How Creationism Imprisons the Mind

How Creationism Imprisons the Mind February 13, 2014

The quotation is taken from Mark Joseph Stern’s recent Slate article “The Cruelty of Creationism” or “How Creationism Imprisons the Mind.” Click through to read more of it.

Creationism…isn’t a harmless, compartmentalized fantasy. It’s a suffocating, oppressive worldview through which believers must interpret reality—and its primary target is children. For creationists, intellectual inquiry is a sin, and anyone who dares to doubt the wisdom of their doctrine invites eternal damnation. That’s the perverse brilliance of creationism, the key to its self-perpetuation: First it locks kids in the dungeon of ignorance and dogmatic fundamentalism. Then it throws away the key.

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  • Adversarial just for fun

    blah, blah, blah… no creationist I’ve seen claims that not believing that the earth is youg will send you to hell. They just don’t believe it’s old but otherwise it’s irrelevant to salvation etc. Nore do they stop anyone from inquiring, in fact they encourage it… Only in those conditions the above judgements would have any warrant…

    Get real!

    • They do not say that it is irrelevant to salvation. They say, at times at least, that it is not determinative of salvation. But they claim that it involves compromise, that it erodes faith and morals, and say many other things which attempt to drive a wedge between brain and heart, between acceptance of the legitimacy of mainstream science, critical thinking, and following evidence where it leads on the one hand, and Christian faith on the other.

      • Nancy R.

        The “slippery slope” argument is very common among young earth creationists. If you doubt the authority of any part of scripture, you will inevitably doubt that the Resurrection happened, or even that Jesus was a real person. So clearly it is far safer to believe that it is absolutely true in every detail.

        • Rick_K

          Yep – exactly right.

          Of course, most YECs still ignore many of more unpleasant bits of Leviticus.

      • Adversarial just for fun

        Sure, they might exagerate at times but who doesn’t. I see thesitic evolutionists doing it to. I mean evolution theory definetly isn’t necessary for salvation but somehow the problem of evil is summoned up and in a strage way, those who don’t believe in evolution believe that god is evil…hence heretics, hence no salvation…

        James, this is the work of the evil one. Neither creationism or evolution are central doctrines of christians faith, necessary for salvation and so on.

        So I would rather these “philosophers” “theologians” who try to actually serve Christ say things how they are: “we believe the creationism is false for such and such reason”, “we believe that evolution is false for such and such reason” – but all these baroque descriptions of the dangers of the other point of view, do nobody any good. Just chill…

        Except to atheists, who rejoice…

        • It sounds as though you are being adversarial just for fun.

          Connecting a religious tradition with pseudoscientific nonsense is certainly worth pointing out, if you are an adherent of that religion and resent the association.

          • Adversarial just for fun

            I am adversarial just for fun. But I also mean what I said.

            If your motivation is resenting the association with your less intelligent brother… I think it’s a bad motivation.

            You can point out that you disagree with him, But let’s lower the pontificating tone about how they are so heretical, that they are against intellectual inquiry etc.

            I think time invested in pointing out how wrong creationists are on science should be rather used for converting atheists to Christ. The Gospel isn’t “whomsover believes in evolution shall be saved”… Not the last time I ckecked.

            Keep things into perspective, James.

          • You seem to be misunderstanding. Some people are actively and vocally driving a wedge between mainstream science and Christianity. They are putting stumbling blocks that cause some not to come to faith, and others to lose it.

          • Adversarial just for fun

            So, your solution is to put stumbling blocks between those who doubt the sufficiency of the neo-darwinin mechanisms to account for life – to be honest christians?

            Did Jesus say anything like ” and the one who won’t believe in what dawkins says shall perish!”

            One sort of fundamentalism isn’t the answer to another…

            In necessaria – unitas. That is in those things that are necessary – let us stand united… Christ, Gospel and all..

            In dubito – libertas. In those things that there are doubts about, let there be freedom of thought, fredom of opinion. Evolution theory isn’t a thing necessary in terms of the teachings of the Church. It’s totally irrelevant and useless.

