For Creationists, Intellectual Inquiry is a Sin

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern comments about a new HBO documentary, Questioning Darwin:

The Cruelty of Creationism.

Intellectual freedom is one of humanity’s greatest gifts—and biggest burdens. Our ability to ask questions, to test ideas, to doubt is what separates us from our fellow animals. But doubt can be as terrifying as it is liberating. And it’s the terror of doubt that fosters the toxic, life-negating cult of creationism.

That fear is on full display throughout HBO’s new documentary Questioning Darwin, which features a series of intimate interviews with biblical fundamentalists. Creationism, the documentary reveals, isn’t a harmless, compartmentalized fantasy. It’s a suffocating, oppressive worldview through which believers must interpret reality — and its primary target is children. For creationists, intellectual inquiry is a sin, and anyone who dares to doubt the wisdom of their doctrine invites eternal damnation. That’s the perverse brilliance of creationism, the key to its self-perpetuation: First it locks kids in the dungeon of ignorance and dogmatic fundamentalism. Then it throws away the key.

It’s not about the evidence of course; it’s about the fear that, unless one is living in a magical world dreamed into existence and ruled by a god, there are no rules.

Humans must have been designed by God; if we weren’t, then we’re mere animals, lacking in morality and dignity, consigned to a pitiful and pointless life of struggle and dolor. Evolution, one true believer informs us, is “incompatible with biblical Christianity” because it recognizes the permanence of death and leaves no room for a second coming. Creationists are consumed by repressing the existential panic that often attends acceptance of reality. Instead of confronting that terror, they’ve retreated into an elaborate fantasy.

A world view that abnegates our [presumably God-given] ability to think and reason.

This view isn’t benign or wacky: It’s poisonous and medieval. Creationists reject not just evolution but most of the Enlightenment and pretty much all intellectual development since. Rather than celebrate the brilliance of the human mind, they disparage free thought as dangerous and sinful. Instead of extolling the virtues of creativity and imagination, they malign all unorthodox ideas as immoral and wicked. For all creationists’ insistence that evolution denigrates humanity, creationism is fundamentally anti-human, commanding us to spurn our own logic and cognition in favor of absurd sophism derived from a 3,000-year-old text. It turns our greatest ability—to reason—into our greatest enemy. Using our brains, according to creationism, will lead us to sin; only mindless piety can keep us on the track to salvation.

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