The Politics of Creation and Evolution: Bruce Glass on “The Reconciliation of Christianity with Biological Evolution,” Part 3

This the third part of my discussion of Bruce Glass, Exploring Faith and Reason: The Reconciliation of Christianity with Biological Evolution (Houston: DBG Publishing, 2012).

In the previous two parts of this book review I discussed Glass’s clear explanation of evolutionary theory in Part 2 of his book and the evidence for evolution that he marshaled from the world around us in Part 3. I found his discussion of these topics to be a most helpful and clear exposition for the scientifically uninitiated.

Now I want to address the conclusion of Glass’s book (Part 4), where he moves beyond science, to politics.

In the final part of my review of Glass’s book I’ll address the author’s proposals for how we should relate evolution and faith. (I was planning to include this in the current post, but it was getting too long; so this will end up being a four-part book review.)

In Part 4: “The Politics of Evolution,” Glass addresses so-called “Creation Science” and Intelligent Design Theory (chapter 10) and then moves on to “Darwinism” (chapter 11), giving a historical account of each and subjecting them all to apt criticism in the process.

The Evolution of “Creation Science”

In chapter 10 Glass sketches a brief but illuminating history of the development (shall we say, the evolution) of the idea of “Creation Science” and then of the Intelligent Design movement as its successor (perhaps a new species that developed out of the old?).

He begins with the story of what came to be known as the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” where John Scopes was put on trial for having taught evolution in a biology class in Dayton, Tennessee—in clear contravention of the 1925 Butler Act, which prohibited this.

In the aftermath of this trial (at which Scopes was found guilty and fined, but later got off on a technicality), other, similar laws were passed in Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Florida. Evolution then seemed to disappear from most U.S. school biology textbooks for almost three decades.

But things began to shift in the late fifties and early sixties, with the U.S.-Soviet competition for the space program. New science textbooks were being written in the U.S., and evolution was once again making its appearance, despite anti-evolutionary laws in some states.

In 1968, after a challenge by the ACLU, the U.S. Supreme court struck down the Arkansas law that prohibited the teaching of evolution in schools and declared all such laws unconstitutional because they infringed on freedom of speech of the teacher.

Well, if evolution couldn’t be outlawed, then perhaps creation and evolution could be taught together in public schools. So Tennessee enacted a law that replaced the Butler Act, and mandated equal time in biology classes for evolution and a literal interpretation of Genesis on origins.

However, even this new law was struck down in 1975 by a Federal Appeals Court, since mandating the Genesis account of origins amounted to the establishment of a particular religion (a clear violation of the Constitution).

At this point the concept of “creation science” was born, in an attempt to put a literalist interpretation of the Genesis account of origins on equal footing with biological evolution. After all, “creation science” was not quite the same as the (religious/ Christian) doctrine of creation. Thus a new reality evolved out of the old.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the idea of “creation science” was promulgated through books such as Henry Morris’s The Genesis Flood (1961) and the Institute for Creation Research that Morris founded in 1972.

Following on the growing popularity of the idea of “creation science” among the American public, Arkansas enacted a “balanced treatment” law in 1981, mandating that public schools teach “creation science” along with biological evolution.

But this law was soon challenged and overturned—as were similar laws in other states—on the grounds that “creation science” (despite the name) was not science, since it had no research program and could not be falsified by empirical evidence (essential points for genuine science).

“Creation Science” Evolves into “Intelligent Design”

It was at this point that the “Intelligent Design” (ID) movement arose, traceable back to a series of strategy meetings in 1992-93 organized by Philip E. Johnson. We could even say that ID evolved out of “creation science,” through a process akin to natural selection.

Whereas Philip Johnson was a retired law professor, who had written books critiquing the materialistic philosophical assumptions of Darwinian evolution, other famous ID proponents include biochemist Michael Behe and mathematician/ philosopher William Dembski.

Now, I take it for granted, based on my (somewhat limited) reading of works in the ID genre, that the ID movement is not quite the same as “creation science,” since most ID proponents accept an old earth, some are comfortable with biological evolution (within limits), and not all are Christian or even overtly religious (there are Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and agnostics among the proponents of ID).

The key idea in the ID movement is that there are certain structures that have developed in the cosmos and especially in organisms, which are of such “irreducible complexity” (Behe) or of “specified complexity” (Dembski) that they testify to the presence of an intelligent Designer; such complex structures could not have come about by chance.

That is certainly an interesting philosophical argument, but it isn’t science (and it may in fact be a flawed argument, as we shall soon see).

Glass helpfully traces the politics of the ID movement, which I was not previously acquainted with. He notes that a conservative “think tank” called the Discovery Institute adopted Phillip Johnson’s concerns and developed the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture to propagate his ideas.

Although ID proponents claim not to be associated with “scientific creationism,” and to be interested in the purely theoretical issue of design in nature, the stated agenda of the Center (discovered through a document leaked in 1999) was:

“nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. . . . we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism.”

