Why the Christian Right has Equal Market Share for Explanations of Human Origins and the Maintenance of Diversity

First of all you might be curious about why I used the term “market share” to describe the competition of evolutionary and religious explanations for life. There is a competition for hearts and minds going on, and according to Miller et al. (Science Vol. 313, 11 Aug 2006), the proportion of U.S. adults that are unsure about which explanation is true has risen to 21%, leaving equal proportions of those that accept creation and those that accept evolutionary explanations.

Meanwhile, among scientific reports that the “human brain gene” has been discovered, there is the latest in a long effort by those that believe the study and teaching of evolution is contrary to religious belief. Performing a google news search for “evolution” (8/21/2006) revealed a series of articles that linked to a homepage for an upcoming television documentary that suggests explicit, causal links between the act of subcribing to evolutionary processes and the holocaust and Columbine shootings in Colorado. While this can’t be the first time this strategy has been used, it does again point to the extent to which creationists are using the news media as an outlet for propaganda. Make no mistake; this is part of a sophisticated public outreach campaign designed to keep creationism at the forefront of people’s thoughts and subsequent actions. How often does the Society for the Study of Evolution produce a news release touting progress in our understanding of selection gradients or g-matrix evolution?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Aug. 18 /Christian Newswire/ — Author and Christian broadcaster Dr. D. James Kennedy connects the dots between Charles Darwin and Adolf Hitler in Darwin’s Deadly Legacy, a groundbreaking inquiry into Darwin’s chilling social impact. The new television documentary airs nationwide on August 26 and 27 on The Coral Ridge Hour. For station listings, go to www.coralridge.org/darwin.

What: New TV documentary, Darwin’s Deadly Legacy

When: August 26, 27, 2006

Where: Nationwide; details at www.coralridge.org/darwin

The program features 14 scholars, scientists, and authors who outline the grim consequences of Darwin’s theory of evolution and show how his theory fueled Hitler’s ovens.

“To put it simply, no Darwin, no Hitler,” said Dr. Kennedy, the host of Darwin’s Deadly Legacy. “Hitler tried to speed up evolution, to help it along, and millions suffered and died in unspeakable ways because of it.”

The one-hour program features Ann Coulter, author of Godless; Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler; Lee Strobel, author of The Case for a Creator; Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution; Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial; Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box; Ian Taylor, author of In the Minds of Men, and Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project.

“Among German historians, there’s really not much debate about whether or not Hitler was a social Darwinist. He clearly was drawing on Darwinian ideas,” said Weikart, a professor of modern European history at California State University, Stanislaus.

Ann Coulter, a bestselling author and popular conservative columnist, said Hitler “was applying Darwinism. He thought the Aryans were the fittest and he was just hurrying natural selection along.”

The new program explains that the social fallout from evolution is not limited to Hitler. Eugenics is also part of Darwin’s legacy. Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, founded the eugenics movement and campaigned for “judicious marriages” in order to breed a superior race of humanity.

“The legacy of Charles Darwin,” said Dr. Kennedy, is “millions of deaths, the destruction of those deemed ‘inferior,’ the devaluing of human life, and increasing hopelessness. Darwin’s legacy has been deadly indeed.”

“The time has come,” he said, “to recognize that evolution is a bad idea and should be, frankly, discarded into the dustbin of history.”

Coral Ridge Ministries has also published a companion book to the television special, Evolution’s Fatal Fruit: How Darwin’s Tree of Life Brought Death to Millions, which examines the social consequences of Darwin’s theory. Written by Tom DeRosa, Executive Director of the Creation Studies Institute (an outreach of Coral Ridge Ministries), the book explains how Hitler tried to use genocide to speed up evolution and reveals how the American eugenics movement is likewise indebted to Darwin.

The statements made by those in the documentary preview are, well, pretty much lies. It’s irresponsible to connect murder with natural selection. Let’s all be clear, scientific study and critical thought about evolutionary processes are not in themselves precursors to murderous behaviors. Natural selection is just the opposite; it’s about life reproducing, not death.

Darwin’s Deadly Legacy glaringly promotes common misconceptons about evolution. DAVID P. BARASH in his article, The Case for Evolution, in Real Life (THE CHRONICLE REVIEW April 7, 2006; Pg. 10 Vol. 52 No. 31), provides some eloquent clarifications:

[misconception:] “Evolutionary logic is circular: The fittest are those that survive, and those that survive are the fittest. So it doesn’t say anything.”

[clarification]: First, natural selection is not about survival, but reproduction: specifically, individuals’ and genes’ reproducing themselves. Survival is evolutionarily important because and only because it contributes to reproduction. Second, “fitness” does not determine natural selection; rather, natural selection is the unavoidable result of how “fit” something is, which is to say, how successful it is in promoting its genes. Fitness leads to the important prediction that natural selection favoring a particular type should result in a larger proportion of that type in future populations. This prediction has been repeatedly tested and confirmed.

[misconception:] “Natural selection is just a negative process; it cannot create anything new.”

