The Real Causes of Creationism

By 1959, the Neo-Darwinian synthesis had gained near universal acceptance among biologists. Scientists finally understood how evolution worked. To reverse the effects of the anti-evolution crusade, the Federal Government began funding a new series of high school biology textbooks that emphasized Neo-Darwinian evolution. Up to this time, as a lingering effect of the anti-evolution crusade, most of the textbooks had simply ignored the subject of origins.

Neo-Darwinists such as Julian Huxley and George Gaylord Simpson popularized the expansion of this new biological synthesis into a broad all-encompassing humanistic worldview. They saw science as the only source for truth, and evolution as an ethical principle within science. They urged all humanity to take hold of the evolutionary process and shape it for the good of society.

For Huxley, evolution was a progressive force, generating forms ever more able to transcend their environment. He takes this as an ethical goal for life, and for humans in particular. He would call his system a humanistic religion. He was in an influential position, not only was he a noted scientist, but after World War II, he had been appointed the founding director of UNESCO. He used UNESCO as a world platform to promote his humanistic religious views.

George Gaylord Simpson saw evolution producing beings of ever greater awareness. For him the goal was knowledge, which humans could use for the general good. We have to note that at this time evolution had ultimately triumphed and was almost universally accepted as truth. In their triumphalism, evolutionists in America ignored societal shifts that by 1959 had closed large segments of American population towards the theory of evolution.

Darwinism’s public revival in the media, often proposed by people who wanted to carry it beyond biology into an entire worldview, coupled with the reappearance of Darwinism in textbooks; triggered a strong and enduring reaction among American conservative Christians.

Let’s do a quick review of the religious history of America. Largely invisible to America’s cultural elite, theologically conservative strands of American Protestantism had not withered like they expected, but they had actually increased in size and influence. A variety of factors contributed to this. Literalistic protestant sects existed largely on the fringes of American society until 1920. There were mainline denominations like the Methodists, the Lutherans and the Episcopalians, which dominated protestant religion. The literalistic sects were on the fringes, they weren’t mainstream. They had untrained ministers who were “called” to ministry, who never were taught the modern ideas of biblical interpretation and evolutionary views of religion.

What happened since 1920 is that these small literalistic denominations grew larger and larger. As the clergy of America’s mainline protestant denominations became more liberal, many conservatives moved to denominations more committed to biblical inerrancy.

And Then There Was the South

The South was the only region of the country where conservatives dominated the mainline denominations. During the 20th century there had been a growth in the importance of the South. The South gained economic, cultural and political importance thanks probably to air conditioning, as more people could live there and the economy could thrive. As people moved to the South, they moved to these more conservative Churches, and southern ways spread nationally.

These Churches developed their own colleges, schools, publishing houses, journals and evangelist associations that would reach out other denominations. Before that, most of these structures (colleges, schools, etc…), were denominational. Now they became inter-denominational, but with a conservative bent. This opened the inter-denominational network where biblical inerrancy was central.

On the other side, the secularization of western society virtually emptied European Churches. Hardly anyone in Western Europe went to Church anymore. This affected the vitality of American liberal Protestantism, and strengthened American conservatism.

The Splitting Apart of Science and Religion

Another important point is that most scientists pulled out of the Church. Early in the 20th century most scientists would go to Church, and they would encourage the Church to engage science. Now, the liberal Churches didn’t have any scientist members who encouraged them to engage science, so they pulled out of the battle with conservatives.

Darwinism remained an anathema to conservative Protestants, but they largely kept their objections within their own subculture until the 1960’s. The appearance of these federally funded evolutionary biology textbooks ignited protests from the parents and Churches. When they saw these textbooks coming to the school, they were living in a subculture where evolution was ignored. Suddenly, their children were coming home with textbooks with heavily evolutionary content. This generated ignited reactions.

Citing the likes of Huxley and Simpson, conservatives denounced scientists who were trying to push their science beyond biology into how we should live. By the mid 1960’s, fundamentalists were protesting the teaching of evolution in public schools and demanding that equal time be given to their viewpoints.

These developments had created a new situation. Religion and science had split apart. On the side of science, the materialism of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis was simply less amicable to reconciliation with religion than earlier theories. Further, scientists cared less about reconciling science and religion. In the early 1900’s, scientists tried to work out a reconciliation. By the late 1900’s, scientists didn’t even care about religion. On the science side, there has been a shift towards ignoring the topic.

On the religion side, there was also a greater deviation. The expansion of conservative Churches, coupled with the erosion of liberal Churches, has shifted the center of American Protestantism toward biblical literalism. Conservatives showed less interest in reconciling modern science with scriptural interpretation.

So, this is the historical background on which the modern creationist movement emerged. It is interesting to note the historical causes, and we can understand why it appeared in America, and at this time.

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