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By Logan Blakeslee

I have a confession to make: I am obsessed with Young Earth Creationism. It all started in late June 2018, when I met Baptist preacher and repeat criminal Kent Hovind at a Christian summer camp here in Broome County. The event changed the way I thought about science, evolution, and religion, but not in the way you might expect. Before I get ahead of myself, let me divulge a bit more about Hovind’s grand visit to upstate New York.

Hovind, or “Doctor Dino” as he likes to refer to himself, arrived at the Path of Life Camp late in the evening. He was on a lecture tour called “Creation Crusade” that started in Florida and crept northward in search of a receptive audience. Hundreds of people of all ages gathered in a gymnasium-turned-dining hall for the night, and were served delicious homemade “Southern foods”: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, the usual. It was the largest gathering of people I had ever seen in rural Broome, and I say that as a local myself! The parking lot outside was completely full, and because of my late arrival, I had to settle for parking a little way down a steep hill. My enthusiasm was untouched, and my curiosity deepened. 

It was my first time visiting the camp as well, having only learned of it after seeing an event posting on Facebook a few days prior. Discussion of dinosaurs was promised, and my love of paleontology drew me in. I approached the first table I saw inside the gym, bought a ticket for the event, and was pleasantly surprised to see my old pastor as the new camp director. We chatted for a moment before I had to take my seat. Then, not long afterward, a roar of applause swept over the enormous room. Kent Hovind emerged in front of a large projector screen. The next two hours of his presentation rocked my worldview forever. 

For those who may not be aware, Young Earth Creationism is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. It posits that the Earth is between 6,000-10,000 years old (give or take a few millennia) and that Darwinian evolution does not exist. Variations of this ideology have existed for centuries, but its modern incarnation was founded by Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb in the seminal text The Genesis Flood. Together they theorized that the planet’s geologic history can be explained via the Great Flood, an event in the Book of Genesis wherein the Earth’s surface was completely covered by water. Similarly, it explains the differences in human culture and language to the fall of Babel. 

Hovind covered these topics and plenty more. He represents one faction of Young Earth Creationists who believe that dinosaurs were present in the Garden of Eden, and that most of them went extinct after the deluge. It gets more interesting from there. As I discovered upon purchasing one of his books (Claws, Jaws, & Dinosaurs), Hovind is actually an amateur cryptozoologist as well as a preacher. Co-author William J. Gibbons has even explored the Congo multiple times in search of a legendary creature known as Mokele Mbembe, allegedly a surviving sauropod dwelling in the jungle. Hovind stated that these local legends were evidence that dinosaurs did not exist millions of years ago, but rather are alive today. 

During the astronomy portion of Hovind’s lecture, I managed to ask him a question that I thought was terribly clever. “If the universe were approximately 6,000 years old, why does the light from stars take hundreds of thousands to millions of years to reach Earth?” I inquired. Other attendants asked questions about evolutionary bias or religious discrimination in public schools, but I wanted to break from the norm. Hovind’s response to me caught me by surprise. He answered, referencing Genesis 1:16, that God created starlight instantaneously. After all, if Adam was already an adult upon his creation, then light could appear older than it really was. 

Having been raised Baptist myself, I knew the basics of creation from the Old Testament. The thoroughness of scientific creationism, however, is deeper and more complex than I could have ever imagined. After the presentation was over, I immediately purchased several more books on the subject and even acquired Hovind’s autograph on one of them. Over the years I have built a small collection of creationist paraphernalia, not necessarily because I personally believe in it—I will get to that later—but because alternative worldviews are utterly fascinating to me. 

I got a job as a counselor at that summer camp a few months afterward, making good friends with the employees I first met at the lecture. To this day, I consider it one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. The religious function behind the camp was still important at the time, and I was happy to join my young campers in Bible studies and prayer. I did my best to answer their questions about faith and what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century. My own background forced me to balance many perspectives at once; I was born Baptist and went to church often with my grandmother, but my mother is Methodist and her parents were Mormon. Not only that, but I converted to Catholicism at 16. 

Young Earth Creationists do not often get along with Catholics, so in my interactions with them, I tend to omit my denomination. Most are hardcore Evangelical Protestants, at least in the United States. The old conspiracy that Catholics serve a dictatorial pope who is an enemy of the One True Faith™ is alive and well in rural America. I even saw an anti-Catholic pamphlet when visiting my co-counselor’s church, claiming that the papacy is an anti-biblical institution. I can only wonder what St. Peter may think. 

Sectarianism aside, my current research on Creationism has led me to discover many uncomfortable truths about how religion is handled by western Christians. The most famous Creationist foundation in the world is Answers in Genesis, and they have two major attractions that seek to share their beliefs with the public. One is the Creation Museum, which draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, including public school students on field trips. The other is the Ark Encounter, a massive full-scale reconstruction of Noah’s Ark as well as a theme park, which draws in around a million visitors annually. 

