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.
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.
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?"
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.