That fear is on full display throughout HBO’s new documentary Questioning Darwin, which features a series of intimate interviews with biblical fundamentalists. Creationism, the documentary reveals, isn’t a harmless,compartmentalized fantasy. It’s a suffocating, oppressive worldview through which believers must interpret reality—and its primary target is children. For creationists, intellectual inquiry is a sin, and anyone who dares to doubt the wisdom of their doctrine invites eternal damnation. That’s the perverse brilliance of creationism, the key to its self-perpetuation: First it locks kids in the dungeon of ignorance and dogmatic fundamentalism. Then it throws away the key.
Intellectual freedom is one of humanity’s greatest gifts—and biggest burdens. Our ability to ask questions, to test ideas, to doubt is what separates us from our fellow animals. But doubt can be as terrifying as it is liberating. And it’s the terror of doubt that fosters the toxic, life-negating cult of creationism.