Rhetoricals in AiG communications
While negative rhetoricals are expressed all through Institute for Creation Research media, Answers in Genesis’ Ansivers magazine exhibits a much more even ratio of positive to negative questions. This is most likely due, in part, to the fact that AiG also possesses the lowest frequency value of the Contrast Principle and Negativity Effect, with which negative questions are often linked. Additionally, it is important to note that there is considerable overlap across negative and positive questions, as they often appear concurrently within AiG articles. Negative questions, however, are still the most prevalent variety of rhetoricals in AiG media, while neutral questions are also much more common throughout Answers than in other antievolutionist communications. As with ICR contributors, Answers writers employ neutral rhetoricals to simply introduce ideas or to move from one topic to another, and these queries do not lead directly to criticisms of an opponent or to validations of the communicator’s message.63 Such neutral questions are regularly located in articles designed to provide apparent facts about animal species or natural phenomena, and they direct audiences to areas of interest highlighted by AiG’s spokespeople.64 Another repeated use of neutral questions involves simply asking “Why?” to steer an article’s contents from one piece of information to the next, while simultaneously drawing in the audience’s attention.
AiG’s negative rhetorical questions are also designed to intrigue audience members, and within Answers these queries are frequently used amid critiques of Evolutionary Creationism and attempts to incite fear. For example, Answers in Genesis writers rhetorically ask readers what might happen to the church, or to the authority of the Bible, if evolutionary biology was integrated with Christian beliefs. An article by John Upchurch, entitled, “The Danger of BioLogos: Blurring the Line Between Creation and Evolution,” provides numerous examples of how such negative, fear-prompting inquiries operate. Upchurch begins by telling readers: “Charles Darwin knew his ‘dangerous idea’ contradicted biblical creation. Rather than exposing the contradictions, however, some church leaders want to blend the two. The newest effort by BioLogos has taken the Evangelical world by storm.” He then asks forebodingly, “But at what cost?” Within the disparaging commentary that follows, Upchurch dispatches a series of additional rhetoricals:
- • “If some scientists’ claims contradict Scripture, what, then, is the final authority?”
- • “But if we rely on human interpreters who reject the possibility of God, what of the balance then?”
- • “If God did not create a perfect, sinless world, why does the Apostle Paul call Jesus Christ the Last Adam, whose work on the Cross redressed the sin and death that Adam brought into this world (Romans 5:11-19)?”
- • “Do we really believe that the gospel is more effective if we hide, discount, or contradict other portions of Scripture?”65
At the root of such negative questions is a conspicuous narrative of dread that the Bible’s fundamental message is being dismantled through the
Casting doubt and conspiracies 115 introduction, and the ascendency of secular premises within both popular and academic Christian thought:
Sadly, many people are inclined to ignore what God has said. Instead, they rely on secular philosophy to explain what happened in the past, and it contradicts recorded history and eyewitness testimony.
Can you imagine people applying such thinking to other fields of study? What if historians rejected recorded history and claimed that World War I never happened because their philosophy does not allow for the possibility of a world war? Would this be reasonable?66
A cluster of similar questions are embedded within the article “Unity ... At What Cost?”, which asks whether creationists should be allied in any way with non-creationist Christians:
- • “If His Word is not authoritative, in all its parts, how can anyone be sure that its message of salvation is reliable?”
- • “If a Christian claims to be committed to Christ’s centrality, how can he or she possibly tolerate such a shift, which degrades Christ’s supremacy?”
