Religion, Social Science

The Compassionate Way to Combat Creationism

Like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised. –Woodrow Wilson, 1922

In a world where blank-slatism, anti-vaccine rhetoric, myths about the effects of parenting, and climate change denial persist and even thrive, it should come as no surprise that a contingent of creationist Christians continues to believe in a 6,000-year-old Earth in modern American society. After all, the prevailing attitude is to blame the religious right for most of America’s anti-science thought. However, many academics and intellectuals may be shocked to learn just how many Americans subscribe to strict Biblical literalism and the denial of evolution.

Modern Christianity and Creationist Beliefs

In 2017, almost a century after Woodrow Wilson expressed his surprise, a Gallup poll found that 38 percent of Americans believe that God created humans within the past 10,000 years. Gallup began this poll in 1982, and for most of its 35-year lifespan the trend line representing American creationism has remained distressingly flat. In 2014, for example, the figure sat at 42 percent. Despite decades of persistent efforts by scientists, writers, and communicators to bring the reality of evolution to the general public, over a third of Americans believe in the truth of the biblical book of Genesis. Why has Western academia failed to reach the creationist demographic?

Line graph showing America’s change in attitude towards evolutionary science over the past several decades. (Data from 2017 Gallup poll.)

Clearly Wilson, along with many modern intellectuals, underestimated the powerful, long-term effect a cultural divide can have. The divide that existed in his time is, if anything, deeper today. When Wilson first ran for president, his two major opponents also believed in “organic evolution”: William Howard Taft was a Unitarian who didn’t even believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, and Theodore Roosevelt was an avid amateur naturalist who later wrote an article on the evolution of mankind for National Geographic. But nowadays conservative U.S. politicians cannot claim a belief in evolution and hope to be successful. Some sidestep the issue by saying that we should “teach the controversy,” such as President George W. Bush: “Both sides ought to be properly taught … so people can understand what the debate is about.”

Other conservative politicians have no problem ducking the question, since they emphatically disagree with the widely-accepted answer. In a speech delivered at the Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia, in 2012, Republican Paul Broun declared:

All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and (the) Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.

Not only was the man who uttered these words a congressman at the time—he was also a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology as well! Anti-evolution sentiment has not only survived since Wilson’s day, it is thriving.

The question, of course, is why?

Modern Christianity and Attitudes Toward Homosexuality

In 2015, the Pew Research Center released the latest national data from another study which, since it was launched in 2007, has provided remarkable insight into the shifting demographics of American Christian culture. This Religious Landscape Study documented the myriad ways in which religious attitudes and beliefs have—or haven’t—changed across the U.S. over the past decade.

While the percentage of Americans who claim belief in god has changed only modestly since 2007 (89 percent in 2015, down from 92 percent), one much more significant change has garnered considerable media attention: Christians across all denominations are more accepting of homosexuality than ever before, with 54 percent agreeing with the statement “homosexuality should be accepted by society,” up from 44 percent in 2007.

This change in attitude, which now represents a remarkable majority of American Christians, has occurred by differing but consistently positive degrees across the broad spectrum of Christian faith, including those most historically opposed to homosexuality. For example, Evangelical Protestants, who constitute a sizeable chunk of white southern fundamentalists, have increased in acceptance of homosexuality from 26 percent in 2007 to 34 percent in 2015.

Their African-American denominational compatriots, who identify as “historically black Protestants” in the Pew Research Center poll, are ahead of the progressive curve with an increase from 39 percent who accepted homosexuality in 2007 to 51 percent in 2015. Mormons, a particularly conservative denomination, have changed from 24 percent to 34 percent. By contrast, Catholics have experienced one of the largest increases, from 58 percent to a whopping 70 percent in 2015, a percentage which creeps towards that of non-Christian faiths (76 percent in 2015).

These numbers are remarkable, especially when compared to the galling data on attitudes towards evolutionary theory. In the case of the 38 percent who subscribe to a young earth in the Gallup poll, the disagreement is more obviously partitioned by denomination, with a 2008 Pew Research Center report showing a large gap between American Protestants and Catholics: 35 percent of Catholics explicitly reject evolution, compared with 58 percent of all American Protestants.

In both cases, parochial Christian views of evolution and of homosexuality have similar origins in biblical inerrancy. But some have argued that it is even more difficult to maintain an internally consistent set of beliefs as a Christian who accepts homosexuality than as a Christian who accepts evolutionary science. The New Testament makes it clear that many Old Testament laws no longer apply—for example, the prohibition against eating pork and shellfish. However, in the case of homosexuality, the apostle Paul reiterates the restriction against homosexual behavior in the New Testament.

