For the first twenty years of my life, creationism was a fact. At least, I was taught that it was. God created the earth in six days, and anyone who tells you otherwise was maliciously and purposely lying to you. Evolution was vilified; it was not only factually incorrect, but it was morally reprehensible, as if facts could sin.
Sometime, thanks only to my secular public schooling, I got the impression that the origins of the universe, the Earth, and humanity are big mysteries. I felt like there was a great debate about creation vs. evolution going on between educated people of all stripes. Now, after having been presented with scientific facts and not bible verses for the first time, I didn’t know what to think. I still heard the narrative of “creation good, evolution bad” at church from time to time, but I started to have serious doubts about creationism.
My understanding of evolution has been an ongoing process since then. During college, when I had shed my belief in God and in creationism, I was still as skeptical as possible, and I questioned everything. I didn’t really know anything about evolution, so I would listen to its pros and cons. Of course, my college’s Science and Faith class didn’t help, as Grove City’s population probably has a great majority of theistic evolutionists. (For context, one section of the Science and Faith class had The Language of God as a textbook.) This all continued to feed into my perception that evolution and creation were on equal footing in a war that spanned the public and academic worlds.
Clearly, in order to really learn about evolution without any of the fluff, I needed to look outside of the Christian circles. I turned to Google. I thought I recalled something about ancient human species along the evolutionary timeline, and maybe at one point in Science and Faith class, someone may have mentioned the word “hominid”? I didn’t really know what any of it meant, so I looked up “species of human”.
I remember the first result: it was this page from the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I was fascinated, but I was also starting to be persuaded. The page just listed the species of human (every species under the umbrella of the genus Homo, as well as others in the family tree like Paranthropus and Australopithecus), which of course, are all now extinct except for Homo sapiens. It included photos of reconstructions of individuals in each species where it could, and each listing led to a page with information on that species, like when and where it lived, how we know what we know about it, who discovered it, what journal its discovery was published in, and more.
This sparked a continuing passion in me on human evolution. There was something so matter-of-fact about it, even within the uncertainty and unanswered questions throughout the human evolutionary tree. What really persuaded me was that this page didn’t make any reference to creationism. No, we don’t know for sure if Orrorin tugenensis was fully bipedal, but nowhere did it say, “We don’t know if evolution is true or not. God may have created the Earth in six days 6,000 years ago. It’s still up for debate!” This was when I began to actually understand that evolution wasn’t debated among anyone that had a clue what it was.
For about a month now I’ve been reading Lucy by Donald Johanson, the discoverer of “Lucy”, the first and most complete Australopithecus afarensis skeleton ever found. At the risk of spoiling my review of it, this book is probably one of my top ten favorite books of all time. I cannot rate it highly enough. Forget The God Delusion. This is what persuades me that the bible is fallible.
That’s because neither the bible, nor creation, nor Genesis have ever been mentioned. Johanson just tells the story as it is, of all the big names in paleoanthropology leading up to the 1980’s, and all of the controversy that riddled the field, and the great lie that was Piltdown Man, and the stress of finding fossils that don’t seem to make sense with the hominid family tree that you have mapped out so far. I don’t even know the religious affiliations of anyone in the entire book, that’s how irrelevant it is.
The concept of not even acknowledging the “other side” of the creationism debate is the factor of sophistication that the creationists lack. Among real astronomers or physicists, how often does the question of the creation narrative actually enter their work? Does anyone really think that those people hunting for hominid fossils were really just doing so to prove creationism wrong? Of course not. Compared to real science, creationism is child’s play. It’s a non-issue. It doesn’t even exist.
On the other hand, evolution is all that creationists talk about. Creationism is all about refuting things and trying to break down established facts. That’s why we have the Ken Ham book The Lie: Evolution and the Michael Behe book Darwin’s Black Box. Of course, there are books defending evolution from creationism as well, like Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution and Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True. But that’s not all there is. We also have Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and Lucy, which exist solely to teach science. They rarely, if ever, mention God. They don’t even give him the time of day, which shows why we don’t need him.
Creationism doesn’t do this. It doesn’t have an entire self-contained discipline that can exist without an opponent. It exists only to maintain its own persecution complex and act as an underdog to real science, without explaining anything independently at all. Language like “Creationism is an undisputed scientific fact among experts, thanks to mountains of evidence and the ability to make predictions,” would be much more persuasive than “Evolutionists are trying to teach your kids secular science at school, but God’s Word is the truth, and it acts as a solid foundation upon which we build our biblical scientific worldview.”
Discoveries that change everything we thought we knew about some area of science are welcomed and constantly sought after. Creationism lacks this nuance, this ongoing struggle to find the truth and consistently maintain it, this ability to change its mind, that makes science real. The unchanging, rock-solid nature of creationism, on which its constituents place their pride, is indeed its greatest weakness.