Conspiracy Theory and Fearful Belief
Creation Science is conspiracy theory married to fearful belief
In this page I want to look at some more of the ideas underpinning the Creation Science movement. Already I have said it is about theology, not science. There are other factors, too.
You will be aware, Ben, that Creation Science is a well organised US phenomenon. We will see some of its characteristics more easily if we look at that country.
The USA is the world capital of conspiracy theory! Conspiracy theory is where people think some organisation , perhaps a government agency, is hiding what is really going on from the general public. A frightening number of US citizens, for example, believe they have been abducted by aliens, and that the government is covering this up. Even more scary is the number of people who believe them. America is besotted with crazy theories about aliens. Try putting "Roswell" into Google. (I got 18.2 million hits!)
Conspiracy theories, and stuff like Roswell flourish where people are
scared and threatened,
feel like they are insignificant and losing control of life, and
have a weak belief system.
Where we are scared and threatened, we look for a source of courage, or we run!
People run by leaving their job, or their family. They also run by dropping out, perhaps by joining a sect, or by retreating into a fantasy world like World of Warcraft, or by getting lots of money and stopping thinking.
There is another way to run away from reality, although it doesn't look like it on the surface. This is by creating a false picture of the world that lessens or deflects the thing we are afraid of. We create a conspiracy theory, which although it says there is a really bad thing happening in the world, oddly helps us feel better!
Conspiracy theory creates a false courage, which is really the same as running away from reality, by pretending to know what's really going on. It knows the truth. It knows that Darwinists or Evolutionists, in the case of own discussion, are hiding the truth, and victimising believers in Creation Science. It knows the real (almost secret) truth of special creation. It is part of a community of true believers. It clearly defines "the enemy." It defines itself as "in the right." It has detailed outlines of where evolutionists are wrong, and clearly packaged books and articles and websites about what is true. And so people feel safer, and affirmed, and significant because they are part of the community of true believers. It doesn't really matter if the whole package is empirically or objectively correct. It has provided a kind of courage, so it has served its purpose. The false knowledge creates a brittle kind of power for living.
By contrast, we find, or grow in, true courage by rationally thinking through the dangers and adopting a course of action, by prayer, by acceptance, by standing together with our community, by understanding and getting some control of the situation, and so on. "Knowledge is power," someone said. Conspiracy theory may espouse detailed ideas, which are quite closely argued. But fear is its driving force. It cannot face the fear head on, so it creates a false world that deflects its fear instead of facing or dealing with it. In other words it runs.
A major issue in contemporary U.S.A. is the constitutional separation of church and state. Many who hold a religious viewpoint feel that this separation is used by ''atheists" and "secular humanists" to keep religion out of the public view, and to lessen its influence. A little imagination can see how this issue could be tied into notions of a conspiracy, or if not that, certainly fuel people's tensions over the issue.
I'm not trying to say that Creation Science is a conspiracy theory. Some people who hold to Creation Science have sounded to me like they think there is a conspiracy. But there are plenty of Creation Scientists who would dismiss the tendency to conspiracy theorising amongst some in their ranks. However, I see clear relationships. America, the land of the conspiracy theory is the land of Creation Science. And conspiracy theory is marked by a lack of courage.... Or, if you like, mental guts.
We don't need a conspiracy theory. There are evil things happening in the world. They are not hidden. Jesus calls is to action about them. But Christian conspiracy theorists often find Jesus calling too hard, and would rather retreat into the take courage of conspiracy theory. You see, the great (perverse) thing about conspiracy theory is that you can't really win. The other side is too strong. So that means you don't really need to find the courage to do anything! You can just know the truth and keep your head down.
There seems little doubt to me that economic and political systems are designed to keep the rich and powerful rich and powerful at the expense of the poor. They are designed for gratification now, and who cares about the cost to future generations of the planet as a whole. Those of us who are not the very rich, let ourselves be seduced by the prospect of being "better off" and sell ourselves out to the system, instead of looking for justice and peace for everyone. This is not a conspiracy theory. It is a common understanding writ large in scripture and frequently re-written in newspaper commentary. People would rather ignore the obvious. Conspiracy theory is more entertaining and you don't have to change. Creation Science will let you stay comfortably rich, and not make you feel guilty.
I've talked a lot about courage. This is because spiritual courage, and mental toughness are extremely important for our survival as a civilisation. Spiritual awareness, ethics, justice, and love and compassion are critical. But what are they without the spiritual courage and mental toughness to act and live by them? If we just talk about justice, are we any different from the conspiracy theorist?
Lack of courage is also a key characteristic of one of the great blights on our society, which is also a serious Christian heresy; Fundamentalism.
You will see here, Ben, that I have written on fundamentalism at length elsewhere on One Man's Web. In this page, I want to focus on some of the key points that relate to Creation Science.
What follows gets a bit complicated, which is not surprising, given that life is hard and complicated. But it's worth sticking with.
Facing life's bewildering range of experiences, a person forms a 'reality construct.' They order all their experiences to fit to a series of ideas about what the world is like, because the world is too complex and too big to see as it really is. So their "raw" experience of the world is never quite what they see. The raw experience is interpreted into, and by, their reality construct. A reality construct is more commonly called a "world view." (People also use terms like "paradigm" to mean a world view.)
What this means for each of us is that our world view gives meaning to, or shapes, the things we experience. The experiences we have would become meaningless if we could not fit them into an ordered structure. The down side is this: we twist our experience to fit what we think should happen according to our world view. We never quite let ourselves see what is really happening. Ideally, when our raw experiences are too much at variance with our world view; that is, they don't fit, we eventually-- perhaps in a moment of crisis, modify the world view. We shift to a new world view which explains and orders our experiences more harmoniously and successfully. We again have power for living. Life conforms to our world view again and we can live in it successfully, and with less pain. In positive human growth our world view hopefully becomes a closer approximation of what really is in the world.
Let's look at some examples of all this. My daughter told me recently that when she was very young she thought dogs' tongues were too big to fit in then mouths. That was a quite reasonable idea that helped make sense of the world for her. On a hot day I guess she thought she was seeing lots of dogs with bigger tongues! Really, dogs tongues were not that important to her, so when she received evidence contrary to her world view about dogs' tongues, it was no big deal. But maybe you can remember how hard it was to stop believing in the tooth fairy, or Father Christmas. We don't like to give up parts of our world view that are important to us. A very serious example of how own world view screws things up can be seen with cars and bikes. As I was riding to work one morning a car stopped at an intersection ahead of me. I saw the driver look carefully in my direction. He then pulled out right in front of me. I left a little mark on his passenger door! He had been thinking "car" so the bike was not even there... even though part of him saw me. That's the down side of a world view. It sometimes hides what is real from us.
I've already used the word 'courage.' "Courage is the affirmation of one's essential nature..." [Tillich, P. The Courage To Be pp16 ] Courage includes the acceptance of our finitude, and the acceptance that our grasp of reality is imperfect. Ultimately, we show our human maturity and courage by being able to face the dread that one day, apparently, we will not be. Courage is necessary to allow change in our reality construct, and see things differently, even through it may be frightening to give up old and comfortable ideas for new ideas that do not feel safe.
Courage is hugely important for our times. We live in a time of rapid change and great complexity. It is a time where established ideas of what life is about have crumbled. For many people it seems the rate of change in society is too great to be internalised, or coped with. There is too much data at variance with the structure of their reality, which is pushed upon them too quickly, for them to mould their perceptions of reality into the shape their world view says the data should have..... Or to allow them to slowly adapt their world view. Thus the world view of large numbers of people is being put under great stress. There is a loss of meaning. Life becomes bewildering and frightening.
This causes an extra-ordinary testing of people's ability to deal with the world. It is a time where people need more courage. There is doubt as to the meaning and worthwhileness of life. To avoid this painful experience of asking and doubting many surrender the right to ask and doubt. They 'surrender' themselves in order to save themselves. They give up their freedom to ask questions about the meaning of life so they can more easily escape the anxiety of meaninglessness. "Meaning is [thus] saved, but the self is sacrificed." Â Tillich says this sacrifice "leaves its mark"; a "fanatical self assertiveness." Fanaticism accompanies spiritual self-surrender. It actually shows in another form the same anxiety it was supposed to conquer, by attacking with disproportionate violence those who disagree, and who demonstrate by their disagreement, elements in the spiritual life of the fanatic which he must suppress in himself. Because he must suppress them in himself he must suppress them in others. [Tillich p56-7]
We are well aware of this today in Islamic fundamentalism. It is also very clear in Christian fundamentalism. Fundamentalism (as a system) is one religious response to this 'age of anxiety' (Tillich.) It absolutises a world view at some point. Some parts of its world view are made absolutely unchangeable. The threat of rapid change and increasing complexity is met by making some aspect of the religion sacred and unchangeable. In 'Christian' Fundamentalism this is done by gluing the authority of scripture to "its infallibility and in particular its historical inerrancy." People decide the bible can only have authority if it is literally and historically true in every respect. It is here that the reality construct has been 'frozen'. There can be no change made from an inerrant scripture. All data and experience must be made to fit this doctrine/concept. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the ultimate paradigm of Fundamentalism, is not Jesus Christ and the significance of his Person. It is the doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture. In an explicitly Fundamentalist system the nature of the Person of Christ is derived from the inerrant scripture, rather than the authority of scripture deriving from the person and experience of Christ. Fundamentalism is not properly Christian. It makes Jesus subservient to a particular interpretation of the bible which cannot be changed.
I should say this is not necessarily the explicit belief, or the consistent mode of theologising of a person who is a 'fundamentalist'. People don't necessarily think like this in everyday piety. There, Jesus guarantees the Scripture. But the final line of defence of the whole system is the inerrancy doctrine. When "push comes to shove" for Fundamentalism "we know we can believe in God because the bible is true."
Fundamentalism's sacralising of the theological past, its freezing of the reality construct, provides a kind of courage. This courage is a 'regained certitude'. [Tillich pp57] This sort of believer can say, "The Bible is certain no matter what change and complexity we face." But this has surrendered the right to ask and doubt; inerrancy cannot be questioned or certitude fails. This courage is thus limited. It cannot face certain doubts. A consistent fundamentalist is limited in how far he or she can modify their paradigm for understanding the world.
Fundamentalism is the key reason for Creation Science. People are afraid they will lose God if they accept evolution. It would mean accepting that he scriptures are not inerrant. They are not able to make the distinction between how natural processes work, and what might be at the back of them. It is too risky. I've already said in these letters that creation science is about theology, not science. It is not just about theology, but a particular kind of theology. It is theology that is afraid of the world, and scared of losing God. It is a theology that lacks courage.