So, why has the percentage of American creationists barely changed in the past decade, while at the same time Christians have become much more accepting of homosexuality? While it may seem appalling that so many Americans reject a scientific theory as well-supported as evolution, it also provides a sort of natural control condition for better understanding how an archaic religious attitude may come to eventually change.

‘For the Bible Tells Me So’

What has ‘theology’ ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has ‘theology’ ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? What makes you think that ‘theology’ is a subject at all?1

Richard Dawkins, one of the world’s most prominent critics of creationism, wrote this in a 1998 editorial for Free Inquiry entitled ‘The Emptiness of Theology.’ Statements like this one openly mark Dawkins and similar writers as “outsiders” to religious culture. Religious outsiders can only ever “preach to the choir” (or the non-religious equivalent), without any realistic hope of reaching the 40–47 percent of Americans who side with creationism in the Gallup poll. As an example of the difficulty these authors have in reaching creationists, consider creationist Jonathan Sarfati’s objection to Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on Earth:

Dawkins demonstrates duplicity in his lecturing of preachers. He demands that they teach that Adam was not historical, yet in his previous book The God Delusion he had called a symbolic Adam “barking mad”. In Greatest Show, he says he respects theistic evolutionists, but in God Delusion, he condemned that view.

For the Bible Tells Me So was a 2007 documentary directed by Daniel G. Karslake.

Let us contrast this attitude to the perspective taken by Daniel Karslake’s 2007 documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, which aims to provide a rich and emotional exploration of attitudes towards homosexuality in contemporary Christian American society. Weaving together narratives from the parents of homosexual children, those (now adult) children, members of clergy, and religious scholars, the film makes a cogent and compelling case for a progressive understanding of Christianity—which focuses on compassion and reason rather than Biblical inerrancy—and how that modern understanding can and should replace an outdated, parochial model.

The most remarkable thing may be the fact that, by and large, it already has. The cultural trend captured and promoted by Karslake’s film provides a fertile ground for understanding not only how religious attitudes are formed, but, crucially, how they can be unformed. As one of Karslake’s interview subjects, David Poteat remarked:

I had good kids. We had one of each sex. When my kids were growing up I said “God, please don’t let my son grow up to be a faggot and my daughter, a slut.” And he did not. He did not do that. He reversed it.

Poteat’s wife Brenda, added:

I had to realize that she was my daughter: she had the same personality, she enjoyed the same things that she did before I knew she was gay. Then I had to stop thinking about Tonia that way. Although I still do not approve of the lifestyle, it was a big burden off me, that I could relate to her better and I stopped trying to push her.

It is convenient that this 2007 documentary was released the same year as the Pew Research Center study began, because it provides a nominally reasonable example of the sort of strategy that might be convincing. Major attitude changes across a broad demographic take time and inevitably involve a large number of cultural variables that may be difficult to tease apart. But Karslake’s film is, if not a salient causative factor, likely reflective of the cultural elements that were.

The film was well-received by critics and patrons alike, was nominated for an Oscar, and went on to win a number of other awards including the Katherine Bryan Edwards Human Rights Prize and Best Documentary at a number of film festivals. Clearly, the film had a widespread and significant cultural impact. It is reasonable to conclude that it represents the kind of outreach that is effective in eroding deeply-held religious attitudes.

The film was personal, emotionally engaging, and evoked a compassion and empathy for the families to which only the coldest conservative could be immune. It also showed the thoughts and opinions of enlightened former fundamentalists, such as the interviewed Rev. Dr. Laurence Keene, who calmly and compassionately rebuts the literalist interpretations of scripture used to support intolerance for homosexuality. A brief aside explains how homosexuality is likely a productive of uncontrollable factors, including a reference to heritability studies that suggest a strong genetic contribution to sexual orientation. It shows the depths of deprivation the “enemy” can stoop to in the form of James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family,” which horrifies the traditional parents of one gay teenager in the film. Perhaps most critically of all, it also permits its audience a glimpse of the kind of tragedy that is, regrettably, sometimes the thing that ends up changing a parent’s stance.

In short, the cultural campaign against the traditionalist Christian views on homosexuality has largely been one of compassion, empathy, and reason. The campaign against creationism, on the other hand, is perhaps best summarized by the scornful quotation from Dawkins above.

Lessons from Modern Psychology

Here we can begin to see a way in which far-Left blank-slatism and the prevailing strategy to combat creationism are strange bedfellows. Both hinge on a fundamental misunderstanding of human psychology.

Let us start with my own field, behavior genetics, which has shed some light on the importance religion can have in many people’s lives. This research suggests that religiosity itself is something that varies innately between individuals, and that the predisposition to religious worldviews is in fact heritable.1 This is consistent with the finding that religious belief is a “human universal,” meaning that every human culture on planet Earth has some form of religion. The implication is that religion is more than a cultural fixation: it may be a product of our inborn psychology.

