Monday, January 5, 2009

Revolution clarification

AIG has posted my article "The Evolution of a Revolution" from the latest issue of Answers magazine. In it, I try to explain the cultural context whereby evolution became the dominant belief about the origin of species.

One thing I want to clarify is the claim that the church was effectively "asleep" by the time Darwin came along. By this, I meant that the church had already given away to science the authority to interpret scripture, by the doctrine of accommodation. Up to the time of Darwin, though, few (except maybe the scriptural geologists) perceived any threat to the traditional Christian doctrines. When Darwin published Origin, he omitted explicit reference to the evolution of humans, but people figured it out anyway. Making humans just an advanced ape was the major religious objection to evolution (for example, it was the motivation behind William Jennings Bryan's antievolution campaign). Reading antievolutionary works, I get the sense that people were OK with the doctrine of accommodation as long as it didn't threaten what they felt were essential doctrines, such as the special creation of man.

I wanted to clarify that point because of unpublished work by Kurt Wise, which he presented at a conference back in 2006. He looked at book publication trends in McIver's antievolution bibliography and found that the number of books advocating young-age creationism has grown exponentially, with apparently no change during the time of Darwin. We think this means that young-age creationism never died out and that the growth of creationism in the twentieth century was not a reaction to evolution. Though academics had abandoned young-age creationism, the laity had not.

I can't argue with his data, and I do hope he gets around to publishing it someday. But when I talk about Darwin "waking up" the church, I think it's valid in two narrow ways. The first I described above, and the second is the relevance of creationism to the lay public. I see the big explosion of creationist popularity in the sixties as a result both of the creationist development up to that point but also of the reaction of the public against evolution in the public schools. As I note in the article, one generation of Americans had very little evolution education in the public high schools, but beginning in the sixties, evolution was included as a major theme in textbooks. Suddenly Christian parents who knew very little about evolution (and cared even less) found a reason to care about it in their children's education.

But I should stop telling you about it and let you read the article.