The Science of Evolution: Anti-Evolution Creationism: An Assault on All of Science, in the Name of God

Part 7f continued: Summation: A Question of Methods, A Question of Struggle

by Ardea Skybreak

Revolutionary Worker #1223, December 21, 2003, posted at

This is the conclusion of Part 7.


Along with the fundamental methodological errors of the Intelligent Design Creationists (IDCs)--and of the Creationists in general--there is, as we discussed previously, an important social and political dimension to all this. Anyone who seriously looks into the tremendous quantity and variety of scientific evidence that supports the theory of evolution and who also seriously looks into the total lack of evidence and the shoddy non-scientific or even anti-scientific methods of the Creationists of different stripes (including the proponents of Intelligent Design) cannot help but conclude that there really is a cultural war going on --an assault against the science of evolution, and science more generally, that is being waged by people who are dead-set on trying to impose a particular set of anti- science religious beliefs on schoolchildren and the general population throughout the United States. But WHY?And why now ?

The short answer to that seems to be that Creationists of all stripes are on a mission to promote religion in opposition to science because they are afraid of the social and political implications of secular science education. Creationists really do fear what can happen in a society if generation after generation is taught genuine scientific methods, and is shown the tremendous amount of scientific evidence that life has evolved and continues to evolve--exactly because this leads to the inescapable conclusion that the Biblical story of Genesis cannot possibly be true. Will the growing realization that what is said in the Bible is not literally true cause people to abandon all belief in God and practice of religion?

This is something the Creationists are terribly afraid of. Of course, even more than a century and a half after Darwin, many people still believe in a god of some kind and practice the rituals of one or another of the world's many religions. But many religious people these days have found ways to continue in their religious beliefs even though they also accept the evidence that evolution is real. So, on the one hand. it is obvious that learning the facts of evolution doesn't in and of itself cause people to automatically give up on religion and belief in god. But, on the other hand, it is true that an understanding of evolution and how science has repeatedly proven and documented that evolution is a fact can and does cause many people to call into question fundamental, "literalist" religious notions--and, indeed, even religion more generally. So it is not without reason that the religious fundamentalists in particular cannot simply rest easy with the knowledge that many people have managed to hold onto their religious beliefs while at the same time accepting evolution as a scientifically established truth.

The Creationists are linked to, and a key force within, a social and political movement largely rooted in the zealotry of Christian fundamentalism, which considers that the slightest departure from the revealed Word of the Christian God will bring hell and damnation upon the land. And many of them think it already has: they see American society as being in a state of moral decay--not, as others might suggest, because of the arrogance and grasping brutality of the American Empire as it seems to be running amok in the world-- invading, pillaging, occupying distant lands, everywhere imposing its will by force and crushing entire peoples in the name of corporate profit and world domination. No, this isn't the kind of "moral decay" the Creationists are concerned about! It is the "morality" of people on the home front that particularly concerns them: they look around them and they see trouble, trouble everywhere--women insisting they have the right to control their childbearing; immigrants ignoring borders in their search for work; Black people and other oppressed nationalities unwilling to passively resign themselves to subjugation and "play by the rules" which are stacked against them; young people getting increasingly alienated and restless for global societal and environmental change; people who oppose unjust wars and the American occupation of other lands and who insist that the lives of people "over there" (wherever) are no less valuable than the lives of Americans...all this is deeply upsetting to these fundamentalist reactionaries. They worry also about a decline in the traditional respect for government, police and other established authorities (including churches). And they lump together all that disturbs and horrifies them--you name it, abortion, prostitution, AIDS, women and children who defy the man of the house, drug abusers, homosexuals, environmentalists, godless atheist communists, secular humanists, non-white troublemakers...the whole of society is pretty much going to hell in a handbasket as they see it! And all they can think of is that if they could just get "God and the Bible back into the schools" (and into the policy-making halls of government, and in the institutions of science themselves) everything would be all right again. That's why these anti-evolutionists are the same people who want to impose both prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, support imperial wars waged "with God on our side," and continually try to break down the separation between Church and state which poses an obstacle to the imposition of a theocracy run by religious fanatics!5

