Accepting Evolution

I have noticed that for some people, the reality of evolution is not a scientific issue, nor even a theological one. They will never be convinced by either the science or the theology that evolution is both true and consonant with a Christian view of scripture, because the roots of their opposition lie elsewhere – in a political and social worldview for which evolution has become a marker.

I know that many people have been persuaded by the scientific evidence and/or the theological interpretations that are consistent with evolution as God’s method for creation of the diversity of life. But others use a version of science or the Bible as screens to refute the idea of evolution, because they experience it as an intolerable challenge to their basic definitions of themselves and their concepts of humanity’s place in the world.

Of course, the situation is exacerbated by the insistence of many vocal atheists (in full agreement with YECs) that evolution is an atheistic idea. But I think the problem is deeper than that. Evolution is perceived by many as part of the “liberal” social ethic, along with gay rights and gay marriage, feminism, diversity, universalism, and so on. As a scientific theory, this is nonsense. In fact, historically, evolution has been used as propaganda for the extreme right – think of Nazism, scientific racism, genetic determinism (which is making a strange comeback), and so on.

We are living in world where Pontius Pilate’s question to Jesus “what is truth”? has many possible answers. This has probably always been true, in the time of Pilate and throughout history. The challenge is for us to see past our own political and social ideas of truth (which, I believe, are always shaky at best) and see a higher level of truth, that which is gained by the twin pillars represented by the two Books of God’s works and words – the scientific knowledge of nature, and truth of Scripture. Some will say that for evolution, these two books do not agree, but I believe that is false. What is clear is that science and politics treat the definition and description of truth in very different ways.

So we need people to understand that Darwin’s great idea is actually not related to political or social issues, unless it is falsely used in such a way. It is not a political or social theory. It does not say that humans are basically animals, nor does it contend that there is nothing special about human beings. Evolutionary theory, used properly, says nothing about human equality or inequality, and it takes no stand on any of the political issues that are so divisive in the US today. It is a scientific theory that has gotten overwhelming evidentiary support, and is not more political or social than the theory of gravity.

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9 Responses to Accepting Evolution

  1. resonate47 says:

    Great post. Accepting evolution was fairly easy for me once I separated it from the culture war narratives. Since then, I appreciate God’s creation even more, because it’s so much more intricate and deep.

  2. SheilaDeeth says:

    “Not a political or social theory.” Maybe that’s where the defense should begin.

  3. Thanks for this post, Sy. Since you mention scientific racism, do you have any suggested sources of information on that? Similarly, are you familiar with the “curse of Ham” as a justification for racism/slavery/white supremacy? One of the chapters I’m working on for my next Lincoln book will deal with the science behind racism as it stood leading up to the Civil War. Then in the news this week was the Southern Baptist convention and their internal positions over white supremacy; the “curse of Ham” was mentioned as a rationale for the religious support for racism/slavery. I’m mainly going to focus on the science side, but I do want to provide brief insights into the religious and economic aspects used by whites to rationalize enslaving their fellow men, women, and children.

    Any thoughts you have, or direction you can provide, would be greatly appreciated!

  4. David,

    On the issue of scientific racism, we can start with the older anthropological literature which assumed that non Europeans were an inferior sub species of humanoid, which was scientific dogma up until and even after WWII. Anthropology was not much of a science before the Civil War, but most naturalists, including Darwin, were extremely race conscious, and considered humanity to be composed of many sub species. In fact the biological term race was originally meant to apply to divisions of creatures within a species that were easily categorized and distinguished on the basis of phenotypes that were somewhat fixed, and that were the forerunners to new species (this is after Darwin’s publication). Technically, therefore the term race is inaccurate for humans, since such divisions do not exist for us. So we still have a long way to go. (PS, I will be speaking about this at the Smithsonian in August, I think on the 18th, so if you are in town, you might be interested).

    Although some anti evolutionists love to quote some of Darwin’s writing that sound racist, he was actually among the least racist of all the naturalists of his time. There was a large literature on “The Races of Mankind” all of which assumed what seemed obvious: Africans, (and Polynesians, and Asians and Indians) were biologically different and inferior in most areas to Europeans. And there was (and remains today) even racist divisions with Europe on both a North South and East West axis, so the Nazi definitions were not at all new, but taken from 19th century “science”.

    Then we have the much more recent work of Charles Murray on IQ, with different populations having different characteristics based on genetic differences. This idea was very popular, and has recently been championed by no other than militant atheist leader Sam Harris. A book by NYT science editor Nicholas Wade called “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History” is the most recent manifestation of the misuse of evolution to advance a racist agenda. I co-wrote a scathing review of the book, published in Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith which is behind a pay wall for non members of the ASA. I can send you a pdf if you are interested in the review.

    As for religious racism, I can’t add much to what you already know, but I will mention that Christians were never united in their belief in the curse of Ham. In fact, it was during the second “Great Awakening” that some fervent evangelical Christians decided that Black slaves were human enough to be converted to Christianity, and they were very successful in these attempts in the 18th century. Others at the time thought of Africans as non humans, who could not be saved or even understand the ideas of Christianity. Of course most of the abolitionists were devout Christians, who rejected these ideas, and held that slavery was an affront to God. And, of course, the early civil rights movement grew out of Black and then white churches and always had a religious context, something which I, as a young atheist radical could never quite understand. Today, most denominations are strongly anti racist, and even the Southern Baptists have mostly rejected racism, but as we know from other contexts, this country has a very long way to go to completely reject the older ideas about race.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful and extremely helpful background info. This will be very useful as I get to writing this particular chapter. I’ll take a look at your review of the Wade book.

      I think I’m in town that week of August; it would be great to finally meet you. Send me a link if you have one. My email is davidjkentDOTwriterATgmailDOTcom.

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