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The Moralistic Foundations of Creationism

David Rand

Most critics of creationism ignore or underestimate a major aspect of this ideology: the moralistic attitude which supports it. Creationism identifies morality with a hypothetical creator. Atheophobia is thus a pillar of creationism.

This is an English translation and adaptation of an article which appeared in No. 11 of Cité laïque, humanist journal of the Mouvement laïque québécois (MLQ: Quebec Secular Movement).
References are given between square brackets, thus : [Author]



Every secular humanist and atheist activist recognizes the danger represented by the ideology of creationism promoted by fundamentalist Christians, Muslims and others. This ideology denies the evolution of species, a scientific fact which is solidly based and the foundation of all the biological sciences. See, for example, the article "Le créationnisme : masque de la droite religieuse, menace pour la laïcité"[Loignon], by Guillaume Loignon, which focuses especially on the situation in the United States. Creationist movements are also active in Quebec, Canada, Australia, England, Turkey, and elsewhere.

Most critics of creationism ignore or underestimate a major aspect of this ideology: the moralistic attitude which supports it. The central importance of the moral question is obvious if one consults creationist literature available on line.

Hard-Line Creationists

Answers in Genesis (AiG) is an American Christian organization which is hard-line creationist, i.e. it promotes young-earth creationism (claiming that the earth's age is several thousand years at most) and holds that the bible is literally and absolutely true. Its declaration of faith [AiG] asserts that nonbelievers "are subject to everlasting conscious punishment." According to its president Ken Ham, Darwinism is a major cause of bad behaviour of pupils in public schools because they are taught, through the theory of evolution, that they are only animals [Ham]. In the journal Creation, published by AiG, Steve Cardno puts forward the notion that morality without belief in the creator is impossible because love, kindness and all things good emanate from "God" [Cardno]. Darwinism, because it lacks the concepts of good and evil, leaves the door wide open to general impunity, violent crime, murder and the worst atrocities such as Naziism. In the pages of the same journal, the Australian doctor John Rendle-Short declares that "God endues man with some of his divine attributes, thereby separating and making him different from the beasts." [Rendle-Short]

The Discovery Instititute (DI) is a think tank of the fundamentalist Christian American right which promotes neocreationism, that is intelligent design (ID). Benjamin Wiker, senior fellow of the DI, subscribes to the Thomist theory of "natural law" [Wiker1] which holds that human beings are distinct from all other animals "since they are made in the image of God." He asserts [Wiker2] that morality originates in the creator of the universe, and that the success of Darwinism implies the death of morality. Furthermore, the distinction between male and female is also "divinely ordained" in his opinion, and modern society, by flouting that distinction, has "moved beyond perversion to cosmological rebellion." Dr. Jonathan Wells is also a senior fellow of the DI and member of the Unification Church (the Moonies). In a commentary [Wells] on a debate in 2002 between two creationists and two opponents, Wells associates the theory of evolution with Naziism and makes the remark that, after such contact with evolutionists, he generally feels the need to take a shower.

Muslim creationism, which has been greatly aided by American Christian creationists, is very mainstream in Turkey and arguably more popular than science. The Turkish Muslim preacher Harun Yahya (whose real name is apparently Adnan Oktar) is behind the so-called "Atlas of Creation", a lavishly illustrated volume which denounces evolution as a huge lie and was widely distributed, for free, in France [Perrier]. Yahya identifies the Darwinian "religion" with Stalinism, Naziism, terrorism, antisemitism, indeed with all possible worldly evils because, he says, all that is good comes from the supernatural being that allegedly created the universe and animal species, this creator being the god of those religions known as "of the Book", especially the god of the quran. Unbelief, according to Yahya, not only causes the moral degradation of human beings [Yahya], but also stress very detrimental to physical health.

