Trends in Young Earth Creationism, from Prof. Joel Duff

Joel Duff is a professor of biology at the University of Akron, Ohio who blogs at Naturalis Historia. He monitors trends in the world of Young Earth (YE) creationism, and posts occasional articles on his blog. Last year I summarized some of the data he gathered on the finances and the social media reach of major YE creationist organizations.

In 2021 he published four articles on the state of YE creationism. The final installment is Young-Earth Creationism in 2021- Part 4: Final Thoughts and New Creationism Resources. A recurring theme in his work is the emergence of what he calls “The New Creationists”. This is a (mainly) younger generation of YE creationists, not formally part of the old guard organizations such as Institute for Creation Research, Creation Ministries International, or Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis. Some names here include:

 Kurt Wise, (Paleontology)  PhD, from Harvard University, Professor of Natural History and director of the Center for Creation Research, Truett McConnell University

Todd Wood, (Biochemistry), PhD in Biochemistry from University of Virginia, Director of CORE Academy of Science,

Marcus Ross, (Paleontology/geoscience), PhD in Environmental Science from the University of Rhode Island, Associate Professor of Geology and Director of the Center for Creation Studies at Liberty University

Paul Garner, (Geology/ Biology) Degree in Environmental Sciences and is a Fellow of the Geological Society. Author of the book, The New Creationism

Matthew McClain, (Paleontology) PhD in Earth science/paleontology from Loma Linda University, Associate Professor at The Master’s University

Ken Coulson, (Geology) PhD in Earth Science from Loma Linda University, Associate, Professor of Geology at San Diego Christian College

Joel has listed some distinctives of these New Creationists, compared to the old guard YE creationists:

–  A desire for gracious dialogue with other creationists and a willingness to engage with non-young-earth Christians. They treat Christians with other views as misinformed rather than as compromisers and question the legitimacy of their Christian faith.

– More comfortable applying an academic approach to questions which entails application of testing and criticizing ideas reducing their susceptibility to fideistic tendencies and creation dogmatism. 

– More comfortable not having every answer to every question and more likely to say “I don’t know” holding out hope that their work will stimulate future answers.

– Marked by a curiosity of creation and desire to understand the world, not simply content or unable to do anything other than to poke holes in conventional theories.

– Less likely to fear new discoveries and at times discourage discovery.

– Likely to have a higher tolerance for appeals to a mature creation or creation with the appearance of age.  An acceptance of the regularity of God’s providential upholding of creation allowing science to function and make predictions.  General acceptance of the validity of the science of radiometric dating methods even as they strive to find means to explain those observations within a young world and universe.

–   An acknowledgement that there is “plenty of evidence from biology, the fossil record, genetics, biogeography, and other areas that support the process of evolution; it cannot be thrown out entirely.”

– Less apt to conflate being on the correct side of the culture wars with the necessity of a Young-Earth viewpoint. 

Joel has posted a YouTube video titled Young-Earth Creationism in 2022, Major Trends, Predictions and Challenges.  That is an ambitious title, but I think the video lives up to it. I’ll mention a few highlights here, but the whole talk (over an hour) is worth listening to.

Joel notes that the film Is Genesis History? released in 2017, was a watershed event in the YE creationist movement. Rather than just being a mouthpiece for, say Answers in Genesis, this documentary included input from a range of YE creationists, some of whom were little-known up to that point. The film has spawned its own following and website with many articles and videos. Now the same producer is making a sequel, called Mountains After the Flood. It explores the question, “What was the world like when Noah stepped off the Ark?”  This leads to the further question, what (catastrophic) processes sculpted that world into the landscape we see today?

Joel notes that there are deep divisions among YE creationists on these issues, in part because these questions bring into focus some difficult scientific challenges for the YE viewpoint. These divisions may make it difficult to produce a film which could purport to represent a broad consensus in the YE community. (I see the producer acknowledges on his website that this sequel “feels strangely more complex than our first film.“) But whatever finally is portrayed in this documentary will have strong influence in defining YE creationism going forward.

Joel steps up to make some explicit predictions for 2022 and beyond:

Consensus on answers to scientific questions will become even more elusive in the coming year

Divisions between the largest YE creationist apologetics ministries will continue to grow

Answers in Genesis’ dominance as a ministry will continue through 2022 but challenges to their leadership position are on the horizon

Young-earth Creation Apologetics will become increasingly tied to Christian culture wars to maintain its cultural impact in the church

Joel fleshes these out in detail. Here I’ll just note that the current Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International organizations are a result of a fairly bitter split (involving a lawsuit) around 2008; these two groups, and the Institute for Creation Research, are staking out differing approaches and emphases.

For most practical purposes, Answers in Genesis is “Ken Ham Ministries”. He runs it with an iron hand (no disagreements tolerated), and he is a widely-recognized spokesman. However, he is 71 now, and there is no clear successor with his clout.

Big picture – – Joel thinks that YE creationism will be around for a long time. It provides nice, simple answers to complex questions, which many folks find comfortable (as long as they don’t dig too deeply into the science). Also, some people may feel a sense of identity and rightness in feeling that they and their tribe have the real truth, over against the godless world or squishy “compromising” Christians.

That said, Joel thinks YE Creationism has reached its apex, and is in decline. Revenues may be up for some organizations as the faithful contribute more, but the overall numbers of YE creationists in the U.S. are steadily dropping. Ken Ham may be reacting to this decline with his increasing shrill denunciations of Christians who do not agree with him.

Joel observes that in the general blogosphere, there is not a much discussion of YE creationism as in previous years. Instead, there is increasing interest in evolutionary creationism or progressive creationism.

That is my impression as well. It seems that there are other issues which have become more urgent to most conservative Christians than the age of the earth.

About Scott Buchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, theology, folding scooters, and composting toilets, at . Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 100 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas. Now retired and repurposed as a grandparent.
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1 Response to Trends in Young Earth Creationism, from Prof. Joel Duff

  1. josephurban says:

    Interesting summary.

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