From time to time we offer advice for dealing with creationists (for example, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Opposing Creationism), and we thought it was a good idea to revisit the subject.
The first thing you must understand is that we are living in a crazy world. The most recent Gallup poll on the subject reports that: In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins. How did we get into this mess and what should a sane person do about it?
The situation is so bizarre and unbelievable that it may be best to approach it by analogy. Think of Bellevue, at one time the premier mental hospital in the US, and in popular lore its name was once synonymous with insane asylum. A century ago, imagine that they had an active Napoleon Ward where the most advanced and incurable cases of Napoleonic Delusion were kept. Each of the inmates insists that he — and he alone — is Napoleon Bonaparte. We visited the place once before (see Tales from the Napoleon Ward), but today we’re thinking of the old days, when there really were a bunch of “Napoleons” wandering around.
Now imagine a breakout. A hundred years ago, one of the Napoleons escapes into the general population and is never re-captured. He wanders around, giving rousing speeches, gathering recruits for his fantasy legions, and enthralls his followers with rhetoric about the great goals of his movement and the glories to be achieved upon his eventual triumph. The astute among you may notice that the Bellevue breakout coincides with the rise of the modern school of biblical inerrancy, but that’s just a Curmudgeonly coincidence.
The astonishing thing is that this delusional Napoleon is successful. Perhaps it’s not so astonishing — it’s almost inevitable, because there are always people wandering around looking for leaders to give meaning to their lives. Recruits rally to Napoleon’s banner. The movement grows. Before long there is a vast sub-population of mindless minions following the man they believe to be their Emperor, who will lead them to glorious victory. And of course, those who don’t join are regarded as the enemy.
As crazy as it seems, that is the situation in which we now find ourselves. Although the original escapee is undoubtedly dead by now, he has followers who carry on in his name. The Napoleonic movement (well, it’s actually the creationist movement, but we’ll keep mixing our metaphors) has been steadily growing for a century, and the dedication of its followers is not dimming. Although the numbers may have peaked, they are influential in politics and in popular culture. Their websites are numerous. They try to infiltrate everywhere and to influence everything, and they ceaselessly attempt to de-legitimize all institutions that don’t recognize their authority.
The movement has two types of leaders — the sincere and the cynical. The sincere types are true believers, while the cynics are shamelessly milking the movement for all the money they can bilk out of their followers. When dealing with the leadership, it doesn’t really matter which is which — they all preach the same message (albeit with trivial differences — young-Earth, old-Earth, etc.), and the fervor of their followers is the same. So it doesn’t really matter if a movement activist is truly crazed or merely crafty — the message is the same. That is why we’ve always said that there’s no point in debating with them — see Debating Creationists is Dumber Than Creationism.
There’s no point in debating with their followers either. By definition, once such people are no longer of school age, they are hopelessly lost. Whether they’re merely ignorant, mentally deficient, or truly insane, it makes no difference — they’re not going to change. They’ve found happiness and a sense of purpose in the movement and they’ll never give it up, so there’s no sense in trying to reason with them. They don’t want to learn and they don’t think they need to. In their view of things, you are the one who needs help. You refuse to recognize the authority of your Emperor.
What should you do if you find yourself in an encounter with such a person? As we said in a recent post:
[O]ur advice is this: Terminate the encounter! Smile, mumble some excuse, turn around, and get out of there as fast as possible.
But what if you can’t immediately get away from the creationist? Then it’s a matter of survival. Don’t debate him; don’t disagree with him. That kind of response is potentially dangerous. Don’t try to change his mind — he has no mind. You’ll have to fake it until you can extricate yourself. Let the creationist speak. If he pauses, waiting for some response, say something safe like: “Praise the Lord!” or “Hallelujah!” Then make your getaway as quickly as you can.
After that, come on over here and visit your Curmudgeon. It’s a crazy world out there, but here, at least, you’ll be among friends.
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