We Don’t Disagree about Evolution—We Just Hate Each Other

Why can’t we stop fighting about evolution and creationism?  As I put the final touches on my new book about American creationism, one obvious but counterintuitive point keeps presenting itself: Creationists love science and want their kids to learn evolutionary theory. So why the endless battle? This morning at Heterodox Academy, Musa Al-Gharbi makes some points about culture-war confrontation that help explain the problem.


We all love science, we just hate each other.

Al-Gharbi reviews some of the literature on the futility of culture-war shouting matches. We might think a reasoned, sensible argument will convince anyone who isn’t absurdly prejudiced. It seems the opposite can be true. Studies have found that stubbornness and intractability can increase when people are moreintelligent, educated, or rhetorically skilled.”

Why? Intelligent, informed, sophisticated people are more likely to be committed to ideas and ideologies. They are more experienced at the kinds of mental gymnastics that can help justify and rationalize seemingly illogical positions.

What can be done? Al-Gharbi suggests three general suggestions for improving real communication:




Could these suggestions help creationists and non-creationists talk to each other more productively?

Consider a few obvious points.

First of all, it may seem like a tired old idea to SAGLRROILYBYGTH, but some people out there still don’t get it. Creationists aren’t anti-science. Not even the most extreme sorts of young-earth creationists are. As we’ve seen in these pages, young-earth creationists spend millions of dollars to give their creation museums the look, feel, and intellectual heft of mainstream science museums.

And, as trenchant critics Bill and Sue Trollinger point out, the Creation Museum doesn’t oppose science. To the contrary, the creationists at Answers In Genesis took pains to create something that looks like a “cutting-edge, state-of-the-art natural history museum.” In Kentucky, at least, radical creationists might not agree with me about the definition of good science, but they definitely love science itself.

righting america at the creation museum

We don’t have to agree with creationism to do a better job of understanding it.

Even when it comes to the science of mainstream evolutionary theory, creationists and non-creationists agree on big questions. Here at ILYBYGTH, we’ve heard from creationist homeschool moms who read Richard Dawkins to help teach their kids about evolution. And we’ve noticed ardent Texas creationists who want schoolkids to read the latest evolutionary science.

If we all want the same things—though maybe for different reasons—why do we keep fighting about evolution?

At least in part, we non-creationists need to take a good hard look in the mirror and see if we’ve been following Al-Gharbi’s advice. Have we tried to lower the perceived stakes of our conflict? Have we tried to really understand creationism and creationists? And have we spoken civilly and humbly to our creationist neighbors?

Too often, the answer is an angry no.

Consider just a few of the most famous examples.

Our most famous evolution mavens tend to speak angrily and ignorantly about creationism. They tend to do what they can to increase the stakes of our disagreements.

Richard Dawkins, for example, repeatedly blasts creationists as nothing but ignoramuses or worse. He tells anyone who listens that a profound understanding of modern evolutionary theory is the best way to cure religious people of their “god delusion.” As he promised about his book of that title, “religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

It’s hard to imagine a better way to raise the perceived stakes in our creation/evolution disagreements than to insult all creationists and promise that evolutionary theory will lead them to atheism.

It’s not just the irascible Dawkins, though. The friendlier Science Guy Bill Nye also tends to muff his chances at better communication. In his recent book Undeniable, for example, Nye lambastes creationists as people “casting doubt on science and unbelievers.”

As we’ve seen, though, creationists love science. It’s the unbelievers they’re chary about.

What’s the takeaway here? When it comes to our creation/evolution battles, those of us who want more and better evolution education will be wise to avoid these sorts of unnecessary and unhelpful blunders. We should work hard to understand creationism better. We should try to build on our vast areas of agreement instead of focusing on the things we won’t agree about. And we should avoid preaching to our own choir with gratuitous and inaccurate insults of our creationist neighbors and friends.

Leave a comment


  1. Thanks for not refering to us as “radical creationists.” The young-earth label works just fine in this post! I don’t even mind the “extreme” as a modifer.

