The following is a republication of a post I made on the talk.origins newsgroup on November 12, 2005 regarding the creationist fraudster Kent Hovind. I am reposting it here because it is still very interesting, Kent Hovind is now serving a nice long prison sentence, and I would rather have it preserved for posterity here than buried on some newsgroup archives. Andrew Arensburger, who I went with, also wrote about the experience of seeing Kent Hovind (and has a spectacularly bad photograph of me, I might add). So, without further ado, here’s my post in its entirety:
Earlier today Andrew Arensburger and I drove from College Park, Maryland to a Baptist Church in northern Maryland (past Baltimore, near Havre de Grace) where Kent Hovind was “performing”. Right before we got there we accidentally turned into a street that led to this little housing development consisting of what was either a bunch of identical double-wide trailers on foundations or prefab houses. It was a tightly packed street in the middle of nowhere. It was depressing in that it seemed to be the living embodiment of a bunch of stereotypes people have about that weird mix of suburban/rural living.
The church was the next street over. The church itself was nice. It seemed pretty new, it had a big parking lot, it had a big main room, and it had a wing with classrooms and stuff in it. It even had a state of the art projection and audiovisual system. The niceness and material wealthiness of this church was in sharp contrast to the mini housing development we had accidentally turned into.
As we were standing around in the lobby of the church a bunch of pastors came up to us, introduced themselves, asked us our names, shook hands, etc. They seemed very friendly. By this point a lot of people were coming so we headed into the lobby, where by the front we saw the man of the hour himself, Kent Hovind.
Two girls in what appeared to be Amish get-ups were setting up plastic dinosaurs and pages upon pages of material along the steps to either side of the main stage and podium (I’m not up on church lingo). The dinosaurs were really attracting the kids, but the one page that was equating the Holocaust with evolution was really pissing me the hell off. I think the two girls (they were as least younger than teenagers) must’ve been relatives of Kent Hovind or something. They were probably in his evangelism group. They were wearing these really bizarre Amish-style clothings, as were some other people in the audience. Maybe this is just traditional get-up for some people who go to church, but it was new to me. (Later on during Kent’s performance he was basically saying any girl who dressed up “like a whore” was a whore, so I kind of understand if he suppresses the women in his family from wearing anything remotely interesting).
Anyway, and this is just the college male in me speaking, one thing that struck me was the make up of the audience. There were no black people anywhere, out of several hundred people. I saw maybe two Asians. And most of the other people were decidedly WASP-ish looking. Some had brown hair but they still had the WASP features. Normally I feel pretty comfortable anywhere, but what with my half-Jewish ancestry I really felt like I was standing out. Andrew was standing out too — if you’ve seen a picture of him, you’d understand. He’ll be posting his own write-up which includes a picture of him, me, and the man of the hour. Another thing about the audience – there were a lot of attractive young women. This is just something I’ve noticed about typically rural/southern people. You’ve all heard the stories about the farmer’s daughter … well, at least the physical description is accurate. My heart wept for these attractive young women/girls who were about to be brainwashed (or already were brainwashed) by this decidedly anti-scientific rhetoric.
Also, out in the lobby they had a couple tables setup with all sorts of books and DVDs for sale. There was no charge for admission, and Kent never asked for donations, but he sure as hell sold the hell out of his books. At least ten times during the speech he mentioned, “And you can find out more about this on Vol. 4 of my Creation Evangelism [or whatever] series.” He had two women (he called them secretaries) that he brought with him from Pensacola, FL to sell the stuff for him.
