Editor’s Note: Each February, I go to the Darwin Dinner in Norwalk to commemorate the birth of one of the world’s greatest scientists. And each February, the fundamentalist nutjobs get themselves all worked up about Darwin and evolution and all those cadres of evil, atheistic scientists. This year has been no exception. The letters to the editor were flying long before I put my two cents in, thanks to Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes and Tea Party fanatic Bob MacGuffie. Here’s hoping my little contribution helps piss off the ignorant, annoy the stupid and irritate the superstitious.
Sometimes, you do a little research and find out stuff that completely surprises you. I never thought I’d see the day I found myself writing complimentary things about televangelist Pat Robertson ... but I guess that’s evolution for you.

Everything Isn’t a Question of Either/Or

                There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the creator.”

— Charles Darwin
     “The Origin of Species”


The motto for our hyperpartisan era was coined by our last president: “You’re either with us or against us.” To put it in computer terms, these are binary times — yes/no, either/or.

This was the tone of a recent Advocate op-ed by Tea Party activist Bob MacGuffie. To express his enduring contempt for Congressman Jim Himes, he characterized Mr. Himes’ bill honoring Charles Darwin (HR 467) as “designed to ridicule those who believe in God.” Mr. MacGuffie based this nonsense on the bill’s recognition that “creationism compromises the scientific and academic integrity of U.S. education systems.”

MacGuffie’s op-ed combined the Religious Right’s rejection of modernity and science with its attachment to fundamentalism. As a result, he termed the memorializing of one of history’s greatest scientists — whose theory of evolution is accepted by 97% of the world’s scientists, according to a recent Pew Poll — as “a stick in the eye of constituents who believe God imbued us with an eternal soul.” MacGuffie seems to believe scientific knowledge conflicts with belief in the soul, and godliness equals creationism.

Congressman Himes’ position is more mainstream. In addition to being a Harvard-educated Rhodes Scholar, he’s an elder in his Presbyterian Church, which, like most mainline Protestant denominations, has no problem with 21st century biology. As such, he takes the position that faith and religion are “separate realms,” and, as an American, his concern is more pragmatic: “How is a young Texan going to compete with a South Korean if he believes creationism is on a par with evolution?”

The bottom line is there’s nothing incompatible about evolution and Christianity. Creationism and evolution are obviously contradictory, but Christianity is not synonymous with fundamentalism, and belief in natural selection is synonymous with neither atheism nor agnosticism.

For example, the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics aren’t required to reject biology — at least not since 1996, when Pope John Paul II concluded, “New knowledge leads us to recognize that the theory of evolution is more than a hypothesis.” According to Peter Stravinskas, editor of “The Catholic Encyclopedia,” John Paul reflected the position of St. Augustine, who wrote, “We should not take Genesis literally. It is poetic and theological language.” (Catholic schools have been teaching evolution since the 1950s.)

This is also the position of most mainstream Protestant churches and Judeo-Christians worldwide. About the only believers who see a conflict between faith and evolutionary biology are American evangelicals and fundamentalists, such as Southern Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons (as well as fundamentalist Muslims.)

The Creation Museum in Kentucky recently hosted a debate between TV’s Bill Nye the Science Guy and fundamentalist pseudoscientist Ken Ham, who’s considered a hack and/or a joke in the scientific community. To the question of what would convince him that evolution isn’t true, Mr. Nye answered, “Just one piece of evidence that supports a biblical interpretation of Earth’s formation.” Asked the same question regarding creationism, Mr. Ham’s doctrinaire non sequitur was, “I’m a Christian.”

After Ham had played Denver Bronco to Nye’s Seattle Seahawk, even televangelist Pat Robertson was embarrassed. On his “700 Club” TV show, Mr. Robertson advised young-earth creationists such as Ham, “Let’s not make a joke out of ourselves.” He added, “To say it all came about in 6,000 years is just nonsense. You can’t just totally deny the geological formations out there.”

Robertson was castigated for this statement by Ham’s Answers in Genesis (AIG) website, as well as for his reasonable proposition that the Big Bang Theory need not be at odds with a divine creator. And he was attacked for citing the scientifically established and observable fact, accepted by astronomers and physicists worldwide, that the universe is expanding.

Robertson has proposed that the universe, with its myriad life forms, could be evolving under the guidance of a deity that designed it. AIG labels this compromise “theistic evolution,” and calls it a “lie,” despite the overwhelming proof from every scientific discipline that everything in the universe, from the atoms to viruses to primates to galaxies has evolved.

The website also berated Robertson for accepting the undeniable fact that the dinosaurs predated mankind. AIG claims there can be no pre-biblical time (because the Earth is only 6,000 to 7,000 years old), so man and dinosaurs must have coexisted. This position (aka the “Fred Flintstone Hypothesis”) is ruled out by modern fossil dating methods and is rightly ridiculed by paleontologists everywhere outside the Bible Belt.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but, on the conflict between dogmatism and compromise, Pat Robertson was the voice of reason, when he stated, “The Bible was not written as a science book.”

HR 467 was ultimately tabled, and even Mr. Himes knew it had zero chance of passing the House, which is run by the Tea Party. To solidify its position with evangelicals, the GOP generally makes the either/or decision to treat science as antireligious, and, even here in moderate Connecticut, the Luddites have been writing to the newspaper to express their scorn for evolutionary biology. However, they present a false choice, epitomized by one silly letter writer who implied that recognizing Darwin on February 12 is somehow an affront to Abraham Lincoln, who shares Darwin’s birthday.

Each year, I attend the annual Darwin Dinner in Norwalk, which is jointly sponsored by Jewish, Christian and humanist groups. No one there stuck a finger in God’s eye, denigrated Jesus or insulted anyone who believes in the immortal soul.

In recognizing Charles Darwin’s contribution to Western civilization, we were trying, as Jim Himes put it, to be “on the right side of history” — to be “Galileo, rather than the Inquisition.” It’s probably a hopeful sign that, during the past 20 years, the Catholic Church and even Pat Robertson have begun moving in that direction.

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