IF YOU do a Google search on the phrase “ignorant, stupid or insane” you’ll get over 2,500 hits [update: now almost 200,000 hits]. That’s because Richard Dawkins famously wrote, with bold added by us:
To claim equal time for creation science in biology classes is about as sensible as to claim equal time for the flat-earth theory in astronomy classes. Or, as someone has pointed out, you might as well claim equal time in sex education classes for the stork theory. It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).
If that gives you offense, I’m sorry. You are probably not stupid, insane or wicked; and ignorance is no crime …
Seven years after writing that celebrated description, Dawkins expanded upon it at his own website: Ignorance is No Crime. Excerpts, with bold added by us:
“It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” I first wrote that in a book review in the New York Times in 1989, and it has been much quoted against me ever since, as evidence of my arrogance and intolerance. Of course it sounds arrogant, but undisguised clarity is easily mistaken for arrogance. Examine the statement carefully and it turns out to be moderate, almost self-evidently true.
Many adjectives have been associated with Dawkins, but “modest” isn’t one of them. He continues:
I originally listed ‘wicked’ as one of my possibilities, only for completeness. I have never been sure whether there truly are intelligent, knowledgeable and sane people who feign disbelief in evolution for ulterior motives. Perhaps a political candidate needs some such dissimulation in order to get elected in certain States. If so, it is sad but possibly not much more reprehensible than the proverbial kissing of babies. Not deeply wicked.
Dawkins then gives a few examples of obviously disingenuous conduct by creationists, which he tactfully declines to label as wickedness; and then he says this:
I don’t withdraw a word of my initial statement. But I do now think it may have been incomplete. There is perhaps a fifth category, which may belong under ‘insane’ but which can be more sympathetically characterised by a word like tormented, bullied or brainwashed. Sincere people who are not ignorant, not stupid and not wicked, can be cruelly torn, almost in two, between the massive evidence of science on the one hand, and their understanding (or misunderstanding) of what their holy book tells them on the other. I think this is one of the truly bad things religion can do to a human mind. There is wickedness here, but it is the wickedness of the institution and what it does to a believing victim, not wickedness on the part of the victim himself.
That’s Dawkins’ thinking on the subject, which has permanently entered into the dialogue about creationism. It’s foolish to think that we can improve upon the terminology of an Oxford professor, but everyone else seems to give it a try. Perhaps it’s because creationists are subjects of gruesome fascination, like flat-earthers and moon-landing deniers. We can’t avoid it — we find ourselves strangely intrigued by such intellectual train-wrecks. Therefore, we won’t resist the impulse to offer our own thoughts, but where we differ from Dawkins is mostly in our choice of words.
But first, bear in mind that there’s a big difference between someone: (a) who believes in a creator; and (b) who also believes in creationism. The former doesn’t concern us; the latter is a “creationist,” who insists on beliefs that are contradicted by readily observable evidence, and who also denies tested, well-supported scientific conclusions. A creationist will put himself through the most amazing mental contortions in order to maintain his belief system.
Your Curmudgeon attributes belief in creationism — including creation “science” and intelligent design “theory” — to the fact that a creationist is either one or a combination of the following:
1. an ignoramus, possibly due to home schooling, no schooling, etc. This is Dawkins’ first category — “ignorant” (in which we include the misinformed), but we find Dawkins’ word insufficient. Ignorance does not imply militant rejectionism, only a lack of information. Like Dawkins, we believe that ignorance is a curable condition. Indeed, we all began our lives in ignorance, and regardless of our intelligence and education, there are many subjects of which we know little, if anything, and about which we rightly say “I don’t know.” But if an uneducated or misinformed person insists — notwithstanding his ignorance — that he knows what he’s talking about, and he goes around babbling that all the experts are wrong, then he’s an ignoramus.
2. a simpleton, perhaps a retardate or some other type of mental defective. This is Dawkins’ second category — “stupid.” Our word is less pejorative than his, because we see no need to do more than describe their condition. There’s not much that can be done about this group.
3. a fanatic, a term which includes those who are demented, deranged, or possessed, such conditions being likely due to an authoritarian political ideology, intensely brutal religious indoctrination, or some other tenacious meme infection. This is Dawkins’ third category — “insane,” and we think it also includes his later fifth category — “tormented.” Within this group are those who disrupt internet forums, insist on teaching creationism in schools, and — if given the opportunity — would burn books, torture heretics, kill witches, and fly planes into buildings.
4. a charlatan, a self-explanatory term which includes Dawkins’ fourth category — “wicked,” but it’s slightly less moralistic, thus easier to apply without the hesitation Dawkins exhibits with “wicked.” Many of those who make a living writing and lecturing about creationism fall into this category — at least that’s our suspicion. They’re relatively harmless, except for their influence on the other categories.
So there it is — the Curmudgeon’s manifesto: A creationist is either an ignoramus, a simpleton, a fanatic, a charlatan, or some combination thereof.
Copyright © 2008. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.