Young-Earth Creationism isn’t Science, but a Cult!

There has been a lot of discussion of the recent retraction of an old scientific paper by its author, Homer Jacobson. His reason for doing so is that the paper contained errors and inaccuracies, and yet it was being quoted by ‘creation scientists’ as supporting their position.

Why didn’t he retract it sooner, you might ask? Because as long as it was a question of what scientists might do with it, he had little to worry about: they would either ignore his work, or they would seek to reproduce its findings and discover the flaws and publish them, and the matter would be resolved. In science, the scientific community provides critical scrutiny, which is why retractions are rarely needed.

This case tells us something important about young-earth creationism, though. Clearly in the decades which have passed since the paper was written, during the time they have been quoting it, either they did not do any actual experiments to test the paper’s claims (in which case they aren’t doing science) or they have been doing the research but have kept it under wraps because it invalidates their claims (in which case they are being dishonest). In the latter case, there would presumably be a top secret creationist vault somewhere with all the results of ‘creation science’ research that actually supports mainstream evolutionary theory. I bet Dan Brown could weave an entertaining yarn with that scenario!

It is clear that young-earth creationism is not honest and not science. If they wanted to retrieve a modicum of respectability, they could retract some of their past false claims. But they never do. They regularly post updates on their web page saying not to use a particular argument any longer. But they never admit they were wrong about anything.

What are the implications of this? In conservative Christianity’s own terms, young-earth creationism is clearly a cult.

A cult is usually defined as a group that twists scripture, and often it is one that rejects some field of knowledge that the rest of the world accepts. It often claims that if you look at the Bible or other areas without the help of their own literature, you will stumble into darkness. These are precisely the sorts of claims young-earth creationists make. I know – I used to be one.

Parents, please protect your children from this dangerous cult. A group that teaches its adherents to claim that they are right even when the evidence says they aren’t does serious harm to the psyche, to say nothing of the soul.

  • Carlos

    If I recall correctly, in The Rise of Christianity Stark provides a sociological definition of a cult as a heretical splinter group, usually appealing to the more educated or upper classes, that grows at approximately 10% per decade. Is creationism a cult in that sense, or in some other?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I was using it in the sense in which it is used in conservative Christian circles, since I thought this might highlight the irony of the situation: it is a cult in the sense that most of its supporters would define the term.The key parallel I was thinking of was this. I remember being told in a church I used to go to that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult, and that they were characterized as saying that if you study the Bible on your own, you’ll end up in darkness, whereas if you study it with the help of their literature, then you’ll understand the truth.Young-earth creationists have to keep people reading the Bible through a particular lens, and make sure they avoid looking at biological or geological evidence except in and through their own literature. It is true that these restrictions are applied willingly, indeed happily, by the young-earth creationists, but that is true of most ‘cults’, isn’t it? :)Anyway, I was using a popular definition, but I’d welcome thoughts about whether a more academic definition fits…By the way, if I ever offer an award for the shortest time between me posting something and someone commenting, remind me that you are the clear winner! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04144487212639973542 Bryan L

    Calling YC’ers a cult is using very strong divisive language. It seems like it just contributes more to the cult, unorthodox, heretic name calling that I often see going back and forth on the the internet and blogs against those groups within Christianity that we don’t agree with. I used to think it was only conservatives or fundamentalists who did it but it seems like it actually goes on on both sides. Do you really think it is that helpful to continue this?BTW would you classify all YCer as a cult since it seems to be the default position of many Christians in the church today (that God created the world in 6 days)? Or would you more use the term to describe militant YC’ers?BTW I just found your blog and have been enjoying it even though I question this post.Blessings,Bryan L

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    qplsThanks for a really good question! I suppose the main reason I feel such language is appropriate is the following: First, the young-earth creationists have attempted to define everyone else’s viewpoint as sub-Christian; Second, they have adopted an approach to the creation stories that is radically at odds with that of historic Christianity, and tried to give the impression that it is the Christian viewpoint; Third, they do not represent the majority of Christians, but speak and act as though they do – perhaps precisely because they think their position is or should be that of all Christians.I used to be a YEC, and perhaps that is why I feel strongly about this. I genuinely feel like I was deceived, and helped spread that deception, and so I feel like I should do something to make things right! :)Let me know if you think this does or doesn’t provide adequate justification for the language I used…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04144487212639973542 Bryan L

    “Let me know if you think this does or doesn’t provide adequate justification for the language I used…”I guess that’s really up to you not me. Who am I to judge (all though I probably do all the time:)I think you are definitely justified in speaking out and criticizing, and you have a unique perspective in that you were duped by YECism. I guess I was just wondering about the tit for tat that I see go on on blogs all the time. I see someone get upset that someone else criticized their view and insinuated something evil or heretical about it. And then they turn around and do the exact same back. Pick any controversial topic and you see it – Gender Issues, Calvinism vs Arminianism, Atonement debates…I guess I wonder what if one side but down the weapons and decided to just absorb the abuse and respond with truth but in a humble and gentle way if anything would change. Maybe it wouldn’t. I guess Peter comes to mind often when he says “NIV 1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”Forgive me I’m just thinking out loud. Sorry if you were just being funny and I ruined your joke : )Anyway I’ll shut up now and go back to lurking and enjoying our blog.Blessings,Bryan L

