Bigfoot, Unicorns and Moderate Creationists
…three things we’ve heard about lately in the press that don’t exist.
I didn’t actually intend to write so much about evolution and atheism when I started this blog, as it happens. I picked the site name because I liked dinosaurs and it was open (to my surprise, and to the surprise of practically everyone I’ve talked to about it in person). But, here I am again; if people weren’t wrong so often I wouldn’t have to correct them so much.
In November, Nicholas Wade wrote a piece in the New York Times about Senator Marco Rubio’s evasiveness when asked about the age of the universe. Mr. Wade’s thesis was that scientists should admit that evolution is “just a theory” so creationists can stop objecting to evolution being taught in schools. The Times has now published some of the responses to Mr. Wade addressing some of the usual blunders made in these arguments that Mr. Wade fell prey to, such as improperly understanding that evolution is a fact while natural selection is a theory. His response to them, which I think is best summarized here:
What would be desirable is to get [creationists] to drop their opposition to teaching evolution in schools. That is a practical issue to be settled by negotiation. Unfortunately, the extremists on both sides are so fond of striking militant stances that the gap between them has only increased.
Oh, it’s the extreme creationists (and evolutionists) who are the problem, is it? That implies there are moderate ones we can talk to.
Creationism is, itself, an extreme position. You can split hairs about young-earth and old-earth creationists if you like but that’s only slightly less ridiculous than, say, looking for “moderate” members of al-Qaida. The moderates on the religious side went to theistic evolution a long time ago. The ones who are left are like the Japanese soldiers who kept fighting for decades after the war ended, refusing to believe their side lost. Actually that’s doing a vast disservice to men like Hiroo Onada, men who at least were carrying out their assigned duty even if taken to an illogical extreme. Creationists are clinging to an ideological position they chose for themselves; the idea that something written thousands of years ago must be the inerrant word of a supernatural entity in spite of all evidence to the contrary. (By which I mean the scientific, historical and literary evidence that contradicts inerrancy.)
The differences between creationism and evolution are not the differences between religion and evolution. They are the differences between extreme religion and evolution. There is no “fig leaf” to hide behind, no plausible lie or legal fiction that will make evolution palatable to creationists. To creationists, evolution is a rival belief system: a competing meme complex, or as most people call it, a religion. A directly competing one at that, as the fundamental tenets of the two are in direct contradiction. The creationist position, like most religions, includes a mandate to “spread the word”. They can’t tolerate evolution under any pretense.
The negotiations ended a long time ago, and sadly it’s highly unlikely that the creationists’ “commanding officer”, so to speak, is going to materialize out of the ether and tell them to lay down arms. While the actual size of the creationist movement may vary from moment to moment in history, it is almost certainly the case that the scientific community is going to have to fight these guys forever.