Creationism: A Threat to Human Rights?

According to Europe sees creationism as threat to human rights by the Reuters News Agency, June 24, 2007, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly ("PACE") was to be voting on "a proposal this week to defend the teaching of Darwinian evolution and keep creationist and intelligent design views out of science classes in state schools in its 47 member countries." If the proposal had passed, it would have "firmly oppose[d] the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution by natural selection."

While I have on numerous occasions voiced my arguments why I believe ID is a science and should be treated as such, I understand why people disagree. I certainly recognize that ID is being tarred as "creationism in a white lab coat" (i.e., the robes which have been reserved only for the high priests of naturalism) by the popularizers of Darwinism when warning the general public about the evils of ID. This, in turn, leads to a pretty much universal acknowledgement that "everyone knows" that ID is merely creationism in disguise. Thus, these types of votes to keep ID from being taught don't surprise me in the slightest. They disappoint me, but they don't surprise me.

But what kills me about this particular vote is that it is being made by a council the job of which, according to the article, is to set "human rights standards in member states and enforce[] decisions of the European Court of Human Rights". On what basis does this particular council participate in what should be taught in science classes in schools? Well, apparently the council (or at least a committee in the council] believes ID is a threat to human rights. According to the article:

A report for the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly said the campaign against evolution has its roots "in forms of religious extremism" and is a dangerous attack on scientific knowledge.

"Today, creationists of all faiths are trying to get their ideas accepted in Europe," it said. "If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights."

Exactly how is it that if ID is accepted as a scientific theory it will threaten human rights? For that matter, how is it that if creationism is accepted as a possible answer to the questions about the origins of the universe and biological entities such an acceptance will threaten human rights? The article doesn't say. It makes the assertion that such threat will arise but does so without really saying why. Here, word for word, is what the article says (emphasis mine):

Creationism teaches that God created the world and all beings in it, as depicted in the Bible. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that teaching creationism in science class in public schools violates the separation of church and state.

Supporters of intelligent design, which holds that some life forms are too complex to have evolved, say it is a scientific theory that should be taught in school. But a U.S. court also has rejected this argument and the council report dismisses it as "neo-creationism."

The proposed resolution, to be put to a vote Tuesday, says member states should "firmly oppose the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution by natural selection."

"The teaching of the phenomena concerning evolution as a fundamental scientific theory is therefore crucial to the future of our societies and our democracies," the resolution said.

The word "therefore" is usually used to denote the conclusion of an argument. But for the life of me I don't see a reasonable argument here. Instead, I see a fairly correct description of creationism, a somewhat correct description of ID together with a note that one court -- the lowest level of court in the United States system -- found that it was "neo-creationism" (which finding was not appealed), then a statement of what member states ought to do. There is no argument being made here.

Based upon what the article says, I have a theory as to why ID and creationism are seen as presenting a threat to human rights: this proposal incorporates bigotry against Christian thought. Here's how: The idea may be that permitting the teaching of creationism and ID (the latter being lumped together with creationism) in the schools would be allowing entry to extremist attitudes in the education systems. Since Christian evangelicals who believe that the Bible is the Word of God are now grouped as "extremists", it is a blanket call against teaching of anything that can loosely be called religious in order to prevent a take-over of the education system by those "extremists" who will teach that women should be second-class citizens, homosexuals should be stoned, and any number of other false representations about the Christianity -- even evangelical Christianity.

To test this theory, I went to the PACE webpage and searched creationism. I discovered that the proposal had come from PACE's Committee on Culture, Science and Education. The lead spokesman ("rapporteur") for the group (at least, on this proposal) appears to be an elderly French socialist named Guy Lengangne. The text that was to be debated is ominously titled, "The Dangers of Creationism in Education." The latest version of the text of this measure makes many assertions that are simply erroneous. For example, it states:

Creationism, born of the denial of the evolution of species through natural selection, was for a long time an almost exclusively American phenomenon.

