Literal creationism is scary. Not because I think they are right and some vengeful god will spite me for being a scientist, but because I worry about the future, about what will happen in a world that is increasingly dependent on science and technology but where more and more children learn some biblical interpretation instead of reality. I think I’m justified in this fear because of things like the Creation Adventure Team, the Creation Museum, Dr. Dino, etc. These would be amusing if they weren’t actually believed by people and intended to replace science. The avowed goal of creationists such as those at the Discovery Institute Culture is to kill science as we know it, which they equate with materialism, replacing it with some religion infused science lite that prefers predetermined conclusions to actual hypothesis testing (ok, so those aren’t their words exactly, but they are awfully close, see The “Wedge Document”: “So What?” which is in many ways even scarier than the infamous Wedge document itself). I’m not saying that people shouldn’t challenge the science status quo, but that doing so still requires a certain vigorous application of the scientific method, something I haven’t seen in works published with the intent to prove or disprove something for religious purposes.
There is much writing on the dangers of creationism out there (by people far more qualified and experienced than I), so I’ll just say that my problem with it is its dismissal of true critical thinking in favor of dogma, which leads inevitably to such horrifying things as refusal to allow condoms for those who want them, refusal to vaccinate children, and refusal to acknowledge environmental degradation, among many others. Sadly, the problem is much more than academic, affecting lives far beyond classrooms.
Now that I’ve (hopefully) got your attention, here’s my theory: aside from these detrimental effects on society, pseudo-science has two effects on the ears it falls upon: alienating potential congregants and decreasing opportunities for current congregants.
Potential congregants (as defined for the purposes of this post) are those people who become distanced from the churches of their upbringing, at least partially due to the increasingly out-of-touch way religion interacts with the world. For those raised without religion, outdated world views are made even less attractive by literal bible interpretations. Politicizing religion’s unwillingness to adapt in court rooms and school boards only makes drifting away from church easier. These people might still attend church, maybe bring a dish to a potluck, but are forced to put their faith aside when it comes to things like science and medicine. Happily, some people do find a balance between their religion and science, but they are not common (maybe they could help their fellows and the rest of us by writing about how they came to their current position and why /how it is beneficial).
Current congregants, the choir to whom the creationists preach, are the ones who tell their children that Creation Adventure Team is “god’s honest truth”, steering them away from the “evils of science”. These children might break free, but are going to inevitably be behind children who were introduced to basic critical thinking skills at an early age. They are far less likely to be the medical researchers, civil engineers, etc. of tomorrow than their unindoctrinated counterparts. (Yes, I am insinuating a number of things here, including 1. that current believers of literal creationism are for the most part a lost cause, 2. that schools teach something like critical thinking, and 3. that children of creationists are less likely to seek careers that require critical thinking, even though there are notable exceptions. I am not, however, saying that I have any problem with faith itself, or god, or religion, only with literal interpretations of a book that is more than a little bit old and over translated.)
In order for the creationists/IDers/etc to attract and maintain the largest number of followers, to cultivate widespread faith in Christianity, yet also ensure that followers become successful members of society in a variety of career fields, they are going to have to reconcile their beliefs with modern science. What I’d recommend (as if any Christian would come to me for advice) is a more holistic view of god’s influence on the universe. Instead of being concerned with exactly how (or how not) god influences things, rest assured that god is there, letting all of the mechanisms he set in place take care of the details. In other words, be satisfied with the wonder and awe inherent in everything. Don’t force “evolutionists” to battle you over the details, instead elevate your beliefs beyond the material realm. I say this not to avoid a “messy” debate but to allow people to keep their faith and have science too. Forcing religion to fit inside a scientific argument involves admitting the possibility that a hypothesis may be false. To me, this is equivalent to challenging god with a man made construct. I know I’m out of my league here, but my latent Catholicism finds the mixing of science and religion (beyond that general sense of wonder at creation) frankly sacrilegious. Now, this loftier view of god doesn’t necessarily take away from the idea of a personal god. To be flippant: god can do whatever he wants! He can certainly cause the big bang, get evolution started, and give strength to you in times of sadness.
Abiogenesis is the best example I can think of to support the idea that science and religion are different animals. If/when science has all of the answers as to exactly how life originated from non-life, science will not be able to disprove the existence of something that is undetectable. Neither will religion be able to prove that god exists, except through faith, something that is far removed from the scientific method. Let’s all stay within our lanes.
Image by loxias via Flickr.