The Three Kinds of Creationists

Libby Anne has an interesting take on what she considers to be the three kinds of Creationists:

1. The Ignorant: This group consists of those who are creationists because they don’t understand evolution and haven’t seen the huge accumulation of evidence in favor of evolution and the massive amounts of evidence against young earth creationism. Frequently those in this group are ignorant because they have been lied to, intentionally misled by creationist leaders about what evolution involves and about the evidence. Those in this group are sincere, though wrong.

2. The Liars: This group consists largely of creationist leaders, the ones who have science training and can’t help but know the evidence for evolution and against creationism. For a long time after I left creationism I was convinced this group didn’t exist, because I had never been part of it and because it’s not like anyone admits to belonging to it. However, the more I see of the scientific case for evolution and against young earth creationism, the less I can believe that those creationist leaders with genuine science training can be so ignorant of the evidence as to say the kinds of things they say. My conclusion is that at least some of them have to be lying.

3. The Dogmatists: This group consists of those who will not change their minds no matter what. They are generally ignorant of the evidence for evolution and against creationism, but they are also impervious to reason because they have been persuaded that they must believe in young earth creationism, no matter what. Therefore when presented with facts and evidence, they’ll essentially put their fingers in their ears and say “la la la la la” at the top of their lungs because for them facts and evidence are irrelevant.

Each group, she suggests, warrants a different approach when it comes to convincing them about the truth of evolution. I really like her explanation for why Group #3 isn’t a lost cause as you might think. Check it out!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    Getting someone to accept Theistic Evolution is getting them to remain a Creationist but to think they believe in science. I suppose in the long term it is of value as a baby step.

    • jdm8

      I agree with the “baby step” position. That is how I started to get out of Christianity, and I think that is why Ken Ham is so strongly against it. I was YEC, but I didn’t strongly believe it that I understood its premise, I just didn’t think about it. It took some reading the materials of serious YEC defense, and verifying its claims, to see its problems.

    • 3lemenope


      Getting someone to accept Theistic Evolution is getting them to remain a Creationist but to think they believe in science. 

      The person who accepts theistic evolution is a creationist the way everyone who believes in a God is a creationist. I think that defines the term down a bit. If you happen to believe in a creator deity, you pretty much are forced to believe that that deity in some sense created the universe; that isn’t generally what “creationism” means. 

      Theistic evolution comes in, as far as I can tell, two flavors, neither of which has any actual difference with the scientific theory of Evolution; they represent, rather, helper hypotheses that seek to reconcile the scientific theory with a theological belief for the benefit of the theology, not to “correct” the science in any way. 

      The first sort are people who believe that God created the universe and life in that universe evolved just as scientists described; God just picked a design for the universe that utilizes the mechanism that Evolution describes to give life diversity. Whether there is a God and whether that God had a hand in creating the physical universe is rather outside the scope of the theory of Evolution, and a God that creates a universe which exhibits all the evidence of an evolutionary mechanism for speciation is entirely consistent with the universe we see.

      The second sort are the “humans-are-special” theistic evolutionists who want to put emphasis on the claim that God created humans specifically, and so must have interfered with evolution to produce humans as distinct from the rest of the life on Earth. On the surface this seems to do violence to evolutionary theory, but it actually doesn’t. Humans themselves interfere with evolution to direct its course all the time, when we domesticate plants and animals for our use. If humans intentionally tweaking evolution through the use of selective breeding to produce chihuahuas, rainbow maize, and Hereford cattle is orthogonal to evolutionary theory, then so is an alleged God “domesticating” humans from ape ancestors. Interference is not within the scope of the theory, and there is no evidence either for or against it having occurred. 

      So I see no grounds for saying that a person who believes in theistic Evolution only “thinks they believe in science” or really in any relevant sense are “creationists”. Rather, they believe one scientific theory, Evolution, and one theological hypothesis designed to reconcile their belief in Evolution with their belief in their God. 

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        I’ve refined my goal in that I what I usually try to explain is the fact that all life on this planet descends from a common ancestor.  Whatever people think about that first life, or humans being imbued with souls, we are distant cousins to everything else.

      • MV

         The problem is that you can’t reconcile God and science.  You can believe in both but then people believe in contradictory things all the time.

        It’s possible to believe in a god and accept evolution.  But then you really aren’t what anyone would consider Christian.  Because things like a soul, the creation story, Adam and Eve, the flood, original sin, Jesus, the inevitability of man are not compatible with evolution (or the science underlying it).  And these are pretty much core concepts of Christianity.

        • 3lemenope


          It’s possible to believe in a god and accept evolution.  But then you really aren’t what anyone would consider Christian.