There is evidence to suggest that homosexuality, too, has a heritable component, and some research indicates that a widespread recognition of this is at least partly responsible for greater public acceptance. One of my own unpublished datasets suggests that individuals who believe a greater genetic component to homosexual behavior also have more tolerance for it, even when controlling for education and knowledge of basic genetics.

One of social psychology’s most replicated effects is also crucial to understanding this discrepancy. A significant body of research has shown that positive intergroup contact reduces bias of heterosexuals towards homosexuals. This is perhaps best represented in a 2009 meta-analysis that analyzed 83 reported effects and found a significant negative relationship between contact and sexual prejudice.2 The effect of contact on attitudes towards homosexuality has been found in college settings, has been found to be a better predictor than any demographic variable, and has been found to correlate positively with the total number of homosexuals contacted.

Creationist Christians largely occupy demographics that have little positive contact with scientists and evolution educators, many of whom react to deeply religious people with, if not outright condescension, intentional segregation and wilful ignorance.

This paradigm may seem familiar. Despite many on the Left having never personally met a Trump supporter, the results of the 2016 presidential election proved their existence, much to the shock and disbelief of most liberal Americans. “How could this have happened?” they wondered. The cultural divide evidenced by deepening political partisanship is also insulating academics and intellectuals from religious fundamentalism in the United States. With few exceptions, the strategy for combating creationism has been one of attacking and dismissing the foundation of this belief system. Yet it should be obvious that mocking someone’s beliefs does not win ideological battles.

God’s Word or Human Reason?

God’s Word or Human Reason was released in 2016 by Inkwater Press.

Almost a decade ago, the writer Jonathan Kane and I set out to try and change the unwavering creationist numbers revealed by Gallup poll trends. We wanted to take a completely different approach to just about everything that had been written about this topic by advocates of evolutionary theory. Rather than demean, mock, and ignore what creationist Christians believe, we intended to tackle some of the specific lines of creationist reasoning in an extraordinary amount of depth—such as their arguments against radiometric dating and the evolution of birds from dinosaurs—and to do so from a place of compassion and respect, and from an understanding of human nature. Crucial to this endeavor is an acceptance of the idea that Christians should be able to accommodate evolutionary science with their core beliefs about the nature of God.

With the help of several colleagues, our book finally saw the light of day early this year. Our five authors represent two Christians, a deist, and two atheists, but together we share a powerful history: we were all raised in creationist households, and each of us later rejected this ideology in favor of a scientific worldview. We are unified in the conviction that it is possible to reach creationists, but only with compassion, nuance, and an adequate understanding of what they really believe and why.

It is too early to know whether we’ve had an effect on the polling trends writ large, but we remain optimistic. As of this spring, poll data reveals the lowest level of support for creationism since Gallup started doing the poll, and the most rapid increase there’s ever been in support for theistic evolution. My co-author Jonathan has recently written an article fleshing out some what may be the most effective ways to reach creationists without alienating them. Overall, it seems that we’re doing something right—but it’s important to recognize this in moving forward.

When the apostle Paul stood before the Romans on Mars Hill in the biblical book of Acts and preached the gospel of Christ, he sought not to insult and demean this polytheistic people, but rather to present Jesus as an “unknown god” that the Romans were already worshipping without realizing it. Paul had considerable success with this method. His experience can be informative not just to religious people studying the Bible, but also to non-theists looking for an effective method of educating others about scientific topics.

Long before the advent of modern psychology, Paul understood a subtle facet of communication that seems lost on many proponents of evolutionary theory today. My hope is that this understanding of human natureperhaps together with a dash of compassion and sensitivitycan be valuable to both the Christians and the non-theists among us.



[1] Koenig, L. et al. 2005. “Genetic and environmental influences on religiousness: findings for retrospective and current religiousness ratings.” Journal of Personality, 73(2), 471–488.

[2] Smith, S. J., Axelton, A. M., & Saucier, D. A. (2009). The effects of contact on sexual prejudice: A meta-analysis. Sex Roles, 61(3), 178–191.

Filed under: Religion, Social Science


Emily Willoughby is a PhD candidate in behavioural genetics at the University of Minnesota. She is also a paleoartist and was the lead illustrator and coauthor of 'God’s Word or Human Reason?' published by Inkwater Press in 2016.


  1. I believe in creationism, but I do not believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. Those seven days are seven time periods, not seven literal days.

    I believe in evolution too. But evolution moves at warp speed and goes forward and backward. It only gives the appearance of moving slowly over many thousands of years. I do not believe evolution is the answer to the complexity of life.

    Right now scientists say the universe shouldn’t be here. So more is going on than we know.

    Do you really believe in the scientific method?

    Today, if one scientist wants to challenge the work of another scientist then that is bullying or sexist or racist.

