Creationism: Making Sense of Unreason

THERE may be a vast literature on the subject we’re attempting here, but we’re not aware of it. In this essay we’re blundering around entirely on our own. Let us begin with something we wrote back in 2008: The Future of Creationism. We concluded that post with this:

So what will become of the creationists? We see three possible futures: (1) they persevere with their teachings, like astrologers, becoming increasingly marginalized from Western Civilization; (2) they gradually wither away, as have the believers in so many false teachings before them, like the Geocentric model of the universe, and the Flat Earth model; or (3) — and this one is the problem — they refuse to accept either a marginalized existence or a humiliating exit, and instead they adopt the tactics of the Taliban to compel acceptance of their beliefs by force.

Since then we’ve continued to ponder the nature and fate of creationism. This post is an interim progress report on our thinking. We’ll begin with what we all know. Science (like geometry and a few other rational pursuits) is different from all other forms of thought. It’s based on reason. When scientists realize that one of their theories is wrong, they abandon it and move on. See: superseded scientific theories.

Non-rational disciplines behave differently, and we’ll classify them by behavior and not by their beliefs. They all have some kind of doctrine which is rationally untenable, and a base of unthinking believers. Some followers are hard-core and totally dedicated, others are just drifting from one cult to another. But regardless of their commitment, the followers are relatively unimportant. What matters is the leaders of these schools of “thought” — their purposes and the degree of their derangement. That’s what determines a group’s behavior when it becomes obvious that reality is unmistakably against them.

We divide all non-rational groups into three categories. There may be more, but this is what we’ve come up with so far:

1. Fellowship of Stupid cults. All cults seem to start out in this category, and most never become anything else. A typical example is astrology. Other nonsensical topics that attract irrational followers are crop circles, pyramid power, the Bermuda Triangle, etc. There are probably thousands of them. All are stupid, and all are essentially unimportant. Their leaders may be sincere, or they may be just fleecing the sheep. Either way, we can ignore them.

2. Death Cults. In these groups, when faced with defeat, the leader takes everyone down with him. Such groups are usually known by the name of their leader. Examples are Jim Jones (People’s Temple), Marshall Applewhite (the Heaven’s Gate cult), David Koresh (the Branch Davidian cult), etc. Hitler’s political movement had strong mystical elements and in its final days it clearly resembled a Death Cult.

3. Power Cults. The Soviet Union and its official doctrine of Marxism is the classic example. There were – and still are — true believers in the doctrine, but the leaders were concerned only with power. When the end came, they weren’t suicidal. Another example — this may offend some of you — is environmentalism (see Environmentalists’ Heads Explode).

There are also hybrid groups. Hitler’s movement was both a Death Cult and a Power Cult. The Heaven’s Gate group appeared to be merely a Fellowship of Stupid, but their leader’s madness drove them to mass suicide.

Religious denominations are usually outside of these categories. Their doctrines are difficult to test so they are rarely forced to confront a crisis of their beliefs; but sometimes there are useful examples. Consider the Millerites — a sect founded by William Miller, who predicted the end of the world in 1843-1844. This led to the Great Disappointment. According to Wikipedia, Miller’s movement splintered into new sects which still exist, among them the Seventh-day Adventists. Obviously, although Miller and his followers realized they were in error, they weren’t suicidal.

What of the creationists? In our opinion, most of them fall into the Fellowship of Stupid category — misguided but harmless, except that they are wasting their lives on an absurdity. Some, however, clearly fall into the Power Cult category. Here, as you know, is where we place the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). See: Enemies of the Enlightenment, and then see The Infinite Evil of Creationism.

We don’t think the Discoveroids are a Death Cult, however. If their leaders were suicidal, they would have extinguished themselves long ago. Instead, like the leaders of other irrational movements that seek political power — e.g., environmentalism and Marxism, they shrug off their failures, fire up their followers, and continue their struggle for mastery.

Afterthought: The three types of cult can be distinguished by how they end when confronted by reality. A Death Cult’s end is self-explanatory. A Power Cult ends when its dream of power becomes unattainable or unsustainable; although it’s underlying mythology may endure in various Fellowship of Stupid cults (e.g., Marxism outlives the USSR, and there are continuing neo-Nazi groups). The typical Fellowship of Stupid cult, like astrology, almost never ends. That’s because, by definition, its members never realize that their myth is demonstrably false. Such cults will endure as long as new followers can be recruited, and that’s rarely a problem. Therefore, the Discoveroids and their dream of theocracy will cease to exist when their schemes all come to naught; but creationism may exist forever.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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14 responses to “Creationism: Making Sense of Unreason

  1. There is the possibility that there will be a sudden reversal of public opinion which will turn against creationism. Just as fads come and go for no particular reason, suddenly creationism becomes a joking matter, nobody wants to be associated with it, and nobody remembers having been a creationist. Preachers will complain that it is a slur on them to say that they once promoted creationism.

    Of course, this does not mean that suddenly everybody becomes reasonable. There will be other fads to replace it.

  2. TomS says:

    There is the possibility that there will be a sudden reversal of public opinion which will turn against creationism.

    Can you think of another cult that suddenly vanished? Maybe the Pythagoreans, who claimed that they had solved the square root of 2, but I can’t think of anything more recent, except for the Millerites. It requires a specific, testable, widely publicized prediction that fails spectacularly. Most cult leaders are clever enough to avoid that.

    Addendum: I found an Ark-load. See: Unfulfilled religious predictions.

  3. waldteufel

    I would be curious to know where His Curmudgeonlyness would classify “Answers in Genesis” and the “Institute for Creation Research” in his rogues gallery of non-rational groups.

