Big Brother’s Young-Earth Creationism

I‘ve been working my way through George Orwell’s 1984 again with my students. Not long ago, when a pastor said that if the Bible said that 2+2=5 he would accept it, it was pointed out that this was precisely something that comes up in the effort to recondition Winston Smith in 1984. But in fact, young-earth creationism of a sort itself comes up. Here is the relevant passage, which I think is worth quoting at length:

‘But the world itself is only a speck of dust. And man is tiny helpless! How long has

he been in existence? For millions of years the earth was uninhabited.’

‘Nonsense. The earth is as old as we are, no older. How could it be older? Nothing

exists except through human consciousness.’

‘But the rocks are full of the bones of extinct animals — mammoths and mastodons

and enormous reptiles which lived here long before man was ever heard of.’

‘Have you ever seen those bones, Winston? Of course not. Nineteenth-century

biologists invented them. Before man there was nothing. After man, if he could

come to an end, there would be nothing. Outside man there is nothing.’

‘But the whole universe is outside us. Look at the stars ! Some of them are a million

light-years away. They are out of our reach for ever.’

‘What are the stars?’ said O’Brien indifferently. ‘They are bits of fire a few

kilometres away. We could reach them if we wanted to. Or we could blot them out.

The earth is the centre of the universe. The sun and the stars go round it.’

Winston made another convulsive movement. This time he did not say anything.

O’Brien continued as though answering a spoken objection:

‘For certain purposes, of course, that is not true. When we navigate the ocean, or

when we predict an eclipse, we often find it convenient to assume that the earth goes

round the sun and that the stars are millions upon millions of kilometres away. But

what of it? Do you suppose it is beyond us to produce a dual system of astronomy?

The stars can be near or distant, according as we need them. Do you suppose our

mathematicians are unequal to that? Have you forgotten doublethink?’

Winston shrank back upon the bed. Whatever he said, the swift answer crushed him

like a bludgeon. And yet he knew, he knew, that he was in the right. The belief that

nothing exists outside your own mind — surely there must be some way of

demonstrating that it was false? Had it not been exposed long ago as a fallacy?

There was even a name for it, which he had forgotten. A faint smile twitched the

corners of O’Brien’s mouth as he looked down at him.

‘I told you, Winston,’ he said, ‘that metaphysics is not your strong point. The word

you are trying to think of is solipsism. But you are mistaken. This is not solipsism.

Collective solipsism, if you like. But that is a different thing: in fact, the opposite

thing. All this is a digression,’ he added in a different tone. ‘The real power, the

power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men.’

Young-earth creationism is quite literally Orwellian. I wonder whether Orwell could have been aware of the claims that were found among Seventh-Day Adventists in his time.

I think that those of us who are concerned about science education, who are convinced that there is a real world that needs to shape our beliefs, and who recognize the danger to humankind when people can be persuaded that 2+2=5, or the stars mere fires a few miles away, or fossils a Victorian-era deception, need to read more Orwell.

There is no modern-day young-earth creationist who has not learned the practice of doublethink. In order to maintain the belief that they are Biblical literalists, they have to find a way to accept that the arguments they use against flat-earthers are legitimate, but the arguments used against them are not.

Some within the Inner Party of young-earth creationists are surely aware of what they are doing and will likely be intransigent. But ordinary “party members” may be susceptible to reality intruding into their worldview.

When they fully grasp how they have been deceived and manipulated, they probably will not merely reject young-earth creationism, but will hate it with the vehemence that Winston and Julia hated Ingsoc – however much, because of the rigid authoritarian structures of fundamentalist churches, they may continue to tie their red sashes around their waists and pretend otherwise.

What led Winston and Julia to act upon that hidden hatred? Becoming persuaded that rebellion against the oppressive system truly is possible. Perhaps those of us who are seeking to combat the pernicious influence of young-earth creationism should spend less time trying to argue our way through their doublethink, and more time illustrating that it is possible for one to be a Christian and yet throw off the constraining shackles of the authoritarian system that threatens them with exclusion from their community here on Earth and exclusion from heaven in the future if they dare to challenge their rulers.

Winston Smith was confident that, even without hoping for divine intervention, the human spirit would refuse to participate indefinitely in the collective solipsism of Ingsoc. If we think he was right, then dare we to have the courage to hope that most young-earth creationists do not really want to be deceiving themselves and deceiving others?

If not, then perhaps Orwell was wrong, and what people will willingly deceive themselves into believing makes the heavy-handed methods of Big Brother unnecessary. If so, then young-earth creationism shows that the world, and humanity, are far scarier than what Orwell could bring himself to imagine.

Of related interest, Fred Clark has two posts, and Josh Rosenau one, on the issue of distant starlight and the lies of young-earth creationism. And don’t miss the Salon article about young-earth creationism, a flat Earth, and Biblical literalism, which I also linked to earlier in the post.



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  • Jerry Ross

    2+2=5? Teach the controversy!!!

    image credit:

  • TomS

    Just a minor quibble about what Orwell wrote in this passage. (Part iii, chapter3, by the way.) O’Brien concedes a point in the “astronomy”, “When we navigate the ocean, or when we predict an eclipse, we often find it convenient to assume that the earth goes round the sun and that the stars are millions of millions kilometers away.” But, in fact, navigators assume, rather, that the earth is unmoved and the heavens are in motion, and people have been predicting eclipses for many centuries by the Ptolemaic model, and the distance of the stars has nothing to with either of these. (Well, maybe not only a few kilometers, as O’Brien said, but no more than a few hundred million.) This, if anything, makes the point clearer.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    Another very excellent post. The main questions that remain are how big can the Young Earth crowd stay in the digital age, and for how long.

  • arcseconds

    I agree that the arguments and ‘evidence’ for young-earth creationism is not really the heart of the issue and, to some extent, beside the point.

    To address the underlying issue does require doing things like you suggest: demonstrating that one can lead a Christian life (or, more broadly, a meaningful one) without the white-knuckled grip on a literal take on one particular ancient myth.

    But is that really possible in a couple of hastily-written replies to a creationist on a blog?

    Also, if it’s basically a requirement of their community that they condemn ‘secularism’ and extol young-earth creationism, it’s going to be an uphill struggle to lift the scales from their eyes, even to the extent of admitting to themselves at least that maybe the ‘evolutionists’ have a point or two.

    And what about other motivations? If one wants clear and settled answers, which are easy to comprehend, or if one just has a visceral reaction against egghead liberals telling one what to believe, then again there are enormous barriers to accepting the scientific view. To eliminate those barriers might require they essentially become a very different person.

    • MattB

      Young-Earth Creationism=Jesus Mythicism

  • Richard Bushey

    It is interesting though that there are legitimate scholars of physics, such as Jason Lisle and Danny Faulkner, who take a young earth perspective. However I think a literal interpretation of the Bible reveals that the earth is very old. I wrote more about this in my article ‘Does The Bible Teach That The Earth is 6000 Years Old?’