• Christopher Tanner

Dreaming of Darwin: Fundamentalist Night Terrors

Some of the great scientific discoveries have been syntheses that emerged more or less organically from the systematic crunching of a compendium of data accumulated over time. Plate tectonics furnishes an illustrative example: the Grand Unified Theory of Geology was made possible by a great many observations made over the course of a couple of centuries, some of them serendipitous (e.g. the discovery of deep-ocean trenches and mid-ocean ranges during the submarine era). Put enough data like that in a room with enough smart people and a really big idea is sooner or later going to take shape, in a manner that kind of resembles abiogenesis.

Others have been leaps of pure intuition so striking as to seem truly original. One of them is Darwin’s theory of evolution. I wish I could have seen the look on his face when the idea of speciation driven by natural selection occurred to him. That’s got to have been one of the greatest OMG moments in history. It must damn dear have stopped his heart: imagine having a single insight that explains everything you’re interested in! He must immediately have recognized how revolutionary an idea that was, and how much resistance and rancor it would incur. No wonder he sat on the idea for two decades before going to press with it – and even then, only out of concern of having his thunder stolen.

And he’d have been right about the rancor. Man, the fundamentalist wing of the Christian church hates the idea of evolution. It’s not just that True Believers™ are by definition committed to trusting whatever the notoriously unreliable leather-bound, gilt-edged tome known as “God’s Word” tells them despite any and all evidence to the contrary: such believers have a deep-seated revulsion against the notion that we’re “just animals” and therefore in all likelihood have no “soul.” Sad clown though he be, Ken Ham is no charlatan. He believes every word he says.


Apart from the pseudoscientific drivel one hears from various Bible-wielding, lab-coated, safari-outfitted or otherwise inappropriately-garbed buffoons (I’m thinking of “Chemist” John Morris Pendleton and “Professor” Ian Juby, whose YouTube videos furnish an inexhaustible bounty of laughs), there’s a range of psychological and sociological reasons that the Deeply Committed will marshal in their attack on “Darwinism.” One might tell you it’s because if we teach our children that they’re nothing but animals, they’ll act like animals. What kind of society would that result in? A variant is “if we tell people they have no creator to answer to, they’ll behave irresponsibly and antisocially,” invoking the alarming image of rape, murder and general mayhem among a godless population run amok. Another might argue that evolution renders life meaningless, which suggests that he finds it ego-deflating.

But I think there’s an altogether different kind of reason that fundamentalist Christian clergy have for hating evolution, in all likelihood sharing cranial hard-drive space with concerns such as those I’ve just listed, and something tells me they’re not about to go public with it. If I’m right, it’s no wonder they’d never admit to it.

I think the fundamentalist clergy hate evolution because evolution, by putting the lie to the first three chapters of Genesis, obviates “Original Sin.” If evolution is true, the story of the rib-woman and the talking snake can only be a fiction. To have their flock acknowledging evolution would be a disaster for those clergy, because Original Sin is the club they hold over the heads of believers. It’s because of Original Sin that God had to enter into history as a sinless man and be sacrificed on our behalf: Eve’s transgression – apparently transmitted through sperm, hence the need for a Virgin Birth (I wonder what geneticists make of that) – renders us hell-bound whether or not we ever make a single mistake. Take away Original Sin and there’s nothing to “get saved” from, no need for Jesus to be nailed up and no reason to “believe in him.” In a word, those fundamentalist clergy are out of a job if their congregations start believing in “devilution.”

So even though these “men of God” will spend hours of pulpit and press time berating and condemning each other for their misunderstanding of some abstruse doctrinal point that doesn’t amount to a scorpion’s fart in an EF-5 tornado, they’re absolutely unanimous in their recognition of “Darwinism’s” existential threat. You can therefore expect them to go right on fighting the Grand Unified Theory of Biology until human extinction finally shuts them the hell up.

You reckon there’s anything to that?

Watch this space next week for an account of fossil collecting in 400-million-year-old marly limestone – a tale of mixed blessings including wildlife encounters, heat prostration and broken eyeglasses. Meanwhile, do yourself the great favor of listening to the most cheerfully buoyant symphony Beethoven ever wrote.

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