So clear and compelling a seven-year-old can understand it. That’s the boast of young-earth creationist leader Ken Ham. As proof, he published the lecture notes of one of his young audience members.
For those of us hoping to improve evolution education in the United States, Ham’s revelation raises a serious question: Can evolution hope to match the gut-level appeal of creationism?
Science pundits have long noticed this yawning gap between the popular acceptability of mainstream science and that of creation science. The most clear-headed writers have admitted that creationism has better stories.
It is almost as if the human brain were specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism, and to find it hard to believe.
The creation stories of young-earth creationists, on the other hand, are appealing to all age levels. There’s a garden, there’s love, there’s disobedience, there’s punishment. All of these are powerful themes that resonate with young and old alike.
And, lest we evolution-embracers smugly conclude that this stark advantage of creationism will fade as audiences get more intelligent and more sophisticated, let’s remember that creationism’s advantage also pulls in the intellectually sophisticated.
I was amused and moved, but considerably less amused and moved by the character-free Big Bang story (“something exploded”) than by the twisted and picturesque misadventures of Eve and Adam and Cain and Abel and Abraham.
Obviously, something doesn’t need a compelling narrative in order to be true. But in the stubborn culture wars over evolution and creationism, popular appeal matters. Evolution’s biggest selling point is that it does a better job of explaining and predicting than does creationism. Maybe the winning narratives won’t be the detailed natural-selection classic tales starring finches and moths, but rather the far more stirring story of enlightenment triumphing over dunderheaded fogeys.
That’s a good story. At least it worked for Kevin Bacon in Footloose.