Letter: God and Darwin
Wednesday 25 August 1999
Fundamentalist leaders in the 1920s saw profound problems: economic shifts from rural to urban, the greed of industrialists who ran factory towns and reduced men to machines, messages that taught children to reject tradition and disobey their parents' authority, the slaughters of the Great War. What was their world coming to?
Looking for causes, fundamentalists pointed to modernism, materialism, and atheism. The theory of natural selection stood as an icon for this corrupting path. Darwin implied Nietzsche. Nietzsche taught us God was dead and might made right. Atheism meant the collapse of tradition, family, and security. William Jennings Bryan concluded that if we taught children they came from animals, they would grow to believe they could act like them, too. One might not succeed against the assembly line or trench warfare but one could stop local schools from teaching evolution.
When Congressman Tom De Lay recently spoke about America's series of shooting sprees, he blamed materialism, atheism and evolution: when schools teach that children "are nothing but glorified apes who evolutionised out of some primordial soup of mud" what should we expect?
If provoked into "debates" about evolution, scientists should push past the provocation to engage the deeper issues. How do we reap the benefits of science's innovation without suffering reciprocal ills? How do we respond to shifting economic and cultural circumstances? This is not a fight of science against religion but about what these institutions symbolise.
Lecturer in History and Philosophy of Biology
University College London
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Top 20 misconceptions people believe are true
- 2 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 3 Head transplant: man will be attached to new body in under an hour and aim is immortality, doctor says
- 4 Anti-vaccination group defends advert comparing immunising children to rape
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Katie Hopkins on LBC: Listen to caller taking The Sun columnist to task over migrant comments
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election