Magazine article Free Inquiry

Darwin Re-Crucified: Why Are So Many Afraid of Naturalism?

Magazine article Free Inquiry

Darwin Re-Crucified: Why Are So Many Afraid of Naturalism?

Article excerpt

A disturbing new dimension has emerged in the creation/evolution controversy. The crusade against Darwinism is no longer the sole preserve of fundamentalist Christians, for many' influential religious conservatives have now joined in the fray. One hundred sixteen years after Darwin's death, efforts to crucify him continue unabated. The main complaint of religious conservatives is that the theory of evolution is allied with naturalism, and this is inconsistent with their theistic faith.


Until recently the creationists' campaign had been marginalized in America. It had been predominantly identified with Christian fundamentalists who interpret the Bible literally: the earth, they claim, was created 10,000 years ago ex nihilo! Recently I visited the Creationist Museum near San Diego along with students and professors of the Center for Inquiry Institute, which was holding seminars in San Diego on Creation/Evolution and the History and Philosophy of Skepticism. Included in the delegation were Jere Lipps, distinguished paleontologist from Berkeley, and Eugenic Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. Scott has waged an heroic campaign against the creationists' demand that "creation science" be taught in the public schools side by side with evolution.

We were appalled by what we viewed. Many of the exhibitions displayed biblical quotations masking as "creation science" interspersed with numerous attacks on Jolm Dewey, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, and other secular humanists. The exhibit of Noah's Ark was hilarious: how Noah could handle the manure factor on board was never adequately explained. It did not explain how Noah could squeeze two dinosaurs on board or transport kangaroos from Australia, or how the flood could recede so rapidly to allow the millions of species aboard to descend onto dry land-without divine miracles!

There are now new efforts by religious conservatives to crucify Darwin. Joining in the hallelujah chorus are writers as diverse as Irving Kristol, William F. Buckley, Jr., Robert Bork, and Phillip Johnson. Although these conservative critics reject the literal interpretation of the Bible, they believe that we need to supplement evolutionary theory. with some form of "intelligent design." They reject the young-earth theory, given the strong evidence from geology that the earth is at least 4.5 billion years old. Thus, they are willing to accept some form of evolution; but they insist that creation is a factor, either at the beginning of the universe and/or at several important junctures, when God intervened in the process. Polls indicate that these views are now held by a majority of Americans, who apparently are willing to accept both evolution and creation.

The political pressures on scientists and teachers to acquiesce to religious criticisms are thus very. great. Unfortunately, the National Association of Biology Teachers meeting in late 1997 modified an earlier statement defending evolution in order to accommodate theism. The original statement read as follows:

The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.

At the behest of two theologians, Alvin Plantinga and Houston Smith, and after considerable debate, they deleted the words unsupervised and impersonal to leave room for divine intervention. Many proponents of evolution agreed to the change because they did not wish to offend religious sensibilities; they wished to make it possible to do evolution science without raising the war cry that it was atheistic. Whether this strategy was wise remains to be seen.

Symptomatic of the intensified attacks on Darwinism now occurring is the recent two-hour "Firing Line" debate on Public Broadcasting System television that aired in December 1997. …

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