            In omnia – charitas. Sure, plenty of love in all, when you are calling your creationist brother, dogmatic fundamentalist idiot just because he holds a different opnions o things that are doubtful. You can call him wrong about that but this divisive discourse is going to be stumbling block on its own right.

          • Now you are just being silly. Who suggested making Dawkins an authority, much less one on which salvation depends? Dawkins tends to be reliable when talking about his own area of expertise – biology – but has been legitimately criticized on his assertions about philosophy, religion, and theology.

            While personally I think that making the Creator a deceiver the way young-earth creationists do is fundamentally incompatible with the Christian faith, I have no interest in silencing them. I am merely seeking to ensure that those ignorant voices do not predominate so strongly and damage the reputation of the Christian faith.

            Accepting mainstream science is not essential to being a Christian. But claiming that rejection of mainstream science is essential to being a Christian is a diabolical lie.

          • Adversarial just for fun

            See, that’s the kind of argument that I reject. How do you dare to say that creationists make the Creator a deceiver? I know very well, what you’re getting at – why would the Creator create the world with the appearence of age etc.; but the Creator didn’t deceive if He told you in revelation what He has done.

            This argument of yours is the usual evidentialist fallacy of the atheists : If God would have existed, there would be much more evidence for it, the world wouldn’t look like there is no God etc. (Hidenness, evil etc.). why would God decive us into thinking He does not exist etc.

            You could ensure that the poor-minded creationists don’t become the predominant voice without accusing them of incompatibility with christian faith or heresy or making God a deceiver etc. and other wild accusations that are not remotely cogent.

            You could say: they are not interpreting rightly the evidence in scriptures and that of science, in my point of view etc. There is no incopatibility between evolution and Christianity etc, I think mainline science has alot to inform us etc.

            But don’t turn yourself into a cardinal at the time of Galileo who in defence of mainline science condemns his fellow christian…

            If accepting mainline science isn’t essential to being a Christian that means there is no incompatibility between YEC and being a Christian. Nobody claims that rejection of mainline science is essential to being a Christian – other than atheists, not even all atheists, but the dawkinsite cultists type…

            Keep things into perspective, James.

          • I have had commenters here say precisely what you say that no YEC says. And people like Ken Ham speak out of both sides of their mouth on the issue, saying that acceptance of evolution is “not a salvation issue” and yet also depicting it as compromise and root of all major moral evil of our time.

            As for your starting point, it is not just that God made things look old. God made them a look a particular age. And God made living things look like they are related through a process of evolution. Meanwhile, you claim that this isn’t deception because the truth was revealed. But when, where, and how? The Biblical texts use language about creation which, apart from being monotheistic, agrees with what we find in other ancient creation accounts. Just like the in Enuma Elish, in Genesis 1 the Creator splits the waters to make the sky and sea, and puts a dome in place to hold up the waters above.

          • Sorry for the second comment – the browser stopped responding.

            So, if the revelation in Genesis is what distinguishes it from other accounts in that time, then it is the theology that is revealed, and young-earth creationists are wrong. If you say that it did reveal material about the natural world, then was that also revealed to the Babylonians? Or was it revealed to the author of Genesis in such a manner that it was indistinguishable from the knowledge of others in that time? Either way, I do not see how the latter options help solve the problems we are trying to get at here.

            Your Galileo analogy is presumably an attempt at humor, yes? I am not opposed to people with views I disagree with participating in the scholarly process. Indeed, I lament that what such people offer, whether they be the young-earth creationists or the Jesus-mythicists, tends to be mostly found online and in self-published books. If you are going to try to persuade scholars, you must do so in the appropriate ways. On the other hand, one can certainly lose one’s job at a conservative Christian school for saying the kinds of things that I do. It happens regularly. Was that your point?