    Scientists regularly manipulate data by throwing out the outliers. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, many scientific studies cannot be replicated.

    More and more scientists have a political agenda. I’m thinking of all those climate scientists with their bad models.

    Unless you do the science experiment yourself then you believe in man, not the scientific method. Can you really count on the experimenter doing everything correctly? Increasingly, doubt is creeping in.

    • I don’t really think your argument holds up.

      Sure, to some degree you have to believe in man for evolutionary theory to hold. But isn’t that equally as true for any theory? You seem to believe in the Bible, but even if it was written through the voice of God, men actually wrote it, translated it, and so forth, right? How do you know that this part of the Bible isn’t just completely made up?

      Now, something that doesn’t require a great deal of belief is, say, the butterflies of Whitecliff. The ideas of genetic mutation and natural selection don’t take a whole lot of belief either. That pretty much establishes evolution, and you seem to already agree that it exists. But then you say that it speeds up and slows down. What’s the evidence for that? And given that we’ve established that this evidence might be fake or exaggerated, why should your evidence be believed? I’d imagine that you’ll reference the since-disproven Cambrian explosion, or something along those lines.

      The bottom line is that I agree with you; to some extent belief is required. But it’s belief in much more reasonable things, some of which legitimately can be checked. And most of the reasons you have for disbelief mostly apply to the social sciences rather than the hard sciences. By all means, feel free to ignore a random sociologists’ theory (or a computer model with nothing hard behind it), but to take, say, Darwin’s study of the Galapagos Islands in the same light, seems pretty weak.

      • In my opinion, the author and many critics fall into the same strawman of narrow thinking — that this “creationist believer” is the right-wing conservative bible-thumping Christian and therefore wield (or perceive) the creationist moniker as a club. Most (not all, but by far the majority) of world religions include some sort of creation mythology as a foundation. So spinning the % of creationists as some how a representation of right wing (and by extension you get to alt-right which has now become a euphemism the Left uses because they’ve watered Nazi down so much) is a strawman. Muslims believe in creationism. So do Jews, Hindus, and many of the Far East religions and those often viewed as minor religions in Africa. Is creationism anti-science when science doesn’t even have a theory of the beginning? Big-bang is a nice theory for universe expansion but still doesn’t explain how did that clump of matter at the beginning of the big bang come to be, and what caused it to bang? Scientific theory hasn’t solved that temporal problem so as a result, it is a strawman to equate creationism and evolution as diametrically opposed. The truth, as one day uncovered by science, may be that in the beginning there was creationism and it was then followed by evolution.

        Now, if you want to focus on the 6,000 year argument one only needs to understand language and context dimensions inter-culturally. There is no denial that the Bible in current form is a written down remembrance of stories passed down through time in verbal tradition. That is why people in the old testament lived to extreme ages. How does this fit? Contextual communication. An example would be if a child asks how far a distance is — you can either respond ” it’s 326 feet” or “it’s about a football field away.” When a story is initially relayed predating the Roman calendar, do we know for certain the duration of a year? We assume now that 6,000 years in the Bible means 6,000 orbits around the sun but that notion was foreign at the time of the early story tellings. Seasons maybe? What dictated seasons? If the story tellers lived in equatorial regions then they aren’t as clear cut as those beyond the tropics, etc. My point is, “year” is a description of time — and time is something that currently hampers science when it comes to explaining where/why/how did the universe begin.

  2. Harry says

    There are many things science cannot explain, measure or prove, eg. existential truth, morals, emotions, see Science cannot explain how something came out of nothing, nor the complexity of irreducible natural mechanisms. Science cannot explain beauty, joy, forgiveness or altruism.

    Both creationists and evolutionists start with presuppositions, the former in an eternal, transcendent God with miraculous power, ie. what we see and experience around us is caused, the latter in an impersonal universe devoid of transcendence and meaning, that sprung from nothing, entirely uncaused, but yet inexplicably complex, balanced and sustainable.

    • “Both creationists and evolutionists start with presuppositions, the former in an eternal, transcendent God with miraculous power, ie. what we see and experience around us is caused, the latter in an impersonal universe devoid of transcendence and meaning, that sprung from nothing, entirely uncaused, but yet inexplicably complex, balanced and sustainable.”

      Technically, evolution doesn’t have to disprove God, meaning in the universe, or anything else. It’s just that evolution, or at least genetic mutation and natural selection, exist, and very much seem to guide the animal species of the world. Meaning in this world is what you make of it.

      • augustine says

        “Meaning in this world is what you make of it.”

        What meaning do you make of this world? Might it correspond with the meaning that I assign to it or derive from it? If not, or if only incidentally, then how can we establish meaning in common to form a successful, peaceful society?

        The problem of personalized, subjective meaning is a very old problem, perhaps the oldest problem in human evolution. While I value the contribution of science to understanding the world I do not look to it for assistance with arguments about morality.

