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 See: superseded scientific theories.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.
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