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The Danger of Ignoring Creationism

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Last week I wrote about the problems the Discovery Institute had with my article arguing that the evolution/creation controversy was a battle between different religious worldviews rather than a struggle between religion and science.

Now I find myself writing about yet another major creationist organization's criticisms of my work for The Huffington Post. This time the attack is coming from Answers in Genesis, the people behind the $27 million creation museum-cum-theme-park just outside Cincinnati. You know who I mean -- they're the folks who show dinosaurs and humans comfortably cavorting and who declare that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

There are two issues I need to address.

The first, why the criticism leveled by Answers in Genesis is meaningless nonsense, is rather trivial. The second, however, why any of us should care in the least about what creationist organizations have to say, is far from trivial. Indeed, I'd argue that it may well be one of the more important issues of our time.

Let me dispense with the trivial point first. Last month I discussed why social Darwinism was both a misnomer and a terrible idea, both scientifically and socially. Not surprisingly, Answers in Genesis disagreed. They simply repeated their argument that social Darwinism is a "logical ... conclusion of Darwinian scientific theory" and then, grotesquely, pointed to the existence of serial killers to support their absurd contention.

Such behavior is nothing new for Answers in Genesis and their founder, Ken Ham. Two outrageous but all-too-typical examples will make my point. Back in 1987 Ham published an article entitled "Creationism: Cure for AIDS?" in which he concluded that "the spread of AIDS can be stopped -- by simply rejecting false evolution." In an even more extreme move, Ham and Answers in Genesis opted to commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by running ads in the Cincinnati Inquirer and in Christianity Today laying the attack at the feet of evolution.

Ham and his lot are clearly extremists, so why should we care what they do or say? Wouldn't we be better off simply ignoring them?

I wish it were so, but, as amazing as it might seem, Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute have the ability to shape public policy in frightening ways. Unless many of us keep pointing out what they're all about, they may well succeed in reshaping America and redefining science in a manner that will do irreparable damage.

And make no mistake about it, Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute are close cousins, even though they present different personas. Yes, the Discovery Institute is slicker -- with many more lawyers, better suits, and a bevy of political operatives -- than the young-earth- and fire-and-brimstone-preaching contingent that makes up the core of Answers in Genesis.

But, most importantly, both groups want the country recast as a Christian fundamentalist nation. And they both abhor the concept of evolution and want science redefined.

Am I being too extreme? You be the judge.

As I pointed out last week, Howard Ahmanson, Jr., one of the Discovery Institute's biggest donors, has expressed radical views about the role religion should play in America. And that's putting it mildly, since he's said, "My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives."

Take a look at the The Wedge, the Discovery Institute's original planning document, and cringe when you read that their goal is "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies."

Or listen to Ken Ham's 2010 "State of the Nation" speech (yes, he thinks he's important enough to deliver a speech with that name!) and hear him call for a country based on "God's word" rather than "man's word."

Both organizations, apparently suffering from a bad case of science envy, are desperately calling for science to be redefined to include the supernatural. Yes, you read that correctly. Both think that science is too limited in its present form and that it needs to be expanded beyond its present search for natural explanations. Observation, experimentation, data collection, analysis, indeed, the entire scientific method, be damned; bring in supernatural explanations.

This would all be funny if groups of this sort weren't able to influence politicians, primarily at the local school board level and in state legislatures around the country. However, anti-evolution bills or pro-creationism actions persistently crop up, under various names, in state after state and town after town.

What may be saddest of all about this is that natural allies, people who care about high quality science instruction and respect for others, are being manipulated into attacking one another. Religion and fundamentalism are not synonymous and I've come to realize that deeply religious people are usually respectful of others with different beliefs. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are typically intolerant of the slightest deviation from their own views. Which brings me back to my original point: the controversy is not between religion and science.

Whatever you may think of religion, the fact is that the majority of religions, including a majority of Christian denominations, view evolution as being fully compatible with their faith. When religion as a social construct is attacked because of the extreme pronouncements of people like Ken Ham, intolerance abounds and ignorance wins.