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Vince Resh: Good afternoon. I’m Vince Resh. I’m chair of the Hitchcock Lecture Series and I want to welcome you to the second of two lectures that are going to be presented by our guest this year. And we’re very delighted to have her here.
Dr. Eugenie Scott is renowned anthropologist and science educator. She was the executive director for the National Center for science education from 1986 until her retirement in 2014. And as many of you know, the center is a nonprofit organization based in Oakland whose stated mission is to defend the integrity of science education against ideological interference. And for those of you that were lucky enough to hear the lecture yesterday, she talked very, very brilliantly about two topics which are always supposed to keep out of our conversations how politics and religion can influence science. And just a, just a brilliant, brilliant lecture.
She received her BS and MS degrees from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee at a Ph.D. In biological anthropology from the University of Missouri. She’s taught at the University of Kentucky, University of Colorado, San Jose state and California State East Bay.
At the National Center for Science Education. Dr. Scott’s work centered around attempts to teach evolution as simply one of a series of hypotheses about human origins such as efforts to teach creation, science and intelligent design in American public schools.
In 2005, Dr. Scott and her staff worked on the side of the plaintiffs in the well known Kitzmiller versus Dover Area School District case. And the court famously ruled that intelligent design was indeed a form of creationism and therefore its teaching violated the establishment clause of the first amendment of the US Constitution. Now, the Hitchcock Lecture Series is quite a well-known series. There’s a detailed history of it that I’d recommend that you look at.
Likewise, there’s a more detailed, a biography of Dr. Scott that you may want to read after the lecture is over. So I want to conclude within 2010, the National Academy of Science awarded Dr. Scott, the public welfare metal for extraordinary use of science for the public good. Her second lecture, which will be given now is entitled “Evolution and Creationism as Science and Myth.”
I also want to thank Dr. Bill Litaker, who, as he’s done many times explain the meaning of that second graph up there, which is one of Darwin’s first attempts at drawing an evolutionary tree or what we now call today a phylogeny. So I wish you would all join me in welcoming Dr. Eugenie Scott for her second lecture and certainly wrote very lucky to have her here.
Eugenie Scott: Thank you. You know, it really is such a high honor to be invited to be a Hitchcock Lecturer. It is just when I got the letter, I was just blown away. My predecessors in this position have been such extraordinary scholars and internationally known, brilliant minds. So because this is such a very high honor and because it’s 4:00 p.m. In the afternoon, I’m going to read you a bedtime story. Please do not fall asleep because I have a purpose in mind for this.
Once upon a time, there was a steam engine. It was pulling a train full of toys and food for the good little girls and boys on the other side of the mountain. Then suddenly the train stopped. Her wheels just wouldn’t turn anymore, so the clown and the toys started looking for another engine to take them over the mountain.
They asked a big passenger train, please, would you take us over the mountain for the good little girls and boys? No, said the passenger train. I am much too grand for the likes of you. Then they saw a powerful freight train. Would you please pull us over the mountain for the good little boys and girls? No, said the freight train. I am much too powerful and important to pull the likes of you. Then they saw a little old train and asked if it would pull them over the mountains. No, said the little little train. I am too old and tired to go over the mountain. I cannot help you. The toys didn’t know what to do. Then the little blue engine came up to them and asked, what is the matter my friends? Oh, little blue engine, would you please pull us over the mountain?
The good little girls and boys won’t have any toys to play with or good food to eat if you don’t please help us. The little blue engine explained that she had never been over the mountain and usually she was just asked to switch trains in the yard. I’m not very big, but I will try to take you over the mountain.
So she hitched herself to the train. It was a very steep mountain, but the little blue engine kept saying to herself, I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. And slowly and with great effort, they started up the track and at last, they reached the top of the mountain. The little train did it down to the children in the valley they went. Now the good little girls and boys would have toys and good food to eat.
The little blue train saying to herself, I thought I could, I thought I got, I thought I could. And if you think the little engine that could is about talking steam engines, you’re missing the point. The little engine that could is about the importance of perseverance, having confidence, being willing to give it your all.
It’s an American inculturation myth. It’s a classic American myth. If the Hopis or the Arapeche were writing a story for children about getting a train over a mountain, all the toys would get out of the train and collectively and cooperatively pushed the train over the mountains. This is an American inculturation myth.
In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth and the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters and God said, let there be light and there was light and God saw the light that it was good and God divided the light from the darkness. He called the light day and the darkness. He called night and the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters. And let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament and it was so. And God called the firmament heaven and the evening in the morning were the second day. And God said, let the waters under the heaven be gathered together into one place and let the dry land appear.
And it was so. And God called the dry land earth and the gathering together of the waters he called seas. And God saw that it was good and God said, let the earth bring forth grass. The herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind. And it was so and the evening and the morning were the third day.
Well, I suspect you have a pretty good idea how this ends. Most Americans are quite familiar with the genesis creation story. Day four, God creates the sun, the moon, and the stars. Day five, he creates sea creatures and birds. Day six, he creates people and mammals and all of creation is good. Things go okay for a while, but then Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent and disobeyed God, and they are driven from the garden of Eden.
Now the genesis story is no more about talking snakes than the little engine that could is about talking steam engines. Both are examples of what folklorists called myth and myths are really important. A dictionary, one dictionary definition of myth is falsehood, but it’s not important whether myths are factual. In fact, most of the time they aren’t, which doesn’t lessen their importance.
Let me surprise you: as a scientist and a humanist. I will say that to a people, myths are more important than facts. And now I better explain what it mean by myth. The study of mythology crosses many borders. Folklore and literature, certainly, but also sociology and anthropology. And popular speech, again, the synonym of myth is falsehood. To a folklorist, though, myths are the symbolic representation of important cultural values to a people. They are especially important in non-literate cultures, where cultural values have to be transmitted orally.
