Evolution/Creation Debate in the U.S.

I have a question about evolution/creation which I hope will not turn into yet another interminable Great Debate (fingers crossed).

I’ve read the various threads on this with some fascination, and some morbid curiousity. As far as I know, there is no such political debate about evolution/creationism in any Canadian province (any comment from other Canadians?).

Why is the evolution/creationism such a big issue in the United States? Why are there episodes like the Kansas School Board decision? Why do people feel they have to organise politically on this issue?

Are there any other countries where evolution/creationism generates so much political heat?

Not really. It seems the U.S. leads the way in terms of cults, sects, screwball debates and so forth. You get some pretty intense arguments in the Middle East though, because they tend to have approaches that are almost as literal as the in the U.S.

Frankly, I don’t know why the Creationist/Evolutionist debate is so fierce in the U.S. I suspect because the U.S. has a surprising number of pockets of ignorance interspersed throughout its vast territory, as well as a surprising number of pockets of obtuse religions. Combine the two, add in a pinch of freedom of speech, a waiting media audience of hundreds of millions, and you develop maniacs who will fight for any cause, even if the cause requires tackling all the vast knowledge of science accumulated over thousand of years.

I’ve travelled all over the world, and it’s really only in the U.S. that I hear these wild arguments raging about creationism. North and South, the Canadians and the Mexicans really don’t seem to care quite as much as the Americans.

I have a theory for this: over a few hundred years the U.S. became a melting pot of races, cultures, and religions, without time to develop this melting pot naturally.

In the Roman Empire, another famous large melting pot, the fiercest arguments used to rage over the nature of God (is he three beings, is he one being, are the beings distinct, what are the natures of each being, and so forth). I guess these people didn’t have much to do with their spare time.

In the U.S., the creationist debate may be a reaction to a loss of past cultural identity, an attempt to create a division between US and THEM. Or it could just be the usual idiocy you get when zealots start foaming at the mouth and making it their business to bring back the Dark Ages.

I agree with Abe up to a certain point. In México, the predominant religion is Catholicism. The catholic Church does not encourage the reading of the Bible (at least in my country) as much as other more fundamentalist sections of christianism do.
Religious teachings here are more focused on the Cathecism, and the “Sacred History”, which are completely manipulated by the Church, and are quite far from being fundamentalist in the sense of believing the Bible literaly.

Maybe this is due to the painful separation of the Church and the State (painful to the Church, I must add) in the times of Benito Juárez. Maybe it’s just what the Church finds useful for it’s purposes, I don’t know. The thing is that, not teaching the Bible as a “book of truths” has, IMHO, prevented the people from becoming creationists.

What I do know, though, is that nobody here cares much about the Bible, or the Sciences, for that matter (it’s a shame, I know), and in this case, maybe, ignorance is bliss.

Note: The only creationist people that I’ve met here so far are the LDS and the Jehova’s Witnesses.

Men will cease to commit atrocities only when they cease to believe absurdities.


your melting pot idea is interesting, but it doesn’t explain why the same sort of debate doesn’t rage in Canada. we have a very diverse range of ethnic/immigrant backgrounds, one that is increasing as time goes on. in many ways Canadians are similar to Americans (we even both have a Reform party!), but not on this topic. I just don’t get it.

Scientific illiteracy, coupled with a culture that seems to foster kookism, I guess.

Same reason we probably lead the world per-capita in people who believe homeopathy can cure cancer, or that elvis is alive, or that space aliens in UFOs are manipulating their brain waves. We don’t teach critical thinking in schools and you can graduate from HS here with a truely appalling ignorance of science. I’ve talked to HS seniors who don’t have any clue about even the most basic elements of physics, chemistry, geology, biology, etc. How can anyone hope to rationally understand the world they live in without that? So superstition and paranormal crystal UFO new age mumbo jumbo runs rampant.

If’n I were president, I would (1) get some better lookin’ chicks than Monica, and (2) make sure our schools taught critical thinking skills, so that anyone graduating from HS would understand the difference between correlation and causation, what constituted a logically sound argument, and had a basic level of scientific literacy. But our culture does not seem to value things like that, so I’d never get elected on that platform!

peas on earth


I think that Bantmof expanded very nicely on one of the things I mentioned in my earlier message. I think the melting pot idea can still hold. I mentioned above, as a few possible causes: “a surprising number of pockets of ignorance interspersed throughout its vast territory, as well as a surprising number of pockets of obtuse religions. Combine the two, add in a pinch of freedom of speech, a waiting media audience of hundreds of millions, and you develop maniacs who will fight for any cause”

Also, Canadian basic education appears to be better than U.S. education, or at least more diffuse (it certainly seems better in Quebec though). What the heck, maybe Canadian kids are raised to actually pay attention in class, I don’t know. But I really think that Bantmof hit the nail on the head with all his comments, including the one regarding Monica.

