David Waldock is one of the most articulate commenters on this blog. His response to Monica Stringer’s defence of ACE was so comprehensive I didn’t bother to reply myself. David is an ex-ACE student, but he preferred not to write about his own experiences. Instead, here’s his analysis of where belief in Creationism will take you…
This was originally intended to be a comment on Jonny’s post “5 jobs a Creationist can’t do“, but after an extended conversation on Facebook, we thought my thoughts might be better presented as a post in its own right, extending the discussion.
First, I understand the position that Jonny is taking; all other things being equal, young earth creationism (YEC) is intellectually incompatible with many disciplines. However, there are doubtless people who identify as young earth creationists who are in those disciplines.
An example which springs to mind is nursing (I know of several nurses who believe in YEC), yet effective nursing requires acknowledging that microbes evolve in response to antibiotics. Does this mean these self-defined creationist nurses aren’t really nurses?
What I think is actually meant is that holding YEC beliefs requires one to perform intellectual gymnastics in some way, or to compromise one’s beliefs in order to function effectively within one’s chosen discipline. I note that Answers in Genesis explicitly give this advice:
“Because of the intense persecution and potential discrimination, some have chosen to keep their biblical views “under wraps” until they receive their degrees.”
What does this look like in reality?
Isolating parts of one’s life, to keep the faith-life separate from the work/study-life, is difficult. This type of cognitive dissonance is going to manifest itself in a variety of ways, ranging from mild neuroses to serious mental health problems (for more on this, go and listen to this interview with Carole Tavris, author of Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)).
Indeed, the failure to resolve a stress-inducing situation is one of the leading causes of anxiety disorders. Chronic anxiety can result in depressive illnesses, social withdrawal and feelings of low self-esteem; these conditions are also associated with eating disorders and addictive behaviours. So the best that can be said about this type of dissonance is that it could lead to mental health problems of varying degrees.
Second, we know that people who hold a deeply-held belief which forms part of their identity tend to perceive counter-evidence as an attack on them, and not merely a challenging of the ideas they hold to be true. When presented with counter-evidence, believers actually interpret the information as reinforcing their belief through post hoc rationalisations.
The classic example of this is in end days cults, where believers are persuaded that the world faces armageddon in the near future, normally on a date prophesied by their leader. When the date passes without the predicted end of the world, where one would expect their faith to be shaken, the strongest believers interpret this to be a reinforcement of their belief: one classic example has it as evidence that their leader’s intercession held the end times back (For more on this, When Prophecy Fails).
Within the context of this discussion, you might find a person who wants to participate in, say, biological disciplines having their fundamentalist faith reinforced and pushed to greater extremes by the barrage of evidence for evolution. And don’t forget the persecution complex we seen in fundamentalism: Jesus said we will be persecuted for our beliefs, so when someone challenges them robustly, it’s merely reinforcing the belief that they are right and righteous!
This might merely result in them resenting the people who don’t believe the same as them, but it might be express by people trying to prove a point using inappropriate means, or in some passive-aggressive behaviours. I don’t think it’s too extreme to suggest that this may explain some of the most vocal, extremist adherents of Creationist dogma, whether on websites or on talk radio.
It’s also worth mentioning that in many ways, being a covert Creationist is in some way dishonest. This is, of course, surprising given the passionate assertion that the ten commandments are at the heart of morality, but an inescapable conclusion, particularly given the importance of evangelism in most fundamentalist faith systems.
If the YEC beliefs are true, and the person does not believe the facts they espouse in their discipline, but stay silence, then the importance of telling others the good news is weakened. On the other hand, it may be the belief in Creationism that is mere lip service; perhaps, like me in my fundamentalist days, they hope that saying the right things will, one day, result in their actually believing it.
To bring this back to education, what does this mean for young people attending ACE schools?
I would argue that it means that the young person’s right to an education, enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is being ignored. Education, to mean anything, must include preparing the child to live and function in the adult world. I think it fails from several perspectives, and should, in my view, be considered a form of abuse.
First, the simplest argument is that it fails to prepare young people for life in the wider world. The fact is, pretty much all ideas are challenged in the real world, and by insulating them from this reality means that they are unprepared to deal appropriate with different perspectives (I speak from personal experience). The intellectual segregation fails to prepare the child for entry to the rigorous adult ecosystem of ideas, knowledge and evidence.
Second, it prepares the child to fail. How can someone reach their full potential when their education restricts the young person’s access to ideas? The placing of psychological and spiritual barriers around the child’s development and interests may be beneficial to ensuring the perpetuity of certain belief systems, but it surely means that promising young people fail to make the full contribution to society of which they are capable. Or, from a neoliberal ACE perspective, it prevents them from reaching their full earning potential.
Third, as I outlined above, it prepares young adults to lie and to have to aspects of their lives which are not integrated. It trains them, like Peter, to deny their beliefs when in what they consider hostile territory, and this can have dire consequences for their health, relationships and emotional stability.
So, can Creationists work in the biological, archaeological, linguistic, psychological and rigorous theological disciplines? Of course they can. The question, in my view, is what the consequences are.
And of course, they can always become “Creation scientists”.