And They Felt No Shame: on challenging creationism

“A lie ain’t a side of the story.  It’s just a lie.”

– The Wire

“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”

– Genesis 2:25

There’s a case for creation.

It quite sincerely could be that when archaeologists are troweling around on a north-east African site they are in actuality dusting off genuine pieces of Ark finery; delicately chipping away at the hardened soil encasing a fossilised Biblical floor tile from the elephant’s bespoke and sizable en suite; holding in their sweetly ignorant hands a plank of petrified wood unambiguously stating in crudely carved Hebrew letters (with an accompanying Rosetta-stone translation to 21st century American-English), that this, here, is the room of Mr and Mrs Tyrannosaurus, and yet, unbeknownst to these archaeologists and us all, these pieces of irrefutable scientific evidence for Noah’s Improbable Boat have been manipulated by Satan (or by God for yet more arbitrary punishment, or simply for laughs (the two having apparently massive crossover)) into taking the form and projecting the appearance of the various bones and teeth of an Australopithecus afarensis skeleton. How would we know? Can you prove to me that the Fallen Angel was not ghost writer of Your Inner Fish?

Perhaps I misused the words ‘quite sincerely’. However, these bottom of the barrel arguments are essentially irrefutable – they absolutely may be true. And these are the only recourse of creationists, or any denier of evolution, and defenders of the faith ought to be explicit and upfront to children about the fact that, outside of the ‘we might all just be brains in jars’ kind of reasoning that applies to literally anything, there is not a single valid or intellectually intriguing reason to doubt Evolution by Natural Selection (ENS), or to be drawn to creationism of any religious origin. (Christian creationists seem unaware that a victory for them in the allowance of the teaching of non-scientific alternatives to evolution would result in the challenge “Okay, but why yours?” and their particular myth being taught for less than one percent of the syllabus.) That’s not to say that ENS cannot be disproved: it couldn’t be easier. It will never require much to disprove the entire thing – but it would have to be scientific to count. You cannot just speculate away scientifically drawn out truth.

The point of this is not to reiterate the non-debate that is creation versus ENS. It is settled, until we find photos of Noah posing with his Sweet Six-Hundred present, and a long overgrown, locked gated garden with a sign out front reading “Come for the fruit; Stay for the not being allowed to eat the fruit”. Creation is a guess, one of many, and Intelligent Design is fatuous speculation – Evolution by Natural Selection is an established and scientific fact that biology fails to make any sense without. What is left to consider concerns what can be done about it: what can be done about the fact that there are educated, intelligent grown ups of varying influence who either believe in creation or are pretending to. Creationism is easy to dismantle on paper and even easier to make fun of, but I wonder whether the gradual victory over time is enough. I certainly don’t regard current and previous victory as irreversible. There is a balance to be struck between having a renewed and necessary urgency and sternness that seeks to rescue even a single child’s mind from falling into it, while not, in doing so, finding ourselves in this frustrating situation in which those who would normally take our side find themselves, having witnessed our being severely strict and uncharitable (as we ought), feeling bad for creationists and subsequently becoming overly charitable apologists and accommodators – thus ensuring the continued existence of the idea.

In a situation in which ENS and creationism were presented honestly, creationism would need protection from the simple questions of a 6 year old if it wanted to walk out of the classroom alive. As it unfortunately stands, in certain parts of the world, particularly in the US, where this is a pressing issue, that is not the situation.

In the Western world of the current moment many contrary to mainstream narrative ideas are banned and no-platformed, and many ideas that are allowed and platformed are voiced unchallenged – which misses the point of voicing them publicly in the first place. Freedom of speech is a vital organ and I am for it, but the presentation of the ideas and the type of audience are relevant factors. Children in a school need honest guidance along with gradual and safe exposure to different ways of thinking. It is all well and good to say that you should be able to teach your own ideas and alternatives and then the children can decide for themselves what to believe, but for a good while they will be unable to properly confront the situation, and will be susceptible to the mind and word games played and distracting spectacle produced. Answers in Genesis and the Ark Encounter being good examples. For children, it takes a long time for the fact that parents and teachers, schools and museums, are not all equally objective purveyors of actual truth to really sink in, and even longer to develop the intellectual skill to filter and sift through it all. Some, understandably, never manage. This is well known by those who feign a benign desire to merely present kids with all the options, and they present their ‘options’ in the most manipulative, strangers-with-candy way possible.

The reality is not as simple as giving them all the viewpoints, and I will exercise my own free speech to assert that teaching children non-scientific alternatives to evolution as anything other than historically important literature and entertaining, thought-provoking myth, that teaching any child to doubt and deny Evolution by Natural Selection, or any established and fundamental scientific knowledge, in any way other than rational skepticism is, in the best case and worst, by neglect and ignorance or by evil and malice, a subtle and insidious yet blatant act of psychological child abuse. And for all the offense-taken, hurt feelings spiel the believers come out with in response to strident challenge and critique of their regressive, dangerous nonsense, I think we ought to be able to reply in kind: my feelings are hurt when I sit and think about a class of children being lied to by those who are supposed to be taking care of them and providing them with an education; I get personally upset when I see, for example, a grown woman believing creation and then think of her as a young girl being completely failed by those she has trusted with the task of developing her mind; I take deep offense when religious people and religions play the offense-taken, hurt feelings card in order to scare people into backing off, in order to trick people into conflating ideas with individuals and thus sympathising, all so that they can continue to engage in something with which they would never get away were it not for the shield of the title of “Religion”.

“Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon; The world was all before them…”

– Paradise Lost

We ought to be the serpents in the garden. Educating and developing the minds of children is of infinitely greater concern than the feelings and beliefs of religious adults. Those adults themselves were likely failed as children, but it is perfectly possible to be cognizant of that fact while simultaneously ensuring that they are not allowed to repeat the mistake and complete the cycle. There are a lot of people doing great work and there have been many victories, yet the problem is still present and it is important that it ends. The only thing I can suggest as answer or solution is increased and sustained stridency, urgency, and a new narrative that actually it is acceptable to be intolerant of and to not respect in the slightest ideas and beliefs when they are wholly unworthy of either respect or tolerance. It is easy to see this rhetoric as unnecessary, as going too far, as exaggerating the problem. Unfortunately, it is quite appropriate.

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