Chapter I

1.6 A Brief History of Creationism

Running with Scissors—Antievolutionists embrace the “logic” of Scalia’s dissent

Not surprisingly, the creationist defenders Mawyer (1987a-b) and Wendell Bird (1989, Vol. 2, 445) quoted the Scalia/Rehnquist 1987 dissent with evident approval, since it gave antievolutionists a potential lever (the academic freedom issue) to pry the school education door open wide enough for them to pile on in, dragging whatever “scientific evidence” baggage they might have along with them. Nutting & Nutting (1987) at the Alpha and Omega Institute would be an example of what that might entail (defending full blown Creation Science with no deviations then or since), and Think & Believe (1987c) tendered a “Bravo for Scalia and Rehnquist—two clear thinkers!”

The shape of the double standard methodological myopia to come was represented over in ID-land by DeWolf et al. (2000, 109) when they decided “Edwards v. Aguillard affirmed the right of teachers to discuss alternative scientific theories of origin in their classroom.” Gonzaga University law professor David DeWolf (2001) offered a similar argument solo, stressing the academic freedom of teachers to “teach the controversy” over evolution and “correct misinformation” on the way. The Christian Law Association (2000) likewise affirming that teachers could not be prohibited from presenting “credible scientific information in a public school science class that refutes the theory of evolution.”

As usual, none dived into how one is to define what is “credible” and by whom, but the examples they did allude to suggested some implicit underlying notions. DeWolf et al. (2000) proposed how a hypothetical “John Spokes” would be justified in offering Icons of Evolution or Dembski and Behe in science class, and DeWolf (2001, 478) fielded Icons of Evolution alone, while The Christian Law Association offered Behe’s “irreducible complexity” and Charles Thaxton’s claims on the implausibility of a naturalistic origination for life, which work they claimed “has not been refuted by evolutionary scientists.” Says who? Behe and Thaxton?

By that logic DeWolf et al. and The Christian Law Association were ready to leapfrog over the details of Creation Science to award an exclusive scientific dispensation to these new league of ID investigators: the warrant to proclaim their own validity independent of the judgment of the broader scientific community and thereby avoid the messier task of having to earn their credibility by weathering the test of time. But who granted Intelligent Design special rights here? Can’t those Ph.D.’s Duane Gish or Robert Gentry play this game too?

While DeWolf (2001, 469, 472) dangled “the troublesome question of whether creation-science is really science,” he ventured no answer to it—willing to quote evolutionists who think Creation Science is dreadful, but silent on what his own views might be. DeWolf and company certainly offered no purely empirical reason to reject the Creation Science evidence none of them discussed (much as they showed insufficient gumption to “critically analyze” their own side’s ammo), so who were they to say Gish or Gentry were wrong, or to deny their arguments their day in the free-for-all court of politicized scholastic opinion in the absence of that? By all means teach that controversy too.

Whether they wanted to think about the issue or not, the problem remained, because Creation Science wasn’t about to shutter the windows just because of the Edwards v. Aguillard setback. From over on the evolution science side, Ranse Traxler (1993) reported in a letter to The American Biology Teacher on his study of Illinois public schools in 1989 for the National Center for Science Education, hot on the heels of Edwards v. Aguillard :

When I discovered that the Peoria Public School District was encouraging members of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) to present creationism as science to their students and was using an ICR publication as a biology textbook, I contacted the Biology Department at nearby Bradley University. I was shocked to learn that they already knew about it and that they refused to address the issue, even though one of their professors had children in the district and was an official of the Illinois State Academy of Science!

When I discovered that the Collinsville Public School District supported teaching creationism as science and backed a science teacher who was telling his students that “contrary to your textbooks, there is no scientific evidence for the earth and universe being greater than 10,000 years old,” I contacted the scientists at nearby Southern Illinois University. Again I was shocked to learn that they knew about it and that no one would speak up against it, even though one of the biology professors had children in the district!

When I contacted the Illinois State Board of Education about this, they replied 1) they had no influence over the individual school districts, 2) there was no problem with creationism in our schools, and 3) the school districts were free to present creationism as science to the students! When one concerned scientist did go to the Capitol to speak to the State Board on the issue, the official he talked to questioned his religious beliefs, tried to convert him and stated that he supported teaching creationism in Illinois public schools!

