Randall Stephens, Creationism and ID at Home and Abroad

"Creationism and Intelligent Design in America and Abroad," by Randall Stephens

Are creationism and intelligent design unique to America?" That's what I asked Kenneth R. Miller, renowned author and Brown University professor of Biology, after he delivered a spectacular multi-media presentation on intelligent design (ID) at the Open Theology and Science conference here at my college in July. Miller, along with Anna Case Winters, and Karl Giberson, participated in a forum on "God, Darwin, & Design: The Struggle for America's Soul."

I was surprised by Miller's answer. He said: no, in fact, it is not uniquely American. Creationists of various degrees populate the European continent, the U. K., and, most significantly, the Muslim world. That seemed fascinating. I had tended to think American evangelicals and conservative fundamentalists were exceptionally belligerent on the issue of human origins. What of the court cases in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Georgia, pitting fundamentalist against "godless" textbook writers? Creation "scientist" Ken Ham recently built a $27 million creationist museum in Kentucky. Match that, Luxembourg!

Isn't this strident theo-science peculiarly American? Apparently not. A recent piece in the New York Times, "Islamic Creationist and a Book Sent Round the World," was confirmation enough that I was off the mark: "In the United States, opposition to the teaching of evolution in public schools has largely been fueled by the religious right, particularly Protestant fundamentalism. Now another voice is entering the debate, in dramatic fashion. It is the voice of Adnan Oktar of Turkey [aka] Harun Yahya." Yahya has mailed a beautifully illustrated creation science textbook to leaders in the field at top universities across the United States. Darwinian evolution is a demonic plot of the West, so goes the argument. Those who have found this massive tome in their mail box have commented on how visually stunning it is. The recipients, nonetheless, were unconvinced.

Yet this development in the East could pose new challenges to public schools in the US and abroad. Will American Muslims buy the religion-dressed-as-science Yahya is hawking? Less likely, but no less interesting, might Christian conseravtives and Muslims find common ground on the issue?

According to Miller, the influence of creationism and ID extends far beyond religious right groups. A January 2006 survey conducted by the BBC showed that quite a few Britons are "unconvinced on evolution." Surveys are often flat of foot and leave as many questions as they offer answers. This survey, however, of over 2,000 participants, "asked what best described their view of the origin and development of life," is a little startling. It showed that "22% chose creationism, 17% opted for intelligent design, 48% selected evolution theory, and the rest did not know." That last bit speaks volumes. How much do English men and women care about the subject?

The survey was conducted for an installement of the BBC's Horizon - A War on Science. It can be watched in full on Google video. The 2006 documentary examines the roots of ID and exposes its all-too-close resemblence to creationism. As a pundit once put it, ID is creationism dressed in a cheap tuxedo.

The film is a superb introduction to the subject. Its coverage of the now-famous Dover, PA, trial is especially interesting. Interviews with Michael Behe, William Dembski, Richard Dawkins, and Kenneth Miller provide excellent context. The film is, though, quite heavy-handed at times. It's over-the-top score reminds me of the ridiculously grim music playing behind the Daily Show's faux-news magazine interviews. Minus that and some unecessary grandstanding on both sides (Dawkins calls Darwin's doubters "yapping terriers of ignorance"), this is the best treatment I've seen. I plan to use selections from it for my American Religion and Culture course. The film's setting, America's Bible Belt, presents the subject in stark relief.


Art Remillard said…
Thanks Randall. I also had no clue that this was an issue outside the U.S. I'll have to ask my Canadian friends what's happening there. On another point, I wonder if this "wedge" issue can forge an ironic partnership between some American evangelicals and Muslims? Much like abortion, etc. has with some Catholics and evangelicals?
Randall said…
I'm not sure. It would be an incredibly strange partnership. I wonder how much longer this could be a wedge issue in America?
jfahler said…
I'm personally skeptical as to the idea of fundamentalist Christians and Muslims (whom I assume make up the bulk of die-hard creationists in both religions), at least in America, rallying around any issue, much less this one.

In April, '06, "creation science" evangelist Kent Hovind was asked to come to my campus (Kent State) by an on campus ministry claiming Christians were being "persecuted" in classes such as biology and anthropology. Evolution, he claimed, was much more than a scientific theory, but a rigid "religion" of secular humanism.

I suppose the reason I question the alliance is because for both groups, salvation of the unbeliever is integral, and seems to me to be the reason for lobbying creationism in the first place. You can see Harun Yahya's web site at http://www.harunyahya.com/, and it appears to me more than just a "science" textbook, but Muslim apologetics answering questions such as why the trinity does not exist.

Perhaps both groups could agree on an intelligent design middle ground, but as far as creationism, I'm skeptical because of their respective beliefs. And in terms of politics, I'm not sure if the Muslim population in America is strong enough to be attractive to the Christian Right... making an alliance pragmatically unsound.

I do still need to see the video. I wonder what will be written about this in 50 or 60 years?
Randall said…
That's a great point, Josh.

I see some real parallels between some of the apologetics of Yahaya and, say, a person like D. James Kennedy.

After I heard Miller speak here at ENC, I came home and watched the well-produced "documentary" Darwin's Deadly Legacy:

"D. James Kennedy looks into Darwin's chilling social impact -- and the mounting evidence that Darwin had it wrong on the origin of life." http://www.coralridge.org/darwin/video.asp?ID=crm&ec=I1301

One of the experts Kennedy uses as a talking head is Anne Coulter. Wow.

Apparently, almost everything awful about the 20th century can be traced to Darwinian evolution: Nazism, Eugenics, sexual predators, school shootings... Minus Nazism, I think some Muslim radicals would be in agreement about much of this.

I heard that after Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, granted an interview for the program, he was furious about how Kennedy mis-used him.
Art Remillard said…
OK, I'm taking off in another direction here, but Randall's post reminded me of a Simpsons episode, where they show a "balanced" comparison of evolution and creation.

Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKaaW8qtJ2U

And along these lines:

I apologize in advance to all non-Simpsons fans... I won't need to own a TV if it goes off the air.
Randall said…
"'The' George Will."

This was an awesome episode! It was called Monkey Suit. I actually made a dvr of it when it aired. One I've used in class was the "left below" episode, spoofing the Tim LaHaye book/empire: http://youtube.com/watch?v=F7goqLxPbEQ

Worked wonders for my 20th century fundamentalism lecture.
jfahler said…
I've always wanted to see the South Park Mormon episode used in a class. Maybe I will someday... but not in front of the 8th graders I'm going to be assigned to student teach next spring.

I didn't get to read the Times article... where did this guy get his funding?
Randall said…
His funding source was unknown at the time the article appeared. That, in itself, would make for a very interesting story.
Bland Whitley said…
A couple of points come to mind (neither of which relate to the Simpsons or South Park). First, I'm always unsure about poll data in cases like this. It rarely measures fervor. It's one thing to tell a pollster that one trusts evolution or creationism and another to act on said beliefs. Most folks might be relatively apathetic about the whole issue. Or not. But pollsters never seem interested in probing people's responses. Second, I tend to agree that fundamentalist Muslim and Christian creationists would have trouble forging a working political alliance around the issue. But each group might use the other tactically, to demonstrate some degree of religious open-mindedness--"See, we agree with these people who we've previously criticized as the infidel. We're not bigots, after all."
Randall said…
Hey Bland, Glad to see you on here. I share some of your suspicion about polls, but I do think they can still be useful.

The problem seems to be that when people don't have strong opinions or concerns--maybe a topic a pollee (word?) cares little about--they will respond in a way that isn't representative of much.