It would be one thing if a few yahoos, what H. L. Mencken termed the “ignorant yokels from the cow states,” stood obstinately against evolution. Some of these people may not yet have come around to accepting that the earth is round. But almost half the American population! Many scientists and others have expressed their bafflement that there are so many “creationists” out there who simply refuse to accept the findings of modern science.
Creationists come in different shapes and sizes. Most are biblical literalists, who uphold without qualification the biblical claim that God created the earth and all living things in six days. A quite distinct creationist belief—not always shared by those in the first group—is that the earth is only six thousand years old. This figure is derived by tabulating the genealogies listed in scripture.
Many creationists fight evolution with a desperate intensity, because they fear that if any part of the Bible is proven wrong then none of it will be believed. I respect the dedication and moral fervor of the creationists, although I do not agree with their reading either of scripture or the scientific evidence. Moreover, the broader anxiety about Darwinism in the culture is not simply a product of creationism.
It is said that the wife of a London aristocrat, when informed about Darwin’s claim that man is descended from an ape-like creature, responded, “My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it may not become widely known.” This woman was raising an interesting question: what does it do to man to teach him that he is nothing more than an animal? Perhaps he will start acting like an animal! Consider this disquieting thought. If your neighbor entered your house by force, killed or stupefied you with blows, and then dragged your daughter to his own place to forcibly mate with her, most people would consider that an outrage. But that kind of behavior is common, natural, and expected in the animal kingdom.
We know that for more than half a century social Darwinists used ideas of “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” to justify racist and inhumane policies like eugenics, anti-immigration laws, and forced sterilization. William Jennings Bryan—a religious conservative who was also a political progressive—championed the creationist cause at the Scopes trial largely because of his abhorrence of this political program. Today’s champions of evolution are quick to declare social Darwinism a crude distortion of Darwin’s theories. As one of my college professors put it, “They were using science for ideological ends. That’s not going on today.”
But it is. According to biologist Francisco Ayala, Darwin “completed the Copernican Revolution…. Darwin discovered that living beings can be explained as a result of a natural process—natural selection—without resorting to a Creator.”7
Biologist E. 0. Wilson writes, “If humankind evolved by Darwinian natural selection, genetic chance andenvironmental necessity, not God, made the species.” Biologist Stephen Jay Gould invokes evolution to show that “no intervening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs of nature … whatever we think of God, his existence is not manifest in the products of nature.” Douglas Futuyma asserts in his textbook Evolutionary Biology, “By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life processes superfluous.” Biologist William Provine boasts that “evolution is the greatest engine of atheism.”
So there is an anti-religious thrust in Darwinism, and this is the main reason many Americans refuse to embrace it. They view Darwinism as atheism masquerading as science. They also suspect that Darwin’s theories are being used to undermine traditional religion and morality. Many parents are concerned that their children will go to school and college as decent Christians and come out as unbelievers and moral relativists. As we can see from the quotations above, these concerns about contemporary Darwinism are justified. Evolution in the way that it is promoted and taught today seems to promote a social agenda that is anti-religious and amoral.