The Universal House of Justice
Feb 19, 2012. Creationism and intelligent design (ID) are two modern religious responses to evolution and modern secular thought. Both think of evolution as a materialistic creation story and as invalid science (as we show below).
Have you heard the old phrase “throwing out the baby with the bath water,” meaning to reject both the bad and the good?
Take the bad as the 19th/20th century quasi-religious secular creation stories inspired by the evolutionary sciences that were part of the fuel for “scientific” racism, eugenics, murderous Nazi tendencies, the supposed inevitability of Marxist forms of social organization, and modern materialistic ideologies both left and right. Take the good as the powerful body of scientific theories concerning evolution and the supporting evidence for those theories (a combination that has proven the unity of the humanity beyond any conceivable doubt). Then reject them both, offer quasi-scientific religious views in their stead, and you have creationism and its much more sophisticated cousin, intelligent design.
This approach to evolution drives the supporters of evolution and modern institutional science – folks who tend towards complete cluelessness on the topic or worse – into an apoplectic frenzy and has led to reams and reams of rhetorical overkill in response. Creationists and intelligent designers take this as proof and vindication of the correctness of their approach, and it seems to be a major factor driving broad public acceptance of creationist and intelligent design views.
As contrast, consider Baha’i perspectives which also reject purely material descriptions of reality and the purposeless of nature. These perspectives hold that all things are God’s creation, including the intelligence and reason we have been given that allows us to create science, the most laudable of all human achievements. With respect to evolution, the Baha’i perspective is that all things develop through a gradual unfolding process consistent with evolution, even though they have their origin as God’s creation:
[T]he growth and development of all beings is gradual; this is the universal divine organization and the natural system. The seed does not at once become a tree; the embryo does not at once become a man; the mineral does not suddenly become a stone. No, they grow and develop gradually and attain the limit of perfection.
For more details on the Baha’i writings as they relate to evolution, see Mehanian and Friberg.
Modern Creationism: A Short History
Last week, we described the origins of creationism as coming about because of an early 20th century American evangelical rejection of social Darwinism and the resulting evangelical campaign to prevent the teaching of evolution in public schools. This led to the famous Scopes Trial (1925) and the severe curtailment of evolution education at the pre-university level that persisted until the Sputnik crisis of 1957.
Modern creationism — creation science, according to its supporters — started in 1961 with the publication of The Genesis Flood by Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb. Creationism’s basic views can best be seen at The Basic Tenets of Creationism, The Institute for Creation Research, or at www.creationism.org.
Morris — a hydraulics engineer and civil engineering university professor — and Whitcomb argued for a literal interpretation of the biblical book of Genesis. God created the earth — they claimed — in six days roughly 6,000 years ago, meaning that they embraced the once standard account of the earth’s age.
This view, they recognized, was not in accord with the findings of modern geology and its conclusion that the earth is 4.5 billion years old in a universe some 13 billion years old. Modern geology, they stated, was wrong. The abundant evidence for the age of the earth that geologists appeal to — folds in the earth’s crust, layer after layer of sediment laden with animal skeletons turned to stone, weathering processes of great age — can all be scientifically explained by the great flood described in the book of Genesis.
Modern geologists mistakenly believe in the ancient dating of the earth’s age, Morris wrote, because of a “moral and emotional decision” to seek ‘intellectual justification for escape from personal responsibility to his Creator and escape from the ‘way of the Cross’ as the necessary and sufficient means of his personal redemption.’”
Later, in “The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Conflict (1989) Morris wrote against what he saw as the denial of supernatural creation:
[T]he denial of God – rejecting the reality of supernatural creation and the creator’s sovereign rule of the world – has always been the root cause of every human problem.
Langdon Gilkey, the prominent Protestant theologian, elaborates:
Creationists regard evolution and all other theories associated with it, as the intellectual source for and intellectual justification of everything that is to them evil and destructive in modern society. For them all that is spiritually healthy and creative has been for a century or more under attack …
He then quotes Morris as saying (for his quotes, see here):
If the system of flood geology can be established on a sound scientific basis … then the entire evolutionary cosmology, at least in its present neo-Darwinian form, will collapse. This in turn would mean that every anti-Christian system and movement (communism, racism, humanism, libertarianism, behaviorism, and all the rest) would be deprived of their pseudo-intellectual foundation.”
The popularity of creationism — roughly half of the people in the United States support the view that the world was created 6,000 or so years ago — attests to widespread support for these criticisms.
