Kent Hovind was in Maryland for the first (and probably last) time in years. I’ve heard his spiel, of course, but I’d never seen his show live, so naturally I had to go.
I hooked up with Cyde Weys, another talk.origins regular, and headed up (I was contacted by Cheezits, but she had to bow out, unfortunately). The show was at a Baptist church in Port Deposit, a hamlet just north of Havre de Grace and practically within a stone’s throw of the Pennsylvania border. Four shows are scheduled, one today and three tomorrow, but Cyde and I both agreed we weren’t going to go up tomorrow.
So we only got to see the first part, nominally entitled “The Age of the Earth”. Actually, Hovind covered quite a lot of material, thanks to his technique of throwing out hundreds of assertions at top speed and not sweating little things like truth, relevance, consistency, or trying to be saner than a rabid wolverine on crystal meth. In fact, he wandered all over the place, randomly grabbing into a big bag of English sentences and throwing out anything that might support his position, or sway the audience to his side.
You might expect a young-earth creationist to be basically against evolution and for a literal interpretation of the Bible. That he is, but Hovind is so much more. He’s also against liberals, Mormons, Berkeley, the New World Order, beer, National Geographic, atheism, and didn’t eat bananas for three years. Truly a polymath of wingnut wackosity.
Case in point: he opened by showing a video of his daughter’s marriage, which he says was shown on America’s Funniest Home Videos. No, really. And the audience enjoyed it. I don’t know whether this demonstrates that Hovind has never heard of the phrase “on topic” or that church audiences are easy.
One good thing, though: at least he’s honest about what he’s peddling. He says up front that he wants to convert people to (his brand of) Christianity. So I guess that excuses everything he says, incuding the most transparent falsehoods. Sure, lies may make baby Jesus cry now, but won’t he be happy when a fresh crop of new converts show up at the door to His house, tracking snow all over the rug?
At times, the irony was almost palpable (I say “almost” because his machine-gun pace didn’t allow the leisure of savoring it). For instance, near the beginning, he showed a picture of Adolf Hitler and explained the principle of the Big Lie: that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. He later proceeded to do just that. He’d set up a strawman of something he doesn’t like (the Big Bang, the geologic column, whatever), knock it down, then give his refrain: “I have another theory: the world was created 6000 years ago. 4000 years ago there was a flood.”
He also used a lot of unwarranted extrapolation, e.g., saying that the moon is receding from the earth at two inches per year or so, and claiming that therefore, if the earth were really billions of years old, the moon would have been grazing the surface of the earth (CE110). Or that at the rate at which Niagara Falls is being eroded, it should have moved back to Lake Erie by now (CD610). Those familiar with his schtick know that in a later segment, he lays into Charles Lyell for coming up with the principle of uniformitarianism, “the present is the key to the past” (CD200).
He also relied on derision a lot, e.g., on the Big Bang: “The creation theory is ‘in the beginning, God’. The evolution theory is ‘in the beginning, dirt.'” Juvenile cheap shots abounded, e.g., “National Pornographic”, “Carl Pagan”, and calling the ACLU “the Atheist Communist Lawyers’ Union”.
As you can tell from the example above, Hovind has a problem telling various branches of science apart. “Evolution”, in his world, encompasses not just changes in populations over time, but abiogenesis, stellar and planetary formation, geology, cosmology, political leanings, and ideology. At one point, he showed an illustration from a textbook showing a dust cloud collapsing into a solar system; then, in the next slide, said that once it finished collapsing it would explode as the Big Bang. I think he thinks that the Big Bang was caused by stuff flying apart from centrifugal force.
I wouldn’t make this up if I could.
He then built upon this absurdity: conservation of angular momentum, according to him, means that everything should spin in the same direction as the Big Bang. And therefore, the fact that Neptune is tilted over 90 degrees is proof that the Big Bang didn’t happen. Actually, he mentioned three planets spinning “the wrong way” (CE260, but stupider), but I didn’t catch which ones they were. Cyde says Earth was among them. **BANG**
That was the sound of an astronomy student’s head exploding.
He asked, who created the laws of physics? (CE440) And if the Big Bang theory is true, “why aren’t the laws evolving?” Why don’t you wake up one morning ten pounds heavier because the law of gravity changed overnight? **BANG**
That was the sound of a physicist’s head exploding.
Hovind gave a weird twist on an old argument: the Second Law of Thermodynamics, according to him, says that everything tends toward disorder (CF001). And since evolution says that things are improving over time, the 2LoT contradicts evolution. “Ah, but”, say critics, “the 2LoT only applies in closed systems, and the Earth receives vast amounts of energy from the sun, so it’s not a closed system.” “True,” replies Hovind, “but the universe is a closed system, so it still applies.” (CF001.2.)
