Your Curmudgeon is not and never will be a sociologist. Nevertheless, it’s obvious even to us that humans have evolved to be social animals, undoubtedly because of the survival benefit of living in cooperative groups, rather than being solitary misanthropic individuals.
In that context, we can perceive that there are benefits to religion. If a group’s religion is voluntary, it can be both beneficial (by promoting the group’s cohesion) and also enjoyable, because people like getting together with others who share the same cultural values. But religion isn’t the only institution that can fill such needs — at least in our culture. There are many voluntary associations that can serve the same functions — whether professional, political, charitable, or purely social. There are even seemingly trivial ones like participating in some kind of ephemeral internet hashtag community. We humans have developed a number of ways to satisfy our social needs.
But religion, like politics, can morph into malignant institutions. This happens when they cease to be voluntary — compulsion in such matters being obviously undesirable (at least for those being compelled). Also, they can develop dogmas and practices that promote ignorance, isolation, fear, and aggression. They then cease to be beneficial. Such institutions often tend to either self-destruct or to be defeated by less pernicious societies. History is littered with examples.
However, there are some wayward institutions that not only persist, but which seem to thrive. This is not only because they benefit their leadership, who are motivated to maintain the institutions, but also because they actually do provide a sense of community for unfortunate individuals who have been raised in ignorance and isolation. For them, regardless of the deleterious effects of the institution, it’s a voluntary association, providing a desirable sense of belonging they can’t find elsewhere because — even if they are functional — they are uncomfortable in the larger society. We put creationists in this category.
Aside from their behavior within their groups, and despite their desires, creationists haven’t become aggressive totalitarians — at least not since the days of the Inquisition. Well, there’s the Middle East, but that’s another story. Here in the West, things seem to be under control. They haven’t tried to ban the teaching of evolution since the Scopes Trial, and their slightly more subtle “teach both sides” approach hasn’t been deployed since Edwards v. Aguillard. Their latest assault on science is the intelligent design movement, but that’s been effectively dead since Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Nevertheless, they keep trying.
In all likelihood, for the rest of your life you’ll be hearing their slogans like “critical analysis,” “teach both sides,” “teach evolution’s strengths and weaknesses,” “academic freedom,” and “viewpoint discrimination.” Creationists will be demanding that public schools should “Let the children decide!” and “Stop the censorship.” They’ll be asking: “What are you afraid of?” and “Why do you persecute those with whom you disagree?” And they’ll continue promoting their anti-evolution Academic Freedom bills.
Despite all the noise they make, creationism has had no positive impact on science, industry, agriculture, medicine, or any other rational endeavor — nor are any accomplishments likely in the future. Creationism, like astrology, flat-Earthism, geocentricism, and dozens of other crackpot beliefs, is the pathway to intellectual oblivion. But it’s not going away.
As the moth is drawn to the flame, so too does the simpleton seek the charlatan. Therefore, creationism will always be with us.
Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.