Another aspect to consider: in how many countries is education under local control? (I have no idea how Canada runs their primary and secondary education.) Canada, notwithstanding, every country of which I have knowledge sets their curricula at the national level. In addition, the national ministries of education tend to be massive bulwarks against outside intervention. Once they set the policy, that policy is carried forth. Period.

This is not a plea for a national curriculum.

  • We don’t have an autonomous Department of Education that could resist politicization. (Imagine if the Creationists set the national agenda!?).
  • There is also the downside that teaching that is clearly wrong can safely hide behind those thick, ministerial walls. (Unless it has changed recently, France continues to “punish” children for being left-handed.)

I am also open to correction on my impression that most curricula actually are set nationally. But where the curriculum is established by unassailable bureaucrats, I would guess that there will be less feuding.


bantmof wrote:

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the U.S. leads the world in gullibility. There are a hell of a lot of “gurus” (essentially faith healers) working for hire in India right now.

Visit the Internet Stellar Database at www.stellar-database.com

Abe said:

I suspect because the U.S. has a surprising number of pockets of ignorance interspersed throughout its vast territory, as well as a surprising number of pockets of obtuse religions[\QUOTE]

Sad to say, I think theres too many Fundamentalists / creationists to characterize them (or where they live) as just pockets of ignorance. Theres really a lot more of them than you’d think, well, theres more than I thought anyway. Check out this gallup poll. According to it, 47% of people surveyed are creationists, and more people think evolution shouldn’t be taught (21%) than think creationism shouldn’t be taught (16%).

{I’m not criticising your semantics, just mentioning that theres a heck of a lot of creationists in the US}

As far as the OP, IIRC Fundamentalism and the biblical literalism that went with it was a late 19th century movement that started in the US. If anyone knows the history of the fundamentalist movement, I’d appreciate it. But from what I remember, fundy politics were populist (think William Jennings Bryan here) at a time when populist movements were, well, popular. So the answer could be that no other country had a significant biblical literalism movement tied to a popular political movement. And since it has been only about a hundred years of strict Fundamentalism, it could be that the idea hasn’t had time to spread to other countries.

I’d like to propose the following partial answer, upon which perhaps others could elaborate:

A culture is influenced by its heritage. Our (North American) WASP-derived culture got a heavy dose from the Puritans, who were so fundamentally annoying that they were kicked off an entire continent. After the Revolutionary War, a self-selection occurred, with the Loyalists going to or staying in Canada, and the rest staying in or coming to the U.S.-to-be. The Loyalists were largely Anglican/Church of England or less-radical I-just-want-the-free-land types; the fundamentalists (both at that time and later) were more likely to be “rebels” and to end up in what is now the USofA. …And once someone dropped everything to COME here to be able to continue their fundamentalist beliefs unopposed, damn them if something as minor as scientific evidence and consistent theory was gonna change their minds.

A few points:

  1. Ron (?) Gardner, writer for Scientific American, postulated in his book “Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science,” that perhaps the Catholic did not oppose the theory of evolution because it had “learned its lesson” with Galileo.

  2. Gardner’s book also traces the history of creationism in the U.K., which apparently was fairly strong at least through the mid-20th Century.

  3. Theories of evolution also run counter to the teachings of Islam. I have read at least one primer on the religion which stated categorically that a follower of Islam cannot believe in evolution. Whether this author spoke for the fundamentalists or the mainstream I am not qualified to say. I do know that my friends from Indonesia, which by and large practises a far more moderate version of Islam (Aceh notwithstanding), tend to talk around the subject. But again, whether this reflects an ambivilence towards the subject or the common Asian trait of avoiding confrontation, I cannot say.

The bottom line (at long last): I would not be surprised if fundamentalist Muslim countries also barred, supressed, or avoided the teaching of evolution.



We go over this every six weeks or so. The RCC had no real lesson to learn regarding science after Galileo because the dumb things that it did in regard to Galileo had nothing to do with denying scientific knowledge.



Education in Canada is entirely a matter within provincial control (Constitution Act, 1867, s. 93). There is no federal Department of Education.

Curricula are set by the provincial departments of education, and implemented by local boards of education (except in New Brunswick, which has no local boards - all schools there are run directly by the provincial Department of Education).

