Ed Larson online interview

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An interesting interview with Ed Larson at the Washington Post. The Cobb decision, ID and the history of creationism, etc., are discussed.

An example of something that is not well-enough noticed by the media:

Many Christians accept the theory of evolution, seeing it as God’s means of creation. Catholic schools typically teach the theory of evolution in biology classes, as do many other Christian schools. Indeed, many conservative evangelical Christians fully accept theistic evolution. For these people, the important point typically is to distinguish between scientific theories of physical origins and religious concepts of the human and divine soul. The judge in the Cobb County decision assumes this point when he repeatedly identifies those opposed to teaching evolution in public schools as “Christian Fundamentalists and creationists.” Is is a sub-set of all Christians. Indeed, belief or disbelief in the theory of evolution divides the Christian church – which helps to explain why it is such a major issue for some Christians. This is as much a dispute among Christians as between science and religion.

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This is as much a dispute among Christians as between science and religion.

I wouldn’t go that far, but the dispute within Christianity is interesting. It’s clear that evangelicals are happy to use creationist apologetics as a recruiting tool.

Find the not-so-scientifically savvy young adult, feed him some garbage about “ID theory” and the “crisis” in evolution, and work from there.

Which is another reason why Judge Cooper has it right when he recognized the entanglement issue with those asinine stickers. Let’s imagine that the case had come out the other way. Those stickers and that case would then be cited as “proof” that the creationist’s bogus claims about evolutionary biology and “ID theory” are correct.

Instead, of course, the creationist-apologist evangelicals will cite the case as evidence that “activist judges” have taken over the judiciary.

I think Ed Larson fails to address a critical question and his failure gets right to the nub of what is dicked up about the way this controversy is handled by the media.

Here’s the question:

Herndon, Va.: I would argue that many of the people who are opposed to the teaching of, or do not believe in evolution, depend on science in almost all aspects of their lives. How does one accept only some Facts of science, medicine for example, and refuse to accept other scientific Facts? Do you see anything strange about this?

The honest answer to this question is that, yes, the people who engage in this practice are hypocrites on a grand scale. Human beings, like all animals, are first and foremost “materialists” and “naturalists” and “rationalists”. We all spend the vast majority of our lives thinking about reality in precisely the same way. Those who fail to do so quickly die or are institutionalized.

But here’s Ed, turning a very cogent observation about creationist hypocricy into a critique of science!

Edward J. Larson: We all pick and choose among various options. It happens when we choose which book to read, which TV show to watch, and what church to attend.

Or which group of humans to discriminate against and disparage. Why not mention that? That is a much more germane analogy.

Science is not infallable and scientists disagree among themselves on many things. Indeed, scientific theories change over time. Think of the theory of continental drift in geology, which has emerged over the past 50 years, or the big bang theory, or sting theory, or chaos theory.

What about Mendel’s theory? What about Watson and Crick’s theory? What about Newton’s theories? Where is Ed going with this? What fraction of the earth’s biologists believes that the diversity of life on earth is explained by something other than evolutionary theory?

So you accept the scientific theories that seem right to you. People don’t directly encounter evolution in their daily lives very much in an undeniable fashion, and can construct a whole world view without it, especially if they leave room for the micro-evolution of viruses and finches.

But the issue raised by the questioner was not whether a “world view” (yeeeeuccchchhh) can be constructed without a belief in evolution, but whether one could honestly and positively disclaim evolution without disclaiming science generally. (once again: the correct answer is: of course not).

A second commenter was also unsatisfied by Ed’s answer and asked him to clarify but Ed responded with an equally weak dodge. Unfortunately, I no longer have access to the text of the interview (how I got throught the Post’s registration process in the first instance is a mystery).

“Indeed, many conservative evangelical Christians fully accept theistic evolution.”

This could not be further from the truth. I really wish media representatives would do their homework before making such ill-founded statements. Anyone who studies the Religious Right (like myself) and follows the anti-evolutionary movement knows that Conservative Evangelicals are at the forefront in disputing evolution in any guise.

Jeff raises another good point.

The fraction of “conservative evangelical Christians” who fully accept theistic evolution and would admit it publicly is small. I’d guess 5%, maybe less. And of course the remaining 95% would claim that such people aren’t evangelicals in the first place.

The robustness of evolutionary theory and the “theistic evolution” approach to solving the “God did it” conundrum is simply not pushed by the prominent preachers and think tanks who feed conservative evangelical Christians their scripts these days.

It’d be useful to compile a list of A-list evangelical preachers and their teachings on the subject. I would be stunned if any evangelical Christian ever attempted to collect that sort of data.

To follow-up:

There’s a very good reason why the Religious Right (Conservative Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Pentecostals, et al) cannot accept any evolutionary concept, theistic or otherwise. It cannot be reconciled with a view of biblical inerrancy – the bedrock of the Religious Right’s belief system. This is not a matter of mere theological differences within the Religious Right, but a matter of maintaining a set of consistent beliefs whose fundamental frameworks are at odds – it simply cannot be done. The Religious Right might not be the brightest bulbs but they’re not that stupid, and they’ve recognized the real threat that evolution poses for their worldview.

Interesting point. Where do we put Mormons? They’re certainly conservative, and maddeningly (by some standards)evangelical. And they accept evolution (and I know of a case where an instructor of religion was released for teaching against evolution at one of their colleges – false doctrine). So I guess the only way we say the millions of conservative evangelicals who are Mormons and who favor evolution don’t qualify for Larson’s category is to claim they are not Christian?