          That is to say, except for the hundreds of millions of Christians who do just that, and consider themselves and each other properly ‘Christian’. Your argument seems to depend upon a literal reading of Christian religious texts that many Christians themselves do not endorse. FWIW, most of the things you listed wouldn’t conflict with the Theory of Evolution even if they were taken literally. The Theory of Evolution, and science generally for that matter, has nothing to say about metaphysical speculations like souls or sins and very little to say about something like Jesus’ purported resurrection and parthenogenic origins except their inherent extreme improbability. Those sorts of claims are properly understood to be orthogonal to, rather than opposed to, science as such.

        • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

          I think that you’re overstating the importance of most of those doctrines. The creation account and story of the Fall in Genesis can be seen as allegorical, so that isn’t particularly problematic, and the flood can also be seen as non-historical. Nor does evolution really do that much to problematize the concept of the soul or the historical Jesus. (I’m not sure why you brought up “the inevitability of man,” which isn’t an explicit Christian concept, as far as I can tell.) Of all of those, original sin is the only concept that really takes a substantial hit, but I’m not sure that evolution completely undermines it, either. I can tell you that for the last several years I was a Christian, I accepted virtually none of those doctrines. I wasn’t magically not a Christian for this; I was just somewhat heterodox.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      I was recently arguing with someone on 
      http://www.kentucky.com/2012/08/14/2298914/gop-lawmakers-question-standards.html

      (Yes, I suffer from SIWOTI)

      It was frustrating that the evolution they were arguing was so completely twisted.  This notion of monkeys giving birth to a ‘missing link’.  And then another pair of monkeys just happening to give birth to a compatible ‘missing link’ of the opposite gender.  And as much as I tried to explain what evolution actually is (whether you accept the validity or not, which I guess would be a microscopic step) I was told I needed to go back to biology class since I obviously didn’t understand evolution.

      What made it even worse was that this person didn’t actually reject that crazy evolution, but just a “we should teach both theories” (creationism and crazy mutant monkey evolution).

      In light of that, and that even Francis Collins is a theistic evolutionist, I’d say proper understanding of evolution, irrespective of “God’s guiding hand” wouldn’t be a baby step.  It would be a giant leap for humankind.

  • Johnlev

    I’m visiting my gf in Harrisonburg, VA this wkend and went to the county fair last night. This is a HIGHLY religious community to begin with. So anyways I’m checking out some of the displays and there, are course, a number of churches which I ignore but in a prominent area was a large sign. Evolution or creationism. About 6 people in neon yellow shirts handing out “info”. I check out the info and didn’t have time to read it all but they were the YEC’s and their displays were filled with very nice and professional looking graphics but it was the same old stuff. Carbon dating can’t be trusted, flood made the Grand Canyon, etc. One came over to talk with my but my GF dragged me away before I could engage them. She was there to have fun she said. I won’t lie. It bugs me that these people are permitted to propagate these lies but it is their right and in this area, I’m going to loose that argument. *facepalm*

  • cipher

    In reality, there’s a lot of overlap, and I’d argue that a large subset of the Liars would be better categorized as manifesting Cognitive Dissonance, but in any case, she left out the largest group – the Stupid.

    • EivindKjorstad

       Stupid doesn’t explain the differing rates of creationists in USA compared to other wealthy first-world-nations. There’s a lot of people who are stupid or unthinking, but those will generally just believe more or less what they think people around them expect from them.

  • Kleinweb30

    I think the second group, the Liars, is mostly made up of Dogmatists.  Even though they might understand the science and evidence of evolution, because they didn’t come to their religious faith by rational means, they aren’t going to lose it by rational means.  So if they are lying, it’s mainly to themselves.  The Ignorant group also has a lot of Dogmatists (or I would say “Faithful”), which is why they won’t seek out the science and evidence for evolution.  And when they do hear it, they too will put their metaphorical hands over their minds.  So what I think is missing from that list is the irrational guiding force of Faith, which I think makes those 3 categories possible and is part and parcel of them.

    • Curtis

      From my personal perspective looking back I was in the first group. But dogmatism and denial was a primary contributing factor. I suspected that there was evidence but had been told that it was wrong even to question or look at the other side – it was wrong, went against god and was a deception. It was group-think at its worst. So we repeated dogmatic “lies” to ourselves as mantras to soothe ourselves whenever something came up to question our belief.

    • machintelligence

      This is highly reminiscent of  Peter Medawar’s review of The Phenomenon of Man by Teilhard

       Yet the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself. The Phenomenon of Man cannot be read without a feeling of suffocation, a gasping and flailing around for sense. There is an argument in it, to be sure — a feeble argument, abominably expressed -

  • Web

    Cipher, I think the Stupid are a subset of The Ignorant.  Some are ignorant because they just never heard the other side.  Then there’s the stupid, who would not understand the other side.  This might be due to bad education and social conditioning.  So I don’t call anyone stupid as a personal put-down.  It’s not their fault.  And I think cognitive dissonance is part and parcel of those with faith who know and understand the evidence.  And that’s the Dogmatist/Liars.

