In some respects America is a second world nation, half way between the civilized first world and the underdeveloped third world. America has the wealth and power of a first world country. Socially and culturally it lives in a half way house.
In much of the third world religious fundamentalism is rife. Most of the civilized world is secular in effect. America combines both worlds. We have a blatantly materialistic and secular culture with a strong subculture of religious fundamentalism rooted in the “know nothing” tradition. And thus it is that Creationism is a peculiarly American phenomenon.
In the civilized world the question of evolution was settled a century ago. The general facts of the antiquity of the Earth and the evolution of life over time were, long ago, established beyond all reasonable doubt. In the civilized world the religious establishments and the popular culture have made their accomodations with truth. In America the matter is not quite so simple; America is the home and center of Christian fundamentalist creationism.
In America we have the spectre of a large subculture which insists on the truth of a literal interpretation of Genesis. In the pursuit of this myth there is a campaign to remove science from the teaching of science and replace it with mythology. This is a serious matter.
Let us be clear. The essence of Creationism is ignorance. One cannot be aware of and understand the scientific evidence for our current understanding of the history of life on this Earth, be a rational human being, and be a creationist. One can hold with creationism and be rational if one is sufficiently ignorant. This is the preferred stance of the creationist, the one which they are trying to impose on our schools.
This is best done by selecting one’s environment, by carefully avoiding exposure to anything that might raise doubts in one’s chosen beliefs. The good creationist hides under the rock of ignorance in the company of other good creationists where they commune in the darkness of their souls and call it light.
Unfortunately for the creationist this tactic is not always viable. Science and technology are pervasive in our culture. It is difficult to persuade others that they should assume the creationists stance of ignorance. Thus it is that creationists take another tack, that of abandoning both understanding and rationality. A two pronged attack is taken.
One strategy is to claim, on divers grounds, that evolution is not true, or is “just a theory”, or that creationism is scientific. There are difficulties with this strategy. To doubt the factuality of evolution one must carefully ignore both the cumulated evidence and the process of reasoning. However this is easier done than it might seem.
Although science has great prestige in America the simple fact is that the level of education in America is lamentable both with respect to science and in general. The creationists can and do make the most preposterous claims with success because their audience knows no better. It is not just the schools that have failed America; our popular media shares the guilt. Claptrap is pervasive; claptrap sells. More than that, the media owes its soul to the advertisers who fund it. Do you imagine that the advertising industry (surely an oxymoron) desires that the public exercises critical thinking?
So it is that creationists can put together pamphlets listing sundry “problems” of evolution. These “problems” dissolve when subjected to the slightest bit of critical thinking, with the slightest bit of actual knowledge. They are a great success, however, with those who are ignorant, know not that they are ignorant, but are enthusiastic believers.
A second tactic is to ignore science entirely and cast the argument as a theological one. The claim is made that evolution is a religion or ideology. The issue is reduced, in the minds of the creationists, as a conflict between true religion (fundamentalist creationism) and false religion (evolution and atheism).
This is a surprisingly effective tactic. In the mind set of the ideologue ideology is pre-eminent over reality. Thus we had aryan science and jewish science, people’s science and capitalist science, creation science and evolution science. Truth is a matter of having the right beliefs. Right beliefs will point you to right science. War is Peace. Freedom is slavery. Shit is shinola.
An advantage of this tactic is that it works even with people who are not true believers. People are accustomed to the expert who sells his opinion to the highest bidder and the expert whose opinions resonate with his ideology. The phenomenon of political “truth” is a familiar one, heard on every talk show. If one has scant knowledge of the actual facts (as many do not) then it is easy to be persuaded that the dispute in hand is one of rival ideologies.
This page was last updated July 27, 1996