Re: the pool we're trying to paddle in

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Sun Apr 08 2001 - 18:04:01 MDT

Damien Broderick wrote:
> Polls show that the percentage of Americans who say they
> believe in creationism is about 45 percent. George W. Bush
> took the position in the presidential campaign that children
> should be exposed to both creationism and evolution in
> school.
> Aargh.
> (A certain amount of support there for the Stupid Design Theory.)

I came across an unusually blunt characterization of the politics of
creationism in a recent book by paleontologist Niles Eldredge called
_The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism_ (2000).

In Chapter 1, "In the Beginning: Religion, Science,... and Politics"
Eldredge says:

"There are... many people who believe literally that the notion
of biological evolution is the work of the devil... I have spent
over twenty years talking with, debating, and reading the literature
of creationists... I remain convinced that their unrelenting
hatred of the very idea of evolution stems from their concept of
morality: where morals come from, and why people behave in a
moral fashion (when they do). The argument is simple: the Bible
says that 'mankind' was created in God's image. If that is not
true, if instead we are descended from the apes, then there is no
reason whatsoever to expect humans to behave in a godlike, moral
fashion. We would, instead, be expected to behave like 'animals.'
The conviction is deeply held.

Thus, in some quarters, it is simply not possible to assign to science
the task of cosmology while giving religion the role of articulating
a moral and spiritual understanding of what it means to be a living
human. It is not possible because the two are seen as inseparable:
morality flows automatically and solely from the manner in which
humans were 'created' in the first place. From this perspective,
religion (meaning, specifically, certain forms of religion --
especially conservative Christianity, but also conservative strains
of Islam and Judaism) are fundamentally at odds with at least some
forms of scientific enterprise.

In the United States especially, creationism is associated not
only most closely with aspects of Christian Fundamentalism, but
with conservative (mostly, if not exclusively, conservative Republican)
politics... I cannot emphasize enough... that politics is the
very essence of this conflict. It is the belief that evolution is
inherently evil -- a belief that stems from religious interpretation,
**and therefore poses a threat to the hearts and minds of the
populace**, that, I am convinced, motivates the vast majority of
the creationists. Thus the issue is about what is to be taught
in the public schools... On the face of it, then, creationism
is a political issue -- and has been at least since Clarence Darrow
defended John Scopes against the prosecutorial zeal of William
Jennings Bryan in Dayton, Tennessee, on July 10-21, 1925.

Are there creationists who are religiously motivated but are not at
the same time social and political conservatives? There must be,
but in twenty years I have yet to encounter a single such person.
Are there creationists, politically conservative or not, whose
main concern does lie in the apparent moral implications of
evolution and what it means especially to their own personal
lives -- whose main goal is not to influence what other people's
kids are taught in school? Again, probably so. But the vast
majority of active creationists... are motivated primarily to
see that evolution is not taught in the public schools of the
United States.

In any case, what creationism is **not** is a valid intellectual
argument between opposing points of view. That battle was fought --
with evolution emerging triumphant -- in the latter half of the
nineteenth century... [S]o-called scientific creationism [was]
a wolf in sheep's clothing concocted in the 1970s that deliberately
removed religious rhetoric from the cant of creationism -- a
move calculated by bypass any objections based on the First
Amendment to teach such patently religiously inspired material
in a public school science class... The best comment I have
ever heard anyone make about scientific creationism came from
Judge William Overton, who presided over the famed Arkansas trial
in 1981: If this stuff is science, why do we need a law to teach
it? ... Intellectually, the debate has been dead since 1859...

Yet the debate rages on ... though tactics have changed..."

Jim F.

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