Based on the idea that the giant tree of Darwinian materialism can be toppled by a small wedge, this became known as “The Wedge” document, and it went a long way towards discrediting the ID movement as a neutral scientific/philosophical movement.

A further turning point in discrediting the movement was the federal lawsuit filed in 2004 by parents against the Dover, Pennsylvania school board for their inclusion of ID in the school district’s science classrooms.

The trial was eye-opening, since Michael Behe, who testified for the ID position, was unable to convince the presiding Judge (John E. Jones III) that ID counted as science. According to the Judge’s report, Behe admitted (under cross-examination) that:

“There are no peer-reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.” (Behe’s own words)

As part of the argument in favor of ID as science (which would make it admissible in the biology classroom), a number of witnesses explained that the definition of science needed to be broadened to admit “supernatural causes.”

The somewhat predictable result was that ID was deemed by the judge not to be science; in fact, it has come to be regarded in many quarters as religion (“creation science”) in disguise—which is probably not a fully fair assessment.

I’m going to be the first to admit that I’m somewhat stumped by the Intelligent Design movement.

On the one hand, I’m not convinced that all proponents of ID are in fact simply closet scientific creationists; indeed, not all are religious. But, on the other hand, I don’t think that ID qualifies as science (contrary to the claims typically still made by ID proponents).

However, we decide the status of ID (I would categorize it as a philosophical theory), there are fatal flaws in the basic ID argument about complexity and design. ID proponents claim that since natural selection cannot be proved to be the definitive cause of biological complexity, this means that this complexity must have been designed. This simply does not follow; it is bad logic.

Beyond that, ID buys into the “God-of-the-gaps” problem, appealing to a Designer to explain what we are unable (at the moment) to explain scientifically. As Glass notes, “ID theorists have merely discovered an Intelligent Designer of the gaps.” The result is that as science explains more and more, the Designer is no longer needed to account for the complexity. This is quite a reductive view of God.

Further, as Glass notes, there is no evidence—even if we were to grant such a Designer—that this Designer is equivalent to the God of Christianity, or even of monotheism in general (even Aquinas’ version of the argument from design ended—illegitimately—with “and this we call God”).

Evolutionary Science and “Darwinism”

So much for “creation science” and the ID movement. Now let’s get to chapter 11, on “Darwinism.”

The basic point Glass makes in his final chapter is that the science of biological evolution that Darwin’s name is associated with is not the same thing as “Darwinism,” where the ism designates a variety of materialistic ideologies that are thought to either underpin or derive from biological evolution.

Whereas many Christians think a “godless” materialistic ideology grounds evolution (which is why it is tainted, in their view), a number of secular philosophers and ideologues have argued that evolution provides them with the outlines of an ethic or a philosophy of history. Both are fundamentally misguided.

Paradoxically, while Karl Marx claimed that Darwin’s work justified his theories of class warfare on the way to the communist state, others have used Darwinian evolution to ground extreme laissez-faire capitalism. I say paradoxically, since some of the very Christians who anathematize biological evolution are in favor of such capitalism.

It is well known that Herbert Spencer’s “Social Darwinism” extrapolated from natural selection (as a factor in biological evolution) to an ultra-conservative philosophy that advocated individual rights to the exclusion of state initiatives on behalf of the poor (whether public education, state banking, or a federal postal system). Indeed, Spencer favored the total deregulation of business. All of this, in his opinion, would result in the elimination of the unfit from society. And similar ideas were advocated by John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.

Glass also shows how extrapolation from Darwinian evolution led some (including Theodore Roosevelt) to advocate U.S. expansionism, in order to safeguard American supremacy in the competition of nations, while others tied this expansion to outright racism (one U.S ambassador advocated the U.S. claim the supremacy “destined to belong to the Aryan races and to the Christian faith”).

And there is the infamous program of “eugenics,” upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court as late as 1927, which led to compulsory sterilization of undesirables, including people of color, the poor, and those mentally retarded or disturbed.

It is important to note that Spencer’s phrase “survival of the fittest” was never an adequate definition of natural selection. Not only is “survival of the viable” more accurate, but this properly applies to populations and not to individuals. Furthermore, it functions simply as a description of outcomes and not as an ethic for how anyone ought to behave. Indeed, within biological evolution, individuals often act cooperatively.

Glass concludes by noting that Christians (including proponents of “creation science” and ID) rightly criticize those who inadvertently or deliberately mix the science of evolution with their materialistic ideologies. But he warns that such Christians are wrong to conclude that this means that evolutionary processes are not real.

It is, of course, problematic to understand how we might reconcile “the seemingly blind, materialistic forces of nature that shape our world with the idea of a providential God who has created the universe and humankind for noble and loving purposes.”

How we might reconcile them is Glass’s project in Part 1 of the book, which is the topic of my final installment of this post.

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  1. Pingback: The Evidence for Evolution: Bruce Glass on “The Reconciliation of Christianity with Biological Evolution,” Part 2 | CREATION to ESCHATON

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