Dé Domhnaigh, Aibreán 05, 2009

Why Are There Still Creationists?

I was flipping through one of Dr. Matt Moore's books the other day, it was called something like "Biologists Tackle Evolution" I'm not sure exactly and I'm afraid I can't adequately cite it. One of the essays dealt with the motivation for creationist belief, why evolution denial has been more tenacious than, say, belief in Prestor John or anal menstruation in Jewish males.

The writer, who again I forget, examines the state of British and American society at the time that Darwin made his observations public. Darwin himself was very careful not to stir up any larger moral or philosophical crisis. He kept his own personal religious skepticism to himself and used his considerable political skill to eventually make evolution acceptable and even fashionable within the Anglican Church and other organs of the educated middle class.

But there's no stopping people from making symbols out of things, from using random bits of information to give tangibility to larger and more abstract concerns. Both Britain and the United States were undergoing industrialization and gradual democratization in the days that Darwin was alive. British aristocrats still had their titles, but the source of their supposedly eternal power, dominion over land, was losing it's vitality. Members of the vulgar middle class could now enter elite if they had the verve and wit to do so, and control of the urban industrial machinery could produce more wealth than inherited landholders could ever dream of.

Modern social mobility was born, and new money capitalists were glad to embrace evolutions emphasis on adaptation and luck. But members of the old order had lost what had undeniably been a hell of a good deal for them; a power hierarchy in which place was inherited and eternal. First-born sons destined to become their fathers, to rule over the peasants as God the father ruled over the universe, while priests under their payroll assured the masses that challenging earthly authority was tantamount to challenging the immutable Lord of an unchanging universe.

These were the people who first hated Darwin. In fact the history of evolution denial is filled with groups of people who were losing or are losing some old automatic social privilege. Who are the people in America who resist evolution today? White, Protestant rural or suburban, raised to believe that they are the eternal standard for normality in America while the absurdity of this belief grows more apparent each day.

And anti-evolutionism is no longer exists in the shadow world of the uneducated and the impoverished, as it was in the days between Scopes and Falwell. A generation of progressively more arrogant right-wing government emboldened creationists, prompting them to form echo chamber think tanks, flood local school boards with loyal candidates, and reap confusion with disingenuous notions of "teaching the controversy". The 28-year reign of the Reagan coalition was in some ways a reaction to the political successes of liberalism from the thirties to the sixties. More than that though it was a reaction against social liberalization, the same sort of democratization and breakdown of inherited privilege that was occurring in the mid-nineteenth century, and although the American ideal of progress is often exaggerated, it is safe to say that this democratization has been quite steady from the Jazz Age up until the present day. It is to the right wing's immeasurable rage that the long political ascendancy of the GOP, and all the idiotic grandstanding that it passed off as governance, has done nothing to stop this expansion of power and prerogative.

It is often said that the past twenty years have produced an economic revolution on par with the industrial revolution, that we are now in a "post-industrial" economy.
Nobody has much more than a vague notion of what this means, and some notions are vaguer than others. But it is clear that the economic restructuring (That is, over the long term and not necessarily relating to the current flame out)is causing the same sort of cracks to the power structure that the industrial revolution did.

America has, for the most part, always been capitalist in outlook, at least in the north, and so adapted to industrialization much more smoothly than Europe. (The obvious exception being the Civil War, brought on by old-fashioned aristocrats hell-bent on maintaining a feudal society.) So the old notions of physical property in general and land in particular conveying status remained proudly intact here. The suburbanization/ghettoization trends of the twentieth century was a means of maintaining this ideal of physical property conveying status. White flight to Timber Elk Water Estates was a means both of rewarding capitalistic achievement and maintaining traditional race-based inherited prerogatives.

Then along came this so-called new economy; the rise of a tragically hip new professional class that preferred the noise and ethnic complexity of the city, that had no use for giant back yards and, even worse, often no use for patriarchal religion. It is no coincidence that the rise of the new collar directly coincides with creationisms' spread to the megachurch, the suburban white upper-middle class and political respectability. Perfectly modern and educated people now needed assurance that the fathers in place were forever.

In North Platte there was this was this chiropractor who would often write crank letters to the editor. His favorite subjects were the evils of the United Nations, taxation, and Darwinism. When rural Nebraskans fret over why their brightest young people are leaving a common conclusion is that it must be because property taxes are too high. Some of these bright youngsters were kind enough to write home to inform the old folks that, no, this wasn't the case. They left because they craved the excitement and social variety of the city. They could buy a palace on the edge of their home towns for the same price with which they are now renting their studio apartments but have no desire to do so, thank you very much. The old folks back home read these letters, and continue to blame taxation. I don't think it's a case of not believing so much as being unable to comprehend.

So much of conservatism's Bonsai resistance to taxation is based on the idea that physical property is the means of judging ones worth to society and gaining access to the elite. Now there are many white-collar workers who have rejected "The American Dream" out of economic self-interest. Owning a home would only tie them down, much better to rent a place a cheaply as comfort allows so as to be available to whoever will pay them the most in any region the work happens to be. Many who could afford a new car have none at all, sometimes for political reasons, though those who peddle out of principle have always been among us, and have always been few. More threatening to the traditional ideal of success are those who ride the bus out of pure indifference, and their numbers are growing.

And what of the suburbs, the domain of the twentieth century ruling class? Crumbling and receding. The most ostentatious subdivisions empty and moribund even while Detroit still gives the occasional gasp, sheltering only coyotes and the occasional impromptu teenage kegger.

Whatever truth there may be in this "New Economy" idea, it is clear that the traditional means of gaining and conveying power have been thoroughly discredited. There will of course always be a power structure of some sort or another, and the rise of Barrack Obama would seem to suggest that the new-collars are firmly in charge now and will be the ones who will determine what the new power structure will be.
A structure that, with luck, will emphasize the best values of the post Apple 1 generation; creativity, openness, variety of interests, the ability to be fascinated by all and awed by none. Inherited privilege and social patriarchs dead once and for all. The old American pipe dream of true meritocracy finally and miraculously realized.

But I don't mean to gush. What I'm trying to do is warn of the harsh reaction to the threatened end of inherited hierarchy will surely bring. Denial of reality will be the glue that ties those cast into the heap by the new reality together. closely related to creationism are the crackpot tales of global warming being a socialist conspiracy, involving the entire field of climatology and all of academia; espoused from those who will never accept that uncontrolled industrialization can possibly lead to any ill effects, that there could possibly be anything wrong with buying the largest possible private vehicle to convey virility and power.

And of course that old time religion of anti-"Darwinism" will still be there for quite sometime, and is likely to get a renewed push in the remaining red states. Always there to remind those newly disinherited from undeserved power that the changes happening around them are not actually real. God is the eternal father of the universe. And the eternal fathers of this world are those whom he has chosen to rule over the non-white, the non-male, the unmonied and the unpropertied, the unchurched, the arrogant skeptics, those who reject or ignore the old customs. The hierarchy of the universe is forever, so long as we just teach the controversy that this is so.

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