An American Problem

May 13, 2008 | By | 7 Replies More

I was meandering in cyberspace, and stumbled onto this column by Australian Michael Ruse: The struggle between evolution and creation: an American problem. This appeals to me after all the news about Australian Ken Ham and his Creation Museum here in the U.S. The muse of Mr. Ruse is that the U.S. is vocally and publicly debating the science of evolution versus competing Biblical philosophies, and their roles in education and culture

But his main point is that this is just a symptom. Ever since the Scopes trial, the vocal Biblical Literalism Fundamentalist minority has been fighting for its life. Part of their claim is that evolution is not as values-neutral as proponents like to claim. Ruse agrees. Evolution theory was bolstered by Darwin’s books with his additions to the theory. But it might have stayed a quiet and intellectual revelation, had it not been for Darwin’s contemporary, scientific and social activist Thomas Huxley.

Huxley, who was known in the popular press as “Pope” Huxley, preached evolution-as- Christianity-alternative non-stop at working men’s clubs, from the podia in presidential addresses, and in debates with clerics, notably Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford. Huxley, who invented for himself the religious label of “agnostic”, even aided the founding of the new cathedrals of evolution, stuffed as they were with displays of dinosaurs newly discovered in the American west. Except that these halls of worship were better known as museums of natural history.

Ruse follows the history forward to show why he considers this to be An American Problem. The rest of the world’s Christians are content to accept science for what it can provide, and leave to the Bible issues outside of what can be examined. But America was settled in part by religious extremists, exiled from England and other countries for their radical beliefs. This culture is diluted, but still present and very vocal. The founding fathers were well aware of this element, and set the nation up to minimize the damage that they can cause, while allowing them to be themselves.

As the orders of magnitude of scientific understanding kept expanding beyond the narrow scale of the Biblical universe, the Biblical Literalists had to draw a line. It was too late to hold at a geocentric universe, and much too late for a flat Earth. Sin and demonic possession as the causes of disease also gave way to germ theory without much of a fight. But spontaneous divine creation of man is now the sticking point. Any evidence or theory that contradicts direct and intentional divine creation is labeled unholy.

In America the battle between secular government and a theocracy is being fought in the guise of Evolution versus Intelligent Design (or whatever name Scientific Creationism is using). From the vantage of Australia, it is an interesting skirmish. Here in the Bible Belt, it scares me.

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Category: American Culture, Education, Evolution, Good and Evil, History, Iraq, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (7)

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  1. Ben says:

    The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.

    -Albert Einstein

    For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/05/einste…?

  2. Vicki Baker says:

    America was settled in part by religious extremists, exiled from England and other countries for their radical beliefs. This culture is diluted, but still present and very vocal. The founding fathers were well aware of this element, and set the nation up to minimize the damage that they can cause, while allowing them to be themselves.

    This analysis fits in with a nice neat storyline where the forces of secular light do battle with the armies of religious darkness. Unfortunately it's about 85% fact-free, and just as much a distortion of our history as the myth that America is a "Christian nation."

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    "85% fact free"? Puritans were exiled from England and settled here as pilgrims. Nyet?

    The Enlightenment schooled founding fathers established a separation of Church and State to allow such people to practice their faith, yet not force it on others. T/F?

    Is it my post or Ruse whose prose you skewer? What is the 3/20 that is not fact free?

  4. Vicki Baker says:

    OK, quibble about percentages if you want. It's true the Puritans came to New England to establish a theocratic utopia in which they sought not only freedom to practice their own religion, but also the freedom to persecute those of other religions. This led to the founding of Rhode Island, the first religion-neutral government in the colonies (perhaps anywhere?)

    Also, separation of church and state was not something invented out of whole cloth by the "Enlightenment" but was first developed a couple centuries earlier by the Anabaptists as a way to protect the integrity of the church.

    It's this part that is grossly distorted and misleading:

    The founding fathers were well aware of this element, and set the nation up to minimize the damage that they can cause, while allowing them to be themselves.

    Go back to your primary sources. Separation of church and state was not conceived as a way to keep unruly religious minorities in check.

    Rather, church-state separation was conceived of as essential to protecting a fundamental human right: liberty of conscience. In James Madison's words, separation was "essential to the purity" of both church and state.

    What you have created here is a mirror version of the Right's myth of a"Christian Nation."

  5. Hm, showdown between Dan and Vicki. That might be interesting. *getting out her sundeck chair and some popcorn* 😀

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    There's schadenfreude in the air . . .

  7. Dan Klarmann says:

    I concede that Vicki's credentials in language, history, and education culture trump my meager degrees. I may well be leaning too far past center on the topic of religion, in futile hope of trimming the cultural ballast. Vicki has generally been accurate whenever puncturing my pretensions over the last 24 years.

    I did not claim that the original primary aim of the separation was to "keep unruly religious minorities in check". But the founders were well aware of the 17th century religious excesses in the colonies, as well as many other times and places. Things go bad quickly when one faith becomes official.

    Liberty of conscience can only be available if there is no moral arbiter in government. We are currently fighting to keep such arbiters from having control in the U.S. The only legal tool we have is this thin argument of separation between church and state.

    The current battleground (and this comes back to Ruse's point) is over the secular validity of teaching forms of Creationism in public schools instead of, or as well as, conclusions from science.

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