I’ve been playing the anti-creationist game for a while now. Not as long as some, but as long as most. What I truly find interesting isn’t the arguments against evolution (though it is interesting to defeat those arguments by learning something new). It’s not the arguments supporting creationism (including Intelligent Design), because… well… there aren’t any. It’s not even the thrill of the argument.
What I find most interesting is the mindset of the believer. It’s truly stunning to me how a person can decry 150 years worth of empirical, mutually supporting research by using a device that has less than 100 years of research supporting it. Heck, if you include wireless data transmission, then we’re talking less than 60 years of support.
But not only do they ignore the evidence for evolution (and all science for that matter), excepting the rare creationist who reads current research looking for a bit of text to take out of context, but they also actively ignore the entire field of research into their own holy book. If you think the creationist argument is viscous, then you need to read up on the arguments between Bible scholars.
This just highlights the fundamental difference between skeptics and creationists/dominionists/etc. It isn’t that they think God created us and therefore hate evolution. It’s not that their pastor thinks that atheism is a sin, right up there with not tithing. It’s not even that the creationist (etc) are ignorant or stupid or liars. Nope, the fundamental difference is simply this:
Skeptics, atheists, free-thinkers (sometimes), and scientists all do this. Creationists, fundamentalists, and other religious people do not.
In my own church upbringing, I watched a man shake his head during an entire sermon from a guest pastor. But that man, shook the pastor’s hand and told him ‘great sermon’. Why? He obviously disagreed with the pastor. But one does not argue with one’s pastor in the same way that one does not fornicate with one’s mother. Even a guest pastor has much, much more authority to the church than a member of the congregation.
I’m willing to bet that the pastor was saying something that the man heard differently when he was just a boy in Sunday school. That’s how the cultural imprinting of religion works. When a person is 5, they go to Sunday school and sing “Jesus loves me, this I know”. Twenty-five years later, that person has been conditioned to accept the pastor as truth, regardless of anything else and will happily stand on street corners telling gay people that they should be put in jail. Not because they thinks it’s right, but because they DON’T THINK… not anymore.
That’s why creationists always attack Darwin. They can’t understand that Darwin is not the scientists’ leader, that we don’t hold everything Darwin said as gospel. They don’t understand why a creationist saying Darwin was a racist or a slavery supporter or anything else affects evolutionary theory. They just don’t get that the ideas, the evidence, the theory is different from the man who delivered it. Hitler could have come up with evolutionary theory and it would just as valid as it is today, provided that the evidence was there.
True believers even go farther in their refusal/inability to question authority. They will perform mental gymnastics to void dealing with contradictory ‘truths’ from their authority figure. Whether that authority be the Bible or a pastor or just a trusted friend, they cannot be wrong because they are the authority. They do not question their authority figure. It’s not even not allowed, it’s inconceivable.
If you listen carefully, when a scientist says Darwin didn’t know something, you can hear a little circuit breaker in the creationist’s head pop. When that circuit breaks, their brains just shut down. All they have left is rote responses. Responses that they learned in Sunday school and church. Responses that were drilled into them in ways that no public school would be allowed to use.
For some people, it is, and forever will be, impossible to break through this mental conditioning. There is a small group that may be capable of escaping and thinking for themselves. Every time they see an argument destroyed by reason and not invective, there is a non-zero chance that the circuit breaker won’t pop and their brain will continue to function. Maybe for just a second, but the seed has been sown. If they avoid running to their authority figure and slipping into hyper-hypnosis mode, then that seed can grow.
Thinking, questioning, breaking the mental bonds that have been built over an entire life is extremely difficult. That is why we can’t let any argument pass. We can’t just say “This is wrong and we’ve argued this a billion times before.” Because someone else might see it or, this time, that circuit breaker won’t pop and you break through that mental conditioning.
I wrote the above about a month ago. I’ve been thinking about this a while and there’s another aspect of this to consider. That is, “what does the person want to be true”. I’ve taken to thinking about this as the Mulder Hypothesis. What a person wants to be true has (nearly) infinitely more authority than anything else, including reality.
The vast majority of people don’t question their own thinking. I think that most people don’t even realize it’s possible (or encouraged) to question one’s own thoughts and beliefs. In these cases, their own mind becomes the unquestionable authority figure. In one case I’m aware of (having dealt with him for the last 3 years), the subject firmly believes that every piece of knowledge in the universe is wrong, unless he came up with it. I’ve actually watched him eviscerate someone on a forum who was actually supporting him.
Skeptics just don’t do this. Everything is up for questioning. There is nothing sacred that can avoid harsh questions. And this is especially true of things that we come up with ourselves.