Okay, that’s just bizarre. Yes, the universe is closed. Yes, eventually (on the scale of, what, hundreds of billions of years?) everything will run down if the universe keeps expanding. But we’re not there yet. We can still count on the sun for a good long time.
But the thing that gets me is that the audience was eating this up like deep-fried dog turds at a state fair. Every time Hovind set fire to a strawman, or ridiculed hard-working scientists, or made the sort of leap of logic that would make Evel Knievel proud, there’d be a murmur of “Amen!”s throughout the crowd. I didn’t think it was possible to have so many people be so ignorant and so lacking in critical thinking, but I guess I just got some insight into Dubya’s reelection.
Anyway, here’s a grab-bag of other arguments Hovind threw out during the evening:
- Kids are taught that there are no absolutes, so therefore no rules, and there’s no such thing as immoral behavior (CA001).
- If you teach kids that they’re just animals, don’t be surprised when they behave like animals (CA009).
- There’s no law against teaching creationism in public school; you just can’t mandate it. He also forgot to mention that you can’t teach it in science class.
- All sorts of Bad Things (teen pregnancy, abortion, murder, SAT scores, divorces, teen suicide, etc.) have risen dramatically since evolution started being taught in schools (CA001.1). He had charts and graphs to prove his point, but I found it telling that they all covered only the period from 1950 to 1990. I’m guessing that he either didn’t want to acknowledge the decline in these statistics during the Clinton years, or couldn’t be bothered to update his chart in the last 15 years. Nor that the murder rate in the US was at a historical low in 1950. Nor did he compare crime US crime rates with those in other industrial nations. None of that would have helped his case.
- If you say a frog turns into a prince, that’s a fairy tale. But if you say it happened over millions of years, that’s evolution.
- “Were you there?” This is, of course, the creationists’ killer argument with regard to historical sciences. If you didn’t see it happen, you don’t know that it happened. By this criterion, we don’t know that the American Revolution or the Thirty Years’ War actually took place, since no one living today was around to see it. For that matter, by this reasoning, it’s impossible to solve a crime to which there were no witnesses. Hovind added that “The only way to know how old something is is to ask the guy who made it.”
- Quoting surveys showing how many Americans believe in creationism. As if facts were subject to popular vote.
- “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
- The Bible said that the original sin was the cause of death. Evolution postulates death before sin, and is therefore a heresy.
- Extrapolating a modern population growth rate backward shows the earth’s population to be 8 people (Noah and his family) 4000 years ago (CB620).
- Short-period comets disprove an old universe (CE261), and the Oort cloud was made up from whole cloth (CE261.1).
- “A God who would use evolution is cruel and retarded.”
- A theist is someone who beieves in God. With an A in front, an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in god. Likewise, “muse” means to think, and “amuse” is about not thinking. (He didn’t mention the Greek muses, presumably because that would have undercut his argument, such as it is.)
- Evolution is chance (CB940, CB010.2).
- Carbon dates obtained from different parts of the same mammoths give wildly differing ages (CD011.2).
- He showed a fossil of an animal giving birth. Since it doesn’t take millions of years to give birth, the fossil couldn’t be millions of years old. Of course, by that same argument, since it doesn’t take years to give birth, the fossil must be vintage 2003 or so.
- Polystrate tree fossils (CC331)
- Leap seconds have to be added to compensate for a slowing of the Earth’s rotation (CE011.1). If the Earth were billions of years old, the dinosaurs would have been thrown off by centrifugal force.
- The expansion of the Sahara proves a young earth (CD821).
- Oil (petroleum) has been manufactured rapidly in the lab (CC361.1).
- Oil pressure disproves an old Earth (CD231).
- The Lost Squadron disproves ice-core dates (CD410).
- The Limestone Cowboy.
- The amount of salt in the oceans is consistent with a flood 4000 years ago (CD221.1). He also said that it’s possible to acclimate black mollies to salt water, but it’s far from obvious that this is true of other fish.
- The size of the Mississippi delta disproves an old earth (CD211).
All in all, I’m still not quite sure what to make of Hovind. Yes, he’s a huckster and an embarrassment even to other YECs. But if he were a conscious fraud, couldn’t he do a better job of it? He kept pushing his books and videos (on sale in the lobby), but also said that none of it is copyrighted, and people should feel free to copy his DVDs and give them away. Is this sincerity, or merely tactical altruism to give him more credibility? And in the age of megachurches, couldn’t he arrange some better venues than a 200-person church in the middle of nowhere? Wouldn’t he make his material less extreme, to appeal to
more suckers a wider audience?
Of course, it’s possible that he doesn’t want to compete head-to-head with the AiGs, Billy Grahams, and Pat Robertsons of the world, and is simply exploiting a niche market.