    • cipher

       I think the Stupid are a subset of The Ignorant

      Well, she’s defining that category as consisting of those who would understand if the information were made available to them. I think there’s a large group that wouldn’t.

      It’s not their fault.

      It may not be their fault, but it is their fault that they take pride in their ignorance and/or stupidity and feel themselves qualified and entitled to dictate policy for the rest of us (as well as to condemn us to eternal torment).

      I don’t expect them to understand. I do require them to underand that they don’t understand – and that they stubbornly refuse to do.

      They’re willful children. They should be treated as such.

      • Earl G.


        I don’t expect them to understand. I do require them to underand that they don’t understand ”

        Unfortunately, this is too much to ask of a ‘stupid’ person.  It takes intelligence to know your own limits. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    2. The Liars: This group consists largely of
    creationist leaders, the ones who have science training and can’t help
    but know the evidence for evolution and against creationism.

    I think this aught to be split into 2 groups. Most creationist leaders do not have scientific training. The actual creationist scientists may be liars, but a lot of the creationist leaders fight against evolution and teaching it because of the few fringe lying scientists. For all the evidence we have, they have theologians and lying scientists who twist the evidence into strawman arguments and tear it apart in an easily digestible way. One of the obvious problems with the actual science is that it takes higher than average intelligence to understand. On the other hand, misinterpreting that science and then pulling apart the misunderstood aspects of it can be made very easy to understand for the layperson. I think much of creationist leaders aren’t liars. They just believe a lot of bullshit that’s dug deep into their worldview and ideology.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      The basics of the theories describing evolution are very simple compared with General Relativity or quantum mechanics or even the cause of the seasons. It does not take an above average intelligence to grasp the fundamentals of evolution. I’ve taught it enough to know that kids on the wrong side of the curve still get it.

      Intellectual handicaps do not stand in the way of understanding evolution; the problem is purely one of dogmatism closing the door to making the effort at all.

      (I don’t disagree with the gist of your argument, however, that intellectually dishonest people deliberately repackage false arguments in a way that makes them easy to sell without challenge.)

      • Earl G.

        There are substantial non-dogmatic barriers (intellectual handicaps) to understanding evolution.  Andrew Shtulman has written some good papers on this, finding that even among students who seem to get it, many of them actually don’t, and they have intellectual stumbling blocks aside from religion.  

        Long story short, people seem predisposed to essentialism – they consider organisms as members of types and ignore that organisms are unique individuals each with unique individual characteristics.  They have trouble grasping the variability that exists in natural populations–they think “a moth is a moth.”

        • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

          There are substantial non-dogmatic barriers (intellectual handicaps) to understanding evolution.

          My own teaching experience suggests otherwise. I think Shtulman’s observations primarily reflect poor teaching (which is, of course, widespread in the U.S.), not any inherent intellectual handicaps. More than half of American adults do not know the cause of the seasons. Half don’t know that the Moon is visible in the sky during the day! These massive gaps in knowledge are not the product of people’s inability to understand the concepts involved.

          Understanding evolution at a basic level is easy, because it makes sense without needing to learn many facts. I’d even say it is intuitive, assuming you are dealing with students whose intuition hasn’t been ruined by previous dogmatic education.

        • EivindKjorstad

           I doubt it. The only people I’ve heard that’s claimed that evolution is somehow “un-inituitive” are people who where brought up as creationists so refuse to even -look- at it with an open mind.

          Meanwhile my 5-year-olds have zero problems grasping the basic concept. Children inherit properties from their parents, and some properties make it more likely that you’ll have children yourself. The antilope who’s able to outrun the lion, or the giraffe who’s able to reach the nutritious leaves, is more likely to become a parents than the animal who can’t.

          Evolution is useful as an example of just how trivially obvious something can be, and still be made “difficult” for people who *really* try *damn* hard not to get it.

    • TheAmazingAgnostic

      I agree with you; most creationists are not liars. However, there are certainly a few Christian thinkers and conservative politicians who realize that creationism isn’t likely to be true, yet pander to creationists to avoid taking “friendly fire” over the issue.

      For example, a Republican politician in a highly Evangelical area may support legislation on a state level that would make it difficult to teach evolution in science classrooms, not out of sincere advocacy for creationism, but for cynical political motivations.

