Want to make a mainstream scientist apoplectic? Remind him or her that about half of American adults agree with the notion that the earth was created in six literal days, at some point in the past 10,000 years or so. This idea is so utterly at odds with mainstream scientific understanding that it remains beyond the understanding of most of the other half of American adults.
Readers of ILYBYGTH will likely agree that these notions go beyond any narrow definition of scientific thinking. In order to understand the durable cultural divide between evolutionists and creationists, we need to understand both evolution and creation as much more than mere scientific ideas.
I recently had the pleasure to review a book that furthers this understanding. The review described its merits for an audience of educational historians, but Michael Lienesch’s In the Beginning should be required reading for anyone interested in the nature of the creation/evolution struggle. A political scientist, Lienesch uses social-movement theory to make sense of the ways creationism has thrived in an intellectually hostile environment.
Fundamentalists might hope that creationism’s success is due to its God-given truth. Evolutionists might insist, on the contrary, that creationism has thrived in the same way as have meth labs and Twinkies—Americans love dumb things that are bad for them.
Lienesch’s analysis presents a calmer and more sensible answer. Creationism is more than just a scientific idea, more than just a theology. It is a social movement, with all the attendant complexity. As such, the social-science literature on social movements can go a long way toward making sense of the twentieth-century career of creationism.
Lienesch remains agnostic on the question of ultimate truth. He is not much interested in the truth claims of either evolution or creation. Rather, he explores the ways creationism—and I’m afraid it is the best word here—has evolved across the course of the twentieth century.