THE BLOG

Is Evolution Satan's Great Lie?

10/15/2012 02:37 pm ET | Updated Dec 15, 2012

Evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell," according to U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga. They are not scientific theories supported by mountains of evidence, as scientists would have us believe. They are a part of Satan's grand plan to keep people "from understanding that they need a savior."

Broun's extraordinary remarks were made at Baptist Church in Hartwell, Ga. The largely fundamentalist audience cheered the comments.

Broun's comments and the audience response should raise alarm bells for those who care about science education in this country. It is one thing to claim, invoking some authority from outside the mainstream, that evolution has weaknesses. Or that the evidence does not warrant the absolute certainty with which scientists embrace the theory. Or that some of the evidence for evolution has been compromised by recent discoveries. The Discovery Institute, where the heart of the intelligent design movement has been beating for some time, does this every day on its website. In principle one can have a conversation on those grounds. I have, in fact, had such conversations.

The claim that evolution and other scientific ideas are "lies from the pit of hell," however, creates an entirely different context for discussion, namely, no context at all. How does one discuss the truth of an idea when your conversation partner believes that idea comes from Satan as a part of a conspiracy to dissuade people from becoming Christian?

It would be nice if Broun's comment was exceptional--a singular bit of self-contained political comedy like Christine O'Donnell telling us she was "not a witch," or Donald Trump pretending to run for president. But Broun's comment is mainstream anti-evolution and has been circulating within fundamentalism for a century. It would have been familiar to many in his audience at Liberty University.

Many fundamentalists have drawn connections between evolution and Satan. Ken Ham, who heads the world's large anti-evolution organization, Answers in Genesis, titled his now-classic attack on scientific theories of origins, "The Lie: Evolution." A serpent graced the cover of the first edition of the book. Ham suggests that modern proponents of evolution -- which would include Francis Collins and myself, as well as our atheist colleagues, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne -- are the "false teachers" predicted in the Bible. Our appearance, spreading the lie of evolution, is a signal that the apocalypse is near.

Henry Morris, who almost single-handedly created the modern creationist movement, outlined the argument in great detail in his 1989 book "The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Controversy." In a book praised by fundamentalist publications and endorsed by religious leaders, Morris outlines in considerable detail how Satan has been using evolution for millennia to subvert the Gospel. In this scenario, supported with countless footnotes and other scholarly apparatus, Darwin is not the originator of evolution. Darwin, argues Morris, was nothing more than a "catalyst for a revival of ancient paganism, coming at just the right time in history to bring to fruition a revolt against God for which many in Western Europe had been preparing for over a century." Morris suggests that Satan delivered the theory of evolution to Nimrod when they met on the Tower of Babel.

Ham and Morris are two of the most important and influential fundamentalist leaders of the past half-century. Their arguments appear with great regularity in Sunday School classrooms, youth group workshops, and even in the syllabi of courses at fundamentalist schools like Liberty University and Bob Jones University.

Responding effectively to what look like crazy rants from people like Broun requires that we understand that, whatever we think of the rant, the viewpoint is widespread and shared by many of America's religious leaders. Evolution and the Big Bang will never win the allegiance of America's millions of fundamentalists on the basis of evidence. This conflict is a culture war pitting good against evil and the stakes are much higher.