Why Creationisn (and Intelligent Design, ugh) Bug the Hell Outta Me
A journey of self-analyzation
I have noticed that I tend to get more riled up over creationism than most people. This is in spite of the fact that I tend to walk in pretty intellectual circles. Even my casual friends who have no connection to me through academia, are nonetheless all highly intelligent people. Yet, even against a backdrop of such impressive mental aptitude, I still find that I am comparatively more irked by the creationism movement than most of the people I interact with on a routine basis. This essay attempts to determine why that is.
Wow if creationism doesn't make my skin crawl. I can feel my frustration physically in my body, it is a real kind of stress. Why? Is it that I fear that our country is on a downward slide from greatness. Sure, but is that it? Is it that so many people promoting creationism just don't seem have own interests at heart? Well, that isn't helping, but does that fully explain my frustration? Looking back on this essay after having written it, I have finally discovered the answer. I must admit, I did not know the answer when I began. This essay was a self-exploration for the answer to the original question, and the answer, the final answer after all other answers, turned out to be enormous. It is no small reason that I have discovered for why creationism consumes my thoughts at times. It was, in fact, something of a revelation. This essay presents that journey in relatively unedited form. It rambles a bit, it follows a path of inquiry instead of organizing a preconceived argument in conceptual chunks. I beg your patience with its possibly laborious garden-path style. The conclusion at the end is quite remarkable, but I urge you not to skip ahead for it will weaken the final impact.
This essay is an attempt on my part to explain why this issue drives me absolutely positively bonkers. This essay is explicitly not an attempt to justify my position on evolution or to argue against any claim of creationism's truth or to otherwise engage in any debate between these two radically different views of the natural world. Rather, the purpose is merely to explain (as much to myself as to anyone else) why I am so exceedingly frustrated by the whole thing while most people appear to be more willing to take it all in stride.
Why "Believing" in Evolution Sounds Ridiculous to Me
First off, I want to make one thing clear. I don't believe in evolution. I admit it readily. Quote me to your heart's content, whether in or out of context is your own moral demon to face, but I don't believe in evolution. I have trouble explicitly defining the word "believe" so I must resort to analogy. For example, I don't believe in fairies, Bigfoot, or the Loch Ness monster. I don't believe in magic (I'll come back to this one a lot in this essay). I don't believe in astrology, tea-leaf or palm reading, or magnetic crystal aura power. Importantly, I don't believe in an external reality outside our own physical experience, including whatever supernatural, magical, spiritual, or divine realm the multitude of history's gods reside in.
I describe my view of evolution as an understanding, not a belief. That is, when put in sentence form, I don't say "I believe in evolution" (it sounds strange to me to even write it here). I say "I understand evolution". Clearly, I don't understand every detail since it is an ongoing field of study, but I understand the gist of it, and have a reasonable command of the larger issues involved. Likewise, I don't really accept other people's statements that they don't believe in evolution. I think that is a misnomer. What they mean to say, although few people would admit it, is that they don't understand evolution. They might think they understand it, but it is quite telling that many of the arguments creationists make against evolution consist of first defining evolution in their own terms and then explaining why evolution cannot possibly be true according to the definition they are using -- but they invariably use the wrong definition. In other words, no one believes in the evolution they are describing, not one scientist would claim to agree with the definition of evolution they are attacking.
Such people's view of evolution is not really one of disbelief, it is one of ignorance or even outright error. Such people simply never learned much about evolution, and worse, they explicitly did learn things which were completely erroneous. No one expects anyone to accept evolution as it is often viewed by creationists.
So I don't believe in evolution, but I do understand it.
Why Do I Care What Other People Think
It is pretty obvious why many religious people want everyone else to agree that their religion is the one true path and that all other lines of inquiry must be abandoned. They believe in palpable unmitigated evil, a magical force steered by the most abominable being ever conceived, the pure and raw devil himself. More so, they believe that anyone who disagrees with them is following the devil on a leash. Clearly, such behavior cannot go unchallenged. Furthermore, they genuinely believe in both heaven and hell, and in what I must admit is a partially magnanimous move, they want to scoop up as many folks into the heaven bucket as possible. So, it is easy to understand the motivations of religious people who care so passionately about other people who disagree with them (disregarding for the moment that there isn't one fleck of intelligent reasoning to support the myriad superstitions on which such attitudes wholly depend).