Jonathan Weiner, in Beak of the Finch, told the story of a researcher whose job for some major pesticide company is to track the evolution of some pest in order to make sure the company has the right poisons to stop it in any given growing season. This researcher told about explaining his job to a religious-type on an airplane, who thought the entire thing was just fabulous, right up until the researcher revealed this was evolution in action, at which point it became heresy instead.

Opposition to evolution from religious quarters is hypocritical in science, yes – but those advocates are willing to risk a little hypocrisy in order to defend Civilization-As-They-Think-It-Is-Known. The average Christian in the pews hasn’t given the issue that much thought.

Most Christians miss getting the full dose of fundamentalism, at least as much as most kids in public schools miss getting a good explanation of evolution.

Damn. The blind swinging at the blind. Too bad there isn’t a parable about that.

Larson’s observation that creationism is a problem chiefly in poor, under-educated, under-industrialized nations is not a great comfort. If one needed a leading indicator to point the economic direction of the U.S., one would hope against the evidence that was not it.

(Yes, Larson’s observation was phrased the other way – it’s not a problem in Europe, but it is in Chile, Africa, etc., etc.)

The Religious Right might not be the brightest bulbs but they’re not that stupid, and they’ve recognized the real threat that evolution poses for their worldview.

They are certainly effective at distorting the evidence for evolution while simultaneously arguing that all of the allegedly sordid “metaphysical implications” of evolutionary biology are “obvious”.

But we shouldn’t pretend that other sciences – and science generally – isn’t on the evangelical radar. Some of the trolls around here are living proof of that fact.

Mormons typically occupy a classification all their own and often don’t fall within a Judeo-Christian designation. Much of this is the result of a long history (forged through a Protestant perspective) of classifying “Mormonism” as a cult. This (mis)classification even exists to some degree today in sociological research. It realy does depend how one slices the ecclesiastical pie. Too often, evangelicalism becomes a catchall category, which by the way horrifies many evangelicals.

Yes, good point Great White.

This is as much a dispute among Christians as between science and religion.

At least it should be. Of course, fundamentalists “Christians” (who cling to YEC) don’t consider evolution-accommodating Christians to be Real Christians ™. But, I wish “non-real” Christians would speak out more and put the fundies in their place. Otherwise, the public gets the perception that Falwell, Robertson, et. al. speak for all of Christendom.

This is as much a dispute among Christians as between science and religion.

At least it should be. Of course, fundamentalist Christians (read: Bible-worshippers who cling to YEC) don’t consider evolution-accommodating Christians to be Real Christians ™. But, I wish “non-real” Christians would speak out more and put the fundies in their place. Otherwise, the public gets the incorrect perception that Falwell, Robertson, et. al. speak for all of Christendom.

This is as much a dispute among Christians as between science and religion.

At least it should be. Of course, fundamentalist Christians (read: Bible-worshippers who cling to YEC) don’t consider evolution-accommodating Christians to be Real Christians ™. But, I wish “non-real” Christians would speak out more and put the fundies in their place. Otherwise, the public gets the incorrect perception that Falwell, Robertson, et. al. speak for all of Christendom.

Whenever anybody makes a comment that Evangelicals speak with one voice agaisnt evolution you might want to refer them to “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” by Mark Noll, Professor fo Theology at Wheaton College. My 1994 edition published by the same InterVarsity Press that publishes so much ID stuff, condemns the fudamentalist mindset that is the basis for scientific creationism.

Mr Noll devotes several pages tohis cricicism of evangelical support ofr scientific creationism (pp 182-208. One of the sections is entitled “The Damage Done by Creation Science to the Evangelical Mind.” He concludes that creation science has damaged evangelicalism by making it more difficult to think about human origins, and (more significantlyu to him) has also damaged evangelical theology. He is highly critical of a natural or literalist reading of the Bible and idetifies several evangelical scholars who agree.

He relies upon Augustine’s conclusion 1500 years ago, that any Christian who interprets the bible with cosmological implications will inevitably misinterpret the Bible unless reason and science are also taken into account. Mr. Noll is especially harsh on evalgelical responses to questions of science and technology. This section of his book is worth a read, since the book is intended to be “intramural” so to speak.

Ah yes, and Mark Noll is of course an impartial observer of evangelicalism.

Whenever an evangelical speaks of evangelicalism as teaming with pluralism take it with a grain of salt. The literature that McFaul refers to is authored by-and-large by evangelical academics attempting to cope with their academic evironments in light of their faith - just my psychoanalyic diagnosis, no charge ;-)

Anyway, I’ve read most of this literature - Christain Smith being the latest in a long line of these apologetic authors. The problem is that it doesn’t comport very well with the views and practices of rank and file evangelicals. I don’t doubt the integrity of their research (I’ve used much of it in my own work), but it cannot be said that these authors/accounts are without an agenda.

I would suggest looking at the work of Mark Chavez, Jay Demerath, David Yamane, and Dick Fenn (my former professor at Princeton Seminary) to name just a few - they provide a more balanced assessment in my view. And by the way, the shibboleth of a monolithic evangelical voice is really a disingenuous foil. No one in the field claims a single voice for evangelicals today, but there are clear and solid family resemblances that tie them together, which is primarily theological - that’s why their evangelicals. There are good reasons why these evangelical scholars are upset with the rank and file, as McFaul points out above.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on January 14, 2005 1:45 PM.

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