Creationism is more than just an idea, more than just a choice. In the United States, creationism represents a complete set of dissenting institutions: Schools, churches, publishing houses, summer camps, etc. These institutions do more than create an intellectual subculture. As we are reminded this morning, they also provide the nuts-and-bolts support creationists need in order to thrive.
For some of us outsiders, it can be difficult to understand how a creationist can remain so firmly entrenched in her beliefs when the claims of mainstream science seem so compelling. Recently, for example, Professor Dan Kahan drew attention to the ways creationist students can do well in mainstream science classes. He described the case of “Krista,” a high-school senior who excelled in her biology class while holding on to her creationist beliefs.
Krista wants to be a veterinarian. And, as Kahan points out, she might not be able to maintain her “cognitive dualism.” If she doesn’t, though, Kahan insists it will not be due to some sort of “logical or psychological contradiction.” To the contrary, Kahan concludes, Krista’s eventual “upsetting incompatibility” will be the result of
an imperfection in the constitution of an aspiring Liberal Republic of Science that hasn’t yet acquired the knowledge, created the institutions, and cultivated the public mores necessary to quiet the forms of cultural status competition that force diverse citizens to choose between using their reason to know what is known by science and using it to express their defining moral commitments (Elsdon-Baker 2015; Hameed 2015; Kahan 2015; Kahan in press).
In other words, if future Krista is forced to choose between the mainstream science she uses in her day job and the dissenting science she uses in her faith life, it will be because the United States has several competing scientific authorities. Our society, Kahan argues, has not yet figured out a way to decide between the scientific claims of creationism and the scientific claims of mainstream evolutionary science. People like Krista (and the rest of us) are forced to rely on authorities to tell them which science is appropriate for them.
In her day-to-day life, though, Krista will likely be able to get by without straddling the boundaries between these competing scientific realms. More likely, Krista will continue her science career without ever needing to wrestle with its apparent contradictions. Her potential success will be due at least in part to the fact that creationists have successfully created institutions and cultivated creationist mores that allow creationists to use mainstream science without giving up their theological reservations. Perhaps even more important on the day-to-day level, Krista may succeed as a creationist veterinarian because her job might depend on it.
In academic realms, at least, creationism can be a big career boost. It has always been thus. As Bradley Gundlach has described in his great book Process & Providence, creationist colleges have often guaranteed steady work for creationists. In 1878, back when Princeton University and Princeton Seminary remained dedicated to a religious interpretation of emerging evolutionary science, school leaders worked hard to woo top creationists. The school took unprecedented measures to lure John William Dawson away from McGill University in Montreal. At that time, Dawson was one of a dwindling band of scientists with mainstream credentials who still disputed the transmutation of species.
Dawson didn’t come. But Princeton’s herculean efforts to get him demonstrate the possible career upside of creationism. If a geologist, or a veterinarian, or a science teacher can represent a dissenting creationist idea, then he or she will be uniquely attractive to the many institutions that insist on creationism.
Don’t believe it? Check out this morning’s job post on Ken Ham’s blog. As Ham explains, he doesn’t usually post such things, but he recently met with a school administrator from Kansas City. That school principal needed a science teacher, and he only wanted one who signed on to Ham’s brand of young-earth creationism. The school required a teacher who knew creation science and was “trained in apologetics.”
For students like Krista, as Professor Kahan argues, belief in a young-earth need not lead to any sort of intellectual discomfort at all. And, as this job posting reminds us, Krista might feel significant practical incentives to ignore any discomfort she might feel.
Commitment to a young earth and a special divine creation might, after all, offer increased job security in the nationwide network of dissenting creationist institutions.