IS there a creation/evolution culture war?

IS there a creation/evolution culture war?

 

Is there really a culture war between evolutionists and creationists?  Have you experienced it in your lives?

Some folks have argued that culture war talk is more the figment of politicians’ and journalists’ ambition than actual fact.  Morris Fiorina and his colleagues, for instance, cite survey data that attests to large majorities of Americans identifying themselves as centrists and moderates on religious and cultural issues.  As they argued in their 2004 book Culture War, “The simple truth is that there is no culture war in the United States—no battle for the soul of America rages, at least none that most Americans are aware of.”

Their point is valid.  Lots of Americans feel themselves to be in the middle on divisive issues.  Nevertheless, I think Fiorina
and other culture-war-deniers miss the boat on the big picture.  I think we do suffer from a culture war on the creation/evolution issue, for two main reasons.  First, I see a stark divide between believers of the two camps.  Creationists have a hard time believing that evolutionists truly believe their scheme.  Evolutionists return the favor.  Also, the feelings on both sides of this divide seem ferocious and bitter.  These are the ingredients for a durable and damaging culture war.

I’ve seen these effects in my own work.  As I’ve mentioned in these posts, I am personally an evolutionist.  I believe human life came to its present form through a process of natural selection over millions of years.  As a historian of American conservatism and conservative religion, I’ve given talks to largely evolutionist audiences in which I’ve described the ideology and theology of generations of American anti-evolutionists.  The responses I’ve received from those audiences have convinced me that many evolutionists suffer from a real blind spot in their understanding of creationism and creationists.

For example, after one brief talk about 1920s anti-evolution activism, one evolutionist audience member asked me in all sincerity, “What’s wrong with these people?”  She was earnest and sincere; she could not believe that “these people”—creationists—could really oppose the findings of mainstream science for so long.  (See a related discussion over at the US Intellectual History blog.)  There is no way this woman—a distinguished American academic and specialist in multicultural education—would ever allow herself to refer to any other subcultural group as “these people.”  But in the case of creationists, she did not mind lumping them all together in this condescending and demeaning way.  In her opinion, creationists deserved to be demeaned.

Similarly, evolutionists have often asked me if I think creationists REALLY believe in creation, and if so, how they can be so
dense.  The evidence of evolution, to evolutionists, is so self-evident that any disagreement seems either ignorant or mysterious.

Evolutionists often find themselves stumped by the vast difference between their own understandings of life and those of
creationists.  As a result, many evolutionists assume creationists must be scheming and dishonest.  Even in the pages of this blog, I have been accused of being a “lying creationist” for framing arguments in favor of divine creation.  There is a great deal of bitterness with which some people on each side of this cultural divide regard the others.  So much so that any attempt
to understand the other side is seen as stark treason, a punishable offense.

Perhaps my sense of uncertainty developed from my long exposure to other intelligent people who were serious about their religious beliefs.  For a long time I worked in Catholic schools, with a faculty that included lay Catholic and Jesuit
teachers.  Many of the serious Catholics seriously believed in transubstantiation.  They believed that a wafer and a jug of wine could really transform into the body and blood of Christ.  They believed that such things happened commonly, every time there was a Mass, all over the world.

I cannot get my head around that kind of miraculous belief.  I firmly believe that a scientific diagnosis of the wine after it had been supposedly transformed would still show the same chemical makeup that it showed before.  Yet such conclusive proof would not convince my former colleagues.  They might even agree with me that chemical tests had proven that wafers were still chemically wafers and wine was still chemically wine.  And yet they would also believe that they were not.  The wafer and wine had actually become flesh and blood, no matter what the chemical tests may show.  How could my Catholic colleagues believe that?  They were well read and intelligent.  They were good people.  Many had dedicated their careers and lives to
helping others instead of getting themselves ahead.  Yet they believed in this unlikely miracle of transubstantiation.

How?  I don’t know.
But I do respect them as intelligent people and I guess that my inability to believe might be a weakness on my part rather than on theirs.  I can’t help but see their belief as an authentic understanding of the world that differs starkly from my own.  Perhaps the same could be true for those who believe in other ideas that seem outlandish to me?

Have my experiences been unusual?  Have other people interested in the creation/evolution debate had similar experiences?  Those of you who are creationists, have you experienced a wide divide from evolutionists?  Have you seen or felt bitterness and anger toward the other side?  How about evolutionists?  Have you had a difficult experience with a creationist?  One in which he or she would simply not listen to reason?  Or, even worse, one in which he or she lied or acted dishonestly in order to promote creationism?

 

FURTHER READING: Morris P. Fiorina, with Samuel J. Abrams and Jeremy C. Pope, Culture War?  The Myth of a Polarized America (New York: Pearson Longman, 2004).

Advertisements
Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. Chris

     /  September 27, 2011

    I don’t think your experiences are in any way unusual. When it comes to most bitterly controversial topics, opposing sides simply can’t understand the other side. Ultimately they simply aren’t willing to, because the opposing views seem so skewed. Why would anyone strip away humankind’s uniqueness? Or, why would anyone dispute the widely accepted findings of science?

    When I was a graduate student at an Ivy League university, I was appalled at how my fellow students spoke about evangelicals. Raised as an evangelical, I can vouch for their character, and there was a disjunct between what intelligent people were saying and my own experience. So I would prod, “What do you mean by ‘evangelical’?” Sometimes I would just get an answer like “the ones who voted for Bush”…sometimes it would be more precise. But the hate was real. And this coming from literary scholars whose critical vocabulary is full of words like “The Other”, “othering”, “demonizing”, etc.

    I don’t know that I identify as an evangelical anymore, but when I see that kind of vitriol, my tendency is to side with the target. You shouldn’t be talking about my grandma that way.

    Once the dynamic is like that, the conversation can’t be about anything other than identity….for both sides.

    Reply
  1. NEW TOPIC: Family & Sexuality « I Love You but You're Going to Hell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s