Writing nicely about ICR young-earth creationists

Dallas, Texas has a lot of things that it can be proud of. For the better part of the last decade, it's also been home to the young-earth creationist (YEC) Institute for Creation Research (ICR).

This shouldn't be something that anyone in Dallas should be very proud of. Obviously ICR has a right to exist and make money using whatever schemes it wants to, but it'd be really weird to write about ICR in a positive manner. Like it'd be really really weird for the only daily newspaper in Dallas to write about ICR in a positive manner. Like it'd be really, really, really weird for a Pulitzer Prize nominated finalist to write a positive article about ICR.

Oh. Wow, that actually happened. How many ways can this article be awful? I tried counting but my head got tired of all the crap it was reading so my ability to write cohesively kind of fell apart.

False equivalence!

Only four people are interviewed for this article. ICR is represented by Henry Morris III (CEO of ICR), Jason Lisle (an astrophysicist and the research director at ICR), and Frank Sherwin (a zoologist at ICR). The entirety of science is represented by very strange terminology (the lede's Most scientists eventually becomes Secular scientists) and Ron Wetherington (who teaches human evolution and forensic anthropology at SMU [Southern Methodist University]).

Any writer who is trying to write about YEC has to figure out how to balance the article. Mr. Farwell chose to do this by interviewing three YECs, one scientist, and then using young-earth creationist terminology (secular scientists) for people they disagree with. That's weird.

False non-equivalence!

As the article does not ever say, all four of the people it directly quotes have postgraduate degrees. Dr. Henry M. Morris III has earned a doctorate of ministry, Dr. Jason Lisle earned a PhD in astrophysics, Dr. Ronald Wetherington has a PhD in anthropology, and Frank Sherwin has a M.A. in zoology. So which of these men is a scientist?

A lot of people consider "scientists" to be people who have scientific postgraduate degrees and who produce scientific output in the form of peer-reviewed scientific papers and/or non-peer-reviewed academically-published books. Of the three people interviewed in this article who have scientific postgraduate degrees, which of them is producing any scientific output?

Dr. Lisle has a few publications: here's one from 2000, here's one from 2003, here's one two three from 2004, here's his 2004 PhD dissertation, and here's one from 2008. Since 2008 it looks like the only publication that Dr. Lisle has written was for the YEC Answers Research Journal.

Mr. Sherwin wrote this in 1988. That's it. That's his scientific output.

Dr. Wetherington co-edited a book this year, and assembled this one three years ago and this article back in 2006.

So which of these three men is a scientist? Mr. Sherwin hasn't added anything to science in almost 30 years, and Dr. Lisle hasn't contributed anything since 2008. Dr. Wetherington has co-edited a book which published this year. That somewhat sounds like Dr. Wetherington is still a scientist, whereas Mr. Sherwin and Dr. Lisle stopped being scientists for whatever reason. But Mr. Farwell gives scientific job titles (astrophysicist and zoologist) for Dr. Lisle and Mr. Sherwin, but not Dr. Wetherington. Heck, Dr. Wetherington's job title isn't even given, it just mentions he teaches at SMU, rather than referring to him as a professor.

Promoting false dichotomy!

In spite of young-earth creationism having nothing to do with science, most of the article is written in a way suggesting that the two "sides" to the story are YEC (or, as the article slips up once and says, creation science) and secular science. This false dichotomy is said to be as much by Dr. Wetherington: The problem is, they're not scientists. But when the rest of the article talks about YECs being scientists, this just makes Dr. Wetherington appear to be contradictory.

Blindness to real dichotomy!

YEC is a theological claim. It's a theological claim rejected by a majority of Christians (the article mentions this), even by Christians who are evangelical (the article quotes Pat Robertson on that). So where's the quote from the majority of Christians? Where's the quote from any Christian scientist who doesn't have any theological problem with an old Earth? Dallas is a large city in a fairly Christian state, it shouldn't be difficult to find people to get quotes from.

Unquestioned claims!

There's a few paragraphs wherein the YECs are given the opportunity to make claims which are not countered or questioned by the author in any way. That's weird. I don't expect Mr. Farwell to know enough science to be able to tell us, from his own knowledge, why these claims are bunk. But why let ICR use the Dallas Morning News to spread its pseudoscience? ICR has its own website, it doesn't need the Dallas Morning News to spread its claims.

There's also this stinker.

Jason Lisle, an astrophysicist and the research director at ICR, said he has no chance of winning a Nobel Prize, even if he makes a groundbreaking discovery. Secular scientists, he said, would never bestow the field's highest honor on a creationist.

