Monday, December 15, 2008

Creation and Politics

It was Christmas Eve in 40 years ago. It followed a tumultuous year that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. It saw riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In Vietnam, American troops killed civilians in the infamous My Lai massacre.

But on that day in 1968, humans saw, for the first time, an earthrise over the surface of the moon. Apollo 8 was the first manned flight to leave earth’s gravity. William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman were the first humans to orbit the moon. Inspired by this breathtaking view – a photo that is credited with inspiring not only Earth Day but the entire environmental movement – the three astronauts read about creation as written in the Hebrew Book of Genesis.

A moment of awe and reverence?

Maybe to some, but it may have been the first salvo in battle in the national political scene over the biblical creation account.

Accounts of Creation
Anthropologists will tell you that every culture and civilization typically has some account of creation. The details vary, but often there is acknowledgement of a creator god who was responsible for it all.
In the US, creation as described in Genesis is the most known account. But, within the sects of Christianity and Judaism, there are disagreements about how Genesis should be understood. While nearly all of these sects would acknowledge Genesis as the inspired word of God, some take it more literally than others. Some believe God literally took 6 days to create the world, while others say that timeframe might have been a little longer (maybe even 15 billion years).

Here’s where I have to state my position. Yes, I am a Christian, but I don’t think the “days” in Genesis were 24 hours. You see, in Psalm 90, the psalmist, who really understood the eternal nature of God, says that a 1,000 years to us may be like a single day to God. So I say, 6 days, 1,000 years, or 15 billion years, what does it matter to an eternal God?

Creation and Politics: The Origins of Conflicts

Perhaps the first major conflict between the Genesis creation account and national politics was 1925 Scopes Trial. The state of Tennessee enacted the Butler Act, which prohibited teaching any theory that denied the Biblical account of the origins of humans. John Scopes, a high school teacher, was found guilty after intentionally violating the Act.

After the reading of Genesis from Apollo 8, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, an atheist, sued the United States government, alleging that government employees were involved in public prayer in space. While the suit was dismissed by the Supreme Court due to lack of jurisdiction, this action irritated many Christian religious leaders.

Creation and Politics: The Invention of Creationism, Creation Science and the “Intelligent Designer”

The conflict of evolution vs. Genesis is still alive nearly 80 years on. We now have seen some advocates of a literal reading of Genesis come up with Creationism and Creation Science as “scientific theories” that should be taught side by side the “theory” of evolution.

This is quite an interesting development. While in science, many ideas are called “theories” even if there is a substantial body of empirical evidence supporting the theory, we have seen others throw out these “theories” even though there may be no scientific evidence to support them.

What we see here is the translation of the fair coverage principal in the media (covering each side of a new story) to the realm of science. Only here, fair coverage is expected to apply to whatever crazy “theory” anyone throws out.

More recently is the invention of an “Intelligent Designer” who supposedly worked out all the details of creation. Instead of the random mutations and other incremental changes integral to natural selection in evolution, there was intelligent causes that guided the evolutionary steps.

Another editorial interjection: Personally, I don’t believe in this new-fangled Intelligent Designer, but rather the good old-fashioned Almighty God, Creator of All! In fact, I believe the Christian Right has created a false idol. I believe God the Creator did not have to “sweat the details.” Creation is the product of a loving act of the Creator. When parents create a new life through a loving act, they do not “sweat the details” of their baby. Much the same with creation.

Creation and Politics: Why Does the Right Cling to Creationism?

The easy answer would be votes. A significant number of Christian voters do not believe in evolution, and many are easy votes for the Republicans: if they say “I oppose abortion and gay marriage. I believe in a balanced discussion of evolution” they’ve won a lot of the values voters.

But the second point goes a bit deeper. Creationism or evolution – this is irrelevant to national politics. But global warming is. I’ve seen Creation Science expanded to propose other “theories” on environmental issues form global warming to the extinction of species. Interestingly, these “theories” align with business interests, particularly, the reduction of environmental regulation.

So, here’s the benefit. In another post, I explained how the Bush Administration believes science should not be independent of politics, but should serve the party line. So, creationism is the “gateway theory.” If you can put creationism and evolution as competing theories, you can take theories of global warming or other environmental issues and throw out competing theories. Now you can take any theory from the world of science and, if it conflicts with national policy, simply say “it’s just one theory and here’s another theory.” That’s the wedge.


In the long unfortunate national debate on evolution vs. Biblical creation, we have seen the politicization of science, particularly in the Bush Administration.

What have we lost? We’ve lost the sense of simple reverence and awe on seeing the beauty of our planetary home.

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