Spreading the gospel of evolution


Adam Laats writes a fascinating sentence in his review of Adam Shapiro’s book on the Scopes Trial:

Textbook authors, Shapiro writes, tended to work collaboratively, in a culture dominated by science teachers from New York. These authors wanted sales, but they also hoped to spread the gospel of evolutionary science. [Emphasis added]

I’m struck at how accurate that metaphor is. At how often evolutionary biologists sound like evangelical Christians. Consider these similarities: Both groups believe your life is incomplete if you don’t believe their particular truth. Both spend enormous time and effort trying to convert non-believers. Both abhor the idea you can pick and choose which parts to believe; you must believe wholesale. And finally, both think that accepting the truth will improve your life.

On that last point at least, the irony is that evangelicals actually have some evidence on their side! For all the pushback on my ‘Junkies don’t come clean after learning evolution’ post, no one answered my central question: how many come clean after “finding” evolution?

There are actual people whose life dramatically improves after finding faith. Religious practice, as Ross Douthat discussed, is broadly correlated with health and happiness, upward mobility, social trust, charitable work and civic participation.

These data complicate images of evangelical Christians. It’s possible their religious practice partly results not from abstract faith but a rational calculation. Whatever its truth claims, belief in Christ is useful to many people.  Evolution, on the other hand, is not very useful. Other than scientists’ declarations, I haven’t seen any actual data that show how and why believing it is a good thing.

Ultimately, scientists promote evolution not because they have data or facts on their side, but because they feel commanded to spread the good news.

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