Paul Braterman, who blogs at Eat your Brains Out, is asking why there are still creationists. I’ve been thinking about that and find it a difficult question to answer, not being one. It’s a bit like asking me to imagine being French, or a woman, or a Tory – all of which are, no doubt, splendiferous and wonderful existences for the people who are those things. But I’m not French, or a woman, or a Tory, and I can’t imagine myself being so. Except … I was a creationist once. And this is why.
I grew up in a single-parent family in which my mother was a practising Catholic. We as kids were taken to church and I remember every boring minute of the 45 it took each Sunday to get through mass. And no, I never did work out what I was supposed to do when the bells rang. I got out of it as soon as I could, which was about the age of twelve, and enjoyed having Sundays for the more edifying pursuits of walking along the river, or into the woods, or hanging around with my mates.
Through my secondary school years I flirted on and off with Christianity and eventually got involved with a local chapel of the Plymouth Brethren, who were generally decent, kind and nice people who took an interest in a lad who was taking a bit of an interest in them. From there, I got involved in the charismatic house-church movement and was pretty hard-core as a Christian from about the age of 16.
Being hard-core meant, essentially, being more fundamental and biblical in what I believed. Not more me the accommodationist positions taken by the more established churches when it came to origins of the universe and human beings. Being able to build my beliefs about origins, sin, salvation, the holy spirit and the next world on what the bible said was the badge of my commitment as a Christian. That gave me affirmation amongst my church group and felt like a mark of spiritual authenticity – of strength of faith and therefore proof of the reality of what I affirmed, even.
I remember going to school on the bus one morning, reading a fabulous and groovy new Christian magazine for teens, called Buzz. I don’t know where it came from, but it was very fundy in its outlook and its attitudes. Women were portrayed as Jezebels who would lead young men astray and lure them into sex (if only!). And there was one of those articles which laid out the young-Earth creationist argument; basically ignoring the last 150 years of geological, physical and biological sciences. And because I was hard-core and wanted to prove my Christian credentials, I swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
And this is a thing: because faith requires you to believe a whole set of things without evidence, claims from sympathetic sources about the world, particularly if they are based on your own world-view, are easy to assimilate into your faith position. And, if they apparently reinforce and enrich that position by providing evidence of the outworking of god’s will in the physical universe, so much the better for faith. And believing stuff that your mates don’t can be very empowering when you’re generally otherwise Billy-no-mates.
All of this coincided with our A-level biology class being taught evolution by a kind and enthusiastic botanist, Mr Monkcom. And I remember, with vivid clarity to this day, writing The Theory of Evolution as the header in my notebook, little knowing thereby just how much I priggishly revealed my scientific ignorance.
So, Paul, that’s why this man, as a youth, was a creationist. Perhaps one day I’ll write about the journey from the darkness of religious unreality into the light of this unique and extraordinary reality, but not tonight.
And, Mr Monkcom, it’s almost certainly too late for me to apologise to you, but I do.