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.”