But they also occur in modern industrial countries. They have many purposes. They might explain the origin of the people were established rights to land or to objects or rituals for tribe or kin groups. Myths may be incorporated into rituals that remind people of the relationships of their group to other groups or relationships within the society. They may also be art forms. Beowulf, the Odyssey, the Norse eddas. These are all art forms, but highly mythic. They represent values which are important to the people who have developed them and they’re a way of promoting the continuity of a culture.
And of course, myths diffuse from group to group. They’re taken apart. They’re rearranged. They’re synchrotized with cultural elements just like every other aspect of culture. But the big takeaway here is that myths are not false. They are representative and they tell important truths about a people. Myths are not supposed to be taken literally. You’re not supposed to believe that ragged dick was a real person. Ragged Dick is a character in a popular series of books written by the late 19th century author Horatio Alger, who’s heard of Horatio Alger stories?
Practically every hand went up there. Ragged Dick, and his fellow heroes were plucky poor boys who through their strong character and basic decency, managed to pull themselves up from poor levels of society to the middle class. The Horatio Alger myth symbolizes a very classic American secular myth, rags to riches. Anybody can succeed, anybody can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And this is a very, very powerful American myth. And there are individuals who have succeed against very remarkably difficult odds.
You know, people like Ben Carson or people like George Soros. Actually, the statistics will show that movement in the United States from class to class, social mobility is actually less than it is in much of Europe, but it is nonetheless an American myth that we can do that. Periodically, over the years, the Horatio Alger myth influences American social welfare policy where poor and working class individuals are expected to bootstrap themselves up with minimal help from society and government. But no one thinks that Ragged Dick is a real person. Ragged Dick is symbolic. The power of myth is symbolism. It’s not true in the literal sense, but it’s true in the meaning that it conveys.
The little engine that could and Horatio Alger stories are mythic narratives that illustrate American secular values, the value of individuality, hard work, perseverance and confidence on the one hand and the importance of individual character for success on the other. They’re not factual, but they are true in that they reflect American values.
Now, myths are not ordinary narratives. They themselves are ritualized. There’s a number of language conventions associated with myths. There’s often an introduction that tells you, Oh, I’m in the land of myth now, I’m not supposed to believe that there’s actually fairy godmothers.
Once upon a time in the beginning, long, long ago in a galaxy far away. Myths usually have repetitive elements. The toys asked three engines, and it’s the fourth engine that manages to solve the problem. In the other children’s book, the Little Red Hen, the hen asks the other animals, who will help me plant the wheat? Not I said the pig, not I said the cow, not I said the dog. This repetition is something that’s very common. And the morning and the evening where the first day and the morning and the evening where the second day. So there are linguistic conventions that signal that you are in the world of myth.
Another characteristic of myth that sets it apart from other narrative is that that had often deals with supernatural elements, characters or circumstances that would not be typically encountered. Gods or demons or talking steam engines. Or as with the Horatio Alger myth, rich beneficiaries who appear, they also mocking to solve the problems for you.
You know, if you, I’d never until I was preparing this talk, I never actually looked at the Horatio Alger books. They’re awful. I can kind of see why nobody really reads them anymore. But everybody knows the Horatio Alger Myth because the myth continues even without the representation in this series of books. But what usually happens in the Horatio Alger books as you have this plucky poor boy who’s working very, very hard, but he’s just a decent, honest, wonderful person. And this rich man comes along and gives them a job and then he succeeds. Or the rich man comes along and marries Ragged Dick to his daughter or something. Yeah, like that’s going to happen real often. But so there, there are supernatural things that happen in myths.
So since the topic of tonight is actually the creationism and evolution issue, how does myth relate to creation and evolution?
Well, Bible scholars have ascertained that the old testament was written over a period of centuries, by many individuals and was influenced by many factors. There are two major religions that consider it sacred. Jews look at genesis as establishing the descendants of Abraham as the chosen people and focus on the promise of restoration of the Jewish people to the promised land. Christians have a different focus, which I’ll discuss in more detail later on in the talk.
But what did Genesis signify to the ancient Hebrews, rather than to modern Christians and Jews? Several Christian and Jewish theologians have considered what the genesis creation story would have meant to the people who set it down 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.
Now, think about this: Who were the ancient Hebrews? They were a pretty small tribe in the middle of a very busy part of the world after all the geographically, the Middle East is this crossroads of three continents. So there are a lot of other tribal groups around. And the Hebrews were this little monotheistic dot in the middle of all these polytheistic religions. The Syrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Egyptians, and worst of all, all of these other, larger, more powerful entities periodically conquered the poor Hebrews.
So you can imagine the pressure on the Hebrews to maintain their monotheism and the middle of all of this pressure from especially conquering nations to adopt their religion, to adopt their habits and so forth. Maintaining monotheism and avoiding syncretism was the issue for the Hebrews. And it’s all over the Old Testament. Moses’s commandments begin: Thou shalt have no other gods before thee. Well, this isn’t a big issue in the 20th and 21st century, it wasn’t even a big issue in the eighth century, but it was a real big issue for the ancient Hebrews.
In the King James version, it’s followed by, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Although we’re not really big into graven images these days either, but historically, from the standpoint of the ancient Hebrews, these were things that the neighbors of the Hebrews were doing. The whole business about the golden calf when the tablets are being brought down and so forth.
Keeping their identity as the chosen people, as the Hebrews, as opposed to adopting all of these cultural practices of their neighbors. This was the big issue for the Hebrews. Now, how do people do this? How do you keep your identity? Well, one way is through myth. One way is through having stories, having rituals, stories that are embedded into rituals that you can pass on to the next generations. That you can use to remind the people in your group, in your tribe, that this is who we are and this is why we are important.
