To Teach Evolution, You Have to Understand Creationists
If you follow the news about culture wars, evolution, and creationism, you’ve probably seen it by now. Earlier this fall, U.S. Rep. Paul C. Broun Jr., Republican of Georgia who ran unopposed for re-election, said in a widely distributed video that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang theory were “lies straight from the pit of hell.”
I don’t agree. But the ferocious response to Broun’s remarks tells us more about the widespread ignorance among evolution supporters than it does about ignorance among creationists.
Broun, who serves on the House of Representatives’ Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has long been one of the most staunchly conservative members of Congress. His comments have earned him widespread condemnation; Bill Nye, television’s “The Science Guy,” has called Broun “by any measure, unqualified to make decisions about science, space, and technology.” In the blogosphere, comment has been even less restrained.
I disagree with Broun’s views on evolution—and on a host of other topics, for that matter. But if we hope to understand creationism, we need to abandon the trope that only the ignorant can oppose mainstream evolutionary science. It is a comfortable delusion, a head-in-the-sand approach to improving evolution education in the United States. In the end, it stems from a shocking ignorance among evolutionists about the nature of creationist beliefs.
First of all, Broun is no ignoramus. He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and an M.D. He is the most recent in a long line of educated creationists. In the 1920s, William Jennings Bryan similarly defended his role as a man of science. In response to Clarence Darrow’s accusation that only “bigots and ignoramuses” opposed evolution education, Bryan listed his many college degrees.
As U.S. secretary of state, Bryan noted, he had met with “kings, emperors, and prominent public men.” Throughout his career, Bryan complained he had never been called “an ignoramus … by anyone except an evolutionist.”