This sounds like an extraordinary claim. This sounds so extraordinary that someone might call it bunk. Uncommon Descent, who endorse non-scientific explanations for the existence of humans and/or life and/or the universe, has a few pages about a few Nobel Laureates who, in their own words, either endorsed some form of creationism or Intelligent Design, or who have denied the adequacy of evolution as a biological theory. The fact that none of these Nobel Laureates is a young-earth creationist could mean a few things:

  1. Dr. Lisle's paranoia is valid, and that the Nobel Prize committees don't want to award any young-earth creationists with a Nobel
  2. Young-earth creationists don't do Nobel-worthy science
  3. Reverse vampires make sure that the Nobel committees don't award young-earth creationists with a Nobel
  4. Option #3 but with any other manner of evil organization or monster

The article, in only quoting Dr. Lisle, without providing any other context or fact-checking, implicitly endorses the first option over any others.

But wait, there's video!

NBC Dallas-Fort Worth interviewed Mr. Farwell about his article. The first question is pretty good: how are the people at ICR going about doing research? And Mr. Farwell immediately fails to sound like he knows what he's talking about.

They are not well enough funded to really do their own independent research so primarily what they do is they skim the literature and look for what they think are flaws in the logic.

But, Mr. Farwell, you reported that ICR has a 49-person payroll and an annual budget in the $7 million range. And you mentioned earlier that ICR is "a group of nine Ph.D.s". Assuming all 49 people are being paid a Dallas County living wage for 1 adult and 1 child, that leaves over $5 million for other expenses, such as funding research for ICR's 9 PhD researchers. That's not a gigantic amount of money, but it's enough to be doing independent research. And if the researchers want more, then those 9 PhD researchers must apply for funding from elsewhere. So do ICR researchers apply for NSF funding? They have to, right? They must want to fund their own independent research, right?

2009 lawsuit

If I created a header like that, it would insinuate that the next section of text, until my next header, would talk about that topic. Maybe it would contain a sentence like this.

But ICR generated headlines in 2009 when it sued the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board after the agency refused to certify a master's degree in science education program that would have taught both creationist and evolutionist views, while favoring creationism.

I bet you're wondering what happened about that lawsuit. Much like Mr. Farwell, I won't tell you. Wait, sorry, I will tell you. ICR lost, big time. Because they're rational people who, to quote Mr. Farwell, operate quietly, they in no way compared the entire legal system of the United States and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to Satan. LOL jk they did.

Evolution and the gays

Visitdallas.com claims that Dallas has the 6th largest LGBT population in the U.S. What does the ICR have to say about LGBT people?

In 1990 Dr. John Morris referred to homosexuals as a group … known for its total preoccupation with sexual activity, and a type, which is abhorrent to the majority of Americans.

But that was 24 years ago, I'm sure they've mellowed out since then, right?

Of even greater concern is that so many churches, colleges, and seminaries of the mainline denominations have accommodated their teachings to sexual "freedom," abortionism, and even homosexuality (thankfully, not yet to rape!). These evils are even infiltrating a number of evangelical institutions.

Henry Morris, 2000

Both observations—that homosexuality is caused by choices and influences and not by DNA, and that a homosexual lifestyle is utterly unsafe—are consistent with a biblical worldview.

Brian Thomas, 2010

These are all really weird comments by a group that, according to Mr. Farwell, is a research center.

The problem of writing about YECs

I'm sure that Mr. Farwell was given this assignment, or chose to do this assignment, to attempt to write as neutral of an article as he could about ICR. This is really easy to do by just providing relevant facts from IRC, and the article attempts to do this by citing facts about employment numbers and budgeting. But most YEC organizations are really bad at being honest. The ICR is being dishonest from their name alone, because they don't do research. And they continue being dishonest by lies of omission.

Scientifically, they're conspiracy theorists. They think that scientists are intentionally and/or accidentally promoting Satanic lies about the Earth being old and about humans being evolved. Theologically, they're also conspiracy theorists. They think that old-Earth creationists are also in cahoots with Satan. All of these are not rational things to think, but neither Mr. Farwell nor the Dallas Morning News is likely to label ICR as conspiracy theorists.

But how is it ethical, from any journalistic standpoint, to just parrot ICR talking points? Or to implicitly promote some of their theological viewpoints (the Earth is really young!) without mentioning any of their other ones (gays are evil! so are scientists! and most other Christians!)?

A good journalist can write about offensive people without stating, explicitly, that the offensive people are bad people. But any bad journalist can do that by just being bad at reporting. This article comes off as the latter.

"We want people to realize the Bible is trustworthy in matters of history and when it touches science. And because you can trust it in those areas, you can trust it when it comes to how to inherit eternal life."

Is a quote from someone who thinks that the majority of scientists since the 1810s have been/are, consciously or not, doing the work of Satan. That actually makes a great headline:

Dallas researchers out to scientifically prove most scientists serve Satan

The alliteration really carries it.

Top image a screengrab of Mr. Farwell's interview on NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.