until 2009. Creationism was important enough to me that I defended it even when I struggled with the rest of Christian theology and the concept of a loving God in particular.

In college, I decided that it was pointless for me to keep reading only books written by creation scientists, so I started picking up other works like “The God Delusion” and “A Brief History of Time.” Dawkins’ book rattled me because he agrees with fundamentalists about the nature of God but is far starker and blatant in his descriptions, but nothing any of these books said about creation really shook me. I already had arguments that “disproved” their position.

During this time, I got involved in a fairly heavy internet debate on creationism that went on for weeks. Interestingly enough, even though the debate started out extremely antagonistic, it grew milder and eventually I became friends with a few people from the “opposition.”

Toward the end of that conversation, one of my fellow debaters brought up a point I’d never encountered before: endogeneous retroviruses. He sent me a few journal articles about it, and after reading them, I was deeply disturbed. ERV insertion points in human and chimp genomes matched too closely for comfort, and I was sick and tired of the “common creator” defense. A common creator could explain a lot of things from an early 20th century phylogeny perspective but not with modern understandings of genome mapping — and most especially, not ERV insertion points.

So, I did what any good creationism-defender would do: I wrote a letter to Answers in Genesis. I outlined the debate I was in, included links to the journal articles, explained all the research I’d already done (which included everything AiG had on genetics at the time), and asked if there was a creation scientist who’d studied ERVs and had a compelling argument against them as evidence for common ancestry.

The letter I got back was … infuriating would be putting it mildly.

They sent me a link to an AiG article on genetics that didn’t even mention ERVs (they’ve since updated a page to include it after I called them on it last year, but they only fall back on their position regarding “junk DNA” anddon’t engage with the evidence satisfactorily), and then they went on to call into question my salvation, my faith, my relationship with Jesus, my intelligence, and my dedication to creationism.

They didn’t even bother answering my question.

They sent back an irrelevant blog post and then told me that my actual problem was not having enough unflinching, blind, unquestioning faith in the creationism model.

If I really believed in creationism, then my confidence should be unassailable and no amount of evidence for common ancestry should bother me, they said.

That was when the house of cards come crashing down. I’d spent the last few years struggling with other aspects of my faith, struggling to believe in God, struggling to believe that Christianity was true. I’d clung to creationism like a lifeline because if I could prove creationism, then Christianity was a fact no matter my doubts about the matter, and I didn’t have to go through the excruciating process of asking questions I didn’t want to think about.

I’d turned to AiG in a literal moment of desperation because they were my intellectual stronghold. AiG supposedly encouraged learning, thinking, engaging, criticizing, evaluating. They represented the last reserve I had in keeping my fundamentalist faith intact, of believing in Christianity as a literal, falsifiable, provable fact.

What I received from them was the opposite of everything I’d trusted them to be. I thought my question would be received warmly, my willingness to engage with evolutionary arguments praised.

Instead they shamed me for daring to do what I’d always believed was a central part of creation science: asking questions.

At that moment, I could no longer in good conscience defend creationism or any other part of my fundamentalist faith—the only faith system I believed had an ounce of integrity or truthfulness on its side. I was rudderless.

It’s been five years since then and I’ve managed to reclaim my identity as a Christian, although Ken Ham would probably condemn me and my progressive beliefs in the harshest language possible. In a way, I should probably thank him. Without such a colossal failure on his part, I might never have had the opportunity to really start questioning everything I believed.

Originally published on Homeschoolers Anonymous. Samantha Field’s blog can be found here.

  • ashleyhr

    So she stopped believing God’s word – as spoken by Answers in Genesis (who do not preach the Bible alone but preach ‘science’ using a ‘biblical starting point’). But despite their protestations AiG are about dogma not ‘science’. They admit that they attempt to teach Christians or indeed school or college students (or home-schooled kids) “how to think” (eg Ham’s blog post of 2 March 2015 ‘Who’s Really (Falsely) Indoctrinating Kids?’). But it’s more WHAT to think – as determined by them when it comes to topics like evolution or the nature of science.

  • May I suggest that you add some clear demarcation as to where your commentary ends and the quoted post from Samantha begins.

    I’m pretty sure I found the right place. But I think it would be clearer if you could add some marking (even a short dotted line)

  • When AIG can’t answer, they attack. When they have nothing, they say your faith isn’t strong enough. When it comes to real science, they crumble just like their young earth foolishness.

    Great expose of this dangerous organization.

    • ashleyhr

      They attack if they have to respond. If they DON’T have to respond they totally ignore and refuse any meaningful engagement:
      On the whole they DON’T answer sceptics.

      EDIT: attempted link is to a lengthy thread on ‘Rabble Rouser Ken Ham’ at the British Centre for Science Education community forum.

  • Timothy Swanson

    The sad thing is, Darwin’s Black Box isn’t a bad book, and it gave me plenty of food for thought a number of years ago. But, I was already a believer in an old earth, so I saw it more as an interesting query on irreducible complexity, rather than a dogmatic polemic on why the only possible answer is a 6 day creation. Not at all surprised about AIG, though. This is what happens when you have a theological position that depends greatly on the facts being just so. If the underlying fact changes, everything dissolves, and no faith is possible.

    • From what I know about him, I think Behe’s all right. I mean, his argument is essentially God of the gaps, which I don’t believe to be a biblical view of God, but at least he uses facts and real science.

