"...I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me..." [Deuteronomy 5:8-10]

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Just who is immoral in the evolution debate?

You can't look far in the debate over evolution, creationism and intelligent design without finding some warning about morality.

The writer Christopher Hitchens recently described conservative Christian extremists as a "creeping and creepy movement" that is "trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent."

The creationist Reverend Jerry Falwell thundered in reply: "That is certainly a simplistic - and wildly exaggerated - way to define the efforts of religious conservatives who want to preserve their rapidly disappearing rights in this great land... Mr. Hitchens has specifically gone to great lengths to define creationism as 'nonsense' and to belittle those who dare to disbelieve that the universe just randomly appeared."

He went on to praise Answers in Genesis (AiG) founder Ken Ham, who states, "If you can't trust the Bible's history, how can you trust its morality?" and added "Christians must be equipped to defend their faith and be prepared to give an answer to everyone who challenges them on their views."

But how moral is creationism?

In answer to an accusation of dishonesty in a book it promotes, AiG replied that its opponents must "justify the very concept of honesty if we are just rearranged pond scum."

I had a similar recent experience with creationist columnist Bonnie Alba. I pointed out a recent article of hers on evolution was blatantly wrong, and asked her about the Biblical prohibition on bearing false witness. She answered "There can be no meaning of what I write or the commandments of God for a humanist or an atheist since all is relative, is it not?". I asked her how that justified her own behaviour. She did not answer.

There is something insidiously nasty at work here.

These Conservative Christians say that without creationism there can be no morality. They conveniently ignore the facts that every human culture has morality and that evolutionary theory provides ample explanations for moral and altruistic behaviour. We can even see apparent examples of such behaviour in the animal world.

These Creationists also deliberately ignore the fact that organisations representing more than half of the Christian world say that there is no conflict between an earth that is billions of years old; standard evolutionary theory; and their faith. And they mislead their followers by pretending that any more than a tiny portion of scientists see that there is any "controversy" in evolutionary theory.

But it is not just creationists who push this false claim that only they can be moral - and who are dishonest about the beliefs of other Christians.

Philip Johnson, a lawyer and leading member of the Intelligent Design movement, says: "The fundamental and most far-reaching assumption of Darwinism is that life is the product of forces that are impersonal and purposeless - that life is a cosmic accident... This is a philosophy that strikes most Americans as false, not just fundamentalists. If Christians frame the debate that way, we can't be marginalized." And there is the key to this dishonesty.

The leaders of the Creationist and Intelligent Design movements have a vested interest in misleading the public over the beliefs of other Christians and the overwhelming scientific support for evolution.

The ignorance they preach is repeated - deliberately or otherwise - throughout the creationist and ID movements.

Please understand - I am not saying that Creationists and ID supporters are insincere in their beliefs. I am only saying that they are misguided in their actions and motives. And and, by bearing false witness against science and other Christians, they are behaving immorally.

There simply is no need for this behavior. Religious leaders hardly come more conservative and "Biblically moral" than the new Catholic Pope Benedict XVI.

As a Cardinal under Pope John Paul II, the then Joseph Ratzinger presided over the church's International Theological Commission. This stated that "since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism."

Oh course, he believes that evolution is the product of divine will - but that is a question beyond the scope of science.

If Pope Benedict XVI can preach Biblical morality without relying on dishonest statements about science or the beliefs of other Christians, then why can't the Creationist and Intelligent Design movements?

If Jerry Falwell, Ken Ham, Philip Johnson and others wish to push their brand of Biblical Morality, they should do it honestly. They should openly recognise that the vast majority of scientists, and a great many Christians, see no "controversy" in evolution.

For now, the political influence of the Creationist and ID movements its easy to see. Publicly, President Bush may say that "the jury is still out" on evolution - but his science advisor John Marburger is clear: "Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory... I don't regard Intelligent Design as a scientific topic."

The American public, led by well intentioned but misguided religious leaders, haven't quite realised that yet.


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