John T. Scopes lost his court case 80 years ago in Dayton, Tenn., and was charged a fine of $100 for teaching "a theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible." This watershed skirmish between science and religion was a media extravaganza and has become part of our popular American history, with the phase "monkey trial" as recognizable as Little Bighorn, Pearl Harbor and Watergate.
The fundamentalists won the trial, and evolution was not taught in Tennessee schools. But in the arena of larger public opinion, the country sided with H.L. Menken, the newspaperman who covered the trial and openly said religion was a "curse to mankind," and Clarence Darrow, who had made a fool of Williams Jennings Bryan as he exposed Bryan's naïve understanding of the Bible on the witness stand. Chagrined, fundamentalists nevertheless held fast to their beliefs in Adam, Eve and an inerrant Bible. They lumped the theory of evolution in with a fallen world filled with sin and error and pulled back from the public square.
Thereafter, science and the teaching of science were fairly unimpeded in this country. Schoolchildren learned that evolution explained life's unity and diversity, and geology explained the great strata of rocks and fossils. For fundamentalist Christians, this changed 44 years ago.
"The modern creationist movement started in 1961 with the publication of The Genesis Flood," says Dr. John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), referring to the first book written by his father, Henry M. Morris. The elder Morris proposed in his book that rock strata and fossils could be explained as remnants of Noah's flood. All the mud and silt eroded from 40 days and nights of rain settled and solidified quickly, in a matter of days or weeks, not millions of years. "He specifically earned his doctorate in hydrology to do his work in this area," says Morris.
H.M. Morris went on to write or coauthor a number of other books with a Biblical/creationist theme. He founded the Creation Research Society and in 1970 founded ICR as part of the Christian Heritage College. The institute sits off the 67 freeway in Santee in a typical office-park type building just a few doors down from the drive-in. Offices and staff are in the rear, with the front of the building serving as a museum for creationism. All the displays portray a literal interpretation of the Bible or a creationist explanation for life and the universe. A wooden model gives an artist's idea of the design of a ship large enough for Noah, his family, and two of each species of creature on earth. Another part of the museum says that God may have filled the universe with light from the stars, thus explaining how-if the universe is but a few thousand years old-starlight from millions or billions of light years away reaches us today.
John Morris took over the presidency of the institute when his father retired. He holds a doctorate in geological engineering from the University of Oklahoma, and his biography released from ICR lists among his accomplishments his expeditions to Mount Ararat to look for remnants of Noah's ark. Academic-looking books line the shelves of his office, and filling a table by a window are rocks, minerals and fossils. "Here's what I'd love to see: the demonstration of how hopelessly unscientific evolution is," he says, a bit of an accent revealing his upbringing in Virginia.
Now, before we go much further, we need to clarify that Morris-and the rest of the people at ICR, for that matter-believes in evolution.
Of a sort.
He and other creationists allow for what they call microevolution, a term that's been around since the early 1940s. "God allows for microevolution; that way, plants and animals can adapt to their environment," he says. The obvious example he sites is the same as one of Darwin's starting points: the different varieties of cats and dogs that humans have bred. Despite their great differences, dachshunds, collies and Dalmatians have a common ancestry. Admitting to small changes over time lets creationists explain very obvious phenomenon like penicillin-resistant syphilis and bird flu.
Where Morris draws the line is at the stage he calls macroevolution. He says, "Evolutionists will tell you that dogs and cats have a common ancestor. That's macroevolution, and that's all faith." What Morris is referring to here, the ability of a species to branch in different genetic lines until there are two subspecies or two distinct species, most biologists call speciation. Because this is not a phenomenon that lends itself to everyday observation-it's instead arrived at by observation, deduction and the reliance on a long time scale-Morris claims that this aspect of evolutionary theory is not only false, but it also demonstrates the "religious" nature of evolution.