      • Timothy Swanson

        I’m no fan of the God of the Gaps argument, as it shrinks God as the gaps are explained. You are right, though, that Behe is at least intellectually honest, and I didn’t find the book condescending or fearmongering like AIG.

        • I also respect him for testifying in the Dover case, even though it was a total disaster. But he still was willing to go on the record in defense of his work, even after pretty much all the other defense witnesses backed out. That’s admirable.

      • ashleyhr

        Although I believe Behe also uses the irreducible complexity argument even though it has been debunked.

        • Oh yeah, he’s basically the father of irreducible complexity. But irreducible complexity is really nothing more than a specialized form of the God of the gaps argument.

  • barrydesborough

    I see that the AiG article you linked to now raises one “objection” to
    ERVs – the C4 gene variants. Here’s a piece I wrote a while ago about
    that. Note the link at the bottom to the contents page of the FAQ it is a part of. Readers
    may find it of interest.

    • Great work, Barry. Thanks for sharing! It’s funny that the best response AiG can come up with for ERVs is, “Well, occasionally they show up where scientists don’t expect them to! So there!” It’s like saying all the theories of modern genetics are wrong because sometimes recessive traits behave unpredictably.

    • Great article, sir.

  • Daniel Justesen

    I feel nothing but contempt for AiG after reading this article. She was simply asking for help to defend creationism! She wasn’t even questioning creationism! As far as I understood from the article her attitude was somewhat like this; “I believe the same thing as you guys, but I dont know how to answer this, can you help me?”. What an unkind and arrogant way to respond! But it doesn’t surprise me. Ken Ham has written unkind and unfair things about fellow christians that doesn’t share his viewpoint before. (English is only a second language to me so please excuse any spelling mistakes)

  • I would venture that this isn’t specifically an AiG problem, but an inerrantist one. AiG just happens to be one of the louder and stupider manifestations.

    Inerrantists, at least in America, have created a culture of fear such that to even ask challenging questions is buying your one way ticket to Heresyville – Population: You. Since inerrancy is an a priori assumption you have to have to be a real Christian, the act of asking questions that seem to challenge the Scriptures is in and of itself an act of rebellion. You’re not just a heretic for believing the wrong things; you’re a heretic for even suspending that belief momentarily to inquire about the subject.

    AiG is an atheist factory and an enemy to the pursuit of truth, but they are also just a particular manifestation of the American culture of inerrancy. If you aren’t already committed to the right package of assumptions – you’re already a heretic, regardless of the state of your belief.

    I am extremely disappointed but not the slightest bit surprised at Samantha’s experience. I’m deeply sorry she had to go through it, and I am grateful that God is bigger than inquiry and His draw is greater than the fortress mentality doled out by those YEC douche canoes at AiG.

    • Overall, not the greatest tribute to the guy who said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

  • It’s ironic that such things happen. Phil Ledgerwood touched on one key element of the problem — inerrantists — the infallibility doctrine.

    A broader aspect of this is the tendency to take the Bible literally, but both Fundamentalists and Atheists do this. While interpretation is what sets them apart, many Fundamentalist literalists don’t think they’re interpreting the Bible; they think they’re merely telling what the Bible says. Therein lies their blindness. They think they are special enough to see what the Bible says, but others who disagree are not so special. While this could be true, in rare cases, one telling clue is their unwillingness to discuss their viewpoint with any openness. It’s “my way or the highway” type attitude — arrogance.

    If you step back even further from this problem, you see a pattern. That pattern leads back to self-concern — a separateness of viewpoint that pits “them against us.”

    I once attempted to join a biblical literalist group on LinkedIn, but my first comment was greeted with an email of “goodbye.” No interest in helping me understand their viewpoint.

    To my understanding, the Bible is infallible, but only in the spirit of its meaning; not the literal words. The physical words have been mistranslated, added, subtracted and sometimes mangled. The Bible is a spiritual book and its language is spirit, not English, Hebrew, Koine Greek or Aramaic. The literal words only point in the direction that spirit is to go to find the true meaning.

    There are many elements of wisdom hidden in the Bible. I dedicated an entire book to this — “The Bible’s Hidden Wisdom: God’s Reason for Noah’s Flood.” Is it accurate in its interpretation? Very likely not. The intent was to help stir the pot of spiritual meaning so that readers could find answers outside of the literal.

    For instance, Genesis 5:2 talks about Adam as a man and a woman — as “them.” So the ages of the early patriarchs may not have been those of individuals, but of eponymous tribes. And since Genesis 5 is all about the “generations” of Adam, perhaps the unit of time is not “years,” but “generations.”

    Clues like this helped me find a biblical timeline compatible with those of science. And it helped me discover a species which matches the description in Genesis 6 of the “daughters.” The new date for Noah’s Flood matches the extinction date for that species.

    Faith does not depend upon belief. Faith is all about Truth and Creation. You can believe a lie, but there is no such thing as Blind Faith. Faith is an opening of one’s spiritual eyes.

    • I’ve encountered the same phenomenon, Rod. For a population who is utterly convinced that they are right, they seem to be pretty averse to demonstrating the correctness of their view to those who disagree. Case in point: When was the last time you saw a website of a young-earth creationist outfit that allowed comments on its articles?

      • Tony Breeden

        Mine does. But I think you already knew that.

        • ashleyhr

          Only selectively.