Warning number one: as the title should make abundantly clear, this is largely about the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky—which I visited following the 2013
Roller Derby USAW Nationals—and its relationship to CrossFit and Paleo (it ties together, sort of, I promise). The museum is a place devoted to the idea that the Judeo-Christian God created the universe and everything in it roughly 6000 years ago in six, 24-hour days. As is abundantly clear to anyone who knows me, I do not subscribe to this view. In the words of Nacho Libre’s Esqueleto, “I believe in science.” I recognize, however, that in the world of USA Weightlifting there is a vast contingency of hardcore religious types, people who take the Bible as the literal, straight from God’s mouth, capital-T Truth. Posting this sort of thing is likely to enrage them, or at the very least make them go elsewhere for their irreverent Olympic Lifting ramblings. But again, I believe in science, and this visit was as much a part of my 2013 Nationals experience as “Skatetown USA”.
Another word of warning: much to my dismay, this museum visit did not involve USAW celebrity and fashionista Mike Graber, who spent much of his Nationals weekend either wearing a blazer or wrestling people several orders of magnitude larger than he. This is not to say I didn’t try to get Graber to accompany me and Louis Mangiaracina to the Creation Museum. Graber seemed genuinely excited for the trip right up until I joked about museum officials asking to see his Christian ID Card.
“What? I don’t have a Christian card!” he cried.
Before I could explain that it was merely a joke he had leapt from the car. I tried screaming for him to return but it was too late: he was running back to Skatetown USA, (righty) fearful of an imagined mob of Christian zealots who would demand to see proof of his faith.
But even without Graber the Creation Museum proved to be an interesting venue, although not in ways that I had imagined. For one thing, the museum is as slick and polished as any legitimate science museum I’ve ever been to, if not more so. They had all sorts of displays and dioramas and movies and interactive stations. True, some of those displays said things like “Were dinosaurs dragons?” But c’mon! We’re not going to let a little thing like accepted science get in the way of religious beliefs, are we? Shit no!Of course, this is one of the museum’s great dangers: it copies, with an accuracy that is startling, the look and feel of a real science museum, right down to using endnotes in some of the wall text and labels. There’s a whole section of the museum devoted to the notion of “same evidence, different conclusions,” as if Creationism were simply another way of looking at evidence. On its surface this looks exactly like science: i.e., the interpretation of evidence. But what the museum fails to note—or distorts, perhaps—is the fact that science, unlike Creationism, generally does not start with irrefutable claims into which evidence must be made to fit. And this is exactly what Creationism (as branded in the museum, at least) does: it starts from the idea that the Bible is the infallible Word of
In the museum’s eyes, this is contrasted with the mainstream scientific approach. Their definition of this method—the method of accepted science—is so terribly skewed that it’s worth quoting in full:
“Broadly speaking, ‘mans’s word’ refers to ‘autonomous reasoning’—the idea that the human mind can determine truth independently from God’s revealed truth, the Bible.”
Where in shit’s sake are they getting this idea of what constitutes science? [NB: okay, they’re making it up themselves, but still, you’d think they’d take the time to address real science a little better.] It’s like science is portrayed as nothing more than a pagan philosopher sitting around and contemplating the universe to discover its details. That is not science, or the human approach to knowing the world. As any scientist will tell you, science is not “autonomous reasoning”; science and human exploration involve looking at the world (or the past) in painful detail, all while trying to suppress your natural prejudices and innate beliefs. This is hard stuff, and anyone who thinks it’s easy to do this without bias is full of shit. Indeed, it’s probably more accurate to say that science and history regularly involve reexamining older interpretations because their biases are easier to spot, while simultaneously accepting that future researchers will have to do the same with our own findings or interpretations.
Yet this is part of the appeal of Creationism: it is so fantastically neat and tidy. The central tenet of this belief system—that the Bible is the literal Word of God, offering a transparent window into the past—is like a historian’s wet dream: a text that hides nothing, that requires no special interpretation, that describes events as they happened. This is in stark contrast to the usual routes of historical investigation, in which history is a mess of texts whose relationship to the past is always at risk. The Bible, from a Creationist standpoint, is in fact the opposite of history: the text is the past, rather than a literary construct. Trying to wrap your head around that mindset of text as past, especially when so much of science or history or criticism is about getting behind the text or the data, is dizzying. [This is not to say Creationists don’t do interpretation; it’s just that the interpretation is different when your starting point is the belief that the text is the literal word of God and the literal record of the history of the universe.]
But you don’t even need to bother yourself with ultimately fruitless considerations of texts’ relationship to the past to see the neat and tidy appeal of Creationism. Just consider the way the museum portrays the opposing views of man’s and god’s word in the context of the history of the universe: on the one side is a wavy, meandering line of inconstant thickness; on the other side, the straight (Christians are big on being straight, at least on the surface), bold, unwavering line of Creationism. Imagine the security offered by a worldview contained and expressed in that line. Fuck confusion, or misinterpretation of data, or scientific failings, or anything even remotely related to the human condition. Instead, here is an unfaltering source of clarity and authority.
