No, Creationists Aren’t Crazy. You’re Just Lazy (Among Other Things).

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So, creationists are crazy. That’s what Robert Rowland Smith says in Psychology Today, via Evolution News and Views. Creationism, according to Smith, is characterised by denial, psychosis and lack of irony. All symptoms of mental illness. To be fair, Smith’s article is more of a thought experiment than an actual diagnosis/accusation of mental illness.

Thought experiment or not, this isn’t the first time such an accusation has been levelled, of course. New atheists (don’t know whether Smith is one, for the record) have been telling us that theism is a delusion and that religion is an especially pernicious virus of the mind, impervious to reasonable cures. Accusations of brainwashing are species of this argumentative genus. Accusations of compartmentalisation and cognitive dissonance, too, if to a lesser degree.

What lies at the heart of such accusations is an incredulous and often indignant exacerbation towards foreign, weird and perhaps offensive ideas and the people who hold them. How on earth can anyone believe such patent bullshit?! How is it possible?!? Don’t they see how insanely wrong they are?! They must be crazy!

But here’s the thing. Calling people crazy very seldom says anything about them. What it does say something about is you. It says something about the time and effort you’ve put into understanding points of view different than your own. It says something about your imaginative abilities and to what extent you are able to step outside your own intellectual presuppositions and biases to entertain those of your opponents. It probably says something about how socially insulated you are. If you find yourself regarding strangers as crazy on a regular basis, you should get out more and with different people than usual. And ultimately, accusations of craziness say something about your ability to empathise with people, and to treat them with basic respect. Because calling someone crazy and thus refusing to grant them basic reasoning abilities and perceptual grasp means denying something essentially human to them. And it’s only a small step away from denying someone their moral agency too. Then the crazy person is not simply deluded but is dangerous. You don’t have to search very far in order to find accusations like that.

I am by no means a creationist. Regular readers will know that. I’ve argued against creationism on scientific, biblical and theological grounds for years, both online and, more significantly, off. But my disagreement with them, however strongly felt, does not tempt me to accuse them of being crazy. I disagree with them on some very central points, but they aren’t stupid. Or, they aren’t significantly more stupid than anyone else. Stupid is represented among all sides of every debate. It would be unfair and uncharitable to pick out the stupid on your opponent’s side, all the while ignoring the stupid on your own. In fact, that would be stupid. Same applies for crazy.

At the heart of creationism is a strong adherence to the fundamentalist understanding of the inerrancy of the Bible. For them, their understanding of the Bible is a matter of first principles. Creationists believe that the Bible is absolutely correct in every instance, whatever the topic at hand. Since the Bible has stuff to say about the nature of the physical world, it must be correct there too. Does this clash with science? Not according to them. Modern, secular science, yes. But not proper, true science. For many of us, a wooden literalistic interpretation of Genesis and other biblical passages does clash with proper, true science (which is modern, “secular” science). Which means, for us, that wooden literalistic interpretation must be left behind (to put it a bit too simply). Because for a Christian, all truth must be held in unity. There must be basic correspondence between God’s revealed word and his created word. But the thing is, creationists would agree with this. Science and theology must be brought and held together. That’s what creationism is, in their understanding. And while that’s almost certainly wrong, it’s not wrong for them. Because reason and understanding are socially embedded phenomena. Social pressures influence the plausibility of various epistemologies. And if you take biblical inerrancy to a matter of first principles, to be the basis of your epistemology, to be your foundational premise – what follows might seem crazy to those who are ignorant and too lazy to do anything about it, but in reality it’s actually not. It’s quite logical, in fact.

The reasons for choosing biblical inerrancy as foundational premise are interesting and I’m quite sympathetic towards many of them. But that’s material for another post.

What I wanted to say with this post was that creationism, as wrong as it almost certainly is, is not crazy. It’s logical, in so far as its conclusions are in sound correspondence with its premises. If biblical inerrancy is your premise, creationism follows. It might be weird, it might be strange, it might even be offensive. But calling it crazy says more about you than it does about creationism or the creationist.

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Some Thoughts on “Evolution Vs. God”

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I must admit I’ve been putting this off for a couple of weeks. It’s been almost a month since Ray Comfort’s new anti-evolution film, Evolution Vs. God, came out and I’ve been dreading the moment where I had to endure a sit through it. But this morning I sat down on the sofa, took a deep breath and pressed play.

Here are my thoughts.

