By Gregory Paul
One hundred and fifty years after Charles Darwin’s world changing “On the Origin of the Species” was published on Nov. 24, there are signs of change in the struggle between the forces of science and creationism. In all other prosperous democracies solid majorities, up to eight in ten, accept human descent from animals. In America nearly half still think humans were created by God a few thousand years ago, and because this has been true for decades the issue seems stuck in a perpetual rut. The chronic failure to bring American opinion up to first-world standards is of great concern to the scientific community at a time when the U. S. faces increasingly intense international scientific and economic competition, including biosciences vital to medicine and hi-tech industry. It has been assumed that boosting popular support for evolution is a straight forward matter of better science education, but levels of science knowledge are not closely tied to rates of creationist opinion between first world countries. Sociological research published this year is showing that the conventional wisdom is wrong.
Making America as evolution friendly as the rest of the west cannot be done in isolation from the greater socioeconomic evolution of the nation in which popular creationism is a symptom of the greater national pathology. It beginning to be understood that remaking the nation so it is a less fearful land will automatically alleviate the creationism problem.
In their effort to convince the nation that evolution is a blasphemous deception creationists — from the likes of fundamentalist Ken Ham whose Creation Museum shows humans riding dinosaurs Flintstones style, to the intelligent design promoting Discovery Institute and their ally Ann Coulter who blame just about everything that has gone wrong on Darwin’s Dangerous Idea — have argued that societies that fail to believe in a moral creator are doomed to suffer societal chaos. The creationists could not be more wrong.
To see why we will start with the fact that in first world countries the level of pro-evolution sentiment tracks closely with popular religiosity. This makes sense — in nations where a minority thinks God exists even fewer are going to believe in some form of creationism. It has not yet become common knowledge that sociological analysis is making great strides in answering what determines the degree of religious opinion. Sacred and Secular by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart (Cambridge University Press) is a classic in this field, and I have brought the collective body of research together in a comprehensive synthesis detailing the inability of creator worship to thrive in well run nations in Evolutionary Psychology. The latter includes the Successful Societies Scale, the first comprehensive comparison of societal conditions in the advanced democracies (based on two dozen indicators).
It is now understood that lower levels of religion and creationism are associated with lower levels of income disparity and poverty in the first world. In pro-evolution democracies the combination of universal medical coverage, other government assistance, and job security make it hard for a member of the middle class majority to suffer economic ruin – no one goes bankrupt due to medical bills in France or Australia. As a consequence many first-worlders feel secure enough in their daily lives that they no longer seek the aid and protection of a supernatural creator, and have abandoned the churches in droves since the world wars. Too few believers are left over for many to be creationists.
In America middle class citizens are at serious risk of rapid financial ruin following loss of a job or health insurance, and upward mobility form the lower the middle class is low, forcing a high stress struggle for survival based on wealth-based security that encourages most citizens to petition a mystical God for worldly help. The most extreme expression of the American Way of faith is evangelical Prosperity Christianity whose Biblical literalism further boosts creationist thinking. The result has been a culture war in which the right promotes Bible based morality, abstinence only sex education, gun rights, limited government assistance and high rates of faith-based and promoting charitable giving that have proven unable to reduce the nation’s often shockingly high rates of homicide, incarceration, juvenile and adult mortality, STD infections, abortion, teen pregnancy, drug use, mental illness, divorce, and other social ills down to the lower levels typical of less creationist democracies. It is one of the great ironies of American history that the main source of opposition to Darwinian science, the religious right, has become a major supporter of the socioeconomic Darwinism that produces the dysfunctional environment most conducive to creationism. Making this all the more incongruous is that the Bible describes the ideal Christian community as communalistic.
Promoting better education and understanding of modern science is intrinsically important, but defeating creationism is a small part of much greater venture to transform the American Way. As University of Chicago researcher Jerry Coyne has said, “the real way to increase the… acceptance of evolution in our country… is by building a more harmonious, just and caring society. That’s not only a nobler goal than [merely] making people accept Darwin, it’s also a goal that all of us whether we are scientists or not can help achieve.”
Creationists have reason to be nervous about where national opinion is heading. A strong and steady decline in Bible literalism is leaving Genesis creationism increasingly vulnerable to rapid collapse, and those who support human evolution without the intervention of God are on the way up as the number of atheists and agnostics rises towards the levels seen in other western democracies.
Gregory Paul is an independent researcher on subjects dealing with paleontology, evolution, religion and society. His books include “Predatory Dinosaurs of the World” and “Dinosaurs of the Air.”