One reason why the American public may hold such skeptical views of evolution is that the theological case for evolution has not been made with any vigor and biblical insight by Christian theologians. The American public overwhelmingly believes in God (90 percent) and when the issue is framed as “God versus evolution” then people of faith will develop skepticism about evolution, deeming it secularism.
The biblical and theological case for evolution is a case for God’s infinity and the freedom of God’s creation. If Christians realize there is no possible permutation of what evolutionary biologists regard as “random” that is not already known to an infinite God, then the “God versus evolution” controversy simply vanishes. All is already within God. Furthermore, when Christians realize God created the world to be free to grow and change, they do not fear evolution as “rampant secularism” but celebrate it as evidence of the astonishing power of an infinite God.
Indeed, as Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., an evangelical Christian and leader of the Human Genome Project from 1993 until 2008, has argued in his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, science and religion need not be at odds, and “One of the great tragedies of our time is this impression that has been created that science and religion have to be at war.”
It is definitely “an impression that has been created” that faith and science are at war and politics is one big reason this impression has been created.
There are extraordinarily cynical reasons why politicians pepper their speeches with snide remarks about evolution having “holes” and so forth. Some conservative politicians, and Governor Perry seems to be one of them, routinely belittle the science of evolution and talk about “creationism” as though it were science in order to establish their ultra-conservative political bona fides.
What is involved in Governor Perry’s use of the term “Creationism”? Creationism means the belief in a literal creation by God of everything in this world exactly as it is today. The most extreme of these views is the “young earth” movement represented by the Creation Museum—the earth, indeed the whole universe, they believe, is only 6,000 years old—a biblically derived number.
I have visited the Creation Museum. The brochure explains that “Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s rivers. The serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil . . . Enter the Cave of Sorrows and see the horrific effects of the Fall.” As I entered the first exhibit and looked at the animatronic Garden of Eden, I wondered who these children could be, since the Bible does not say that Adam and Eve had children in the Garden of Eden. Of course, the Bible also does not mention dinosaurs roaming the Garden of Eden. So what’s going on?
In his remarkable book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America , Thomas Frank describes exactly how conservatives accomplished this cultural sea change. “While leftists sit around congratulating themselves on their personal virtue, the right understands the central significance of movement building, and they have taken to the task with admirable diligence.” I certainly interpreted the Creation Science Museum as part of this “movement building” by conservatives.
This mass movement work in undermining the science of evolution is paying off handsomely as the Gallup poll cited in the question documents. When only 38 percent of Americans “believe” in evolution, solid work has been done to distort and misrepresent this well-documented scientific perspective and substitute a hodgepodge of theologically and biblically suspect views as seen especially in “young earth Creationism.”
But I said above, there are both extraordinarily cynical motives in those who promote the targeting of evolution and there are genuine and deeply held religious concerns. As especially well described by Frank, the cynical reason for conservatives bent on movement-building to take up an issue like evolution is that it really cannot be resolved through concerted political action. The real reason to take up anti-evolutionary views as a conservative cause is to create a roiling distrust of liberalism. This generalized anger helps mobilize the conservative base and get enough votes for the real political agenda like letting polluters off the hook, rolling back regulation, and gutting the Environmental Protection agency.
There are also many Christians who are genuinely concerned about the capacity of the newer biological sciences to “play God” through gene therapy or other kinds of genetic engineering. The prospect of changing the human genetic code makes a lot of people very nervous, myself included. Could these scientists really change human nature? I have written, in Adam, Eve, and the Genome: The Human Genome Project and Theology both about the beauty and religious inspiration of the human genetic code, and the need for religious people to continuously engage with scientists on these important questions of genetic research and therapy.
Progressive Christians need to do more of this faithful interpretation of the science of evolution. Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? is certainly critical of the left for letting conservatives run the table, and that includes the religious left.
So, what do you think? Is God infinite or not? And if God is infinite, there’s nothing in science but a method for documenting how the enormous dynamism of this creation is happening all the time.
Worry about something that really matters, like the fact that if the Environmental Protection Agency is destroyed your children won’t be able to breathe in a few years.
God help us.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite | Aug 23, 2011 7:40 PM