        • Amgal says

          It’s a good question, and perhaps winnowing down the relativistic, subjective leanings towards morality is what creates a successful, and peaceful society. I’ve never been afraid of asking what science can do for morality, and the fact that people seem uneasy when attempting to do so is very confusing. How we treat each other has always been a subject of conversation, but it’s as if the mere utterance is some sort of blasphemy.

          Reaching a non-subjective understanding is the goal of science. Even if it misses the mark, it still pushes us closer to it. Why not use all of our tools for such an important subject? Soon, we will have no choice but to do so with AI; How will we program an AI to be functionally “Moral”? What does that even mean? If it can’t be achieved scientifically… how is it achieved at all? Will we have to program some sort of “spirituality” before it can be become “moral”?

          • augustine says

            Can science do anything for morality? That seems like asking if forensics can do anything for murder. Science is a tool, a set of methods, nothing more. It can help inform our decisions but it does not reach conclusions. A far as I know science makes no claim to offer a morality that supplants any religious or divine guidelines. That is not within its purview.

            In the case of a “moral” AI, any future human source technology will be an extension of our ethical, moral selves. I think that requires us to be ultimately centered on divine revelation rather than on any amoral empiricism. Religion and belief in the transcendent have their difficulties– but they are a known quantity relative to futuristic scientism or a “belief” in evolution that claims everything is random and void of objective meaning. In eschatological terms, the latter cannot exclude the most unthinkable horrors.

  3. defmn says

    The divide is faith in faith versus faith in reason. Let’s not make it seem more complicated than it is.

    And just to be clear. Casting science as adversarial to religion is a myth. Philosophy is the antithesis of religion. The conflict in conclusions between science and religion is secondary, if not incidental, to that conflict.

    Failure to begin with that understanding is always going to lead to the kind of 3rd rate analysis offered by Dawkins.

  4. I think it’s time to ditch the word ‘faith’ entirely.

    Scientists don’t have ‘faith’ in science, they have confidence in it.

    When Christians talk about faith in god they are talking about trust in God’s love the way most of us trust in the love of our friends and family. The actual existence of God is an unquestioned assumption behind that trust.

    When you criticise ‘faith’ in God believers don’t see this as a matter of epistemology, they see that as something analogous to telling them their parents and spouses don’t love them.

    You aren’t creating a knowledge gap where they no longer have an erroneous but simple answer to the origin of the universe you are creating an emotional void where they had the comfortable feeling that the universe gave a shit about them.

    • defmn says

      I’ve never met a scientist yet who knew who designed the modern scientific method, why it was created in contradistinction to Aristotle’s teleological science or that it was meant as part of a larger political project. I think ‘faith’ captures the scientific impulse with considerable accuracy.

      • augustine says

        “Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”

        –G.K. Chesterton

      • I was always of the opinion that Sir Francis Bacon offered the clearest identification of the scientific method and most of his work embraced this theory.

        It is very sad that those of us who grew up with great respect for scientists and their cool, unemotional approach to searching for the truth. Only to see it replaced by emotional activists with a science degree.

        I feel as if the great strides those scientists brought us is being slowly undone by an emotional world that cares little for discovering facts and prefers to emote their way through.

        Maybe we are slowly on our way back to the dark ages, where little changed for generations. Science as I and many knew it, peaked round 1900 and the first nail in its coffin was driven in by the baby boomers.

      • “Aristotle’s teleological science ” was not science at all if it assigned purpose to the universe. defmn, you need to do much better than that.

  5. If you extend the term ‘faith’ to making predictions and testing them as well belief in a Big Beardy who created the entire universe in seven days and then spent the following 10,000 years obsessing over people masturbating or sticking things up each other’s bottoms what’s the fucking point of the word?

    • defmn says

      Faith in reason is actually a fairly rare event in humans and rarely intrudes into areas involving self-interest.

    • Carl Grover says

      The pont is science “speaker”, not demeaning peoples views. I believe solely in evolution, but as others, do not knownthe root. Your message is just ugly and unhelpful to any reasonable dialogue. Be better. If not, just don’t respond on such gray topics. Stick to why your girlfriend always looks at taller guys longingly.

  6. Chester Draws says

    Why do we have to conquer creationism? It’s not doing you or me any harm.

    I’m very pro-evolution, but it’s not my duty to convert all who disagree to my way of thinking. That would just make me the mirror image of a religious zealot.

    One of the less pleasant aspects of the modern Left is their insistence that not only are they correct on everything, but that it is unconscionable that anyone disagree with them.

    Let them be.

    • Mr Draws, it is not the ‘modern Left’ that insists on teaching mumbo-jumbo to impressionable children. The universe, too, cares not one whit how pro-evolution you might care to be. It just keeps on going.

