Reading Time: 10 minutes Plato's Cave. (Emanuele, CC-SA.)
Reading Time: 10 minutes

I caught this little “local news” snippet yesterday and thought it was interesting–both for what it says, and what it doesn’t say. It’s about a Creationist coming to a local church in that area to give a lecture about his branch of fundagelical pseudoscience. What this church doesn’t realize is that their guest speaker is part of the reason for their religion’s dwindling numbers, relevance, and credibility.

Plato's Cave. (Emanuele, CC-SA.)
Plato’s Cave. (Emanuele, CC-SA.)

Having It Both Ways.

Creationism is born from the fundagelical desire to have religious faith in Christianity both ways: to be the product of blind, unswerving, dedicated belief for absolutely no good reason, and also to be the product of overwhelming evidence that demands a verdict, as Josh McDowell put it in the title of the bestselling apologetics book that attempted to give Christians that exact assurance.

For 150 years or more, evidence has piled up that why yes indeed, the Earth is exceedingly old and that all life on it descended from various ancestors–including human beings, who were not created out of mud or rib-bones by magic, but instead evolved over millions of years and hold ancestors in common with today’s apes (in fact, we are classified in the primate sub-group “hominoids” along with gorillas and chimpanzees, so technically we are still apes of a sort).

For various reasons centering around their unmitigated narcissism and overwhelming need for closure and security, Creationists indulge in pseudoscience to try to negate or hand-wave away that 150 years or more of solid, interdisciplinary scientific consensus to arrive at a literal Genesis story that has the Earth being about 6,000 (or 10,000) years old and humans and animals poofed into existence.

But those of us who’ve had discussions with Creationists know that when we get done tearing apart their ideas, they punt to one place: “Well, you just have to have faith.”

If blind faith is all that’s needed, then evidence is not. But nobody who thinks of themselves as sensible nowadays wants to go that route. We want good reasons for believing as we do. That includes Christians. They want to think of themselves as sensible, and they want to think that they’re not crazy for believing in nonsense for no good reason.

Especially they want their rather idolatrous version of the Bible’s mythology to be true, because all of their biggest threats hinge upon it being literally true. No literal Genesis means no literal Adam and Eve, which means no literal Fall, which means nothing that Jesus had to correct or fulfill, which may well mean there’s no literal Hell either. Whoops!

Little wonder fundagelical churches, which have little to sell their ideology with besides shame and threats, cling so hard to this ideology, and little wonder that Creationism has become more and more important as a marker belief as the secular world “steals” so many fundagelicals away. As I pointed out in that earlier post, as marker beliefs go it’s a very inexpensive one compared to some of their other markers (though it certainly costs individual states a lot when they try to put it into place in their public schools).

Enter the Non-Expert Experts.

Because Creationists can’t find reputable scientists to spread their views, they rely upon experts who are not really very expert. Their pseudo-experts tend not to have specialized educations, training or any kind of good reputation in their chosen field. Nor do they have convincing evidence of their views, relying as they do upon the sum total of a vast amount of pseudoscience that Christians have built up over the years. It hardly matters; these non-experts are preaching to a choir that is categorically incapable of accurately weighing claims of any kind and that has been carefully coached to find pseudoscience acceptable.

That’s where today’s headline comes in: Creationist to discuss Earth’s age, evolution. Here we learn the following:

Northside Baptist Church is set to host self-described biblical-scientific creationist Grady S. McMurtry the week of Jan. 22. McMurtry, who travels the globe with his Creation Worldview Ministries, proposes the planet is 6,000 years old and that man and dinosaurs may have lived simultaneously. “He’s a scientist as well as a theologian,” said the Rev. Craig Hartzog, senior pastor of Northside Baptist Church.

Northside Baptist Church is a Southern Baptist Church in a smallish town in Georgia. It looks pretty big, large enough to have a lot of kids in it who the pastor is probably itching to get indoctrinated into Creationism before they hit public school age. And they have a nice church webpage with pertinent information very prominently displayed and easy to find. I’ll give ’em that. A lot of churches have no idea how to do a church website, and whoever they have working on this one has a clue. Their main pastor, “Dr. C. Craig Hartzog” (or, as the website calls him, “Brother Craig”), is about as SBC as it gets–with a fine set of degrees from their flagship schools. So obviously he’s going to be all-in on the pseudoscience, since that’s one of the SBC’s signature beliefs at this point, and since his own education includes no real science either, he’s in no real position to judge whether or not his pseudoscience-hawking guest is a scientist himself.

And obviously, that guest is not a scientist.

