I was a Teenage Creationist: Field Notes on the Culture War

When I was very young, science was incredible to me. I watched Bill Nye whenever I could, which was almost never—thanks, baby sister of yesteryear. At one point I heard you could watch him on the World Wide Web, so I begged my Dad to let me try. We sat waiting while our 56K modem struggled to load a full ten minutes of Bill Nye. After an hour of my Dad being bored stiff and me vibrating out of my seat, the video finished loading. We pressed play, and got an error message.

That was the saddest moment of my young life.

The next morning, I got up early, dressed in a button-down shirt, and rode to church. It didn't occur to me that this might be a contradiction, liking and trusting in science and religion at the same time. I didn't bother thinking about the origin of species too much. It seemed boring. Besides, my Mom had taught me that God made everything in six days. I had no reason to doubt her—she had taught me to read, and I tested as reading at a college level. (This was supposed to be impressive, I gathered.) It was probably something I would understand as I grew older. Like the magazine covers I wasn't supposed to read.


I was a Teenage Creationist: Field Notes on the Culture War

As I grew, I was homeschooled through Elementary, occasionally dropping in public schools for half a year when my Mom got pregnant. I remember the science books getting suddenly boring at about third grade. They were filled with more facts, but no story. I remember wondering if all science was just accruing arcana. (I was still flexing my reading muscles.)


I was a Teenage Creationist: Field Notes on the Culture War

I entered public school again as I started middle school. After my parents had a close scare with me almost going on a reproductive biology field trip, I was enrolled in a Christian private school. My classes were in trailers and satellite chapels surrounded by overgrown fields where we would play soccer. I remember the day when Evolution first came up. All of a sudden, students were outspoken in how stupid Evolution was. They called Darwin dumb, recited strange new arguments, and spoke more words than the entire year up to that point. The teacher said little of consequence. When I got home, I parroted their words to my parents, who nodded sagely, and smiled.

But that didn't make sense. Why did we talk about Evolution so much if it was so obviously wrong? Why do people believe it? Every science thing I could pick up seemed to have something against Evolution. There was a box of strange science things the teacher let me look at, filled with notes about Mayans, Aliens, and Evolution—a Baptist History channel. But we didn't talk about Aliens nearly as much as Evolution. I wanted to be interested in science, but it seemed... boring. And wrong. Just to be interested felt wrong.


I was a Teenage Creationist: Field Notes on the Culture War

High School brought some changes. For one, we could choose the classes we wanted to take. I decided, Freshman year, I was going to take AP Physics. That seemed fun, and not wrong. But at this school, to get into AP Physics, you needed a B on AP Chemistry. And to get into AP Chemistry, you needed a B in AP Biology. And to get into AP Biology, you needed an A in Honors Biology. So to get into AP Physics, you needed to plan out your whole science career meandering through unrelated courses. Just about all the students complained that this made no sense, but the Administration had just completed a brand new campus, so they didn't listen. In retrospect, that's exactly like my college experience.

So I hunkered down in Honors Bio, listening to a shorter, more robotic version of Bill Nye. I didn't remember Bill being so unenthusiastic, though. Or so focused on how to debunk Evolution—strategies for debunking Evolution, rhetorical techniques, etc. Then in AP Bio, I hunkered down harder, under an even more depressing teacher. But the work and lectures were both awful, so my grades suffered. I figured that was probably it for science and me.

I transferred into a very small Charter school at the end of that year, and finally took AP Physics. I fell in love with it. It all hung together, and I could do things with it. I was solving real problems, making real predictions, even measuring things. All of these were major revelations.


I was a Teenage Creationist: Field Notes on the Culture War

Image by Derek Chatwood.

What I didn't like was the people. Instead of the usual, comforting arguments based on theology, I entered a seemingly anarchic society, where arguments would develop from nowhere. While there was a sizable Christian contingent, they almost never engaged, so atheists and Unitarians dominated the landscape. As a trained creationist, I could wade into the battle, trading arguments with ease, but I just didn't want to. In my previous school, arguments quickly became a pile-on of students ganging up on the infidel—here, it was more gang fight. And I didn't have a gang.

So I kept my mouth shut, as my cognitive dissonance grew. I loved science. I loved my religion, too. But all about me were insular in-groups—Christians rejecting Evolution and what "those Scientists" say, and atheists poo-pooing all religions as trite fairy-tales or, at best, using them as toothless platitudes—that said I had to choose one or the other, at the risk of being wrong and dumb. It was like a teenage love triangle between me and two metaphysical concepts, except with even less sex. We're talking makes-Twilight-seem-like-an-orgy levels of sex.


I was a Teenage Creationist: Field Notes on the Culture War

Here's the thing: Creationism isn't a fundamental tenet of Christianity. It's not even in the top 50. The only reason it's taken so much importance is because it's a cultural marker. If you believe in Creationism and can defend it, you're likely a "good Christian." This has very little to do with actually being a good Christian, mind. It's a measure of how well you fit into the honor culture that sits in modern churches like an Asherah pole.

On the other hand, the religious have been involved in science since the studies were formalized. In the past, religious sentiments would sit in scientific publications without the hint of dissonance. Galileo was religious, as was Ibn Sahl. I can't speak to why ridiculing the religious is a plank of certain groups, because I've never been part of them. Maybe someone else can.

This is the part where I should give something specific we can do to resolve this problem of Creationism. But I don't have a magic bullet. What I can do is talk about what helped me.

The religious aren't going to give up their religion, for the most part. Religion gives comfort, community, support, and occasionally motivates people to do good things. Even ridiculing young Earth creationists is difficult for me, when my father, my sister, my brother all believe in YEC. Rather, pointing out that science and religion aren't actually in that much opposition might be better. Talking about something exciting in science is likely to at least get you some polite respect. If you do get them excited, then they might get charged up to do some research, even if it's just Wikipedia research. If people get involved without getting defensive, that's a good start.

Also, for those of us who are Christian and pro-science, we need to talk about this to people around us. One of the most difficult things for me, in working out my beliefs, was not having a pro-science Christian around. It's mainly on us to show how religion vs science is a false dichotomy. Debates like Ken Ham vs Bill Nye are going to happen without us—we have to go outside these publicized encounters and show that there is a third way.


I was a Teenage Creationist: Field Notes on the Culture War

The most convincing thing that happened to me was in a church. During worship, I prayed about Creationism. I was praying for something irrefutable, because it had become clear to me that all my arguments were based on fallacies. But how could I believe in Evolution when I believed so strongly in God? Suddenly, a profound sense of peace came over me, and I realized I could believe in both. I was walking on air for the rest of the week—no more cognitive dissonance, no more need to defend Creationism. I was free.

Thanks for reading! Here's a song as a reward.