Note: After crunching the poll numbers that will be in this blog, I have realized there’s a fair chance that some of my readers might be personally insulted by this entry. This is not my intention. I fully admit that the point of it is to advocate a view, but I also would welcome comments from creationists if they feel that my conclusions about their motives are in error.
According to fairly recent polls, 49 percent of the American public believes the theory of evolution, against 48 percent that does not. It’s not entirely clear what this poll means, because people may interpret “Do you believe in evolution?” in different ways. However, I think it can be taken at face value, because a different poll had been taken a few months earlier asking if human beings evolved, and it offered more clarity in its choices, including a choice “humans evolved under God’s direction.” From the same link, this other poll found that even with the choice of theistic evolution, 55 percent believed that there was no evolution involved in the human species. I think it’s safe to conclude that this country is roughly split down the middle.
Now, why? Why is the concept of evolution—and with it, scientific ideas such as the age of the Earth and the beginning of the universe—so controversial that fully half of the country won’t believe it?
There is a disturbing trend in some parts of the political “blogosphere” to denigrate, insult, and attack not just politicians and national figures, but also ordinary people on the other side of the aisle. It’s part of the polarization of America, no doubt, but all it’s accomplishing is to increase hate. You never win anyone over by calling them stupid. We are a thinking species, and whatever the idea may be, no matter how mind-blowing it may seem, the person holding it has a reason for doing so. It may be a reason they’re not consciously aware of, and it may be flawed, but they have some reason for believing as they do. To disregard this fact sends the signal that you are not interested in hearing what they have to say—that you’ve decided that they’re stupid. I am not going to play that ugly game.
The fairest way to approach this is first to see what creationists themselves say about their disbelief in evolution. The most common explanation I’ve read is this one: “If you can’t accept the literal truth of Genesis, how can you accept any of the Bible?”
There is a professed belief among many fundamentalists that the Bible (specifically the King James Version) is literally true in every word. By “professed,” I mean that these fundamentalists claim to believe in Biblical literalism, but they actually don’t, and I am not just referring to the passages about ancient Jewish law.
Many verses in the Old Testament describe an immobile, fixed Earth. This, of course, is what gave so much trouble for Copernicus and Galileo, a literal interpretation of these passages. And twice in the Old Testament, a circular basin is described as having a diameter of 10 cubits and a circumference of 30, which is mathematically impossible. When this is pointed out to literalists, they object, saying that the fixed Earth passages are symbolic and the basin’s measurements are approximations. However, to use their own argument, if you are a Biblical literalist, you can’t pick and choose. Especially when a cornerstone of your argument is that the KJV specifically is a divinely inspired “cleanup” of older texts and that the English translators of that time were working with holy guidance.
I don’t think the real problem has anything to do with Biblical literalism or the flawed “all or none” logic that literalists use when talking about Genesis. Instead I will turn to another fundamentalist explanation for not believing in evolution, Big Bang theory, and any scientific theory that explains origins: These theories are “godless.”
And you know what, they’re right.
I haven’t talked to a creationist who fully “gets” the theory of natural selection. There have always been some misconceptions about how it works. However, when they say it is a godless theory, they are dead right about that. Same for any scientific “origin” theory. That’s what science does; it looks for measurable and reproducible explanations for occurrences in nature. In the realm of scientific finding, “God” will never be an acceptable theory for anything—at least as long as we cannot quantify Him.
I am aware that some ideas, such as Intelligent Design, accept natural selection as the driving mechanism for speciation, but make claims that the higher animals are just too complex for random evolution, even over millions of years. This is a misconception about genetics. While there is natural variation among members of a species, the formation of new traits is not chaotically random. There is a genetic baseline; when reproduction occurs, the parents’ DNA is not randomly scrambled and mutated in the young. If it was, then well over 99 percent of pregnancies would fail. Countless fetuses and embryos in all species of animals are spontaneously aborted very early in the pregnancy because of severe genetic flaws. An animal that is born has already passed through a rigorous natural screening process that usually eliminates life-threatening defects. In the wild, young born with severe birth defects usually die very young. If we were looking at a gene mechanism that was utterly chaotic, then Intelligent Design would be the only reasonable explanation for the profound order that we see in biological life. But we’re not.
The mechanism of evolution works without any divine presence in the picture. It doesn’t disprove God, but it also doesn’t require God. The creationists’ explanation for origins absolutely requires a divine presence. And, whatever misconceptions they may have about the details of evolutionary theory, I think that creationists understand this part of it quite well. I think this is the real reason why they disbelieve in evolution.
Some of them may believe the fallacy that “lack of proof of a positive equals proof of a negative.” To them, accepting a scientific theory that doesn’t require a deity is the same thing as denying belief in that deity. Obviously this is flawed reasoning, and I doubt that it accounts for the majority of creationists. With the majority, their problem with evolution is much deeper than that.
In the past I’ve found it hard to believe that anyone could see science as a threat to their faith, but after giving it thought and trying to see it from their point of view, I think I understand. I can see why they are so adamant about Genesis 1 without being equally adamant about the fixed-Earth passages. Big Bang theory and evolution offer explanations for the deepest, most profound mystery—where everything came from—and they do it without invoking supernatural power. The orbit of the Earth around the sun doesn’t even come close in significance.
Creationists, are you so faithless as that? Is it so hard to have faith that you must set up a theory of origins that defies all scientific finding, just because scientific finding doesn’t offer you the proof that you crave?
Millions of people have no difficulty accepting science and belief, because their belief was never about science. They didn’t look for God in a journal. If God exists, then He is in the world, including nature. The fact that human beings can understand the physical laws and natural processes that made the world has no effect on whether He is real or not. You seem to want God to be a magician, acting in ways that are unfathomable by the audience, and you’re so busy looking for the divine everywhere, like a bunch of modern-day would-be prophets pleading for bolts of heavenly lightning to strike and prove your faith, that you’re neglecting the place where you actually will be able to find God—your own hearts.
It’s long past time for America’s people of faith to do some soul-searching. We’ve lost our way as a nation, and I fear we are headed into very troubled times. A little faith would go a long way to help.