Creationism and Job Security

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.

Take this job and love it...

Take this job and love it…

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.

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  1. dmk38

     /  May 8, 2015

    This is great except I don’t say & would not say “Our society .. has not yet figured out a way to decide between the scientific claims of creationism and the scientific claims of mainstream evolutionary science.”

    I’d say

    1 There *aren’t* any “scientific claims” of creationism worthy of being understood as “scientific” at all. .

    2. “Society” in the form of institutions that *use* scientific evidence to *do* what science does (from research to medical treatment to education to communicatoin of what’s known to curious, reasoning people) has of course correctly “figured out” that it should rely on the best available scientific evidence, as reflected in the modern synthesis. Anyone who interferes with what our society has figured out in that regard should be resolutely opposed.

    3. Krista’s “disbelief” in evolution is not a measure of her understanding of valid evolutionary science or science generally & has absolutely nothing to do with the sort of intentional states of assent necessary *to do* any of the things that one is enabled to *do* with knowledge of that evolutionary science. It is an intentional state bundled in with a complex of other intentional states– including various emotions, desires, moral appraisals & the like– that enable her to *be* a person with a religious identity. *Being* that person & *being* the science-trained professional she plans to be by *using* what she knows about evolutionary science are perfectly compatible things. The idea that there is any sort of “contradiction” in her “belief” & “nonbelief” reflects a psychologically unrealistic view that understands “beliefs” as mental objects floating around in 1-0, on-off positions abstracted from action-enabling mental routines of which they are a part.

    4. There is a vast body of research on how to “fix” the Krista’s “nonacceptance problem.” In my view, what needs to be fixed are the mistakes that inform that research program’s understanding of what it means to *know* something. Those mistakes, moreover, reflect not just limitations in knowledge but pathologies in our political life, ones that enfeeble our capacity and our motivation to respect the choices that those different from us make about how to live a meaningful life (that’s *all* Krista is using her “disbelief in evolution” *to do*). It’s how to overcome those dynamics, how to teach science effectively in a diverse society, & how how to cultivate habits of mind more conductive to being a citizen of a Liberal Republic of Science that our society has not yet “figured out.”

    • Well said. Kahan has the same problem as Kirsta: he believes there is only one type of truth.

      The problem of cognitive dualism is only a problem for people who have been told they must understand all truths — and especially religious truths — within a scientific framework where all truth claims must be empirically validated somehow. This is the only option that American conservative Protestantism has ever offered.

      The largely Reformed theology that came out of Princeton in the 19th century went on two main tracks in reaction to Darwin and the rest of modernity: Fundamentalism and Presuppositionalism. Both attempt to make their religious truths defensible on a rational if not empirical basis. Contemporary creationism has largely abandoned what it calls the “evidentialist” approach of its early days when something like real science was attempted through “flood geology.” Instead it takes the “presuppositionalist” approach of interpreting evidence through the assumption that everything they believe about God and creation is true. None of this is good science, theology or philosophy, but it has been very influential in popular arenas and schools disconnected from the academic mainstream.

      The most success that’s been had by serious scholars who can be connected back to Princeton theology are those involved with “Reformed epistemology” which succeeded in re-establishing a credible and widely accepted basis for theistic belief within professional philosophical circles in the analytic tradition. This however is not very helpful to people like Krista who feel they must reconcile the very personal and historical claims of their religious creeds withing the same verification-oriented framework of truth and knowledge that they learned in college biology, and vet or med school.


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