FROM time to time we’ve attempted to imagine what it must be like to have the mind of a creationist, but we’ve never quite figured it out. We suspect that most such people were born with entirely adequate brains, but something went wrong during their formative years. Somehow they’ve lost their once-natural curiosity and ability to reason.
Today we’re going to try a limited exploration of this subject by discussing the second of the Three Laws of Creationism. They were first stated here, but we’ll repeat the full set for convenience:
Why do creationists think everything is religion? We suspect it’s because — to the extent they’ve learned any philosophy, formally or otherwise — they’ve been taught that everything of value is based on deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is alien to their experience.
Deductive reasoning is both simple and certain, thus its seductive power. The classic example is: All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal. If the premise is true (All men are mortal) then the conclusion is true. Absolutely. Problems, if any, are not in the structure of such an argument (which is logically valid), but in the truth of its premises.
Religion is a field of knowledge which is based on deductive reasoning. If the revealed premises are true, all else logically follows. And if a religion’s premises are accepted on faith — as they must be — then that’s the whole deal. No doubts, no worries.
Inductive reasoning lies at the heart of the scientific method, by which numerous factual observations are synthesized into descriptive laws of nature and explanatory theories. This method of reasoning is sometimes criticized because — unlike deduction — its conclusions aren’t logically certain. We know that. It’s why science is all about tests (experiments and observations), and making corrections when necessary.
Science isn’t limited to inductive reasoning. Well-established scientific laws and theories are tentatively presumed true for purposes of research, and — by deductive reasoning — predictions are made which can then be tested. If the predictions don’t work out, we know there’s a problem with the premises. Back to the ol’ drawing board.
The great virtue of science’s being based on inductive reasoning is that it’s always grounded in verifiable reality. Deductive reasoning is used as a tool for testing the results of inductive reasoning. Got that? Deduction is only a tool of science; it’s not the whole game.
Unlike religion, however, the inductive reasoning in science doesn’t deal in certainty. Thus the revulsion that some exhibit when confronted with the teachings of science. Some people want certainty all the time, no matter what. And although science has a remarkable record of success, it will never deliver the comforting certainty that such people find only in religion.
That’s one problem that creationists have with science — no certainty. Well, there is some. There’s the certainty that some ideas are demonstrably false, and others have so far been consistently successful. But there’s always the possibility that today’s theories may one day be proven inadequate, and there are those who find this intolerable. Thus, inductophobia.
But there’s something else too, and it mostly applies to those with limited educations. If the only thing someone knows is a specific version of a religion, and he’s been taught since childhood that everything else depends on that, then it’s catastrophic to learn that some detail of his religion may be in error, for then the foundation of all his knowledge is swept away.
The mind that has accepted such a worldview is essentially a fragile house of cards. If one part fails, the whole structure collapses. There’s no such thing as going back to the drawing board to revisit one’s premises. Even something as trivial as the literal reality of Noah’s Ark must be true; and certainly there can be no questioning of the six-day creation account. No metaphors! Any discovery that appears to challenge any element of the deductively-derived house of cards must be the subject of an all-out attack as being anti-God, anti-family, anti-country, etc. There are no subtleties here, no compromises. It’s all or nothing.
But science isn’t “anti-God, anti-family” etc. Nor is it a competing religion. It’s a method of acquiring knowledge that is independent of anyone’s personal religion. Note carefully that this doesn’t imply hostility to religion — only that science is a separate, autonomous system of acquiring knowledge.
But that raises another problem. If, as part of someone’s religious instruction, he has not only been taught that his religion is true, but that it’s the only truth, and all else is evil, then his education includes what might be called an intellectual “chastity belt.” Nothing new or different is allowed to get in.
With such a chastity belt around his brain, a creationist will always be limited to what he learned as a child, unless he can somehow break through that barrier. If this is someone’s personal situation, it’s entirely his affair. Millions find happiness in this way, and we wish them well.
But it becomes everyone’s problem if the creationist tries to impose that chastity belt on others.
See also: What Is “Critical Thinking”?
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