|Illustration by DonkeyHotey.|
By Gayatri Devi
There is an appeal to creationism for certain people: it lies in the ability to submit to a myth without reflection, debate or real understanding. But the ultimate goal in promoting it as a point of legitimate pedagogical inquiry appears to be to coerce the obedience of a superstitious civic collective under a socially and politically regressive leadership.
And it’s being used in this election cycle to counter intellectual and academic freedom in educational institutions.
Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson have both expressed their support of creationism and denial of evolution, with Carson attributing the teachings of evolution to “the Adversary”, Satan. Carson has promised that, if he becomes president, he will make the US Department of Education withdraw federal funding from institutions that show “extreme political bias”.
Carson’s example of “extreme political bias”? A lone professor who asked students to write “Jesus” on a sheet of paper and stomp on it. Carson failed to add to his inflammatory account that the professor used the exercise to prove to his communication students that stomping on the word “Jesus” would be a marked example of a failed intercultural communication strategy.
There are legitimate ways to discuss the Bible critically and aesthetically; in the academic context, that can take the form of courses in literature, philosophy, comparative religion and even law. Like other scriptures, Biblical stories are exemplary texts of literature that promise many benefits for the alert reader. But there is no valid reason to use creationism where more rigorous methods of scientific inquiry are superior.
The Republican presidential candidates’ public obsession with creationism, though, isn’t really about education. It’s about cementing their Christian credentials with the influential evangelical voting bloc by announcing their opposition to all that is not heterosexual, Christian and not “speaking American” – whatever that means.
It can be a winning strategy: a 2014 Gallup poll showed that 42% of Americans believe that God created human beings in their present form 10,000 years ago. And a 2014 Pew Research Center poll of American voting behavior found that 78% of white evangelicals voted for Republican candidates, while only 20% voted for Democratic candidates.
The Republican obsequiousness to creationist philosophy might not be so much anti-science as good politics: being pro-creationism often appears to be pandering to a conservative base – a way to whip up intellectually regressive policies to win the “culture wars” and, more importantly, elections.
However, while the rightwing secret handshake of creationism may appeal to a certain base, the future president will have to represent a vast, heterogeneous population in an increasingly globalized world. Letting go of the false sense of superiority – of religion, race, sexual orientation, nationality – might prove to be a decent first step in speaking to the world, and having the world listen in.