While an architectural marvel, I worry that the focus of these types of attractions is largely on profitability. The local government of Williamstown, Kentucky gave Answers in Genesis the extremely generous offer of 100 acres of land for $1 for the construction of the Ark Encounter. Yes, you read that right: $1. The organization also received tens of millions of dollars in bonds for a project that was projected to cost only $24 million. The final cost ballooned to $100 million, and new additions to the park are still being built today, including a reconstruction of the Tower of Babel (yet to be completed), a petting zoo, and a zip line. 

Kent Hovind engaged in similar practices with his Dinosaur Adventure Land, a cheap roadside creationist museum and children’s park in Florida. It was seized by the IRS as a result of Hovind’s tax evasion schemes, as well as millions of dollars that were hidden away from federal authorities. Not only that, but his unreported income from speaking engagements, books, and merchandise earned him ten years in prison. Hovind’s legal troubles continued after being convicted of domestic violence against his wife in 2021. He does not seem to have learned his lesson, because Dinosaur Adventure Land was reestablished in 2018 in the state of Alabama. 

Creationist institutions are not limited to fringe theme parks or book publishers. Privately owned Christian schools and colleges keep the belief system alive in the United States and have been doing so ever since the Supreme Court case Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) effectively removed Young Earth Creationism from public education. Students of law or history may recall the earlier Scopes Monkey Trial case from 1925, where a high school science teacher was fined $100 for teaching Darwinian evolution to his class. These legal battles were very controversial and both represented major cultural shifts in America over science and religion. 

While Americans are generally becoming more secularized in recent decades, a 2019 Gallup survey found that 40% of the U.S. adult population still adhere to Young Earth Creationism. Laws have been passed in some states that are more permissive to teaching the belief to young children, while others are more strictly geared towards Darwinian evolution in classrooms. This has generated endless controversy over states’ rights and private education, forcing American Evangelists to take a side in political battles which they treated with more nuance previously. 

A 2008 Gallup poll discovered that 60% of Republicans believed in creationism, as opposed to 38% of Democrats. Independents ranked in between at 40%. This is not entirely surprising, as Republicans tend to be more religiously conservative, but it demonstrates the politicization of religion in the modern age. This has had the interesting effect of slowly turning religious or social conservatives into economic conservatives, an alliance forged by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. By offering protections for biblical literalism in society, Evangelists joined forces with industrialists who promoted tax cuts and were skeptical of climate change, in addition to military interventionists.

Harkening back to the Scopes Monkey Trial, the prosecution in the case was led by William Jennings Bryan, a progressive Democrat who ran for president three times as the party’s nominee. He was a devout creationist who considered evolution to be harmful to public morality. By contrast, conservative businessmen in the late 19th century adopted Social Darwinism to justify laissez-faire capitalism. Religion and politics have a cyclical relationship, it seems.  

With all of this said, I will now indulge a bit in my own opinion of the subject. While I have offered my criticism of unethical behavior among certain creationists, I do not think that the belief system is malicious whatsoever. People who take the Bible literally are not ignorant or backward. Many of its strongest proponents are highly accredited scholars and researchers. The Institute for Creation Research, for example, is largely run by professors who have received their doctorates in various scientific fields, not theology. 

I do think that the commercialization and politicization of Christianity in America is detrimental. Young Earth Creationists should always be wary of people who use their faith as a cash grab or a way to win votes. Donald Trump has probably never read a single chapter of the Bible. Conversely, secularists should be mindful not to demonize the religious, whether they be Christian or otherwise. The way we teach science in the United States also needs to fundamentally change in order to combat the rising acceptance of vaccine conspiracies, climate change denialism, Flat Earth Theory, and other unscientific ideas. In other words, science should be made more available to the common person instead of educated elites. 

What I consider to be the real culprit behind the creation vs. evolution debate is the uncomfortable implication of science without God: a universe without inherent morality. Human beings are typically reluctant to assume that they are no different than animals, that all their emotions are just chemical reactions, and that death is just eternal nothingness. One glance at Reddit is proof enough that excessive materialism leads straight to nihilism. 

 I am still a Christian who accepts the full divinity of Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of all mankind and was resurrected. I am convinced that the Gospels are truthful and a reliable historical source of miraculous events. With that said, Christians should also embrace the Old Testament because it gives the context needed to understand what Jesus did for us. Study the Bible closely and pray for wisdom in deciphering the truth. Learn from other sources, too. Don’t be afraid to pick up a copy of On the Origin of Species just because it might contradict your faith. If you’re a secularist, give The Genesis Flood a try and weigh its arguments against your prior knowledge. If we understand each other’s beliefs, we might be ready to peacefully end America’s longest culture war. 

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