How does the creation story in genesis tell us what was important to the ancient Hebrews? The late Presbyterian theologian, Conrad Hyres has I think, a very interesting perspective on what genesis might have meant to the ancient Hebrews. And he views it as a powerful myth in this symbolic sense that I’ve been talking about myth to remind the Jews that they were people who were indeed different from their neighbors and better than their neighbors because their god was the superior god. And they were this powerful God’s chosen people.
The ancient Hebrews distinguish themselves from the neighbors and kept their identity by stressing in genesis the power of their god over other gods. So on day one, God creates light and separates light from darkness. Thus are the gods of light and darkness vanquished. On day two, God creates the heavens and the earth, thus vanquishing sky, gods and earth gods. On day three, God creates the oceans, lands and vegetation, thus making sea and vegetation divinities redundant. Day four, God creates the sun, moons and stars. Therefore establishing his superiority over the deities associated with those heavenly bodies, which were of course widely worshiped by the people surrounding the Hebrews.
Days five and six, he takes away the divinity of the animal kingdom, and by creating people specialty, he takes away the divine origin of kings and pharaohs. Ramesses, you’re not the son of Ra. God created you. So our God can whoop your God is kind of what this is all about.
The six day creation story establishes Yahweh is the one true divinity superior to all of the other gods. The rest of Genesis, which is largely the Abraham story, establishes the special relationship between the descendants of Abraham, the Jews, and this very powerful omnipotent God. So the six day Hebrew creation story also symbolizes the nature of God.
The Hebrew God was ever present, unlike the Sumerians or Mesopotamian gods, Yahweh didn’t originate from the actions of some other God or preexisting force. We’re familiar with the Greeks whose gods had a lineage. Eronos begat Kronos. Kronos begat Zeus. Zeus gegat Athena and all the rest of them. But the Hebrew God just is. He’s been there since eternity. He doesn’t have a genealogy. He doesn’t even have a biography. He just is. He’s this very powerful, omnipotent individual. He wills the universe into being unlike the Mesopotamian or Sumerian gods that require preexisting materials to be formed into the universe. God can just say poof, do it. God is moral. God knows good and evil.
The neighboring gods, if you really take a look at, you know the Greek gods, which is what we’re most familiar with in our culture. We don’t pay a whole lot of attention to Sumerian gods anymore, but we just study Greek mythology. The Greek gods really seemed to govern in a universe without purpose or meaning. But God is, God is moral. He knows good and evil. The universe does have purpose and meaning to the Hebrews.
God is not part of nature, but stands outside of it as his creator, which again contests very strongly with the more animated and the mystic aspects of the neighboring polytheists. Genesis thus reflects the Hebrew view of nature and of God, but it also represents a different view of humankind than that held by their neighbors. God specially creates Adam and eve, male and female. He created them in his image.
So people are special. They are moral beings like their creator. They have a purpose like their creator. They’re not just random things at the whim of idiosyncratic guts. And of course this is all tied in with the idea of the Jews being the chosen people.
To the ancient Hebrews then genesis is about polytheism versus monotheism and religious syncretism versus cultural independence. Genesis is a powerful myth symbolizing issues of life and death importance to the ancient Hebrews. Genesis has mythic symbolism for modern Christians and Jews for different reasons, which I will talk about a little bit later. It’s not about talking snakes. Okay? It’s not meant to be taken literally. It’s myth with all the power and truth to a people’s culture that myth represents.
Genesis certainly isn’t about science and whether human shared common ancestry with other organisms. But what about myth and science or myth and evolution? You know, you often hear Phillip Johnson from Boalt Hall once said that evolution is the new myth of America. The new mythology or the myth of evolution has replaced the myth of Genesis or sciences, the modern mythology, etc. Well, what about science as myth? Or evolution as myth? In the sense that I’ve been using myth obviously as a symbolic representation of the values of the people.
Now, as I did with myth, I need to define science so you at least know what I mean when I’m talking about science today. You may be surprised to hear scientists say that science has a limited way of knowing. It is limited in that we’re only trying to explain the natural world. We’re not trying to explain everything that human beings are interested in. I cannot prove to you scientifically that that Mozart is better than Madonna or that the Beatles are better than Bieber. Questions of aesthetics are certainly not scientific issues.
And there are many other issues that need to be resolved. Matters of opinion, dealing with values and ideologies, they’re not going to be resolved by science either. Whether Mr. Cavanaugh should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice isn’t a matter of science. We could use logical arguments, we could talk about musical complexity when talking about the Beatles are talking about Bieber, but that’s not the same thing as science. Okay.
We could look at Mr. Cavanaugh judicial record on some issue or another, but that’s not, you know, the fact that you are using empirical evidence and logic doesn’t mean you’re using science because empirical evidence and logic is part of critical thinking in general.
I like to think of science as the application of critical thinking, if you will, to explaining the natural world. So science is limited to explaining the natural world and there’s a second limitation and that is that we’re restricted to explaining the natural world through natural processes and unlike what many people think, this limitation of a science to only using natural processes isn’t because all scientists are atheists because they aren’t.
It’s because the essence of science is testing our explanations against the natural world. And when you think about it, how do you test an explanation? Notice science communication fans. I don’t use the word experiment because when people hear the word experiment, they think of somebody in a laboratory doing this and they don’t think of these graduate students out in the field who may also be doing experiments. So I talk about tests because there are a lot of different ways we can test our explanation.
So the essence of testing and explanation has to do with holding constant some variables, and then letting other variables go so you can see whether your explanation holds. Because science is about testing because testing is about holding constant variables, we’re stuck with natural causes because those are the only kinds we can hold constant.
My good friend Bill Waites, one suggested if we can only invent a theometer, then we can perhaps test supernatural explanations, but we don’t have a theometer so we’re stuck with natural causes because those are the kInds that we can hold constant.
