A ‘Retro Report’ article in the NY Times, Questioning Evolution: The Push to Change Science Class, summarizes the by-now familiar litany of how objections to Darwin’s theory of the evolution — along with the many lines of supporting evidence and detailed implications of the theory, of which Darwin was unaware (he knew nothing of genetics, for example), that have been discovered since Darwin lived — have changed over time. Evolved.
Darwinism has long been under siege in parts of the United States, even if its critics have practiced their own form of evolution, adapting their arguments to accommodate altered legal circumstances. This installment of Retro Report shows the enduring strength of the forces that embrace the biblical account of Creation or reasonable facsimiles of it. For some of them, the rejection of broad scientific consensus extends to issues like climate change and stem-cell research.
The article is accompanied by a 10-minute video. The article starts with the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial, followed by the ploy of Creationism, followed by its ‘stepchild’ intelligent design. That last, also, was rejected by the courts.
And so, once more, the anti-Darwinists were forced to evolve. What emerged were state laws with descriptions like the “science education act” and the “academic freedom act.” One of the earliest and most successful of these endeavors, the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008, carried echoes of a “wedge strategy” advocated by the Discovery Institute — a step-by-step program to “reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”
The Louisiana law permits public schoolteachers to use materials critical of established scientific thought, with “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning” singled out as targets. No blatant advocacy of creationism or intelligent design is authorized. But those concepts make their way into classrooms all the same, as a means of fostering “critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories.”
Of course, the deep motivations of evolution-deniers are revealed by their singling out of that topic and others that threaten the verities of religious fundamentalism, and more particularly, that threaten human vanity. If the Bible is literally true, then surely the fields of geology, astronomy, and astrophysics are as misguided and wrong as are the entirety of modern biology, about which one scientist remarked “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.” But you don’t see the advocates of ‘teaching the controversy’ concerned about physics or astronomy.
The article goes on, “Georgia Purdom, a molecular geneticist who is also a creationist, offered much the same view. ‘I am a scientist, and I have looked at the science, and I see that it confirms God’s word,’ Dr. Purdom said.” This would be called motivated thinking; that is, you can be sure Dr. Purdom was raised as a religious fundamentalist and then went on to learn biology and strove mightily to reconcile the two. No one without such a background, looking at the evidence of the world, of biology and geology and astronomy, would come to the conclusion that the Earth and all life is only 6000 years old, any more than they might conclude the world, with all of its evidence of antiquity, was created 5 minutes ago.
This topic aligns with several other items recently:
Op-ed by David Leonhardt: America Is Now an Outlier on Driving Deaths
Over the last few decades, however, other countries have embarked on evidence-based campaigns to reduce vehicle crashes. The United States has not. The fatality rate has still fallen here, thanks partly to safer vehicles, but it’s fallen far less than anywhere else.
Evidence! The strategy of drawing conclusions from evidence is antithetical not only to religious fundamentalists, but also to the current US administration.
And the themes of several recent books…
Slate: The Long Con: Hoaxes, fake news, and phonies are nothing new in America. But has it ever been this bad?, about Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, just published last week.
And Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.
And Tom Nichols’ The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters.