Friday, 3 June 2011

Tales from a former creationist

First-ever guest post. You might be tempted to think people are -reading- this thing. Many thanks to @CommonDescent.

I talk with some pretty interesting people on twitter. One of these is the author of this post, who holds a degree in biology and evolutionary theory and is now a science teacher. I follow a number of science-educated types, and love seeing the perspective of those who are more learned on the topic than I am.

So imagine my surprise when I saw Common Descent say that he had, in the fairly recent past, been a staunch creationist. The topic was too good to pass up; as I've said before, I have a lot of trouble understanding the mindset, so the chance to quiz someone who can speak my language seemed like gold. We had a brief conversation, and he agreed to write up his experiences in discarding creationism for science. Without further ado, then:

The evolution / creationism debate has been of great interest to me for several years now. I feel that I have a unique perspective on it because I’ve been on both sides. As pro-evolution as I am now, there was a time when I was just as adamantly against it. The magnitude of a change like this is interesting to some people, and that’s why I’m writing this blog post. I met the author of this blog on Twitter, where I routinely tweet about creationism and occasionally debate the topic. I mentioned how I used to be a creationist on there and was asked to write about it in more detail. So here’s my story.

I’ll start out by describing what I used to be. I first learned of evolution my junior year of high school, in AP biology. Up until then I hadn’t thought much about it, but I held the view that it wasn’t true. My family never discussed the issue, but we went to a fundamentalist church that held a literal view of the bible. The church itself never mentioned the issue from the pulpit but sometimes it would come up in bible class. I had one teacher in particular who told us about the Flood, creation, and how it all could have happened. We were always told that it was literally true. So that was my foundation heading into biology class.

I remember being fascinated with natural selection when I first learned about it, because it was so simple. It made so much sense and also explained a lot of things. This got me more interested in evolution, even though I thought it was wrong. Natural selection intrigued me to do more research on evolution. Somehow I ended up on the website of Answers in Genesis, the headquarters for young-earth creationism. I was amazed that they had an answer for every topic imaginable. I began reading through their archives until I felt that I had a good grasp on things. AiG shaped my views on evolution, astronomy, geology, and many other scientific topics. They made things seem easily explainable, and I was comfortable with their teachings. My senior year of high school, I did an informative speech on creation/evolution. I presented both sides fairly, but I definitely had a personal opinion.

This takes me up to college. I remember repeating some of the common creationist talking points. I discussed with a friend how microevolution is obvious, but species don’t change to other species. I believed that God created genetic diversity that accumulated mutations over time (creationists refer to “kinds” here). I told people that creationists and evolutionists all used the same data, but just interpreted it differently. I felt superior when textbooks referred to any uncertainty as to how life began. I was certain, even if they weren’t.

But college was when I began to change. I started to test ideas that I had been taught at home. If they were still good, I’d keep them. If they weren’t, I’d make my own opinions. This started with politics but eventually spread to religion, and thus, creationism. Shortly before college, I read Richard Dawkins’ “The Blind Watchmaker”, mainly because it was about natural selection and that topic had interested me so much. The book didn’t change my mind, but there were parts of it that made a lot of sense to me. One example is when he explains that a partial structure is better than anything less than it. Half a wing is better than 40% of a wing. Creationists often ask “what good is half an eye?” or something to that effect. That became a non-issue for me.

To get to the point, the way that I left creationism was through opening my mind and doing a lot of reading. My willingness to accept that I might be wrong led to me realizing that I actually was wrong. In addition to Dawkins, here are three more books that really helped me to understand that evolution is true: “Finding Darwin’s God” by Ken Miller, “Evolution: the Triumph of an Idea” by Carl Zimmer, and my evolution textbook written by Doug Futuyma. The textbook’s excellent description of transitional forms and their fossil evidence was the one moment when it finally clicked for me: all of this is true. It makes too much sense not to be. There are also some good websites for learning evolution, but Wikipedia alone is enough to make the case.

I want to finish with a few points. First, how did this affect my view of the bible? As I started to suspect that evolution was true, I began to try to twist the story of Genesis to include the science. I said that maybe Noah’s Flood was localized. I believed that Adam and Eve were the first humans that God gave a soul, and that the Genesis story picked up from there. But over time, I realized that it was too hard to make everything fit. If one side (science) is literally, objectively true and the other side (the Bible) can be interpreted many different ways, then it’s clear which side needs to change. When the Bible doesn’t match science, that’s the Bible’s problem. People who want to continue to follow the Bible have to decide for themselves how to reconcile that.

Lastly, a word to both sides. To those who accept evolution: Don’t give up on creationists. I spent a long time (too long, maybe) describing what I used to believe to show that it is indeed possible for someone that far in can still change. A majority of creationists will never change. But a few will. So don’t just assume they’re a lost cause. To creationists: don’t be afraid of the evidence. Truly look into it and read about it. If you want to be a creationist that’s your choice. Just don’t make it an uninformed decision. I’m doing fine after accepting evolution. I haven’t lost my morals or started acting like an animal or anything like that. I simply understand how the world works a little better. Keep an open mind and you may be surprised at what enters it: the truth. When you learn the reality of evolution you can then give up all the mental backflips required for creationism. It really does feel good to accept things as they really are.

Current status of the story: I have degrees in evolutionary biology and teaching, and am currently looking for a high school biology job. You won’t have to worry about creationism sneaking into my classroom.

Twitter: @CommonDescent

EDIT: Since I posted this, CD has created his own blog, which I'm sure will wind up full of interesting stuff. It can be found here. Enjoy!

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