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    Please!!!Don’t be giving Dan Brown any future book ideas!!! – (laughs)A cult as I understand it revolves around a specific leader. I always thought that was the distinguishing mark of a cult – a fearless (and inerrant) leader.also . . .Though I think Bryan has a point, I’m left wondering how to counter the YECrs withough calling their spades spades. . .just a thought.peaceÓ

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17131154882107531113 Qalmlea

    Just out of curiosity, I looked up the typical characteristics of a cult. It depends on which list you go off of (there are several at the link), but on most of them YECers easily meet more than half of the items. They do not seem to have a single, charismatic leader (unless Hovind and some of his ilk count), but their devotion to the Bible itself is analogous. And while (so far as I know) there’s no overt efforts to keep people from leaving, the groups tend to be so insular that a doubter’s entire social circle might be left behind by leaving.So I think “cultish” is a fairly accurate description.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I was being largely facetious, but don’t worry about ruining my jokes, Bryan – most are ruined before they ever leave my brain! :)I should add that I am persuaded that taking an overly-tolerant approach to fundamentalism doesn’t seem to help, since that is one of the things fundamentalism criticizes in others. I think that there has to be a vocal articulation of convictions, and that those convictions are no less Biblical than those of the fundamentalists, if one wants to even be heard by many of them.I’ll try to keep an eye on your blog and see if I can’t post a comment from time to time. Thanks for the interesting conversation! Please do come out of silent lurkerdom again soon! :)

  • George

    I really agree with Bryan on this one. This kind of language really irks me. It irks me when creationists, like Matthew on Nathan Rice’s blog, call evolution a ‘religion’, and it irks me equally when my side says things like this about the other. I understand that there aren’t any creationists frequenting this blog, so there isn’t really opportunity for substantive debate on the issue, but really- if, as you obviously do, feel they’re wrong, point out where. I’d be glad to share the arguments I feel have been effective in my debates with creationists, if you do want to make such a post (I also don’t know how thorough your grounding in biology is, so I’d be glad to help out on that score as well if necessary). But name calling only lets them cry ad hominem and conspiracy, act like the injured, underdog party, and totally ignore any real points you might have had to make, all the while drawing attention away from the fact that they have no real points to make. It doesn’t even matter if it’s true. The best way to proceed in any debate is to assume, even against all evidence, that the other side is honest, intelligent, has at least a few decent points to make, really believes what they’re saying, and that they just happen to be missing some evidence, failing to make a warranted logical progression, or making an honest but unwarranted logical jump on their part, that is causing them to reach the wrong conclusion. Then you can proceed to debate them point by point, and when it becomes clear they have nothing intelligent to say, you will emerge the victor and the bigger man.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    It irks me too, I must say. Why, you may ask, did I use it? Because, as someone who used to be a young-earth creationist and fundamentalist, I believe that this is the only sort of language that might get the attention of most people who who hold these views. I was a relatively rare case, I think, in that I simply checked out a book from the library on Science and Creationism and was fortunate enough to have picked one that was written by mainstream scientists who showed where YECs were being deceitful. I’m trying to get my fellow Christians to understand that they have become the very thing that they condemn in others. They see the speck in the eye of evolution and not the beam in their own. I would be delighted it the majority of young-earth creationists would simply read the presentations of the relevant evidence readily available in countless places and be persuaded. But for most, it isn’t about the evidence. They support antievolutionism because they think it is what God wants, and because they think it is undermining their values. And I think that the only way to reach some people of this viewpoint is to articulate a confident Christian condemnation of the movement and what it stands for from the standpoint of the Christian faith.I may be wrong about this. Please do let me know what you think of my explanation of why I did it, because if I am wrong to approach things in this way, you may help me realize it! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04144487212639973542 Bryan L

    You know James I’ve been thinking about what you said and I feel like you may be right. With those who have a fundamentalist mindset (like militant YC’ers) often times you have to communicate the way they do to get across your point. It seems you have to resort to a lot of rhetoric and almost shame or embarrass them (in a sense), which is sad to say.I’ve tried in many many discussions to take the peaceful non combative approach and just present arguments and evidence and let it speak for itself, and ignore the harshness that I receive back. I’ve found that is what works with people who are open to new ideas and interested primarily in arguments but not for fundamentalists. It seems like they only respond to the same kind of rhetoric they use.So maybe we do need to use that type of rhetoric for those types of people, but at the same time make sure our arguments are solid and we are not only resorting to rhetoric. And make sure that those methods aren’t carrying over into those arenas where civil peaceful discussion is welcome. And also of we do resort to that type of argument to watch that we aren’t doing it in a sinful way or harboring bitterness, anger or hate towards people who even though they are wrong are still our brothers and sisters.I’m sure if I looked hard enough I could get Jesus or Paul to support me on this. : )What do you think?Blessings,Bryan L

  • George

    Perhaps I’ve been sheltered in my dealings with creationists, on the relative sanity of Nate’s blog. Then again, I engaged in the insanity that is the talk.origins newsgroup for some time before that, where the creationists are morons, to the man (and one woman), and absurdly, on the other hand the evolutionist ranks can claim a good number of graduate degrees. You can imagine the sort of furor that ensues when anonymous idiots on the internet insist to professors of biology that they are ignorant in their own fields. That’s the kind of thing I want to avoid. There are intelligent creationists out there, believe it or not, and if we engage in intelligent discourse with them and they are willing to be similarly polite, the rank-and-file will shut up while the adults are talking.


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