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May 12, 2005

Creationism/Intelligent Design - (Lack of) Reality Series, Part III

There is no part of the non-reality based world viewpoint that befuddles me more than the teaching of creationism and intelligent design as a scientific theory equal to the theory of evolution.  Commenting on the recently re-opened issue of teaching “intelligent design” sparked by the Kansas State School Board on MSN late last week, Ron Reagan summarized my feelings precisely.  He said,

The state of Kansas is poised to vacate the Age of Reason. If all goes according to brain-addled plan, the Kansas school board will soon vote to water down the state’s public school science curriculum, minimizing Darwinian evolution and giving credence to a half-baked, non-scientific notion variously called “creationism” or “intelligent design.”

We dealt with the issue recently on our show and I got a little steamed, as I’m prone to do when faced with shameless lies told at the expense of innocent children. Evolution, of course, has mountains of evidence on its side—the fossil record; genetics; observations of rapidly mutating species in nature in the lab, as well as some compelling new computer models. I challenged our creationist guest to provide similar evidence for his point of view. He couldn’t... because there isn’t any.

In liberal, highly-educated Seattle, we don’t often come in contact with folks who don’t believe in evolution.  But according to statistics, there are a lot of them out there.  Late last year, a Gallup poll reported that only 28 percent of Americans accept the theory of evolution and 48 % believe in creationism or its more “modern” version, “intelligent design, the belief that an intelligent being is responsible for the creation of the earth and its inhabitants . 

Teaching Evolution

And apparently teaching evolution has become harder out there.  CBS News reported last week that critics of evolution are providing students a list of “10 Questions to ask your biology teacher”, questions that take the teacher away from the teaching of the science of evolution.  Or, as John Wachholz, a biology teacher at Salina High School Central in Kansas, says, “When evolution comes up, students tune out: “They’ll put their heads on their desks and pretend they don’t hear a word you say.”  He says resistance has been getting stronger.  “I see the same thing I saw five years ago, except now students think they’re informed without having ever really read anything because it’s been discussed in the home and other places.  They’re more outspoken.”

Another teacher, Lisa Nimz of Skokie, Illinois, says, “In some ways I think civilization is at stake because it’s about how we view our world.”  She refers to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and says, “When there’s no empirical evidence, some very serious things can happen.  If we can’t look around at what is really there and try to put something logical and intelligent together from that without our fears getting in the way, then I think that we’re doomed.”

To Not Believe in Evolution

There are people in my family who don’t believe in evolution.  So, for 25 years I’ve had an opportunity to see the implications of that way of thinking.  If you don’t believe in evolution, you aren’t open to the basic concepts underlying the fields of geology, of biology, astronomy, and history at a bare minimum.  And, you get accustomed to avoiding much of the news of the culture or discounting it without reading about it.  You choose not to read much of “Time” magazine because you might run across an article about tectonic plate action in relationship to the tsunami or controversy over the remains of Kennewick Man or the discover of a dinosaur with vegetarian eating habits.  You don’t listen to NPR or watch much of the news. 

And, odds are, you don’t engage in conversation with people about a range of topics, including all of the above except maybe to disparage it.  There are many people at work or in your extended family that you have a very limited set of things you are likely to discuss.  You don’t want to catch the distain in people’s voices so you don’t share who you are with people.

You also don’t ask yourself a lot of questions or explore new ideas.  The habit of unquestioned belief carries over into other parts of your life and you are not likely to ask questions and stay open to your own answer.  You’re not likely to ask, “Are we right to be waging an unnecessary war against people of a different faith?” or “Do I want to have a sexual relationship before I am married?” or “I wonder if I’d like meditation?”

And it curtails what you can do in your life.  I have a young friend, the child of a friend from work, whom I’ve spent time with 2-3 times a year for 14 years or so.  I took her and her brother and a couple of other young people their age to ice skate or hike or just go have lunch over many years.  Mimi was always a curious, questioning youngster and I often told her that she had a scientific mind and would make a good scientist one day if she chose to go in that direction.  Then, one year in Junior High, she told me that she wasn’t enjoying science anymore.  She couldn’t put her heart into it anymore because she didn’t believe in evolution and she just couldn’t listen to what her teacher said anymore. 

A Fierce Belief – The Crux of the Resistance

It is hard for me to understand but I can tell that the belief in creationism is ferocious by the way that people defend it.  It is some kind of a linchpin in the belief system, something that the people who hold this belief are not willing to let go of, no matter how illogical or how much else they must ignore to keep their belief.  That is a powerful belief – but why?  There is no obvious inherent contradiction between Christianity and a belief in the scientific veracity of evolution.  I’m guessing, although I don’t have any facts or figures to back it up, that Jews have a stronger belief in evolution than most other folks.  And they’re the ones that wrote the Old Testament where word (considered myth in other cultures) about the creation was written down.

As I was trolling through the Internet researching this article, I found a couple of articles about scientific surveys done about belief systems by creationists, one conducted in the United States, the other in Australia.  The survey of 1535 people was conducted in Australia and reported in “Creation Magazine” in February, 2000. The results “revealed that belief in evolution is associated with moral permissiveness.”… “The survey showed that people who believed in evolution were more likely to be in favour of premarital sex than those who rejected Darwin’s theory.  Another issue which highlighted the contrast between the effect of evolutionary ideas and that of biblical principles was that Darwinians were reported to be ‘especially tolerant’ of abortion.”

The second rigorous survey conducted in the U.S.  (Don’t you dare tell us we’re unscientific!) was presented at a Conference on Creationism in 1998.  Here’s the Abstract:

Does what you believe about origins affect your worldview? Do origin assumptions provide a foundation upon which important moral questions are answered? Many creationists have advanced the idea that what one believes about creation and evolution affects his or her worldview. Empirical studies in this area are, however, lacking. By advancing a hypothesis that does not have empirical support, creationists are seen by some in the "mainstream" scientific community as extreme and unscientific [10].

This paper reports on a study involving the development and implementation of a survey of science teachers to ascertain the relationship between their belief in creation or evolution and their moral views. The research hypothesis, that there is a relationship between one’s origins belief and his or her moral view, is supported. The secondary hypothesis, that the more one believes in creation, the more positive his or her moral views, also is supported.

On the specific questions of intimacy, there also appears to be a relationship at the later stages in the expected direction. That is, the more the subject believes in creation, the less he or she is willing to morally accept sexual intercourse between two unmarried consenting people. Recommendations for further study are included along with the survey instrument.”

For me, it’s useful to understand that what we are fighting when we are asking that the science of evolution be taught in schools unimpeded by a countervailing notion of creation myth, is not logical, it’s emotional.  It’s not really about the accuracy of carbon-dating or the scientific evidence of fossils or mutating genes. 

It’s about what that kind of thinking will lead to – sex before marriage and a willingness to consider abortion.  I don’t know if it makes the struggle any easier but it might assist us in how we go about it.  It also makes it clear how deeply connected all of these social values issues are. 

For More Information

To read dispatches from the front, check out RedStateRabble, a blog written by Pat Hayes of Kansas on the Kansas State School Board proceedings.

To read about Seattle’s own Discovery Institute, the folks behind the propagation of the “intelligent design” idea, check out Andrew’s excellent piece up this morning over at NW Progressive or Brian’s very thoughtful piece over at Washblog from a couple of days ago.

To read an interesting article by a former believer in creationism who learned to ask questions, read a piece by Merle Hertzler, called “How Old is the Earth?”

Posted by Lynn Allen on May 12, 2005 at 08:33 AM in Miscellany | Permalink

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