In the United States today it is the Christian fundamentalists who are trying to move things in the direction of theocratic rule. They work to impose their particular religious beliefs on every private and public domain (and so far they have successfully influenced--and found powerful backers and allies in-- everything from local school boards and PTAs to the Congress, Supreme Court and White House). Their campaign to impose the teaching of Creationism isn't about their right to their personal religious beliefs, and it certainly isn't about any "holes" in the well-supported theory of evolution. It is about the desire to recast the whole of social and political relations in the U.S ., to bring them more in line with a Christian fundamentalist outlook and agenda, all the better to serve an empire with "god on its side" ("God Bless America!").

It is ironic to note that people like the Taliban or other fundamentalist Muslim clerics are routinely criticized in the U.S. for the way they try to impose rigid theocracies. But that's exactly what these Christian fundamentalists would increasingly like to do! And their attempts to place anti-evolution Christian fundamentalist candidates on school boards, get courts to force schools to include religious doctrine in the science classrooms and insert anti-evolution "disclaimers" in science textbooks, and start building up anti-science "Science and Religion" clubs and institutes on college campuses (a recent trend)--all this fits into their larger reactionary social and political mission. And they have the financial and political backing of highly placed politicians, as well as heads of major financial institutions and corporations, along with relatively easy access to mass media, so it's not like they are being relegated to "fringe" status by any means.

And don't for a minute think the "Intelligent Design" Creationists are really any different, just because they are more literate and sophisticated and know how to argue in seemingly more reasoned and collegial tones than many of the old-style "scientific Creationists." Some of the IDCs may be embarrassed to be lumped together with old-style Biblical literalists and may even reject the name Creationist; and some of them, like Michael Behe, may insist that theirs is a "personal" God, and may even allow that a certain amount of evolution has in fact occurred (in accordance with God's overall designs). But none of these attempts to present Creationism with a more modern and "reasonable" face changes the essence of what they're all in bed with: the Creationist movement in the United States today is an organized political and social movement which is attempting to reverse established scientific methods and knowledge and replace it with religious dogma, in the service of an extremely reactionary ideological viewpoint and political program. And every single word which tries to mislead people into thinking that the theory of evolution is not fully supported (at least as well as any other theory in all of science) by mounds of scientific evidence, and every absurd suggestion that such things as biological complexity are actually "evidence" of divine design, immediately becomes incorporated into the larger mission and program of the right-wing funda- mentalists; and this will continue to be the case regardless of what any particular individual Creationist might think about that larger mission and program.

Especially given this larger social and political context, I find it rather disturbing that many evolutionists and other scientists (with a few notable exceptions) often seem to make a point of bending over backwards to constantly reassure everyone that evolution science (and science more generally) poses absolutely no threat to religious doctrines and beliefs. For one thing, this is not necessarily true: while recognizing that evolution is a well-established scientific fact does not, in and of itself, necessarily cause people to abandon religious beliefs (as is made very clear by the large number of people who acknowledge the facts of natural evolution while still believing in god), there is little doubt that even a beginning understanding of how life (including people) has evolved through natural processes may cause many people to seriously question and reexamine long-held beliefs in one or another god or other supernatural power. In line with this, I have appreciated physicist and cosmologist Steven Weinberg's bold statement that:

"One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplishment."

Evolutionists should not be defensive about the fact that the reality that life has evolved through entirely natural processes (which are within the grasp of human understanding) objectively challenges many traditional religious beliefs: a scientific understanding of evolution and how it works should be promoted not according to whether it does or doesn't weaken the hold of religion--it should be promoted on the basis that evolution is a demonstrably true fact of life.