Before I tell you anything about the performance I want to tell you about the audience, so you are in the same state of mind I was during the performance (this will help to understand the atmosphere). Throughout the performance there were people saying “Amen!” to whatever blatant anti-evolution lie Kent Hovind was throwing out there. To the front and right of me was this rabid anti-evolutionist who kept on muttering, “That’s right!” at the appropriate times and “That’s absurd!” whenever Hovind was throwing out another argument from incredulity. There was a woman behind and to the left of us who was laughing hysterically at Hovind’s jokes, especially the ones with the anti-evolution cruel intent. To the right of me was this young couple (the woman was “young” (<25) and attractive, natch) and the woman was laughing periodically at Hovind’s arguments from incredulity. During the intermission I asked her if she was having a good time. She said, “Yes.” I said, “Yeah, this is hysterical.” Predictably, she didn’t understand where I was coming from, so she said, “Yeah, he’s a great speaker,” to which I replied, “Yes, he is.” And to be fair, Hovind is a good speaker. He’s interesting and funny — it’s too bad everytime he opens his mouth he lies. He’s a charismatic carnival huckster. Another random thing of note — when I first got into my seat and sat down I saw two books in a rack on the bench (pew?) in front of me, “Baptist Hymnals” and “The Holy Bible” [KJV Edition]. The Hymnals were interesting, as they included such American songs as “My Country Tis Of Thee” and “The Star-Spangled Banner”. It became quite obvious that Baptist is a merger between American patriotism and Christianity. Also I was paging through the Bible because it was interesting to me. I rarely ever look through one on my own, so it was actually sort of interesting to me. Did you know that the combined four Gospels of Mark, Luke, John, and whoever are only like 50 pages out of 700?! And that the New Testament is like a third of the size of the Old Testament? I didn’t know this stuff, so it was interesting to me. Anyway, after I put the Bible down I noticed the woman next to me (same young attractive woman as before) had picked hers up and was reading through it. She had mistaken my inquisitiveness for some kind of studiousness and I had shamed her into picking up the Bible to read it on her own!!! After I put mine down I saw her putting hers down shortly thereafter. I guess if you go to church every week and the pastor is having you pick it up every week and read passages it gets tremendously boring and you won’t pick it up on your own unless you’re in an environment where you feel unstudious or un-pious for not picking it up. I was actually sort of having a good time going through it until I got stuck on Chronologies. Ohmygod, the pain. But I digress from the main topic. The pastor briefly introduced Kent Hovind, saying thank God that Kent Hovind could be here, etc. He actually led us in a prayer where we closed our eyes and he was saying stuff like “Thank God for Kent Hovind who is fighting the good fight.” Ugh. And then the man of the hour sat up and started the performance. The first thing that’s important to realize (that I already touched on) is that Kent Hovind is a good speaker. He’s charismatic, he’s funny, and he connects with the target audience. Later Andrew remarked to me that a church audience is the easiest audience in the world, which is probably true, because he had people bawling over jokes which I had found only slightly funny. If Kent Hovind was a college professor (and, uhhh, didn’t have the totally irrational views that he does now), I would definitely attend every one of his lectures and I’d think him a great teacher. As it is now, I’m just kind of sad that such public speaking talent is wasted on such absurd material. In fact, I’m more than sad, I’m pretty angry. There were several hundred people there and I’m sure a good number of them who were previously fence sitters are now Young Earth Creationists, merely because Kent Hovind is a good rhetorical speaker and they didn’t have the scientific background to be able to pick apart his claims. Kent Hovind used a plethora of good speaking skills, including audience participation, that made him a really effective speaker. Whereas I previously thought of him as just a sort of loon who could be ignored, I now have a real appreciation of how dangerous he is. He even had a fully laid out PowerPoint presentation with lots of references and hand-drawn cartoons. It was a full multimedia presentation. One of Kent Hovind’s first jokes was, “I’ve been working out how much my wife and I spent since we got married. I finally figured it out — we spent all of it.” He was trying to paint himself as yet another working stiff who barely scrapes together enough money to get by, thus drawing the audience closer by familiarity, but anyone who actually knows about Kent Hovind’s “finances” knows that he’s hardly merely scraping by. This was the first lie in two and a quarter hours FULL of lies. What follows is a list of errors, misconceptions, strawmen, and outright lies, in no particular order, from Kent Hovind’s performance: He said something about how the Earth’s rotation is slowing down (true), and then went on to say that leap seconds are the result of scientists correcting for this, which is false — leap seconds are there to correct for the difference between sidereal years and calendar years, not the slowing of the Earth’s rotation. He then went on to calculate, based on the rate of about one leap second every 1.5 years, how