  7. Great work.
    My children used to ask “is the bible real because most of the kids say its fake?”
    My response was always “its irrelevant whether it actually happened. Its how the ‘stories’ help you in your own life that count & make it ‘real”.
    Head on finger waving never works & only serves as an ego trip.
    Perhaps giving value where value is the way if we are truly into reason, logic & humanity as we profess.

  8. The author presents a reasonable approach on the question of evolution that scientists can take when discussing the issues with non-scientists who hold views influenced by religion. We can go even further by starting with the idea that science and creationism (as a faith-based tenet) based on deeply held religious belief belong to two separate domains. Scientists, really, don’t have a lot to say about doctrines based on religion. As non-natural beliefs, evidence is not even relevant to any hypothetical discussion. In that sense, a belief in divine creation, per se, is of no interest to researchers on evolution. But scientists take an entirely different approach to creationist IDEOLOGY that deliberately counterposes its version to the findings of empirical research. In this case, like in the realm of public education, scientists have a responsibility to vigorously expose the creationist challenge as false.

    • A number of fairly old fallacies here, I’m afraid. The doctrine of Non-Overlapping Magisteria goes back to the 12th century and has long since been debunked. Scientists have plenty to say about everything that religion claims to know. What is a ‘non-natural belief’? Does it have any meaning or existence?

  9. My inclination to pay any attention to an article plummets when an author who links “climate change denialists” to creationists. So in honor of the probable fact that she has not ever read any reputable critic of standard climate change models and predictions, of which there are many, I will not continue reading her article.

    • And lest she say “there aren’t any…” there was some 500 odd peer-reviewed last year, and somewhere > 400 peer-reviewed thus far this year.

  10. DiscoveredJoys says

    I suspect the original Christian views about creation were formed from what the Bible said. Over time this has changed to Christian views about creation are formed by what other Christians say. Perhaps the Christian views on homosexuality have changed because homosexual people are now more openly part of the community and not so strange.

    There are all sorts of social groups with characteristic beliefs – climate change deniers and climate change proponents, anti-vaxers and vaxers, right wing and left wing, socialists and capitalists and so on. Each of them share complex group beliefs which rationality can rarely upset. I guess Creationism continues to grip some minds because for most people the Creation/Evolution distinction has no real world impact on peoples’ daily lives beyond that of being a social flag.

  11. Gregory Lorriman says

    The problem isn’t resolvable. Some Christians come from a tradition of a literal interpretation of the Bible that means that whatever the appearance, scientific or otherwise, that somehow it will have an explanation, perhaps yet to be discovered, that leaves their young earth belief intact. This is because Biblical literalists too often see non-literalists severely compromising the moral teaching of the Bible, such as on fornication, homosexuality etc, and the fundamental spirit of self-denial in favour of truth and charity (selfless love), that only authority of doctrine that works and is stable is where the Bible is literal; and so they cling to it.

    Other Christians have central authorities that haven’t compromised. The Catholic Church, for instance, which in any case has never had a doctrine of an unqualified literal interpretation with biblical inerrancy being defined in terms of faith and morals not historical accuracy. Which does mean, by the way, that biblical literalism, anti-evolutionism, affects only a tiny proportion of Christians.

    To add to the above: anyone who has personal knowledge of God, as does anyone of genuine faith including myself – and which is the essential nature of faith and not Bertrand Russel’s presumptuous “Belief without evidence” or Kiergaards irrational “leap to faith” or Pascal’s “better to believe ‘faith’ or GRaham Green’s faith-requires-doubt; nonsense Green; or any number of other notions of faith that have popped up over the centuries – is always going to put the authority of God above mere science, however good the science looks.

    And that’s entirely reasonable.

    Consider also how often scientists have got it wrong, and their heavy dependency on stats. And the Popper “commonsense” basis of science; laughable. And the unprovable axioms of mathematics. Too much of the common, Karl, and not enough of the sense. Or Gregory Chaitlins discovery of circulairty in mathematics (and a feedback loop is the fundamental nature of self-awareness, suggesting, therefore, a personal god). (And entirely reasonable is also ‘faith’, properly defined as “Assent and adherence to dvinely revealed truth”, CCC para 150, because after all the only hypothetical possibility of absolute proof of anything is if there were a god otherwise it’s a toss up as to whether one should be a solipsists or not; since it is impossible to prove one’s own sanity, or that Dawkins even exists; ref: The Matrix, an unsolved problem of reality). So, Quillette, you haven’t a chance unless you are willing to convert them to Catholicism. Well, Quillette, well?

    • why is it ‘entirely reasonable’ to ‘put the authority of God above mere science, however good the science looks’? That would mean that any faith claim is of equal value. Well, they are: they are all equally false. Why believe in the Christian god? Why not Odin? Or any of the millions of other deities humans have foolishly devised for their own spiritual amusement?