But over in the gestating ID camp, the account of Edwards v. Aguillard in Phillip Johnson (1997b, 54, 125) was no more interested that DeWolf et al. in what actual teachers might have been doing in real science classes in the years since the ruling. Instead, Johnson’s Notes on Edwards v. Aguillard and Scalia’s dissent showed what Kulturkampf buttons were ready to be pressed when he fretted over bumper stickers:

The Justices probably did not mean to lay down a rule that the official theory of evolution may not be criticized or questioned in public school classrooms, but that was the effect of their decision. The Justices who signed the majority opinion seem to have been fooled by arguments from the science establishment that every claim made by the scientific elite about ’evolution’ is a matter of neutral fact and that all opposition to materialism comes from people who want to read the Bible to students instead of teaching them science. Perhaps a Justice who drives home in the evening from the Court will by now have noticed the ’Darwin fish’ bumper stickers on cars—showing a fish with legs in mockery of the Christian fish symbol on other cars—and will realize that the Supreme Court has been duped into taking sides in a religious debate.

Thus did Johnson adroitly sidestep the social and historical background for the Louisiana legislation as deftly as Mawyer and Bird and Scalia did before him, or DeWolf and the legal gang were doing contemporaneously. Antievolutionism was rooted in a very literal Biblical creationism and not the sanitized Intelligent Design movement Johnson was keen on nurturing. The “Darwin fish” appeared when this fervent Creation Science was at its height, and the people most likely to be campaigning for equal time for creation in public schools were conservative Christians liable to sport the fish symbol.

It is revealing that Johnson used “mockery” to describe the “Darwin fish” (rather than, say, a “parody” in affirmation of naturalistic evolution)—a characterization reflecting the personal religious sensitivity of Johnson more than the snarky motivations of creationism critics. Johnson expressed similar umbrage later that year when he waved one of the Darwin tetrapods about during the “Firing Line” evolution debate (more on that event later). Ditto Johnson (2000, 82): “Why else would persons who want to mock the Christian fish symbol choose to decorate their automobile bumpers with a fish with legs?”

Johnson’s attitude was comparable to the protagonist of Christopher Lane’s 1999 creationist novel Tonopah (published by the religious Zondervan press) who characterized a “Celebrate Diversity” bumper sticker and the Darwin medallion as “statements against Christianity—against God himself,” Lane (199, 144). The potboiler plot was a sort of Green YEC meets Rambo in Area 51: Melissa Lewis, a dedicated creationist Flood paleontologist (there are so many!) dug up Mesozoic dinosaur era human fossils, but when her work unknowingly trespassed on a secret Nevada base some gratuitous mayhem ensued at the hands of murderous government flunkies out to prevent disclosure of a 1950s atomic test mishap. Paleontology was targeted in another creationist novel from this period reviewed by Skip Evans (2000), this time featuring a virtuous YEC PhD paleontologist candidate whose knowledge helped convict Darwin retroactivity in a mock science trial (file under foregone conclusions).

That secular bumper stickers might be targeted for wit rather than blasphemy reminds me of a similar waggish sentiment some years ago, advocating the ultimate in geographic self-determination: REUNITE GONDWANALAND (the southern half of the Pangea supercontinent, since fragmented into South America, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica). It would require a truly Johnsonian or Lane-class focus to deem that a radical political statement rather than something a geology lover intended to be droll, but such a touch of whimsy is difficult to slip through an incensed Kulturkampf gauntlet.

The creation/evolution bumper sticker war has continued apace, of course, Johnson and “Melissa Lewis” notwithstanding, with a creationist one labeled “Survival of the Fittest” showing a larger ichthus labeled “Jesus” devouring the Darwinian rival—and one on “Survival of the Forgiven,” where the Christian fish is about to swallow the fleeing (and obviously disconcerted) “Darwin” critter. There are also medallion versions where the fish is identified variously as “Jesus,” or “Truth.” Though Breakpoint writer G. Shane Morris (2014) ultimately scraped the disintegrating ichthus from his car once it dawned on him that “nobody other than my Creationist friends ever mentioned it.”

The concern over the Darwin Fish sparked by the creationist resurgence signified that the cultural links between the “new” Intelligent Design and the old religious Creation Science were far stronger than defenders like Johnson were disposed to admit.