...but the question is, why do I care so much? After all, I honestly don't believe that anyone who agrees with me will benefit in heaven or have the fabulous opportunity to regret their disagreement with me in hell. In fact, pretty much by definition, I don't even believe in consciousness after death, so whatever my reasoning is, it must be soundly focused on effects that are realized in the real world of which we are all a part each and every day. My motivation must derive from a desire to live in a particular kind of society which I find most likely to occur if beliefs like creationism are minimal and scientific understanding is maximal.
Now, as I write this, I realize that the main point has not yet been hit. It is not merely a generalized concept of societal scientific literacy that I desire. I am pursuing something of greater philosophical significance. What I want people to realize is that a materialistic and functionalistic view of nature is not only the most rational perspective to hold (by far), but of equal import, that such a view does not suffer in one bit from the accusations often leveled against it. Such claims are, for example, that life under such a philosophy must inevitably become hollow and meaningless, that passion dies, motivation and drive wither, morality becomes capricious, and humanity falls from spiritual Eloish grace to brutish Morlockish beasthood. These are the fears of people who believe in true and utter magic, supernatural indomitable godly powers that pervade existence above the level of course molecules.
Physicality So Hideous
Religious people often talk as if the physical world is just repulsive. It's all so gooey and crude, and the devil spends every moment trying to drag us down into the mud. Surely there must be an abstraction of love and beauty that transcends all the dirt and rocks and worms all the other other gooey things, and surely humans are part of that transcendence, we aren't just -- yuck -- animals! Spiritualism is sold like the ultimate bleach, no stain of sin can tarnish its seraphic luster. This is the residence of gods and angels, the abode of the soul -- this is where our minds live. Never mind the brain, a mere physical object. Our spiritual essence cannot possibly derive from a tangible thing for god's sake, that's just too dirty a suggestion.
This repulsion with nature is the crux of the problem. Creationism, as front-and-center as it is presented, is but a by-product of the real problem. Millions of people (billions I shudder?) are repulsed to the point of nausea at the slightest suggestion that everything we see might be everything there is to see. Somehow, the ideas that the universe exists by rational causes and that our minds are the result of a process of interconnected activity of billions of neurons are taken as blatant insults to the supremacy of the creator and the majesty of the human condition. It isn't merely that religious people find it hard to believe or accept or conceptualize these ideas, that would be a more rational perspective. No, they are vividly incensed at the notion. I have trouble understanding the source of this perspective, but it must somehow hark back to the previous paragraph -- physicality just seems icky to religious people. They want to feel pure and perfect and...well...clean I suppose...and this they do not see in the physical world, for reasons I have never quite fathomed.
Many a religious person would interrupt at this point to illuminate my error. They aren't repulsed by nature, they are awed by it, I got it all wrong. Yeah, well, they can say they're awed by the beauty of nature all they want, but that doesn't negate the repeated examples of religious people getting kinetically animated at the suggestion that they actually have a grandmother (of sorts) in common with a monkey at the zoo, much less a caterpillar, or a Willow tree (which for some retrograde reason seems to disturb them less than the monkey). Their response to such notions betrays their counter-argument. They are not merely in disagreement while clutching reverent awe at the magnificence of nature. No, they are positively disgusted, you can see it on their faces. Likewise for the hair of a thought of a possibility that the mind derives wholly from the brain. The repulsion at such a proposal is veritable terror -- oh the hollowness of it all, the echoing chasm of inconsequentiality, you mean to say we're just physical things, like bricks and spoons and tire gauges and all that other stuff?! God no!
Physicality So Grand
...but how wrong they are to disparage nature as an oily film that must be washed away from the true purity of the spirit. How so wrong! I agree with religious people on one point. The human mind is a truly magnificent thing. It can't be summed up in a few short sentences without tripping over common platitudes: love, music, art, and the strange neurological condition known as "religious experience", which seems kinda like a morally sanctified mushroom trip as far as I can tell. I'm speaking of the breath-taking awe people feel when standing in the presence of a rust stain on the side of a building that resembles Mary's silhouette. I don't mean to trivialize it with a sarcastic example. There is a true phenomenological event going on when one has a religious experience. I've felt it myself a few times, an indescribable moment of sheer lucidity when the blinders of reality feel momentarily lifted.
