Understanding Creationists (and Evolutionists)
A historian tells science teachers that “To Teach Evolution, You Have to Understand Creationists.” Should that advice apply both ways?
In The Chronicle of Higher Education last month, Adam Laats seemingly advised a kinder, gentler treatment of creationists than the usual outrage from the secular Darwinian camp. There was no name-calling of them as ignorant, anti-science flat-earthers (or worse) from this historian and author from Binghamton University: instead, he urged that science teachers try to “understand” them. Cool your jets, he advised; attack-dog responses to creationist comments are uncalled for, as are the even milder (but no less virulent) comments from the likes of Bill Nye the Science Guy (see 8/27/2012).
Laats’s reasons for moderation seem open-minded. He acknowledges that some creationists are not ignoramuses: U.S. Rep. Paul C. Broun Jr., Republican of Georgia, for instance, who took a “ferocious” beating after criticizing Darwinism and the Big Bang (he called them “lies from the pit of hell”), has a bachelor’s in chemistry and is an M.D. (Secular scientists are up in arms that he sits on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee of the House). A number of leading creationists have scientific credentials, Laats pointed out. He even praised William Jennings Bryan as a well-travelled man of letters with many degrees, who remarked that he had never been called an ignoramus “except by evolutionists.”
The “snarky” remarks by some scientists who are “flummoxed by the durability of creationism,” he says, can’t on the one hand claim Broun is unqualified for his position, and on the other “demand that an elected official not fight for the ideas in which his constituents believe”. It’s time for carrot, not stick, Laats advises:
As it stands, scientists’ blundering hostility toward creationism actually encourages creationist belief. By offering a stark division between religious faith and scientific belief, evolutionary scientists have pushed creationists away from embracing evolutionary ideas. And, by assuming that only ignorance could explain creationist beliefs, scientists have unwittingly fostered bitter resentment among the creationists, the very people with whom they should be hoping to connect.
Laats also rejects the notion that creationists belong to a right-wing fringe. “As Berkman and Plutzer demonstrate, the creationist beliefs of teachers embody the creationist beliefs of Americans in general,” he said. “The teachers are not ignorant of evolution, yet they choose to reject it.” Remarkably, Laats is also willing to concede that some students who turn to embrace evolution might have done so not because of the facts of biology, but for personal moral failings or other motivations. Here, though, Laats reaches the limit of his tolerance for creationists:
If we hope to spread the science of evolution, it does not help to charge forward in blissful ignorance about the nature and meanings of creationism. Broun may be wrong about evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang. But his scientific errors do not instantly disqualify him as a representative of the American people. Nor can they be explained away as a product of ignorance.
Rather, those of us who care about promoting evolution education must admit the hard truth. It is not simply that creationists such as Broun have not heard the facts about evolution. Broun—along with other informed, educated creationists—simply rejects those facts. Evolution educators do not simply need to spread the word about evolution. We need to convince and convert Americans who sincerely hold differing understandings about the nature and meaning of science.
So in the end, Laats continued to hold that evolution is a matter of science, facts, and being right. Even if he allows that creationists are not ignoramuses, he implies that they hold “differing understandings” (by implication, misunderstandings), about the nature and meaning of science. More of the same presentation of the “facts” of evolution, therefore, is not going to convert those who reject “facts”. He didn’t go any further, but others have suggested forms of mind control to influence those with false beliefs (see 9/27/2012). Given the limits of his toleration, others could well propose such measures as more effective than name-calling; for example, see 12/21/2005, “How to Overcome Student Objections to Evolution.”
If you are a Darwin doubter, as you read this, you must guard against the tendency to want to leap up and hug Adam Laats for his tolerant attitude. Yes, it is refreshing to see someone in the secular journals actually say that Darwin doubters are not all ignoramuses. After being hit by that rock on the head for so long, it does indeed feel good when it stops. Your response, instead, should be, Why were you hitting me with that rock in the first place? What right do you have to call me an ignoramus when you believe everything in the universe, including your reason, emerged from nothing by an unguided process?
This is not just tit-for-tat. You need to reason with the evolutionist that his very use of reason shows that evolution is self-refuting. The evolutionist believes that reason emerged in the human mind by an unguided natural process; it did not exist before that. Therefore, he has no basis for trusting its validity (some very good treatments of this “argument from reason” in the new book The Magician’s Twin discussed in the 11/20/2012 entry). Laats needs to see that evolutionists are the ones who have denied the facts. They are the ones who have misunderstood the nature and meaning of science.
That being the situation, there is no reason that an articulate creationist could not write the very same article in inverted form: “To Teach the Science of Creation, You Need to Understand Evolutionists.” That spokesperson could employ the same arguments: admitting that not all evolutionists are ignoramuses, and that some who believe simply reject the facts of creation. Some even believe it for non-rational reasons. The person who should be cowering in shame for promoting a self-refuting worldview (which, by definition, cannot possibly be true), is Adam Laats and his fellow science teachers who promote it.
If, and only if, Laats is willing to acknowledge, “you have a valid point there,” and that evolution could be the view that is factually wrong and unscientific, could there be a true meeting of the minds toward progress in mutual understanding. Anything less is a mere feint in a pitched battle. It just means the evolutionists will be kinder when they take creationists prisoner. Demand the evolutionists drop their arms and surrender the castle they have unrighteously usurped.