          • Adversarial just for fun

            Again, it’s totally irrelevant – the jews in Jesus’ time probably had very little knowledge of the babylonian myths…

            My point was this: the original post together with your evidentialist fallacy argument are not the way to go. In fact while accusing Ham for speaking from both sides of the mouth – by using that God-Deceiver argument you are doing it also.

            You can’t use theological arguments against YEC. You can use hermeneutics, exegesis, scientific arguments… But not theological.

            Once you use that you are no different from a fundamentalist YEC who says that you are compromising on doctrine and thus you tend towards apostasy.

            Because if I may repeat my point again: old earth, evolution etc. are not doctrines of the faith, they are not necessary for salvation. In dubito -libertas.

          • Sorry, what do Jews in Jesus’ time have to do with it?

            It isn’t clear to me that there is a basis for your “can’t” other than that you would really prefer that I stop.

            If the prosperity Gospel is deemed not to be a salvation issue by you, would that mean that it isn’t worth arguing against it?

          • Adversarial just for fun

            You can say that is not the proper Gospel taught by the Church, it’s not about me deeming anything…

          • Adversarial just for fun

            I know these stuff, James. I’m not YEC… My point was you can’t use this argument againt YEC because it runs against theism itself from atheists. It’s just a fallacy. You can say that there is a better interpretation of the text etc. etc. But honestly, God-deceiver. No. That’s a fallacious argument. YEC look at the text, interpret it one way and then look at the world in the light of the text. The text can be interpreted that way, and we know, it can namely because for a very long time it was interpreted that way… (I know Augustin, blah, blah ) but the fact remains that plenty of people understood it as such…

          • That people assumed it was literal, but were open to being corrected in light of new information about the natural world, is very different from insisting it is literal despite evidence to the contrary.

          • Adversarial just for fun

            well, it’s at least logically possible that it was literal and the facts of nature can be interpreted as empirically equivalent. Sure, such explanations would look ad-hoc-ish to us… But it’s at least logically possible.

            -Don’t tell me at what things they were open… I mean really. Don’t be presumptious.

            Again, I am not YEC. My point was that while you can argue that there is no incompatibility between evolution and theism etc. you can’t erect theological objections against YEC, which both theistic evolutionists do (which was my second post), and you also did (because it was impossible not to confirm since you are in attack-YEC-mode). This is a no-go.

            You can argue on whatever grounds you like. Hermeneutics, best explanation, history etc. without calling them stupid (even if you think they’re wrong) without making up stuff as “intellectually inquiry is sin” and other such abrupt condemnations.

            Where is CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity approach in such elitist attitude?

          • I don’t see that C. S. Lewis lent support to people being dishonest about science, in the manner that young-earth creationists are. And so I am not sure what the relevance of mentioning him is, other than to be adversarial just for fun.

    • Sven2547

      I’m personally related to a creationist who believes that you’re not a true Christian unless you literally interpret the Bible, including Genesis.
      And there is a certain kind of fate that awaits people who aren’t true Christians…

    • arcseconds

      It’s not uncommon for creationists to claim that it is fairly central to salvation: if you don’t believe in a historical Adam you can’t make sense of Paul’s claim that through one man humanity was damned and by one man it was redeemed.

      We’ve seen that argued many times on this very blog.

    • Rick_K

      Nonsense – Fully half the Young Earth Creationists I debate with at some point in the discussion say something along the lines of “wait until you die and face God, THEN you’ll be sorry you didn’t believe the Word of God.”

  • Guest

    How ridiculous. By the way, did you ever figure out the name of the beast?

    • Sure, it’s Caesar Nero. We’ve known that for a really long time, but unfortunately some people who claim the Bible is important to them or even authoritative never actually read anything to help them understand it.

      • Guest

        It wasn’t Nero. The beast was a country, not a man.
        You know nothing.

        • So you disagree with what Revelation 13:18 says? Presumably you would tell the author of that work that he knew nothing, too?

          • Guest

            Oh get over yourself McGrath, your sophistry is childish.
            Revelation 13,18 is right, your conclusions are wrong.
            But you never had a chance anyway; it calls for wisdom.

