Re: [asa] Question from Nick Matzke

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Thu Mar 01 2007 - 12:11:14 EST


I'm generally quite impressed with Nick Matzke's analysis of
ID, and conservative Protestants in the USA. He's been doing his
on religious history. The term "fundamentalist" was first used in July
1920, a point he might want to stress in his analysis, but it's
true that the term refers to ideas and social currents that were
already in
place. The attitude expressed by the word, as it was originally
used, was
what Marsden calls (based closely on the original definition) "militant
anti-modernism." That particular attitude does come to the fore in the
years right after WW1, and the "fundamentalist/modernist" debate
takes place
in the 1920s. That is highly relevant background for understanding
Further, absolutely crucial, background for understanding Bryan,
however, is
the widespread use of evolution to justify militarism in Germany and
unrestrained capitalism in the United States. Indeed, without those
elements, I am convinced, there would have been no Scopes trial; and
them, for sure, Bryan would not have done what he did. (Sometimes
casually assume that Bryan was a very conservative Republican, when
in fact
he was a socialist, pacifist, and very liberal Democrat.) I wrote about
this in "American Scientist" magazine in May-June 2005. If Nick
wants to
understand anti-evolutionism, he mustn't leave this to one side.
It's not
going to paint an accurate picture, simply to focus on the history of
conservative Protestants. The misuses of evolution to attack or
traditional religion (which I would say we find today, in some
aspects of
sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, and certainly in popular
by Dawkins, Sagan, Asimov, Atkins, and Gould before the latter part
of his
life) are also a huge part of the whole picture right now. A history
of the
religious left, in other words, would also be relevant to
understanding that
of the religious right.

Nick's post does not indicate explicitly whether or not he believes
that ID
is simply "creationism in a cheap tuxedo," to borrow a phrase popular on
Pandasthumb, where Nick spends quite a bit of time (I gather). I would
however take the opporutunity to advise caution on this particular
The tone and some content of ID overlap with genuine creationism, and
can confuse people on both sides of the issue. But ID is not
I am a longtime friend of the two leading historians of creationism, Ron
Numbers and Ed Larson, and neither of them believes that ID is
Nor do I, and I also know a fair bit about the history of
creationism. (A
couple of weeks ago, on campus here, I heard Randall Balmer say that
ID is
just another form of creationism, a claim he apparently makes in his new
book, but he's wrong. He isn't well read on this particular aspect of
religious history. I talked to him about it afterward.) Some of my
are briefly discussed in the following article

It is worth adding here, that even Eugenie Scott might not accept an
identity of creationism and ID. I base this on conversations I have had
with her as recently as the Dover trial, in which she (with much
she would want me to point out) agreed with my view -- and Ed
Larson's view
-- that it is legal for a science teacher, in a public school, to
aspects of ID, provided that they have a clear secular educational
for doing so. I doubt that she would have agreed, if I had said
rather than ID, since courts have consistently ruled creationism out of
bounds in public school science classes. Ed reaffirmed his opinion
to me,
on the record, just as the courtroom phase of the Dover trial was
ending in
early November 2005. Whether his view is any different, now that Judge
Jones' ruling is known, I am unable to say. My view is no different,
as my
article (above) makes clear.

The concerns that weigh most heavily on me, when I think about this
broadly rather than narrowly, are about justice. Whatever we might
think of
creationism or ID or evolution, we have to be struck by the fact that
numbers of American families are very unhappy about how this issue is
handled (or not handled) by the government school system. Science is
democratic, but in a democratic republic such as ours science
education sure
as heck needs to be democratic, as far as possible. It doesn't seem
justice to me, when large numbers of families believe that their
beliefs and values are being assaulted in the only schools that their
dollars are allowed to fund, so that for many of those families there
is no
realistic alternative. We have an interesting situation here, in this
nation. When students are old enough to have a choice about getting
education, we allow them to use lots of state and federal tax dollars
to pay
tuition at a wide range of public and private institutions, including
institutions like Messiah (and hundreds more like us) that openly
discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs when hiring faculty. But
when students are not old enough to have a choice about being
educated, we
don't allow them to use any tax dollars to pay tuition at a wide
range of
public and private institutions. Plainly speaking, we have a publicly
funded monopoly that does not reflect anything like genuine
all of this despite the headlong pursuit of "diversity" in public
  I think this is not a tenable situation, long term, and I wish the
would speak directly to this in a more satisfactory, more genuinely
sensitive, way.

Overall, Pim, I like what Nick is doing here, and I would be more than
happy to dialogue directly with him about his project. I invite Nick to
contact me privately.


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Received on Thu Mar 1 12:16:56 2007

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