fast the Earth would be spinning, say, hundreds of millions of years ago, and said that it would be spinning so fast it would throw everything off. He had a cute picture of a rapidly spinning Earth and dinosaurs being flung off it. He used this truly bizarre angular momentum example of little kids on a merry-go-round being pushed by high school football players, complete with four-step humorous illustrations. He said something very bizarre about angular momentum being conserved by the kids spinning after they were flung off the merry-go-round. Then he went into even more bizarre realms when he talked about the Earth, Venus, and Neptune, as well as a dozen out of the 90 moons in the solar system, all spinning “backwards”, which is clearly impossible if the original angular momentum of the pre-Big Bang “dot” is to be preserved (he used one reference where some scientist was talking about how the primordial matter was spinning very quickly). He even talked about entire galaxies spinning “backwards”, complete with a screenshot of a CNN online article. I was at a loss for words at this point. I’ve taken several classes in astronomy and the ignorance he was showing about these issues was so great that I don’t feel it is necessary to respond. He talked about limestone or mineral deposit mounds that formed on pipes, parking garages, or whatever, and how quickly they formed, and went on to say that stalactites in caves don’t have to nearly as old as scientists claim. He emphasized (for whatever reason) that the Earth is NOT overpopulated and that, in fact, it is barely inhabited at all. He had a bunch of slides to “prove” this. He showed pictures of meadows and the Great Plains and said, “See all of this empty land out there?” But the hysterical part was that one of his photos was an aerial or satellite photo of checkered FARM LAND. Yes, FARM LAND. Apparently Kent Hovind thinks farm land is unnecessary and society would totally work if all farm land was converted into living space for people. He went on to say that all people on Earth could fit TWICE over into only Jacksonville, FL, nevermind how absurd it is to imagine everyone standing together all packed in. And of course he doesn’t mention that just to feed those people you need to reserve at least all of the rest of the United States for farm land. He then goes on to use an exponential equation to show that the 6 billion people of today traces back logically to around 8 people at … surprise surprise … 4,400 years ago. Obviously evolution is impossible, he says, because if humanity started three million years ago then population growth would be so great that there would be tens of thousands of people living per square INCH on the Earth’s surface. Yes, he said that. Go back and read it again. He had people guffawing over this one, laughing at those silly evolutionists who posit that people were around for that long because, you know, they could totally reproduce until they covered every square inch of land with tens of thousands of people. This was the worst example of a strawman argument I saw all night. One of his recurring themes was his “theory” of Young Earth Creationism, where he’d repeatedly bring up a scientific strawman or deliberate misinterpretation, say why it means that the Earth couldn’t possibly be older than around 6,000 years (or 4,400 years for things affected by the Flood), and then he’d say, “Scientists want you to believe this.” (Laughter from the audience.) “I, on the other hand, have an alternate theory …” and then he’d bring up the slide with his creation timeline again. He drilled it into people’s heads at least half a dozen times, using the very popular rhetorical technique of repetition, and by the end of it I daresay he had people chanting along with him over the creation timeline. He said something about Niagara Falls moving a certain number of feet per years, and that the Earth couldn’t possibly be older than a certain number of years or else the Niagara Falls should’ve eroded its way all the way back to Lake Erie. This lack of logic was astounding. There’s no law that says that the Niagara Falls have been around for the history of the Earth; in fact, at the rate they are eroding, they are an almost ephemeral phenomenon and we are lucky just to be around at the same time as them. But in his distorted perception of reality, were the pre-flood time any longer than 4,400 years ago the rate of erosion would have cut the Niagara Falls all the way to Lake Erie and this would be impossible because the Niagara Falls is, in fact, halfway along the lake between Lake Erie and the river’s source. It’s hard to explain (or understand) this argument because it’s so absurd, but just think about circular logic and you get the drift. He liked to bring up the statistic that 75% of public-schooled Christians lose their faith after just one year at college. First of all, I highly doubt the accuracy of that statistic, but even assuming that it was true, why is he bringing it up? Is he really suggesting that people should just not go to college and remain ignorant? He brought up about ten different graphs of various negative indicators of society (murder rates, illegitimate children, couples living out of wedlock, divorces, etc.) and showed that they all exhibited sharp increases immediately after 1963 when, spurred by the USSR’s Sputnik, we had a renewed emphasis on science education (and thus evolution) in this country. According to Kent Hovind murder rates went up over 1000% between 1960 and 1990 and this is solely the fault of evolution. Kent Hovind’s main argument style seems to