The Evolution-Creationism Debate: A Case of Irreconcilable Differences or of Cyclic Dispute?

By Johnson, Linda M. K. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

The Evolution-Creationism Debate: A Case of Irreconcilable Differences or of Cyclic Dispute?


Johnson, Linda M. K., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction." (R. Dawkins in The God Delusion)

"I think it is highly important to emphasize, however, that all of the anti-Christian systems of modern times have found their quasi-scientific basis in the supposed scientific fact of evolution." (H.M. Morris in Twilight of Evolution)

Such is the language we hear in today's conflict between those groups that advocate evolution and those that espouse creationism. The language is one of polarity--polarity so strong in its effect that members of either camp find little room to hear, much less rationally consider, the opposing viewpoint (Deaux et al. 1993). Us and Them. It is these "extreme views that often get the press and the news coverage with fuels the controversy and the debate even further that it should go." (Martin 2006) Even as a local newspaper was describing an impending visit to a "Creation Museum" by a group of naturalists, the article related that the promotion of the museum by the local visitors bureau had been recently changed from its original statement, which had read: "This 'walk through history' museum will counter evolutionary natural history museums that turn countless minds against Christ and Scripture." (Anonymous, Daily Press, Sept. 8, 2007)

While 60% of Americans believe in evil in the forms of devils and hell and 70% profess belief in angels, heaven and miracles (2005 Harris Poll, cited in Henig 2007), the view of the religious believers toward evolution varies tremendously. In the United States, the conflict between science and religion is usually focused on evolution and Christian creationism.

However, even Islamic fundamentalists have entered the fray (Dean 2007). Having been raised in a Christian tradition that does not take issue with evolution as an explanation for the biological, physical world, I was comfortable discussing both science and religion, and did not feel threatened by those with experience in only one of the "camps". I was surprised the first time I taught a Biological Evolution course and a student, who had been present and involved all semester, stood up and left halfway through a class as soon as we started the chapter on human evolution.

Since that experience, I have tried to find good sources for approaching evolutionary theory in front of a reluctant--and religious--audience. It was through this search that I was introduced to Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God, Francis Collins' The Language of God, Michael Ruse's Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?, as well as more practical pedagogical tools such as Defending Evolution and Evolution vs. Creationism. The idea that our popular perception that science and religion must be viewed as an irreparable dichotomy was not satisfying, and the thought that students felt confined by that dichotomy was troubling.

However, as a science instructor, I am teaching science, not religion, and wherever the students received their religious instruction was obviously not teaching science. So, how could students find a source of information free from the strictures of the disciplines that could inform them fully about the perceived conflict between evolution and religion? Was there an unbiased source--a common ground--available to them?

Methodology

In order to investigate this question, I decided to examine the inventory of local bookstores. In theory, at least, mainstream bookstores should not have an "Agenda" concerning the evolution-creationism controversy. Two large chain stores (Borders and Barnes & Noble) and one specialty Christian store (Agape) located in Newport News, VA were surveyed. In each shop, the books on shelves labeled "Science", "Biology", "Evolution", "Genetics", General Religion", "Apologetics", "Christianity" and/or "Atheism" were visually scanned. If they discussed the topic of evolution or if the term evolution was listed in the index, the text was examined for its attitude toward the topic and scored on a one-to-five scale (1=gentle, 5=harsh). …

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