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Bringing Creationism to Heel Requires Making America Less Socially Darwinistic

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Until the mid 1800s science had seemed to verify the existence of a creator by revealing his work through the intricate wonder of nature -- Paley's natural theology with the proverbial watch on the beach. After Darwin's research went public the great majority of the scientific community abandoned the concept of an intelligent designer in favor of natural causes. As well documented as atomic theory and germ theory, evolutionary science has long been a core component of sophisticated biological research and application, and in most first world democracies, up to eight in ten, accept human descent from animals. But Europeans, Canadians, Australians and Japanese and not consistently better educated than are Americans, nor is their general knowledge of science always better. Creationists -- from the likes of fundamentalist Ken Ham whose Creation Museum shows humans riding dinosaurs Flintstones style, to the intelligent design Discovery Institute whose researchers argue that only God could contrive diseases sophisticated enough to kill humans -- are better skilled at communicating with their theocon base than are scientists, but there is no evidence that European scientists are more PR savvy than their American counterparts.

In their effort to convince the masses that evolution is an ungodly deception creationists have resorted not only to Biblical theology and their version of science. They have also made the socioeconomic argument that societies that fail to believe in a moral creator are doomed to suffer societal chaos. This is the theme of leading creationist proponents such as Ann Coulter's Godless: The Church of Liberalism that blames just about everything that has gone wrong on the evolutionists, and Ben Stein's film Expelled that does the same thing. The creationists happen to be right in that the social and especially economic conditions found within a country certainly do play the critical role in how popular or not is creationism. Where the creationists could not be more wrong is in their delusion that creationism helps improve the national condition.

This is where advanced demographic science comes in. In recent years I and other researchers have used sociological analysis to discover the real reason why levels of creationist belief vary so much in the advanced democracies. The investigation starts with the fact that in first world countries the level of proevolution sentiment tracks closely with the level of religiosity as measured by rates of belief and practice versus atheism. This makes sense -- in nations where only a minority thinks there is a God even fewer are going to believe in some form of creationism. It follows that the next question is what determines the degree of religious opinion, and that brings us to the fact that lower levels of religiosity and creationism are associated with lower levels of income disparity and poverty in the first world. The primary role played by socioeconomics in determining popular opinion on the existence of a creator is becoming a key paradigm of 21st century sociological research. It is the thesis of the now classic Sacred and Secular by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart of a few years ago, Phil Zuckerman's A Society Without God describes the success of the European secular way, and I have brought the collective body of research together in a comprehensive synthesis detailing and documenting the inability of creator worship to thrive in well run nations in Evolutionary Psychology. The latter includes the Successful Societies Scale, the first comprehensive comparison of societal conditions in the advanced democracies (based on two dozen indicators, see http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07398441_c.pdf, also moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2009/2009-17.html and http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/paul07/paul07_index.html).

Here's how socioeconomic security helps set the level of creator belief. In pro-evolution democracies the combination of universal medical coverage, other government assistance, and job security make it hard and rare for a member of the middle class majority to suffer economic ruin -- no one goes bankrupt due to medical bills in France or Australia. Upward mobility from the lower to middle class is high, and low income disparity reduces the rat race competition between citizens. As a consequence many first worlders feel secure enough in the context of the daily lives that drives majority opinion that they no longer seek the aid and protection of a supernatural creator, and have abandoned the churches in droves since the world wars. Because government support is so extensive citizens are not under pressure to belong to religious organizations to garner social support. And so many people are nonreligious that nontheists are not the victims of the discrimination that discourages nonreligiosity. All this means that too few believers are left over -- strong majorities are atheists and agnostics in some advanced democracies -- for there to be many creationists. For all their problems -- no nation is close to being a utopia -- the secularized prosperous democracies expose the conceit that it is the creator free societies that are destined to fail as a classic Big Lie.

In America middle class citizens are at serious risk of rapid financial ruin following loss of a job or health insurance -- hundreds of thousands of bankruptcies each year involved overwhelming medical bills -- and upward mobility form the lower the middle class is low, forcing a high stress struggle for survival based on wealth-based security that encourages most citizens to petition a mystical God for worldly help. The most extreme expression of the American Way of faith is evangelical Prosperity Christianity whose Biblical literalism further boosts creationist thinking. The result has been a culture war in which the right promotes Bible based morality, abstinence only sex education, gun rights, limited government assistance and high rates of faith-based and promoting charitable giving that have proven unable to reduce the nation's often shockingly high rates of homicide, incarceration, juvenile and adult mortality, STD infections, abortion, teen pregnancy, drug use, mental illness, divorce, and other social ills down to the lower levels typical of less creationist democracies. Claims that procreator Americans are better off than are nonbelievers are hypocritical since the latter are the targets of considerable bigotry, and are contradicted by the truth that social problems tend to be most elevated in the more creationist regions -- lifespans are actually decreasing in parts of the Bible belt. And scientists are an example of a skeptical lot who are doing quite well, thank you.

