Perhaps the two doctrines currently most de rigueur for entry into intellectual polite society:
1. That humanity evolved from lower animals according to the process of natural selection outlined by Charles Darwin.
These two concepts are directly contradictory, as former UCLA professor of science education Cornelius J. Troost points out in his new book Apes or Angels? Darwin, Dover, Human Nature, and Race. Troost's title refers to how the British politician Benjamin Disraeli wittily rejected the first proposition in his day: "Is man an ape or an angel? My Lord, I am on the side of the angels".
Yet, the two doctrines, self-annihilating as they may be, are tests of sanctity among the self-righteous of our day. For example, Christopher Hitchens asserted in the Wall Street Journal on January 18, 2008 in "The Perils of Identity Politics" :
"The number of subjective definitions of 'racist' is almost infinite but the only objective definition of the word is 'one who believes that there are human races.'"
Hitchens' statement works as pure comedy gold on so many levels. Here we have America's most famous atheist making a quasi-religious creed out of a scientific controversy—and he's taking the empirically incorrect side of the debate, at that. And then he defines as a sinner anybody who doubts his dopey dogma!
As a G.K. Chesterton scholar aptly summarized: when a man stops believing in God, he doesn't believe in nothing, he believes in anything.
"The Declaration of Independence dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal; and it is right; for if they were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequal.”
As Troost notes, the second of these two status shibboleths asserts that Darwinian evolution suddenly—magically!—stopped at the exact the moment when Darwinian logic says it should have sped up: when the ancestors of modern humans first left Africa for new climates. (Indeed, a major paper last month by Gregory Cochran and four other leading scientists demonstrated that the latest genome data suggests that humans have been diversifying genetically at ever faster rates over the last 50,000 years).
The second statement would be logical if you rejected the first, which Creationists do. Nevertheless, fashionable opinion today is all on the side of the apes.
Or you could accept the first and reject the second statement—that is, 1) evolution occurred, but also 2) it’s still occurring—as most honest scientists who have thought hard about the subject have done.
The personal costs of dissent, though, are high. Confessing a disbelief in the second status symbol can lead to immediate expulsion from respectability, as we saw last October with the instant degradation of James Watson from being America's most prestigious senior scientist to being a pariah for uttering a few heretical remarks. (Interestingly, although hardly surprisingly, Watson's senior partner in discovering the structure of DNA, Francis Crick, held exactly the same dissident views, which he expressed in numerous private letters to other famous scientists.)
Troost follows Occam's Razor in assuming both that humans evolved and are continuing to evolve. So he avoids the self-hobbling of more popular authors on evolution, who must avoid violating contemporary taboos. Troost’s book provides a compact (only 214 pages) but well-integrated tour de force of the current state of the human sciences. (In reading this, please be aware that he includes some extremely generous praise of my writing.)
Fundamentalist Protestant Creationism seems to be evolving in a more strident direction. The Catholic Church has always warned against fundamentalist interpretations of scripture. For example, St. Augustine wrote in late Roman times:
"We must be on guard against giving interpretations of Scripture that are far-fetched or opposed to science, and so exposing the Word of God to the ridicule of unbelievers."
Nor was Protestant Creationism so dogmatic in the past. For example, William Jennings Bryan, thrice Democratic candidate for President and guest prosecutor at the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, was caricatured in the dishonest movie Inherit the Wind as the epitome of religious extremism. Yet the real Bryan was perfectly willing to call the Bible's description of God creating the heavens and the Earth in just six days a metaphor for six "periods." Each "day" could represent up to 600 million years.
The popularity of Nietzscheanism has been forgotten in America—its last revival was Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001, which used Richard Strauss's setting of Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra as its famous theme.
But Nietzsche was all the rage in the first quarter of the last century. In Chicago, the young geniuses Leopold and Loeb had committed a thrill-kill murder to prove they were Supermen enough to get away with it. In 1924, Bryan's opponent in the Monkey Trial, Clarence Darrow had gotten Leopold and Loeb off from hanging with some absurdly deterministic arguments, including pointing out that L&L hadn't asked to be born into luxury, the poor darlings.
Today, however, Bryan would be a traitor to the noisier "Scientific Creationists" They have taken up "Flood Geology", the brilliant (if preposterous) idea that Noah's Flood could account for all that inconvenient geological evidence that the Earth is older than 6000 years. Flood Geology was invented by George McCready Price (1870-1963), but it didn't become popular until after his death.
Fortunately, Protestant Creationists don't take its implications all that seriously. For example, while Henry Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research, denounced children's dinosaur toys and the movie Jurassic Park as "propaganda for evolution", his logic wasn't popular with America's children or their parents—many of them Protestants, probably averse to evolution.
Darwin seems to lose out with the public primarily when his supporters force him into a mano-a-mano Thunderdome death match against the Almighty. Most people seem willing to tacitly accept Darwinism as long as they don't have to believe in nothing but Darwinism.
In contrast, the proponents of Secular Liberal Creationism a.k.a. Race Denial currently have far more firepower with which to punish dissenters. The firing of Watson, America's foremost man of science, was the equivalent of Steven Spielberg being forced into retirement for making Jurassic Park.
Fortunately, we still have a First Amendment in America.
So brave souls like Troost who are willing to take the punishment can publish the latest news from the world of science.