The BBC has been doing a series of Conspiracy Road Trips in which they stick the bunch of people who hold some crazy belief on a bus and send them on a road trip to be confronted with evidence that debunks their thinking. For this one we had five creationists in the spotlight.
These five British creationists (pictured) believe that every word in the bible is fact, so with a camera crew to record it all and Irish Comedian Andrew Maxwell as the front man, it was indeed fun to watch (unless of course you just happen to be a creationist)
They set off from Vegas and hit the road heading for San Francisco and stopping off along the way to be confronted by evidence that challenges their thinking. These are all hard-core believers, but let us not forget that the US landscape they traverse is 50% peopled by various shades of creationist thinking, so they were not an isolated kooky fringe (now that by itself is a rather frightening thought).
So who were they? Well, we have Phil, a fire and Brimstone Christian, Abdul, a south London Muslim, 19-year-old Bronwyn, who asserts that humans used to hang out with Dinosaurs, single mum JoJo who sees God in everything, and finally design student Sam, who wants to stand up for his faith. As they set off, Andrew makes it clear that this is not about debunking God, their topic is creationism.
Here it all is, the entire show …
So what happened? Well, you can watch above, and if time does not permit, skip and and read my quick summary below.
Each of the five are given a chance to make a pitch, so Phil starts off with an assertion that the Grand Canyon is recent and that the world is only 5000 years old. Off they go for a flight over the Grand Canyon. Oh heck, their pilot turns out to also be a religious guy, that is not helping. Anyway, they then get introduced to a Geologist on the rim of the Canyon who has worked there for 35 years, and he carefully explains it all to them (grand vistas and millions of years). We then get into a biblical flood discussion. Is anybody convinced? Nope.
JoJo is up next, so its time for Noah’s Ark, and so off to lake Powell where we get to meet Jerry Coyne (of Why Evolution is true). He explains why Noah’s ark is simply not credible. Do they listen, nope they just ignore it all and refuse to accept anything he says. JoJo (whose pitch this all was) gets upset with all the others being very aggressively argumentative.
Next stop, a meetup with some tea party nutters. These are folks who think that believing in evolution is evil. (Note to self, avoid that town … they are quite frankly clinically crazy).
Abdul bows out and goes off to a Mosque in Bakersfield for his holy day (It is all on TV so he needs to make sure that all his mates who will watch can see that he is being sufficiently religious). The rest head off to fossil country and it is Bronwyn’s turn. The twist this time is that the palaeontologist they are introduced to is also a Christian. He explains why humans and dinosaurs did not co-exist and shows them the evidence. How do they react? They are more interested in judging his faith as a means to reject what he is saying. (Great example of how you too can be a judgemental religious dick)
Fun stop, they get to meet a chimp.
Time to go to a church. Phil is very paranoid at this point, he is sure it is a setup and is asking church members what they are about and if it is a gay church (its not, this is just a normal church). Phil then has a go at the director and lashes into him describing him as a disgusting human being (apparently because he allowed JoJo to say on camera that being gay was just fine). By this point we are all getting the message loud and clear, Phil is not just a complete twat, but also a bit of a bully.
Now we have Sam’s pitch. Life began with Adam … so the next stop takes them to meet an evolutionary biologist. He carefully points out the evidence (it is 100% clear, no technobabble) We then get to hear some hair-raising ideas about incest from Phil. Anybody convinced by the evidence yet? Nope, but some of them (not Phil) do appear to be considering the evidence and thinking about it.
The final pitch is from Abdul – only God could have created life. So off we go to an amazing looking hot spring where we see bacteria flourishing – it is multi-coloured and abundant. They get a good explanation of how life could have started without any God being needed, and of course Phil once again demonstartes that he is a complete twat.
So in summary is anybody convinced? Nope, but JoJo does appear to have taken a step forward, she comments that evolution did indeed appear to have happened and speculates that perhaps that is simply the way God chose to do it. Of the lot, she appears to be the most honest about the evidence and does not simply dismiss it as a conspiracy, as for some of the others, well they appear to be immune to little things such as factual evidence and reality.
Why did the evidence not help?
What exactly is going on here, why did they not change their minds? There are points when the evidence is irrefutable, and at such points, Phil and also Sam simply dismiss it with a, “Oh you need a real Creationist Geologist to explain that, I’m just not an expert“. On other occasions you can also pick up hints of, “Oh but back then God who can do anything made it happen that way, even if it is not possible for it to have happened naturally” (The Grand Canyon being caused by a flood is an example of that). What then becomes clear from this is that their thinking, the way that they determine what is and is not true, is not driven by evidence, but something else.
Once you have emotionally attached to an idea and joined a community, it then becomes very difficult to face up to evidence that conflicts with that stance. To cope, humans tend to cling to the emotional bond, and simply adopt by rationalizing away such evidence because our emotions tend to have a stronger hold than reason.
To illustrate … get a line of folks in front of an audience and ask them one after the other to answer a simple question that has an obvious answer, and then watch. The setup is that you tell everybody except the last to answer with a wrong answer. What happens? Well even when the last person knows the right answer, you will find that hearing the wrong answer repeated by all the others often (but not always) leads them to then repeat the same wrong answer.
If you keep hearing the wrong answer and have invested emotionally in the wrong answer, you will internally resolve any conflict by finding a way to rationalize that it is really the right answer … and so end up believing things that are simply not true.
By being skeptical you can break that cycle.