There are none so blind as those who will not see—or who are so blinkered by faith that they refuse to see that faith itself is the root cause of American creationism. It’s called “creationism” for a reason, remember, and there’s plenty of evidence that America’s strong rejection of evolution, unique among First World countries, is due to America’s strong religiosity. There are tons of data showing, for example, that the most religious Americans are the most resistant to evolution, and that religious belief is correlated with lack of science literacy (see here, here and here, for instance). And, for crying out loud, all you have to do is look around you to see that every drop of evolution-denial comes from religious spigots.
But Kenneth Miller, pious Catholic that he is, refuses to recognize that. In his new Darwin-Day piece for HuffPo, “America’s Darwin Problem,” he blames the rejection of evolution on the perception by many Americans that science is a special-interest group whose values diverge from theirs. The word religion isn’t mentioned, or religion alluded to, in the entire piece. It’s a masterpiece of avoiding the real issue.
Refusing to recognize the religious basis of evolution-denial is not new to Miller. In my review of one of his (and one of Karl Giberson’s) books in The New Republic, “Seeing and believing“, I quoted Miller blaming evolution-denial on America’s ornery character, born of our historical penchant for refusing to accept authority:
Is there something in the American character that bore the seeds of this conflict [evolution versus creationism] and provided fertile ground in which it could flourish? I think there is, and I’m not ashamed of that. In fact, I’m downright proud of it…. America is the greatest scientific nation in the world…. Disrespect–that’s the key. It’s the reason that our country has embraced science so thoroughly, and why America has served as a beacon to scientists from all over the world. A healthy disrespect for authority is part of the American character, and it permeates our institutions, including the institutions of science. Scientists in this country, whether American by birth or choice, have been allowed to dream of revolutionary discoveries, and those dreams have come true more often in this country than in any other.
If rebellion and disrespect are indeed part of the American talent for science, then what should we make of the anti-evolution movement? One part of the analysis is clear. The willingness of Americans to reject established authority has played a major role in the way that local activists have managed to push ideas such as scientific creationism and intelligent design into local schools.
Except, of course, that pushing creationism into schools is a direct result of respecting authority—the authority of religion and the Biblical account of creation.
Miller also pinned creationism on atheists. As I wrote in “Seeing and believing”:
The facts are these: you may find religion without creationism, but you will never find creationism without religion. Miller and Giberson shy away from this simple observation. Their neglect of the real source of creationism is inexcusable but understandable: a book aiming to reconcile evolution and religion can hardly blame the faithful.
Yet it is acceptable, it seems, to blame the faithless. For Giberson and Miller, the main aggressors in the “science wars” are the atheists. Books by the “new atheists,” they contend, have inflamed religious moderates who might otherwise be sympathetic to evolution, driving them into the creationist corner. In Finding Darwin’s God, Miller explained that “I believe much of the problem lies with atheists in the scientific community who routinely enlist the material findings of evolutionary biology in support [sic] their own philosophical pronouncements.”
Now Miller has a new explanation. His HuffPo piece blames the public perception of science as a “special interest group”:
Whether conservative or liberal, fundamentalist or agnostic, the more students learn of biology, the more they accept evolution. So, why does public acceptance matter if the students who actually go into science see the evidence for evolution so clearly?
This is the heart of our Darwin problem. Significant numbers of Americans have come to regard the scientific enterprise as a special interest group that rejects mainstream American values and is not worthy of the public trust. Governor Rick Perry of Texas spoke to this view when he claimed that “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data” to their own benefit. Why? Perry was clear about this. It’s personal greed. Scientists cheat “so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects.” Perry is hardly alone in his effort to depict scientists as greedy outsiders, “scamming the American people right and left” in the words of one Fox News commentator.
In American today, anti-evolutionism matters because it has become the vanguard of a genuine anti-science movement. To be sure, opposition to evolution isn’t new. State laws against the teaching of evolution actually go back nearly a century, and the famous Scopes trial took place 87 years ago. However, if you thought such things were behind us, guess again. Laws designed to encourage the teaching of non-scientific “alternative” theories to evolution were introduced in 11 state legislatures last year. This year, Darwin’s 203rd birthday, on February 12th, will see an anti-evolution bill, already passed by the Indiana State House of Representatives, awaiting action in the State Senate. Its fate there is uncertain, but there are plenty of reasons to be concerned.
Our Darwin problem is really a science problem. The easier it becomes to depict the scientific enterprise as a special interest immersed in the culture wars, the easier it becomes to reject scientific findings.
The question, of course, is why evolution, rather than, say, cancer research, developmental biology, or genome sequencing aren’t “in the vanguard of the anti-science movement”? Why is it cosmology (e.g., divine “fine-tuning”) and evolution that are always in the fore? Why does America have “a Darwin problem” rather than a “genomics problem”? Can there be any explanation other than religion?
Miller goes on to wring his hands about how the denial of evolution and science has dire consequences: America will lose its scientific preeminence in the world (frankly, I don’t care much about this—the enterprise of science is universal, and if China or India erodes our status, it can only mean that good science is being done in other countries), and we’ll lose the wonderful view of life bequeathed by Darwin (I do care more about this). But he offers no cure for the problem. The implicit solution would be for scientists to somehow integrate themselves into mainstream American life, so that we’re not seen as some kind of Science PAC. And implicit within that is that the problem is of our own making. Now I’m not sure whether Miller believes that, but the message seems to be that the onus is on us to change how we’re perceived by Americans. In other words, science and evolution denial is our fault.
This sort of analysis ticks me off, for it not only misses the elephant in the room: it denies that there’s one there. The reason, of course, is that Miller (and his confrère Giberson) are religious, and can’t bring themselves to admit that the root cause of creationism is faith. Miller knows better—after all, he testified against Michael Behe’s ID creationism in the Dover trial, and he knows where Intelligent Design comes from. Behe, like Miller, is a Catholic. This venting of frustrations on the wrong target is known in animal behavior as displacement activity, as when a bird, rather than fight with another individual, pecks at a leaf instead.
I give Miller plaudits for his continuing fight against creationism, not only in his Dover trial, but in his book and many public presentations of why evolution is a scientific fact. But he gets no plaudits for deliberately refusing to identify why Americans dislike evolution. It’s religion, pure and simple, and many statistics buttress that fact. Miller offers no statistics of his own, only anecdotes about Rick Perry. He mentions anti-evolution bills, but doesn’t admit that they’re a product of religion.
Why does Miller neglect the obvious here? Because he’s a Catholic, of course, and although opposition to evolution comes largely from Protestant sects, a substantial number of American Catholics (27%, to be exact) adhere to the Biblical account of creation. We’ve long learned that “mainstream” religions are loath to criticize each other for their doctrine, for they perceive that they must stand together on the crucial issue of God. Religion poisons everything, and different religions aid each other in the poisoning.