Now to be fair, many of the scientists and others who go to extra lengths to remind people that science is not trying to undermine religion seem mainly to be trying to show respect for individuals' personal religious beliefs (which they may or may not share) and trying also to emphasize the correct point that science is a method human beings have devised for learning about natural material reality--stressing that the methods of science are such that they can only be applied to the investigation of strictly natural (i.e., material or non-supernatural) processes and phenomena--those that have a clear and concrete existence in the tangible material world. This is all true. But that doesn't mean scientists and others should go overboard and take a completely hands-off attitude towards human belief in a super-natural realm, constantly repeating "to each his own" and "the province of science is science and the province of religion is religion" or "science doesn't have anything to say about religion because it is by definition limited to addressing only natural phenomena which can be scientifically tested and verified."

In my view it is actually very unscientific to claim that "science doesn't have anything to say about religion." It is of course true that science cannot test for the presence of any supernatural force or power which by definition (and believers admit to this) has no tangible existence in the natural material world. But what about human ideas about gods and other supernatural forces or powers? Doesn't science have anything to say about that ? Can't scientific methods be applied to uncovering where such ideas came from, and how they have been given material expression by human beings? What about the social history which concretely records when and how human beings in different parts of the world started to tell or write down stories about various supernatural realms (the social origins of the many different kinds of creation myths and religious scriptures from all around the world)? What about the various social roles and purposes that have been fulfilled (in the real tangible world) by the practice of religious beliefs and rituals, at everything from the personal individual level to the larger societal level? And what about the history of how religious beliefs have changed over time (whatever happened, for instance, to the Ancient Egyptian, Greek or Roman pantheons of gods that people used to believe in as firmly as many modern-day people now believe in the God of the Bible, Talmud or Koran, for instance?)

Can't the same kind of scientific methods which are used to investigate questions in any other historical science (evolution, cosmology, archaeology, comparative linguistics, and so on) be applied to investigating the history of human belief in supernatural powers? And can't the methods of science be applied to gaining a better understanding of why some religious beliefs have at times been officially encouraged and promoted or, alternatively, severely restricted or even targeted for annihilation? All these phenomena--and the various human beliefs in a supernatural realm themselves--undeniably have real, tangible, material existence even if the objects of such beliefs (gods or other supernatural powers) by definition have no such tangible material presence. So aren't all these various religious phenomena and beliefs open to systematic scientific investigation and exploration, by the usual methods of science? If so, it would be much more in keeping with the methods of science to acknowledge that the sphere of human religious belief is not actually "outside" the province of science, and to stop making defensive claims that "science doesn't have anything to say about religion," for that is clearly not the case.

The very same scientific methods of investigation (which have verified over and over again the basic principles and mechanisms of how life has evolved, and continues to evolve, without a divine designer having had to be involved in any way) can also be applied to getting at the truth about both the social origins and the mechanisms of change over time (through cultural, rather than biological, evolution) of the various human ideas about the supernatural. In short, I would argue that applying a scientific methodology- -and in particular the outlook and methodology of dialectical and historical materialism--to arrive at an understanding of what is represented by religion, and how it actually leads away from systematically understanding and changing reality, is both possible and necessary.

Even many religious believers acknowledge that human beings have often done a great deal of harm to other human beings in the name of religion. But, on the other hand, experience has also shown that no good has ever come from trying to forcibly coerce people to give up (or for that matter to take up) the practice of religion. Among socially progressive people, many religious believers and non-believers will no doubt continue to find many ways to make common cause and to join forces in bearing witness to the actual truth of things around many important social issues, without making belief or non-belief in God a dividing line question. Actively resisting the attempts of the organized Creationists to spread doubt and confusion about the well established scientific facts of evolution--and to undermine science more generally- -is one of those issues.


5A theocracy ("religious rule") is a form of government which adopts a single state religion and then imposes it on the whole country. It is actually run by religious rather than secular authorities--or by people who rule above all in the name of religion--and it sets national policies on the basis of religious (rather than secular and constitutional) laws and doctrines. The Islamic Republic in Iran run by Islamic fundamentalists, or Afghanistan under the Taliban, are examples of theocracy.

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