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Creationism, Their Mind is on Vacation

A delightful essay from Discover, March 98, p. 80.


“Your mind is on vacation and your mouth is working overtime”  from a song by Mose Allison.  More garbage shining from the divine light


It is quite disconcerting how far a group of motivated people can influence policy that serves only their special interests.  Creationists have been able to influence the teaching of science in public schools.  They maintain that there is a factually basis for their position, and thus argue that their position is not founded upon religion.  But freed of their interpretation of the word, they have insurmountable hurdles. 


One reason I believe this is that the motives publicly claimed by Christian antievolutionists don't make sense. Many will tell you that the evolution issue is a religious struggle between a godless sci­entific establishment and so-called creationists—that is, themselves. But a lot of evolutionary biologists are creationists, too—devout Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who believe in an eternal God who created the world. They just don't see any reason to think mat he created it as recently as 4000 B.C.


Many opponents of the idea of evolu­tion say they reject it because it contra­dicts the Bible. They claim to believe that every word in the Bible is literally true. But no one really believes that. We all know that when, in John 7:38, Jesus said, "He that believeth on me ... out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water," he didn't mean it literally. It's a figure of speech. Practically every book of the Bible contains some such passages, which have to be read as either figures of speech or errors of fact. Consider Biblical as­tronomy. The Old Testament depicts the "firmament" as a strong dome or tent spread out above the Earth. It has the sun, moon, and stars set in it—and water up above it, and windows in it to let the water out when it rains (see Gen. 1:6—8, 1:14-17, 7:11, 8:2; Job 37:18; Ps. 104:2; Isa. 24:18; and Mal. 3:10). This is a lovely picture. If you read it as poetry, it's gor­geous. But taken literally, it's just plain wrong.  There isn't any firmament or any water above the firmament, and the sun, moon, and stars aren't attached to any­thing. And if we can all agree that there isn't any firmament, then we can all agree that the literal truth of the Bible can't be the real issue here.


Some religious people say they re­ject the idea of evo­lution because it lowers human be­ings to the level of the beasts and blinds us to the nobility of man. In his closing speech for the pros­ecution in the 1925 Scopes monkey trial, William Jennings Bryan pointed an­grily to a high-school textbook that classed Homo sapiens as a mammal. "No circle is reserved for man alone," Bryan protested. "He is, according to the diagram, shut up in the little circle entitled 'Mammals,' with thirty-four hundred and ninety-nine other species of mammals.... What shall we say of the intelligence, not to say re­ligion, of those who are so particular to distinguish between fishes and reptiles and birds, but put a man with an immor­tal soul in the same circle with the wolf, the hyena, and the skunk? What must be the impression made upon children by such a degradation of man?"


What, indeed? But if you are going to classify living things at all, you have to group people and wolves together in some category, since they are both living things. Actually, the classification that Bryan railed against was in place a cen­tury before Darwin published his ideas on evolution. It was the pious creationist Carl von Linne, not some atheistic evo­lutionist, who named the Mammalia and classed Homo sapiens among them, back in 1758. And even then, in the mid-eighteenth century, classifying people as animals was an ancient idea. The Old Tes­tament itself says bluntly that human be­ings are beasts, and no nobler than any of the others (Eccles. 3:18-21). Yes, of course we are mammals: hairy, warm-­blooded vertebrates with milk glands and big forebrains, like wolves and hyenas and skunks. What's so awful about dirt? What else could we possibly be? Insects-Plants? Seraphim?


Most religious antievolutionists rec­ognize that people resemble animals, but they refuse to believe it's a literal family resemblance. They think it insults human dignity to describe people as modified apes. But the Bible says that God made man from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). Why is being a made-over ape more humiliating than being made-over dirt?


Given such patent contradictions, it seems apparent that there must be something else about Darwinian evolution that bothers antievolutionists. And I think we can get some idea of what it is by study­ing the strange alliance against Darwin that's emerged in recent years between the forces of the religious right and the academic left.


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