Jobs creationists CAN do (Guest post)

David Waldock is one of the most articulate commenters on this blog. His response to Monica Stringer’s defence of ACE was so comprehensive I didn’t bother to reply myself. David is an ex-ACE student, but he preferred not to write about his own experiences. Instead, here’s his analysis of where belief in Creationism will take you…

This was originally intended to be a comment on Jonny’s post “5 jobs a Creationist can’t do“, but after an extended conversation on Facebook, we thought my thoughts might be better presented as a post in its own right, extending the discussion.

First, I understand the position that Jonny is taking; all other things being equal, young earth creationism (YEC) is intellectually incompatible with many disciplines. However, there are doubtless people who identify as young earth creationists who are in those disciplines.

An example which springs to mind is nursing (I know of several nurses who believe in YEC), yet effective nursing requires acknowledging that microbes evolve in response to antibiotics. Does this mean these self-defined creationist nurses aren’t really nurses?

What I think is actually meant is that holding YEC beliefs requires one to perform intellectual gymnastics in some way, or to compromise one’s beliefs in order to function effectively within one’s chosen discipline. I note that Answers in Genesis explicitly give this advice:

“Because of the intense persecution and potential discrimination, some have chosen to keep their biblical views “under wraps” until they receive their degrees.”

What does this look like in reality?

Isolating parts of one’s life, to keep the faith-life separate from the work/study-life, is difficult. This type of cognitive dissonance is going to manifest itself in a variety of ways, ranging from mild neuroses to serious mental health problems (for more on this, go and listen to this interview with Carole Tavris, author of Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)).

Indeed, the failure to resolve a stress-inducing situation is one of the leading causes of anxiety disorders. Chronic anxiety can result in depressive illnesses, social withdrawal and feelings of low self-esteem; these conditions are also associated with eating disorders and addictive behaviours. So the best that can be said about this type of dissonance is that it could lead to mental health problems of varying degrees.

Second, we know that  people who hold a deeply-held belief which forms part of their identity tend to perceive counter-evidence as an attack on them, and not merely a challenging of the ideas they hold to be true. When presented with counter-evidence, believers actually interpret the information as reinforcing their belief through post hoc rationalisations.

The classic example of this is in end days cults, where believers are persuaded that the world faces armageddon in the near future, normally on a date prophesied by their leader. When the date passes without the predicted end of the world, where one would expect their faith to be shaken, the strongest believers interpret this to be a reinforcement of their belief: one classic example has it as evidence that their leader’s intercession held the end times back (For more on this, When Prophecy Fails).

Within the context of this discussion, you might find a person who wants to participate in, say, biological disciplines having their fundamentalist faith reinforced and pushed to greater extremes by the barrage of evidence for evolution. And don’t forget the persecution complex we seen in fundamentalism: Jesus said we will be persecuted for our beliefs, so when someone challenges them robustly, it’s merely reinforcing the belief that they are right and righteous!

This might merely result in them resenting the people who don’t believe the same as them, but it might be express by people trying to prove a point using inappropriate means, or in some passive-aggressive behaviours. I don’t think it’s too extreme to suggest that this may explain some of the most vocal, extremist adherents of Creationist dogma, whether on websites or on talk radio.

It’s also worth mentioning that in many ways, being a covert Creationist is in some way dishonest. This is, of course, surprising given the passionate assertion that the ten commandments are at the heart of morality, but an inescapable conclusion, particularly given the importance of evangelism in most fundamentalist faith systems.

If the YEC beliefs are true, and the person does not believe the facts they espouse in their discipline, but stay silence, then the importance of telling others the good news is weakened. On the other hand, it may be the belief in Creationism that is mere lip service; perhaps, like me in my fundamentalist days, they hope that saying the right things will, one day, result in their actually believing it.

To bring this back to education, what does this mean for young people attending ACE schools?

I would argue that it means that the young person’s right to an education, enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is being ignored. Education, to mean anything, must include preparing the child to live and function in the adult world. I think it fails from several perspectives, and should, in my view, be considered a form of abuse.

First, the simplest argument is that it fails to prepare young people for life in the wider world. The fact is, pretty much all ideas are challenged in the real world, and by insulating them from this reality means that they are unprepared to deal appropriate with different perspectives (I speak from personal experience). The intellectual segregation fails to prepare the child for entry to the rigorous adult ecosystem of ideas, knowledge and evidence.

