Will I Go to Hell for Learning Science?

Those of us who want to get more and better evolution education into our public schools have our work cut out for us. Evidence keeps piling up that Americans still get nervous when it comes to mainstream science.

As my co-author Harvey Siegel and I argue in our upcoming book about creationism and evolution education, public schools don’t have a credible option. They must teach real evolutionary science—and ONLY evolutionary science—in their science classes. Anything else does a grave disservice to students.

Even creationist students. Those creationists, though, should not be forced to mouth vaguely religious platitudes as they learn about evolution. Rather, public school teachers must make their goal to teach students to know and understand evolutionary theory. If they choose not to believe it, that is their fundamental right.will i go to hell for learning science

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know, my humble blog has wrestled with these issues of creationism and evolution education for years. Every once in a while, we get a glimmer of the harsh reality out there: People really don’t like evolution.

In the editor’s board of the blog, I can read some of the search terms that brought people to the blog. In the past, we’ve seen plaintive requests such as “Can a creationist and evolutionist be in love?”

Today we get another humdinger. In the search terms today we see, “Will I Go to Hell for Learning Science?” As David Long and other scholars have argued, learning evolution is profoundly disconcerting for some students. For those like this searcher, it is more than just a lack of knowledge that is the problem. Many students have deep worries that science these days is nothing but a lure of the devil.

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  1. This is just sad. To view science as diabolical is a terrible way to live, and it has real repercussions for children. We’ve all heard stories of children who die because parents don’t believe in medicine. Perhaps once all of us baby boomers die out, there will be more data available, and more open minds to receive it.

  2. It’s actually the devilish work of spiritual and psychological abusers who put such fear of learning into young people.

    Maybe it would help if religious and non-religious leaders got together in an outspoken way about knowledge, learning, and principle. People who think it may be a virtue and “healthier” not to learn certain things and not to ask certain questions have to be pressed to doubt the truth, integrity, and morality of their position since it is at best a “cloistered virtue.” The deeper problem in this country is that Protestant Fundamentalism is so out of touch with the past it thinks anti-humanistic ideals are essential.

    “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.” — John Milton, Areopagitica

    • Labeling people as abusive in this way can lead people to be fearful, to further isolate themselves, and therefore perpetuate real child abuse. The abuse label should only be used in this way towards fundamentalists if people want them to reaffirm in their own minds that what they believe and do is true and right. It is counter productive at best. When it is not reserved for actual abuse situations, it may cause real harm towards children. People that do want help may be afraid to reach out and get help.

      • You seem to be assuming that “real abuse” involves physical violence, so when people speak of spiritual/psychological/emotional abuse they are misusing the term and exaggerating something that is less than abuse. This is inaccurate; ask any psychologist or person working in family counseling. If you look, you will find plenty of literature on abuse and mental disorders that are not physically violent.

        You also conjecture that this “mislabeling” of psychological abuse as “abuse” may drive non-violent abusers into violence, so it should not be done. That is an impossible and irresponsible prohibition based on a very speculative generalization. I wasn’t advocating their persecution, although any non-validating response to them is likely to be interpreted as such.

        Preferring exorcisms and prayer over medicine does at some point become a criminal act, so teaching these kinds of things is very bad and should be discouraged, even though it is legal. Attacking a school for teaching evolution is in the same ballpark and should also be discouraged. I suggested that religious leaders who might be able to reach the more reality-defying fundamentalists ought to be leading in an effort to move them in more productive directions.

  3. I would agree with you that real abuse includes physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological. I am not denying this or suggesting otherwise.

    A parent can make the choice to not teach their children certain things. I don’t see this as abuse. What I see is people saying that Protestant fundamentalism is inherently abusive. I disagree. Can they be abusive? Yes. But they aren’t necessarily. Abuse needs to be determined on a case by case basis.

    What are people suppose to think when they are labeled abusive? It is a serious accusation and most likely meant to try to sway public opinion. People will react to this. I’m just saying, the abuse term is thrown around recklessly sometimes, and the results can possibly cause more harm to children.

    What you seemed to initially suggest is for non-religious leaders telling religious leaders what to do. I don’t see this working. Your last sentence seems quite different than what you seemed to suggest before.

    • I disagree. Not teaching children certain things can be very detrimental to the children and society at large. It matters very much what those things are, and how they are avoided. Rarely is it simply an omission of certain subjects but a counter-indoctrination. They don’t just not mention evolution; they teach against it and promote an anti-evolutionary creationism. This may not just be intellectually crippling; it may encourage antagonistic social relations where certain teachers and schools are seen as evil instruments of demonic forces. They don’t just not mention sex; they stigmatize sexuality outside a very narrow conception of it that tends to be patriarchal, homophobic and misogynistic. This is all but guaranteed to result in some type of psychological injury or worse. Sociological data bears this out and does not show these groups to be healthy, especially in marital outcomes where conservative, religious (and poor, uneducated) regions have the highest divorce rates, among other negative indicators.