On the web site of the Association de science créationniste du Québec (ASCQ, Quebec Creation Science Association), we find several articles in a similar vein, many translated from originals available elsewhere in English. In one article, Albert Mohler asserts that "The evolutionary worldview of Darwinism, based in purely materialistic and naturalistic explanations of all phenomena, leaves no room for transcendent meaning, human dignity, morality, or hope." [Mohler]. In "The Effect of Darwinism on Morality and Christianity," Jerry Bergman is even more categorical: "As a result of the widespread acceptance of Darwinism, the Christian moral basis of society was undermined." Furthermore, "Darwinists have indoctrinated our society for over 100 years in a worldview that has proven to be tragically destructive." [Bergman]

To sum up, a major preoccupation with the question of morality is evident in all of the above creationist statements. The possibility of a morality without god(s) is totally foreign to the creationist mentality. Thus, nonbelief and atheism, according to creationists, must necessarily lead to moral degradation. The popularity of creationism, especially in the United States and in Turkey, cannot be explained simply by a lack of scientific knowledge or culture. It is obvious that part of the persuasive power of creationism resides in the widely held notion that the "Creator" is the only foundation for morality and civilized society.

The More Moderate

Among religious believers considered moderate rather than fundamentalist, we find nevertheless a mentality which is closely related to that of anti-Darwinian creationism.

According to the Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor, winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize and copresident of the Quebec parliamentary commission which was appointed in 2007 to study the issue of so-called reasonable accommodation, belief in god is the basis of moral principles. He rejects the rationalism of the Enlightenment which, according to his interpretation, swept away all morality and all spirituality as obsolete and anachronistic [Templeton]. In the introduction to his latest book, A Secular Age [Taylor], he ruminates: "I may find it inconceivable that I would abandon my faith, but there are others, including possibly some very close to me, whose way of living I cannot in all honesty just dismiss as depraved, or blind, or unworthy, who have no faith (at least not in God or the transcendent)." Thus Taylor admits -- but only with excruciating reluctance -- that nonbelievers may not be totally depraved.

The John Templeton Foundation takes a position somewhere between fundamentalism and moderation, having certain links with the intelligent design movement, but without being explicitly anti-Darwinian. Several evangelical preachers have been the lucky recipients of its generous funding. The Foundation's mission statement encourages scientists to adopt the concept of a "Universal Spirit" and uses language replete with moral concepts such as love, forgiveness and self-discipline. Thus, the Foundation implicitly associates morality with the creator of the universe.

According to Monseigneur Gilles Cazabon, president of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec, theology and morality are two inseparable aspects of the Christian way of being [Cazabon]. For Cazabon, the Thomist principle of "natural moral law" of divine origin is an integral part of Catholic dogma.

Even deists such as Voltaire and Jefferson held that moral principles had a divine origin. Indeed, deism was born of the desire to abandon the revelation dogma of theism but without adopting atheism, because the deists maintained the belief that a divine system of rewards and punishments was necessary for civilized society. Thus, the deists maintained the cornerstone of the very religions they claimed to reject.

In fact, morality is a major preoccupation of theistic and deistic religions in general, all of which maintain that moral principles are founded in their respective god(s), thus choosing to ignore the possibility of the development of such principles among animals (including the human animal) during the long ages of prehistory. It is therefore clear that fundamentalists and moderates share a common moralistic ideology which leads almost inevitably to the denigration of nonbelievers. I suggest the expression moralistic creationism or deistic creationism to describe the thesis of a supernatural origin of morality.

Just What is a "Creationist"?

Literally, the word "creationism" refers simply to the hypothesis of the existence of a creator. In this sense, every theist and every deist is a creationist. But in general parlance, the term is reserved for those who deny Darwinism. If the former meaning is considered too general, the latter is, in my opinion, too restrictive. Given the capital importance of morality in this debate, I maintain that the label "creationist" can legitimately be applied to any individual who promotes moralistic creationism and who draws atheophobic conclusions from it, associating atheism with moral degradation. Hence it follows that every theist and every deist is a creationist except for those who accept that morality is a human phenomenon which is innate to human beings in general, including atheists.

Furthermore, it should be observed that the evolutionary creationism to which the Vatican and others subscribe -- i.e. the thesis that the divinity is responsible for having put in motion and guided the process of evolution -- is merely a variant of moralistic creationism.

We are NOT Creationists, Goddamit!

