Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Voyage That Shook the World - Leeds - 15th December 2009 - Creation Ministries International

Another report as part of Creation-Watch.


I have now seen a few creationists "in action" so I feel able to comment on the style and abilities of Phil Bell of Creation Ministries International. He is very slick, much younger than most of his fellow creationists and absolutely oozing confidence and authority. He has quite a high pitched voice but manages to drop it down a bit when he is giving out divine instructions such as how there is no choice but to think the world is only 6,000 years old if you want to be a Christian. He has a clear delivery, a good sense of timing, is not afraid to use silence and also has a good sense of humour. All of this helps him grab his audiences attention and persuade them that the half truths and misinformation he is spouting are in fact true.

So a talented speaker and also, as it turns out, a very well produced documentary. The production values were excellent with a historical narrative interspersed with contemporary interviews and on location shots. Filmed in the UK and the Galapagos there was even a full size sailing ship.

I didn't get much chance to research the film before I went to this meeting. This was a big mistake and I hope that these notes will help anyone who does intend going to another screening. CMI are showing this film in the UK throughout 2010 check here for details.


I vaguely remembered something about a controversy regarding the contribution from some historians in the film.

Here is a taste of that row together with links so you can look into it for yourself further if you wish.

The three historians in the film issued a statement which included the following comments;
"We were led to believe that the movie was being made to be shown as an educational film on Australian broadcast television and possibly elsewhere. Fathom Media was revealed to be a subsidiary of Creation Ministries International when publicity for the movie began to appear on the internet. We were alerted to the true nature of the movie by James Williams of the University of Sussex shortly before its release in about April of this year."

“The interviews filmed with us have been edited to highlight certain aspects of Darwin’s views and character. Janet Browne’s remarks about his childhood delight in making up stories to impress people is used to imply that the same motive may have driven his scientific thinking. Peter Bowler’s description of Darwin’s later views on racial inequality is used in the film, but not Bowler’s account of Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s thesis that Darwin was inspired by his opposition to racism and slavery. Sandra Herbert’s comment that Darwin’s theory required explanation of many aspects of life was edited down to imply that his theory required explanation of all aspects of life. The overall impression is given that Darwin had an enquiring mind but was led astray by his theoretical preconceptions, a view backed up through interviews with several scientists, including one who expresses open doubts about evolution. The film also suggests that what is ultimately at stake is a clash of world views rather than the resolution of scientific questions.

Academics perhaps do need to be more aware of the fact that the media organizations are not always open about their underlying agendas. Had we known the true origins of Fathom Media, we probably would not have contributed, but the producers do have a point: if academic historians refuse to participate when movements they don’t approve of seek historical information, these historians can hardly complain if less reputable sources are used instead. Because this article is available on the Web, we would like to suggest the following links that list works on the history of Darwin and evolution: (the Darwin Correspondence Project’s Web site which has a section on science and religion), (the National Science Foundation’s “Evolution of Evolution” Web site which features interviews with historians of science), and (the National Center for Science Education Web site which has a section on science and religion).

– Peter Bowler, Janet Browne, Sandra Herbert"

You can read the whole thing here.

This was followed up by an appearance on the BBC by CMI defending their behaviour. Here are a few extracts from the BBC story;
On today's Sunday Sequence, the CEO of Creation Ministries UK responded to claims by one of the world's leading authorities on evolution that he was duped into appearing in an anti-Darwinian film.

He claims that the film's narrative implies that Darwin's theory led him towards racism, whereas recent historical work by James Moore and Adrian Desmond shows that Darwin's scientific work was partly motivated by the naturalist's passionate opposition to racism.

Professor Bowler says he, along with his colleagues Sandra Herbert and Janet Browne, only discovered that they had inadvertently contributed to a Creationist film a month before the film's release. Peter Bowler also raised concerns about how the editing of his own interview could leave viewers with a false impression of his own perspective on Darwin.

