There is something uniquely dispiriting about young Earth creationism (YEC). It’s not just that it’s wrong – and wrong in ways that were entirely apparent to intelligent Christians in the 1860s, let alone the 1960s – but that it needs such a mountain of futile effort to maintain even the shadow of plausibility.
The National Trust in Northern Ireland has shocked some people by opening a new visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway that includes the creationist account of how these marvellous basalt columns appeared (God did it, miraculously) alongside the scientific one.
There is something uniquely dispiriting about young Earth creationism (YEC). It’s not just that it’s wrong – and wrong in ways that were entirely apparent to intelligent Christians in the 1860s, let alone the 1960s – but that it needs such a mountain of futile effort to maintain even the shadow of plausibility. It’s like pretending that George W Bush wrote the works of Shakespeare.
If the YECs are right, almost every scientist in the world, since science became a profession, has been part of a deliberate conspiracy to distort and conceal the plain truth. It’s not just biology, but physics, geography, history, archaeology, chemistry and geology which are all arranged, deliberately to conceal and contradict the truth of the Bible. Oh, and biblical studies themselves, because these also suggest that the idea of “the truth of the Bible” is not as simple as it seems.
What would it be like to live in a world where all the authority figures were so determined to lie to you, solely in order to preserve their own authority? That sounds like a rhetorical question, until you realise that it has a horrible and disturbing true answer: it wouldn’t be too different from the world that many of us now live in. The paranoiac and mistrustful elements of creationism, and its stubborn rejection of the good faith of authority, are aspects of a much more general attitude towards society. Creationists look at scientists the way the world now looks at bankers.
Creationism isn’t a kind of benevolent nonsense, like most forms of New Age belief systems. It’s malevolent, and it makes sense about society. It says that the bastards run the world, and they will lie and cheat and persecute to keep their power. Science is almost irrelevant in this context – certainly, no YEC can take seriously the idea that scientists are primarily motivated by the love of truth and so they cannot engage with science as it is actually practised. But it’s not completely irrelevant. There is one myth of science that bears on creationist hatred. This is the claim that modern science shows that human beings don’t matter. In one modern form, it says we don’t even exist, that we’re “vast lumbering robots built by genes” (Richard Dawkins) or “An animal infested with memes” (artificial intelligence philospher Daniel Dennett); in older forms it claimed that the individual was nothing compared to the race, or the species, or the universe as a whole.
The claim that ordinary, powerless people don’t matter at all is central to our contemporary market economies, too. It is not just assembly line workers who are treated as machines. Increasingly, all of us are, , even in jobs that once seemed skilled or really difficult. The other day I had a spam from IBM urging me to “Read about the real life experiences of two customers who used Rational Development Solutions for Power to save money and create workload optimised developers who were much more productive in meeting innovative business challenges than ever before.”
I don’t want to be a workload optimised developer, or a workload optimised writer for that matter. But the world will not take much notice of my preferences, or yours. If we are to change it, we need reasons and explanations, not just wants. And we can’t get the reasons and explanations that we need without reaching outside science, and outside the market.
To the extent that creationists, too, are trying to do that, we should sympathise. The trouble is that their answer involves erecting a whole other structure of lies, with which we should not compromise. Anyone who doubts the moral and intellectual damage that creationism does should look at Jonny Scaramanga’s blog about his experiences in a fundamentalist home schooling system in England.
But it is not the creationists who are to blame for the Giant’s Causeway display. It is the National Trust, which freely choose to advertise their viewswith taxpayers’ money. They are doing this because they are part of a market economy. If their job is to maximise visitor numbers it is absolutely right to appeal to every crank group they can find: there should be creationist stories, and also the saucer-cult explanations and the leprechaunist myth. And to judge from the pictures, the centre does in fact have models of figures from Irish mythology, like Finn McCool, scattered round it. This is in some ways the cruellest insult to the creationists: it tells them that theirs is just another story, and not, as they need it to be, the truth. But the market doesn’t recognise truth, only prices.
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