So science turns out to be a method or a procedure that one follows to find out how the natural world works. To operate as myth, science has to reflect important values or ideologies of people. So does it? Well if you’re a scientist, and there are some of us in the audience, you know that there are values within science. There are values you’re supposed to reflect if you do science. You don’t ignore the data that disagrees with your explanation. You have to be truthful in reporting your procedures and results when you have to be willing to change your mind with new data or theory and so on. But that isn’t especially specific to science. I would expect the same kinds of values from an accountant, frankly. Those are values within science. They’re not values that science can symbolize.
There’s another reason why I don’t think science makes good myth, and that is that science doesn’t reflect any particular culture. When you think about it, science, this methodology, this practice of explaining the natural world through testing, occurs in cultures and people all over the planet from individualistic cultures like the United States to more communitarian cultures like China or India, but they all do science the same way. Science doesn’t reflect the culture well. Okay, the science studies people would say, yes it does, but remember, I’m speaking at a very, in a very general level here. In general, there are certain rules you have to follow. If you don’t test your explanation, you’re not going to get it published in science magazine and the other outlets.
Your colleagues in science aren’t going to trust your results if you don’t follow the rules of collecting data, being honest about it, being open about it, et cetera, et cetera. So science has values itself, but science is a very, a very international kind of behavior, if you will. So it really doesn’t reflect the values of a culture. Or there’s no such thing as the values of all culture. So because science is a method, I don’t think it makes very good myth.
There’s another reason why science doesn’t make good myth and that is because science is, it’s an open-ended kind of explanation. There’s a core group of scientific concepts that we’ve tested the tested and tested and tested, and they’re really not going to change. You know, that the earth goes around the sun.
Heliocentrism is here to stay. Okay. We’re not really going to test that anymore. The earth is spherical, regardless of what the flat earthers are saying these days. Living things have common ancestors, laws of thermodynamics. There are things that we don’t change our minds about, but there’s a lot of things that we’re still trying to figure out and it’s perfectly acceptable within science to change our minds about our explanations. That’s, you know, that’s a feature, not a bug. A good frIend of mine was once asked, why did you become a scientist? And he wrote, as an adolescent, I aspired to lasting fame. I craved factual certainty and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life. So I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls.
So science is continually changing, though again, that doesn’t mean that it’s unreliable because there are these core concepts of science that really don’t change, but the open-endedness, the changeability of science, although it is very valuable for understanding the natural world, make science very poor myth. Ashley Montagu once described science as truth without certainty, which I like that phrase a lot. The values and truths of a culture’s myth, needs stability and continuity. Science doesn’t give you that, so science really doesn’t make good myth.
So I would conclude that science is very good for explaining the natural world, but it’s lousy myth. However, powerful and inspiring science can be at canton itself produce culturally sustaining myths. Well, what about evolution? Is it mythical? Can evolution symbolize a worldview or values important to us? Let’s take a look at evolution.
Evolution is a three-part idea. There’s the big idea of evolution, which is that living things have common ancestors, we and all other living things on the planet have descended with modification from common ancestors. There’s also the patterns of evolution. How did the tree of life split and branch and die through time? There’s also the mechanisms or processes of evolution, the factors that bring about evolution, and of course these are things like natural selection, nonselective methods, development and so forth and so on, especiation in the like.
Now, evolution consists of the big idea, the pattern and the process. Let’s take a look at each of these components and turn and consider how they work as myth or whether they could function as myth.
Well, when we look at patterns of evolution, I think we see very little mythic inspiration. Whether pandas are bears or raccoons or whether the thanksgiving Turkey is descended from a dinosaur isn’t going to be much use in symbolizing cultural values.
So certainly the patterns of evolution isn’t going to work. The mechanisms or processes of evolution, I think we have a little more possibility for myth here, especially the concept of natural selection. There’s a rather long history of ideologies seizing unnatural selection to support their views. Capitalists like Andrew Carnegie promoted evolution by natural selection to promote capitalism. Henry Russell Wallace was a socialist. He supported his views with natural selection. Peter Kropotkin argued for anarchy using evolution and natural selection, and Vernon Kellogg argued for pacifism.
Now think about that capitalism, socialism and passivism — these all are inspired by natural selection. It’s kind of like the blind man and the elephant, you know, there’s sort of taking what they want to support their particular point of view. I think the ideology comes first and these men and others, following them, are taking a powerful scientific idea and using it to support their particular ideological views.
But I don’t think there’s anything inherent in natural selection that would lead you to either capitalism, socialism, pacifism or anarchy. So I would argue that despite efforts, natural selection, other mechanisms of evolution, don’t really work as myth either. Well, what about the big idea of common ancestry? Okay, here’s where we get some mythic purchase.
The idea that we and all living things have common ancestors is a very powerful scientific idea. And it’s also a very powerful philosophical idea. It also happens to be scientifically correct because given all the evidence that we have, I’d contend that the most powerful element in evolution as mythic is its ability to provide us a sense of place in the universe. If you have where we as human beings and individuals stand relative to everything else.
On the other hand, myths are often reflectIve of moral values and ethical values in a society. And common ancestry just like all the rest of science isn’t very good as a moral guide. The science tells you that coyotes kill rats and house cats. It doesn’t tell you whether that is good or bad. As Thomas Henry Huxley said, science tells you what is not what should be. If you believe that because something is natural, it is there for good, you need to think that through a little further.
Hume said it even before Huxley, “Ought does not follow from is.” There are both theistic as well as non-theistic uses of evolution as myth. That’s look at some of the theistic versions first beginning with the creationists.