Phil Bell, CEO of Creation Ministries UK, acknowledged that his organisation established a "front company" called Fathom Media, because they were concerned that experts such as Peter Bowler would not agree to take part in the film if they realised it was an "overtly Creationist" production. "At the end of the day," he said, "[when] people see 'Creationist', instantly the shutters go up and that would have shut us off from talking to the sort of experts, such as Professor Bowler, that we wanted to get to."

I asked Phil Bell if this method of securing an interview was "deceptive". He said: "Well, it could be called deceptive. But I think, at the end of the day, I would say that more people are concerned about how we've made a documentary, that's a world-class documentary, clearly with wonderful footage, with excellent interviews, and balanced open discussion."

Phil Bell also denied that his organisation had broken the ninth commandment by "bearing false witness" against Professor Bowler and his colleagues. "Nobody was told any lies," he said.

Update: Creation Ministries International has published an online "clarification" in response to this story.

Again, read the whole thing for yourself here.

The "clarification" from CMI is pretty hilarious. Here are a few extracts;
We do not believe that we framed the invitations or the interviews in such a way that, due to the omission of information, a false impression would be formed about where we were coming from. Such would indeed risk breaching the commandment against false witness—the classic ‘half-truth’ deliberately intended to deceive. We were and are under an obligation to speak the truth, but not to provide exhaustive information where it was not sought. The Bible says of Jesus that “no deceit was in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22), yet he withheld information from those who were not ready to receive it, including the Pharisees (Matt. 21:23–27) and even his own disciples (John 16:12).4

I find it hysterical that the defence offered relates to withholding information from people because they were not ready to believe it somehow implying that the scientists and science historians would not have believed that creationists were making a film. Yet CMI admit that they deliberately concealed their creationist agenda because it would prevent some people from co-operating with them. So which is it?

Go read the full "clarification" - it's very entertaining.

The Spin

Now, can you guess how this whole row was spun during the meeting in Leeds? How was this juicy bit of argument turned to the advantage of the creationists? What clever twists and interpretations did they put on it?

They never breathed a word about it at all!

The film was introduced by Phil Bell as follows;
"This film is 52 minutes and is for secular audiences - not for creationists - those strange two headed beasts who actually believe the bible - ha ha."

. . .

This film isn't anti-Darwin but is anti- common ancestor / common descent. Of the 14 evolutionists or science historians in the film only 4 are young earth creationists so you can see that this is a fair and balanced treatment of the subject."

So there you go folks - you really can trust CMI to do what they say - they don't tell lies - they just don't tell you anything about some things that they don't want you to know about. It's OK to do that if you quote Jesus later on!

The film itself

I'm not going to analyse the film frame by frame but instead here is a list of the erroneous claims and misinformation it contains that I have collated from my own notes and supplemented with the aid of wikipedia;
  • The film had an unusual emphasis on Darwin "making up stories" as a child with the clear implication that he was a liar.
  • The film showed Peter Bowler stating that it was then a settled question that the earth is of great age, but not today - this related to the existence of young earth creationists and not the existence of a scientific debate. But that is not how it is presented.
  • The film then presents, as experts, several people without identifying them as creationists and intelligent design advocates.
  • These people were shown as though they were on a par with established experts, misleadingly representing their subject areas and not mentioning that two work for CMI while an intelligent design proponent is a professor at Biola University.
  • The film identified Stuart Burgess as "Design & Nature, Bristol University" but he is in fact the Professor of Engineering Design and department head at Bristol University.
  • The creationist Emil Silvestru presents arguments for a young earth and for catastrophic flood producing geological formations, taking as an example the Channeled Scablands, but omits evidence of the great age of the earth.
  • The film presented as fact the erroneous claim that polystrate trees prove a young earth and disproves most of modern geology because modern geologists think they were buried over millions of years. (they don't)
  • The film argues that Darwin was misled by Lyell's ideas, and presents a two-model approach in which science of the age of the earth is contrasted with religion as the creationist view that the diversity and distribution of species evolved rapidly in the few thousand years since Noah's Flood.
  • The film claims that because Darwin did not know what we now know about biology his work it is easy to understand why he is wrong.
  • The film then presents creationist claims that there are limits to evolution and random mutation cannot generate new information or structures, claims at odds with science.
  • The film touches on claims that evolutionary views caused racism, but omits to mention religious support for racism, such as the Southern Baptist Convention being set up to promote slavery.
  • Alvin Plantinga presents philosophical arguments against the validity of scientific evidence.
  • The film completely omits the overwhelming evidence supporting common descent and human evolution.
  • The film concludes that there are opposing views of evolution and creation.
  • The film implies that religion and science are incompatible.
  • The film appears to be trying to hide its own creationism.

