Creation Wins the Culture War

Quick: What rhymes with mitochondria?

It’s a tough question, and it helps illustrate the uphill cultural battle evolution has faced for the past hundred years in America.

A fluffy piece in Sunday’s New York Times gives us an example of this persistent imbalance.

The article describes the results of an outreach program to New York City teens, Science Genius.  The program hopes to use hip-hop as a sweetener to connect urban youth to science.

A victory for evolution and mainstream science?  I don’t think so.  I’m no creationist, but I can’t help but conclude that pop music seems to be more suitable for creationism than mainstream science.

Though the supporters of the NYC program claim some limited successes, even those claims highlight the deep difficulties of engaging young people of every cultural background with mainstream science.

We don’t want to make too much out of just one example, but listeners are not likely to be much moved by rhymes like the following: “Bioclast, foliation, and that granite, . . . I can tell you something ‘bout an aphanitic.”

I applaud the student, and the program, but rapping the truths of mainstream science doesn’t fall as trippingly off the tongue as those of creationism.

How much evolution music can you name?  Good stuff?

Creationists, on the other hand, can claim all sorts of pop music from the headlining Jonas Brothers to internet-cluttering obscure artists across the world.  Christian and Creation rock has long been an enormous and aggressive cultural presence, as ex-fundamentalist Jonny Scaramanga has remembered.

Where is the evolution-rock?

As critic Jason Rosenhouse perceptively noted in his book Among the Creationists, mainstream science does not have to worry about creationist challenges to the strength of real evolutionary science.  But creationists, Rosenhouse argues, DO have an easy time of constructing narratives that make sense to people.  Mainstream science?  Not so much.

Perhaps this is why people trust their intuition about creation and evolution more than they trust mainstream science.  As Penn State political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer noted in their book Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms, even the small minority of Americans who agree that mainstream science is firmly evolutionist support the inclusion of creationism in America’s classrooms.  That’s right: even those Americans who recognize that scientists agree about evolution tend to agree that creationism should be part of public science education.

Why is that?  At least part of the reason must be because mainstream science does not offer a compelling story to which Americans can cling.  There is no telos, no plot, no conflict (in the literary sense), no protagonists worth following.

Creationism, on the other hand, makes a good deal of intuitive sense.  It makes sense that a world so complex, so morally challenging, must have been created on purpose.

Evolutionary science, for its part, needs to make the case that humanity occurred somehow, but we don’t know exactly how.  It needs to explain that the feelings people have of purpose, of cosmological intent, are only vestiges of happenstance.

A hard bill of goods to sell on the pop-culture marketplace.  Just like it is hard to find a rhyme for mitochondria.