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Anti-Evolutionism in the Twentieth Century and Beyond

The continued encroachment of science into areas that traditionally belonged to theology coupled with the development of biblical criticism profoundly affected Christianity. While the churches in Europe were slowly turning to "modernism" and liberal interpretation of biblical doctrines to avoid another potentially embarrassing clash with science, the mantle of true Christianity was carried by the Christian churches in the southern states of the U.S..

In 1910, the Presbyterian General Assembly of the U.S. drew up a list of five fundamentals items which they believed to be the rock bottom dogmas of Christianity. These "Five Fundamentals", as they were called, are: the miracles of Jesus; his virgin birth; his bodily resurrection; his atoning death on the cross; and the Bible as the directly inspired word of God. These items were to be believed on faith and cannot be doubted. The last item ensured that "fundamentalist" Christians cannot doubt the creation account in Genesis and must reject evolution; whatever the evidence may be. [1]

These fundamentalists did not just passively held on to their beliefs; they actively tried to get the teaching of evolution banned from state schools. In the 1920's they managed to get anti-evolution bills tabled in thirty seven state legislatures. As a result Oklahoma passed a law which banned the use of textbooks that teaches evolution. Similar laws were passed in Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas. And in Tennessee, a law was passed which made the teaching of evolution in school a crime. [2]

In 1925 the law in Tennessee was invoked when a young teacher in Dayton, John Scopes was charged in court for teaching evolution in the Dayton High School. Scopes had allowed himself to be charged to allow the state law to be challenged. He was defended by the renowned lawyer and agnostic, Clarence Darrow (1867-1938). The prosecutor was a three time U.S. presidential candidate, a former secretary of state and a vocal supporter of Christian fundamentalism: William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925).

Bryan had purposely took up the prosecution in order to make it a battle between Darwinism and the Bible. He made no bones about his hatred for evolution; he once claimed in a speech that "All the ills from which America suffers can be traced back to the teachings of evolution. It would be better to destroy every book ever written, and save just the first three verses of Genesis ..." His knowledge of the scientific basis of Darwinism was dismal, to say the least. He allowed himself to be cross-examined by Darrow during the trial as an expert on the Bible. When asked what he thought about the scientific evidence for a very old earth, Bryan's answer was pure Christian irrationalism: "I do not think about things I do not think about!" Bryan's ignorance was thoroughly exploited by Darrow. As a result, this once a candidate president was made a laughing stock by the press. Although he won the case [Scopes, after all, had broken the law], Bryan left the trial a broken and humiliated man; he died five days after the trial.

Although Scopes was fined $100 for the offence, this was later rescinded due to a technicality. As a result, the law was never brought to the U.S. supreme court and it remain in the statute books. [3]

The trial did have an effect in toning down the Christian anti-evolution lobby. And for the next three decades, the American fundamentalists publicly pursued other pet hates such as sex education and the ban of prayers in schools. [4]

This lack of political lobbying did not mean that the fundamentalists had accepted evolution; far from it. In fact the early twenties saw a burst of publications of supposedly scientific anti-evolution books. The most important was The New Geology (1923) by George McCready Price (1870-1963). Price argued that the Biblical stories of a seven day creation and the its chronologies asserting a young earth are supported by geological evidence. He argued that the different rock strata were wrongly interpreted by the geologists to mean that the rocks were formed at different times. To him, these strata were all formed at the same time, during the Biblical Noahchian Flood. His arguments, quite easily shown to be wrong, were to be repeated almost verbatim by subsequent creationist writers. Following this publication, a spate of anti-evolution books were published by both Catholics and Protestants, on both sides of the Atlantic. [5]

Events in the fifties and sixties brought evolution back into the limelight in America. The successful launching of the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik, by the Soviet Union came as a jolt to the American politicians. Fearing that America was losing the scientific race, they called for a review of the education system. As a result evolutionary biology was reintroduced into state schools in the early sixties. [6]

All this while, the anti-evolution laws were still active in several southern states. The local support for keeping these laws were strong. When a bill in 1961 was passed to abolish the law in Tennessee, it was vehemently and decisively rejected by the people of that state. Similarly, the governor of Arkansas, in the early and mid-sixties, stoutly defended the anti-evolution law. It was only in the late sixties that these laws were finally declared by the U.S. Supreme Court to be unconstitutional. [7]

