Editor’s Note: Ever since visiting the Grand Canyon, I wondered how creationists explained the numerous signs there that describe an ancient earth. You will understand after reading this. You’ll also understand what we need to do to stop poisoning young minds with creationists’ regressive beliefs. We welcome this second postby an almost Clergy Project member, who dodged the bullet by dropping out of seminary to attend law school. / Linda LaScola, Editor
It wasn’t my first visit, granted, but my experiences as a convinced young-earth creationist at 15 and then as a self-taught science enthusiast at 23 could not have been more different. When I was 15, Ken Ham’s Creation Museum was a beacon of truth to the world that had rejected the Word of God for Darwin. When I was 23, it was a pseudo-scientific propaganda mill that drove the invisible wedge ever deeper between my family and me. I did everything in my power to play the role a little longer, because as much as I would have liked to come out, my wedding was on the line.
Yes, my wedding. I’m from the west coast and my wife is from the east coast. I was working in Colorado, and I accepted the offer to save the price of a plane ticket and to ride with my family on their way to the wedding in the bride’s hometown. The only catch was we would stop at the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter en route through Kentucky.
This isn’t to say there was some explicit quid pro quo, but the stakes for being outed were unthinkably high. The best conceivable outcome would be a falling out that overshadowed the wedding. More likely, they would have boycotted the wedding entirely. Not being ready for all that, I kept quiet.
Since that visit to the Creation Museum, I’ve come out to my family and made the cultural and ideological 180-turn in every way I could. The devastation to family has been palpable in a way that my fellow nonbelievers who were never religious or who left more moderate versions of Christianity can hardly imagine.
I want to help people understand some of the tactics that go into creationist education because I believe my years of experience on both sides of its message give me insight that, although not unique among anti-creationism activists, can nonetheless add significantly to the dialogue.
I was homeschooled in deep-blue Oregon and can remember three creationist organizations there that existed to promote creation “science.” We attended events where speakers debated the semantics of Genesis 1 and which precise version of a literal interpretation should be foundational to our understanding of the universe. We went fossil hunting and heard all about how the fossilized clams we discovered were made in the 24th Century B.C. We took the creationist alternative guidebooks on our family vacations to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon so we could learn about these sites from the “Flood Geology” interpretation that cemented these natural wonders in our minds as proof of God’s maniacal obsession with human adherence to His commands.
As an active culture warrior to whom creationist dogma was a necessary cornerstone in my social and political views, the polarization of the movement was exhilarating. The compromises and ambiguity of the Intelligent Design argument were waning in the movement. Organizations like the Discovery Institute that had convinced some creationists that an incremental approach would lead the way to gradual acceptance had been devastated by the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision in 2005. The defeat of Intelligent Design in the courts was just enough of a loss to enrage the millions of fundamentalist Americans who wanted to see their creationist views validated by the education system while discrediting the argument that leaving Christ and biblical literalism out of the message would help us win court cases. This was the time to take decisive action.
When he debated Bill Nye, I hosted a debate watch party for our creation activists to watch and root for him. As a true believer, I was devastated when he lost the debate in a spectacular show of persuasive incompetence. Although I walked away from that night simply wishing my position had been represented by a better communicator, it was the turning point in my deeply internalized doubts about the anti-scientific worldview that was the foundation of my entire identity. It was the milestone in my journey between the two Lukes who visited the Creation Museum.
Creationist dogma is most effective in the form of a gradual inoculation against critical thought. Start with young children and present the creationist message as fact without reference to any opposing viewpoint. As they reach late elementary or middle school, introduce straw man references to evolution and deep geological time but refute them summarily with creationist arguments that are more sophisticated than the straw men. As the students reach high school, flush out the evolutionist position with clips from an angry anti-theist or an elitist with a British accent
and refute them with a creationist counterpoint that is more sympathetic than the version of evolution to which the student has been exposed.
In the end, creationist education will work and will be passed on to the next generation as long as the student is prepared with “answers” to the contrary views that appear more sophisticated than references to evolution and deep time that children encounter in daily life. A child growing up with a thorough creationist education is not likely to be phased by a TV science documentary or by reading signs at national parks because their version of the story appears more comprehensive than their perception of the opposing view.
It’s up to us to push scientific literacy in to a higher level where this strategy becomes impossible. In my case, even by marginally raising my scientific literacy, the creationist dogma fell apart under its own weight.
I want to encourage my fellow secular activists to remember that engagement is not futile. While tens of millions of dedicated fundamentalists are closed off from changing their views, their children are within reach. We need to work with those children first at an education level. Then, we need to provide the support network that untangles the social and political web that is inseparable from the forces that drove the creationist movement to entrap children in the first place.
Bio: Luke Douglas is a political consultant, progressive activist, writer and rabble-rouser. Since leaving fundamentalism and a political career for the religious right, he has been outspoken about his journey to secular humanism. Catch him reading history, science, or philosophy, or on Twitter @Propter__Hoc.
>>>>Photo Credits: By John Foxe – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21731329 By Dsdugan – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60046356 ; By David Shankbone – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11639311