Now, creationists follow a more conservative form of Christianity than do Catholics or mainstream Protestants. Modern conservative Christians don’t look at Genesis like the ancient Hebrews did to them. Genesis isn’t about maintaining monotheism and identifying the Jews as the chosen people.
Christianity in general is more concerned with the new testaments and creationists look at the old testament as foreshadowing the appearance of Christ. To a conservative Christian, God creates a perfect world and perfect humans in the Garden of Eden. People are special to God and are required to worship and obey him. The disobedience of Adam and Eve from eating, for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil causes them to be sent out from the garden to make their own way. And that brings pain and suffering and death into the world, which of course were not present in the Garden of Eden.
The separation from God is felt to be the greatest punishment. It is only reversed according to a conservative Christians by the sacrifice of Jesus who dies to atone for the sin of Adam. In fact, Paul in the new testament refers to Jesus as the new Adam and the second Adam to conservative Christians.
The old testament is firmly connected to the new and events of the old testament are necessary for the coming of Jesus and of course with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Salvation is restored. So to Christians, Genesis is really important and it is mythic in a very different way than it was to the ancient Hebrews. As religiously conservative Christians, creationist believe that the bible is not only true, but it is a unified whole.
In this cartoon from answers in genesis, the reader says, the six day creation issue in genesis isn’t important to scripture. I’ll just take the six days out and finds that the whole bible unravels as a result. So anything that challenges Genesis challenges the entire bible. Genesis to revelations is all one piece and evolution is incompatible with the literal reading of Genesis. That’s just full stop. If an individual interprets the bible as six 24-hour days of creation a short period of time ago, that cannot be accommodated with, with any science really, but certainly not with evolution. But that is not the mainstream Christian theology,
So if evolution is true, believe conservative Christians, then Genesis and the entire bible have to be false. That means there is no god, and if there is no god, there is no salvation. There’s a direct line from the creation to the sin of adam to the death of jesus on the cross to the possibility of redemption and salvation, and revelations.
A child who accepts evolution is thus endangering his very soul. They will not be saved. So it’s not difficult to see why parents object so strongly to evolution being taught in schools. In addition to the loss of salvation, though, they believe that without religion to guide us, we will not behave amorally with terrible consequences for society. Without God, there’s no morality, they believe, so people will not know how to act. The caption says, if this is what Johnny can read and write, then this news shows that Johnny really understands his lessons. Without the bible and God as moral rudder, they believe, we will have no guidance.
This is one of my favorite graphics from the creationist literature. It is from an old conference of young earth creationists held in the 1990s. And you can see here very dreadful things on this, the branches of this tree of evil: racism, humanism, paganism, nazi-ism, abortion, euthanasia, drug culture, radical feminist movement, terrible things. And evolution is the foundation for all of these terrible societal ills. Okay. And here’s the creation science message that’s going to get rid of evolution. And therefore society will be restored to a more proper form.
Henry Morris is the most important creationist of the 20th century, more so than William Jennings Bryan ever dreamed of becoming. And he is written, “Evolution is that the foundation of communism, fascism, freudianism, social darwinism, behaviorism, kinseyism, materialism, atheism, and in the religious word, modernism and neo orthodoxy. Now, nobody laughed.
I once many years ago gave a talk at Lexington Theological Seminary, which is a protestant seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. and I showed this over the top graphic and I read that quote by Henry Morris and I got to the part about modernism and neo orthodoxy, and they were on the floor, they thought that was the funniest thing they’d ever heard. I mean, they just. That has never been before or sense a laugh line, but it was to these seminarians. They thought that that was the funniest thing that they’d heard in a long time.
Now modernism and neo orthodoxy refers to two schools of Christian theology, which religiously conservative Christians reject. Modernism arose out of 19th century biblical criticism where the bible was viewed as a text like any other. The bible had a history, it consisted of a series of manuscripts which were written by different people at different times.
It was cobbled together. They were contradictions. They were conferences where they decided which books to leave in which ones to leave out. And you know, once you understand that the bible has a history, it wasn’t just dictated by the almighty to ascribe, that makes you look at at your holy text quite differently. And of course thIs is, this is true of seminary-trained religious professionals in Christianity. The bible is a human document with a history and errors. You treat it differently than if you believe that every word was dictated by God.
Now, like all academic disciplines, Christian theology has a very large number of intellectual movements of which modernism and neo orthodoxy are only two. Very many postmodernist theological movements incorporate evolution and other sciences into their theology. Process theology is a view held by the Catholic theologian, John Haught. Those of you who are Kitzmiller versus Dover fans might recognize Jack Haught as the theologian that we brought in as a witness for the good guy side, if I may say so. He was incredibly articulate. He was very impressive. And the judge mentioned how, you know, how enlightening he felt that, John Haught’s testimony was.
A very famous geneticist named Theodosius Dobzhansky, a Russian man who came to the United States many, many years ago wrote an article, the title of which has become an aphorism in biology. He said, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Well, Jack Haught has written that nothing in theology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
Regarding creation and process theology, God did not create in six days and rested on the seventh. Rather than creation from nothing, they believe in continuous creation. God continues to create through the process of evolution, so the world and the universe is expected to change rather than to remain static after six days.
Process theology is quite accepting of evolution, and here is where the mythic potential is well expressed among theists. Lutheran theologian, Philip Hefner, who is just as jolly as he looks in that picture, he’s really a delightful man, also looks at human beings as having been created by god in the sense of having emerged through the process of evolution. Okay? But that creation continues through the process of evolution.
When Phillip talks about the image of God, he’s expressing the idea that as God is creative, so are human beings. We creative creatures are made in the image of a creative God. So humans, thus are co-creators with God, which gives us considerable opportunity and consequent responsibility to affect both ourselves as well as the other organisms with which we share this planet. Ted Peters, who is a lutheran theologian at the lutheran school of religion here in Berkeley, and Martinez Hewlett share some of these views, especially that creation continues. It didn’t stop after six days.
