Creationists. The mere mention of them is the cause of much hair-pulling and frustration among the atheist community. “People believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old, that the flood killed the dinosaurs? Really?” It’s no surprise then that a favourite pastime in the community is coming up with arguments against creationism. Load your brain up with facts that you can use in an effort to get the creationists to stop running their mouths.
Last week’s AAFW discussion was on creationism. After the group went over the various types of creationists I asked the question, “What point is there to coming up with critiques for creationists? We’ve already stated that most of these types are more or less committed to denying reality so why waste our time? Advice on debating a creationist should consist of one word: “Don’t”.
The rest of the AAFW group, however, put forward some satisfying reasons for why going after creationism can still be a worthy venture. The most important point to draw from the various combinations of arguments that were brought up is that this is about propaganda. The creationist effort is propaganda. Not only to spread creationist ideas, but other values you’d expect of a creationist, e.g. social conservatism. We can’t forget that there are people out there sitting on the fence. If we don’t offer counters to the creationists’ claims, then those on the fence only hear one side. Therefore, a critique of creationism doesn’t have to mean debating with the creationists directly, but providing information to keep those on the fence from falling the wrong way.
Another concern is education. I don’t think this is happening in Canada so much, but down in the U.S. there are stories of school councils that want to teach creationism in the science class. A science education that focuses on a myth will not do any favours for children who will find themselves at a disadvantage when they walk out of school with a view of the world that is based on fantasy. Knowing how to counter the claims of the creationists could be a useful tool for community member’s wanting to speak out and make a case against a science class that teaches creationism. There are people who know creationism is false, but may not have the knowledge to counter the popular creationist claims. The efforts of atheist and sceptic groups to put out pamphlets on how to debate a creationist could prove useful.
For those who have dedicated their life’s work to science, the theory of evolution in particular, hearing someone spreading lies and misinformation can be a very frustrating experience. My patience level for those that deny that we are experiencing a cycle of human-caused climate change is close to non-existent. I understand, and agree, with the desire to get angry when people actively try to undermine your work, and fully support the efforts of those that want to counter the claims.
Critiquing creationism is certainly not the most important task in the world, but doing so does serve a purpose. In the hands of the religious-right, creationism is a propaganda tool that draws people in to an unfavourable world view, damages opportunities for education, and it’s just plain wrong.