Ecalpemos, a blog based out of Scotland, has done some remarkable legwork regarding this “Dr. Grady McMurtry’s” qualifications. The disowned son of an occultic Thelema leader, Mr. McMurtry has some theological training that includes a Doctorate in Divinity (namely, apologetics) and a Doctor of Letters (possibly bestowed rather than earned), both from really shady outfits that don’t sound reputable even by SBC standards. But they got him those all-important letters to put before and after his name to give himself a little more credibility. Now he makes a living with his grift “ministry” of preaching about Creationism and conning ignorant Christians out of their money.

He has a Bachelor’s in Agriculture and a Masters in Environmental Science (Forestry), but neither of these are research-oriented, neither are actual biology, and neither appear to have taught him how to work with the scientific method. He has absolutely no post-high school training in anything remotely approaching what he is claiming he has, though at least one eyewitness to his preaching writes that he goes to great pains to establish himself as knowledgeable about science.

His talking points come straight out of the TalkOrigins Index of Creationism Claims. He thinks that “one of the first things” he must do is dispute the age of the Earth and universe. He asserts, “There’s  not one piece of proof to support that it’s (4.55 billion years) old.” The pastor of the church he’s visiting agrees, but they’re only half-right. There isn’t one piece of proof. There is lots.

The two main methods of determining the universe’s age, according to NASA’s own Hubble site, are measuring the rate at which the galaxies around us are moving away from us, and measuring how old the oldest star clusters are.

The Earth’s age is measured by radiometric dating of the uranium in ancient rocks.

And when we measure this stuff, it all fits together and is consistent, with nothing contradicting it except perhaps wishful Christian pseudoscience.

Of course, the Theory of Evolution has nothing whatsoever to do with either of these matters. It’s about how life came to exist in all the varied forms that we see today. Evolution doesn’t even have to do with when life began (likely in microbial form some 3.5-3.7Bn years ago) or in what form–only in what happened to it afterward and when. But Creationists tend to slurry all of that together in one awful milkshake to slurp down as “evolutionism,” rejecting it all in favor of their all-singing, all-dancing Creationism myth.

Mr. McMurtry spends a lot of time in his sermons talking about how inaccurate our dating techniques are (they’re not at all inaccurate, unless misused by, well, Creationist pseudoscientists) and, according to that eyewitness, about how the speed of light has changed (no reputable physicist has ever found evidence for any changes in it, and a change in the speed of light would have some serious repercussions on the Earth that would destroy Creationists’ claims all by themselves). He’s also convinced that humans and dinosaurs coexisted (obviously, they did not; they are separated by some 64 million years in the fossil record, and we have never found a single trace of dinosaurs and human fossils that were found together. Much of the “proof” of this claim has been debunked as overly-wishful or fraudulent).

As you can guess, any ten-year-old with a smartphone in hand can refute every single one of this guy’s talking points before he’s even finished with his lecture.

Last Belief Standing.

Like most Creationists, Mr. McMurtry thinks the way to demonstrate his own claims is to knock holes in what he views as his opposition: mean ole librul hahr-edumacashun’s evil atheist evolutionism. If he can do that well enough, putting enough doubt into the minds of the church’s flock, then as he sees it they’ll become Creationists just because that is the only other option available to them.

It tickles the imagination to wonder just what happens to the young people indoctrinated this way who progress to science classes and luck into an articulate, passionate teacher who can clearly explain the debunks of Creationist errors (if I’d run into one like Aron-Ra or PZ Myers, I wonder if my day job would have involved wearing a white lab jacket instead of a red overshirt printed with penguins wearing scarves).

However it happens, though, however they come to the knowledge, young people are figuring out in droves that this pseudoscientific nonsense is just that. And it is devastating–both to them and to the religion that foisted this drivel upon them.

A poll a few years ago discovered that a quarter of Barna respondents to a survey on Millennials’ attitudes think that Christianity is “anti-science,” while another near-quarter said they’d been “turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” A full 64% of the Millennials responding said they knew that humans had evolved over time. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) thinks that a lot depends on how the question is asked, when we ask just how many Creationists there are, but notes an alarming uptick in Creationist tendencies among Christians who are immersed in fundagelical schooling–as Mr. McMurtry was after his conversion to Christianity:

And nowadays there is no shortage of institutions similar to Bob Jones University whose programs in biology are specifically intended to convert simple ignorance of evolution into terminologically sophisticated evolution denial. The positive relationship of creationism to education among the very religious may become even stronger in the future.

In a way, one could look at the rise of sophisticated-sounding, slickly-presented Creationism indoctrination as another example of the polarization of fundagelicals. People like Mr. McMurtry, presenting themselves as knowledgeable experts, will misinform young people while hardening the hearts of their elders against real science. Those young people will split off into two groups: one that firmly believes this indoctrination, and another that lucks into or seeks out the truth of the matter.

