Pro-religion writer decries Tennesee’s anti-evolution bill—without mentioning religion

Over at HuffPo, Michael Zimmerman has a strong column criticizing Tennesee’s stupid new bill designed to promote “equal time” for other views of evolution, particularly critical views.  I’ve discussed this bill before, and won’t go into detail here except to say that Zimmerman is right to join the chorus of scientists and educators who have decried this legislation.

But his piece was ruined for me by Zimmerman’s strange omission of what is behind this bill.  It’s religion, of course, and that has been the motivating force behind antievolution legislation in Tennessee—and elsewhere—since the Scopes Trial of 1925.   I’ve just returned from Tennessee, and both students and teachers have informed me in detail about the many ways that the faithful try to keep evolution out of Tennessee schools.  Only someone who’s ignorant or blinkered could claim that there’s anything behind Tennessee’s bill besides pure Bible-belt Christianity.

But Zimmerman doesn’t see it that way.  What is really motivating this bill? Politics!:

As I recently explained, there are two striking aspects of LSEA [the similar Louisiana Science Education Act]. First, it advances a political rather than a scientific perspective. Second, it has been widely and clearly opposed by scientists, educators and religious leaders. Such unanimity was apparently enough for Tennessee legislators; they looked at LSEA and didn’t see anything not to love! Why give any credence to the experts?  [My emphasis}.

“Political” perspective? Let’s pin the tail on the donkey where it belongs: the bill advances a religious perspective. Anybody at Vanderbilt University could tell you that, but Zimmerman goes pussyfooting around the palpable truth.  Why?  Could it be because he’s the organizer of the Clergy Letter Project, in which he tries to sell evolution to the faithful by coddling their faith? (The Project gets pastors to write letters claiming that “religion and science need not be in conflict.”)

It always amazes me how assiduously people like Zimmerman avoid blaming religion for creationism, even though only a moron could deny that truth.  But that’s what you must do if you make your living osculating the rumps of the faithful, for if you diss one brand of goddish superstition, you’re dissing them all.  And the only way to get rid of creationism in America is to weaken religion to the point of powerlessness, and by that I mean all religion.  For even many “liberal” believers are uncomfortable with evolution. Although the Catholic Church is officially okay with Darwinism, for example, 27% of American Catholics think that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time,” i.e., they are straight-up creationists.

Getting pastors to write letters about the compatibility of faith and science won’t change a thing.  If we’re going to tackle the problem of creationism honestly, the first thing we need to do is admit where it comes from: religion.  Zimmerman doesn’t have the intellectual courage to do even that. Even my own attempts to point out this simple fact has been resisted by those who believe in belief; I have a paper coming out shortly that discusses this issue.

(Prediction: Zimmerman will come over here and assert that of course he knows that creationism has religious roots. If that’s so, why does he say that an antievolution bill advances a “political agenda”?  The political agenda is propelled by the fuel of faith.)


  1. FrankZ
    Posted March 31, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    While creationism is surely a religious belief, this bill is being advanced not by sincere religious belief, but out of cynical political calculation. This is how the abortion issue has been used for decades by right-wing politicians who would not have hesitated to have their wives or daughters obtain abortions. It’s how the birth control issue is being used by many GOP figures now. (Santorum may be an exception. He actually seems to believe his own rhetoric.) This is why school textbooks are being revised to portray the Founders as more religious than they really were. It’s all to try to label the political left as godless commies and the right as the patriotic and god-fearing good guys.

    So, while you are absolutely right that the political agenda is driven by religious belief, it is a political agenda nonetheless.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 31, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      And you have firm evidence that this bill wasn’t passed by people who are religious and have a problem with the teaching of evolution? You claim that they really aren’t opposed to it, but are doing this as a political gesture alone? Where do you get your data? Or is this merely a feeling that you have that you’re passing off to us as proven fact?

      • Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        Even without firm evidence, I guess it can be argued that some type of politicians will bend-over backward until their spines split to cater to certain electoralist demands, even if these don’t meet their own beliefs.

        In other news: dog bites man!

      • FrankZ
        Posted March 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure what would constitute firm evidence. Perhaps some day, as Sam suggests, we’ll have a truth-telling brain scanner. In the meantime, I guess I can just say it doesn’t feel like I’m going out on a very long limb to question the sincerity of a demonstrated liar and philanderer like Newt Gingrich when he sucks up to the Catholic Church, or of a bunch of conservative politicians fishing for votes by passing a bill their own lawyers have no doubt already told them will be thrown out by the first court that considers it.

        I don’t say it’s black and white – as we know, people have a way of convincing themselves they really believe what turns out to be in their own interests. I guess those TN legislators do have a “problem with the teaching of evolution”, but I’m betting that if they didn’t think there were votes in it, they’d be keeping their opinions to themselves.

        • tomh
          Posted March 31, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

          FrankZ wrote:

          …a bunch of conservative politicians fishing for votes by passing a bill their own lawyers have no doubt already told them will be thrown out by the first court that considers it.

          That’s not a given at all, and I doubt their lawyers told them that. Even if the first court and even the second court threw it out, the next stop is the Supreme Court, where it would be a very close thing. And that’s as the Court stands now – one or two appointments from a Republican president and it’s practically guaranteed acceptance.

        • Notagod
          Posted March 31, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

          Lies, deception and greed; that is the hallmark of christianity as much as it is politics in the United States.

