Anti-Evolution Ia: Poor Results


It does not take much to see the negative effects of evolution.  Let me begin with a short history: After the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite in 1957, the federal government got involved in science education.  Until then, local communities had been able to exert more effective control over their local schools.  They had been able to keep evolution out, if that was what they wanted.  One of the ways they were able to do so was through the insistence on textbooks that did not focus on the issue of evolution.  Publishers generally produced books that had some evolutionary content, but that could also be used in a way that did not put evolutionary ideas at the fore.

After Sputnik, the federal government poured ten million dollars into a new textbook series that made evolution one of its guiding themes.  This series, produced by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, did not just include evolutionary ideas.  It did not simply introduce students to the basic concept of evolution, which teachers, parents, and school administrators could use in whatever way they saw most fit for their community.  Instead, it made evolution one of the guiding principles of science, as most mainstream scientists had insisted textbooks should for generations.

Since these textbooks were funded by federal money, the publishers were somewhat immune to pressure from the market.  In 1960, when the editors test marketed the books, some districts insisted that objectionable parts be edited out.  The editors simply refused.  They did not need to worry that their sales might suffer.  They stood on their contract and forced districts to take the books as is.

This change did not just affect those states and school districts that adopted the BSCS textbooks. Other educational publishers felt pressure to update their textbooks to make them more insistently evolutionary. If they didn’t, they worried they would lose market share.

And why should we care about textbooks?  Because this shift from textbooks that usually downplayed evolutionary ideas to textbooks that made evolutionary thinking one of their guiding principles was the most obvious educational marker of the breakdown in moral values that plagued America in the late twentieth century.  It doesn’t take any conspiratorial thinking to notice the correlation between the increase in evolutionary education and the utter collapse of public morality.

To compound the effect, around the same time that more and more public schools crammed evolution down the throats of children, the US Supreme Court tried to remove any mitigating influences in public schools.  In 1962 and 1963, in two landmark cases, Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Schempp v. Abington Township School District (1963), the Supreme Court ruled that prayer and Bible reading in public schools were unconstitutional.  This reversed centuries of tradition in American education. From the beginning of British colonial efforts in the 1600s, part of education was always training in the basic ideas of religion.  Just as more evolution made its way into more classrooms, students got less Bible and less prayer.  Is it any surprise that cultural upheaval followed?

Consider the changes in American culture since the early 1960s.  Between 1960 and 1992, according to William Bennett’s Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, crime soared over three hundred percent.  The number of children born out of wedlock
increased by over four hundred percent during that same period.  The number of single-parent households tripled.  The divorce rate more than doubled.  The rates of births to unmarried teenagers rose from 15.3 per 1000 girls to 44.8.  Suicide rates among teenagers more than tripled.  SAT scores declined more than 70 points.

Take your pick of any of these grim indicators, the main point is the same: the moral foundation of our culture has been eroded.  Since the 1960s, the simplest ideas of right and wrong have been confounded.  And how can we express surprise that young people act in immoral ways?  Or, to be more exact, how can we be surprised when young people are utterly amoral?
They don’t seem bothered by the meaninglessness of their existence.  They fill the void with animalistic pleasure-seeking.

The connection is glaringly obvious.  Compare it to other effects: when they started fluoridating water, people had better teeth.  When people started eating more processed foods high in sugars and starches, Americans got fatter and fatter.  And when evolution is forced into schools, we see worse behavior.

Why?  What’s the connection?  It is simple.  Evolution theory tends to weaken faith in God, the way diets high in processed foods tend to lead to obesity.  It might not happen in every case, but the trend is clear when we step back and look at trends across the entire culture.  The central devastating concept of evolution—the theme that became one of the guiding principles of the BSCS textbooks—is that humans are not essentially different from animals.  If you teach people that, in essence, they
are creations of a loving God, a God who watches them throughout their lives, who has established a world for them to live in and who expects them to behave according to certain rules, they will behave better.  This is true even for those people who don’t attend church regularly, or who don’t spend their time praying or reading the Bible.  It is an idea that permeates
culture and affects every part of how people interact with one another.  It is most noticeable, as in the past fifty years, in its absence.  If you teach people, instead, that they are accidental results of a meaningless process, if you teach them that they are simply the cleverest apes on a rock in a vast but merely material universe, then people will behave in ways that make sense.  In short, if you teach people they are animals, they will behave like animals.  They will mate when then get a chance to.  They
will take from the weaker and pursue the quick physical pleasures of drugs, sex, and fattening foods.

