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the Complete Review
the complete review - science / religion


Among the Creationists

Jason Rosenhouse

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To purchase Among the Creationists

Title: Among the Creationists
Author: Jason Rosenhouse
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2012
Length: 213 pages
Availability: Among the Creationists - US
Among the Creationists - UK
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Among the Creationists - India
  • Dispatches From the Anti-Evolutionist Frontline

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Our Assessment:

B : solid introduction and overview of creationists' arguments (both substance- (or lack thereof) and presentation-wise)

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 2/1/2012 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "The personal encounters are compellingly readable. (...) The longer, more philosophical pieces are less successful because the complex topics touched on (such as the nature of religious experience, the role of theodicy, the meaning of original sin, ways to interpret scripture) demand more detail than Rosenhouse provides." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Jason Rosenhouse is a mathematician, but has taken a great interest in the debates about American-style 'creationism' and the opposition to the (scientific) theory of evolution. He is not religious (at least not in the believing-in-god sense), and firmly convinced that evolution is correct (and the proper scientific way to proceed) and that various forms of 'creationism' are clearly (and demonstrably) wrong and their proponents misguided (and, worse, misguiding). Admirably, he is willing to engage with 'creationism' at the most basic level: he really does venture out 'Among the Creationists', and this volume is accurately sub-titled Dispatches From the Anti-Evolutionist Frontline.
       In short chapters Rosenhouse describes his experiences at several creationist conferences, as well as, for example, visiting the infamous Creation Museum (he's been several times). Rosenhouse presents many of the arguments and examples the creationists offer, and his personal account of the conferences and the like is useful in describing not just the (ostensibly) substantive aspects of the arguments, but also in suggesting how these arguments are put across and how their weaknesses (or downright incoherence) are glossed over and overlooked. Rosenhouse isn't just a passive observer, either, frequently noting his objections and citing exchanges he has with both presenters and participants at these events.
       There is something bizarre about the whole exercise. Rosenhouse notes several times that he is generally treated in a very friendly and respectful manner and he too (rather remarkably, given some of what he describes) manages to avoid being condescending. Given the gaping chasm between world-views here, it all seems rather hopeless: there seems no way to bridge the two discordant ideologies -- or to convince adherents of the one of the validity of the other (aside from a few conversion-miracles). Of course, part of the fun of the the creationists' attacks is the different sheep's-clothing they don in trying to convince that 'creationism' too is valid science.
       Part of the problem with arguing against or countering 'creationism' is the incoherence of its backers' theory (or theories ...). For one, there are various strains of the whole idea, from the more biblically-literal 'Young Earth'-variant -- which dates the start of it all just a few thousand years back -- to the more creative (and ostensibly non-secular) 'Intelligent Design' variation (which posits some grand designer but doesn't insist it has to be the biblical god (but, wink wink, you know who they mean ...)). Rosenhouse does his best to note the obvious objections to the claims and arguments of each, but it remains a mug's game, as creationists tend to adapt their readings of the Ur-text (it all boils down to the Bible for them) as they see fit, or as they are forced to make it fit (Rosenhouse spends less time on 'Intelligent Design', dismissing it fairly quickly on its most obvious scientific flaws). Ultimately, also, that whole 'word of god'-trump/fall back (as in: it trumps everything) kind of kills off fruitful debate.
       American anti-evolution and anti-Darwin crusading is, of course, an almost entirely Christian game, and the alternative theory they want to see in the classroom is grounded entirely in the Biblical creation-tale (yes, for all their professed interest in considering all the alternatives they never much clamor for the inclusion of the creation-tales of other religions -- much less, say, Raelian 'intelligent design' in the classroom ...). That, of course, is also the crux of the problem: 'creationism' -- and the militant support of it -- isn't really about science at all. (Indeed, 'creationism' is useless as science -- unlike the incredibly fecund field of Darwinian evolution.) Rosenhouse sums it up perfectly

At its core, creationism is a cultural and political rebellion against a scientific theory that is believed to menace religion and morality.
       Which is, of course, problematic, since creationist success would mean putting on tight scientific blinders that, in our rapidly advancing technological age, society can not afford. (The debasement of science in the United States -- despite it still leading the world with its research facilities -- is, of course, due in no small part to the pernicious effects of the creationists' efforts.)
       Rosenhouse does repeatedly also take offense at the idea that accepting Darwinism (etc.) necessarily means the loss of any moral compass. His experiences suggest that among the reasons many cling to the creationist belief, and the larger god-belief, is because of their conviction that without it the world would go to hell in a handbasket. Aside from the obvious response -- have they taken a good look around at the condition of the world lately ? historically ? -- the idea that morality is necessarily tied to belief in a higher being is, of course, offensive and ridiculous. But apparently convincing a 'true' Christian (or one that attends or participates in creationist conferences) of that remains a tall order.
       Among the Creationists packages the main creationist arguments and their mistakes, flaws, and inconsistencies well. The personal-journey approach works pretty well, giving Rosenhouse an opportunity to describe how the creationists make and spread their case(s), and then addressing what he sees as their failings (those of both the arguments themselves, as well as the creationists). Rosenhouse puts a bit of a a human face on the debate -- yes, Among the Creationists does read like a travel book, our guide also an anthropolgist visiting strange but nice tribes partially stuck way in the past --, but that doesn't really help much in bridging the wide gap between these worlds. But at least it's a different approach from the usual simple clinical dissections of creationist belief.
       Early on, Rosenhouse notes that:
it cannot be the worst idea in the world to try talking to each other once in a while.
       Admirably, he does engage in conversation -- but there's only so far any exchange of ideas gets here. And that's not very far. Yes, there's dialogue, in the sense of more than one voice and opinion getting aired, but as far as any ... evolution of thought, that doesn't seem to be in the cards. It boils down to one 'side' being convinced of fact, and the other of fiction. And there is really no easy way for either to get the other side to see the light (or darkness, depending on your perspective).
       Among the Creationists does help 'get into the minds' of many of those involved in the creationist movement, which is of some value, and it offers an excellent overview of the current state of their debates and attacks -- political, legal, and scientific. Given the catastrophic undermining of science and trust in science that the movement has led to, it remains important to understand where they're coming from and what they're trying to do (and how they're trying to do it), and Rosenhouse's book is a welcome (if yet again terribly depressing) reminder of just how big this issue and problem is.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 April 2012

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Among the Creationists: Reviews: Jason Rosenhouse: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jason Rosenhouse teaches mathematics at James Madison University.

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© 2012 the complete review

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