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Creationism as a mental illness

Robert Rowland Smith asks if creationists are sane

Creationism as a mental illness

In Cockney rhyming slang, the word ‘believe' is represented by ‘Adam and Eve'. When faced with something baffling, shocking or plain peculiar, you might use the rhetorical expression, ‘Would you Adam and Eve it?' It's ironic, then, that one of the great debates of the day is about the literal truth of the bible story; or in other words, the extent to which we should Adam and Eve in Adam and Eve.

It's a question not just of belief but of denial. The phrase ‘in denial' has become so commonplace it's hard to still hear its power. In common with the ostrich which, as danger approaches, buries its head in the sand, those who are ‘in denial' prefer a false but subjective sense of security to a true but objectively scary reality. Denial brings short term, if illusory, comfort.

Hence creationism, the theory/superstition that, contrary to massive scientific evidence, the world began exactly as described in the Book of Genesis. Instead of deriving from millions of years of patient evolution, Adam and Eve popped out, fully formed, like characters from a Swiss cuckoo clock. Would you Adam and Eve it? Of course not. It's a myth, but like many myths it serves a psychological purpose which is to provide a storybook sense of simple origins, which allays people's fears. Those who believe this myth to be the truth are in a state of denial.

Along with denial, two other factors connect creationism with mental illness. The first is psychosis, which is an extension of denial. If psychosis is marked by the discrepancy between one's personal view of the world and the consensual view, creationism holds onto the personal view at all costs, refusing to accept what is abundantly clear. True, if creationism became the majority view, its psychotic character might be mitigated. Except that this majority view would have no more valence than the belief so widely held about the relationship between the sun and the earth before Copernicus proved how the latter orbits the former, and not vice versa.

Finally, creationism shares with autism an alleged lack of ability for irony. Creationists take the bible story as literally true, unable to recognise that it might be working on those other, mythic levels.

If tests for madness include talking to yourself and looking for hairs on the palm of your hand, then here's another: do you Adam and Eve in Adam and Eve?

Robert Rowland Smith is the author of 'Breakfast with Socrates: an Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through your Ordinary Day' (Free Press).

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