          • How does your “wisdom” allow you to avoid the clear meaning of the statement “ἀριθμὸς γὰρ ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν”? How is pointing out that that statement contradicts your claim “sophistry”? And why do you seem unaware that you need to actually offer an explanation of your reasoning rather than insults?

  • Just Sayin’

    Creationism is incredibly important, say Creationists. Until you post something like this, when they suddenly claim it’s not that important after all. They want it both ways.

  • Michael Wilson

    I agreed with the article Stern linked to more. My conclusion is that it is a compartmentalized fantasy, harmful only in limited settings. There are lots of those floating around, like Carrier’s Jesus mythers. Stern makes the unsubstantiated charge that creationist think intellectual inquery is a sin. They clearly do not. If they did then a creationist could not have invented the MRI. Stern ignores the argumnents given in the article he rebuts and presses on with histrionics to make the case creationist are boogy men. Their are a lot of dumb ideas that people cling to that are far more harmfull than creationism.

    • Jakeithus

      I can’t help but agree with you that the harms posed by young earth creationism are often greatly overstated. Nothing about myself drastically changed during my own conversion away from the belief, and when I look at my numerous friends and family members still holding to the idea, I fail to see many concrete ways their lives would improve if they were to change their understanding on that particular issue.

    • arcseconds

      I agree the Slate article is rather strident and veering on alarmist. It’s tempting, I think, for some people to think of creationists in terms of the worst forms of fundamentalists: those who homeschool their kids, where even a stray thought about evolution or anything connected with it might imperil your immortal soul, who are also funding horrible anti-LGBT policies in Uganda and seeking to impose their christianist agenda as strongly as possible onto the wider society.

      Very few creationists are exactly like that, and I’m sure many, if not most, are relatively benign types, one or two of whom probably can be found in most church congregations somewhere, for whom young-earth creationism is something they assent to, but not something they really think about too much and doesn’t play a big part in their lives.

      However, this doesn’t mean it’s entirely benign. There are creationists of the kind I sketched above. I’ve read several horror stories written by people who eventually dropped creationism after exposure to actual science, but for whom it was a painful, long, and frightening process. Instilling kids with a framework whereby they approach a major area in science with this kind of fear is not a good thing!

      And even the people who sit back in Anglican or Catholic congregations privately and quietly assenting to creationism aren’t necessarily free of negative effect on the wider society. While they might not be actively agitating for creationism to be taught in schools, it seems likely that they’d be quietly supportive: voting on referenda and signing petitions, that sort of thing. They might not want ‘evolutionism’ eliminated and they might admit that it’s an intellectually viable option, and I’m some of them accept that YEC is a faith-based opinion and are happy for it not to be taught, but I imagine wanting to ‘teach the controvesy’ is more common.

      Also, science-denial in general has its dangers: we’re seeing that in the global warming debate (i.e. the fact there is a global warming debate) and also with immunization. And global warming denial is not unconnected with young-earth creationism.

      • Michael Wilson

        nothing is entirely benign. The problem with the “there are creationist…horror stories…” approach is it could be said of anything. one could argue hippies were dangerous because of the Manson gang, or that liberals are dangerous because of the weather underground using this logic. ultimately all people are potentially dangerous, so in order to have a meaningful assessment of threats, its best to limit our discussion of dangerous to people actually doing dangerous things. Most people are wrong about something, irrational about something, dogmatic about something. Would we be better off if this wasn’t so? maybe, but their is no point addressing the danger of all the people that think their mom is the best mom in the world or moms that think their kid is the best kid in the world. Dangers have to be evaluated in relation to all other dangers out there, creationist are low on my priorities.

        • arcseconds

          Do you really think the Manson gang or familial loyalties are apt comparisons to young-earth creationism?

          There’s a widespread and influential campaign to get creationism included in the school science curriculum, which has to be constantly battled to continue teaching science in science classes. I don’t think there’s any other example of a position so completely deprecated by the relevant experts with such momentum behind it to get it established as a viable position in public discourse.

