Sunday, 4 August 2013

My review of The Greatest Hoax on Earth

My review of Jonathan Sarfati's The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution

This review provides an overview of The Greatest Hoax on Earth.  While much of the book seems convincing at first glance, after investigating the literature I found problems with how it represents many issues.  As my comments on those issues are too extensive to fit into this overview, I intend to post them separately on this blog.

One problem with The Greatest Hoax on Earth is that it is captive to Creation Ministries International (CMI).  Sarfati works for CMI.  CMI owns and operates the book's publisher, Creation Book Publishers.  (Thus The Greatest Hoax on Earth is essentially a self-published book.)  The book's foreword is by David Catchpoole, an employee of CMI.  The individuals with impressive credentials who praise the book on its back cover are either employed by CMI or contribute to its publications.  Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth would not have been taken as seriously had it been published through the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, with a foreword by one of the Foundation's trustees and endorsements from scientists who write for the Foundation's website.

An independent publisher would have run a more critical eye over the references Sarfati cites to support his arguments: a large proportion of these are from CMI's website ( and its publications (the magazine Creation and the Journal of Creation).  No doubt the prevalence of CMI material is partly due to financial self-interest and the often bitter divisions between creationist organisations [footnote 1].  Nevertheless, Sarfati could have better reflected the diversity of views within the young-Earth creationist movement (let alone the views of old-Earth creationists and various intelligent design advocates, who also offer criticisms of evolution).  In his book I found only three citations of the Creation Research Society Quarterly and none of the Answers Research Journal, the Journal of Creation Theology and Science, Origins, or the Occasional Papers of the BSG.  Apart from Origins, all these journals subscribe to young-Earth creationism.

Perhaps Sarfati is unwilling to expose his readers to uncertainty or conflicting views within young-Earth creationism.  For example, his discussion of tree-ring dating (pages 196-198) is based on an article from CMI's website, which misleadingly compares the Bristlecone Pine with the markedly different Monterey Pine (which is fast-growing, lives in a different environment and is known to produce multiple rings per growing season) to suggest the Bristlecone Pine could produce up to five growth rings per year.[2]  In comparison, an article on the Answers in Genesis website admits there is no good evidence that Bristlecone Pines can produce multiple rings per growing season.[3]  The Answers in Genesis article presents some hypotheses to reconcile the Bristlecone chronology with 'Biblical' chronology, but admits more work needs to be done.

Sarfati also misuses non-creationist references.  One way he does this is by selectively withholding information from his reader (on pages 123-5 he cites numerous papers to support his comments on the avian features of Archaeopteryx, but fails to cite any of the equally extensive literature demonstrating the reptilian features of Archaeopteryx).  At other times he misrepresents the views of academics or quotes them out context (see his discussion of australopithecines on pages 156-7, his use of Alexey Kondrashov on page 57, or his quoting of Colin Patterson on page 106).

Notwithstanding the problems with references in The Greatest Hoax on Earth, how do Sarfati's arguments stand up?  He makes some good points.  These range from identifying Dawkins' basic errors (his descriptions of carbon-13 and Galapagos iguanas) to pointing out his disingenuousness (such as Dawkins' attempt to side with religious figures sympathetic to evolution when he attacked any form of religious belief in his previous book, The God Delusion[/i]).

Sarfati also points out Dawkins' inaccurate caricaturing of creationists' views and his incorrect assumption that creationists must deny anything accepted by evolutionists.  Indeed, parts of The Greatest Hoax on Earth reinforce how much creationists and evolutionists have in common.  For example, the book's second and third chapters show how creationists accept aspects of natural selection, mutations, and speciation.  These concessions are necessary to allow the finite number of animals on Noah's Ark to evolve (within their "created kinds") into tens of thousands of new species in less than 4,500 years.

Unfortunately Sarfati also makes his own incorrect assumptions.  He seems to claim that any unexplained aspect of nature – such as the origins of the toucan's beak (page 74) – automatically supports the creationist view and discredits evolution.  This is little better than a 'God of the gaps' argument.  He also seizes on disagreement among evolutionists, or examples of evolutionists changing their conclusions in the face of new evidence, to suggest the general theory of evolution is ineffectual as an explanatory model (see, for example, chapters eight and nine).  Yet opposing views and changing hypotheses should be part of any scientific approach.

The Greatest Hoax on Earth is inevitably a negative book as its purpose is to refute Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth.  This defensive style of argument is Sarfati's specialty (three of his four other books are refutations of other people's writings).  Ultimately, to present the theory of creationism as a rival to the theory of evolution, creationists need to show it can stand on its own – that it generates genuine research, holds up to rigorous criticism and produces testable models.  Contrary to what some creationists claim, the vast majority of scientists favour evolution not because they are blinded to the truth but because they think evolution enjoys greater explanatory power than creationism.  As prominent young-Earth creationist Todd Wood has commented:

There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion.  It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution.  There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory.  It works, and it works well.
I say these things not because I'm crazy or because I've "converted" to evolution.  I say these things because they are true....Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory.  That doesn't make it ultimately true, and it doesn't mean that there could not possibly be viable alternatives.  It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution.  I am motivated to understand God's creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective.  Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence.[3]

With their all-or-nothing approach, Dawkins and Sarfati are as bad as each other.  Dawkins’ strident promotion of atheism (which he toned down in The Greatest Show on Earth) and evolution plays into Sarfati's hands.  Sarfati links the two, claiming the logical result of evolutionary theory is atheism and thus creationism is what any 'true' Christian should believe.  This may persuade some to overlook the numerous theological and scientific problems with young-Earth creationism.  However, like Dawkins' attack on religion in The God Delusion, I found Sarfati's refutation of evolution in The Greatest Hoax on Earth unconvincing.


[1] Sarfati's book noticeably contains no references to any work by the largest young-Earth creationist organisation, Answers in Genesis, which had a major falling out with CMI between 2005 and 2009.  Answers in Genesis enjoyed a 68.2 percent share of the creationist market in the United States in 2008, compared to 0.9 percent for CMI. See:  

[2] Don Batten, 'Tree ring dating (dendrochronology)'; for a thorough critique of Batten’s article see: 

[3] John Woodmorappe, 'Biblical Chronology and the 8,000-Year-Long Bristlecone Pine Tree-Ring Chronology' (2009)

[4] Todd Wood, 'The truth about evolution' (2009)


  1. I stumbled by accident on your blog and was immediately interested. I think that like much creationist literature, Sarfarti’s “Hoax” is full of errors of omission and misrepresentations. Many of these have been discussed in the comments associated with the reviews of the book on For example, in the comment sction of the Amazon 5-star review by Linda Edwards I pointed out that Sarfati’s treatment of atavistic leg bones in whales is less than honest, and I concluded by writing "If I have learned anything from this book, it is not to accept anything Sarfati says at face value without further checking".

    I am very glad that you have undertaken the task of further checking.

  2. Washington
    I am halfway through reading your interesting blog posts, after Stickler mentioned them at where both of us (and others) have reviewed - or 'reviewed' - Sarfati's book. I have flagged the blogs here - and will add another comment once I've gone through your posts:
    Have you thought of sending the link to this page to Creation Ministries International - in order to see whether Sarfati attempts to refute your refutation of his claimed refutation?
    Ashley Haworth-Roberts

  3. Hi stickler and Ashley,

    Thanks for your comments (and apologies for the delay in acknowledging them - I'm on here rather infrequently). It's great to know you've stumbled across this. I've found both of your contributions to the various Amazon reviews of Sarfati's book very helpful in my research. Cheers.

  4. Washington

    Thanks - just caught up with your reply and material dated November.