be argumentation from incredulity, though I’m sure you all knew that already. Kent Hovind was talking about “real science” and how he was in favor of it, then went on to show two examples of his real science – how to make a paper airplane that will go really far and how to shoot a rubberband that will go really far. Yes, that is the extent of real science to Kent Hovind. To be fair, the rubberband and paper airplanes were really neat and they a good crowd pleaser, much like a magic trick. To shoot the rubberband he pulled one side of the band tighter than the other before firing. This is the only thing I learned from the whole performance :-) He then mixed it in with some weird metaphor about how the sides of the rubberband represent the soul and the body and that too many people emphasize them equally and that the soul must be emphasized more. As for the airplane, he took a half sheet of paper, folded it up multiple times, taped it into a circle, and as he threw it he gave it spin. It was really impressive – it flew really far. I’m going to have to try that. But if that’s all creationism can do – shoot rubberbands far and fly airplanes far – then count me against including it in public schools. He seems to be paranoid. He believes that evolution is a plot by atheists and humanists to train people to not think they are created in the image of God, and thus, they can easily be enslaved and used in The New World Order. What exactly this NWO is, he wouldn’t say. I’m not making this up. He said creation can legally be taught in schools, it’s just that it can’t be mandated. He said most people don’t know this because the American Communist Lawyers Union [sic] threatens principals with the threat of lawsuits for even the hint of creation being taught. According to him the godless atheist humanists are winning by default because the good Christians aren’t even stepping up to the plate to fight it and just giving up every time. Nevermind that teaching creation actually is illegal, whether or not it is mandatory. He had some very immature attacks (ad hominem) against various individuals or groups. I already mentioned what he called the ACLU. He also said stuff like, “National Pornographic, errr, I mean Geographic” (light laughter) and he referred to one “Carl Pagan”. He attacked Lyell on uniformitarianism, nevermind that he uses uniformitarianism in the majority of his arguments explaining why the Earth has to be young, by extrapolating current rates of XXXX back to millions or billions of years ago. Of course, he had an inerrant a priori belief that The Bible is absolute and 100% correct, and whenever it conflicted with what science has shown OF COURSE The Bible is correct. The crowd just ate this up and it never even crossed anyone’s mind to question this. He said that the result of evolution was all number of teens and young adults doing Really Stupid things, like using drugs, getting piercings or tattoos, or even, *gasp*, wearing spiky, Goth-style hair. He had pictures of the extreme ends of these spectrums to which the crowd, of course, responded to with horrified gasps. Some of the pictures were gruesome (like one guy who had hundreds of piercings on his face) — but then again, they weren’t relevant to anything either. He rehashed the creationist argument that there is too much salt in the ocean and that at current rates of ocean salinization the ocean would be entirely freshwater at 4,400 years ago, to coincide exactly with the Flood, which he says was fresh water. He also rehashed the argument that the Gulf of Mexico should be full of sediment run-off from the Mississippi River if the Earth actually was millions of years ago, nevermind that in the past sedimentation rates were different, and in the extreme past, the river didn’t exist and the continents looked totally different. He made a claim that I’ve never heard before when he took on Pangaea. He showed a picture of modern day continents aligned “perfectly” in the usual Pangaea arrangement, then went on to say that Africa was resized by 65% in the picture just to get it to fit. Does anyone know of the truth of this? I’m thinking he probably got confused by various map projections, which do distort the shapes of the continents. One of his arguments was, “Africa has twice the land area of S. America, yet in this image of Pangaea you can see that they look roughly the same size.” Nevermind that on a “normal” Mercator [sp?] projection map Greenland looks the same size of all of S. America yet in reality is only about the size of Texas. And don’t even get me started on the apparent size of Antarctica. On some of his slides he used quotes from AiG. I found that funny, seeing as how AiG has specifically attacked a lot of the things he says as “arguments that creationists shouldn’t use”. He also predictably took people like Stephen Jay Gould out of context. It’s easy to take a man out of context when he can no longer speak up for himself when he is quotemined :-( At various points in the presentation he attacked Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Catholics, going so far as to pimp (show ads) for books that consist of Baptist outreach arguments to these groups. He also attacked cigarettes, alcohol, and (obviously) drugs. He admitted that he’s never tasted a drop of alcohol in his life, and says, “Why should I try it to know if I like it? I don’t have to put my head underneath the wheels of a semi-trailer to know I wouldn’t like that.” It was complete with a funny cartoon illustration that the kids in the audience found hysterical. It made a lot of the grown-ups kind of uneasy