If one wants to learn what drives creationism, visit any major creationist organization’s website – or, better yet, listen to some of the speeches and letters of creationists who have lobbied to have their beliefs taught in public schools. Do this, and their true motivations will quickly become clear. The primary motivations of creationism are not scientific ones. On the contrary, the true motivations of creationism are religious. To those who promote it, creationism is a means to an end, a tool to spread the gospel and win converts. Their ultimate goal is to replace the theory of evolution, which they believe is atheistic, with one that grants their religious beliefs and their conception of God an assured place in the process of creation, ensuring that all to whom it is taught will believe.
In light of this, it is ironic that creationism has not only not succeeded, but is actually accomplishing the opposite of its goal. In their zeal, the creationists have blinded themselves to the fact that they are doing far more harm to their religion than good.
Most obviously, the efforts of creationists simply make their religion look ridiculous. Many of them would have us believe, in addition to other absurdities, that animals could once talk, that women were created from a man’s rib, that all human beings are descended from a single pair of people who lived in modern-day Iraq (meaning that every subsequent generation must have been the product of incestuous mating), that human beings co-existed with dinosaurs, and that all the world was once covered by a global flood through which one family survived and preserved every single species on the planet in a wooden boat far smaller and less advanced than even the smallest of today’s zoos. There are even still geocentrist creationists, who view Galileo as a diehard enemy and refuse to admit that the Earth orbits the Sun and not the other way around. While such mythological stories may have been accepted as fact in the dark ages before science, it is hardly possible to take them so seriously today. Yet creationists do insist that one must take such myths seriously to be a member of their religion.
And these groups, regardless of their relative size, shout so loudly and promote their beliefs so vociferously that it is very easy to make the mistake of believing that they speak for the entire group and that everyone who belongs to that religion must be equally irrational. People who might otherwise have become converts could not be blamed for concluding that if Christianity (or whatever other religion) requires them to forsake science and believe such absurd things, then they want no part of Christianity. By their efforts, creationists are strengthening the belief that religion is backward and irrational, and have hampered the efforts of forward-looking people who want to bring their faith into the present and forge an accommodation between religion and science.
But the harm creationism has done to religion goes beyond turning away potential converts. Not only is it doing this, it is also causing religions to lose members they already have. The fact is that creationism is so plainly false that it can survive only by twisting, ignoring, or outright lying about the scientific facts. Even a cursory search, if undertaken with an open mind without deciding on a conclusion in advance, will reveal the tremendous wealth of evidence supporting evolution and the total lack of evidence supporting creationism. Many former believers have discovered this and realized that they were lied to all along, and have understandably responded by leaving their religion entirely. An example of this can be found at the Genesis Panthesis website, run by former young-earth creationist Jon Scott; see also this page here, or the story of “lodger“, a former Jehovah’s Witness. Finally, consider the testimony of former creationist Glenn Morton, who writes that creationists hired at the oil company where he previously worked experienced severe crises of faith because “[they] were utterly unprepared to face the geologic facts every petroleum geologist deals with on a daily basis”.
Not only is creationism causing religion to lose members, there is no evidence that it is winning new ones over at a rate even great enough to make up for this. As an evangelistic tool, creationism has been a failure. While it readily convinces the already deeply religious, it has little persuasive power to those who do not already believe. R.J. Riggins put it best on his website, Things Creationists Hate:
“After years of intensive research, I have all but given up hope of finding a biologist, geologist, physicist, astronomer, paleontologist, or whatever, who–through his actual field or laboratory research–came up with such overwhelming evidence that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, or that new species never evolve–that he came to the inescapable conclusion that it was all created recently. Then he looked around for who knew that all along. Then he became a fundamentalist Protestant.
As I said, I’ve nearly given up searching for such a rare species. I suspect I’m more likely to find a biblical unicorn. It never happens in that order. A person FIRST becomes a fundamentalist–either raised that way or converted–THEN learns what he is supposed to believe about the history of Earth and life.”
The fact is that creationism is injuring religion – both turning away potential converts and driving away current members – for nothing. The only way it is ever likely to convince anyone is if it is propped up and given support by the state, which is why creationists have fought so hard, but so far unsuccessfully, to sow doubt about evolution and mandate the teaching of creationism in all public schools through legislation.
In their attempts to twist the truth to serve their own ends, creationists have achieved nothing more than to put another black mark on the history of religion. Not only is creationism failing to win any new converts, it is actively turning potential converts away by associating religion with overliteral interpretations of ancient mythology; and not only this, but the deception inherent in creationism is causing formerly devout members to desert the fold. Creationism has done, and is doing, far more damage to religion than any atheist movement ever did. For this reason alone, the progressive moderates and forward-looking people who count themselves among the religious can and should speak out against creationism.