Since our Cabinet ministers are not elected directly, but chosen by the Premier, voters with a particular axe to grind can’t target a Minister of Education, so this may be a difference from the U.S. system. Are state Cabinet ministers appointed by the Governor, or directly elected, or does it vary from state to state?

State Boards of Education are probably a mixed group of gubernatorial appointees and elected officials (the latter predominating). When elected, they tend to show up in a cluster of miscellaneous offices at the bottom of the ballot where few people know who they are, generally riding in on the coattails of whichever party wins the bulk of the votes for other positions.

Boards generally set minimum standards (in some states they direct which texts are to be purchased). A recent phenomenon has been the creation of so-called proficiency tests that all students are expected to pass (which creates the scenario of local schools abandoning actual curriculum to teach tests so that they are not marked down for having too many children fail the tests). The recent flap in Kansas was based on the Board removing any references to Evolution from the required curriculum and tests. Allegedly, school districts may still be allowed to teach about evolution, but if Kansas has proficiency testing, the need to “teach the tests” will probably preclude that from happening. The state boards generally mandate lots of things to be taught without setting out an actual curriculum to be followed. The result is a lot of cramming of data.

Once the overall guidelines have been set by the state, the actual curriculum is chosen on a district-by-district basis (where the local school boards are chosen in bitter elections that everyone does look at). Evolution, sex ed, drivers ed, self-esteem, and Catcher in the Rye are all issues that can be bitterly fought for inclusion or exclusion at the local level.


Ah, well. The memory is always the first thing to go…

  1. Gardner’s first name is Martin, not Ron. Sorry about that.

  2. I re-read his chapter on “Geology vs. Genesis” last night. It contained a handful of references to creationism in the U.K., but not the lengthy review (I thought) I remembered. Nevertheless, an interesting read.

  3. Of further interest was his very next chapter on Lysenkoism, a form of Lamarkism which became official Soviet policy under Stalin. Scientists doing work on Darwinian and Mendelein (?) principles were sent to Siberia and not heard from again. So, while one wouldn’t characterize the Soviets as creationists (and certainly not as Biblical literalists), here is another example of a government attacking the scientific understanding of evolution for ideological and philosophical reasons.

  4. I spoke with one of my Indonesian friends last night, and she confirmed that evolution does run counter to Islamic teaching. She and her friends had personally come to the conclusion that the age of the Earth and the evolution of animals were scientific facts beyond dispute; but there was clearly a “missing link” between humans and apes, and this link was Allah’s act of creation. She promised to confer with Muslim friends from other countries and see what is taught in their schools.

(I should point out that these are well-educated, affluent people in a country which practices a moderate form of Islam, and therefore probably not representative of broader Muslim communities.)

In this respect, they are similar to educated Americans. When the Field Museum in Chicago was planning its new exhibit on evolution, they surveyed their visitors. (Museum visitors tend to be better educated and more affluent than the general population.) They found a large majority was willing to accept the evolution of animals, but only about half would accept the evolution of people.

(This may be getting a little off-topic, but religions which accept evolution often draw similar conclusions, acknowledging the evolution of the human body, but considering the human soul a divine creation. The soul was infused into a body which had evolved to point where it was ready to accept it.)

  1. I am familiar with the debate over what really happened between Galileo and the Catholic church. Personally, I consider it hair-splitting. But my personal opinion is not relevant; I was merely quoting a source (Gardner). I apologize for any confusion.

Fundamentalism in American is closely associated with biblical literalism (some might say identical, although I am sure some would say otherwise). Essentially, the marketing advantage of fundamentalist churches and mainstream ones is biblical literalism.

Creationism is a necessary component of biblical literalism, and so the fundamentalist churches effectively can’t exist without it. They therefore consider it a fight to the death, marketing-wise. It’s a cultural must-win for them.

But this leaves the question; why is creationism so strong now? I don’t think it was always so here. There may have always been more fundamentalism here than other places, but it’s been said that there’s an upswing in creationism in the last couple of decades.

Personally I think we’re still suffering the aftershocks of 1950s anticommunism. People here were infected with the idea that Big Brother was represented by big government, high taxes, and secular humanism. “In God We Trust” was added to the money, “Under God” was added to our Pledge of Allegiance, and the notion of communism=atheism, freedom=god became widespread.

A lingering artifact of this is that no public servant can speak out against religion in any way. It’s a culturally ingrained exception to the freedom of speech.

Big change from Tom Jefferson, who said: “I have made a study of the superstitions of the world, and in ours (Christianity) I find not a single redeeming feature.”


