Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Strategies to Combat Creationism

One reason that creationism continues to thrive is that scientists are boneheads when it comes to marketing. As a marketing friend once told me, "This isn't like selling chocolate to women – you have to actually work at it."

Scientists have two fundamental flaws: They're honest, and they're rational. OK, three flaws: They think honesty and rationalism work. Scientists are trained to present the facts about evolution honestly and rationally, and assume creationists will exclaim, "Oh, I get it – I was wrong about creationism!" They don't realize that they're up against the oldest and best marketing organization in the history of the world: religion. And we won't win the battle by staying off their turf.

The creationism-versus-evolution debate is not a science problem. It's a marketing problem, plain and simple. We're trying to sell the public a package of goods that is, to the average religious person, somewhat unpleasant, complex and difficult to understand fully, and very contrary to thousands of years of religious teaching.

Their product, creationism, is far more appealing than evolution to the average person. I wrote a whole book about this one point, and can't do justice to this claim in a short blog. But to put it in a nutshell, it was a two-thousand-year evolutionary (memetic) process that made religion, and creationism, incredibly appealing, perfectly matched to the human psyche.

On top of the pure appeal of creationism, creationists are expert at marketing their product, and use every trick in the book. The creationism advocates would be right at home on Madison Avenue.
  • They rely on emotions
  • They use testimonials of celebrities
  • They appeal to vanity
  • They count on ignorance
  • They use mass media (TV, radio, print, internet) with great expertise
  • ...and many more
In other words, their product could just as well be perfume, clothes, or fast cars. But perhaps the most important single point is this:
These points were driven home forcefully when I listened to a program today about Evolution versus Creationism on my local PBS radio, KPBS of San Diego. Two scientists and a philosopher, all very articulate and knowledgeable, were offering their opinions as to why, 200 years after Darwin, creationism is still thriving and hindering science and medicine. And all three illustrated the very point I'm making: They were being scientific, presenting facts and logic, with little or no weight given to the marketing aspects of their positions.

I'm not sure I have answers. We're scientists because logic and reason is appealing to us, and we find marketing somewhat distasteful. Back in December, I wrote one blog that suggested a solution, but I think we need to take a more active approach.

If we're ever going to win the battle of logic and reason over ignorance and superstition, we need an approach that includes both scientific rigor and marketing skills.

Let me close with this quote, one that my regular readers have seen before:
In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. ... It happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.
–Carl Sagan


  1. I agree there's a marketing problem, but on a more encompassing level it's a psychological problem, perhaps on par with convincing people not to be sports fans anymore. And it's not about convincing people to switch teams. It's about convincing them to never watch sports again in favor of an essentially unrelated activity.

  2. Yes you are really on target with this article! Flock of Dodos is a pretty good movie that also raises some of these issues...


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