      • Carl Grover says

        You’re making your own point, and mine, and perhaps many others in this cimmentary. Faith/religion is a social construct, developed and managed, in the the pursuit of moral law.

        • Itsastickup says

          @Carl Grover, that’s an explanation for religion when there’s no god. But you need to be proving there’s no god first.

          Here’s the irony: a hypothetical supreme being (god with a capital G), would have the power to prove its own existence. And the Christian definition of faith implies exactly that, though on an individual level only, one to one.

          But it’s thought to be impossible to prove the non-existence of such a being.

          So while religious folk may be rational, if there is a god, atheists cannot be rational.

          Atheists often claim mere “lack of belief” but always assert as fact that religious belief is delusion, which means that indeed atheists positively believe that there is no god, and so are irrational. Belief without proof is not rational. You can’t prove that religious belief is delusion without being a god, ironically. So that assertion is unreasonable irrespective of the absence of a god.

          It’s weird, because they think they are rationalists.

          The proper definition of ‘faith’ is a type of knowledge. And you can’t reason without knowing something first, ie, just how to reason, for a start. So faith must come before reason.

          • Carl Grover says

            @itsastickup, great point!! Never looked at it that way. Yet, even if I’m personally irrational, I reapect anyone’s beliefs.

    • DiscoveredJoys says

      Your arguments convince you – but clearly other people are not convinced because they worship other Gods, or none, and interpret ‘divinely revealed truth’ in different ways. The authority you give your faith compel no-one else.

  12. Gregory Lorriman says

    Ah yes, a typical Hitchens answer. He’s also the chap who claimed that religion is a major cause of war and suffering. A study shows only 7% of wars can be directly attributed to religion. And how many of those were in fact serving the covert ends of cynical and probably unbelieving clerics and princes? And Hitchens claim is made in the face of such teachings as “love your enemies and pray for them, turn the other cheek” and similar peace stuff from most monotheisms (granted sometimes very much on their own terms).

    Meanwhile, back to your claim. The Catholic Church teaches that God has manifested in varying degrees in most monotheisms. And most monotheisms aren’t exclusivist. A supreme being would have the power to prove its own existence, but the superstition gods clearly aren’t of such an order.

    “other deities humans have foolishly devised for their own spiritual amusement?”

    Or there is in fact a supreme being. Your statement is rather presumptuous.

    It’s actually quite remarkable how most monotheism’s have almost identical morality laws. And it’s downright bizarre for a Hitchinian that they almost all define their supreme being the same way: personal, loving, just but also merciful.

    Spot the religion: a trinity, 2nd aspect incarnates, saves a women, original sin, angels and demons, cleansing of impurity rituals. And a great deal on self-restraint and calming of the animal and affective impulses, which are teachings liable to avoid war and family discord, don’t you think.

    That’s Hinduism (granted there are deist forms of Hinduism, and even dualist). Catholicism goes a bit deeper than cleaning rituals, with confession being more like a kind of therapy as well; and 2,000 years before Freud.

    • Gregory Lorriman says

      Oops, I was trying to reply to the Hitchinians. Poor old Hitchens. Full of rhetoric and misrepresentation, signifying who knows what. He didn’t really even seem all that angry. I think he was in it for the money.

      He was very good at rhetoric, we must give him that. But his arguments were as if you took the Bible looking for error and contradiction and then got angry. If you’re only looking for contradiction then you’ll find it alright. It’s very easy to take bits out of context and make God look bad. Like Like any believing atheist (which is a major irony in the face of a lack of proof that there isn’t a god), they aren’t looking for truth.

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  15. Raymond Cox says

    Interesting article, but I suspect it is hopeless to try to persuade this type of Christian that YEC is invalid. Their whole theological worldview depends on the idea of the literal existence of Adam and Eve and Original Sin.

    • Itsastickup says

      There’s no problem with a literal Adam and Eve with an OEC. As a Catholic, I’m fine with “made from clay” being symbolic for drawing their advent from a natural method, such as evolution. The differences between them and any other hominids around at the time, including Homo Sapiens, would have merely been the creation of a spiritual nature in the image and likeness of God (image being distinct from likeness, in the Christian teaching, with likeness, ie, selfless love, being lost by original sin).

  16. sklyjd says

    As far as I am convinced neuroscientists have got it sussed out.

    It has always been clear to atheists that theists cannot contemplate anything outside of the indoctrinated ideology and the emotional concepts of faith that has been administered to them. This takes over lives and creates a mandate and rationality to do whatever they feel they should do in the name of their god.

    Science has found certain parts of the brain for compassion are used to believe in gods and supernatural events, these are engaged and take control while other parts of the brain used for analytical and logical thinking are suppressed removing a persons need to understand and achieve greater social and emotional insights.

