Hunting Sacred Cows

In science, many Christians are devoted to attacking science’s sacred cows.

Evolution in public schools is one of science’s sacred cows. Some see its importance in the scientific world, and want to end this cow. Even if evolution is wrong, hunting another’s sacred cow starts wars. It murders trust. Even if evolution is wrong, this sacred cow is not ours to slaughter. The ongoing political conflict between Christians and scientists about evolution in public schools leaves us in a cold war with scientists, always at risk of open war.

Before 2005, arguments against evolution were commonly received as harmless curiosities. I saw this for myself in 1999 when Michael Behe gave a talk at my university. He did not convince most scientists at the time, but neither did his arguments provoke anger. All this changed in 2005, in the “darkness of Dover.”

The defining event was the Dover Trial and the Kansas Hearings, both of which took place in 2005. Christian politicians in the town of Dover, Pennsylvania challenged how evolution was presented in the district’s science classrooms; they wanted to provoke a lawsuit, and they succeeded. At the same time, an educational board in Kansas also attempted to challenge how scientists taught evolution with a series of hearings. Against the objections of every major scientific organization these Christian politicians in both Dover and Kansas persisted. A sitting president supported both Dover and Kansas.1 The Discovery Institute, a key organization in the Intelligent Design Movement, disagreed with the Dover board, but supported the Kansas board’s actions.

The details of 2005 are important. This is the moment when ideas became action; our anti-evolutionism became flesh and was embodied in science; and it was political and legal war.2 I was a graduate student then, and scientific arguments began to provoke intense anger from scientists. In the darkness of Dover, it was impossible to identify as a Christian in science without calling down the wrath and scorn of everyone. It was open war.

Since 2005, the conflict has calmed down.3 Still, a hostile wall continues to divide Christians and scientists. We forget or never understood what happened in Kansas and Dover, but our amnesia is a mistake. We forget, but scientists still remember. Now, to this day, we are in the “shadow of Dover;” Christians are not trusted in science because of our ongoing political attempts to challenge evolution.4

In the shadow of Dover, we are in a cold war with science. This is a cold war of hostile anger and distrust, fought with political and legal power. As Christians continue using political power against scientists’ sacred cow, in the strange belief that science is a democracy, we remain on the brink of open war. No one should want another Dover. Jesus is not honored by this war. Yet, the hunt for another’s sacred cow continues. We could return to the Gospel, but some still plot for war.

 

Political efforts to challenge evolution.
This figure depicts the textual relationships between continued efforts to challenge how evolution is taught in public schools. The figure is from another article that can be reached by clicking the figure.
  1. In 2005, in response to a question President George W. Bush explicitly endorsed teaching Intelligent Design in public schools: “Both sides ought to be properly taught…so people can understand what the debate is about…Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought…You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is ‘yes.’”
  2. The featured image is the court drawing of Dr. Ken Miller on the stand, defending evolution in the Dover Trial.
  3. The publication of The Language of God by Francis Collins in 2006 was significant, explaining to scientists that not all Christians were opposed to evolution, and also explaining Collin’s faith in Jesus. Collins is controversial among Christians, but he is highly respected among scientists.
  4.  A brief overview is found in The evolution of antievolution policies after Kitzmiller v. Dover by Nicholas J. Matzke in Science in 2015. This paper shows ongoing political effort against evolution over the last 10 years since The Dover Trial.

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