Okay, grab your air mask because there’s a WAG coming and decompression could cause brain damage…

I posit that bits and pieces of the previous posts apply. (Apply mask!) But the “causes” are more evident then real. What we are addressing is jaw-dropping irrationality in just one of its many forms.

I suspect is rises from that yeasty dough of human insecurity. When people are scared or insecure or just lazy, they seize on the most familiar answer and attach themselves like remoras. (Yuck! mixing metaphors is one thing, but this is actionable…)

When people are scared, they go for the familiar and the sanctioned. Stability has a huge attraction, after all. Most people, anywhere, just want to live life and wish all that brouhaha would settle itself. The US is tremendously stable, economically and politically, but we are the original melting pot. We wrote the book, or at least the rough draft, on on how to do it.

We are the revolution that suceeded, and let no one mistake that. We’re a huge, human experiment in all the social “ologies”; we smashed the rules and paved the way. Well, finding new ways to meld together people and systems and all those macro-and-micro “isms” aren’t pretty when it comes down to the human level.

True fact: when people get scared, they run for shelter. The “BOO!” that caused the panic doesn’t really matter, beyond the fact that they exist and they are flat out serious as a heart attack to the people who live them. It matters diddly sqwoot who “recognizes” the rational basis of the panic. Hey, a damned fool argues with a mob, a tsunami or gravity.

It would help SO much if people quit fussing over whether a force exists and just paid attention to what set the force in motion.

Being a trail blazer means you open yourself up to evey armchair quarterback and wannabe out there. Some comfy, erudite dweeb will feel free and ENTITLED to pronounce sentence on how things should have worked. By theory. Obviously. Sniff.

The US did it first, and is a work in progress. Free of stresses, faults and strains? Fugedeghabowtit. But let’s put this little controversey in context, folks. The burr under the saddle here *is science curriculum for kids"!

For all the cheap shot headlines, let it not be forgotten that we are also sending (again) our people to die for other folks who have trouble digesting the fact that neighbors worship other gods and their ancestors spoke different languages.

So…is the evolution thing pretty minor? Yep, except that it matters a lot, in everyday life to some folks. Do I agree? Nah. The bone record is there and crystal clear and tantalizing at the same time. To me, it’s an exhilartaing glimpse into Einstenian and Hawkinsian wonders; God smiling while we gum on his finger and drool.

Look at it all in context. People aren’t dying from hate over evolution in the US. We are still neighbors. It’s religious and it’s being worked out with due process and great profits to lawyers. People stilll go sleep, completely secure in a belief that, yeah, messy and loud and in-your-face, it will work out just fine. It’s out front, begs for parody and people TALK the hell out of it.

So…the evolution vs faith issue in the US?

Stand back, guys, one more time, we’re gonna show you how it’s done. Laugh all you want. No onlookers will have to come over and die to mediate it.

View a human system as a system and the whole thing becomes a lot clearer.


TVeblen, you say that the “US is tremendously stable, economically and politically, but we are the original melting pot. We wrote the book, or at least the rough draft, on on how to do it”

I wouldn’t call the U.S. politically stable at all, especially not after it tried to impeach a president that it chose to re-elect for a second term. And the U.S. is not the original melting pot, it is actually the last (or one of the last) of the melting pots. It seems to have learned very little from its many predecessors though, seeing as how no other country has experienced the degree of racism, hatred, turmoil, and conflict (internal and external) that the U.S. has experienced in its comparatively brief history. (A more successful melting pot is Canada)

TVeblen also says “let’s put this little controversey in context, folks. The burr under the saddle here *is science curriculum for kids”!"

To me that comment sounds ridiculous. Children are the future of any nation, and what you teach children may affect your nation’s future. If you teach children such ridiculous notions as Creationism in a science class, I hesitate to think what you will teach them in other subjects such as History. Oh, but wait-- what are they teaching to kids about Vietnam these days? Or the Korean war? I wonder what they will tell kids about the ridiculous bombing of Yugoslavia?

What you teach kids is a point of extreme importance, and no amount of pro-American propaganda can disguise that fact.

And, finally, “we are also sending (again) our people to die for other folks who have trouble digesting the fact that neighbors worship other gods and their ancestors spoke different languages”

The U.S. sends its people to die when the cause suits the U.S. agenda. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just that it is incorrect to masquerade these specific interests as any sort of pure humane impulse, which is something that the U.S. authorities do routinely. If this were not true, we would have seen the mightiest country in the world do something about Cambodia and Rwanda, among many others.

