Twittersaurus rex: Ken Ham takes the defensive

Did the Flood kill the dinosaurs? To Ken Ham, it’s really stinking important.

Guest post by David MacMillan.

It’s no secret I’ve been working for the last few years with 137 Films on their upcoming documentary, We Believe In Dinosaurs. The film, which is expected to release early this year, explores the ins and outs of modern creationism, exemplified by Ken Ham’s 100-million-dollar Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky. I’m featured in the film as a former creationist who not only helped raise money for the Creation Museum but also used to write for Answers In Genesis. My involvement apparently raised some degree of ire from Ken Ham, who was initially receptive to participation in the film but has now decided it is a “mockumentary” intended to make creationism appear ridiculous. (Note: I’m not sure Ham knows what a mockumentary actually is. Ken Ham and other creationists got to tell their side of the story, so if they look ridiculous, that’s on them.)

After the film’s directors and I conducted a live Reddit IAmA about the documentary, a Washington Post affiliate writer penned a brief article about the Ark and about creationism in general. In the article, the author mistakenly stated that Ken Ham believes dinosaurs went extinct during the Flood.

This isn’t unprecedented; other creationist groups have suggested this sort of explanation. But it’s not the explanation Answers In Genesis has chosen; they insist dinosaurs of every variety survived the Flood on board the Ark but died out shortly after.

It’s a distinction that was apparently very, very important to Ken Ham. He took to Twitter immediately, loudly calling out the Washington Post for the mistake and issuing a “challenge” for them to substantiate their explanation.

The response isn’t surprising. Ken Ham gains an advantage by playing the persecuted saint; he has recently even compared his movement to Martin Luther and the Reformation. But more immediately, he takes offense because he has invested so heavily in one specific, defined, detailed narrative, to the point that getting these kinds of explanations “correct” becomes a central religious necessity. To most of us, it might not seem to make much of a difference whether he’s claiming dinosaurs died during the mythical flood or immediately after, but to stridently religious creationists like Ham, the Post article might as well have claimed he believes in the world of Harry Potter.

Most ironic, however, is that the Post article wasn’t nearly so incorrect as Ham insisted. True, the Ark Encounter features numerous caged dinosaur pairs – I’ve seen them in person – but their Flood narrative is invoked to explain why dinosaurs went extinct. In fact, the Flood is their automatic explanation for virtually everything we observe, particularly the mountains of evidence that run contrary to a 6,000-year-old world.

Why did dinosaurs and the vast majority of other animal families go extinct? The Flood changed the climate and they couldn’t adapt. Why does radiocarbon dating seem to show a clear record stretching back tens of thousands of years? The Flood changed the carbon balance. Why are there ice sheets and glaciers? The Flood evaporated and then the Earth cooled, resulting in a single brief Ice Age. Why does the Earth seem to be warming at an alarming rate? No, it’s not human activity; just leftover post-Flood “settling”. Where do oil and natural gas and coal deposits come from? The Flood, somehow. How did the continents get to their present positions? The Flood pushed them. And, of course, where did the quintillions of fossils and miles-deep strata layers come from? The Flood, naturally.

Creationists construct a dizzying array of ad hoc explanations for every possible piece of evidence, because at the root, they aren’t actually interested in developing testable models or creating useful theories. What’s important to them is presenting an appearance of the scientific process in order to maintain their authoritative position. That’s why organized creationism has thus far been largely impervious to scientific debunking: it’s not about science, it’s about faith, faith in the rigid system of beliefs they present to their followers.

My hope is that as the general public and the scientific community become more familiar with creationism’s claims and tactics, people like Ken Ham will be less and less able to dictate what other people believe, and edifices like the Ark Encounter will become curiosities rather than stumbling blocks.