          Climate change denial is probably more directly dangerous, but the two are not unconnected. Both rely on disengaging public opinion from expert opinion.

          I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure there’s not a similarly widespread and influential campaign to get Charles Manson into English Lit classes or your mother into social studies classes 🙂

          Also, while dogmatic and authoritarian forms of Christianity which inculcate fear into their members might not be the majority of creationists, they are hardly some tiny, isolated group, either. They are widespread and numerous.

          • Michael Wilson

            arcseconds, I do think those are apt comparisons. Manson was the tip of a hippie iceberg that was rarely homicidal, and as you agree, most creationist are relatively benign. family loyalties, like religious beliefs can be strongly held against evidence, but don’t typically creep into peoples judgments outside that limited arena. That was the limited point of the comparison, not that these were exact analogues of creationism. Hippies and family loyalties are far more destructive than creationism. While their may be a not insignificant number of dogmatic and fear ruled creationist, I have to point out that Stern is essentially trying to make his reader afraid of creationist so as to encourage more dedication to action against them. But I think the fear is as unwarranted as the fear that teaching Darwin leads to genocide.

            Yes, creationism is a dumb idea that lots of people like, and because they like it, logically they think it should be taught in school. Still, I’m not sure that having to argue over this is especially harmful. When I was in school, our system did not address evolution or creationism. Sure we were cheated on our education, but I would argue not by much.

            On climate change denial, they may both be a form of ignorance, but your right, they are otherwise unconnected. Nothing about creationism requires climate change denial, and a lack of trust of scientific opinion can come with any number of pseudo-scientific beliefs.

            Regarding climate change denial, I frankly don’t find it very dangerous either. This is one reason I don’t mind the creationist that much because they tend not to be interested in action on climate change, which in our political environment tends to be not based on science. The politicians and organization most loudly demanding action on this issue tend to have fuzzy and unsophisticated plans for action, and it is probably better to ignore them. The error is that they equate belief in climate change with belief that their should be a carbon tax, an end to coal plants in America, and no Keystone XL pipeline. Personally I think the effect of this would be a troubling shift in production and wealth to China which lacks our scruples, not a reduction in green house gas. Further, I can’t find any consistent estimate of what should happen if nothing changes or how any specific change will alter those projections. In a world where billions depend on the production of green house gases for their basic necessities it is hard to create a sensible policy to address those problems. Frankly, people that blithely think we can shift to clean energy without sever negative repercussions have not thought about the science.

    • Rick_K

      There’s a limit to how much you can “compartmentalize” how you determine truth.

      It’s true that most great scientific discoveries were made by religious people. But it is also true that those religious beliefs more often than not impeded the progress of that discovery. Time and again throughout history, the big steps forward occurred when someone worked up the nerve to set aside preconceptions from scripture and just follow the evidence.

      Religion often provides motivation. And of course, for early scientists, the Church was the only place with enough money to support non-food-producing natural philosophers and early scientists.

      And all you have to do is google “Sabine Parish evolution” to see the effects of creationism in the hands of a public school science teacher.

      “God did it” is obstructive and dangerous whenever it crosses over into the realm of rational inquiry.

  • Here in TN they have taken steps though new legislation to allow creationism right back into the classroom. This law turns the clock back nearly 100 years here in the seemingly unprogressive South and is simply embarrassing. There is no argument against the Theory of Evolution other than that of religious doctrine. The Monkey Law only opens the door for fanatic Christianity to creep its way back into our classrooms. You can see my visual response as a Tennessean to this absurd law on my artist’s blog at with some evolutionary art and a little bit of simple logic.

    • The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes ain’t over yet! /wiki/Scopes_Trial‎

      I like your art. It has an Alex Grey touch to it. (I have one of his signed paintings in the dining room.) Since your painting is named 46 & 2, do you like Tool band? Here are some school kids doing a great cover, with a female voice. Step aside, Maynard! 🙂