The Politics of Creationism Examined from a New Atheist Perspective

We live in an age of unprecedented scientific progress that is fuelling major advances in technology and disciplines such as medicine. Yet many people remain incredulous of the complex, naturalistic world these advances reveal and instead cling to traditional religious beliefs that tend to be incompatible with and hostile towards a scientifically literate world view.

Nowhere is this situation more evident than in the evolution vs creationism debate, where despite being one of the most substantiated theories in the history of science and the central, unifying feature of biology, the theory of evolution continues to be the subject of unremitting and irrational attacks from Christian creationists who oppose it on religious grounds.

Besides the theory of evolution, creationists reject any scientific theory or discipline that conflicts with a literalistic interpretation of Genesis. For example, they refute the Big Bang theory describing how the universe began approximately 13.7 billion years ago, and the geologic principle that the structure and composition of the earth is the product of naturalistic processes taking place on a time-scale measured in millions and billions of years.

This antipathy towards theologically incompatible scientific subjects tends to manifest itself as interference in the educational system, where depending on the type of school and the country involved, it can take many forms. For example, many American private religious schools teach creation science rather than evolution and the Big Bang theory. In American state schools, creationists attempted to:

"I will be teaching everything but Chapter 14
(Evolution) because I don't wanna start a riot here in
class." I can't learn Evolution in Science class!!

These attempts ultimately failed; however, that fact has not prevented the continued denigration of evolution and the undermining of its status by for example, calling it controversial or “only a theory”. These incessant attacks and various forms of low level attrition are having a detrimental effect on the teaching of evolution in America, where even with the courts and law on their side, many teachers are still apprehensive about mentioning it.

Many moderate religious denominations, such as the Catholic Church, accept the theory of evolution and the reality of an ancient universe, and also oppose creationism on theological grounds, classifying it as heresy. Here then, they find a small area of common ground with atheists such as Richard Dawkins who in 2002 teamed up with the then Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries to warn the government about creationism in British schools. This example demonstrates that it is possible for individuals or groups with differing religious beliefs or lack of them to work together in opposing creationism. This is the politically expedient and religiously neutral stance taken by the successful American anti-creationist organisation, the NCSE (Its counterpart in the UK is the BSCE), where in a highly religious country such as America, any association with atheism would be a clear disadvantage.

However, there is a growing perception that these religiously neutral attempts to combat the threat of creationism are being undermined by an increasingly vocal and outspoken group of atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, who are seen as being both very critical of religion and uncompromising in their attitude towards it. It is claimed that their anti-religious rhetoric is creating damaging divisions within the anti-creationist movement and also antagonising the fundamentalists, thereby making them less receptive to compromise or change, whilst reinforcing what is seen as a damaging association between evolution and atheism. See the section on New Atheism (link) for more information on the new atheist movement.

They are not only criticised by religious moderates who accept evolution, but also by other atheists who take a more accommodating view of religion - See Accommodationism. This is resulting in a growing rift between the two groups - see Accommodationism vs New Atheism (link).