Can Evolution Match This?

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.

Image Source: Answers In Genesis

Image Source: Answers In Genesis

Image Source: Answers In Genesis

Image Source: Answers In Genesis

Image Source: Answers In Genesis

Image Source: Answers In Genesis

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.

As Richard Dawkins put it in his 1996 book The Blind Watchmaker,

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.

ILYBYGTH readers may remember the postmodern plea of journalist Virginia Heffernan.  A few months back, Heffernan declared her affinity for creationism over evolution.  Why?  In her words,

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.


Leave a comment


  1. I volunteer at a local museum where I have to get 7 year olds to understand human evolution. I find the trick is to tell it as their story. This isn’t the character driven narrative of Adam and Eve, but the tale of why you are the way you are. Why do you walk like that? Why do you have hands like that? Answering questions and helping them learn about themselves in the process is far better than “and then Mr Australopithecus had a baby with longer legs.”

    And they seem to love my version

  2. Wow. It’s clear that this kid was really paying attention. This definitely shows how important it is to get children good teachers from an early age. Hopefully he will get one soon before he internalizes too much of this odd propaganda.

  3. Adam is right about making it the kids’ story. In fact, I’ve got a kids’ book that uses that very technique to teach evolution to toddlers. It’s called Grandmother Fish. See my profile if you’re curious.


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