May 9, 2005
Once again, the battle over teaching evolution is back in the news, but this time the religious activists on the Right have gone too far. Not content to make the (quite valid) point that evolution is a theory, and therefore subject to correction or refinement, some are now organizing to undermine evolution on patently bogus pseudo-scientific grounds. A subcommittee of the Kansas State Board of Education, a majority of whom are Republicans, has been holding hearings on the matter, and most scientists in the state have refused to dignify the proceedings with their presence. Advocates of a purported alternative theory known as "intelligent design" believe that existence of a Creator can be inferred from the fact that evolutionary science cannot answer all the questions about how life arose. That is both true and trivial; science is an ongoing work of advancing human knowledge about the universe that by definition is never-ending. Attacking the firmly-established theory of evolution on the grounds that there are gaps in what it can explain, therefore, is utterly senseless.
One disturbing facet of this case is that one of the "expert witnesses," Jonathan Wells, is a member of the Unification Church. According to the Washington Post, "Wells refers to church leader Sun Myung Moon, saying, "'Father's words, my studies and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism.'" Wells is also a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, based in Seattle, headed by Bruce Chapman. On its face, the Institute looks legitimate, and although they specifically disavow promoting "intelligent design" or "creationism," they clearly support the efforts of educators who do promote it. It is a flimsy disclaimer at best. Jack Krebs, vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, correctly summarized what the evolution opponents are up to: "They have created a straw man. They are trying to make science stand for atheism so they can fight atheism." (See above Post article.)
Ironically, that is precisely parallel to what some scientists on the Left are trying to do: trying to make atheism stand for science. In the minds of some people, religion is nothing more than superstition, and by nature, therefore, it is subversive to scientific pursuits. I recall reading a couple months ago about a scientist who was quoted as saying he believes in evolution "with ever fiber of his being," or something like that. Those are the words of a true believer, not a true scientist. I wrote at length on this controversy on January 14, and made further comments on March 1, January 21, January 19, and January 17. In classic dialectical fashion, the insistence by some "pro-science" types that evolution is an established fact, not "just a theory" (false dichotomy) elicits a counter-attack by anti-science people, leading to an escalating spiral based on mutual distrust, like an arms race. Both sides in this absurd "debate" fail to appreciate the respective limits of faith and reason, which is why they ironically need each other as rhetorical foils. Contrary to what either side would acknowledge, however, nothing in the theory of evolution contradicts the notion that a Divine Creator set the world in motion. You certainly don't have to believe in the literal truth of Genesis to accept that. From a detached, philsophical perspective, it may be the case that God exists, or it may not be the case. Some people can't deal with such existential anxiety, but that very tension is what human life is all about. Deal with it.
To sum up, I have zero patience with dogmatists, whether secular or religious, who crusade to impose their vision on truth on the rest of the world. If the Republican party at the national level cannot figure out a way to disentangle itself from the kind of people who are behind the nonsense going on in Kansas, it will have a hard time holding on to its majority status.