Phil Bell talk

There were just under one hundred people in the church and the folks in the row in front of me said that it had been "advertised" in every service for the past month. I rang the organiser before I went to make sure it was open to the public and they confirmed it was.

Here is a quick summary of his talk written from my notes, hand written at the time - they might not be exactly word for word but I am pretty sure that I have grasped the meaning intention and content of the talk OK - my comments interspersed;
This is not an anti Darwin film but we think that the idea of "molecules to man" is wrong. We are not anti science either - CMI web site plug. The film cost more then $1m to make - all given by God's people.

I have a background in zoology, geology and cancer research and as a school teacher over the past 9 years.

As a Christian I see God and the Bible as the final authority regarding biology, geology etc.

I know that the Bible is not a text book but it is a simple factual account.

We don't ignore fossils - we publish news and science stories e.g. a recent story about an octopus preserved in sandstone which still had the ink in it.

You can interpret this evidence however you want;

it is all evidence of burial in a recent global flood or of millions of years of slow burial (which doesn't fit in very well does it?).

No mention that modern geology does accept that things do get buried in floods then. Also no mention of the lack of evidence for a global flood 4,000 years ago.
Soft tissues have also been found in dinosaur remains that were supposed to be eighty million years old.

Not soft tissues but fragments of some protein actually. Google it. How does he expect to get away with comments like this?
Plug for newsletter.

When Darwin announced his theory it was subject to much controversy and it was said that "worldviews collided".

Darwin designed his theory to get rid of god and he said so.

No quote given - Having read Origin of Species and Voyage of the Beagle I think he is just making this up.
Insects with wings are said to have evolved from insects with wings but we have no evidence of this change - just a big gap.

God of the gaps again - Arguing from ignorance is illogical and, of course, he is ignoring all the evidence for evolution. Here is a quite recent discussion on this topic.
We did treat Darwin with respect even though evolution means that single cells evolved into people over millions of year and not just changes in finches.

No thinking person disagrees that dogs and finches do change.

Do you think that molecules to man is based on faith or the evidence?

Next we were treated to some pretty pictures of chalk drawings that look 3D even though they are only 2D.
These are optical illusions - with different interpretation of evidence possible.

This whole debate is a case of Biblical Glasses versus Evolution Glasses and there can be Christians on both sides of the debate.

Well yes huge numbers of them actually, Anglicans and Catholics for a start, with many scientists being religious as well as accepting the evidence for evolution.
Jesus believed Genesis - there is no doubt about that.

Hushed silence followed this comment which seemed to carry an awful lot of weight with this church going audience. At this point I began to realise that I was witnessing a powerful speaker.
Does Young Earth Creationism (YEC) connect with the real world? Can we make sense of all the evidence?

These were rhetorical questions asked in such a way as to be statements to the affirmative.
Remember in the film when one of the interviewees spoke about scientists having to beware of bias and make sure they follow the evidence? In fact everyone is biased the evolutionist scientists and me as a YEC.

At least I am open about my biases.

If you need to change your worldview - then just change your glasses.

Noah, six thousand years, dinosaurs and people. What is stopping you?

Long dramatic pause.
The words of people.

A young earth is often a bridge too far but remember that there are lots of non Christians who don't believe in evolution.

