There’s no news to post about today — not yet — so this will be a bit of a diversion. We’re trying to sort out our thinking about an old problem.
We have all wondered why, long after a totally rational, evidence-backed theory like evolution has been developed, an obviously silly belief like creationism manages to persist. The same question can be asked about other zany beliefs like astrology, and the same considerations are probably applicable, but we’ll focus on creationism.
We’ve seen various attempts to provide psychological reasons for creationism, but we never find that stuff satisfactory. Your Curmudgeon doesn’t imagine that he has the perfect answer, but we herewith offer a few thoughts that might help to explain the perseverance of such a bizarre belief.
One might justifiably think that when an obviously faulty belief exists and is countered with a clearly superior explanation, the wrong belief should fade away. This routinely happens in science — see Wikipedia’s list of Superseded scientific theories. But people trained in science, who appreciate the concept of a disproved hypothesis, are far from a majority of the population.
When people have no understanding of or appreciation for evidence and logic, we might still think that the rational force of the better theory would be persuasive, but that’s obviously not how people behave — except in very limited fields of endeavor. For example, a military commander who has crazy ideas about how to win battles won’t last very long, nor will his army. Also, in the business arena, offering faulty products will end one’s career, and it may even doom the entire company. War and business are relatively rare activities with immediate feedback from the real world, where errors are self-correcting because they result in swift and devastating consequences.
But even in war and business, reality is benign. When a military commander or business executive is competent at his occupation, he might also be a creationist. Assuming he is sufficiently sane that his beliefs about Adam & Eve or Noah’s Ark don’t interfere with his career decisions, he may be successful. He may even attribute his success to his belief in creationism. That doesn’t matter, as long as he keeps making rational decisions.
Some crazy beliefs are fatal, however. We’ve all seen examples of cults that destroyed themselves — e.g., the Heaven’s Gate cult and the Jonestown suicide of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple. But other cults with potentially fatal beliefs — like faith healing — don’t necessarily destroy the whole cult, only those who become sick with a fatal disease. Such cults can survive (in the absence of a plague), but they don’t seem to attract millions of followers.
Creationism exists on safer ground than suicide cults or immediate feedback occupations like the military. Its beliefs are objectively absurd, but they’re not suicidal. To the extent that they provide fellowship for similarly minded people, they may even be beneficial — albeit only emotionally. Also, creationism is continuously encouraged by charlatans. That’s sufficient not only for such beliefs to survive, but also to achieve popularity.
So there you are, dear reader. Our tentative conclusion is that creationism endures because, although it’s senseless and useless, it isn’t fatal — as long as its adherents don’t become aggressive and try to destroy their more rational brethren. In evolutionary terms, it’s like a harmless feature that can persist in a species, although it serves no significant survival purpose.
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