- • “How do you think Paul would feel to see so many modern Christian leaders embracing a new version of Epicurean philosophy (Darwinian evolution), even though it undermines the true history of Genesis, which Christ revealed in His Word so that sinners could understand their need for Him?”67
These sorts of queries dovetail AiG’s defense of Young Earth Creationism and allied hermeneutics, while also appearing throughout caustic reproaches of all non-creationists. As one contributor asks in the concluding sentences of a piece censuring various Pentecostal denominations: “When the church rejects the Bible’s authority in one area, should Christians be surprised that society does not take the Bible’s other teachings seriously? Why should anyone live by God’s Word if it is merely a flawed book that cannot be trusted?”68 In the same issue of Answers, Ken Ham poses the following confrontational question: “Can a person believe in an old earth and an old universe (millions or billions of years in age) and be a Christian?”69
Negative rhetoricals also constitute an important element of AiG’s anti-old-Earth offensive. These queries foster doubt regarding the strength of any Christian theories that support the notion of an ancient universe, as well as the data utilized in their development. Hypophora proves to be the most common variety of rhetorical employed for this purpose. For instance, in an article defying the scientific credibility of the Big Bang, Lisle first asks audiences, “Is the big bang the same kind of science that put men on the moon or allows your computer to function?” He then provides an immediate answer intended to downgrade the empirical support of the theory itself: “Not atall. The big bang isn’t testable, repeatable laboratory science. It doesn’t make specific predictions that are confirmed by observation and experimentation. In fact, the big bang is at odds with a number of principles of real operational science.”70 Similar rapid-fire question-and-answer charges are incorporated into AiG’s criticisms of contemporary biology, paleontology, and geology:
- • “Could instincts be the result of millions of years of evolutionary trial and error? That possibility seems hard to believe in light of the consequences of failure in just one generation.”71
- • “How could these survive for millions of years? It’s unthinkable!”72
- • “But where is the evidence of millions of years between rock layers?
There is none.”73
Together with negative questions deriding adversarial positions, a significant proportion of AiG’s positive rhetorical inquiries guide readers toward procreationist conclusions. Nonetheless, some of these questions are imbricate with negative queries, and are still coupled with criticisms of Christians who are apparently swayed by unreliable, nonbiblical oscillating opinions. For example, several of Dan Lietha’s cartoons exhibit positive rhetorical questions within messages expressing negative assessments of fellow believers.74 Other Answers writers also use positive rhetorical inquiries to bring attention to implicit, Young Earth Creationist-supporting conclusions. This often involves asking readers to consider whether they, as good Christians, are devotedly trusting God in the face of anti-biblical scientific threats. For instance, Terry Mortenson ends an article defending the literal six-day creation account by asking readers, “Will you trust His Word over the arrogant claims of sinful men?”71 In the article “Crib Notes for Every Believer,” Matthews alludes to Jesus Christ’s sacred authority by declaring, “Even the most challenging questions of our day, such as evolution over millions of years, boil down to the authority of Christ’s words, beginning in Genesis.” Next, he speculates, “Do we trust God or not?”76 These questions entreat audience members’ sense of personal faith and Christian cultural identities, asking, “Who are we to set up our opinions against the Almighty,” or “What could we possibly be ashamed of” if we know that the Bible is the “true and the ultimate authority in every area upon which it touches”?77
Positive rhetorical questions also direct readers to creationist explanations of scientific data. This is particularly apparent in materials addressing the Noahic deluge, geology, and paleontology. AiG media concentrating on these topics often detail a range of scientific findings, and then ask whether a global flood would best clarify these observations. For example, after discussing the seeming complications associated with trilobite tracks and fossils in various stratigraphic layers, the authors of one article ask the following two questions: “But what if the trilobites were scurrying for their lives, climbing through successive waves of mud that flooded over them,
Casting doubt and conspiracies 117 and then they finally expired from exhaustion? Do we have any record of a massive catastrophe that could form so many layers so quickly, then kill the trilobites?” The inferred answer to each of these questions is provided outright in the article’s final sentence, which tells readers, “Follow the trilobite tracks, and they lead us to the worldwide Flood of the Bible!”78 Analogous questions prompt similar conclusions:
- • “What force could cut the sharp angles necessary to make such a deep drop?”79
- • “What catastrophe ripped apart all these animals, and how did they end up in the center of the continent, 500 miles (800 km) from the nearest ocean?”80
- • “What unique forces brought this gem to the earth’s surface for us to enjoy?”81
As Snelling explains:
If the violent global Flood, described in the astonishing narrative of Genesis 7-8, really occurred, what evidence would we expect to find? Wouldn’t we expect to find rock layers all over the earth that are filled with billions of dead animals and plants that were rapidly buried and fossilized in sand, mud, and lime? Yes, and that’s exactly what we find.82
The intent of such queries is to turn readers from the seemingly deficit explanatory power of non-Young Earth Creationist theories to the unmatched accounts of nature put forward in Answers in Genesis’ conclusions.