American Creationism, Creation Science, and Intelligent Design in the Evangelical Market
- ISBN: 9783030454340
- Published By: Palgrave Macmillian
- Published: August 2020
American Creationism, Creation Science, and Intelligent Design in the Evangelical Market by Benjamin L. Huskinson is a remarkable achievement. Those familiar with the historical scholarship on creation science might assume that there is not much left to say after so much excellent work has been done, especially by Ron Numbers. At the same time, readers of the ever-expanding literature on US evangelicalism might wonder if we need another book on that movement. In this book, Huskinson cleverly uses recent work on evangelicalism to construe the movement as a variegated market to which products are pitched, applying this lens to the work of creation science and intelligent design (ID) organizations.
While many observers have reduced the history of these organizations to formal legal and political battles, Huskinson nuances this portrayal in two major ways. First, he demonstrates that these organizations have primarily competed with other forms of creationism within the evangelical market, not simply with external secular or scientific forces. Additionally, he follows recent historical work on evangelicalism that has corrected the notion that Fundamentalism and evangelicalism simply went underground after the Scopes Trial. Like these religious movements more broadly, their anti-evolution strains do not align with common assumptions about periods of public engagement interspersed with periods of disengagement. Rather, the history of evangelical anti-evolution activism should be understood as a set of overlapping waves that only sometimes made headlines through legal or political disputes. At all points in the history, though, they were in fact deeply engaged in creating and defending their own anti-evolution publics, adapting their strategies and marketing efforts in response to changing situations.
Huskinson offers a four-wave model for understanding evangelical anti-evolutionism: 1) a series of anti-Darwinian arguments from 1859-1925 (Darwin’s Origin of Species to the Scopes Trial) that were not necessarily opposed to other (e.g., Lamarckian) theories of biological evolution; 2) a 1920-1968 wave of creation science that brought young earth and flood geology viewpoints from Seventh Day Adventism into Fundamentalist and evangelical circles; 3) the 1961-1990 solidification of creation science perspectives, along with a retreat from efforts to teach creationism in public schools toward private Christian schools and homeschooling, abandoning legal efforts to change the broader culture in favor of developing a strong creationist subculture; and 4) the 1991-2005 development of the ID movement as a political wedge that could build coalitions with others beyond the evangelical subcultures. Each of these waves involved different aims and strategies; there has not been just one unified creationist movement continuous throughout the history of evangelical anti-Darwinism.
Perhaps Huskinson’s most perceptive point about these four waves is that each has been shorter than the last. He identifies several causes of this tendency toward briefer waves of anti-evolution activity. For one thing, secularization, tied to rising educational attainment, has dampened the prospects for a broadened anti-evolution constituency. At the same time, judicial precedents have consistently narrowed the space for teaching creationist views in public schools. Meanwhile, especially since the advent of the internet, access to scientific information has increased. Finally, the market for anti-evolution ideology has largely been tapped out, which means that organizations promoting these views face diminishing returns.
Nevertheless, as Huskinson ably demonstrates, these organizations have had considerable financial success by appealing to markets within the evangelical subculture. His analysis of the financial histories and health of major US creationist organizations is a strong point of the book, validating Huskinson’s overall assessment of the anti-evolution market while also showing how that reality points to an inevitable consolidation around a limited number of players: primarily the financially healthy young earth creation science group Answers in Genesis (AiG) and the foundation/donor-dependent ID think tank Discovery Institute. Huskinson also offers astute observations on the geography of US creationist groups and its role in successfully attracting tourists to locations such as AiG’s Creation Museum and Ark Experience. These financial and geographic analyses grounded in archival research are complemented by descriptions of visits to the organizations profiled, including Huskinson’s fascinating observations about the personality of AiG leader Ken Ham. Throughout these analyses and descriptions, Huskinson rightly maintains that creationist leaders are neither unintelligent nor deceitful. They are sincerely promoting their beliefs in ways that require considerable organizational expertise.
Beyond its valuable interventions in the historical scholarship around creationist and ID movements, Huskinson intends for this book to offer guidance to science communicators. Among other things, he advises communicators to recognize the theological meaning of the term “creationism,” which does not necessarily mean anti-evolutionism. This terminological intervention struck me as helpful but not likely to have a significant effect on public conversations. Huskinson’s best advice, in my opinion, is for science communicators to work with organizations such as the evangelical science education group BioLogos. This organization speaks the theological language of evangelicals while promoting the scientific consensus on topics such as human origins. The insider perspective of BioLogos is especially important because of the successful creation science marketing efforts that Huskinson describes, especially during the third wave that focused on fomenting a distinct anti-evolution subculture.
Finally, despite the waning prevalence of anti-evolution beliefs in the US, Huskinson’s analysis points to the political significance of the movement. Besides the alignment of the third wave of evangelical anti-evolutionism with the backlash against school desegregation, which helped give rise to the Religious Right, the fourth wave was also explicitly political. The ID movement skillfully sought allies outside evangelicalism to join a purportedly secular cause, perhaps pointing the way toward a future strategy of religious conservatives in an increasingly secular US society. While the concerns of creation science and ID may fade in relevance, Huskinson is correct that, among beleaguered religious conservative groups, “evolutionary theory will likely be relegated to the toolkit of some other, larger threat” (190). As that political and religious evolution occurs, Huskinson’s work here will provide crucial insights into its organizational backstory.
Stephen Waldron is a PhD student at Boston University School of Theology.Stephen WaldronDate Of Review:March 21, 2022