We know that correlation can’t be mistaken for causation.  That is, just because things happen at the same time doesn’t mean that one caused the other.  Otherwise, the fact that I wore my lucky hat on a day when I did not get attacked by tigers can be used to prove that my hat has tiger-repellent qualities.  But in this case, we are interested in correlation.  We’re not trying to prove that the insistence on evolution education caused this breakdown in social morality.  All we need to show is that the two things are part of the same disheartening trend. Our culture had certain moral truths that it insisted on.  It had a certain set of myths that sustained it and reinforced one another.  One of these—and I don’t use “myth” in the sense that it is necessarily untrue, rather in the sense that it is a widely shared cultural belief—was that God had created life.  God was part of human
life.  Evolution education is one part of the process of shattering that sustaining belief.  It is not necessary to prove that evolution education caused higher divorce rates, or increased drug use and carnality.  It is enough to demonstrate that these things go together.  Getting evolution out of schools is as sensible as getting soda and candy machines out of school.  Those soda and candy machines don’t cause increased rates of obesity. There are as many causes of obesity as there are obese kids lolling around our schools.  But that does not mean that the candy and soda machines are not contributing to the problem.

Now, let me point out again that these are cultural trends, not descriptions of individual lives. Just as not every American is obese, not every person raised in this evolutionary environment descends into the morality of the beast.  But just as it makes sense to look at the causes of increased rates of obesity, so it is important to examine the causes of moral breakdown.  This is where Dostoyevsky’s story of Ivan Karamazov is so insightful.  In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan is the thinker.
He comes to the logical conclusion that there is no God.  And he deduces that in the absence of God, all is permissible.  It makes sense.  Without God, there is no reason to behave morally, besides the strictures of punishment. In other words, it makes sense to do anything that you can get away with, no matter how morally repugnant, if it will profit you.  But Ivan himself continues to behave morally.  He takes his atheism as a moral position.  Like evolutionary ideas, the idea of atheism can be considered as an idea instead of as a guiding principle if it is learned as an adult.  If it is considered by a person who already has established moral habits and principles.  In the novel, the trouble comes when Ivan’s half-brother Smerdyakov gets a hold of Ivan’s ideas.  Smerdyakov is a bitter soul.  Raised as a servant in his own father’s house, treated as a lower class of being, bowing and scraping to the strong, vicious to the weak.  When he sits at Ivan’s feet and hears his ideas of right and wrong in the absence of God, he acts upon them.  Unlike Ivan, Smerdyakov takes Ivan’s ideas seriously.  He follows
them to their logical conclusions, and makes them more than abstract.   In the novel, he kills his father for money, and arranges to frame another half-brother for the crime.  Why would he do such a thing?  For Smerdyakov, the proper question is why would he NOT do such a thing, given the chance. According to Ivan’s atheistic philosophy, morality is a construct of
society.  God is a narrative created by ancient peoples, no longer relevant or necessary to a modern understanding of culture and morality.

It is a thoroughly evolutionist philosophy.  And like schoolchildren taught from their earliest days that evolution is the way humanity came to be, Smerdyakov is instilled with the truth of this philosophy as the truth of life.  We should not be shocked or outraged that he acted in monstrous ways.  We should recognize that our ideas of monstrosity are similarly only constructs of our outmoded philosophy.  And so with schoolchildren taught to think in evolutionary ways.  They are taught that they are animals.  Why should we be surprised when they act like animals?  To be fair, not all of them do.  Some of them are not intelligent or dedicated enough to pursue the logical results of their education.  Many of them continue—as did Ivan—to
constrict themselves with traditional moral positions, even in the absence of logical support for those positions.  But
the danger comes from the large numbers of them who become Smerdyakovs.  Those who act logically in the absence of any
transcendent morality.  Those who realize that without grounding in some higher power, morality is just a convenience of
the ruling class.  They will act in ways that make sense for animals, ways that make sense for merely material beings
scrabbling around on an accidental rock floating in space.

This brings us to the question of timing.  Dostoyevsky wrote his book in the nineteenth century, long before Sputnik or the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.  And he wrote in a world in which humans behaved brutally, lived in slums or as former serfs on vast estates.  In America, life was also a scramble.  People without wealth or social status lived in city tenements or mired in stultifying rural poverty.  People may not have learned about evolution in schools, but that was only part of the fact that most people didn’t learn about anything in school.  It is a mistake, this argument goes, to fantasize about some pre-evolution golden age.  In historical fact, people acted in animalistic ways long before textbooks included the truths about science.

