Why Rick Warren Is Wrong Several Times Over to Blame the Aurora Shooting on Evolution

Why Rick Warren Is Wrong Several Times Over to Blame the Aurora Shooting on Evolution July 21, 2012

I already posted today on Rick Warren's inaccurate as well as unhelpful tweet, blaming the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado on teaching students that they “are no different than animals,” which seems to be a lame jibe at evolution, even though it shows a failure to grasp what biology actually says.

Warren is wrong about what evolution and other elements of modern biology say. We are animals, but no biologist I know of says that we are no different from the others. Indeed, the very act of biologists writing about us as animals sets our species apart from all other animals.

But Warren is also wrong about other things.

He is wrong to suggest a correlation between the teaching of evolution and mass murder. As Paul Braterman pointed out in a comment on Facebook, the United States is weaker on the teaching of evolution, both in terms of the number of people who deny it and the number of biology teachers who skip it to avoid controversy, than any other major industrialized nation. We are, on the other hand, the leaders when it comes to the number of shooting deaths and mass murders that take place each year. There may be no actual connection between science education and shooting sprees, but if there were, it would presumably have to be due to our relative failure to teach evolution, rather than with our teaching it.

Warren is also wrong to try to put the blame on teaching about our origins from a scientific perspective. The stories in Genesis 3-4 blame the first murder, and much else that is wrong with human society, on human misuse of our free will, on jealousy, and on the breakdown of human relationships with God and one another. That has nothing to do with whether we are modified mud or modified primates. And this very shifting of blame away from individual personal responsibility that Warren engages in is depicted in Genesis 3 as a consequence of humanity's alienation from God. And so there is a profound irony in the way Warren's tweet sets him at odds with precisely the part of the Bible that features most prominently in the controversies over creationism and evolution.

Warren is also wrong to claim that understanding our origins scientifically somehow automatically leads to mistreatment of others. Most animals, including humans, on most occasions treat others of their kind better than James Holmes treated the people in that movie theater. Being animals is not the problem, nor for that matter is being human. But one can always blame what someone does on what they believe about other human beings, and one can even do so in a way that turns the tables on Christianity's own stories. As one commenter quipped on Reddit, “When kids are taught people are dirt they treat them like it.” The allusion, of course, is to the description of humans being made from the soil in Genesis 2. If what we are made from is what matters, then Christianity cannot endow human beings with value any more than science can. Valuing of persons always means seeing the ways in which we are more than the sum of our constituent parts.

We can always try to use science or religion or anything else to devalue and demean others. But whether one views people in a way that is scientifically well-informed, or based on ancient stories, or some combination thereof, the choice to value and treat others with respect still lies with us as individuals. I find it unfortunate that Rick Warren chose to devalue and disrespect scientists and educators, and to do so in the midst of a tragedy when our attention ought to have been on comforting our fellow human beings.



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