Flying yesterday evening from Paris to Amman, my wife and I found ourselves sitting on the airplane among a large number of people who, from their name tags and paraphernalia, as well as from their comments, were obviously coming to the Middle East for an Evangelical Protestant tour of the Holy Land. Many of them plainly live in the retirement community in Florida called “The Villages,” which I’ve seen advertised a great deal on television. (Heck, I can even sing its jingle.) I hope that they have a wonderful, safe, and edifying time.
Specifically, we were seated ahead of a trio of men who kept up a rather loud conversation throughout the flight that I tried hard not to overhear but, unavoidably, did overhear. I know why their wives didn’t come (two of the three are widowers), where they had layovers (one of them is from western Pennsylvania, rather than Florida), what positions they hold in their respective churches, some of their favorite vacation spots, and so forth.
They spoke extensively about evolution and about global warming. (All three are skeptical about both.) Two of the three have visited Kentucky’s “Ark Encounter,” and they strongly encouraged the third to go. (As we prepared to board the plane at Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris, I heard others in the group talking about their visit to “The Ark.” It’s obviously a great hit in certain conservative Christian circles, at least regionally.) The two men were also enthusiastic about the nearby Creation Museum.
All three laughed heartily and at length about the transparent stupidity of scientists who believe in evolution despite the fact that there’s so much obvious evidence against it — though they did occasionally allow that the stupidity is intermixed with wickedness and with hostility toward God.
I found myself somewhat depressed, listening to them. I worry about what happens to faithful fundamentalist kids when they find out that science isn’t, on the whole, a satanic conspiracy orchestrated and led by complete buffoons. Will they then be inclined to toss religious faith out altogether? In fact, is this not already happening, to some degree? Do such false dichotomies, such unnecessary lines in the sand, not eventually result in loss of belief and in distrust of the spiritual leaders who set the dichotomies up and drew the lines in the first place?
But I think I can understand why evolution and, to a degree, global warming arouse such hostility from people who are, otherwise, not very interested in, or well-informed about, science.
There is no widespread public doubt of quantum physics. Polls don’t reveal a bitter divide over the Big Bang or plate tectonics. Relativity sparked few if any street demonstrations. There is no museum devoted to Biblical Newtonian Physics. No Christian school teaches biology based upon the four Hippocratic humors.
Theories of anthropogenic global warming arouse passions because many ordinary people see them — and not altogether without cause — as merely the most recent weapon wielded by ideologues in a long-running war against free markets, part of a crusade to aggrandize the power of the state and, more to the point, of the intellectuals and technocrats who feel that they ought to be running the lives of lesser folk.
So, too, the popular rebellion against Darwinism. Many understandings of Darwinian theory have — or, are claimed to have — real implications for our concept of human nature, humankind’s place in the cosmos, the purpose of life (if any), and the existence of God. Ordinary people out there in the sticks aren’t as stupid as some elitists imagine them to be. They grasp the implications — partly because some Darwinian ideologues (Richard Dawkins and his epigones being only the most recent iterations of such extremists) have ensured that they would, not only through television appearances, public lectures, and bestselling books, but even by means of banner advertisements on public buses. And they reject those extremists. The resistance to Darwinian evolution isn’t merely or largely about the specific mechanisms of organic development; it’s about the atheistic cosmic pointlessness that some fear and others celebrate as an entailment of accepting theories of common descent by means of random genetic drift and natural selection.
But if there’s a valid critique of (now) neo-Darwinian theory and its implications to be offered, it has to be a heck of a lot less hostile to science and scientists, and a whole heck of a lot more informed, nuanced, and sophisticated, than what I overheard on that flight from Paris last night. Otherwise, in the long term, the nihilists will win.
Posted from Amman, Jordan