Young-Earth Creationism is a Cult

Young-Earth Creationism is a Cult August 3, 2012

For those who know the English language well, the statement in the title, “young-earth creationism is a cult,” may seem obvious. One definition of a “cult” is “a system of religious beliefs and ritual” which of course young-earth creationism is.

But I mean the statement in reference to that more sinister meaning of “cult,” as referring to a group that uses manipulative tactics to lure people in and keep them in. I mean it even in the specifically Christian usage of a group that uses manipulative and deceptive tactics to indoctrinate its members with ideas that are at odds with historic Christianity.

It is of course part of the irony of the history of the use of the term “cult” in this way that most of those who have been most outspoken against “cults” belong to movements that fit that label well. All such groups tend to warn members adamantly to avoid “cults” which is a rather ingenious way of getting them to never ask whether they are already in one. It is rather like the forger who includes a warning to beware of forgeries, to throw readers off the scent.

Here, however, I want to focus on one specific aspect of the classic cult, namely the use of fear to control and indoctrinate. Consider this statement on an anti-cult website, “How Cults Work”:

The cult leaders need to make you believe that there is no where else you can go and still be saved, and if you ever leave the “one true church” then you are going to hell. This is a fear based control mechanism designed to keep you in the cult. It also gives the cult leaders tremendous power over you. If you really believe that leaving the group equals leaving God (or means you are leaving your only chance to succeed in life), then you will obey the cult leaders even when you disagree with them instead of risking being kicked out of the group. Exclusivism is used as a threat, it controls your behavior through fear.

Young-earth creationism is notorious for doing precisely that. Although its proponents will at times pay lip service to the idea that acceptance of evolution is not a matter that affects one’s salvation, that is clearly just a PR device. Most of their propaganda and their speeches say otherwise, claiming that acceptance of evolution is the root of all kinds of evil, both spiritual and social, and trying to make people afraid of looking into more closely, for fear that the result will be that they will lose their faith and end up in hell.

In a recent conversation with another former young-earth creationist, I observed that it is no surprise that the proponents of young-earth creationism use fear in this manner. It is a clear sign of the weakness of their own position. When I talk with someone about evolution, I encourage them to investigate the matter fully. Doing that was what changed my mind from being a young-earth creationist. I am confident that, as long as one is not getting information that only reflects young-earth creationism’s bogus criticisms of mainstream biology, they will be able to see through the deceptions of the YEC position. Indeed, the most convincing argument against young-earth creationism is a close look at what they say, fact-checked against reliable sources. And so I encourage people to look at what they have to say, and look at it carefully.

Clearly the proponents of young-earth creationism do not share that confidence in their own views, or they would not have to use fear to scare people away from examining the evidence for themselves.

And so it seems to me clear that young-earth creationism deserves to be categorized as a cult in the sinister sense of the word. That term is problematic, to be sure, precisely because it has a long tradition of use without the specific sinister and more narrow meaning. But if one decides to use that term at all in that particular sense, then young-earth creationism is a prime example.

In another recent conversation, the idea of childlike faith came up (see Matthew 18:3; 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). I used to accept (without question!) the notion that childlike faith meant accepting what I was told without question. Now that I have had a child, I wonder who on earth could have gotten this so very wrong, but presumably it was someone who had never had children and had forgotten most of what they had been like as a child. Children question everything. They never seem to tire of asking “But why?” They are the ones most likely to blurt out that the emperor has not clothes on when adults are playing along.

I think, given Jesus’ words about childlike faith, it should be safe to say the following: If what you call your “faith” is incompatible with the sort of curiosity and questioning that children are notorious for, then that “faith” should not be accompanied by the label “Christian.” It is clearly of a different sort.

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  • John Morehead

    I’m not a fan of Protestant fundamentalism and evangelicalism’s use of the term and concept of “cult” as stifling to the understanding of and response to various new religious movements and minority religions, but appreciate what you are trying to do in turning their rhetoric against the groups in question in order to make a point.

