A Different Kind of Creationist

Virginia Heffernan is a journalist who used to write a tech and pop culture column for the New York Times. She’s now a correspondent for Yahoo! News. She has a Ph.D. in English Lit from Harvard. And she’s a creationist.

Sort of. She explains herself in a piece titled Why I’m a Creationist that’s been picked up on by Gawker, Slate and a couple of other sources.

Most creationist are creationists because they insist on the authority of the Bible. Most likely they don’t care all that much about the formation of the universe, but they want to get to heaven. They hold on to Genesis 1 so they don’t lose their grip on John 3:16.

Heffernan is a different sort. She comes across as a more progressive believer, but one who casually rejects the big bang. Her arguments basically boil down to 1) mistrust of science – from evolution to global warming, and 2) desire for meaning and poetry in her worldview. Here’s her take on Darwin:

The Darwin, with good reason, stuck with me. Though it’s sometimes poetic, “The Origin of Species” has an enchantingly arid English tone to it; this somber tone was part of a deliberate effort to mark it as science and not science fiction—the “Star Trek” of its time. The book also alights on a tautology that, like all tautologies, is gloriously unimpeachable: Whatever survives survives.

Knocking Darwin for his dry prose isn’t really an argument. The tautology argument is a creationist standard, dating back to the 19th century. “Survival of the fittest” could be a tautology except for the fact that “fittest” has an independent meaning; “individuals with specific heritable characteristics.”

Heffernan is a post-modern creationist. She really does believe that evolution and physics are just alternative creation myths. The myth in Genesis is more moving and thus more “true,” at least to her.

There isn’t much beyond that. Heffernan doesn’t impress, either in her understanding of science or her knowledge of the Bible. But in the process of knocking science, she complains about evolutionary psychology, and here she’s got a point, though not perhaps the one she’s intending.

Most of the pop evo-psych that comes down is pretty bad, and the science journalism makes it worse. A number of skeptics and scientists have pointed out that bad science journalism is doing the movement no favors. It seems like Heffernan is guilty of assuming that whatever story the NYT runs is the state of the discipline, and I don’t think she’s alone.

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