Creationism as cultural warfare

Dr. Rick Talbott

Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution can conjure up more heated arguments than the war in Iraq among some people. The controversy and the subsequent malevolent feelings have entered the classroom where evolution is either taught or discussed.’

Imagine high school and college professors trying to teach evolution in this environment.’ They not only have to present a descriptive explanation of evolution so students can understand, they also have to deal with the religious assumptions that prevent many of them from believing or accepting evolution before learning about it.

It should be stated that the problem does not stem from lack of scientific evidence and explanations.’ The fossil record presents a natural canvas of revelatory examples from simple to complex organisms as one peers into the distant geological past to more recent times.’ The distribution of animals around the world’mdash;biogeography’mdash;evidences closely related species that evolved from each other.

DNA has left its fingerprint on every life-form in the world suggesting all species are related. Specific DNA patterns in different species links them to a common ancestor.’
Mutations in obsessed species, like fruit flies, disclose a genetic code.’ Different species’ embryos share common traits as if actually related by a common ancestor.’ This represents only a fraction of the evidence rapidly accumulating for students of evolution to ponder.

So why do so many reject such compelling evidence and scientifically sound explanations?’ If so many are passionate about the topic of creation, why not avail themselves to the mass of easily accessible information? The problem has more to do with cultural warfare waged by a particular type of religious ideology rather than Darwin’s theory about biological evolution.’

Virtually all of the court cases involving the teaching of evolution, from the Scope’s trial to the Supreme Court’s 1987 ruling to eliminate ‘creation science’ from public schools, have demonstrated this.’ A brief historical sketch reveals the social, political, economic, and religious factors that created such volatile, anti-evolution sentiments as we find today in America.

Let’s not forget Darwin did not start the war between evolution and its anti-evolutionary pundits. He was not anti-religious, but came from an Anglican background.’ He studied with William Paley at Cambridge who convinced a youthful Darwin that nature revealed God’s design.’

Darwin gradually rejected Paley’s natural theology because of his own research on different species and struggled with the notion of the biblical God as loving because of the senseless suffering in the natural world. When his father died outside of faith, Darwin questioned his father’s prospects in a place of eternal torment.’ But when his young daughter died without God’s saving intervention, his traditional Christian upbringing died with her.

In spite of all of this, Darwin never became like our modern Richard Dawkins’mdash;who detests even moderate forms of religiosity.’ In fact, Darwin continued to support his family’s church the rest of his life, although he had stopped attending.

Like today, many theologians in the late 19th century accepted Darwin’s theory.’ Most Christians simply adapted their understanding of the Bible to align their faith with this new theory.’ Not even the birth of Christian Fundamentalism in the early 20th century meant the rejection of Darwin’s theory outright.

The four-volume work published in 1909 called, ‘The Fundamentals’ had only a few essays that dealt with evolution and virtually nothing was mentioned about a literal six-day creation.’ Christian theologians in ‘The Fundamentals’ project were more concerned about the religious implications of David Hume’s philosophy than Charles Darwin’s theory.

Today, American fundamentalism completely rejects evolution. The same circumstances that drove all Fundamentalists to reject evolution and vivify Darwin enable us to understand the current controversy.

It stemmed from a particular Christian response to Modernism. The European Enlightenment began to undermine traditional views about the Bible by examining it according to the criteria of Higher Criticism.

Historical Criticism challenged Moses’ authorship of the Torah and sought to separate the Christ of Christian faith from the historical Jesus of Nazareth. David Strauss’ ‘Life of Jesus Christ Critically Examined’ represented a trend of critical scholarship that questioned the authority of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, human nature, miracles, and began to speak of the Genesis creation stories as myths.’ Darwin’s theory seemed to give biological evidence for rejecting the literal truth of the Bible and making God superfluous in the grand scheme of things.

Darwin’s theory came under attack to defend a literalist interpretation of the Bible.’ For example, a small sect called Seventh Day Adventists rejected Darwin’s theory by suggesting not only a literal six-day creation, but also a literal global flood as recorded in Genesis.’ Their prophet, Ellen White, based this interpretation of the Genesis accounts on visions she experienced after an anticipated apocalyptic event failed to appear.’

These ideas were greatly expanded by another Adventist by the name of George McCready Price with the publication of his book in 1923, ‘The New Geology.” McCready’s writings influenced other fundamentalists and gave rise to a movement within fundamentalism called ‘scientific creationism.’

But the magna carte of ‘scientific creationism’ did not appear until an Old Testament scholar named John Whitcomb asked another fundamentalist, Henry Morris’mdash;a professor of engineering, to collaborate on a new book debunking evolution and Darwin. ‘The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications,’ continues to inspire young and old fundamentalists to battle the false theory of evolution and the evils it causes.

Fundamentalists rallied their troops claiming they had ‘many infallible proofs’ and science on their side.’ Of course the ‘infallible proofs’ actually rested on the Bible which they a priori considered the ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant Word of God.” Scientific evidence had to yield to biblical truth.’ But the scientific evidence was clearly stacked against creationism.’ Even Kurt Wise, one of the leading representatives and advocates of creationism, has had to admit this conundrum for the cause.

I do see this controversy between evolution and creationism as a cultural war determined by social and particular religious ideologies.’ Cultural theory would suggest Fundamentalism is reacting to our dominant secular culture.’ It aspires to have an influential role and voice in our secular culture that has gained credibility and authority, in large part because of science.’

So creationism mimics the very culture it feels threatened by and creates a hybrid of religious belief and pseudoscience, but becomes ambivalent and antagonistic when it stills fails to measure up.’ Even creationism’s adaptation in the form of Intelligent Design is failing to survive the test of scientific scrutiny, while other types of Christianity have evolved to embrace all the truths of science.