Relevant to this issue is a brief text [Arsac_et_al], published on the web site of the Templeton Foundation, which promotes a so-called "open-minded" approach to science and admonishes scientists not to "abandon metaphysical and spiritual reflection." This document is apparently a reaction to the publication of the book Intrusions spiritualistes et impostures intellectuelles en sciences (Spiritualist Intrusions and Intellectual Deceptions in Science) [Dubessy_Lecointre] and reflects the approach followed in the collective work Science et Quête de sens (Science and the Quest for Meaning) [Staune] which attempts to reconcile science and religion. It is signed by some 15 scientists, among them Mario Beauregard, neurologist at the Université de Montréal, known for his work on religious experience and his deistic interpretation of the results. In this document, we read:

"The term creationist should only be used to describe those people who deny a common ancestor to all the main forms of life on earth or who deny that evolution led the original forms of life to present day beings. If we don’t apply this rigour regarding the use of these terms, all Jewish, Muslim, Christian or Deist scientists could be described as Creationist because they believe in a creating principle."

The signatories thus insist on the currently accepted restrictive use of the word "creationist." In so doing, they give a negative answer to a very important question which they have not fully articulated: Is it legitimate to use this term to describe anyone who believes in the existence of a creator? In my opinion, it is entirely proper to classify as creationist any person who refuses to recognize the human origins of morality. The signatories of the document [Arsac_et_al] want to have their cake and eat it too, promoting the idea of a "creating principle" without identifying as creationists. Furthermore, the atheophobic theory of the divine origin of morality, like the theory of creation of species, contradicts Darwinism if we take into account the young science of evolutionary psychology.

In fact, every variant of creationism should be considered anti-scientific or, at least, unscientific or prescientific, even in the absence of alternative explanations, because the creation hypothesis is entirely gratuitous, without the slightest shred of evidence to support it. Furthermore, the hypothesis of a creator merely raises more questions -- such as the nature of the creator, his/her/its origins, etc. -- which are even more difficult and thorny than those which the hypothesis purports to answer. The moralistic variant of creationism presents yet another problem, unsolved since the time of Socrates who was apparently the first to formulate it: if morality comes from the divinity, is an action moral because it conforms to divine will, or is it moral in and of itself? In the first case, moral criteria are based on nothing more than the whim of god, and in the second, they are independent of god.


Creationism strongly identifies moral principles with a hypothetical creator, and this attitude leads readily to the stigmatization of nonbelief. Atheophobia, that is the theory that atheism leads necessarily to moral degradation, is thus a pillar of anti-Darwinian creationism. When opposing creationists in public debate, it is essential that this ancient prejudice be challenged, all the more so because it is widely held in the general public.

Unfortunately, the defenders of Darwinism who are themselves believers often adopt an ambiguous approach. Francis M. Collins is head of the human genome project (National Center for Human Genome Research, NCHGR). Although he opposes anti-Darwinian creationism, Collins is of the opinion that evolution must be directed by god, holds that a universal "moral law" distinguishes humans from other animals and believes that that law is of divine origin [Collins]. Evidently, his position is indistinguishable from moralistic creationism and thus lends credit and support to the very creationists whom he claims to oppose.

I am not suggesting that we should abandon the strategy of refuting the anti-evolutionist biological pseudo-arguments put forward by creationists. The work of refuting pseudoscience is essential and must continue. Nevertheless, we must not neglect the key issue of morality. When faced with an audience of anti-Darwinist believers, before presenting a pile of scientific publications in support of Darwinism, it might be more effective to show video images of altruistic behaviour among primates, in order to illustrate that, in the final analysis, being "only" an animal is perhaps not as depraved as they might think.

Indeed, the public in general need to be made aware of this issue. Given that most hard-line creationists will probably never change their opinion, we must seek ways of weakening the effects of their propaganda by attacking moralistic creationism, even among those who accept the evolution of species. Atheophobia is unacceptable wherever it may rear its ugly head.

If, against all odds, we attempt to convince anti-Darwinian creationists of the falsehood of their views, it is not enough to reassure them that one may accept evolution without rejecting one's religion, as if that were the only reasonable choice, as if religion and science were perfectly reconcilable. Yes, this choice is possible, but it is also possible that a full understanding of the profound implications of the biological sciences may lead the believer to lose completely his or her religious faith. And if so, is that really such a horrible thing? If a believer really thinks that becoming a nonbeliever is a totally repugnant idea, that implies that he or she is still enslaved to a nasty old prejudice of which every civilized person should want to be freed.

Former creationists who acquire a good comprehension of evolution may opt for a revised version of their religious faith which is more tolerant of nonbelievers and more compatible with scientific knowledge. Or, they may go a little bit further and become agnostics or atheists. Ultimately it is up to each individual to decide. It is a matter of freedom of conscience.