Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Anti-Christian Darwin Day

Via Patrick McIlheran, an essay discussing the evangelical hostility to religion of those who organize and promote Darwin Day.
February 12 used to be known in classrooms across the nation as Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. But over the last decade, an increasing number of schools and community groups have decided to celebrate the birthday of the father of evolution instead.

The movement to establish February 12 as “Darwin Day” seems to be spreading, promoted by a evangelistic non-profit group with its own website ( and an ambitious agenda to create a “global celebration in 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origins of Species.”

Darwin Day celebrations provide an eye-opening glimpse into the world of grassroots Darwinian fundamentalism, an alternate reality where atheism is the conventional wisdom and where traditional religious believers are viewed with suspicion if not paranoia.

Promoters of Darwin Day deny that their activities are anti-religious, but their denial is hard to square with reality.

According to the Darwin Day website, the movement’s inspiration was an event sponsored by the Stanford Humanists and the Humanist Community in 1995. Since then the honor roll of groups sponsoring Darwin Day events has been top-heavy with organizations bearing such names as the “Long Island Secular Humanists,” the “Atheists and Agnostics of Wisconsin,” the “Gay and Lesbian Atheists and Humanists,” the “Humanists of Idaho,” the “Southeast Michigan Chapter of Freedom from Religion Foundation,” and the “San Francisco Atheists.” The last group puts on an annual festival called “Evolutionpalooza” featuring a Darwin impersonator and an evolution game show (“Evolutionary!”).

Given such sponsors, it should be no surprise that Darwin Day events often explicitly attack religion. At a high school in New York a few years ago, students wore shirts emblazoned with messages proclaiming that “no religious dogmas [were] keeping them from believing what they want to believe,” while in California a group named “Students for Science and Skepticism” hosted a lecture at the University of California, Irvine, on the topic “Darwin’s Greatest Discovery: Design without a Designer.” This year in Boston there is an event on “Biological Arguments Against the Existence of God.”

The original “honorary president” of Darwin Day was biologist Richard Dawkins, author most recently of The God Delusion. Dawkins is best known for such pearls of wisdom as “faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate,” and “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

Darwin Day celebrations are fascinating because they expose a side of the controversy over evolution in America that is rarely covered by the mainstream media. Although journalists routinely write about the presumed religious motives of anyone critical of unguided evolution, they almost never discuss the anti-religious mindset that motivates many of evolution’s staunchest defenders.

What Darwin Day shows, however, is just how ordinary the anti-religious views expressed by Dawkins are among grassroots Darwinists. Far from being on the fringe, Dawkins’ views form the ideological core of mainstream Darwinism.

Not that this should come as a shock. According to a 1998 survey of members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), nearly 95 percent of NAS biologists are atheists or agnostics.

The anti-religious outlook of many of Darwin’s chief boosters exposes the hypocrisy in current discussions over Darwin’s theory. The usual complaint raised against scientists who are skeptical of Darwin’s theory is that many of them (like the vast majority of Americans) happen to believe in God. It is insinuated that this fact somehow undermines the validity of their scientific views. Yet, at the same time, defenders of Darwinism insist that their own rejection of religion is irrelevant to the validity of their scientific views—and most reporters seem to agree.

Of course, in an important sense these defenders of Darwinism are right. Just because leading Darwinists are avowed atheists or agnostics does not mean that their scientific beliefs about evolution are wrong. Scientific propositions should be debated based on their evidence, not on the metaphysical beliefs of those who espouse them.

But if Darwinists have the right to be debated based on evidence, not motives, then scientists who are supportive of alternatives to Darwin’s theory such as intelligent design should have the right to expect the same treatment.
We have no problem with Darwinism as a scientific theory. But we have a considerable problem with Darwinism as the government-imposed dogma.

And we have a huge problem with Darwinism as a rallying cry for people who hate religion.

We have posted on the culture of religious intolerance in science.

The problem is not wanting to “do science,” the problem is adopting a whole complex of cultural attitudes that are typical in science, but not at all required to “do science.”

Interestingly, the Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment as prohibiting any attempt to “promote” religion on the part of government. But the same rulings also prohibit any attempt to “impede” religion.

Intolerant secularists, of course, pound on the first restriction, and entirely ignore the second.

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