As for onlookers dying, it seems to me that the U.S. has a large and efficient police system, extensive information about its individual citizens, supreme monitoring technology, and so forth… yet, more people suffer (and die of) violence in the U.S than in any other developed country that is not at war (officially or unofficially). That is not an environment in which I want people to support ignorant concepts like Creationism. You support Creationism, you automatically feel righteous, you feel secure that god is with you, and you own a gun.

Bad recipe. Some years down the road we might see killings in the news just because someone was unwilling to pay attention to the Little Things.


I agree with some of your points, but must respectfully agree to disagree on others. My post was, as stated up front, a bit off the wall. (Never try to be intelligent with a raging headache after a bad day; I aimed for the "clear fields"and hit “submit” instead.)

Anyway…the US as the last melting pot?! To be sure, there is a long human record of various groups integrating, with various degress of suceess, into established cultures. But the US was the joke nation, destined to fail, a mongrel conglomeration of no-accounts of no background from anywhere at all. As late as WWII the idea was still in currency that the US (not to mention assorted “colonial” nations) would not be effective on the world stage because, after all, there just wasn’t a sufficient historical depth or unifying cultural identity to make them cohere.

The reference to racial relations is tough. To be sure, the racial history of the US is disgraceful, due to the terrible, immutable fact of slavery. Slavery left a blot and a curse on this country, and we’re still dealing with its legacy, more than two centuries later. On that issue, I would prefer a separate discussion, because it merits more than being a side issue. (No snide slam intended. I think I raised the issue, but I did it badly, as a poorly explained example.)

My point, however badly made, was that the religious fundamentalist bent in the US is just our symptomatic response to insecurity. (With apologies to jti; that was your original question: why?) The previous posters raised some great food for thought, and further reading. So the answers are probably somewhere in the directions they pointed.

But I do maintain that people, any people, retreat into comfortable constructs when they feel insecure of frightened. Islamic fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism, rabid nationalism, ethnic purity, “green” extemism, paranormal,; they’re all expressions of the same impulse. People retreat into a tight but “safe” shelll of beliefs the way a turtle retracts into its shell. No need for thought; the answers are obvious.

My point, very badly made, was an attempt to broaden out the view of the issue. The creationist flap in Kansas is just another face of the Monica fiasco. (A politician had a youthful mistress; now THAT one was a shocker. The sound of rapidly hoisted zippers in Washington could be heard all the way to Seattle.) But, as expensive and silly and loud as the whole thing was, the underlying stability remained. It caused a lot of hilarity and ridicule, here and abroad, but it all settled out.

Perhaps because I live in the middle of this particular stage of human theater I don’t get too upset over it. (Okay, complacency, willfull ignorance; take your best shot. You may be right.) The creationist idiocy in Kansas will be reversed, and probably relatively soon.

Politicians are scared spitless of confronting vocal Christian groups. Banning the teaching of evolution does not enjoy great mainstream support. Sooner or later the moderate majority will get sick of the ridicule and nonsense and speak up, then the politicians will wrap themselves in the warm, fuzzy blanket of the polls and reverse themselves.

As far as damaging or limiting kids, I doubt it. Until this whole ludicrous flapdoodle blew up, I’d bet even money that a lot of those tender, impressionable young minds would have let the whole issue of evolution drift in one ear and right out the other. It would have been one more bit of wallpaper in the curriculum. BUT the religious extremists put big neon signs on the whole issue, marking it as hot, dangerous and forbidden. Even the dutiful kids who accept the prohibition will–if not now, sometime–start to wonder. Sometime, as their long lives unfold, a lot of them will question WHY they were prohibited to learn. I doubt if there is a more potent means to encourage thought.

Anyway, my thanks to the posters for some food for thought, and apologies to jti for side-tracking his excellent question. Living in the middle of this bit of human street theater, I had never occured to me to ask, “why?”. (smacks heel of hand, hard, to forehead.)


yes, that’s my puzzlement, veb - why in the U.S.? Canada is predominantly an immigrant nation, and seems to be in a permanantly existentialist debate about its future; if insecurity and fear of the unknown are the basis for the evolution/creation debate, why not here as well?

similarly, in the early part of this century we had strong populist, Christian-based movements, like the American ones described earlier. They were called the “Social Gospel” and heaveily influenced the provincial politics of Saskatchewan (which went socialist) and Alberta (which went social credit (i.e. - extrmee social conservativism)). And yet, the evolution/creation debate does not have the same resonance here.

tom’s comments about the educational structure, and the ability for a determined lobby group to influence, strike me as the most promising line of inquiry, but procedural analyses like that don’t answer the fundamental question of why people here don’t seem to give it the same importance as people down south.