They also contend that much as evolutionary biology has both adaptive evolution through natural selection as well as, as neutral evolution through genetic drift that God can create both through design as well as through chance. And they don’t believe that God is controlling every single little random element in the universe, that god allows the universe to evolve along the path.
At the center for theology and the natural sciences around the corner from here, Robert John Russell has also written extensively of the role of chance and evolution and how it’s compatible with this view of God. Now, these theologians take a very different view on subjects like sociobiology or stem cell or genetic modification research. As god’s created co-creators, we have the ability to affect evolution. Hence, these theologians spent a lot of time talking about the moral and ethical issues regarding science and human responsibility, but they totally accept the science. There is no rejection of evolution, of the science.
A couple of interesting people are Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow who are the evangelists for evolution. They are ministers. They deliberately take the sweep of the epic of evolution and and turn it to theological purposes. Their position is that our common ancestry with all other human beings makes us indeed our brother’s keepers and that we should be doing our utmost to make the lives of our fellow human beings healthier, more educated and more comfortable.
Social justice issues also come into play. We need to live in a more just and peaceful world. The common ancestor of humans with all other creatures makes us kin to our fellow living organisms and gives us a responsibility to them and the planet on which we all depend.
Evolution places humans in nature in a very different way than does the interpretation of Genesis called dominion theology. If you remember in Genesis, God gives Adam and Eve, mostly Adam, dominion over the animals, but he also tells them to steward the garden. And some christians emphasize the stewardship theology. Some emphasize the dominion theology.
And these theists are not alone in finding that evolution has a great deal to say about their faith tradition. There is a huge amount of christian theology around evolution, compatible with their view of God and God’s action in the world.
Now non-theists, people who do not believe in God, materialists of various kinds, have also used evolution from mythic representation at least as much if not more than have Christian theologians. Religious naturalism is one manifestation of how evolution is used to provide a sense of purpose and meaning and place in nature, but within a scientific rather than a theistic context. Religious naturalists often will embrace other human enterprises in addition to science such as literature, art, or music in a quest for meaning and worldview.
Biologist Ursula Goodenough’s “Sacred Depths of Nature” is an example of this and looks at the history of the universe, chapter by chapter. She starts with the big bang and works all the way through formation of the planet, evolution of living things on earth and human evolution. And then in a separate section of the book, she talks about her personal interpretations in a spiritual sense of what this sweep of the epic of evolution means to her in terms of her view of her place in nature.
As Darwin himself said, there is grandeur in this view of life which the religious naturalists embrace. Now, most religious naturalists are naturalists in the sense that they are not theists. They don’t include the concept of the supernatural, although there are some theists within the movement. But the theist who are embracing religious naturalism tend to be from the deistic end of the spectrum. Their god is not god that interacts and intervenes very much in the world.
Religious naturalists seemed to share certain values inspired by the epic of evolution. The common origins of all living things suggests that there is a unity to all of life. Religious naturalists rarely, I haven’t seen one, embrace the idea of human exceptionalism. Humans are rather embedded within this matrix of other living creatures that are this product of evolution, just as our we.
Obviously there is a strong ecological component to most religious naturalism, and of course it grows out of this idea of common ancestry with all other things. Similarly, since all humans are closely related to one another and descended from common ancestors relatively recently, we have a responsibility to our fellow human beings to indeed be our brother’s keeper. For religious naturalists, I think the strongest expression of myth is to be providing a sense of place in the universe.
Because of the epic of evolution, they believe, you are a human being who is part of a web of connectedness with every other living thing and are composed of the same stardust that makes up the cosmos. Evolution does this for nonbelievers, substituting for religiously based myths. The biologist Eo Wilson has said “The evolutionary epic is probably the best myth we will ever have.”
So what does this have to do with the creation and evolution conflicts? That was a lot of stuff about myths, science and religion. So let’s get back to what I promised you. I would talk about eventually.
First of all, there remains a lot of opposition to evolution by our fellow citizens. The science and engineering indicators is a national research council, a document that’s put out every two years and they survey adult Americans on their views of a number of things including questions about evolution. They tested a revised version of the evolution question in 2012, first asking the traditional question: Human beings as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals and they got the traditional response, about 48 percent.
Then in the same with another part of the sample, they inserted “According to evolution, human beings as we know them today, develop from earlier species of animals.” Seventy-two percent. So this suggests that people know what evolution is, but they’re not buying it.
The National Center for Science Education tracks anti-science legislation, anti-evolution, anti-climate change legislation, science standard controversies every year. 2018 wasn’t a real banner year. It was only a handful of bills and controversies. 2017 was a banner year, a whole lot longer list. Fortunately, only two of these passed, although that’s two too many problems surrounding the teaching of evolution is a separate topic, and I don’t have time to go into it today, but suffice to say that NCSE continues to have its hands full coping with these challenges.
If you ask creationists why they reject evolution, they’ll give you one or more of three reasons. We call them the pillars of creationism. They don’t believe it’s supported by science. They don’t believe that evolution is compatible with their religious views. And it’s only fair to teach evolution and creationism because so many people don’t want evolution taught. A variant of the fairness argument is that it’s good pedagogy. Give the students creation and evolution and let them decide and this is a critical thinking argument.
That’s not a good argument. If we were going to try to persuade a creationist that their children should learn evolution in school, how would you go about it? Well, it’s true that the science of creations science is really wrong. I mean I love talking about creation science because it is so baroque and the science is just so zany. They believe that Grand Canyon, all 4,000 layers of sediment in Grand Canyon, sandstones, siltstone, limestone, mudstone, all kinds of different layers, 4,000 feet of layers, thousands of different beds that all of that was laid down by the receiving waters of noah’s flood.
