The rise of the Evolution Wars and its persuasive mass media

The glossy cover of Time's August 15,2005, US edition displayed an altered image of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco in which a chimpanzee’s portrait concealed the figure of Adam. The newsmagazine’s title read, “Evolution Wars,” and the publication’s contents described court cases affiliated with Darwin-skepticism and allied efforts to change American public school curricula.2 These so-called wars represent continuing debates around modern science and religious beliefs, which may have major implications for

Rethinking the Evolution Wars 7 global religion and education, as well as popular perceptions of evolutionary theory.28 Such disputes have often been considered integral catalysts in the persistence of what historians of science have routinely referred to as the conflict myth; the notion that science and religion, by virtue of what they are, will necessarily be opposed to each other.29 Indeed, with its notorious legal battles and headline-capturing dramas, the Evolution Wars seem to embody the oft-criticized Draper-White warfare model of religion-science interactions.30 As a result, analyses of the Evolution Wars have frequently occupied contemporary science-religion research, and reporting on creationism in the popular press has become a feature of media releases that identify the apparent discord between science and religious belief.

The Evolution Wars are affiliated with the historical expansion of various forms of Darwin-skepticism throughout the latter half of the 20th century. This rise of antievolutionism began with a revitalization of Christian Young Earth Creationism (YEC) throughout the United States.31 While it is important to note that “YEC is not monolithic,” its adherents generally ascribe to the following five propositions: i) The age of the universe is between 6,000 to 10,000 years; ii) the Noahic flood is responsible for producing most fos-siliferous strata; iii) evolution from primordial organic molecules to humans did not occur; iv) God created specific 'kinds’ of animals that have microevolved into related forms, but which do not macro-evolve into entirely new species, and v) evolution is an atheistic supposition that stands in direct opposition to theism.32 Similar descriptions of Young Earth Creationism have been offered elsewhere, which frequently associate YEC’s American resurgence with the work of one particularly influential figure: Henry M. Morris.33

Leading Young Earth Creationists frequently attempt to trace their intellectual lineage back to the biblical authors, through to the early church fathers, the Protestant reformers, and the “scriptural geologists” of the 19th century.34 Markedly, however, the development and proliferation of contemporary creationist ideas were tightly linked to Henry M. Morris, a civil engineering professor who helped to facilitate the modern American revival of Young Earth Creationism. He managed to do this, in part, with the dexterous use of media communications.3’ As a matter of fact, Christian Darwin-skepticism boasts a long history of utilizing many forms of print and new electronic mass media. This included pamphlets written and distributed by William Jennings Bryan, the work of the Canadian creationist George McCready Price, as well as cartoons designed to demonize evolutionary theory published around the time of the Scopes Trial.36 However, the contemporary Evolution Wars and their communications operations truly began with Morris’s broadcasting efforts, which pivoted out from the release of the seminal creationist text, The Genesis Flood.37 This book, co-authored by Morris and John C. Whitcomb, was published in 1961, at the beginning of a decade which many thought would mark the demise of creationism’s public influence in the United States. By the end of the 1950s,

American Darwin-skepticism seemed to be waning, and during the 1960s both Tennessee and Arkansas repealed their antievolution laws. One Scientific American writer went so far as to hail this period as the “End of the Monkey War.”38 However, The Genesis Flood was well received within America’s conservative Christian communities, and in 1963 the Creation Research Society was formed by Morris and nine other creationists. Morris was frank in his intent on reaching the masses with antievolutionist messages, and as the historian Ronald Numbers explains:

Throughout the 1960s Morris aggressively marketed his brand of creationism in a variety of packages: a series of Sunday-school lessons, a text for youth groups, and a collection of articles he had published in such popular Evangelical journals as His (Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship), Collegiate Challenge (Campus Crusade for Christ), and Christian Life Magazine, an interdenominational monthly.39

In the early 1970s Morris went on to help launch the Institute for Creation Research, which has subsequently been credited with establishing “the basic infrastructure of the modern creationist movement.”40 ICR employed a professional team of antievolutionists, and its operations have always incorporated considerable media strategies. Once described as “the most important messenger for bringing creationism to the public,” ICR went on to found multiple radio programs broadcast to markets around the globe, Acts&Facts magazine delivered to over hundreds of thousands of recipients each month, its Impact journal, tracts, books, DVDs, and daily Days of Praise devotionals.41 Furthermore, the majority of these media are also accessible on ICR’s regularly updated website, which has been in operation since 1995 and now receives tens of thousands of unique visitors every month.42 As ICR’s Director of Communications has made clear, this online presence represents a particularly important facet of the organization’s communications enterprises.43 These media ventures have continued to form a significant volume of mass communications in the Evolution Wars, and they have acted as archetypes of modern worldwide creationist broadcasting endeavors.

ICR characterizes itself as “the premier institution in the creation science movement,” which is “dedicated to equipping believers with truth and knowledge to strengthen their faith and to be prepared to minister to the people around them.”44 Its director of donor relations has emphasized that a chief goal of ICR is to persuade growing audiences and that this “intent to persuade is driven by awareness that truth will ‘set free’ the hearer and ‘open the eyes’ of those who yearn for knowledge.” In fact, one of ICR’s mandates is to be “persuasive and bold in our global presentations, whether in person, through our writings, or through whatever media the Lord permits.”43 This involves spreading Young Earth Creationism “by every means available” and spending millions of dollars to produce rhetorically compelling

Rethinking the Evolution Wars 9 materials that can be distributed across the globe.46 To accomplish this objective, significant amounts of money are devoted exclusively to providing free Acts&Facts magazines and Christian devotional materials to readers worldwide.47 Acts&Facts is the Institute for Creation Research’s premier creationist publication, and from its inception in the 1970s to its appearance on icr.org, the magazine has remained a crucial medium for reaching audiences. In many ways, its articles typify the messages found in all of the organization’s media, and as such they embody the persuasive drive of ICR.

While the Institute for Creation Research has remained a Darwin-skeptic titan of communications, it may be argued that Answers in Genesis has become the most prominent Young Earth Creationist organization on the planet. This is reflected in Answers in Genesis’ surging program expenses, which far surpass ICR’s total monetary expenditures.48 Nonetheless, both institutions share a common history, since Answers in Genesis’ founder, Ken Ham, began working with ICR in 1987 after moving to the United States from Australia.49 Labeled “America’s leading creationist,” Ham established Answers in Genesis after resigning from ICR in 1994, though both organizations have continued to work together and often feature the same contributors in their media broadcasts.50 Like the Institute for Creation Research, one of AiG’s principal aims has involved circulating persuasive Young Earth Creationist materials worldwide in numerous languages, and the organization uses a myriad of communication mediums to reach international audiences.

Answers in Genesis employs thousands of workers, and in 2000 Ham claimed that its website was ranked as one of the Internet’s top 1% of web pages for overall visits.51 Notoriously, in 2007 AiG also opened a 27-million dollar, 70,000 ft2 Creation Museum, and later, with government tax incentives, bankrolled Ark Encounter, a Noah’s Ark-inspired theme park. Along with its magazine, Answers, AiG also produces tracts, books, DVDs, an internationally transmitted radio program hosted on hundreds of stations, a plethora of streaming videos-on-demand, cartoons, online articles for children, teaching curricula, and archives of media messages from Ham himself. Answers magazine was first published in 2006, and it currently boasts hundreds of thousands of regular subscribers to its hardcopy releases, while its articles are also a main feature on AiG’s website?2 Moreover, Answers magazine received multiple “first place” and “award of excellence” honors from the Evangelical Press Association, and its contents reflect every aspect of AiG’s creationist message.53

Following Young Earth Creationism’s resurgence in the 1960s, another form of Darwin-skepticism emerged in the United States that has since garnered its own international following. Referred to as Intelligent Design theory, its fundamental premise is that complex biological adaptations, especially at the intracellular level, could not have resulted from natural selection or any other materialistic process. Instead, the appearance of such biochemical and physiological intricacies necessitates the intervention of adesigner, and for that reason, such natural marvels are best explained as the work of a super-intelligent architect. The expansion of this type of antievolutionism has been marked by the appearance of new ID groups around the world, and as one sympathetic observer has related:

An often-heard criticism of intelligent design claims that it is exclusively an American phenomenon, since presumably the rest of the world is too smart to fall for the stuff. Of course this is nonsense. ID is making impressive strides in Europe and Asia. As I can report from personal experience, the future looks particularly bright in the United Kingdom.54

Though many studies have equated Intelligent Design with YEC, designating it “stealth creationism,” or “neocreationism” and even “Creationism-lite,” it should be recognized that ID rejects Young Earth Creationism while simultaneously denying the scientific validity of evolution.55 Though Intelligent Design truly gained prominence in the 1990s through the work of Philip E. Johnson, its origins can be linked back to three books published in the 1980s: The Mystery of Life’s Origin, Origin Science: A Proposal for the Creation-Evolutionist Controversy, and the high school biology textbook, Of Pandas and People.56

The Center for Science and Culture is the premier ID organization currently in operation. Originally founded in 1996 as the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, this arm of the Discovery Institute represents the world’s largest and most well-funded ID group.57 One of the CSC’s leading ambitions, which has been pursued at a “head-spinning pace,” involves using its financial resources for “publicity and opinion making” by generating Intelligent Design materials intended to steer audiences away from evolutionary theory.58 This has constituted publishing numerous books, hosting conferences, creating teacher training programs, developing ID-centered school curricula, producing magazine advertisements, and establishing a prominent online presence. Such Internet efforts consist of website advertising banners, podcasts that receive tens of thousands of downloads per year, and several web pages, including CSC’s Evolution News and Views site. News and Views is one of the most visited ID links on the World Wide Web, and it is also networked with other Discover Institute pages. These pages together feature articles written by CSC members as well as many other prominent Intelligent Design confederates.59

 
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