Actually, creationism has been around for a long time -- much longer than Darwin's theory of evolution. Moreover, it was not an "almost exclusively American" phenomenon. Now, if they are saying that since Darwinism has become the only acceptable view for origins that creationism has largely been aimed at challenging Darwinism and that such criticisms have largely originated in America, I can agree. But, of course, language has meaning, and I have serious difficulties with much of what has been written into this proposal as fact -- sometimes with the so-called facts themselves, and sometimes with the language used which creates inaccurate pictures.

Putting aside the problems with the facts, what exactly does the bill say about how creationism will be detrimental to human rights? The answer appears to be centered on paragraphs 10 through 12 of the proposal which read:

10. Evolution is not simply a matter of the evolution of humans and of populations. Denying it could have serious consequences for the development of our societies. Advances in medical research with the aim of effectively combating infectious diseases such as AIDS are impossible if every principle of evolution is denied. One cannot be fully aware of the risks involved in the significant decline in biodiversity and climate change if the mechanisms of evolution are not understood.

11. Our modern world is based on a long history, of which the development of science and technology forms an important part. However, the scientific approach is still not well understood and this is liable to encourage the development of all manner of fundamentalism and extremism, synonymous with attacks of utmost virulence on human rights. The total rejection of science is definitely one of the most serious threats to human rights and civic rights.

12. The war on the theory of evolution and on its proponents most often originates in forms of religious extremism which are closely allied to extreme right-wing political movements. The creationist movements possess real political power. The fact of the matter, and this has been exposed on several occasions, is that the advocates of strict creationism are out to replace democracy by theocracy.

I am absolutely flabbergasted. There is so much silliness and anti-theistic bias in these paragraphs I barely know where to begin. First, where in the world do these people get the idea that if ID is accepted as a scientific discipline, scientists will stop seeking medical cures for infectious diseases? Did they find that on some anti-intelligent design website? I contend that there is no support for this assertion. Nowhere have I ever read anyone connected with ID or creationism (except a few Christian Scientists -- that is, the denomination that calls itself "Christian Scientists", not scientists who are Christian) say that we should not be seeking cures for any number of diseases or illnesses. Nowhere have I seen anyone say that the work of scientists in these areas are not valuable or should not be continued. Nowhere have I seen anyone in these communities deny that micro-evolution does occur at the level of viruses and bacteria. To claim otherwise is the result of pure ignorance or intellectual dishonesty.

Second, climate change is now associated with evolution? That's new to me.

Third, paragraph 11 makes a huge leap. It somehow claims that the failure to properly understand science leads to extremism. Exactly how this happens is not explained. It simply makes the assertion that ignorance about the scientific approach "is liable to encourage the development of all manner of fundamentalism and extremism, synonymous with attacks of utmost virulence on human rights. The total rejection of science is definitely one of the most serious threats to human rights and civic rights." The exact mechanism of this supposed attack is not spelled out and remains a mystery. This probably explains the failure of Reuters to spell out the reasoning more thoroughly -- there is none!

Fourth, paragraph 12 associates creationism with extreme right-wing political movements. I agree that conservatives are more likely to reject the broad claims of Darwinism, but to call them extreme is, in many cases, itself extreme. In my view, calling someone extreme in most cases is simply an ad hominem. Any political science student recognizes that the use of such language is a way of damaging an opponent without having to engage the opponent's position. Thus, people say that President Bush is an extremist or that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is an extremist as a means of discounting their arguments or positions without seriously engaging them. Usually, calling someone or some group extreme points more to the speaker's political affiliation and/or alliances than the person or group identified.

Fifth, the creationist movements don't possess much political power. If ID is seen as creationist and creationism is so powerful, how come ID is being taught in only two (I think that's the number) school systems in the United States?