[clarification:] Natural selection is only “negative” in that certain individuals and their genes fall by the evolutionary wayside in preference to others, which prosper. But evolution is not merely a question of deleting those organisms that are less fit; because of mutation (which provides genetic novelty) and sexual reproduction (which combines DNA in unique ways), new genetic material is constantly being produced. And much depends on this regular generation of genetic diversity, on the world being, as the poet Louis MacNeice put it, “incorrigibly plural.” In his poem “Snow,” MacNeice went on to feel “the drunkenness of things being various,” a variousness that is essential as the building blocks from which evolution constructs those things that we identify as highly adapted organisms, including ourselves.


Nonetheless, the video does bring up evolution’s image as a long-heralded relationship with Darwin. It speaks to a point in history when social “selection” carried a premium in popular culture. What images do you have of evolution and evolutionary biology? It’s unfortunate that social “Darwinism” is linked to evolution processes in nature. This is not to say that we aren’t a part of nature, but the points of view expressed in the documentary seems to exclude every other organism except us. The show is also disingenuous because the actors use “survival of the fittest”, a social metaphor, as an unscientific description of evolution. Having seen only the preview, I still think it is safe to say that Darwin’s Deadly Legacy mischaracterizes and distorts evolution and evolutionary biology to serve their marketing goals- which are, clearly, to position Protestant religion as the “market leader” for explanations of living systems and origins.

Creationist propaganda video Darwin’s Deadly Legacy

wikipedia entry for “survival of the fittest”

wikipedia entry describing evolutionary theory

Public Acceptance of Evolution: Science magazine article
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/313/5788/765

5 thoughts on “Why the Christian Right has Equal Market Share for Explanations of Human Origins and the Maintenance of Diversity

  1. Anonymous on

    Hi there.

    I got the link to this post through evoldir. Thanks a lot for keeping people aware of the existence of such a program. We had a similar situation in France last year, where an “intelligent design” program was scheduled on TV at 8 pm. Basically all french evolutionists got aware of it a week before, and sent so many complaint letters to the channel that broadcasted it that they had to invite 2 great evolutionist for a debate following the domentary. They only had 10 minutes, but it was long enough for them to prove all the nonsense in that program. Hopefully your email on evoldir will have the same effect.

    I would also like to point out that I don’t agree with your complete denying of Darwin’s influence on Hitler, because it is well known that hitler referred to darwinism a lot. To me what is really dangerous is the confusion between Darwinism as a science that tries to explain life (which we evolutionists have pretty rational argument to believe in) and ‘social darwinism’, which is a doctrine that states that we should eliminate weaker individual to improve the genetic pool. I think it is of utmost importance to explain to non-scientists that while we believe darwinian evolution is how life really functions, we don’t take it as a moral rule. There a huge step between “we are like this because of evolution” and “we should do this because of evolution”. So to me, the problem is not that they mention Hitler’s affilitation with Darwin’s ideas. Their great lie is to question Darwinism’s validity as a scientific explanation through an example of someone that misunderstood it, took it as a (im)moral rule, and used it for his own purposes of destruction.

    Anyway, seen from here, it really looks like you are facing a war of influence about Darwinism in the United States nowadays, and it is good to see scientists not giving up!

    Cheers.

    Luis-Miguel.

  2. Anonymous on

    I’d agree with Luis-Miguel. I think you are falling into the trap of becoming emotive. As far as I know, Hitler did interpret Darwin’s Ideas, and so did many other eminent politicians and writers of the time (e.g. H. G. Wells). In my mind it is disingenous to say that people haven’t used evolutionary arguments to justify morally suspect actions. They have.

    Where the argument of “the Christian Right” would (or does) fall down is if they were to say that evolutionary biology is bad because we don’t like the implications or possible ways of applying current thinking. To put it another way, the nuclear attack on Hiroshima would not have been possible without nuclear physics. You may argue about whether it was right or wrong to drop a second (or indeed a first) nuclear bomb on Japan, but that has no bearing on whether or not you should believe in nuclear physics.

    On a technical point,
    “There is a competition for hearts and minds going on, and according to Miller et al. (Science Vol. 313, 11 Aug 2006), the proportion of U.S. adults that are unsure about which explanation is true has risen to 21%, leaving equal proportions of those that accept creation and those that accept evolutionary explanations.”
    I hope all scientists would be unsure about any explanation being true. Almost by definition only religious people can answer that one. I’m happy to accept evolutionary explanations however.

    Best wishes,

    John

  3. Anonymous on

    Hi, thanks for this blog entry, I too came here from evoldir. I’d second what Luis-Miguel and John point out. The fallacy in the documentary is not that Hitler misinterpreted “survival of the fittest”; the fallacy is in supposing that the problem is with the explanation Hitler linked to, rather than the genocidal solution he proposed.

    How many people have died in religiously-driven wars? How many people have died in the last month from religiously-driven wars? How many people have died in the last month from wars related to Judeo-Islamo-Christian conflicts?

    Doug

  4. gharp on

    Since I originally posted this, I have learned that the National Center for Science Education is aware of the program.

    Here are some additional weblinks:

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/08/adl_blasts_kennedy_program.php
    http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=71089

    Again, I don’t mean to say that Hitler wasn’t influenced by Darwin, my only point was that the study and teaching of evolutionary biology DOES NOT necessarily lead to Hitler-like behavior, which is what I think the documentary is trying to get convey. Darwin has influenced many ideas and will continue to do so. What matters is how we decide to understand, implement or mitigate them.

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