And then this huge ditch of what about 200 miles was cut catastrophicly by a huge body of water that rushed through and miraculously cut all this wet wet sediment and left it standing as opposed to just sort of slumping over, which is what you’d expect wet stuff to do anyway.
Anyway, the science is nuts. I mean, there is no known geology that would fit this model of Grand Canyon and that would be true of their biology and their astronomy and everything else. NCSE has got lots of resources as to why creation science is bad. But, you know, arguing factual information is not actually going to persuade a creationist that their science is bad because that’s not the most important issue.
There’s considerable literature studying decision making that contends that factual information, while not irrelevant, is not primary in persuading people to change their minds, and I talked about this in more detail yesterday if you were here yesterday. Thank you. I’m not going to repeat it, but in general, for our purposes, lots of these concepts from the psychology of belief literature explaining why factual knowledge is rejected, they all deal with looking at factual knowledge through an ideological, values or a group identification filter. And the filter comes first. And usually that keeps the correct information, shall we say, from being accepted.
Values, ideology and identification are precisely the elements of myth. Myth is powerful and creationism is mythic in exactly this fashion. It reinforces the values, ideology and identification of conservative Christians. It’s not a surprise then that creationists are resistant to accepting evolution. If evolution is true, they lose big. Obviously they’re not going to just suddenly decide.
Still, evolution needs to be taught so that students are scientifically literate. How can we make this happen? I see a short-term solution and a long-term solution. The longterm solution relies on evolution if you will, that like the rest of christianity, conservative christians really gradually moderate their views regarding evolution.
The National Center for Science Education’s “Voices for Evolution” book lists statements from religious organizations and other institutions that encouraged the teaching of evolution in schools. These are Catholic and mainstream Protestants and Jewish groups. Theistic evolution, the theological position that evolution occurred, it was part of God’s plan, etc. is the majority view in Christianity today. It’s the theologically conservative denominations that have problems with evolution. Most Baptists, Pentecostalists, holiness groups, Charismatics, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the like.
But this is not a solid block. There are evangelical Christians who have worked diligently to see that evolution gets taught in their local communities and some national evangelical organizations that are very friendly to evolution.
BioLogos is an online evangelical Christian organization and they discuss a variety of views of evolution, believing that it can be harmonized with their version of Christianity. They talk about the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.
Another evangelical Christian organization is the American Scientific Affiliation, which similarly supports the teaching of evolution in schools. The long-term solution to the anti-evolution problem in the United States is for these organizations and others and individual evangelical Christians to influence their fellow conservative Christians and persuade them that one can be a faithful evangelical and still accept evolution. The way that BioLogos or the ASA would phrase it is that they take the bible seriously, but not literally.
The short-term solution is to call a truce. The big fear of conservative Christians is that when their children are taught evolution, they’re taught, therefore there is no God.
A number of years ago, a friend of mine who was teaching biological anthropology at a community college in the southeast. We were talking on the phone. And she said that she had these young adults, these students, undergraduates in her class had never learned evolution at all. Full stop. There are teachers had just skipped those chapters. These kids were tabula rasa. The only thing they knew about evolution was what they learned on the street, so to speak.
This is college, this is physical anthropology, right? So day one you get evolution and so she just taught her class matter of factly, like she taught you know anyplace else. And after a couple of weeks a couple of these kids came to talk to her after class and they said, “Well, of course species change through time. You mean that’s evolution? We thought evolution meant you can’t believe in God.” I have lots and lots of stories like that from high school as well as university teachers.
So I would like to assuage the concerns of parents that when their kid walks into, especially a high school classroom, there is not a teacher there saying, “Okay, take your religion and shove it.” This just doesn’t happen. A survey research has shown that K-12 teachers show the same range of religious adherence as other Americans. In other words, they’re highly religious. About 80 plus percent of them believe in God. Most of them are Christian. It’s highly unlikely that high school teachers are telling kids that they can’t, that they have to choose between their faith and science. That just is something that they shouldn’t worry about.
The truce is that students, even those whose parents don’t accept evolution, need to understand evolution in order to be scientifically literate. And if we can assuage the concerns of conservative Christian parents that indeed no one is telling their children that they have to give up their faith to study science, we may be able to teach evolution with reduced opposition. We teach good science at the college and high school level and we leave the door open to a believing student for that student to engage with that science however that student wishes.
I was talking with a high school teacher today who was a graduate student here and he was mentioning, we were talking about how do you deal with the students who come into your class and their fingers are wedged tightly in their ear because they’re afraid that they’re going to have to believe in evolution when they hear you talk.
And his solution was one that I’ve heard from many, many teachers and I think it’s very effective. His solution was to say, “Okay, I just want you to learn it, you know, you can accept or to reject it, that’s your call, but you need to learn it. And you did pass the test.” And those weren’t his words, but you basically can hear the fingers fly out of the ears with a loud popping noise because the students all of a sudden go, “Whew, I don’t have to believe it.”
Then an interesting thing happens. The students find out that evolution doesn’t actually hurt them. Of course, species change through time. They find that, oh, no, evolution doesn’t mean you can’t believe in God. Evolution means that living things have common ancestors. And look, we can show you the genetic and other evolutionary processes which bring this change about, which is a very different view than they came in with.
But they can’t listen to the science as long as they’ve got the fingers stuck firmly in the ears. Getting the fingers out of the ears is a major need. So we on the teaching side of things, whether they’re college or K-12, teach good science, leave the door open to students of faith to continue believing if they choose. It’s not the job of the K-12 or the college professor to change the religious views of students.
That said, I’ve been in the creation and evolution business for long enough to know that there are no quick fixes. We are in this for the long haul. The long-term change is going to take awhile and so will the short-term change. And because there aren’t any quick fixes, the National Center for Science Education is in it for the long haul, too.