Sixth, "the advocates of strict creationism are out to replace democracy by theocracy"? Excuse me while I laugh. This is a campfire tale with Christianity taking the role of the bogey-man. Whether these people want to accept it or not, it was out of the Christian tradition that democracy and freedom received their starts. Christian belief in America is what allowed Democracy to come forth. Human rights in America and England (where they were first put into play) arose from the belief in inalienable rights granted by a sovereign and personal God.

In all honesty, the idea that creationism -- especially ID -- will somehow threaten human rights is a phantom being pushed by those with a political agenda. This was so obvious that it was recognized by the members of PACE when they debated whether to table the proposal (which they ultimately did).

Mr VAN DEN BRANDE (Belgium). – Thank you, Mr President. When we looked at the draft resolution, we thought that it would be better to refer it back to the committee, because we think that the issue is not to deny the scientific evolution theory. But our group is convinced that the proposal is unbalanced. We are open to discussing it, but there is in fact a preliminary question: are we a scientific academy, or are we a political body? Is this item appropriate? In any case, I ask that the draft resolution should be referred back to the committee. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. – Thank you. There are now three proposals. Are there any further proposals to change the order of business? I call Mr Hancock.

Mr HANCOCK (United Kingdom). – I think that Mr Van den Brande has posed an interesting question. One wonders why Tuesday’s business is necessary at all, because I share his view that this is a political Assembly, dealing with political items that affect the core values of the Council of Europe. We are not here to discuss religious matters.

Mr. Lengangne reacted to the referral of the proposal back to committee as any good zealot would: he claimed it to be a conspiracy:

‘I can only see this as a ploy on the part of people who will use any means they can to combat the theory of evolution and impose creationist ideas. What we have here is the makings of a return to the Middle Ages, and too many members of this human-rights-based assembly fail to see it’.

Ah yes, the old if-we-allow-ID-it-will-take-us-back-to-the-Middle-Ages ploy. Never mind that this type of thinking represents a use of the slippery slope fallacy. Never mind that there is no reason to believe that this is some type of device by some under-cover creationists to thwart the motion of the people-who-know-better. I guess Mr. Lengangne cannot accept the simple fact that the delusions represented by the proposal may not necessarily be acceptable to the entire PACE body -- or, at minimum, that the PACE body may think that this needs a little more careful thought than the committee has apparently exercised so far.

This entire proposal appears to be the result of religiously motivated bigotry. I see no reason that PACE need address this at all, and the grounds upon which it is being presented to PACE are faulty and erroneous. ID and creationism do not constitute a threat to human rights either in the form of a failure to seek cures for diseases or in the form of a threat to human rights from extremism. This proposal, should it come up again, should be rejected.


Jason Pratt said…
{{Second, climate change is now associated with evolution? That's new to me.}}

Oh, sure it's associated. Once the climate changes and the sea rises 24 feet, inundating all national coastlines, it'll be survival of the fittest, baby... {wry grimace}

Feel free to write that down. Whenifever things start getting that bad, someone will say they have an evolutionary right or evolutionary duty or something of that sort to go take so-and-so's land. Lebensraum with a vengeance. They're already thinking ahead to that day, and prepping for it.

See--I can be conspiratorial about future human rights violations, too. {s} (Oh, wait, sorry, Richard Dawkins says we don't actually have human rights. That's species bias. Though he still expects us to accept that Australian aborigines and thalacyds have, um, aboriginal and thalacydinal rights. Or something. Anyway that we should pity them and oppose their oppressors...)

Dude!--I have it! We should start talking about _aboriginal_ rights!! Strictly speaking that would be rights derived from the Origin (i.e. God), but no one would get it. Secular humanists would sign on left and... er... right! Or, I dunno, maybe that would be sneaky... they have a right for us to not be sneaky. um, right?

Okay, I'm having too much fun. {g} Going away now. (But watch for 'evolutionary' justifications linked to climate change anyway. I won't be surprised when it happens.)

Great article; and have a good weekend!

BK said…

I always enjoy your comments (and your blog posts, too). Enjoy your weekend.

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