  • Having just finished reading a broad range of material on the creation debate, I have to concur with your conclusion on YEC and their approach which generally avoids direct examination of evidence. Letting people think for themselves is dangerous. Better to tell them what to think and make them think they’re thinking for themselves.

  • YEC is at the very least an absurd position immediately dismissed with facts. However, there are still some radical christians that assert the earth is in fact the center of the universe and modern science is incorrect. The YEC cult is of similar scientific validity.

    The children raised in this tradition are essentially experiencing child abuse given the educational deficits introduced by such an outrageously false worldview.

  • Michael Dowd

    Nice, Jim!


    ~ Michael

  • JosephU

    Q. Creation, evolution … what is the truth?
    What does God say?
    A. Exodus 20:1,8,11 (NIV 1984Bible)The Ten Commandments1 “And God spoke all these words …8 ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy ….11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.
    Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.’
    Conclusion: Creation …Yes. … Evolution…No.

    • arcseconds

      Yes, that’s exactly the problem, isn’t it?

      The Bible has a story about the earth being created in six days, along with all of the creatures.

      The Earth looks like it’s been around for a few billion years and life’s been around for most of that time, starting off simple at first and over billions of years getting gradually more complex until we have what we have today (well, the most complex creatures got more complex – most creatures today are still bacteria).

      So, if we’re to have one consistent story, one of these has to be rejected as being the literally true account of the formation of the earth.

      Young Earth Creationists say the Bible gives the true account, regardless of what the world may look like. That seems to be what you’re asserting here?

      Everyone else thinks the world has to be taken more seriously than that.

      The usual position for non-YEC Christians is to say that the Bible is not to be understood literally in these instances.

      Atheists, particularly those who are antagonistic towards religion, usually take the position that the Bible *is* to be taken literally in these instances, and the contradiction with the way the world appears to be means that the Bible is just plain and simply wrong.

      Perhaps a more interesting response, but one I’ve never known anyone to actually take, would be to give up consistency and affirm both as a dialethia: the world is both 5 billion years old and creatures evolved gradually, *and* it was created a few thousand years ago by God in six days with the creatures in their current form.

    • rmwilliamsjr

      i guess you’re 7th day adventist then.

    • SkepticNY

      Ah yes, the bible is true because it says so in the bible and we know that that has to be the truth because it says so in the bible. Thanks for clearing that up!

    • Ken Gilmore

      Joseph, Genesis 1:6-8 also says that God created a solid firmament to separate the waters above from the waters below. Gen 1:14 also says the stars are fixed in this firmament. If you read the creation account literally, then you’re obliged to do so consistently. So, do you believe in a flat earth covered by a solid firmament in which the stars are set?

    • Mary

      Yes WE KNOW the Bible is right in everything. Obviously those evil godless scientists misled us by telling us that insects have six legs instead of four! LOL

  • arcseconds

    Suspicion of mainstream sources is (has to be) part of the logic of their approach to evidence and argument, though. The only way it can be maintained that the evidence doesn’t show that the Earth is very old, and the creatures that inhabited it have changed radically over that time period is by (perhaps implicitly) assuming if not a massive conspiracy, then at least massive anti-biblical bias amongst scientists and practically everyone who engages with them.

    If you think that mainstream information is horribly corrupt, then it makes sense to not pay it much attention.

    This isn’t to disagree with you, but I’m just saying the epistemic logic alone is enough to push you into a certain kind of isolation.

    • Yes, I think we see your point, but the complete dismissal of mainstream information sources is a form of paranoia.

      The fact is that the bible is not a science book. This what the YEC folks will not accept. When they push hypotheses claiming that god made some things look old, how is that supportable or refutable? These sorts of beliefs require a dismissal of reality that is beyond my comprehension.

  • A P Montague

    By the definition of cult used here, then ALL religions are cults. Just as I have been saying all along. “Be good or the invisible man in the sky will punish you”.

    • I made a similar point in a response that didn’t appear. “Cult” just means and exclusive devotional tradition, as in the cult of Apollo. The irony of accusing one tradition of not seeing the mote in their eye, while not seeing the mote in one’s own is great.