      What are people to think when their behaviors leading to unhealthy, damaging outcomes are called “abusive?” They should think these behaviors are being stigmatized as morally bankrupt because harmful to individuals and society as a whole. Since religious conservatives are no strangers to values-based stigmatization, perhaps they will consider the possibility this is a correct and healthy response to real problems they have.

      Moral and intellectual superiority are not conferred on people just because they “believe the right things,” but this is one of the core features of Fundamentalist cultures. It cannot be justified at all by Christians; it is simply assumed. It’s a way to insulate the mind against a wide range of perceived threats — really anything that seems remotely troubling — but it also has the affect of encouraging abuse if those inside the inner circle of true believers are assumed to be morally and intellectually unimpeachable. The recent Duggar family scandal and the history of their mentor/friend Bill Gothard as a sexual predator is a textbook example of what I am talking about, as are numerous reports coming out of very conservative religious environments where naivete and blind trust are often blamed for enabling victimization.

      I’ve said religious and non-religious leaders with relevant areas of influence and expertise should be calling this stuff out. It can be approached with carrots of reform and stick of shame and stigmatization. There’s nothing unusual or unfair about that; it’s how public policy works, and sociologists (like conservatives) are pretty open about the critical value of stigmatizing the right things.

      • M

         /  August 11, 2015

        I agree with you, only with a certain emphasis. It “CAN be very detrimental to the children and the society at large.” People will disagree on what is damaging and what is not, which has it’s own set of problems. So I would say that there are exceptions to anything, and I am mostly hesitant to make blanket statements.

        Fundamentalist culture has faults, and can have “the affect of encouraging abuse if those inside the inner circle of true believers are assumed to be morally and intellectually impeachable.” I won’t dispute you on that. Fundamentalist culture can attract sexual predators. Or sexual predators can use and create these types of environments within a fundamentalist culture to abuse people. I also keep in mind that not every fundamentalist is like Bill Gothard. And that fundamentalism in our culture often refers to behaviors rather than a belief system.

        If people are in strict educationally conservative environments where they are passing down wisdom, want to keep bad ideas out, and are entrenched in a certain way of thinking, will being labeled abusive help them look at things a different way? I don’t think so. But it might perpetuate the need to keep bad ideas out, the need to shelter and protect oneself and family, or they may look more to leaders they assume are morally upstanding when they really aren’t, or they may lash out in anger. I think words like abuse will only perpetuate the same type of thinking if they are not already accustomed to examining their assumptions.

        Also, if people don’t spell out what they mean by abuse, or what they hope happens as a result of labeling others abusive, people will assume all sorts of things. And it is these assumptions and perceptions that drive behavior, not what people might actually mean. Even if people do spell it out, they will still most likely act on their perceptions.

        Some people in our society do use shame and stigmatization, producing fear and disconnection. With a desire to tell people who they are, then manipulate and guilt them into compliance with what we want them to be, it’s no wonder our culture wars are mostly about fighting and flighting. It seems like there are very few people willing to really try to engage with people and problems. Making decisions in the context of shame and disconnection rather than engagement is more damaging, and results in a loss of information to make these decisions, among other things. But all a part of politics.

        People have used greed and other motivations to manipulate and exploit others in this country for many types of gain over the years, and our culture wars sometimes reflect these same character traits and behaviors. In that sense, nothing has really changed. What changes is what is to be gained, and everything that will be lost in the process of shame and stigmatization.

      • I don’t think I’ve made “blanket statements.” I’m being very specific. Fundamentalist cultures do not “have faults.” They are faulty. They are pathological. Fundamentalism means totalism, where the authorities — or at least their ideology in some ideal form they profess to believe — is unquestionably correct. They probably do not attract or produce more predatory and abusive individuals than any other group, especially other unhealthy ones, but the ones they do produce are free and often protected, so they are enabled to be much more damaging. A low level of abuse and predation is normal in these cultures that in healthy environments stands out as extreme — because it is — but their own extremes are really off the hook.

        These are not healthy traditions that are “passing down wisdom.” The famous (and in his way religious conservative) sociologist Peter Berger distinguishes traditionalists from fundamentalists. Traditionalists are not reactionary; they have a complete world and past in substantial integrity. They may not be interested in other traditions, but they are not at war with them. This is distinctly not the case with Christian fundamentalism, particularly the Protestant varieties in Anglo-American culture across the Atlantic. Those cultures are defined by white supremacist nativism that is now in its death throes and incredibly reactionary. Even when their ethno-nationalist heritage is largely forgotten or forsworn, it is so much a part of their historic essence, that in their deracinated and dying 21st century forms they still echo these roots. Today this is happening loudly and in egregious ways that cannot be minimized or excused without dealing a terrible blow to the best religious and secular principles the civilization has carried along, despite itself. It is absolutely a good and necessary thing to stigmatize the guilty for their part in the ruin of a more cohesive society that once cared more broadly about its children and their future.

  4. M

     /  August 12, 2015

    “It is absolutely a good and necessary thing to stigmatize the guilty for their part in the ruin of a more cohesive society…”

    You mentioned shame and stigmatization. Shame is not saying to someone, “you made a stupid decision.” Shame is saying, “you are stupid.”

    If I were to say to one of my kids, “This was a bad decision”, then we can focus on the decision he made so he can learn for the next time. Now better to ask him what he thinks of the decision, but that’s not part of my point.

    But if I were to say to him repeatedly, “you’re a bad person, you’re really stupid, I can’t believe that I have a child that made such an awful decision, why can’t you be more like your brother, you are worthless.” Well, if I would actually say this to him, then someone better call Child Protective Services.

    To use this as a tool to try to gain compliance out of my kid to make better decisions, I have to abuse him to do it. Now on the outside I may get a little more compliance out of him to make better decisions, but on the inside, he’s likely to be pretty ticked off, and thinking of ways where he can get away with all sorts of things, or worse, put him on a road where he wants to use drugs and alcohol to cope with the abuse, or put him on the road to commit suicide.

    An interest in outward compliance for the sake of social order will work in some cases with people being resentful, but I think it will mostly drive people deeper into non compliance. And there will be some sort of consequences. Maybe it would get rid of one problem, but it will create others.

    In a recent experience I had engaging with someone I disagreed with on a culture war issue, I went from anger over the issue to feeling bad because I realized that my anger caused me to develop a shaming argument that ascribed motive and intent to him that in the end wasn’t to fair. I didn’t immediately realize this. I completely disagree with him still, but it is through engaging with people that we have a chance to develop understanding and empathy, even through disagreement. This is what our society needs because we’re not going to agree on everything. I did not and would not have learned to do this by being shamed and stigmatized. I learned to do this because I wasn’t being shamed, and through an encouragement to learn and talk.

    • There are different ways to define shame. Not all of them make it out as an entirely bad thing. But I didn’t think we were talking about personal interactions. On the level of public policy and the message that influencers lead with, it’s not “personal” when certain behaviors or ideas are singled out for disapprobation. This will tend to lead to some people feeling it’s OK to make personal attacks on people who exhibit those behaviors or hold those ideas, and that’s part of the package I guess. It probably does help influence change the intended way, while also provoking reaction and re-entrenchment.

      • M

         /  August 13, 2015

        “But I didn’t think we were talking about personal interactions.”  

        Shame is always personal.  

        “There are different ways to define shame.  Not all of them make it out as an entirely bad thing.”  

        I disagree.  Shame researchers make a distinction between guilt and shame.  We can experience guilt when we make a bad decision, we can experience shame if we think we are bad.  Same with what people try to impose on others.  Guilt is, you made a bad decision, shame is, you are bad.  It is inherent.  

        Inherent in Dictionary.com – “existing in someone or something as a permanent and inseparable element, quality, or attribute.

        “On the level of public policy and the message that influencers lead with, it’s not “personal” when certain behaviors or ideas are singled out for disapprobation.  This will tend to lead to some people feeling it’s OK to make personal attacks on people who exhibit those behaviors or hold those ideas…”

        Shame can be imposed collectively on a group of people, yet it is received on an individual level.  It always will be because shame speaks to who we are inherently, so it is always personal.  This is why people have all different reactions.  In shaming people, what they hear is, not only do I think you are a bad person, you will permanently be a bad person.  There is no hope for you to change or be different. (unless you see things my way)  When we shame people and take it to extremes, we might feel a license to use them anyway we want, to get what we want.  And we can look back in history and see how shaming people in this way has played out. We can look forward and guess why people might feel fearful.

        People don’t necessarily mean it this way of course, but it doesn’t matter.  This is how shame is received.

        Shame speaks to who we are and can trap us in a way of thinking because it is so easily internalized. 

        It doesn’t matter what people’s intentions are when it comes to shame.  As I stated before, people will act on their perceptions.  We are forced to act on our perceptions since we live in such a disconnected society.  Shame produces fear and disconnection.  

        We think we are just repressing bad behavior, but because of shame, people will likely interpret this as oppression, producing violence and hatred. And really, I think shame is oppressive. Oppressed people will be reactionary.  People who feel oppressed might not be able to engage with ideas they do not like because no one will listen to what they have to say, thereby inhibiting the learning process.  People who feel oppressed see their oppressors as the enemy, feel deprived of their rights, and are sometimes forced to seek freedom and justice in unhealthy ways.  

        How many people in our society feel oppressed in some way?  
        For those people who feel oppressed, who do they feel oppressed by?  
        I think this will answer some questions in our culture wars.

  1. 31 July 2015 Religion and Atheism News | Evangelically Atheist

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