In that light, the appeal is perhaps better understood, although still dangerous. The universe is a hideously large place, and even just trying to know your own self—or your own history—is daunting, if not impossible. The character of the Judge in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian put it best:
“Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way.” (245)
Yet Creationism offers just that: an order to creation, to the entire universe, that is not a human construction. Indeed, it is an order embedded within the universe itself—the true order, per the Bible-thumpers—because it comes from the very being that made the place: Klokov. I mean God. And it’s more than just theoretical order. The viewpoint espoused by the museum seems to promise real order, meaning order and peace and security for everyday life. There’s a whole section dedicated to “Culture in Crisis,” which is purportedly what happens when the Bible is taken out of a culture: drug abuse, premarital sex, divorce, abortion, crime, bad snatch technique, National events in skating rinks, etc. etc. Of course, what the museum doesn’t say is that all these things (whether you think they’re good or bad) exist with the Bible in cultures. Bible-belters sin in all kinds of ways (and do good in all kinds of ways), just like people who believe (or don’t) in science. Perhaps the appeal is again a sort of order, independent of oneself, that is given to what is often an otherwise fucked up world.
So what in shit’s sake does this have to do with CrossFit or Paleo?
It’s easy, from the outside, to dismiss this sort of thinking as ridiculous, but lesser forms of it are on display in far more mainstream areas (though if we’re not careful, this sort of fanaticism may become mainstream). Things like CrossFit and Paleo diets offer people similar kinds of stability and security, albeit to a diminished degree. They promote the idea that a particular system of working out or eating is the best, all backed up by things that look just enough like real science to lull people into security.
In an interesting twist of logic, CrossFit even goes so far as to claim superiority according to a definition of fitness that they themselves wrote. I.e., “we define fitness as X, our system improves X, therefore our system is the best.” In a sense, CrossFit’s authors have played god and made their own fitness universe, in which they are—ipso facto—supreme. In the Level 1 course I took the instructor defined fitness as “work capacity across broad time and modal domains,” which, in a nutshell, is CrossFit. From a marketing standpoint it’s a brilliantly simple piece of circular logic that guarantees success (as defined by them). What it is not, of course, is science.
This is not to say CrossFit isn’t a good system of exercising; I’ve already touched on some of its benefits to Olympic Weightlifting, and I think it is far better than the trash being peddled at most commercial gyms and by most trainers. But the idea that its alleged superiority is rooted in hard science is absurd. Much like the literal Bible crowd, CrossFit appears to have taken a text (its methodology) and then used that as a starting point to explain their world (fitness).
Paleo, a brand of eating that many CrossFitters have latched onto with the vigor of Mike Graber going after Lydia Valentin, offers another comparison to Creationism, in that it uses things that look like science in an effort to prove that its system is the best. Its superiority was even proclaimed on a vendor’s stand at this past weekend’s
Roller Derby Nationals: “The optimum diet based on human evolution and biology.” Sure, the food was good, and it was certainly a healthier option than the shit they serve up at a roller rink snack bar. But “optimum” and “based on human evolution and biology”? What does that even mean? Answer: nothing! It’s hype and empty sloganeering, meant to appeal to people who think cavemen did nothing but eat bacon and ride dinosaurs and do burpees in between hunting woolly mammoths.
In some ways this sort of pseudoscience is no less dangerous than that offered by Creationism. It’s nothing more than opinion or marketing or whatever masquerading as science, when real science is something far more messy and imprecise and shifting and often boring than anything that claims, without any doubt, to know what the hell a caveman ate tens of thousands of years ago. [For a great discussion of the paleo myth, see here.] Believing that some form of pseudoscience tells us cavemen drank Paleo protein shakes is just as bad as thinking dinosaurs were brought onto Noah’s Ark and shat in wooden crates (the Creation Museum covers the question of animal waste on the Ark—seriously).
This is not to say science is infallible. Rather, the very point of science and research is the acceptance that it is, almost by definition, fallible, and can always be improved or discredited in the face of new evidence. But when it comes to curing disease or improving health (or myriad other things) science is pretty much all we have. Turn your back on it and you shut the door on human progress.
It’s worth noting, as a kind of final point, that the museum—to my surprise—was not filled with the sort of Bible-waving madmen I expected to see. Only one family, in which every single male was dressed in overalls (which included roughly 37 children), looked to deviate from our preconceived notions of an average American family. And this may be the great danger of Creationism and science deniers: the fact that it is becoming more and more mainstream, especially with lunatics like Jenny McCarthy (no relation to Cormac) spouting anti-vaccine madness and supplement companies proffering items of little or no (or negative) value to an undereducated and unsuspecting public.
Christ on a bicycle! That’s a scary thought. The disparity in education and knowledge in this and many other countries is so enormous as to make the income disparity seem like small change by comparison. But enough depressing madness for now. If you made it this far, I commend your stamina. For those of you offended or in disagreement, remember that the text of this blog—like the Bible—is literal, authoritative, and irrefutable.