  • Here is a link to something I wrote on this topic way back in 2007:

  • Brudder

    The difference between a Cult and a Religion; in a Cult there is a person at the top that knows it is a scam, in a Religion that person is dead.

    • rmwilliamsjr

      lol. i’d use it as a .sig but i’d offend everyone and have no one left to talk with.

  • Jack Harley

    Why can’t theology and science be compatible? The issue with YEC is that they claim to be bible literalists, but when something doesn’t make sense being taken literally then you’re not supposed to take it literally. Obviously then you’re not a bible literalist. ALL the bible literalists I know are nothing but Genesis literalists, they openly admit to taking the first 6 chapters of Genesis literally, but nothing else. They’re Genesis literalists not bible literalists.

    They interpret the Bible this way: The bible is the literal word of God (except for everything after Genesis chapter 6) so whatever the Bible says is 100% accurate both scientifically and historically and 100% free from error. Therefore, if anyone says anything that conflicts with a literal interpretation of the bible it is wrong, no matter how much evidence supports it and no matter how little evidence supports the literal biblical interpretation. Anyone who disagrees with this interpretation is saying the Bible is wrong and therefore they are not Christian.

    The way the Bible should be interpreted is by looking around yourself and understanding the world as the world is based on scientific evidence and archeological historical evidence. Then you go to the Bible and decide how it should be interpreted based on the scientific and historical evidence you know from outside the Bible. If science or archeology discovers something that conflicts with the Bible is does NOT mean that science, archeology, or the Bible is wrong. What it does mean is that any interpretation that dictates that the three are not compatible is wrong. Biblical interpretation must change so that everything makes sense together. Scientific understanding changes over time as we discover new things. Why can’t Biblical interpretation change over time as we discover new things. This does not mean that we are changing the Bible’s message it just means that we are understanding it better and over time our interpretation is becoming more correct.

    It is very wrong to say that we understand the Bible 100% and have made absolutely no errors in our interpretation(s) and understanding of it. How arrogant of a statement it is to believe that you or anyone else understands everything in the Bible 100%. Our understanding of the Bible must grow over time…I mean as a human race over generations…not individually over a life time through study (although that must happen as well). If we are wrong in our interpretation then we are wrong. We are human. We must stop pretending that we understand the Bible 100%, admit that with all things we are capable of making mistakes, work to correct those mistakes, and better our theology and interpretations based on the world around us. God would NOT create a universe then give us a book that dictates that we must believe in things that conflict with the universe he creatd. Seriously, what kind of God would do that?

  • John MacDonald

    One good thing we have learned from people being indoctrinated into cults and cult-like mentality is that thoughts and thought patterns are inherently malleable.

    A Liberal Arts education is very important in helping people become proficient in manipulating/ playing with language and ideas. This is a key in helping people/yourself think their/your way out of negative thoughts and thought patterns, and is especially important for people with mental challenges such as OCD and Bipolar, who can only be successful by constantly being in dialogue with themselves (due to the negative, eg anxious, way the world presents itself to them).

    I’ve volunteered with individuals with mental challenges most of my life, and there is hope! Postmodernism came to the fundamental insight, for instance, that equally plausible illustrative examples/allegories/analogies etc can be used to support mutually exclusive points of view: eg., Liberal-Conservative; Pro Life-Pro Choice, etc. What this teaches us is that points of view are concretized by illustrations that are not absolute, and that competing points of view can also have forceful illustrations. As a teacher, this meant points of view inherently contained an element of choice, and thereby could be manipulated / played with (whether a child’s bigoted point of view, a child who enjoyed being a bully, etc.). And we already assume such a model because when we teach debate, the child does not get to pick the point of view they are supporting, because the key is not to think you are right, but to argue both sides of the issue.

    • John MacDonald

      We have long known the techniques for successful brainwashing, which anyone can learn from a well presented Social Psychology course. We know, for instance, Hitler filled stadiums beyond capacity because he knew people become more aroused the more they are in close quarters. On the other hand, these techniques can be used in the opposite direction for good, to deconstruct unhealthy belief systems and cause their foundations to tremble and crumble.