Up until 20 years ago, various attempts were made to include creationism in the classroom as an "alternate theory" to origins alongside evolution in biology classrooms. But the U.S. Supreme Court put an end to that in 1987 with the Edwards v. Aguillard decision, which said creationism is a religion and an infringement of the establishment clause. What has sprung up since then is what's called "intelligent design."
"All creationists believe in intelligent design. Design is obvious; every form of life is designed," says Morris. "It is beyond comprehension that life is without design. Even evolutionists admit that life has a design. They say that design came from random Mother Nature, but it is a design."
From Noah's flood to Adam and Eve, creationists openly promote the Bible as the answer to questions of geology and biology. According to Morris, the folks in the intelligent-design community distance themselves from creationists. They do not necessarily identify the creator as the God of the Bible. By distancing themselves from their creationist allies, the people promoting intelligent design hope for greater legitimacy; yet there is an odd alliance between the camps. ICR's literature openly supports the work of the intelligent-design crowd. And there is presently a court case in Pennsylvania to decide, like Edwards v. Aguillard, if intelligent design can be taught in schools. The chief counsel in the case is Richard Thompson, the founder of Thomas Moore Law Center. The law center, a nonprofit organization from Ann Arbor, Mich., describes itself as "the Sword and Shield for People of Faith."
Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), last week blasted the town of Dover, Penn., because they had voted out of office eight of nine school board members who had wanted to include intelligent-design beliefs into their school's curriculum. "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," he said on his show, The 700 Club. Advocates still maintain that, however angry God or Pat Robertson may be, intelligent design is not religion, but science.
Closing arguments in the trial that put Dover in the media spotlight were heard earlier this month. U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III, a George W. Bush appointee, will rule in January of 2006. Both sides have said they will appeal the ruling.
Whether true or untrue, based on a religious paradigm or not, one of Morris' main objections to the theory of evolution and teaching it in schools is the evil he sees it spawning. "Historically, evolution is the root of racism. Darwin legitimized racism. In the Bible, all men are created equal; they are all descended from Adam," says Morris, adding that Darwin himself was racist, which is what motivated his writing of The Origin of Species.
For the creationists, Darwin unleashed a Pandora's Box leading to almost all the ills that have plagued the planet since the publication of The Origin of Species in the 1860s. Rockefeller, Carnegie and the other robber barons of the early industrial age felt justified in their great wealth and the Dickensian hell they created for their workers because of evolutionary theory.
Not only the greatest excesses of capitalism stem from Darwin, but also its evil opposing force of the 20th century traces its roots to him as well. "Marx felt justified by Darwin. As a matter of fact, he dedicated Das Kapital to Darwin," says Morris.
He even links evolutionary theory to Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal, claiming evolutionists justified the presidential peccadilloes by saying that a dominant male, such as the president of the United States and leader of the free world, is justified in seducing a lot of women.
ICR produces papers with titles like "Temperature Profiles for an Optimized Water Vapor Canopy" and "Helium Diffusion Rates Support Accelerated Nuclear Decay," which sound as scientific as what you might find in standard scientific journals. But these papers aren't in those journals. They are published by the institute itself. This lack of legitimacy in the greater scientific community leaves Morris undeterred. "All our papers are totally scientific," he says. "The only difference is that they all have a creationist conclusion." He claims that one paper has been peer reviewed and accepted by a prominent journal, but it's sitting on the desk of an editor and is "just not published." Another that was published got the editor of the journal fired, he says.
At the end of our interview, Morris and I stand over his collection of rocks and fossils. He seems reluctant to let me go. He picks up a sample that holds a number of fossilized creatures. "We're doing research on these now at the Grand Canyon. One of our scientists has found these, but they're huge, a couple of feet, three feet long. Notice how they're all lying in the same direction, indicating water flow." Once again we are back to the central theme of creationism, the Big Bang theory, the Deluge and Noah.
I nod but don't follow up with any questions. Perhaps sensing that the time we've spent together and his arguments have left me unconvinced, Morris grows quiet for a moment, holds the fossils in front of me and says, "Paul, repeat after me. Evolution is a religion."