  17. Jason says

    I frequently see creationism equated with Christian fundamentalism. I would really like to have a better understanding of creationist thought in other religions, particularly those with a strong fundamentalist element such as Judaism and Islam.

  18. Mo Gravy says

    I am always mystified by the preoccupation with Creationism (which is clearly on the wane and has little influence among society’s leaders) as compared to Socialism, which is similarly a specimen of magical thinking but whose adherents have murdered tens of millions of humans in a relatively short time span. In prioritizing the remediation of pernicious cults it seems socialism (in all of its flavors) should rank much higher than Creationism.

  19. Itsastickup says

    I’m not so sure, Mo. I’m as conservative as they come, and an implacable enemy of socialism/Marx etc. But I can see the seductive logic behind their thinking is based on a single major truth that most capitalists either don’t realise or deny: naked capitalism (liberal capitalism) does exactly what the socialists say it does, produce corrosive and anti-human monopolies. And those monopolies become unstoppable and self-sustaining in their manipulation of political power and use of their leverage. We can see a great deal of that even with all the anti-trust and anti-monopoly and regulations that exist to contain this problem.

    Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” the great anti-socialist book, noted that just as socialism has the issue of the public parasite, people feeding off the State, so capitalism has the issue of the private monopolist, overtly trying to create monopolies. And he stated that legislation isn’t enough: the private monopolist must be actively fought. Since Margaret Thatcher left the scene (a big fan of Hayek, and who had him knighted), the Mergers and Monopolies Commission in the UK has been defanged, and similar problems have occurred in the US equivalents. Globalisation has produced immense quasi-monopolies with large strategy units, plotting their continued power, and which are so big and so rich that they are inherently corrupting even if the boss/CEO is a good guy really. Globalisation also causes huge distortions that are not compatible with such things as a nation’s food security etc. It should never have been allowed despite the major wealth creation advantages.

    It’s a slam dunk argument against capitalism that makes socialists of many of our youth.

    Opposed to this is Conservative capitalism: which means a humanised capitalism of constraint and restraint on capitalists and markets; those qualities that humanise and passify the wild and uncontrolled. And in doing so making capitalism a servant of the people. It would mean regulation favouring small businesses and family farms, the true aim of the true conservative (vs many Republican big business), and firmly disadvantaging of large corporations. Three Acres and a Cow is a movement of this kind. And regulation that address the capitalist problems such as level-playing-field regulations to address the-race-to-the-bottom-pricing competition problem that produces inferiour products that are disposable instead of long lasting.

    The Libertarians dream of liberty only ends up as a feudal nightmare just as the Marxsts say it will. And that’s where much of the rest of the youth go, unhappily.

    G K Chesterton: “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”

  20. Itsastickup says


    “so capitalism has the issue of the private monopolist, overtly trying to create monopolies. ”

    That was meant to be ‘covertly’ not ‘overtly’. But these days it may as well be overtly; it’s gone that far.

    And while I’m here, it’s also worth stating the irony of liberal capitalism that such monopolies are microcosms of command-and-control socialism. People working to fulfil instructions with little liberty or personal fulfilment and an education system of academic subjects that prepare only for employment and not for independence.

    Meanwhile, as much as they are morally dubious, I have to applaud the independent pharmaceutical buyers and sellers for making small businesses for themselves that don’t require dealing with the burden of tax and paperwork that has made legitimate small businesses such hard work, with long hours and much risk and with such little return. The unintelligent regulation of capitalist markets is a great injustice to the common man, producing major obstacles and depressing, in both senses, the (potential) small business person.

    In the EU there is a constant flow of regulation ostensibly aimed at curtailing the quasi monopolies such as Amazon, and yet in practice advantaging them and suppressing the small business. The recent EU VAT laws were exactly this. It’s quite wonderful and appalling to see the cunning and power of these mega-corporations. I personally have no doubt that Amazon made this happen.

  21. >It should be obvious that mocking someone’s beliefs does not win ideological battles.

    Well, it’s not. We have to study it and find out. In my case, encountering mockery of religious positions was very effective in changing my views. We just don’t know how effective it is overall.

    Besides, “compassionate and sensitive” approaches are selective. Willoughby might get a creationist to accept evolution, but only by ignoring his belief that god is all-loving. Evolution is all about the food chain, perhaps the greatest engine of suffering imaginable. Further, the whole point of evolution is that it is unguided.

    I’d love to be compassionate and sensitive to creationists, but the whole picture of evolution just isn’t. It’s an affront. To try to sweeten evolution to be palatable to a believer is dishonest, and thus disrespectful, which works against attempts to be compassionate and sensitive. Without full disclosure of what evolution entails, if you succeed in converting a creationist, it’s because you’ve tricked them.

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