Summary of presentation on Darwinism for the 23 Feb. 2005 meeting of the Humanist Union

Prairie Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship’s Humanist Group – 23 February 2005
The Conflict Between Darwinism and Religion – S. Galen Smith

A. Definitions are extremely important because much of the conflict revolves around misuse or misunderstanding of a few key words, especially  “science”,“religion” and “God”

science: “Essential characteristics: (1) It is guided by natural law; (2) It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law; (3) It is testable against the empirical world; (4) Its conclusions are tentative, that is, are not necessarily the final word: and (5) It is falsifiable” (Anatolin & Herbers 2001).

Other important words or phrases are:

scientific method
natural law
intelligent design

B. Brief history of the conflict

C. Important points to keep in mind about the evolution vs. religion conflict in the U.S.:

1. It is a church-state issue involving the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is often mis-quoted or misunderstood. 

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

2. For many people and organizations it is part of a much broader group of issues including e.g. a) abortion and reproductive health care, b) population control, c) homosexuality, d) Christian heritage in the U.S., e) prayer and other religious expression in public places, f) denial of scientific evidence in other fields such as geology and climate warming.

3. It involves primarily public schools but also extends to public life and government at all levels from local school boards to the U.S. national administration.

4. The anti-evolutionists are very well-organized and effective in promulgating their viewpoints. One list of “Creation Science Organizations” on the Internet contains 142 organizations. Among the most active are:
--The Discovery Institute (DI) and its Center for Science and Culture and Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture
--Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE)
--James Dobson’s Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which funds litigation aimed at weakening the 1st Amendment

5. A key strategy by the anti-evolutionists is “The Wedge Strategy”, formerly known as “The Wedge Document”, which is being aggressively executed by the Discovery Institute (DI) Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC). The Wedge movement, which was begun in the early 1990's by University of California-Berkeley law professor Philip Johnson, “is the intelligent design movement’s tactical plan for promoting intelligent design creationism as an alternative to evolutionary theory in the American cultural mainstream and public school classes.” (Barbara Forrest in Church and State, Feb 2005:9).

6. Probably the best organization dedicated to “Defending the Teaching of Evolution in the Public Schools” is the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) –
The Executive Director of NSCE is anthropologist Eugene Scott (see her book cited below).
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and ACLU are also very effective.

Creationist Arguments (from Anatolin & Herbers 2001):
        Evolution is just a theory.
        Evolution describes origins of living matter.
        Evolution means “Nature red in tooth and claw.”
        Evolution means “survival of the fittest.
        Evolution is atheism.
        Only two scientific alternatives exist: evolution and creation science.
        Teaching creationism is only fair.
        Scientific debate is a sign of weakness.
        Microevolution and macroevolution define non-overlapping areas of study.
        “Intelligent design (ID) theory” is something new.

Recent useful publications:

Anatolin, Michael F. and Joan M. Herbers. 2001. Perspective: Evolution’s struggle for existence in America’s public schools. Evolution 55(12): 2379–2388.

Behe, Michael J. 1996. Darwin’s Black Box. The Free Press. [The most important book promoting “intelligent design”]

Boston, Rob. 2005. Science test, in Church and State 58(2):4–8. Feb. 2005. [Published by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State]

Forrest, Barbara and Paul R. Gross. 2004. Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Oxford University Press.

Scott, Eugenie C. 2004. Evolution and Creationism. Greenwood Press.

An Interview with Barbara Forrest, in Church and State 58(2):9–11. Feb. 2005.

Of pandas and plots: What’s at stake in the Dover ID lawsuit, in Church and State 58(2):15. Feb. 2005.

Suzanne Goldenberg. 2005. Religions right fights science for the heart of America: Creationists take their challenge to evolution theory into the classroom. Common Dreams News Center, in The Guardian/UK, 7 Feb. 2005.