      (Note: I am not blaming conservatism for the prevalence of anti-scientific thought in this culture. In part, we have liberals to thank for holistic medicine, the anti-vaccine movement, and homeopathy. Both political parties tolerate and support their own unique kind of nonsense. Also, I have seen some “cranks” who defy political classification of any sort; a right-winger could be an anti-vaccinationist, and a liberal could be a climate change denier. Things are not always in black and white.)

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    What Libby Anne calls the dogmatists are more generally known as science deniers. This phenomenon is studied formally as a psychological aberration, if not outright form of mental illness. It is closely related to conspiracism (placing great weight on conspiracy theories, like Moon landing hoaxers).

    Science denialism is usually associated with conservatives (e.g. climate change denial, creationism) but liberals are not immune (e.g. anti-vaccine, homeopathy). One characteristic of denialism- at least at clinical levels- is the near impossibility of changing a denier’s mind, for the simple reason that evidence works against you. The more evidence presented, the stronger the evidence is, the more the denier will dig in and oppose the idea. In the case of religious dogmatists, maybe Libby Anne’s approach is workable, since it doesn’t depend on rational argument at all, but attempts to address the root cause of the dogmatism itself. It makes sense that if you can put a dent in that, the person might open up to evidence.

    Chris Mooney wrote a great article about this last year in Mother Jones, The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science. Highly recommended reading.

    • cipher

      Love Chris Mooney. I heard him speak at Harvard last spring about the importance of a Liberal Arts education.

      Bottom line:  humans are idiots. Human cognition is fatally flawed. I can’t believe we’ve lasted this long.

  • B_R_Deadite99

    Why convince them? Just separate them from the main population and  let them breed to death, since they’re often the type who think contraceptives are of the devil. Cruel? Perhaps. But no more cruel than a theocracy where this shit is taught as fact and dissenters are burnt alive.

    • machintelligence

      “Breeding to death” has certain nasty Darwinian consequences. Do you want these genes to increase in frequency?

      • B_R_Deadite99

        If they breed too much, they’ll run out of resources and food, and cannibalize themselves. Setting up a social experiment with these dickheads where they split off into their own little fiefdom is tantamount to a death sentence. Quiverfulls really think that overpopulation is impossible, because Jesus will fix it for them, so why not let them go off and do their own thing?

        • 3lemenope

          Er, if they outbreed you, they either will kill you and take your stuff when they run out of their stuff by sheer strength of numbers, or even more simply just outvote you in elections. Israel is going through this very problem right now; there is a demographic boom among the ultra-Orthodox due to religious scruples in favor of large families, and they are literally outbreeding their liberal and secularized brethren. And unshockingly, the demographic effect is starting to be felt through the ballot box, and showing up in terms of friendlier regulations to the Haredim in schooling and other policies, not to mention a rightward lurch in general political stance.

          Separating them makes the first possibility (they invade, kill you, and take your stuff) of course far more likely than the second. Neither option ends well for us. Better to stick it out as one big society and fight the fight in the marketplace of ideas. They’re already slowly but surely losing anyway; why jinx it?

          • B_R_Deadite99

            Yeah, but in the context of the idea, they’re separated, in their own little country with no nuclear capabilities or military grade weapons. If they try to invade, it’s the Celts vs the Romans all over again, although I doubt that fundies could fight half as hard as the Celts. Besides, it’s never going to happen; it’s just an amusing thought experiment.

  • brianmacker

    Some people are just incapable of reasoning.    I don’t think they fit into the three categories here.   They aren’t ignorant.   They just lack the capacity to understand how evolution works.   I don’t think they fit in any of these categories.

  • Ray Higgins

    This is where I think many atheist really don’t understand believers or even human belief in general. if you look at the 3 kinds of creationism they all are based off an assumption that humans are inherently rational and given a set of what to us is obvious evidence everyone should come to the same conclusion and those that claim other wise must be lying, The reality many believer see science the same way an atheist sees the bible…they don’t believe it.  They don’t believe the evidence, they don’t believe the reasoning, they don’t believe the scientist, the don’t believe  any of it.  The specific rationalization varies wildly for each human, but basically it is rooted in the nature of belief and faith.  While many will blame indoctrination and brainwashing as being the cause for religion but the reality is religion precede science and rationalization, and it appears to be pretty universal across all ancient people. One of my favorite saying is “believing is seeing” as opposed to the “seeing is believing” which is the foundation of science. Even in science a persons beliefs can influence it’s objectivity but in science not having a fixed dogma fixate our view of the world on, allows science to correct itself as evidence accumulates and better conclusions drawn. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.forbes.731 Brian Forbes

    The thing that’s interesting to me is that you can reverse the statements, switch creationist for evolutionary dogmatist, and all the same things are true.  Learned Creationists have good reasons for their position.  Reverse it as I’ve suggested, and you’ll see that you’re missing an option.  They believe it because it’s the most plausible option.


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