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September,1999

The Strange Loop of Creationism
by Cliff Walker

The recent removal of evolution from the curricula of the Kansas Public Schools puts the scientific community on notice. No longer can we pretend that the truth will prevail simply on its own merit. And no more can we assume that things which should be done will somehow get accomplished without any lobbying on our part.

How could this happen? Well, nobody I know expected the Portland Boy Scouts case to come down the way it did. We simply presumed that since the truth is obvious, the court would decide for what is right. No one thought the case would be decided any other way.

Creationism has grown so popular (and is so tricky to debate) because it does not play by the same rules as does traditional science: science that works; science that makes predictions; science that is useful. Creationism, like many varieties of theism, plays a game I call the "strange loop."

Douglas Hofstadter coined the term "strange loop" in his book "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid." Robert Anton Wilson applies this to logic using, as his classic example of a strange loop, a paradox from the Bible: "Even one of their own prophets has said, 'the Cretans are always liars'" (Titus 1:12). The strange loop shows itself when we point out that if the Cretan is telling the truth, he is lying. (Sadly for believers, the Bible agrees with the Cretan: "This testimony is true.")

Wilson shows how the strange loop can describe how some folks approach history. Holocaust Revisionists adamantly deny that the Nazis killed six million Jews. There exists a vast worldwide conspiracy that has faked all the evidence which the rest of us naïvely accept (they tell us).

Wilson says that Holocaust Revisionism "can hardly be called 'false' in a historical sense because it is not part of the History Game; it rejects the rules of evidence that historians play by." One cannot disprove Holocaust Revisionism since "all historical evidence relevant to the dispute is defined as tainted" (from "The New Inquisition").

Creationism is strange loop, since its supporters avouch that evolution is the product of a vast worldwide conspiracy of atheistic scientists, in rebellion against God, who have falsified evidence and suppressed the "fact" that the universe was created. Sophisticated creationists question not just the conclusions, but the validity of the scientific method itself.

It's easy to see how futile it would be to have scientists try to talk sense into creationists. The scientists are seen as liars and their methods are seen as false. Scientists and educators can, however, work with those who are not already lost to the madness of creationism. I expect the Kansas situation to be the wake-up call that will get this particular ball rolling.

Holocaust Revisionism's strange loop can lead to infinite regress. Under this logic, who can say that someone has not faked evidence that Holocaust Revisionists exist (to see if we would believe that such people exist)? Under traditional rules, though, we know that creationists and their ilk are very real. Religions have stifled and twisted science for millennia. It's time to wake up and shout, "Never again!"

Graphic Rule
Copyright ©1999 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon