A friend of mine recommended a book by Kary Doyle Smout called The Creation/Evolution Controversy: A Battle for Cultural Power. Kary is an Associate Professor of English at Washington and Lee University, and specializes in rhetoric. I usually delve more into historical topics, so this was a bit of a change for me, but I enjoyed it.
Smout analyzes the arguments between pro and anti-evolution sides. He noted that with rhetoric, we often create artificial dichotomies. For example, on page 6 he gives an example from the movie Mary Poppins. Male is shown in a positive light, and female in a negative light in the movie . The father wants to have the children break from “sugary female thinking.”
Often we use these dichotomies to prop our position, while showing the opposing side in a negative light. This is the case with evolution/creation. He also notes that while 2 sides use the same words, these words have different definitions. From page 9,
From a rhetorical perspective, a terminology battle can thus be seen, not as a stubborn refusal to accept correct definitions of terms, but as a power struggle between competing communities. These communities try to convince other communities that their own word meanings make the best sense. The problem is that in a culture based on Enlightenment conceptions of a universal reasoning faculty in humans, people do not ask, “Best sense according to whom?” In effect, the terminology battle becomes a battle about worldviews. Those who win this battle attain the power to define the terms from within their own worldview for the culture as a whole.
His book has just 5 chapters.
- Beginnings of the Creation/Evolution Controversy
- Bryan and the Scopes “Monkey” Trial
- The Arkansas Creation-Science Trial
He goes into great detail into the 2 trials mentioned above, discussing witness testimony and the lawyers involved in the cases. I was especially interested as he discussed the Biblical inerrancy during the Scopes trial. I hadn’t realized that the evolution controversy played a significant role in this debate. From page 62,
This notion of irreconcilable conflict between creation and evolution depends on the concept of biblical inerrancy, which developed late in the nineteenth century in the United States as an important theological position and a historical key to American fundamentalism.29 James Barr defines biblical inerrancy as the belief that the Bible is free of error of any kind. He writes “The inerrancy of the Bible, the entire Bible including its details, is indeed the constant principle of rationality within fundamentalism.”30 This position on the Bible grounds all fundamentalists arguments; it is the measure–albeit a very narrow one, which is fraught with many disturbing implications for nonfundamentalists–of reasonableness itself. In evaluating a statement for its truth, fundamentalists compare the statement to the Bible, resolving any conflict between the two by rejecting the statement and keeping the Bible.
It seems to me that fundamentalists have painted themselves into a corner with this notion of biblical inerrancy. For example, did God really create the earth in 6 24-hour days? I think most people don’t believe that, but there are some hard core people that apparently do.
While creationists won the battle at the Scopes trial (Scopes was fined $100 for teaching evolution, and many other southern states adopted similar laws as Tennessee to prevent evolution from being taught), it appears that they are losing the war. We all know that evolution is taught in biology, and few textbooks mention creationism. I wasn’t aware of the Arkansas battle in 1981; fundamentalists wanted to include creation science in the textbooks as well as evolution but were defeated.
I think it is funny that the two sides have created a dichotomy between evolution and creation. Why can’t God use evolution? Smout notes this conundrum as well, and notes that the two sides are continuing to battle as if there is no middle ground. I liked Kary’s conclusion on page 186-7,
I finally agree more with the evolutionists than the creationists, but I do not want the creationists to give up the fight. I am increasingly convinced that reason and knowledge are not the only bases on which to found a society, nor even that they are the best. I am unsure that a strictly rational society it best. How does one found a society on these values? I doubt that either the creationists or the evolutionists will ever stop arguing so long as we have no simple way to know the truth beyond our own perceptions. We in this pluralistic nation have had to continually deal with recurring tensions between professionalism and democracy, between the academy and other cultural institutions, between competing political philosophies, and between other differing persuasions, all arguing for, and from within, their own worldviews. In this life, we walk by faith. We must put our faith in those persuasions that seem most worthy of it.
So what do you think? Must creation and evolution be at odds with each other?