It is one of the great ironies of American history that the main source of opposition to Darwinian science, the religious right, has become a major supporter of the socioeconomic Darwinism that produces the dysfunctional environment most conducive to creator belief. Making this all the more incongruous is that the Bible often warns against the earthly temptations of wealth to the extent that it describes the ideal Christian community as so communistic that God strikes dead a married couple that fails to turn over their property to the early church, and early creationists like William Jennings Bryan was a progressive Democrat who regularly railed against corporate capitalism. The "Great Commoner" recognized the danger to traditional spirituality posed by modern mass materialism (see http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2008/03/buckleys-big-mistake). Conversely, Marx missed the mark when he thought that communism rather than free markets would suppress mass religiosity. Even as capitalistic competition produces the high anxiety society that chronic fear and anxiety that has helped creationism avoid collapse in the short term, the long term need of capital is to transform the population from pious traditionalists into hedonistic, materialistic, sex and violence obsessed consumers that spend their Sundays shopping and going to the game rather than in honoring the Sabbath. This project has enjoyed such success that the creationist religious right that used to own the mainstream popular culture until the early 1900s has been driven into a minority parallel culture that for all its power continues to lose ground. Among the conservative denominations in lasting decline is the largest creationist church, the Southern Baptists that not long ago dreamed of being part of the moral majority in tune with Karl Roves defunct permanent Republican majority. As belief in a creator declines nontheism has least tripled since the 1960s, becoming a major minority that at least matches Jews, Mormons and Muslims combined, and according to some of the most sophisticated surveys may rival Catholics or evangelicals in numbers (http://www.secularhumanism.org/reply-to-rodney-stark.pdf). The minority that accepts evolution without the aid of God is correspondingly edging upwards. The north east is already as proevolution and irreligious as parts of Europe.

What should strike demographic fear into the creationists is that the portion of the population that adheres to the Bible literalism that is the core of fundamentalist creationism has been steadily and rapidly declining since sampling on the question began a few decades ago (energygrid.com/society/2008/05gp-creationists.html). This indicates that creationist opinion is increasingly a protest movement in reaction to the secularization of the culture rather than an ardently held belief, leaving creationist opinion increasing vulnerable to a rapid collapse. What should give them further reason to fear is that they lack viable options. If the religious right abandons its alliance with their putative corporate friends under the aegis of the Republican Party then the former loses what political power they still enjoy, but continuing the collaboration does little to keep the cynical capitalists from building the money based corporate-consumer popular culture that is doing more than anything else to erode faith in a creator in America. Whatever they do, theocon churches lack the vast resources they need to match the secularization impact of the corporations.

That the real cause of our troubles are not creationism per se, but the defective societal and financial policies that facilitate the peculiar world view, and that modern economic forces are eating away at the religiosity that creationism cannot exist without, means that partisans on either side of the culture war have much less ability to influence the course of events with arguments specific to the issue than they realize. Promoting better education on and understanding of modern science is intrinsically important, but doing what is necessary to actually defeat creationism is a much greater venture to transform the American Way in which the primary intent is to make the country a safer, more secure, and compassionate land. As University of Chicago researcher Jerry Coyne has said, "the real way to increase the" acceptance of evolution in our country" is by building a more harmonious, just and caring society. That's not only a nobler goal than [merely] making people accept Darwin, it's also a goal that all of us whether we are scientists or not can help achieve" (minutes 41-48, 54-57 in richarddawkins.net/article,4561,Why-Evolution-Is-True,Jerry-Coyne-AAI-2009-RDFRS-Josh-Timonen).

(This is an expanded version of newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2009/11/defending_darwins_

science_by_taming_social_darwinism.html)

(Also see http://www.newsweek.com/id/211746; click here; http://www.gspaulscienceofreligion.com)

 

Gregory Paul is an independent researcher interested in informing the public about little known yet important aspects of the complex interactions between religion, secularism, culture, economics, politics and societal conditions. His scholarly work (more...)
 
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