Some days I think all this Creationist stuff is overblown, and will just wither away on its own. After all, I can go days without interacting with a single Creationist (knowingly at least, since I don’t tend to have that kind of conversation with my librarians or coffee shop baristas). However, all too often I’m reminded that Creationism is a big deal in the United States, and some important authority figures accept it. Broun is a member of the House Science Committee, which (as its name suggests) makes some important decisions about research and the funding thereof. (Phil Plait has a lot more to say about Broun’s blatant failure to uphold the Constitution, especially the separation of church and state in the First Amendment.)
God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says. – U.S. Representative Paul Broun (R-GA)
I admit, I take this kind of thing personally. Broun and his compatriots obviously think very bad things about me, my friends, and the work we do. They don’t just disagree or think we’re wrong, they think we’re literally in league with Satan. The work we do—researching, writing, and teaching others about how the Universe works—is evil in their eyes. Broun’s explicit statements that science education is all built on lies aren’t harmless. I hold education to be one of the most noble undertakings in human society, yet here we have an elected official trumpeting ignorance while slandering those who work to increase and share knowledge.
In a fairly early, awkwardly-written blog post, I outlined the “Creationist’s Trilemma“: the three main possibilities for a scientist who doesn’t follow their young Earth views.
- Scientists are frauds. In this view, the evidence is actually in favor of the young-Earth Creationist view, but because we’re evil, we suppress this for whatever reason: either to gain power and prestige, or because we’re actively working in the Devil’s service. (If that’s the case, I’ll tell you right now that Satan doesn’t pay very well.) Since scientists are far from a monolithic group, I find it hard to believe anyone could say we are working together to advance a single agenda, so the conspiracy argument doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny.
- Scientists are fools. If we had our eyes open, we’d recognize the truth, bu we are led astray by our arrogance or deceived by someone else (the Devil or God). I suppose this is a kinder view, since it lets us scientists work in good faith. However, it’s also a really insulting view: scientists have labored hard over centuries to achieve our modern level of knowledge. The theories of evolution and the Big Bang are built on (both literal and figurative) mountains of evidence. If the Universe itself is deceptive, then that leads to unpleasant theological conclusions: either the Devil is powerful enough to change the appearance of the cosmos (in opposition to the goodness of God’s creation), or God is messing with us. Creationists, before you accuse scientists of being fools, let the idea of a deceiver God sink in a moment.
- Scientists are faithful. In other words, grant us the courtesy of accepting that our goals are to understand the Universe, that we are neither engaged in a conspiracy to lead people to Hell or simple tools in the hands of a deceiver. Ethan Siegel has an eloquent post about the evidence for the Big Bang, and why—far from being a lie—the Big Bang theory represents the best of our knowledge about the Universe we inhabit. In fact, his blog, and my blog, and the blogs I link to are devoted to a faithful explanation of the evidence for this view of life and the Universe.
Since Mr. Broun firmly believes in the first option, I know it’s unlikely I or any of my colleagues will change his mind. We’re evil in his eyes, so nothing we say can be trusted. However, the optimist in me thinks that not every Creationist is like that. After all, with people in power who work against education, our biology and physics textbooks are often toned down by fearful publishers. Teachers don’t cover evolution to avoid “controversy” (or because they are themselves Creationist), or they teach a highly caricatured version. In other words, despite the fact that real information about science is out there, students—and adults—aren’t getting it. The fault lies with people like Mr. Broun, but the responsibility to fix the problem lies with us.