It is noteworthy how readily the New Atheists — comprehendingly or not — play the creationist’s script. They too make no distinction between scientific and metaphysical views about the purposes and origins of the universe as described by evolution. Simply put, they are the other side of the same coin.
The backwardness of creationism — the idea that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, its appeal to literal interpretations of Bible derived from American fundamentalism, and its lack of scientific sophistication — led to the emergence of the much more sophisticated Intelligent Design movement (see here and here.)
Intelligent Design also maintains the view that evolution is a materialistic pseudo-science — albeit with critiques that are much more sophisticated — but it has dropped relying on literal interpretations of the Bible (for example, the idea that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, the emphasis on Christian fundamentalism) and put in place a much broader perspective on divine creation that embraces views from the world’s major religions. And it has brought aboard a number of very capable thinkers, writers, polemicists, publicists, and scientists into its ranks, as can be seen by a brief look at the website of its main institutional home, the Discovery Institute and the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.
[One of their senior fellows is David Berlinski, a self-described "maverick intellectual" and Jewish agnostic known for his popular and informative books on mathematics and his witty, informed, and bitingly sharp iconoclasm. In my opinion, he is must-read on any topic he chooses to write about.]
Much of the impact and success of the intelligent design movement can be attributed to the influence of Phillip Johnson, the UC Berkeley law professor, legal thinker, and now prolific author of a number of books, articles, and lecture tours focusing on criticisms of Darwinism. His legalistic analysis of Darwinism, Darwin on Trial, is one of the founding texts of intelligent design and a widely influential best seller. Marla Freeman, interviewing Johnson in 1997 for the San Francisco Chronicle, writes that “Johnson’s central argument is that Darwinism rests on faulty logic and flawed evidence … such as fossil records with gaping holes.” She continues:
More important, he says, the theory is based on the philosophy of naturalism, which includes the assumption that the physical world is all that exists. Darwin, he notes, attributes “randomness” to the universe and, it troubles him, that in doing so, makes “purposeless” the only acceptable scientific explanation for existence.
The Discovery Institute — a well-funded think-tank led by savvy and seasoned political and technology industry veterans — is the main institutional home of intelligent design. William Dembski and Michael Behe are their best known scientists and spend their time looking for scientific evidence of intelligent design. [Because such evidence would be tantamount to a valid scientific proof of the existence of an otherwise unknowable God, the success of such a venture is highly doubtful.] Its central focus is perhaps best represented in the controversial Wedge Strategy outlined in the Wedge Document. The focus is on materialism:
The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.
Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art
The cultural consequences of this triumph of materialism were devastating. Materialists denied the existence of objective moral standards, claiming that environment dictates our behavior and beliefs. Such moral relativism was uncritically adopted by much of the social sciences, and it still undergirds much of modern economics, political science, psychology and sociology.
Materialists also undermined personal responsibility by asserting that human thoughts and behaviors are dictated by our biology and environment. The results can be seen in modern approaches to criminal justice, product liability, and welfare. In the materialist scheme of things, everyone is a victim and no one can be held accountable for his or her actions.
Finally, materialism spawned a virulent strain of utopianism. Thinking they could engineer the perfect society through the application of scientific knowledge, materialist reformers advocated coercive government programs that falsely promised to create heaven on earth.
Agree with it or disagree with it, it is a powerful statement of religion and faith-based opposition to secular values that claim to be — but aren’t — based on science.
Creationism — and Intelligent Design — are two highly influential movements that attribute much of what is wrong in our modern world to materialistic philosophies and evolutionary science. The solution they propose is to develop and teach alternative approaches — “creation” science and/or Intelligent Design — alongside standard evolution. In effect, they propose to teach religious views cloaked in the language of science as an antidote to materialism. And, especially on the intelligent design side, they have developed highly articulate critiques of evolutionism (what I call the secular creation myth) which they confuse with — and convolve with — evolution.
The response of the defenders of evolution has been — in the main — to engage in exactly the same conflation of myth and science as the creationist and intelligent design folks, but apparently with much less awareness of what they are doing. The result is an escalating stand-off — and a long running series of major battles — in the war of science and religion.
Clearly, it is time to find ways bring some understanding into the picture, and I doubt that that is going to happen by repeatedly louder claims that secularism has won.
Next time, we will explore the topic further. What exactly does evolution say that causes its detractors and supporters alike to claim it to support purposelessness and to destroy religion?
This is the 3rd in a series of blogs on evolution and religion. The author, Stephen Friberg, is a Bahá’í living in Mountain View, California. A research physicist by training, he is author of Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution. He did work at NTT in Japan before joining the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.