Second, it prepares the child to fail. How can someone reach their full potential when their education restricts the young person’s access to ideas? The placing of psychological and spiritual barriers around the child’s development and interests may be beneficial to ensuring the perpetuity of certain belief systems, but it surely means that promising young people fail to make the full contribution to society of which they are capable. Or, from a neoliberal ACE perspective, it prevents them from reaching their full earning potential.

Third, as I outlined above, it prepares young adults to lie and to have to aspects of their lives which are not integrated. It trains them, like Peter, to deny their beliefs when in what they consider hostile territory, and this can have dire consequences for their health, relationships and emotional stability.

So, can Creationists work in the biological, archaeological, linguistic, psychological and rigorous theological disciplines? Of course they can. The question, in my view, is what the consequences are.

And of course, they can always become “Creation scientists”.

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About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on April 25, 2013, in Accelerated Christian Education, Christianity, Creationism, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. ashley haworth-roberts

    One job open to a committed young Earth creationist is writing propaganda cartoons for the internet about what their many opponents are ‘like’ – such as this (Jason Lisle has since moved to the ICR but he yesterday sought to suggest under his latest blog post that I had behaved like the beardy man in this particular cartoon – see the link I provided yesterday under Jonny’s latest blog post):

  2. Not gonna lie, that cartoon does remind me a lot of Pharyngula.

    The approach that I use is, “Sorry, your points suggest that you are ignorant of the evidence, methods and theories which make up evolutionary biology. I won’t debate it with you until you are able to engage with me using that framework.”

    Which, of course, sometimes gets rendered as “F**k off, you ignorant f**knumpty. Come back when you have the remotest idea what you’re talking about,” depending on my mood.

  3. Debbie (Dental Surgeon)

    ‘Microbes evolve in response to antibiotics’ – they do not evolve, they adapt and change in response to their environment and can become more deadly and resistant to the antibiotics; they do not evolve and change from one species to another.

    • The micro/ macro-evolution divide is a false dichotomy, Debbie. At the Sensuous Curmudgeon, they use an analogy I like: “I believe in individual steps, but not a whole flight of stairs”.

    • Debboe: Sorry, your point suggests that you are ignorant of the evidence, methods and theories which make up evolutionary biology. I won’t debate it with you until you are able to engage with me using that framework.

    • How do they adapt and how do they change, Deb? By means of natural selection. Yes, that means evolution in action, so it’s quite right to say microbes ‘evolve’. By saying they do not evolve but merely adapt, you make it sound as if the microbe itself exercises some agency to alter behaviour. This factually incorrect. The microbe does not adapt. It dies. The question is, does its progeny survive and, if so, how is this possible if the same conditions killed the parent? Multiply this process many times over and you will have (and we do have) new species. But please don’t tell the creationists. Their heads might explode.

    • There are broadly two mechanisms for adaptation within biology. Firstly, an individual may adapt by switching their phenotype between one of the range of phenotypes encoded by their genotype. As an example, I adapt to greater levels of sunlight by tanning (my skin colour phenotype is switched), and a bacterium adapts to increased levels of glucose in its environment by turning off motility, switching on some enzymatic pathways and switching off others. Secondly, a lineage may adapt by the selection of genotypes that encode phenotypes which favour survival over other those that do not and by the introduction of novel genotypes (and therefore phenotypes) by processes of sex, mutation and horizontal gene transfer. The first form of adaptation is not evolution, the second is.

      When microbes become more (or less) deadly and gain (or loose) antibiotic resistance, they are following that second pattern, where genetic material is altered and differences in this genetic material lead to differences in survival chances. This /is/ evolution. A sub-set of these evolutionary changes are extreme enough that we subjectively classify the resulting individuals as belonging to a different species to the original individuals, although defining what is a species in bacteria is not very easy.

  4. When reality is presented by creationists to have a strong liberal bias, it’s difficult to engage in honest dialogue. That window has already been closed.

    How so?

