In the postelection world, holding evangelical Protestantism up to the light has become all the rage, which does seem somewhat like shutting the barn door after the horse has left the barn. I guess when George Bush kicked off his first campaign at Bob Jones University a lot of people didn’t take it seriously. When he cozied up to Focus on the Family, some thought it was just politics. And when Ralph Reed became one of Bush’s top advisers, there were a lot of people still saying there was no difference between Democrats and Republicans. Anyway, now we have lots of time to consider why all this might be really, really bad news, not just for liberals but for moderates of any stripe. These days we can take our morning coffee to James Dobson of Focus on the Family explaining to NPR precisely why secular humanists don’t understand the power of moral values.
For me the big divide is as a basic as a battle about dinosaurs. As I write, the ACLU is in court challenging a sticker placed on all science textbooks by the Cobb County, Georgia, school board. “The text of it is very, very simple and innocuous,” says attorney Seth Cooper. “It says students should study evolution with an open mind.” Jamie Self, director of the Georgia Family Council, explains, “If we really want to pursue intellectual honesty, when we’re teaching our kids, it really is the only way to go. It is a theory; no one has ever come out and said ‘evolution is a fact.’ And so, if we’re going to be teaching it, kids need to understand that it is a ‘theory.'”
Of course, it comes down to what you mean by “theory.” Scientists use the word to describe a set of governing principles that explain physical phenomena. It doesn’t mean theoretical in the lay sense of hypothetical. A scientific theory is a schema of analysis. To say that evolution is not grounded in fact is to say that carbon-dating is wrong, that chemistry is fiction, that paleontological data are the artful conjuration of an intelligent God. It’s fine to believe this if you want to, but it’s no way to run a nation. I turned to Dobson’s website for a sense of what’s at stake in this debate. There you can purchase books like Phillip Johnson’s Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education to help you “know where you stand and why in this present cultural war against God!” The Evolution Set is a documentary collection “presenting solid evidence–even at the cellular level–for intelligent, purposeful design in living beings.” It Couldn’t Just Happen: Fascinating Facts About God’s World, by Lawrence Richards, supposedly “delivers solid proof of God’s existence and the evidence that He created and sustains the universe.” Dry Bones and Other Fossils, by Gary and Mary Parker, invites young readers to join the Parker family on “their annual fossil hunt” and to learn how fossils “provide evidence for creation, rather than evolution…. Includes tips on fossil collection and preservation and a Gospel presentation.” Another site, Contender Ministries, devoted to end-time theology and fears of the Satan-loving UN taking over the world, advises that “the evolutionist believes in evolution–not because it is scientific, but because he considers himself too wise to believe in God…. This humanist worldview, which denies God and instead, chooses a scientifically unprovable theory, is the religious doctrine of the American educational system.”
If a large majority of Democrats are arguing with a significant percentage of red-staters who believe that evolution is only an opinion, then we are not on the same page as to much of anything else about the planet. We do not share the same constructs of proof, evidence or the scientific method. If every sentence in the Bible is literally true, then what I call fact and what you call truth are separate genres, galaxies apart. And if, as an evangelical friend who is praying for my soul asserts, God made George Bush President, one might just as well concede that a large chunk of planetary history doesn’t exist, that the future is preordained and that the battle in the Middle East is leading us to a great Armageddon among all God’s tribes. Therefore, the debate about moral values has less to do with abortion rights than it does, as I said, with whether the dinosaurs existed as one link in life’s eonslong chain of development. Because if they did not, then nothing in the material world remains “true”–indeed, the entire intellectual grounding of Western thought must be called into question, as must a moral schema grounded in material consequence.
As I write, American troops are pursuing an estimated 2,000 insurgents, blasting away at Falluja, a city of approximately 300,000 residents. Some civilians have fled, but certainly not hundreds of thousands. It is interesting: The first thing our soldiers did when they entered the city was to take over the hospital, reportedly because our leaders worry that doctors there are really operating propaganda mills and and milking sympathy for untoward ends. They believe that the number of civilian deaths reported by hospitals, in international mortality reports and by the Red Cross has been inflated. All those pictures of weeping families and bloody sheets are merely the heresy of freedom’s nonbelievers, we are left to suppose. And so the Red Cross is no longer in the city. Médecins Sans Frontières was forced to pull out of Iraq weeks ago. A report from the British medical journal The Lancet, putting the Iraqi death toll at 100,000 since the US invasion began, has been denounced as methodologically flawed, flat-out false and no more than a theory.
I waited for the non-propaganda figures to come out of this assault on Falluja, the truthful toll, some data to assure us that numbers of civilian deaths distinguish us from Saddam Hussein. At the end of three days of heavy fighting, the news was “good.” Coalition casualties were reported to be light. But nowhere could I find any mention of numbers of residents killed. The silence has been light as a feather, warm as a blanket, gentle as faith. Perhaps they never existed, maybe it was all in our heads. But as American forces level this city in our name, let us stop acting stricken about what Jesus is supposedly whispering in the ears of our nation’s home-grown fundamentalists. In the name of sanity, we must demand that this Administration, not God, start talking some talk about our evolution to this dreadful point.