Atheist’s Guide to YEC Conferences

Because a lot of people have expressed interest in coming to the conference tomorrow, I thought I would offer some tips.

  1. “Atheists” will be used like a curse word, and freely substituted for more accurate terms, like “rapists”, “racist”, “Nazis” (Hitler’s atheists is a common one) . It basically just means “evil person”. It is hard to hear a label you identify with used in this way, so be prepared.
  2. “Atheist” will be used to refer to people that believe in God. As in “Eve was the first atheist”. The logic here is actually quite simple:
    1. The Bible says that the knowledge of God’s existence is written on everyone’s heart. Therefore everyone really believes in God.
    2. The Bible is infallible.
    3. Atheists are evil liars.
    4. If the Bible says atheists believe in God, and atheists say they don’t, who are you going to believe? Something that’s infallible or an evil liar?
    5. Therefore all atheists secretly believe in God.
    6. The term atheist can’t really mean someone who doesn’t believe in God, because those people don’t exist.
    7. Therefore atheist just means someone who denies God’s authority, like Eve, or Satan.
  3. When word gets around that you are an atheist, you will get stares, whispers, pointing, fear, and people telling their kids to stay away from you. I generally wear bright pink both days, partially because I have a lot of bright pink clothes but also because it’s so rude and creepy, I don’t want them pointing and whispering about the wrong person by accident. I think wearing an obvious atheist T-shirt would be perceived as aggressive, and it would also eliminate my chance to ask at least a few questions of the speaker before they find out who I am.
  4. I’m not a fan of actually lying about my beliefs. But the conference can be overwhelming enough without confrontation. Also, even though it’s a creation science conference, no one will actually want to talk about creation science when they find out you’re an atheist. They’ll just want to go on about morality and your soul, which is annoying. If you want to lie, you should have answers prepared for the most common social questions.
    1. What church do you go to?
      1. “I don’t” is actually an acceptable answer. A fair number of young earth Christians actually can’t find a church they agree with and “home-church”. I’ve said this intending to out myself and actually had people accept it with no follow up questions.
      2. Saying you go to a United, Unitarian, Anglican, Catholic, or Orthodox church is pretty much the same as saying you are an atheist as far as these people are concerned.
      3. Saying you go to the church that the conference is at, or any of the more popular ones, is going to result in ‘”Oh, you must know Dave”, generally followed by an awkward introduction to Dave.
      4. The safest answer is probably to pick a largish church of a protestant denomination in which most, but not all members believe in evolution. That way you’re pretty sure no one from “your church” will be there.
    2. How did you hear about the conference?
      1. This year it has been advertised heavily on Shine FM, so that’s probably your best option. Say you heard the ad on the radio while at the dentist’s or something so you don’t have to worry about not being familiar with Christian Rock songs.
      2. Or, if you actually want to learn some Christian Rock songs, my favourites are:
        1. God’s not Dead (the first line is “Let love explode and bring the dead to life!”)
        2. Do Something
        3. Galaxies
        4. Down
  5. I generally do not talk to anyone (other than the speaker) unless they approach me. They tend to have very strong feelings about atheists, and I’ve had people that did approach me go wide eyed and back away when they found out. I feel that this would be more awkward if I had started the conversation. But if you do want to talk to people, I have a rule of thumb. Pay attention to their reactions to the speaker.
    1. If they are engaged and seem to be thinking about what he is saying, they are probably OK and you may have an interesting conversation. These people tend toward the “young earth-leadership” category of my Grand Unified Theory of Creationism and are generally friendly and willing to be challenged.
    2. If they look zoned out except to shout “AMEN” periodically, stay away. They often have bored children in tow. These people seem to attend basically as a ritual to keep Satan away. And as an atheist, they believe Satan is literally living inside of you.
  6. Have some respect and try not to stereotype. Most people at the conference aren’t actually crazy or stupid. Yes, they all believe in Satan and most believe in massive conspiracies, but not because of hallucinations. They believe that because they have been taught by people they trust, often from a young age. And the full young earth theology is shockingly detailed and consistent. It’s not hard for very smart people to believe this stuff.
  7. Respect the speaker. It’s easy to search for anomalies in his academic history (like the length of his doctorate degree or publication history) and discount his expertise. But really, you are negating his qualifications because you don’t want someone qualified to disagree with you. It’s confirmation bias at work. He does have a Ph.D. in geology, and he almost certainly knows more about his field than you do. I doubt that the University would have accepted him and kept him for 8 years without dropping him if he wasn’t a very good student in other ways. He does not reject modern geology because he doesn’t understand it, he rejects it because he believes he has additional infallible evidence (the Bible) which modern geology does not account for.
  8. There are no magic bullet questions that will stump everyone and magically convert them.
    1. I mostly ask questions to help me understand what they believe and why. And questions I’m sincerely curious about.
    2. I used to ask the questions that had the most ridiculous, convoluted, embarrassing answers on their website. Questions that the YEC community does not agree on the answers of. This actually seemed to make people question what they are hearing. Things like the speed of light problem, and with time being relative how is six days defined. But they’ve caught on to that, and lately they’ve been declining to answer these questions and just directing people to their website.
    3. If there are any more moderate/undecided people in the crowd, questions that make it clear that they are serious that they will believe the Bible even if it contradicts their own senses are good. That is hard for someone who is not already fully indoctrinated to accept. They will answer those ones directly, with no hesitation, so you don’t even have to be sneaky about it.
      1. The simplest one is probably the one from the Bill Nye debate, “what would change your mind”. Ken Ham is just as proud of his answer (“nothing”) as Bill was of his (“evidence”). He brags about how he is not like those scientists that are always changing their mind. The truth never changes, and he knows the truth.
      2. You can set up complicated hypotheticals on this theme. “What if you got a time machine and could go back more than 6,000 years” and “what if God appeared to you and said the earth was 4.3 billion years old?” The answer will be “I would know it’s not really God, because God cannot contradict the Bible.”
  9. Be polite. Laugh quietly. Don’t cause a disturbance.
  10. Bring lots of patience. It’s hard, because it can feel like you’re being attacked. But if you snap and get defensive you’ll just reinforce the impression that all atheists are jerks.
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