    I would put them on the cusp between the “Fellowship of the Stupid” and the “Power Cults”.

    Just sayin’ . . . . . .

  4. waldteufel says:

    I would put them on the cusp between the “Fellowship of the Stupid” and the “Power Cults”.

    ICR, being young-earth creationist, is primarily in the Fellowship of Stupid category. That’s how I used to think of AIG, but their ads on the Fox Network are causing me to scrutinize them more lately. They don’t seem to have any political objectives, but maybe that will change.

  5. waldteufel

    Curmy, I’m concerned about AiG’s aggressive marketing of their stupidity to home-shoolers and other fundy parents.

    For me, shoveling creationism toward children moves them from being merely stupid to being
    stupid and dangerous. I think their motives are theocratic at base.

  6. waldteufel says:

    I’m concerned about AiG’s aggressive marketing of their stupidity to home-shoolers and other fundy parents.

    The Creation Museum makes a load of money, and Ham is a shrewd promoter. His ads on Fox could be something as simple as trying to reach his natural audience, and Fox is where they’re liable to be watching. I haven’t yet seen any legislative or other activity from Ken Ham. He’s an Australian. I don’t know what his game is, other than making money. But it’s worth keeping an eye on.

  7. ICR and AIG are businesses. They’re out to make money.

    You can “earn” a “degree” from the ICR that will set you back about $13,000. Yep, it’s not exactly a diploma mill, but the sheepskin is just as worthless.

    ICR tried to get accredited in Texas (I think they moved their headquarters to Dallas) and were denied by the Texas college accrediting body or whomever. ICR sued claiming (Guess what? Close your eyes! No peeking!) Religious Discrimination! (You peeked!)

    It’s a fascinating story about how the ICR got accreditation in California. Turns out that California accepted that the ICR had received accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (or TRACS). What California didn’t realize was that TRACS was founded by Henry Morris who founded the ICR. Yes, the ICR accredited itself. How perfectly Christian of them!

    The circus continues in Texas, sigh.

  8. Creationist organizations teaching that Noah had a pair of pet T-rexes and so forth (hallmark of fellowship of stupid cult) has no real value by itself; the entire objective is defeat of perceived threats to fundamentalist control (hallmark of power cult). Take away the theocratic aspect, and belief in 6,000-year-old universe gets shoved to the same level as belief in alien abduction. In this country, a sitting Senator can claim the former and be taken seriously, but would become a laughingstock if he claimed the latter.

  9. I just added an “Afterthought” to the end of the post.

  10. Curmudgeon: “When scientists realize that one of their theories is wrong, they abandon it and move on.”

    Even before that scientists subject it to countless tests, and scrutinize each other for potential fraud and error (“Darwinists” not creationists discovered and corrected Piltdown). Creationism (including and especially ID) refuses to do that. Instead it covers up fatal internal contradictions, and backpedals from its own easily falsified (and mutually contraditory) claims, and increasingly resorts to misrepresenting evolution. Pure pseudoscience – and thus 100% inappropriate for science class – with or without any religious component.

    Creationism seems to be “evolving” from mostly #1 in the Scopes era, to mostly 3 today. But as you note, #1 is never-ending, so that would be their fallback if #3 eventually fails. Another reason #1 should never be ignored is the “pseudoscience code of silence.” E.g. astrologers and crop circle advocates refrain from challenging each other. It’s even more imperative within creationism (with some exceptions such as AiG’s occasional tepid complaints about other “kinds” of creationism) to unite under a big tent and (to quote the inimitable Don McLeroy) “stand up to experts.”

  11. Frank J says:

    Another reason #1 [Fellowship of Stupid cults] should never be ignored is the “pseudoscience code of silence.” E.g. astrologers and crop circle advocates refrain from challenging each other.

    There may be a “big tent” attitude among a few self-aware charlatans. I can even imagine a UFO speaker and a Bigfoot speaker traveling together on the same promotional tour, swapping trade secrets and becoming friends — much as some professional magicians may admire each other’s work.

    But for the most part I don’t think the followers of such cults have the ability to criticize others. If they did, they’d be aware of their own cult’s problems. As long as one cult doesn’t challenge another, which could result in a type of religious war, thousands of stupid cults with contradictory “scientific theories” can flourish simultaneously.

  12. Talk of creationists turning into Al-Quaeda reminds me of a story a lawyer friend once told me.

    She has had two disturbing encounters recently. The first was when she was appointed to defend some Islamic terrorists who had conspired to stage suicide bombings. She could hardly believe their absolute conviction that they were following the word of Allah and therefore not guilty of any crime.

    Soon after she flew to Colorado to visit her sister and meet her new Texan brother-in-law. At the evening welcoming party she made the mistake of lookiing up at the stars and remarking how marvelous it was that some of the starlight had been travelling to earth for hundreds of thousands of years. At that the party fell deathly quiet until her brother-in-law said ‘That’s only if you don’t believe in the word of the lord”.

    She confessed that she couldn’t decide which was the most chilling experience.

  13. Gabriel Hanna

    She confessed that she couldn’t decide which was the most chilling experience.

    Your friend’s moral reasoning must have been damaged by her choice of career.

    Taking the Bible too literally and killing people because you think God told you to are not in the same league or even the same sport, as Jules would say.

    I detest moral equivalence games, even about people I don’t agree with.

  14. Its not a really a question of morality but shock. If you walk into a room with a known Islamic terrorists you know to expect crazy religious viewpoints. If you walk into a room of well educated ‘reasonable’ people these things can come as a complete surprise.