Monday, March 14, 2005

THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT is getting more and more aggressive about attacking the scientific theory of evolution and forcing into the public school system the religious belief that God created the world and everything in it exactly as it exists now. In a Washington Post article online today, Peter Slevin describes a change in tactics on the part of Christian theocrats. Instead of openly calling for schools to replace the teaching of evolution with the teaching that God created the world in 6 days, Christian fundamentalists are couching their efforts in the language of open intellectual debate. They say they want to "allow" teachers to "challenge evolution" and present the concept of "intelligent design" to explain life on Earth. What they mean by this term, of course, is that a Superhuman Supreme Living Being created human beings, just as human beings are now; although, for strategic reasons they try not to use the word "God."

It's an academic freedom proposal. What we would like to foment is a civil discussion about science. That falls right down the middle of the fairway of American pluralism," said the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer, who believes evolution alone cannot explain life's unfurling. "We are interested in seeing that spread state by state across the country." Some evolution opponents are trying to use Bush's No Child Left Behind law, saying it creates an opening for states to set new teaching standards. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a Christian who draws on Discovery Institute material, drafted language accompanying the law that said students should be exposed to "the full range of scientific views that exist."

"Anyone who expresses anything other than the dominant worldview is shunned and booted from the academy," Santorum said in an interview. "My reading of the science is there's a legitimate debate. My feeling is let the debate be had."

My personal belief is that faith in God and the reality of evolution are not mutually exclusive. There is nothing anti-religious about saying that living things, including human beings, evolved over millions of years, if you feel, as I do, that God works through nature and biological processes.

Of course, if you are convinced, as these Christian literalists are, that God is a superhuman wizard with magic powers who exists apart from the natural world and the laws of physics, then it cannot be simultaneously true that both God and evolution are real.

In a democratic society where freedom of religion is valued and taken seriously, these people have the right to their beliefs -- as I have to mine. But they do not have the right to drag personal religious convictions into public school classrooms; just as I do not have the right to insist that public educators teach children that "God works through nature" or that "evolution is God's Creation Process." Religion should be taught in church or in private religious schools; in the public classroom, science should be taught.

But the agenda of people who want "creation science" to be taught alongside evolution, and who want stickers put on textbooks saying that "evolution is an unproven theory" goes far beyond the desire to have their personal religious certainties given equal status with Darwinian evolution in the classroom. The long-term goal of people like Rick Santorum and the constituency he represents is to transform American society as a whole from one based on constitutional law to one based on religious law -- and specifically fundamentalist Christian religious law. Don't ever, ever think for one moment that radical extremist preachers in Kansas oppose theocracy or theocratic governments. They do not. They simply want that theocracy to be Christian. And their extremism is becoming increasingly mainstream.

Although many backers of intelligent design oppose the biblical account that God created the world in six days, the Christian right is increasingly mobilized, Baylor University scholar Barry G. Hankins said. He noted the recent hiring by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary of Discovery Institute scholar and prominent intelligent design proponent William A. Dembski.

The seminary said the move, along with the creation of a Center for Science and Theology, was central to developing a "comprehensive Christian worldview."

"As the Christian right has success on a variety of issues, it emboldens them to expand their agenda," Hankins said. "When they have losses . . . it gives them fuel for their fire." ...

The efforts are not limited to schools. From offices overlooking Puget Sound, Meyer is waging a careful campaign to change the way Americans think about the natural world. The Discovery Institute devotes about 85 percent of its budget to funding scientists, with other money going to public action campaigns.

Discovery Institute raised money for "Unlocking the Mystery of Life," a DVD produced by Illustra Media and shown on PBS stations in major markets. The institute has sponsored opinion polls and underwrites research for books sold in secular and Christian bookstores. Its newest project is to establish a science laboratory.

Meyer said the institute accepts money from such wealthy conservatives as Howard Ahmanson Jr., who once said his goal is "the total integration of biblical law into our lives," and the Maclellan Foundation, which commits itself to "the infallibility of the Scripture."

"We'll take money from anyone who wants to give it to us," Meyer said. "Everyone has motives. Let's acknowledge that and get on with the interesting part."

Terry Fox, a Southern Baptist minister in Kansas, also makes it clear that the goal is not just to get a hearing for his views, but to change social and political policy for all Americans.

To fundamentalist Christians, Fox said, the fight to teach God's role in creation is becoming the essential front in America's culture war. The issue is on the agenda at every meeting of pastors he attends. If evolution's boosters can be forced to back down, he said, the Christian right's agenda will advance.

"If you believe God created that baby, it makes it a whole lot harder to get rid of that baby," Fox said. "If you can cause enough doubt on evolution, liberalism will die."

Which is very flawed logic, because when did a religious belief that God created human life ever keep those same people from supporting the destruction of human life? For the ethical conviction behind Fox's statement to be consistent, he and other Christians of his ilk would have to believe that a human being continues to be God's creation after that human being is no longer a fetus or a newborn baby. And if such people DID believe that human beings are God's creation throughout their lives, then they would oppose war and the death penalty on the same religious grounds that they oppose abortion. As we all know, that is not the case.

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