Often when I voice my concern about Young Earth Creationists and their beliefs, there are two common responses: 1) Nobody really believes that, do they? 2) Why does it matter if they want to believe that stuff?
First, yes, many people actually believe that the earth is between 5,000 and 10,000 years old and that human beings were created in their present form (Adam and Eve are, naturally, according to these folks, the universal ancestors of all humans). Most of the time, the people who doubt that these people exist live in places like New York or Boston or San Francisco. I invite them to come visit North Carolina sometime. According to a Gallup poll in December 2010, approximately 40% of Americans believe in Young Earth Creationism, rising to over 50% among Republicans (but falling quickly as the level of education increases -- hmmmm).
Secondly, we should be greatly concerned that this many Americans are this misguided (or willfully ignorant, as the case may be). This means that 40% of Americans a) do not grasp basic biology and geology concepts, and/or b) willfully ignore the evidence, as well as the not-at-all-controversial scientific consensus regarding the age of the earth. And only 700 out of 480,000 US earth and life scientists give any credence whatsoever to creationism.
Earth Magazine has an eye-opening piece about some covert ways in which Young Earth Creationism is seeping into areas usually reserved for actual science. Young Earth Creationists are organizing "educational" science field trips. They are infiltrating science conventions (such as the annual Geological Society of America meeting). They are presenting 'scientific' posters and papers.
Their methods are dishonest and sketchy.
Earth Magazine describes one particular field trip:
Together with about 50 attendees, I attended field trip 409 at the GSA meeting last October. The trip took us from Denver, where the meeting was held, to the area surrounding Garden of the Gods National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs. The point, according to the field trip guide, was “to observe and discuss the processes of sedimentation and tectonics at superb exposures near the Garden of the Gods.”
Many attendees seemed unaware of the backgrounds of the five trip co-leaders: Steve Austin, Marcus Ross, Tim Clarey, John Whitmore and Bill Hoesch. Austin is probably the most well-known; he is chair of the geology department at the Institute for Creation Research, which describes itself as the “leader in scientific research from a biblical perspective, conducting innovative laboratory and field research in the major disciplines of science.” Austin has been very active in promoting a Noah’s Flood interpretation of the geology of the Grand Canyon.
Ross is a former Discovery Institute fellow, currently an assistant professor of geology at Liberty University in Virginia (the self-proclaimed largest Christian university in the world). The University of Rhode Island granted him a doctorate in geology in 2006 even though he professed that Earth was at most 10,000 years old. Clarey is a geology professor at Delta College, a community college in Michigan. Whitmore is a geology professor at Cedarville University, a liberal arts Christian college in Ohio. Hoesch is a staff research geologist with the Institute for Creation Research.
During the trip, the leaders did not advertise their creationist views, but rather presented their credentials in a way that minimized their creationist affiliations. Austin introduced himself as a geologic consultant. Hoesch said he worked “in a small museum in the San Diego area” (referring to his job as curator of the Creation and Earth History Museum in Santee, Calif., which was founded by the Institute for Creation Research and is now operated by the Light and Life Foundation). Likewise, Whitmore did not offer that Cedarville’s official doctrinal statement declares, “We believe in the literal six-day account of creation” and requires that all faculty “must be born-again Christians” who “agree with our doctrinal statement.”
Furthermore, the field trip leaders were careful not to make overt creationist references. If the 50 or so field trip participants did not know the subtext and weren’t familiar with the field trip leaders, it’s quite possible that they never realized that the leaders endorsed geologic interpretations completely at odds with the scientific community
These folks know the deck is stacked against them. They know that the oceans of data supporting an old earth, evolutionary view crushes the sparse data they claim disproves this view. They are engaging in a dishonest, and desperate culture war designed to stealthily push their religious reverse-engineering as actual science to people who are seeking scientific information. It is their hope that if they can repeat the lies enough times to enough people then they can hold the inevitable at bay -- that evolution, and a 4.5 billion year-old earth, are completely at odds with a literal interpretation of the Bible. They believe that without a young earth, without Adam & Eve, and without The Great Flood, the whole house of cards falls apart.
They are wrong about evolution, they are wrong about the age of the earth, and they are wrong about these things being incompatible with religion. There are many who have accepted the overwhelming evidence without losing their religion.