On Monday, Answers in Genesis’ professional mouth Ken Ham posted on Facebook:
Intellectual child abuse: when kids are taught they’re just animals in an evolutionary process. This morning I taught kids the creation/gospel message!
The young people today in Alabama learned they’re not made in the image of an ape — they’re created in the image of God.
Most of you will have heard Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss make the same accusation against the teaching of creationism. In this context Ham’s claim sounds a bit like a childish retort of “No, you’re a child abuser!”
I am friends on Facebook with a great many survivors of childhood physical and sexual abuse, and they’re not happy about Ham’s comments because they feel such glib use of the term devalues the currency when we’re talking about real cases of abuse. I’m sure they’d say the same about Dawkins and Krauss’s comments.
There is a sick irony to Ham’s statement though, and it’s this: teaching creationism is frequently used to reinforce abuse and silence victims. Here’s how it works:
Young-Earth creationism is one of a few doctrines that come from a simplistic reading of the Bible that assumes the entire book is an error-free manual for life today, with definitely NO CONTRADICTIONS. This results in what Fred Clark calls the “clobber-text hermeneutic”. You can just find isolated sections of the Bible, rip them from their historical and literary context, and use them to ‘prove’ whatever point you want to make. Hence “clobber-text”: you use the Bible verse to clobber your ideological opponent. They say being gay is OK? Romans 1:26-27. BOOM. Clobbered. They say modern species evolved from simpler life forms? Genesis 1. Clobbered.
Historically, this clobber tactic was used by Christian defenders of slavery. And more recently it’s been used to defend Christian homophobia, misogyny… oh, and young-Earth creationism.
But, as Fred explains, especially in the case of creationism, there is a feedback loop. These beliefs don’t just come from the belief in biblical inerrancy, they reinforce it.
Young-Earth creationism, with its veneer of scientific respectability, appears (to its adherents) to prove that the Bible is true, and that the clobber-text method is the right way to interpret the Bible. Logically, I grant you, this doesn’t hold up to scrutiny: even if Genesis were historically accurate, that would prove nothing about the truth of, say, Ephesians, written hundreds of years later in a different language and country. But I cannot over-emphasise the emotional hold creationism had on me as an adherent. It really did make the Bible seem unquestionable. I think that should be understandable even to those of you who were never creationists. The Bible, printed and bound in one impressive looking tome (in my case, in black leather with gold leaf edges), is presented not as 66 separate books but as the unified Word of God. Creationism turned that into a science.
Fred mentions that this clobber-reading is used to defend sexism, homophobia, and racism. To that list, I would add child abuse (“he that spareth the rod hateth his son” is classic clobber) and an unquestioning deference to those in authority over you, especially if you are a child. And now you can see how the dynamics of abuse are reinforced by creationism. The abuse itself might be defended by scripture, as when your parents are hitting you with a rod, or it might be that your elders (who the Bible commands you to obey) are telling you to keep quiet about abuse, adding that you “don’t want to harm the Gospel”. Either way, creationism makes the whole edifice appear more certain, and therefore unchallengeable.
Teaching creationism is harmful. It hurts children’s prospects of success in the sciences, and it stifles their intellectual development. All that said, it isn’t abuse in itself. It is so easily and so often used to reinforce abuse, though, and that’s what makes Ken Ham’s claim so ugly.
- Creationism is inherently homophobic and misogynistic
- Why creationism matters
- Does creationism = homophobia? Creationists think so
The diagrams in this post are reproduced with permission from Fred Clark’s post ‘Why young-Earth creationism needs to be killed with fire part 2’, which you should read.