    Well, Lisle is a good example. He assumes a false equivalency between his creationist beliefs and the explanations brought forward by the method of science and then demands those who question or criticize this assumption of equivalency bear the burden of proof to show otherwise… but you can’t use reality, you see, because it has this strong liberal bias (thus ‘proving’ the fallacy he imposes on those who respect reality of begging the question, donchaknow). This nice little logic loop keeps his creationist beliefs aloof from having to deal with disagreeable noise (physical evidence used to empower scientific explanations) that, in the creationist’s mind alone, really is strongly ‘biased’… but he’ll then use modern technology – based on exactly the same method of inquiry into reality he decries as ‘biased’ – not realizing it shows him to be encapsulated in a world of intellectual hypocrisy in the service of his equivalency assumption… but a faith-based belief put away and out of sight for servicing these handy-dandy applications, therapies, and technologies that have the bad manners and anti-theistic bias to dare to work… for everyone everywhere all the time. The effrontery!

    Debating such creationists is waste of time and energy because they confuse piety with hypocrisy thinking this to be virtuous in the religious case and have neither the means nor the will to escape their willingness to delude themselves in its service. That’s why creationists have such a garrison mentality, in that any imposition by evidence gathered from reality and presented as a reasonable explanation in conflict with a deeply held faith-based belief is seen for what it is: an ‘attack’ on this claim about equivalency, between creationist faith-based belief and explanations adduced from reality by the method of science that work reliably and consistently well all the time, so it’s seen an attack on their piety. And that’s why faith only in religious belief is portrayed as a necessary virtue. In all other human inquiries, equivalent faith in claims exempt from reality and critical review from causal evidence adduced from it is well known to be a vice, a mental error, a shortcut that produces false answers, a guaranteed way to fool ourselves. We know this. Creationists know this. That’s why it is essential for religious belief itself to be exempt from respecting reality’s role to adjudicate claims made about it. That’s why creationists have to ignore and divert the observation that their method to protect their faith-based beliefs is equivalent in all ways to suffering the medical condition we call ‘delusion’. It may be, some will admit, but the blame lies on those who dare points it out!

    Lisle is deluded and he has endorsed his delusion by shifting the blame for his beliefs to the shortcomings of those who do not practice the same hypocrisy he does. He must – like all creationists – keep this faith-based belief from reality’s necessary arbitration of it. And that’s why he is a fool.

    • ashley haworth-roberts


      In the recent blog post discussion, I also felt that Lisle acted bit like a cult-leader in his (rather indirect but always critical) comments on my posts aimed largely at his followers, and towards his followers more directly after I became de facto banned from making any further postings (unless he has relented during the past three days – I’ve been away).

      • Welcome to the land of the banned! There’s a reason why religious folk run blogs and forums that moderate to an unusually high degree (not a scientific claim, to be sure, but one based solely on my browsing experience). Although most administrators claim to do so for matters of decorum and taste, it is my experience that they ban for content that does not agree with the sought-after echo chamber quality even if it contains no difference in decorum and taste of other acceptable commentators. I have been banned and/or heavily edited only from such religious sites so I look upon each banning as a small victory. Once all the non-acccommodating, non-apolgetic, non-fatheist commentators are gone, these sites will shrivel and die for lack of drama, lack of interesting and arousing differences of opinion. That I can be a part of this makes me feel like I’m doing my bit. I hope you feel the same way.

      • ashley haworth-roberts

        Yep – I have ‘form’ in the ‘banned’ department. I just think it makes the ‘banners’ look bad (except to their biased fans).
        Lisle said he did not wish to ban me, but I felt that one of his followers was goading me towards Ad hominems and so forth.
        Having just re-checked here, posts of mine dated 24 April are still – supposedly – ‘awaiting moderation’.
        Jason has FAILED to inform me that I am banned and FAILED to explain why.

  5. ashley haworth-roberts

    Yep – I have ‘form’ in the ‘banned’ department. I just think it makes the ‘banners’ look bad (except to their biased fans).
    Lisle said he did not wish to ban me, but I felt that one of his followers was goading me towards Ad hominems and so forth.

  6. ashley haworth-roberts

    Having just re-checked here, posts of mine dated 24 April are still – supposedly – ‘awaiting moderation’.
    Jason has FAILED to inform me that I am banned and FAILED to explain why.

  1. Pingback: Jobs creationists CAN do (on Leaving Fundamentalism) | David Waldock's Blog

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