I assume that he is talking about creationists of other faiths but I suppose he might be trying to imply scientists - he gave no evidence to back up either view.
The BBC recently reported that 60% of the population want creationism taught alongside evolution.

Here are the details. The only thing I can say in defence of those questioned is that the questions were appallingly worded.
Even young islands look old.

One year after it was formed it was "beyond belief" and three years later wildlife and soil were there;

"things are not what they seem" - remember Peter Bowler said that in the film.

Dramatic pause.
Without the bedrock of the truth of Genesis you can't rely on the morale teachings of the Bible.

That shows you just how important it is to Phil to stick to his 6,000 year old earth, anything else leads to immorality.
Dawkins and his followers have huge problems with any Christians they meet.

This really just came out of the blue but look what comes next.
This is why we are certain in our beliefs about abortion, euthanasia and cloning.

If the Bible is true!

If Adam and Eve were not real then we have no foundation for marriage!

Who sets the rules? God or man?

Is it really true that it went from goo to you via the zoo?

Nice graphic - I want that on a t-shirt - couldn't find it on the web ;-(
With the theory of evolution you need millions of years of horrible deaths.

With Creation then we know that the sin of Adam is what lead to death.

If you don't take Genesis literally then sin did not literally come in then and you don't literally need to be saved.

I actually heard a gasp from someone at this point.
We need our faith to be rock solid.

Widespread nodding in the audience and a couple of "yes"s.

Web site plug. By the way we link to leading evolutionary websites.

My smug-ometer exploded at this point.
Some peoples minds are like concrete - well mixed up but permanently set.

General laughter . Wow - he has them in the palm of his hand now - I think he could tell them anything and they would just believe it because he said it - scary.

On reflection this really did seem like a hard sell / recruitment exercise and not just preaching to the choir.

The Q & A Session

This was very short with just one question, but it was snowing and we had been told that they had a long drive back to Leicester that night.
Q - DNA - we share some with apes and evolutionists think it is important.

A - Scientists say that looking at the Human genome shows evolution but really it just shows what you already believe - which glasses have you got on when you look at it. If you read one letter a second of the human genome it would take you 31 years to read it.

It is 98% the same as chimps. Chimps is 13% longer than ours. That doesn't add up does it?

He didn't bother to explain anything else.
Junk DNA was long held up as evidence for evolution but now we know it all has function.

This is false - we have found function for some of it.
Most of the DNA is a recipe with just 3% being genes or the ingredients in a recipe.

Our genes are 99% similar to mice and 50% similar to a banana.

General laughter.
In fact scientists looking at DNA now think we have more sequences in common with Orang Utans than Chimps.

This is also false, I guess he was referring to this study which was based on morphology and not DNA.


This talk certainly gave me a much better grasp of why people feel the need to be young earth creationists. It's as if they feel themselves adrift in a nasty universe and need something strong and comforting to hang on to. It is what make life live-able for them. Sad but true.

Now if I had prepared properly, then I think that I would have asked Phil if there had been any controversy about the film. In the interests of giving him chance to put his side across. I assume he would have come clean then. Either way I would then have read a couple of the comments from the history society statement and would also perhaps have pointed out the problems with CMI's claims that this kind of deception was said to be OK by Jesus. I'm sure he would have had very slick responses to these questions but it might have made a couple of folks in the audience think a little.

I might have picked out a couple of the points about the film above for comment, perhaps asking the audience what discipline they thought Burgess was in from his given title of "Design and Nature" and then telling them which department he was actually in.

I might have commented on the false dichotomy set up between faith and evolution and pointed out the many religious people who have no problem accepting modern scientific evidence.

As it was I was too busy trying to make sense of my notes and so missed the opportunity to ask anything!

Perhaps you can do better?

- - -

eSkeptic did an excellent job of debunking the silly science claims - see here.

1 comment:

  1. "With the theory of evolution you need millions of years of horrible deaths."

    This is remarkably similar to the language in Sylvia Baker's Christian Schools Trust policy on [mis]teaching evolution.