Please do go to the website ncsc.com. You’re going to find a lot more information on the creation and evolution controversy as well as the parallel one over teaching climate change and you’ll find some very good suggestions for what you can do about it, including joining the National Center for Science Education, which I hope you will do. Again, children’s stories not withstanding, I was very highly honored this year to be a Hitchcock Lecturer and I thank you very much for coming to hear me on this really quite lovely day. Thank you.
Audience member 01: Unless you’ve been a biology teacher subject to the pressures of parents and administrators, you could not truly appreciate what Eugenie Scott’s NCSE has done for high school public school science education. She deserves every accolade that she’s received.
Eugenie Scott: There is no way that I as one individual have been able to accomplish all the wonderful things NCSE has and there actually are some NCSE staff and former staff in this room as we speak, and if you wouldn’t mind raising your hand to identify yourself and that means you Eric.
Audience member 02: My special concern are the creationists who are professionals, particularly those in engineering and the medical professions. When they put forth in their communities against the teaching of evolution, the are respected simply because they’re members of a respected profession. Unfortunately, those who I have talked to and listened to, do not understand science. Many people think that engineering schools and medical schools teach science.
That’s becoming true, but traditionally that has not been true and they don’t understand science and when you try to talk to them, even your approach, they don’t give you enough respect to listen to you. So they become an impediment, a major impediment to the kind of reasoning is worked on most lay people. What can we do about this impediment?
Scott: I always think of American society is basically being divided into three parts. There are people like me who are very convinced by the science of evolution and it takes a whole lot to shake that. I mean, we’re pretty convinced many probably most of the people in this room are in that category.
There are those, like you were describing who are very committed anti-evolutionists for mostly well religious reasons of various kinds. But most Americans are in the middle. They don’t think about science or religion very much, but they don’t belong to denominations that require them to interpret the bible literally. That is really the target population. That is really the group I think that it is most useful to spend your time talking to because they’re more open to understanding the science and understanding how science works.
And, and by the way, I agree with you, I concur with you completely and the difference between applied scientists like engineers and physicians versus research scientists, the concept of how science works is really quite different in both of those groups. But you know, let’s keep that group from sliding down to the anti-evolution side and help them understand what a really wonderful, life-enriching phenomenon science is and evolution within science is a really fascinating field. And, you know, communicating some of that excitement I think can help keep that middle group from absorbing some of the erroneous information that is being produced by this group down here.
Audience member 03: I want to thank you. Thank you. thank you for this very important presentation. One of the things that I’m not sure people are aware of is that right here in Berkeley. And you mentioned the Ted Peters and and others that we have in Berkeley, probably the largest group of theology schools in the country and we need to make these connections between the schools of theology and the universities.
And so, so, so people who might be interested. So Ted Peters, who you mentioned is going to be the main organizer of this coming summer’s institute on religion and the nature of science meeting. It’s going to him with some of the new genetics things that Peter’s is going to do. So that’s the Institute on Religion. Anybody who’s interested in that can talk to me.
And the other one you mentioned that Ursula Goodenough is the main creator of a new organization. This is an online organization with lots of talk, Ursula’s the creator of religious naturalism association. And so if anybody wants to join that email group, you can see me afterwards and I can add you to the list. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you for that information.
Audience member 04: I’m Lawrence. I was expecting you to speak a little more about the climate change issue. Not only about evolution, but that’s fine.
Scott: I did more of that yesterday. Yes.
Audience member 04: Well, I’m thinking that there’s group for disrupting the whole concept of time, which is shared by both the religiousists and the scientists here, which is that cause moves forward or things in the past cause things in the future and once you get down into deep science you can see that causality could go both ways and there’s the deep question of consciousness and that once one gets into these deep philosophical scientific issues, it’s going to provide a disruption completely to the common concept of time here. We will see some major changes in all this thing. But I really enjoy you’re covering it at this level of shared concept of time.
Scott: Thank you. Yes ma’am.
Audience member 05: Thank you so much. It was really inspiring. My question is more how can we get scientists to do more to engage this middle group that you were talking about? I was on Sunday at an open house or whatever you want to call it, at the Innovative Genomics Institute here in Berkeley. And it was fascinating. Absolutely fascinating how they did this in a way that engaged families, even with small children, to show them how they could extract DNA from strawberries, for example, how they could build DNA with using little marshmallows and licorice strings and so on and toothpicks. And I thought what a great approach they had planned for two lab tours. They had to organize nine within those two and a half hours or three hours that they will open.
So what could the NCSE do to get more direct connection between these outstanding scientists and the public so that there isn’t this barrier, you know, this fear.
Scott: Thank you. Thank you. Yes. I love the idea of scientists reaching out to the public and I think it’s something that’s increased that that’s in the last 10 years has seen a huge change in precisely that. The AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. They publish Science Magazine. The largest professional scientist organization in the world, probably 20,000 plus members. AAAS, every year at its annual meeting has workshops and sessions for helping scientists communicate their ideas better with the public. They’re really encouraging this kind of outreach and I’d love to see it expand.
I will remind everybody that I’m retired. I can promote NCSE certainly, but I am not a decision maker there, so I can’t speak for what they might do to encourage scientists to do more. My feeling is that a NCSE has always been the mouse that roared. It’s a very tiny organization that has a hugely disproportionate effect, mostly because we work with lots of allies and get them to do all work, but you know, we’re, we’re very important. But it’s also a pretty tiny organization with pretty tiny budget and is limited with how much it can do that would really for them to try to develop a scientist’s network to do the kind of very worthwhile thing you’re suggesting would I think require new staff, new budgeting and something that probably is not actually on their to-do list, but I can’t speak for them. Retired but not expired. Right. Okay. Thank you so much for coming to hear me. I appreciate it.
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