Even if we grant this point, however, the overall argument doesn’t hold water.  Even if we agree, that is, that there was no golden age, and that evolution education has been part of a process of cultural improvement that has included an slow and uneven improvement in the material conditions of regular people’s lives, it does not therefore follow that we should celebrate the fact that it has also accompanied a breakdown in moral values.  In other words, just because people acted amorally before widespread evolution education does not mean that evolution education has not also promoted amorality.  The fact that people have acted amorally in the past is no reason to promote ideas that lead to more amorality in the present.

For those who have a strong previous commitment to an alternative story about how humans came to be, this flowering of amorality has an obvious cause.  For biblical or fundamentalist Christians, just as for orthodox Jews or Muslims, the inroads of evolutionary thinking are more than just a lament about changing times.  In addition to crumbling social morality from
a general breakdown in traditional values, these orthodox folks worry that their specific religious tradition has been targeted by evolutionary ideas.  They have a commitment to a specific creation story that cannot, in their opinions, be brought into
alignment with the idea of an unplanned evolutionary origin of life.

This is the obvious reason why the most vocal opposition to evolutionary education in the United States comes from dedicated biblical Christians.  They are often concerned with the cultural fallout from evolutionary ideas, but they are
also worried about the more immediate threat to their specific beliefs about the origins of life on earth.  Evolution
supporters are often stumped by this insistence on the idea of God’s creation of life by fiat.  They note that many
Christians simply acknowledge that God must have created life by evolutionary process.  They don’t understand the big
deal.  Why not acknowledge the overwhelming physical evidence for evolution over millions of years, instead of
engaging in mental gymnastics to prove that such an obvious truth is not true?

Leave a comment


  1. nazani14

     /  September 3, 2011

    Just wanted to remind folks that Eisenhower was in office ’53-’61.

  2. D'n

     /  September 5, 2011

    Morality hasn’t been decreasing throughout history, it has been increasing. Even in the glorious 50’s we were lynching people for having the wrong skin color.
    We are far more moral today than we were in history. The problem is that conservative Christians want an immoral world. They want a world that denies the freedom of the individual by insisting they follow an often immoral code of behavior. Telling homosexuals to hide themselves and torturing them to change is moral. Forcing children to hate their bodies and their natural urges until they break and do something stupid isn’t moral. Insisting that everyone believe in your version of the bible isn’t moral. Imposing religious purity laws on people isn’t moral. Rejecting science, logic, and truth because it makes you uncomfortable isn’t moral.
    Morality is still growing, we are becoming a more humane society and religious people simply want to stop that growth because it has gotten to a point that makes them uncomfortable.

    • @D’n: I think you raise one of the fundamental distinguishing features of what we call “conservatives” or “liberals.” “Liberals,” at their intellectual roots, think that society is improving. “Conservatives” think it is in decay. Both sides have their obvious rejoinders. Liberals can be accused of looking through rose-tinted glasses. They can be accused of ignoring the fundamental flaws in contemporary society. Conservatives, on the other hand, can be accused of an overly rosy nostalgia. They can be accused of seeing the past as a golden age, even though that past has obvious cruelties and horrible injustices.

  3. I’m sorry, but what is the connection between Sputnik and the pro-evolution government funding?

    I’m also pretty skeptical of the use of statistics here. As D’n pointed out, we’re really cherry-picking the issues we want to use to parse out what counts as morality. But my main concern is that the stats aren’t specific enough. What percentage of the people believed in evolution? Among those who learned evolution, was there a change in these fators? (Generally, better education leads to decrease) What percent were Christians? I’m sure we can come up with a dozen questions here.

    In some respect, I appreciate your project on this website. In another respect, I think it’s a mistake to present both sides as if they have a point. Fundamentalist points are nearly always heavily flawed. There is not a balance of errors.

    • Dear Mike Gage,
      You raise a critical point. A lot of the unwillingness to discuss evolution/creation in measured tones comes from the twentieth-century history of such debates. Evolutionists now tend to view such debates as an unnecessary grant of legitimacy to creationists. For instance, as creationist Karl Priest has posted on this blog, he encourages any evolutionist to debate with a creationist. But few evolutionists will take up such challenges, since they view the very debate itself as a victory for the other side.
      As Ben Alpers noted on the US Intellectual History blog, creation and evolution are two very different types of idea. Evolutionists do not see creationism as an idea with which they can debate. It only creates a “pseudo-controversy” to have such discussions.

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