Myths about Science and Religion – That Creationism is a Uniquely American Phenomenon

Continuing the discussion from the previous post, Cohen’s tenacious assumptions about creationism and the Scopes trial undoubtedly arises from the notion that the movement is geographically contained. His examples of Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas are no accident, and the underlying political assumptions are plain. But as Ron Numbers has made quite clear in a number of works, creationism has spread—and is spreading—beyond the confines of the United States.

According to Numbers, during the century or so following the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) most conservative Christian antievolutionists accepted the evidence of the antiquity of life on earth while rejecting the transmutation of species. Only a small minority, founded largely among the Seventh-Day Adventist followers of the prophet Ellen G. White (1897-1915), insisted on the special creation of all life forms 6,000 to 10,000 years ago and on a universal flood at the time of Noah that buried most of the fossils.

In the 1960s, there was something of a “creationist revival” taking place in America, led largely by the Texas engineer Henry M Morris (1918- ). A thorough study of the Bible following graduation from college convinced him of its absolute truth and prompted him to reevaluate his belief in evolution. In the late 1950s, he began collaborating with theologian John C. Whitecomb Jr. (1924- ). While working on a book project together, Morris had earned a PhD in hydraulic engineering from the University of Minnesota and began chairing the Civil Engineering department at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

In 1961 they published The Genesis Flood, the most comprehensive contribution to strict creationism since the 1920s. 1963 they established the Creation Research Society (CRS). Of the 10 founding members, five possessed doctorates in biology; a sixth had earned a PhD degree in biochemistry; and a seventh held a master’s degree in biology.

New societies would continue to spring up in the 1970s, in the form of Creation Science Research Center (CSRC) and the Institute of Creation Research (ICR), which, according to Morris, would be “controlled and operated by scientists” and would engage in research and education.

This new brand of creationist did not appeal to the authority of the Bible. Rather, they consciously downplayed the Genesis story in favor of what they called “scientific creationism.” In short, they competed for equal scientific status. And unlike the anti-evolution crusade of the 1920s, which remain confined mainly to North America, the revival of the 1960s rapidly spread overseas. By 1980, Morris’s books alone had been translated into Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Russian. Strict creationism was becoming an international phenomenon.

Few countries outside the United States gave creation science a warmer reception than Australia. Morris had visited Australia in 1973, inspiring Ken A. Ham to organize the Creation Science Foundation (CSF) in Brisbane, quickly becoming the center of antievolutionism in the South Pacific.

Similar developments occurred in New Zealand. In 1992 New Zealand creationists set up an “NZ arm” of the CSF, called Creation Science. In 1995 the New Zealand Listener announced that “God and Darwin are still battling it out in New Zealand schools.”

The same can be said for Canada. In 2000 it was claimed that “there are possibly more creationists per capita in Canada than in any other Western country apart from the US.” A public-opinion poll revealed that “even though less than a third of Canadians attend a religious service regularly…53% of all adults reject the theory of scientific evolution.”

Before 2002 few people in Great Britain except evangelicals gave much thought to creationism. That year, however, the British press drew attention to a creationist “scandal” in Gateshead, where, as one reporter put it, “fundamentalist Christians who do not believe in evolution have taken control of a state-funded secondary school in England.” By late 2005 antievolutionism in the United Kingdom had grown to such proportions that the retiring president of the Royal Society devoted his farewell address to warning that the “core values of modern science are under serious threat from fundamentalism.”

Elsewhere in Western Europe creationists were making similar inroads. A poll of adult Europeans revealed that only 40% believed in naturalistic evolution, 21% in theistic evolution, and 20% in a recent special creation, while 19% remained undecided or ignorant. The highest concentrations of young earth creationists were found, remarkably, in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany.

In Italy antievolutionists formed a society in the early 1990s dedicated to introducing “into both public and private schools the biblical message of creationism and the scientific studies that confirm it.” Most Italian academics ignored the threat until early in 2004, when the right wing political party began dismissing evolution as a fairytale unlinking Darwinism to Marxism.

Almost immediately after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union two years later, conservative Christians began to flood the formerly communist countries of Eastern Europe. Within a few years creationist missionaries had successfully planted new societies in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Russia, and the Ukraine.

After a very slow start in Latin America, creationists witnessed an explosion of interest, paralleling that of evangelical Christianity generally. According to a survey taken in Brazil in 2004, 31% of the population believed that “the first humans were created no more than 10,000 years ago” and the overwhelming majority favored teaching creationism.

In Asia, Koreans emerged as a creationist powerhouse, propagating the message at home and abroad. In the 1980s creationists established the Korea Association of Creation Research (KACR), and by 2000 its membership stood at 1,365, giving Korea claim to being the creationist capital of the world.

But it’s not merely Christians who are creationists. According to Numbers, in the mid-1980s the ICR received the call from the Muslim minister of education in Turkey, saying that “he wanted to eliminate the secular-based, evolution only teaching dominant in their schools and replace it with the curriculum teaching the two models evolution and creation.” In 1990 a small group of young Turks in Istanbul formed the Science Research Foundation (BAV), dedicated to promoting “immaterial cosmology and opposing evolution.” Also, in 2000 a group of Jewish antievolutionists in Israel and United States formed the Torah Science Foundation (TSF), whose head member, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, advocates “Kosher evolution,” that is, accepting microevolution while rejecting macroevolution.

Contrary to almost all expectations, geographical, theological, and political, “civilized opinion” has failed to contain what had begun as a distinctively American phenomena. Evidently, creationism is not merely a Southern predilection.

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