REQUIRED READING: The Long March against Evolution

Michael Lienesch, In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, the Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

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.

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  1. Yasha Hartberg

     /  February 15, 2012

    Interestingly, there are branches within mainstream science that seem relatively receptive to creationism, or at least to intelligent design. I’ve noticed over the years that those in the physical sciences, such as chemistry or physics, are more likely to espouse intelligent design. While this is mostly anecdotal, I think it is borne out by the credentials of some of the more prominent members of of the ID camp such as Behe. A friend of mine also did a survey of students and found that those in the physical sciences were less likely to accept evolutionary theory than those in the life sciences.

    In any event, it’s a phenomenon that may be worth exploring further. I’ve often wondered if it’s because scholars in those disciplines are simply less familiar with evolutionary thinking or if it’s because the nature of their work is design so they see rational design where none exists.

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