A Taxonomy of Creationists

There was a post on the Friendly Atheist a while back which got me thinking about the reasons people embrace creationism. I had thought that there were two types, in a sense – those who were misled, and those who were intentionally doing the misleading.

See, being raised a young earth creationist I grew up trusting what my parents, my church, and organizations like Answers in Genesis told me. It wasn’t until, as an adult, I examined the issue for myself and found that not only was young earth creationism wrong but that it was horribly obviously wrong. And so I wondered. How couple people who should have known better, like scientists who work for Answers in Genesis, not be aware of the gaping wholes in creationism and its blatant contradiction of evidence? Thus the misled, and the misleaders.

After all that, though, this Friendly Atheist post has made me wonder whether there are instead three kinds of creationists.

Before I go on, though, let me clarify that this taxonomy of creationists is really meant to be a taxonomy of <i>young earth</i> creationists. Christians who believe that God started the process of evolution, and then allowed it to unfold, perhaps sometimes intervening but generally allowing the process to proceed naturally and creating the world in that manner – often called “theistic evolutionists” – are not included in this taxonomy because they don’t stand in the face of clear scientific evidence the way young earth creationists do.

I’m going to provide a relevant quote from the post, and then go on to outline the three kinds of creationists I see:

“If having sufficient evidence were all that were required for denial of evolution to disappear, the last Creationist would have given up 100 years ago.

Obviously, Leakey knows this, especially when you consider that he has led teams that have contributed a few of those transitional fossils Creationists are so fond of pretending don’t exist. It sounds like he believes that removing skepticism about evolution is merely a matter of presenting people with the overwhelming evidence. In some cases, he may be right. The atheist community has a large contingent of people who were kept away from the evidence in favor of evolution in their youth, only to discover it and accept it fully as an adult. But ignorance alone does not account for all Creationists.

I believe Leakey is underestimating the number of people who are nowhere near “the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence.”  Many people have been led to believe by their pastors, priests, and imams that to accept evolution is to deny their faith, that acceptance of evolution is an implicit rejection of God. Faced with this choice, many will reject evolution, not because they find its evidence lacking, but because they believe it is a threat to a religious belief they hold dear. They are making an emotional choice, not an intellectual one — in other words, a choice that is not amenable to persuasion through facts.”

Okay, so based on my previous thoughts and my additional thinking upon reading the above, here is how I would suggest categorizing 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.

I was in the first group. While I had been taught that denying creationism meant denying my faith, in the end my commitment to truth wherever it led overrode that teaching. If I hadn’t had a commitment to following evidence at all costs, I would likely have ended up in the third group rather than giving up young earth creationism.

So let’s consider a question: If the goal is to convince creationists of scientific reality, how do we go about doing that with those in each of the above groups? (And before anyone says “why does it matter what creationists believe, just let them continue to be wrong,” let me remind you that they vote and affect things like science education in the schools.)

When it comes to arguing with creationists about the actual science, the first group is the one with the capability to listen and potentially be persuaded. I am proof of this. The second group is obviously not reachable. But what of the third group? Must we give up on them? Actually, I think that Christians who believe in theistic evolution may have the best chance at reaching those in the third group. After all, this group essentially says “I will never give up my faith, ever, and accepting evolution would mean rejecting my faith.” If  the goal is to convince that person of the evidence behind evolution, the best way to start would be to dismantle the assumption that they cannot maintain their faith without young earth creationism. Only once they’re open to the idea of changing their minds can they actually consider the evidence and perchance be persuaded.

What are your thoughts? Do you think my taxonomy is complete, or would you add to it?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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