Postmodern Creationism: A Better Story

Add a new category to the creationist bloc in America: postmodernists who don’t “believe” anything.

Journalist Virginia Heffernan has caused a mini-uproar this week by explaining why she’s a creationist.

In a recent essay on Yahoo! News, Heffernan argued that the stories of creationism are simply more “compelling” than those of mainstream science.  In her telling, she wanted to embrace science, since she loves technology.  But science just doesn’t have the right stories.  In her words,

I was amused and moved, but considerably less amused and moved by the character-free Big Bang story (“something exploded”) than by the twisted and picturesque misadventures of Eve and Adam and Cain and Abel and Abraham.

Predictably, science pundits reacted with dismay.  University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne lambasted Heffernan’s “remarkable celebration of ignorance.”   University of Minnesota biologist PZ Myers noted Heffernan’s anti-science history: “every time she meets a scientist she opens her mouth and says something stupid . . . .”

Also predictably, evangelical Christians defended Heffernan.  In the Christian Post, journalist Leonardo Blair noted that Heffernan had become a “lightning rod for ridicule,” but that she has also won support from religious people for “standing by her beliefs.”

It seems to me, however, that both the fervent anti-creationist commentators and the evangelical pro-creationists ignore the central thrust of Heffernan’s essay.  Heffernan is not making a case for the truth of creationism.  Indeed, as she explains, “I guess I don’t ‘believe’ that the world was created in a few days, but what do I know? Seems as plausible (to me) as theoretical astrophysics, and it’s certainly a livelier tale.”  This is not a full-throated defense of Biblical creationism.  Instead, Heffernan is making a case for the plausibility of creationism.

And, as far as that goes, she’s right.  Creationism is more than just a religious belief.  It is a convincing and intuitive way of understanding humanity’s predicament.  This is why leading science educators have recognized that simply pouring more science on Americans will never convince them of the truths of evolution.

Heffernan’s attitude does not result from childhood brainwashing in the Bible.  Heffernan does not howl at mainstream institutions from the wilds of San Diego or Northern Kentucky.  She complains, instead, that it is hard to admit to creationism in New York restaurants, to acquaintances from her jobs, perhaps, at the New Yorker or New York Times.  With her handy PhD from Harvard, Heffernan’s attitude does not come from a lack of mainstream education.

Heffernan’s avowed creationism, instead, comes from an over-abundance of mainstream education.  Her attack on mainstream science comes not from Genesis, as she suggests elsewhere, but from Derrida.

Other creation/evolution commentators have made similar points, without going as far as embracing creationism.  Jason Rosenhouse, for instance, in his book Among the Creationists, admits that creationist explanations of life and humanity are much more appealing than the messy truths of mainstream science.

Unlike Rosenhouse, Heffernan takes the postmodern leap.  IF we have no Archimedean perspective from which we can judge competing truth claims, THEN we are forced to choose between competing narratives.  BECAUSE creationism has the better narrative, Heffernan concludes, she must call herself a creationist.

Plus, it generates better headlines to say “I’m a creationist” than to say “Creationism tells better stories of humanity’s origins, but I don’t really believe those stories, but you gotta admit, they are better stories, plus scientists can sometimes be jerks.”

 

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