The first group will become the leaders and teachers of tomorrow’s fundagelical youth–though they will be presiding over a smaller and smaller population of those young people. That population will shrink because of the second group. The young people in that other group will be horrified to realize that their indoctrination was wrong about a point presented to them as a necessary doctrine of belief, and will subsequently start wondering what other points of doctrine are wrong.

The Cruel Dilemma.

Don’t imagine for a heartbeat that it’s an accident that toxic Christian leaders present their youth with a dilemma this big, one that is presented as a make-or-break belief that is foundational to their entire understanding of Christianity. It’s meant to scare them out of inquiry. It’s supposed to stop them from investigating too closely. Those kids are absolutely supposed to skitter up to the edge of knowledge and then windmill away from it in fear.

Questioning Creationism means questioning Christianity itself. And that could lead to them losing their salvation entirely.

If you can talk a kid into rejecting the very notion of reality itself and the very idea of weighing claims and assessing information rationally, you’re halfway to convincing that kid that angels and demons are real and that Heaven is a place that people go to after death.

If you can stuff that kid full of thought-stopping catchphrases that can be parroted whenever contradictory information is presented, then so much the better.

It must seem like a foolproof plan to fundagelical leaders, which is why Northside Baptist Church has had Mr. McMurtry there to preach before.

But I wonder how many of the kids in the audience will think to check what he’s claiming on their smartphones before they leave his presentation. I wonder how many of them will, like I did once, feel embarrassed to see someone posturing onstage about science when he clearly knows nothing about what he’s trying to preach. I wonder how many Christians at Northside Baptist Church will experience what so many of us already have: bit by bit, slowly, one piece at a time, all those talking points falling apart until we were left with nothing to make us certain of our indoctrinations, only blind faith without any good reason to have any.

Hypocrisy, As Always.

The wacky thing is, fundagelicals themselves spit on the notion of blind faith. They have as little use for that idea as ex-Christians and non-Christians alike do.

One of the points that that end of Christianity takes absolutely for granted is that there is tons of PROOF YES PROOF of what they imagine is the literal nature of the Bible, which means that they don’t have–or need–blind faith for no good reason. They teach their children from an early age–and other people’s kids if they can sneak their ideology into public classrooms–that they should have a good reason to believe in Creationism.

Then just for good measure they pin this in-group marker belief to salvation itself, manufacturing a supreme need for adherents to maintain belief in it and also to avoid contradictory evidence to their beliefs. Losing belief in Creationism means getting set on fire forever after they die: eternal torture, without end, without reprieve, and without mercy. This threat produces what people in the psych biz call motivated reasoning, which means roughly to allow one’s beliefs and biases to color one’s perceptions and decisions. But never fear, they are told–because there’s no reason at all to lose this belief, because look at all this PROOF YES PROOF that we have!

So when those flocks begin to notice that those mean ole librul atheist college professors and whatnot have completely shredded Creationist claims time and again, in debates and in other settings as well as books and other media, creating a serious pushback to Creationism that it cannot answer without serious stumbling, those young people have a serious problem on their hands. They’ve been taught that they should have a reason for believing what they believe, and now they know that Creationism is purest poppycock.

Many of them will simply leave the religion at that point. Others may quietly suffer their dissonance but remain in the pews; others still may find other congregations to join that don’t require science denial of their members. But for the most part, they will go forth wanting reasons to believe what they believe. And they will find those answers not in their indoctrination, but in the real science they once sniffed at and ridiculed with silly names and epithets (because Jesus himself told them that they would be known by their petty sarcasm, small-minded mockery, willful ignorance, and zingy catchphrases–oh wait, they’re wrong about that too?!?).

They will have to claw their way away from a path that was deliberately set in front of them by well-meaning parents and religious figures who needed them to have a marker belief that would polarize them, gin them up against modern culture, and have a reason to reject the normal evaluation methods used to assess claims. And then, no matter their age, they will have to unlearn what they learned from all those false teachers and learn from scratch and with great humility what other kids figured out by the time they hit a double-digit age.

I don’t envy them that journey, and yet I hope that Grady McMurtry sets a great many of them on the road to freedom by teaching them what they either suspect already or will soon discover is completely untrue. By trying to indoctrinate Christians with lies, he is not only furthering his very own religion’s continued decline in membership but also demonstrating anew why his religion deserves to become irrelevant.

Ah, but who are we kidding? Dude doesn’t care. He’s making his money. By the time the shit hits the fan for the SBC, this false teacher will be long gone–along with all the money he’s fleeced from the sheep.

We’ll be looking at prophecy next–and I hope you’ll join me.

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...