Faith & Physics, Part III

ILYBYGTH is happy to continue our series of guest posts from Anna.  In her first post, Anna described her shift from creation science to mainstream science.  In her second, she described her early education in the world of conservative Christian fundamentalism.  Anna blogs about her experiences leaving the fundamentalist subculture at Signs You Are a Sheltered Evangelical.  She holds an M.Sc. degree in Astroparticle Physics and currently lives in Virginia with her fiance Chelsey and a cat named Cat.  Good news: She has recently been accepted into a PhD program in physics at a top research university in the United States. 

Why is Creationism so appealing?

Last installment, I spent some time discussing my Creationist curriculum.  Through five years, I learned science alongside Young Earth Creation apologetics.  No small amount of time was spent on discussing the evidence for young earth, explaining the Grand Canyon as a result of a global flood, reinterpreting the geological record, and more.  Over and over, it was repeated and reassured that Creationism was a viable theory based on the evidence alone.  Yes, the Bible made assertions regarding the origin of the world, but all of the text books and apologists emphasized that the theory could stand on its own merits and that even atheists should be able to see the evidence and agree to it.

And yet, when it came down to it, the evidence was truly secondary.  On some level, I think that the most devoted creation “experts” still realize that Young Earth might not stand up to honest scrutiny.  This is why almost the entire YEC battle is fought for children.  Creationists have already lost in the arena of mainstream science.  They can’t influence people there.  But children are easy to influence.  Children are much more trusting.  And if they start kids with these theories early, perhaps they can build walls around them that will keep them there.

And they did.  There were walls built around our minds to ensure that we never wandered too far from the correct doctrine.  Creation apologists were very clear: even if you find yourself doubting the evidence for 6-day creation… even if you realize that secular science has the more compelling arguments… you CAN’T change your beliefs.  You can’t, because the creation story in the Bible is the Word of God, while evolutionary science is the word of men.  To question a literal interpretation of Genesis is to question God himself.

For a young conservative Christian homeschooler, this is the ultimate threat.  While most YEC advocates do not claim that salvation is dependent on disregarding modern science, this is hardly much better.  Conservative Christian culture can be surprisingly cut-throat, and demonstrating a lack of faith in God can be paramount to social and spiritual suicide.  Such people were a by-word among my creationist peers… the “lesser” Christians that would probably lose their faith if they were allowed to go to college.

Indeed, this argument was ultimately more compelling to me than all the evidence that was offered for a global flood, the evidence for “design”, or the convoluted explanations of how the universe could have been created 6000 years ago despite the fact that distant galaxies are visible from earth.  Sure, I absorbed all that information and I believed it.  But I quickly realized that my evidence probably looked puny compared to the vast amounts of data and research in evolutionary biology and cosmology.  But I refused to back down, because I was a Good Christian.  I would not trust flawed humans over God.  I would not cave in to scientific “persecution.”  I would not believe, no matter how much evidence I was given, because to do so, would be to spit in the face of my savior.  The guilt and the fear kept me securely in the Creationist’s camp.

Now, being sheltered and homeschooled probably made me especially susceptible to this sort of fear and guilt.  But I am certain that I am not alone in my experiences.  The fact that YEC apologists place so much evidence on this argument leads me to believe that this fear and guilt is quite intentional.  It is the surest way to make sure that their school of thought survives the opposing evidence.  If you can’t make your case with facts, make it with fear.

To be fair, I’ve seen a little bit of these sorts of tactics used against Creationists in mainstream science communities.  For example, I can’t agree with the claim that “a Creationist cannot contribute to science” and the shame and guilt tactics that this statement employs makes me very uncomfortable.  It echoes a lot of the indoctrination I received from Creationists.  I do think that being a young earth believer limits the contributions that you can make to science, but there are many, many fields of research that do not require a background in evolutionary biology and as such, these sorts of blanket statements are deceptive at best.

All the same, I cannot fault scientists for being openly frustrated with science deniers.  No theory should have to be shored up with threats of spiritual damage and guilt over betraying a deity.  The thought is almost laughable.  However, until secular scientists begin to appreciate how influential these arguments can be, they cannot fully understand why young earth creation has such appeal to many… and why it can control even very intelligent and learned people.  Many people do not deny science because they are ignorant or stupid, but because they feel like they have no other choice.

But there’s an up-side to this.  We can change.  And those who accept science can help.  Unfortunately, the attitudes that many people display towards science deniers is not helpful.  In the next installment, I’ll try to delve a little into some of my interactions with some of my secular peers and explain which ones helped me on my journey and which ones set me back.

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  1. Warren Johnson

     /  January 30, 2014

    Hi Anna,

    Your honesty, intelligence, and compassion do you great credit.

    Have you thought of what would be most useful for Bill Nye to say in his coming debate with Ken Ham?

    • I hadn’t really put much thought to it because I doubt that many minds will be swayed by the debate, in large part because of the reasons I described here. Still, the debate is scheduled for my birthday, so I feel kinda special, haha! =)

      I guess the most important thing I would want him to say is that modern scientists are not the enemy. They’re not out to silence Christianity or attack the faith community. They are honest people trying to learn about the universe and understand it. And, with all of their hard work and effort, they have discovered that life seems to have evolved. This isn’t an attempt to drive god out of the world. This is just how we work to understand our world, and when we discover things, we have to believe what we see or else science simply wouldn’t work.

  2. This is a great reflection and totally accurate in my view, except it is a bit misleading to suggest the battle has mainly been fought for children. Yes the focal scene has been homeschoolers and K-12 conservative protestant schools, but many conservative protestant denominations — and many with colleges, including most in the CCCU — are still fighting out creationism/evolution on the more adult and academic level of church and college politics. My guess is that the last YEC faculty members have retired or will retire over the next 5-10 years and not be replaced except at a few outlier institutions that have decided to make this their issue. The discussion improves a lot at the college and denominational level where it tends to become more open to legitimate concerns with the limits and adequacy of naturalism, “scientism,” and “conflict theories” of the relationship between the epistemic categories of “faith” and “science” or “reason.”

  1. Guest post on ILYBYGTH #3 | Signs you are a Sheltered Evangelical
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