The August 12 decision of the Kansas Board of Education to exclude the word macroevolution from its recommended science curriculum initially led to a flurry of articles, editorials, and press releases examining the state of the "Evolution Wars." In the four months since the Kansas decision, the media continue to examine the battle. Interestingly, most media accounts these days still focus on Kansas, though similar measures have been taken in New Mexico, Kentucky, Illinois, and Oklahoma.
Books & Culture reexamines The Trial of the Century and 'wartime' rhetoric
When the Kansas story broke in the papers, references to the 1925 Scopes trial were a dime a dozen. "Tennessee won in court, saw the decision reversed on appeal, and has since had to live with the historical black eye of being the state that arrested a science teacher for teching science," wrote a Miami Herald columnist. "You'd think the lesson would have thus been learned, but evidently they don't teach history so well in Kansas, either." But, as the Associated Press pointed out in a September 19 story, the Scopes trial has been radically misremembered. In an attempt to rectify the situation and to put Scopes, Kansas, and points in between in context, Books & Culture (a Christianity Today sister publication) puts "Darwin Comes to America," by Eastern Nazarene College professors Karl W. Giberson and Donald A. Yerxa, on its November/December cover. The article briefly retells the story of the Trial of the Century, encouraging readers to read Edward Larson's Summer for the Gods for more detail, and looks at why scientists and the media are so quick to label every clash over evolution as a Scopes reenactment. Most interesting, however, is its examination of the phrase "Evolution Wars."
Virtually everyone working in the history of science ... consider[s] a warfare metaphor 'neither useful nor tenable in describing the relationship between science and religion. Their point is well taken give the highly polemical nature of much of the writing in this area. ... [But] while we agree ... that the warfare metaphor is a dangerous, distorting, and overly simplistic way to describe the complex range of religious and scientific interactions, we believe a cultural warfare model does make at least some sense when applied to twentieth-century America. ... But it would be a mistake to identify the antagonists in this war as 'science' and 'religion.'
Using "science" and "religion" as synonyms for "evolutionary" and "antievolutionary" in the debate is to commit horrible caricature, they say.
The Chronicle of Higher Education's Great Commission
The Chronicle of Higher Education apparently disagrees with the two Eastern Nazarene professors. In "An Article of Faith: Science and Religion Don't Mix," appearing on the back cover of the November 26 issue, Lawrence Krauss laments the miscegenation of scientists and their religious counterparts—which he sees as a plot financed by multimillionaire John Templeton to give credence to religion. "There is a war going on for the hearts and minds of the U.S. public," write Krauss, author of The Physics of Star Trek, "and science—the driving force behind the technology that makes the modern world possible—is losing because scientists are often too timid to attack nonsense whenever and wherever it appears." Krauss believes that to save the world from these religious fundamentalists, "scientists must become evangelists," every bit as vigorous in defending their beliefs as Billy Graham is in defending his. And, in the meantime, academic interest into scientists' and theologians' common search for truth should be met with skepticism, not praise: "Although there is nothing wrong with paying some scholarly attention to whatever marginal common ground science and religion may share, overemphasizing their commonality is dangerous—especially when the driving force behind the effort is not the strength of ideas, but one man's money, compounded by the misplaced enthusiasm of some religious zealots." (The Chronicle of Higher Education allows only print subscribers to read its articles online, but you can see the Nov. 26 table of contents here.)
Scientific American decides facts don't really matter after all
The November issue of Scientific American contains an article about how some scientists are doing exactly what Krauss recommends: becoming evangelists for evolutionism. In "Speaking Up For Science," David Appell describes how evolutionists are going beyond lamenting the Kansas decision from their ivory towers and taking action. He tells of Marshall Berman, who sits on the New Mexico State Board of Education and is now rewriting science standards with two other evolutionists on the board, and of Stephen Angel, a chemistry professor on the Topeka board. The most interesting comment, however, comes from William Spitzer, director of education at Boston's New England Aquarium. "If you really care about an issue," he says, "being accurate isn't always the way to be most effective." I expected a follow-up statement saying that because they traffic in science, scientists have the obligation to be accurate above all, even if their opposition is seemingly more effective. But no. Instead, Spitzer says capturing the public's attention is of prime importance. "If you're really trying to make a change in public attitudes, sometimes you have to adopt a different strategy," he says.
The American Spectator offers twice the antievolutionism
The December 1999/January 2000 issue of The American Spectator contains not one but two articles on evolutionism. The first, simply titled "The Evolution Wars," is a paean to evolution critic Phillip Johnson and his antievolutionist friends. The second, "Darwin's Hostages," is by one of those friends, Michael J. Behe, who received the 1997 Christianity Today Book of the Year Award for Darwin's Black Box, The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (see our article on Behe here). Like the Books & Culture article discussed earlier, "The Evolution Wars" notes the problem with too much separation of religion and science, equating antievolutionism with the former and evolutionism with the latter. Overall, however, the article is simply another summary of Johnson's, Behe's, and others' challenges to evolution—and author Tom Bethell doesn't do it better than it has been done elsewhere. What sets Bethell's article apart, however, is his closing potshot at Christian colleges:
Meanwhile, within the biology departments of the Christian colleges, the accommodationists have been unhappy. In some cases they have been bitterly resentful of Phil Johnson. Their forlorn hope has been to receive admiring notice, perhaps even a Strange New Respect Award or two, from Harvard and Yale. Having done their best to shed that old rumpled seersucker, William Jennings Bryan stigma [another Scopes reference!], along comes this slick lawyer from Berkeley to tell them that Darwin got it all wrong! They had learned to live with a nice, passive, no-thunderbolts deity, who minded his own business, allowed life to develop of its own accord by Darwinian methods, and certainly had the good taste to stay out of the 'creationism' business. Now they were to believe that all this had been unnecessary? Like nuns in miniskirts just as they went out of fashion?
The article doesn't mention any names, of course, but is content to lump "the Christian colleges" together into one unthinking, desperate, insecure mass. It's about as offensive as the antireligious comments made by the most strident of evolutionists.
Behe's article looks at some of those antireligious comments, arguing that the "decision in Kansas to question evolution dogma has given rise to hysteria and intolerance." He quotes the editor of Scientific American's urging college admissions officers to treat Kansas's applicants as academically underqualified: "Maybe the [Kansas] Board of Education needs to learn about natural selection firsthand." And after a few more astounding quotes, Behe asks, "Why does a change in a farm state's high school examination policy call forth damning editorials all the way from London, England, and have normally staid editors threatening children?" He finds three reasons: religious opposition to Christianity as a majority creed, the association of antievolutionism with political conservatism ("any move against Darwinism is treated by some overwrought folks as the first step on the path to fascism, with a flat tax and a ban on abortion soon to follow"), and, most importantly, differences of epistemology—what constitutes knowledge. Behe then continues with his critique on "Darwinian literalism." But in his examples of post-Kansas rhetoric, it's clear that Books & Culture's Giberson and Yerxa are correct when they write, "a cultural warfare model does make at least some sense when applied to twentieth-century America."
Ted Olsen is Online and Opinion Editor of Christianity Today.
Previous Amassed Media columns:
Hooray for Holywood (Nov. 17)
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