First of all, the film is quite well made. The graphics are nice and the editing is effective. Manipulative (we’ll get to that later), but effective. Ray Comfort deserves recognition too, because, agree with him or not, he has an abundant amount of charisma and charm. You don’t even see him on screen until the last minutes of the film, but he has you captivated all the way through. So he’s certainly good at his job.

But that’s where the praise must stop, I’m afraid.

As a Christian and as an evolutionist, I’m stuck right in the middle of dichotomy assumed by the film between evolution and God. I’m convinced that there’s nothing anti-God about evolution, nor is there anything anti-evolution about God. Certainly, evolution can be interpreted in ways that exclude God, just as well as God and the doctrine of creation specifically can be interpreted in ways that make the acceptance of evolution impossible. But neither of these interpretations are necessary nor are they, in my opinion, correct. The Christian doctrine of creation grants ontological integrity to nature and so demands that science, as the study of nature, be taken very seriously indeed. Theology and science, therefore, must be integrated. They cannot be pitted against each other, as everyone in this film seems to be doing.

(Which raises a minor point in regards to the chosen protagonists of the Evolution Vs. God story: Where were the Christian evolutionists?)

As someone who takes science very seriously (because I take theology very seriously), I was disturbed by the fundamental disregard the film had for science and scientists. Throughout the entire film, the scientific method is undermined, the results of a century and a half of scientific research dismissed and the integrity, intelligence and motives of evolutionary scientists called in to question. In the second half of the film Comfort claims that not only do those who accept evolution, scientists and lay people alike, do so despite their intuitive knowledge that God created the world, but they do so in order to justify their own sinful lifestyles. “Evolution gets rid of moral accountability,” he claims. Attributing such ulterior motives to strangers and assuming such a position of superiority over them is both uncharitable and offensive.

But Ray Comfort has never been afraid of offence, has he? As anyone familiar with his previous work, especially with The Way of the Master, might expect, his ten commandments witnessing spiel inevitably makes its way into the film. I admire Comfort’s zeal and he seems genuinely concerned about people’s souls. But rhetorically cornering people into the Kingdom of God? That makes me very uneasy. It might work every once in a while, but mostly it’ll just confirm the widely held prejudice that Christians are hypocritical assholes who jump through hoops to avoid their so-called master’s command of love. The thing they call love is just condescending rudeness.

While we’re on the subject of Comfort’s interview technique, I must say that the longer I watched the film, the more disturbed I was by how manipulative his use of street interviews was. His use of apparently stumped experts is one, somewhat dishonest thing. But using regular folk off the street as mere props, asking them leading questions and selectively editing their responses in order to further your agenda – that’s not nice. It’s not charitable. It takes neither people nor the task of telling the truth seriously. And I really think it fails to live up to the love for one’s neighbour Christians are supposed to have.

Here’s another thing I don’t understand. Say you’re a creationist. Say you want to argue against evolution. How might you go about it? You know that certain evolutionists, like Richard Dawkins, hate religion. Why, calling evolution a religion – that’s a clever idea! “Do you believe in evolution?”, you ask your friendly neighbourhood evolutionist. “Yes, I do,” he replies. “Hah! You have faith! You’re just as clueless as I am!”

Right? Because isn’t that the logical implication of the evolution-as-religion critique so often levelled by anti-evolutionists? That evolutionists believe something just as baselessly as religious people and are thus just as stupid?

And here I thought faith was a virtue.

The problem with this rhetorical apologetic device, beyond the obvious foot-shooting, is that it plays into the hands of those atheists who portray faith as nothing but the cognitive acceptance of propositions without evidence (or, perhaps, despite the evidence). That is not what faith is – according to Christianity, at least. Believing is not the same as accepting something as factually correct. Faith is not the same as trust in experts. Saving faith in Christ is the deep existential orientation of your whole person towards the God witnessed to in the Bible and proclaimed by the church. The acceptance of a number of proposition is part of that, but arguably a relatively small part. Loving God and neighbour is infinitely more important (see 1st Corinthians 13, for example).

So, not only does this characterisation of faith quite unhelpfully play into the hands of atheological apologists, but it shortchanges true Christian faith as well.

Stop doing that, creationists. Please!

In conclusion, Evolution Vs. God is not a serious documentary film. It doesn’t attempt to weigh the evidence for evolution fairly and objectively. It doesn’t even mention any alleged evidence against evolution! It’s simply a highly problematic piece of creationist propaganda. It equivocates, it manipulates and it fails to live up to a basic standard of truth-telling. The choir will undoubtedly love what it preaches, but fair-minded viewers will be put off by its dishonest tactics.

Watch the film for free here.

 

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