though – out in rural Maryland you have a lot of smokers and a lot of drinkers, and the people didn’t like essentially being looked down upon. Hovind was showing the same disdain for smokers and drinkers as he was showing for the “evolutionists” in the rest of his presentation. A lot of his stuff was religious in nature. He had some moral lessons about following Christ and doing good in your life that was typical pastor/sermon stuff and really had nothing to do with evolution. He confused evolution with 6 different things – microevolution, macroevolution, chemical evolution, abiogenesis, galactic evolution, and something else, saying that only the former has been observed. He had a lot of ludicrous arguments on why “chemical evolution” (elements larger than iron being formed) was impossible, and he also tried to say that elements and stars was a chicken and the egg problem. He went on to talk about kinds and had a young kid in the argument pick out which “didn’t belong”: dog, wolf, coyote, or banana. Obviously the former three are one kind and a banana is something entirely different. It’s something so simple a 5-year-old can understand but those atheistic scientists constantly struggle with. He did a weird example on brainwashing which was essentially a logic puzzle with “leave home, turn left, left, and left, and there’s two masked men waiting for you at home” – which is apparently referring to baseball. But according to him he just brainwashed us all into thinking of “home” as an actual house and thus not getting the “puzzle”. He goes on to draw parallels with kids as young as kindergarteners being brainwashed to believe in evolution with the simple starting sentence in many books, “Millions of years ago…” or “Billions of years ago…” His solution? Ask “Were you there?” He bragged the hell out of defeating dozens of “evolutionists” in debates, and went on to pimp his series of videos showcasing these debates. You can get all of his videos for a low, low $350!! Where do I sign up?! He made a big deal of saying that they weren’t copyrighted and that you could copy them for your atheist friends to try to convert them, you just couldn’t sell them. Andrew thought this meant that he was a “true believer” in the views he was selling, because a true huckster could run the business, not allow copying, and make more money. I pointed out that the kind of people buying these videos are not the kind of people who are going to go online and download the videos or copy them off friends rather than simply buy them. If you’re making blockbuster movies, then yes, online piracy is a big deal. But if you’re making creationism videos, you’re already selling to the converted, the online trading of them is nonexistent (go try to find a .torrent of these vids), and by saying you are releasing them into the public domain you can put on a fake air of altruism: “I’m not into this for the money at all, you can copy them for free.” (But of course I know you’re going to buy them and give me lots of money.) At one point in the debate he played off of greed. “If you have a big house, what do you want? A bigger house!” The audience practically yelled in agreement. Same for having money, you want more money, you have 80 shoes, you still want more shoes, etc. The audience seemed to be confirming this greedy stereotype, as if they’d all be material whores if NOT for Christ “keeping them in check”. Meanwhile I’m thinking to myself, if I had a big house, I REALLY wouldn’t want a larger one, if I had a million bucks I really wouldn’t want any more, and if I had 80 shoes I sure as hell wouldn’t want anymore. I’m not really a materialist whore – I make do with what I have and I really don’t want for me. This seemed to be in sharp contrast to the people in attendance. And finally, at the end of the performance Hovind was selling the HELL out of his DVDs and books (which were, of course, available for purchase in the lobby). He must’ve had five slides of just ads for his books. And I saw a lot of people handing over lots of money for his schlock. This is how he makes his money … admission is free but he spends a good ten minutes selling the hell out of his goods, and if you don’t have the money with you you can of course buy from his catalog! He ended the performance with a prayer where we stood up, bowed our heads, closed our eyes, he said something, and then ended with an “Amen”. I forget what the prayer was about, which means that it was vacuous. After it was over Andrew and I went up to him, said hi, and got our picture taken with him. Beforehand we were thinking about maybe saying something to him or the pastor, but by the end of the performance we realized there was really nothing we could do. We were in his world, where the truth is irrelevant, and even bringing up anything that seemed contrary to him was liable to end up getting real ugly real quick. So we just said hi and left. We got back in Andrew’s car (luckily the Darwin fish wasn’t vandalized) and headed home. And that ends my discussion of Kent Hovind in Maryland. It took me longer to type this up than it took him to give the whole performance. Ugh :-( Andrew will be coming along at some point with the picture and his own write-up. He actually took five pages of notes during the presentation. I’m just running off of memory. And I’m sorry if this wasn’t as objective as it could be. My intent was to give you an exact feeling of how I felt about and responded to this performance, with no feelings censored. Hell, a bit of the college-age male “rowdiness” should even be showing through (*pokes fun at Ferrous Patella*).