At any rate, love, music, and religious drug trips are truly remarkable things, I couldn't agree more...but I part ways at the suggestion, nay, the conclusion, that such experiences must be taken as proof that the mind cannot proceed from the brain. This conclusion makes no sense to me.
I hear the religious people jumping in again to state that I've got it all wrong. They will insist that they are not merely impressed by seemingly nonphysical things such as love, but that they are truly shocked by the inexplicability of the physical world, that they have drawn religious conclusions specifically in response to the unfathomable beauty and immensity of the universe and the mind. Sure, I buy that, but that doesn't change the fact that I definitely go one or two steps further than they do. They stop short at the awe-inspiring realization that existence exists, take a moment to bask in the incredibleness of it all, and then switch tracks to their conclusive stance that it must all derive from a magical architect. Meanwhile I march forward along the original line of thinking. Yes, the universe is amazing, yes, the concept of existence is stunning, yes the mind is a magnificent phenomenon...and how much more glorious is it that it can all result from tangible forces, that nature is not merely a supernatural miracle that defies rational explanation. Supernatural explanations are far less incredible since they fail to reach the ultimate incredible conclusion: that all this crazy stuff around us might actually make sense!!! That is where awe steps off the train folks.
Try to picture what your brain is doing at this very moment. Imagine the inter-neuron connections, billions of them. Imagine the larger structures that organize the superficially apparent amorphous blob. See that there is a considerable amount of chaos in the brain's composition, but more amazingly, that there is a graspable, if loose, order governing the seeming spaghetti. Visualize the electrical and chemical bursts darting this way and that -- by the billions -- you can't see each jolt, they are too numerous. From a distance it must be seen as a hum of soft glowing activity permeating our visualization, never resting but never totally random either. Fathom the whole thing, for the briefest moment, see with clarity for the shortest tick of time, the fractal logic that makes it all work -- in other words, have a serving of religious experience on me. Can you see it? Can you feel, however fleetingingly, the grandeur of the human mind? Does it not bring you to the brink of tears to intuit you own mentality? For an instant you can grasp exactly how the whole thing works -- you can stand on the outside looking in and understand everything...and then it is gone.
Physicality is not hideous, it is the very spirituality that religious people so desperately seek, if only they will take a moment to see it displayed before them. To switch tracks to a magical explanation robs oneself of the opportunity to experience true Nirvana. I implore you, try one more time.
It may seem like I have ventured pretty far away from my opening topic -- why creationism drives me so much buggier than my fellow compatriots of rationalism, but I believe I have actually discovered the answer along the way. Creationism is not the problem, it is the symptom (one of many), and the underlying problem probably doesn't bother other people as much as it bothers me. The root of it all is not a disagreement over whether evolution is valid or whether it would be a good or a bad thing if the entire world converged on a homogenous religious belief, these are side-issues. When it comes down to it, I am the staunchest of defenders of physical material functional reality...and what bothers me is that billions of people viscerally believe in magic. Call it what you want -- supernaturalism, spirituality, religion, god, angels, miracles, souls, good and evil, the devil, heaven, hell, kharma, reincarnation, psychic ability, palm-reading, astrology, resurrection, virgin birth, prayer -- any number of beliefs best defined as a direct opposition to the fathomable logical forces at work in the natural world, i.e., magic. It bothers me that people believe in magic. That is the plain and simple explanation for why creationism drives me battier than most other people. I simply have no tolerance for a belief in magic.
But that simply begs the next question. I have solved why creationism bugs me, because it requires magic...but why does magic bug me? This is where the rubber meets the road. Here is the answer of my original question. Belief in magic abrogates even the opportunity to study and attempt to comprehend the world which surrounds us. It is the path to infinite ignorance, and I want to know and to understand absolutely everything, and I do mean everything. An appeal to magic is an unraveling of my most fundamental drive -- to fully understand positively every single thing there is to know and understand about the nature of nothing less than very existence itself.
I want to understand. Do you?
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