Answering Answers in Genesis

The young earth creationists have been active again … the Australian-based group Answers in Genesis (AIG), has been doing the circuit in New Zealand. Warnings on the Skeptics email list had alerted us to the fact that Carl Wieland, the head of AIG, was coming over to pollute young Kiwi minds so this was an opportunity we couldn’t and shouldn’t miss. Wieland is very influential in creationist circles, having produced many books, pamphlets and videos, and is really the driving force behind their main publications Creation Ex Nihilo and the impressively, but inappropriately, named Technical Journal (or “TJ” as they lovingly refer to it). It thus promised to be a good chance to see Wieland in action first hand and to get some clues as to how to handle him next time he appears on our shores.

The Practice Sessions

There was an opportunity to get a little practice in before the big event as their New Zealand CEO, Adrian Bates, was doing a run around some of the churches on the Coromandel at the end of March. I went along to both of his church meetings one Sunday, one in Whitianga and one in Coromandel. Bates was a little surprised to find a skeptic in church (so was I!), but kept smiling ever so sweetly as he tried to explain to me just how the two kiwis from the beached Ark managed to walk all the way from Mt Ararat to NZ (just how did the worms manage to outrun them and breed fast enough to provide enough food?). I found that once I asked a slightly (alright, very) heretical question then others in the audience plucked up the courage to query some of his comments also, which was very encouraging.

So Bates was easy, but I knew that Wieland was a consummate professional and would be a bit more savvy re skeptics and their stupid questions. Nevertheless it was good to go along and pick up some of their publications (there’s now one of their videos in the Skeptics Video Library). Also they tend to use the same overheads from talk to talk so it’s all good preparation for the next time.

The Big Ones

Wieland’s meetings in Auckland at the end of May were really big time. Held over two days the first one was billed as a six hour seminar and took place in the huge Greenlane Christian Centre. It was packed — about 250 people I estimated, and only 4 skeptics. Where were they all, I kept thinking. Megan Mills competently represented the Auckland Skeptics, and veteran creationist busters, David Riddell and Annette Taylor from the Waikato joined me in the lion’s den yet again. It was an interesting session. Wieland proved to be, as we expected, a well-practised and confident speaker and soon had the audience lapping it all up. They especially liked the bits where he ridiculed science and scientists with funny(?) cartoons and snide remarks and slogans (“from goo to you via the zoo”). This one thing perhaps riled me more than anything — you don’t mind them just being stupid, but when they try and make scientists look like a bunch of ignorant idiots I feel one has to stand up and be counted. The anti-science lobby in New Zealand is strong enough without some Aussie idiot coming over here to further poison our children’s minds with this drivel.

Wieland was a much better speaker than his colleague, a Steve Kumar, who held forth for an hour or so between Wieland’s sessions and I noticed a few of the faithful nodding off as he spoke. No doubt they’ll be punished in due course!

For the last session Wieland was in charge again and he rather worryingly asked for questions to be written on pieces of paper and placed in a box on stage to be answered before he would take questions from the floor (“if there was time”). After all there was a room full of publications, videos, games, CDs, puzzles, magazines, etc. that people had to have a chance to purchase. And they did! Time and again they ran out of “special” packs of his little paperback books at $125 a piece. I was flabbergasted — the turnover for the weekend must have been in excess of $10,000 I would estimate. Not to mention the donations in the offering buckets (I saw many $20 bills) and all the subscriptions to Creation ex Nihilo he signed up — a huge ongoing source of funds for this highly profitable, non-taxed multinational business (“non-profit” — yeah, right!).

Anyway, back to the questions. We decided that we would take our chances and try for questions from the floor rather than risk having them censored from the box. To his credit Wieland did answer a few curly ones from the box, but there were quite a few that he read to himself on stage and then quickly put right back as they were “the same as the last one”. Not very original, I thought! Finally the time did come for questions from the floor and I think we skeptics achieved some success. We did manage to dominate the question session and got to engage Wieland in debate from the floor at length. And again, to his credit, Wieland didn’t cut us off short and I was a bit unprepared for that! Whether we changed any minds amongst the believers is debatable. However, I do think we served as a good foil to his unquestioning dogma and I do believe that we may have stopped some people from swallowing his slick show hook, line and sinker.

The three meetings the next day were just as big and the last one had over 350 people in attendance. Interestingly, no questions were allowed from the floor for any of them. I also noted that Wieland did tone down some of the outrageous things he had been saying that we had challenged him on but that was probably only because I made sure he could see me watching him from the audience!

Is It Worth It?

So was it all worth the effort? I do believe so. It’s only the fence sitters that we have a chance of saving, but that alone is worth the seven-hour return drive, the costs, and time spent doing research on their techniques and ideas, etc. What’s the point of being a NZ Skeptic if all we do is talk amongst ourselves … there’s serious work to be done. They are after our children. I learnt at the Coromandel meeting that the pastor of the Elim church, who hosted Adrian Bates, is now the head of the Coromandel Area School BOT and has instigated little lunchtime religious chats for the kids. The science department is furious, as one would expect. So there’s lots for us to do. We must be vigilant and regularly scan the local church notices to see who’s coming to town. These creationists are not just a wacky overseas problem; they are in our community and in our schools right now. We all need to get involved and perhaps get sufficiently organised nationally so that no creationist meeting anywhere in NZ is without at least one skeptic in the audience.

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