Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective: Revival of Religious Fundamentalism in East and West

By Bronislaw Misztal; Anson Shupe | Go to book overview

8
SCIENTIFIC CREATIONISM AND THE POLITICS OF LIFESTYLE CONCERN IN THE UNITED STATES

Raymond A. Eve and Francis B. Harrold

As other chapters in this volume make clear, religiously inspired anti- modernist movements are no rarity in the world of the 1990s. One such movement, however, is unusual for its focused and partly successful struggle against a powerful and prestigious component of modern society, the scientific establishment. This movement, creationism, rejects the scientific consensus on humanity's evolutionary origins as inimical to religious values.

Creationism can be found wherever northern European Protestantism's more conservative forms (with their strong emphasis on the authority of scripture) have taken root, as in the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia, and Canada. But only in the United States, with its heritage of evangelical Protestantism, populism, and anti-elitism, and a highly decentralized educational system, has creationism become a formidable force. Americans are split in their beliefs about the origins of the cosmos and of humankind. Many of them believe that humanity was directly created by God within the past 10,000 years. Many others view the beliefs of the first group with dismay or outright anxiety.

One might wonder how a scientific matter has become the focus of such sociopolitical controversy. After all, one encounters few arguments over whether atoms exist or whether stars are examples of nuclear fusion. Part of the answer lies in the fact that while the creation-evolution debate revolves around the understanding of scientific data and concepts, it is also strongly affected by social and psychological forces. Few previous publications on either side of the creation/evolution debate have looked at it from a social scientific perspective, or from the point of view of social movements theory, as we will do here.

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