Introduction: The Pillars of Creationism
This was an interesting little section, but there are a few points that I think are worth pulling out and paying closer attention to.
Threaded throughout the section are some of the consequences that evolution had for "traditional Christian religion", as Scott puts it. Here's a partial list that I've put together from the section -- feel free to add more:
* that the Genesis account of Creation might be fallible or incomplete;
* that God's Creation might be imperfect (eg. as evidenced by extinct species);
* that death preceded Original Sin;
* that the painful and "wasteful" process of natural selection might contradict the assertion of a benevolent God;
* that the Biblical conception of special (in the sense of "species") "kinds" might not hold true.
Those considerations probably did (and do) play a part in resistence to evolutionary theory, but they don't seem, to me, sufficient to account altogether for the persistence of the controversy. After all, evolution wasn't the first idea to draw into question the benevolence of God or the perfection of Creation -- people hardly needed Darwin to tell them that there was pain and suffering in the world. And people had already pointed out problems with taking the Genesis account literally -- if nothing else, there's the problem of Genesis actually presenting several creation stories, not just one. The idea that death preceded Original Sin might be more problematic, but that doesn't exactly crop up very often in Creationist debates. And the problem of "kinds" was problematic for just about everyone when Darwinian evolution first started making the rounds, so if that's the big issue then we have to ask, why is it still
an issue for Creationists, when everyone else has moved on?
A different point altogether: I've been reading a lot about evolution and Creationism over the last year or so, and one thing that has continually bothered me is the language that some evolutionary writers use in describing evolution. An example in the introduction occurs between pages xxii. and xxiii. (I'm assuming that we're all using the same edition here), where Scott writes that "natural selection is a wasteful mechanism: many individuals fall to the wayside". The thing that bothers me about terminology like that used here is that it plays into the moral and aesthetic anxiety that people have about Darwinism. Yes, many individuals do fall to the wayside, but we knew that before we ever conceived of natural selection. The only thing that makes evolution seem wasteful, in that regard, is our perception of evolution as a kind of competition with a winner. And that's a term of evolution that goes right back to Darwin. But the competitive element of Darwinian evolution is, in an intentional sense, incidental to the effects -- very few individuals are thinking about their evolutionary fitness when they "compete" for food.
What I'm getting at is, that terms like "wasteful" and phrases like "fall by the wayside" are evocative as metaphors, but they also fuel the controversy by painting a dramatic rather than functional view of evolution. These are value-laden terms, and by virtue of carrying these values they invite controversy. Scott isn't particularly guilty here, and in some ways it may be truer to the controversy that she's lapsed into this way of speaking. I've seen it in just about every evolutionary writer I've read, from Darwin's "nature red in tooth and claw" to Dawkins' "selfish gene". It's unfortunate, and entirely self-perpetuating.
Lastly, I wondered what everyone thought about the tiny gesture at the end of the chapter to the question of "fairness" in educational curriculum. That seems like a good jumping off point for a broader discussion: should educational institutions strive for fairness in their presentation of information? What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages?