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Sensationalism Sells!

on March 1, 1994
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Originally published in Creation 16(2):4, March 1994

Christians are called on to believe—but that means believing God’s Word, not uncritically believing everything we hear or read, no matter how sensationally it appears to bolster our faith.

‘Loch Ness monster captured!’ screamed the headline, with a photo showing a diver clutching the neck of something looking like a plesiosaur. This particular mass-circulation US tabloid often has similar ‘sensational’ reports which occasionally seem pro-creationist. Not surprisingly, some people seeing it for the first time write and ask why we don’t seem interested in investigating such reports—after all, each story has photos and testimonials.

But if one were to take the ‘evidence’ in this particular publication at face value then one would also have to accept, for example, the photographic ‘proof’ that Abraham Lincoln’s partially decomposed corpse was recently revived for a few minutes (‘where am I?’) by a secret wonder drug, that the fossilized bodies of Adam and Eve were found in Colorado (minus one rib and including fossilized apple tree, from memory), and that (backed by a ‘genuine photo’) a dolphin had seemingly evolved human legs. Stories of alien activity mingle with such gems as a giant snapping turtle terrorizing a town for months, amid ads for all sorts of occult phenomena.

The hard evidence is either not available or is never submitted to experts (Christian or otherwise) for open, critical scrutiny.
Obviously these are not the sorts of things which would be believed by most Bible-believing Christians. However, there are claims, circulating widely, of alleged science/archaeological discoveries spectacularly supporting the Bible, which are also proving that sensationalism sells, even among Christians. Supporting photography and ‘testimonials’ are as common as in the tabloid paper discussed, but nothing ever seems to really materialize apart from a stream of books, tapes and videos. The hard evidence is either not available or is never submitted to experts (Christian or otherwise) for open, critical scrutiny.

Unfortunately, a Christian audience is especially vulnerable when claims are couched in spiritual jargon. Surely someone professing the name of Christ would not deliberately mislead? However, as prominent evangelical cult-busting ministries will generally verify, this is unfortunately all too common. Their experience indicates that often the line is blurred between fantasy and reality in some of these seemingly sincere tellers of amazing stories—they may even have convinced themselves.

Despite frequent humble, self-deprecatory statements, the real message is often ‘I’m so special that God has chosen me to reveal these things to the world, which is why they (including everybody who fails to accept the “evidence”) are out to get/discredit me’. Tales of persecution and hardship are all too often used to justify the absent or scanty nature of the evidence. ‘They’ may have confiscated it, or it is still ‘over there’ in some tantalizing form, like buried treasure.

Those who raise serious questions are usually (often ever-so-gently) portrayed as ‘dupes’ or agents of Satan. Such powerful, neo-cultic thought patterns generate not only funding but fiercely loyal defenders, including some who join in the active propagation of the ‘evidence’. These are just as much unwitting victims as anyone else. Others cash in on the ‘controversy’ because, quite simply, sensationalism sells.

Claims of divine guidance (and sometimes accounts of spectacular miracles equalling anything recorded in the Old Testament) make it seem even more ‘unspiritual’ to challenge these accounts. However, if upon investigation one finds (as we have done in the past) that some aspects of particular stories turn out to be clearly fabricated, it would seem legitimate not to give any credence to ongoing claims from the same source.

We appreciated a compliment made by a pastor recently who was introducing one of our speakers to his congregation. He said in essence ‘You can trust these people—I know that they avoid the sort of sensationalism that would “sell better” in some quarters. And they’ve actually scientifically debunked some of the more sensational claims you hear floating around.’

That doesn’t mean that we never print mistakes or never need correction. It also doesn’t mean that every scientific proposal we have commented on favourably at some stage will necessarily stand the test of time. But it does mean that we try very hard to be accurate and trustworthy—and to stay clear of dubious claims.

Christians are called on to believe—but that means believing God’s Word, not uncritically believing everything we hear or read, no matter how sensationally it appears to bolster our faith.

In fact, the exciting evidence for creation and the Creator is already quite sensational. And what could be more sensational than the incredible news that this Creator was made flesh, dwelt among us, and paid the penalty for the sin of those who believe?

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