Following these "defeats", the Christian fundamentalists changed their strategy. Rather than presenting themselves as anti-science, which they were, they started calling themselves "scientific creationists." They started claiming that creationism have at least as much evidence supporting it as does evolution. And rather than trying to ban the teaching of evolution, they opted for the ostensibly more amiable case of "equal time" in biology classrooms for the teaching of evolution and creationism. [8]

Various "research" institutes for creationism were formed: the Creation Research Society in 1962; the Creation Science Research Center in 1970; and the Institute of Creation Research, also in 1970. The Institute of Creation Research (ICR) is without doubt the dominant creationist organization. Apart from publishing hundreds of anti-evolution books (which are translated into more than ten different languages), the ICR also publishes magazines and produces documentary and film slides. Its members also give lectures and seminars to various colleges and churches. Some of them actively participate in public debates against scientists. [9]

Armed with the pseudo-scientific arguments of the ICR, the fundamentalists started their campaign against evolution. Some of them pressured the local school boards to introduce creationist teachings in biology classes alongside evolution. Some went for bigger game and pressed the state legislatures into passing laws requiring "equal time" for creationism in biology classes. [10] The successes these fundamentalists in the early eighties were simply astounding, as anthropologist John R. Cole summarized:

In 1980 creation instruction was officially available in states such as Wisconsin, Missouri and South Dakota, and in other states de facto "equal time" formula prevailed in many school districts; in 1981 the Arkansas and Louisiana legislatures passed equal time laws. Texas dictated in 1980 that evolution be presented as "only one of the several explanations of the origins of mankind" and in 1981 a California court ruled that evolution should be taught as a "theory" rather than as a "fact." [11]

Although the "equal time" laws in Arkansas and Louisiana had been successfully overturned [12], creationism still presents a dangerous threat. For a side effect of the fundamentalist pressure has been to force profit conscious American textbook publishers to trim down or even eliminate completely references to evolution in their science books. [13]

As will be shown in the next section, creationism is unscientific, it is merely Christian mythology masquerading as science. Allowing creationism to be taught alongside evolution is no different from allowing the "stork theory" to be taught alongside biological reproduction classes. "Scientific Creationism" is merely the latest manifestation of the anti-scientific aspect of Christianity. For by attacking evolution, the creationists are actually attacking all of science. As the philosopher of science, Philip Kitcher explained:

although the creationist campaign is advertised as an assault on evolutionary theory, it really constitutes an attack on the whole of science. Evolutionary biology is intertwined with other sciences, ranging from nuclear physics and astronomy to molecular biology and geology. If evolutionary biology is to be dismissed, then the fundamental principles of the other sciences will have to be excised. All the other major fields of science will have to be trimmed - or, more exactly, mutilated - to fit the creationists' bill. Moreover, in attacking the methods of evolutionary biology, creationists are actually criticizing methods that are used throughout science ... there is no basis for separating the procedures and practices of evolutionary biology from those that are fundamental to all the sciences. [14]

The influence of creationism had already transcended the borders of the U.S.. In the early eighties some schools in Canada were beginning to introduce creationism into biology classes. In England in a 1981 exhibition at the British Museum, creationism was actually, and seriously, presented as a valid alternative to Darwinism. [15]

Just as Justinian's act of closing down the Greek schools in the sixth century plunged Europe into a thousand years of intellectual darkness, the fundamentalists are attempting to do, through creationism, the very same thing to the whole world.

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1.Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism: p7
2.Nelkin, The Creation Controversy: p31
Ruse, Darwinism Defended: p287
3.Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism: p14-15
Ruse, Darwinism Defended: p287
4.Nelkin, The Creation Controversy: p32-33
5.Gardner, Fads and Fallacies: p128-134
6.Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism: p24
7.Ibid: p9
Nelkin, The Creation Controversy: p34
8.Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism: p9
9.Nelkin, The Creation Controversy: p82
10.Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism: p9
11.Ibid: p25
12.Frazier, Science Confronts the Paranormal: p305
13.Nelkin, The Creation Controversy: p153
14.Kitcher, Abusing Science: p4-5
15.Ruse, Darwinism Defended: p293

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