  2. DM – but he did, in the paragraph about Kentucky. Adam, I think that you are wrong on two counts – creationists don’t love science, but rather respect a portion of science that comports with their world view and/or provides some benefit. Second, young earth creationists will never accept the science of evolution because it is in direct conflict with Genesis; and as Ham says, if you can’t accept Genesis as literal truth, you can’t accept the rest of the Bible as truth. Thus teaching evolution as truth equals a heresy.

    • We disagree! I think radical young-earth creationists really DO love science. They yearn for it, invest in it, and brag about it. I don’t think we’re getting too deep into academic woolly-bully to note that there can’t really be a satisfying clear demarcation of real vs. fake science. We can only have competing claims. I see no reason not to respect the creationist claim to the mantle of “science,” even if I reject their preferred supernatural science as epistemologically meritless, scientifically meaningless and unconvincing. To your second point, the (mainstream) science of evolution might or might not conflict with Genesis. I don’t know and I don’t care, but there are plenty of people who do care who say that mainstream evolutionary science–most of it, anyways–has no beef with a Biblical worldview. BioLogos is one obvious example, Reasons To Believe is another.

      • I am not sure how you can make such a claim since the radical YEC’s reject the preponderance of evidence from a variety of scientific disciplines, from astronomy to geology to biology to anthropology. I would not call rejection love 🙂 As I see it, the God of the rYEC’s is a trickster. I understand that old earth creationists and evolutionary creationists find harmony between science and Genesis by rejecting a literal 6 day creation 6-10 thousand years ago – I worked with Francis, Karl, Pete, Darrel and Joe at the very beginning of the BioLogos efforts, and believe that their approach is the only way to reconcile Christian faith and modern science.

  3. I appreciate the measured stance you are taking on this issue. It’s something most people this side of the creation divide have difficulty doing. Myself included!

    However I still waver on this point. Young earth creationism turns most fields of science on their heads, distorting what little understanding we have of this incredible universe we inhabit. The idea of thoughtfully nodding my head in a conversation about something I know to be foolish seems crazy to me. Some ideas are worth shouting about. But whether it’s worth it and whether it produces results are two different things entirely.

    I worry that to treat YEC as valid gives far too much credit, and may have an opposite effect of letting creationists think their view has validity when in fact it’s all an illusion built on faulty mental heuristics.

    But again, that approach is obviously wanting when it comes to converting others to our side. Again, thanks for that thought provoking post!

  4. Douglas, I can only say what my own personal experience has been. I didn’t become a YEC until I was an adult. I took a Biology class at a secular university, but I didn’t think much about evolution and didn’t grow up in a church where they talked about it. You said, “young earth creationists will never accept the science of evolution because it is in direct conflict with Genesis.” I’ve listened to a lot of YEC materials over the years. It’s a combination of listening to Bible teachers as well as YEC scientists that I find convincing.

    The book from the theistic evolution perspective I’ve read completely (I’ve read parts of others) is Coming to Peace with Science. For someone like myself that has consumed a lot of YEC materials, the theistic evolution (and evolution) materials that I’ve read did not address the things I’ve heard from YEC’s.

  5. Donna – I think that Jonathan’s perspective is correct. It’s obvious that you accept that the earth is young, but to scientists such as myself and myriad other folks, we certainly do not understand why. If Darrel’s book, the work of BioLogos folks such as Collins, Giberson, Enns and Venema do not convince you regarding the science and the theology, then nothing will. If you accept that there is such a thing as YEC scientists, then you will not accept the overwhelming preponderance of accepted science. I often refer YEC folks to ponder Augustine’s warning:

    Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

    • Douglas – One reason I do not accept theistic evolution is I have learned so many things from the YEC perspective in many different areas, and those things never get addressed by people that do believe in evolution. What I have learned is completely ignored. What I wonder is, even if people, (those you mentioned) give clear explanations of their point of view, and they do, why do people from the theistic evolution perspective think what is said would even begin to convince people like me when most everything I have learned is completely ignored? I think I know the answers to my question, but for me to assume is a bad idea. If you are inclined to explain, I’m all ears. If not, I understand.

    • It would be too awkward to go into specifics. It can be anything people have learned from scientists, historians, theologians, anything from the YEC perspective other people don’t talk about. Or some things are addressed but it’s not enough. Over the years I’ve looked things up, how would an evolutionist respond to this or that, and haven’t found what I’m looking for.

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