          However, you can’t claim that the root of creationism being taught in classrooms is political. The politicians didn’t make creationism up to further their political careers, the christians made it up in an attempt to keep their church from crashing.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 31, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        The disagreement here seems to be fueled by a bit of a false religious/political dichotomy. The underlying problem itself is the strong confluence between the two, especially among the right-wing culture warriors (whether sincere, as FrankZ suggests is the case with Santorum, or cynical, as he suggests is the case with Gingrich and others) who are invariably behind these efforts to foist theism onto the public-school curricula. The “Christian Reconstructionists” and “Dominionists” are the most virulent of this lot; their politics and their religion bound inseparably together.

        Far be it from me to tone-troll here – I’m all in favor of calling a spade a spade and calling out the mealy-mouthed accommodationists – but, Professor, even by that standard, “only a moron could deny that truth” seems a tad gratuitous. It’s bound to become grist for the quote-mine mill (if you’ll pardon the metaphor mixing) when the grudge-bearing religionists (who revel in the role of “victim”), and their accommodationist enablers, get to harping about the Gnus’ “stridency.”

        • Notagod
          Posted March 31, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

          In this day and age when christians are trying to promote prayer as a doctor prescribed medical treatment I’d say stridency against the stupid is a high compliment.

          I don’t give a damn Ken, how much christians dislike truth and honesty. If you want an endless stream of baseless stridency you might want to acquaint yourself with christian preachers.

          • Posted March 31, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

            What a wonderful phrase, “an endless stream of baseless stridency”. It is a river of rapid rapping and ranting. I can picture preacher after preacher running their mouths, their body language betraying the anger and deceit, fists banging on tables splashing up water, their voices rising in volume and pitch trying to keep up with the noise of the rapids (it might be the combined spit of the preachers) rushing ahead. Their lectures are never finished. They lie so well we aren’t able to tell whether they believe what they are saying and so we don’t know if the argument is religious or political. Thank you for putting that image into my mind.

    • H.H.
      Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Even if all that were true, all you are saying is that the politicians who advocate for this legislation have a political agenda. (Duh.) But what motivates the millions of constituents they are pandering to? Politics? No. Religion.

    • Posted March 31, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      This is how the abortion issue has been used for decades by right-wing politicians who would not have hesitated to have their wives or daughters obtain abortions.

      Or mistresses. Hmm… especially mistresses.


      • gravelinspector
        Posted March 31, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        Or mistresses. Hmm… especially mistresses.

        Well, given that the alternative is to use a rubber, or not use a mistress, then obviously getting your mistress to have an abortion is plainly the preferable, moral even, course. Can’t have random women and babies disturbing a coming and up politician.
        “What’s that muttering at the back? Rights?? Mistresses have rights? Don’t be silly!”
        (Substitute “Women” or “commoners” for “mistresses” as seems appropriate.)

  2. gbjames
    Posted March 31, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink


  3. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 31, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Another prediction is that Zimmerman will use more energy to defend himself from the accusation of being a moron instead of that his views and politics are moronic.

    Since he doesn’t have one iota of evidence for his actual case, he will make ‘stridency’ his case.

    that’s what you must do if you make your living osculating the rumps of the faithful


    Even though I am unfamiliar with the idiom, I think that turn of the phrase, as it were, lures out a disturbing image of Zimmerman abandoning the traditional missionary position of shaking his derrière before the intellectual dwarfs for a more engaging pastime of coming to grips with their … fundamentalist attitudes. (While calling the dark area a “political” divide.)

    Or maybe just my familiarity with English hit its limits.

    • Posted March 31, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Arse kissing. Get it?


  4. Posted March 31, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    In my op-ed piece in the Tennessean, I don’t mention religion either, although I firmly believe it is at the root of the problem here. Instead, I attempt to expose the blindness of those who reject science and yet don’t hesitate to benefit from its fruits.

  5. jay
    Posted March 31, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    While in general the religion aspect should not be ignored, I think it’s good that an occasional argument hits it from another side.

    People supporting gay marriage sometimes have wildly different reasons… which ultimately strengthens the case.

  6. Pray Hard
    Posted March 31, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    It’s religion, politics and economics. Religion is the wedge, the buffer, the stupidifier.

  7. Posted March 31, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    This wouldn’t be an issue unless there was religious influence, so even if it is political trying to make the distinction is going to be dishonest.

  8. Marella
    Posted March 31, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Everything politicians do is political, which is why the religiousness of the agenda is relevant, calling it a political agenda does not offer any information we didn’t already have.

    • elsburymk14
      Posted March 31, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Permalink


  9. jeremy
    Posted March 31, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    The votes wouldn’t be there if not for religion. So sure, it’s political, but at the heart of the matter is religion.

  10. Posted April 1, 2012 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    IF behind a given anti-science (or dilute science with non-science in public science education) bill there is a political agenda driving it, and IF that driving political agenda is itself driven entirely by a singular or collective desire to preserve and promulgate cherished religious beliefs with which science and science education conflict and contradict, THEN AT ROOT that given anti-science (or dilute-science with non-science in public science education) bill is RELIGIOUS, and any attempt to oppose and defend against (or for that matter, to defend and advocate for) that bill which does not even mention (let alone fully illuminate) that bill’s rooting in cherished religious belief is disingenuously incomplete at best and perniciously misleading at worst.

    Bottom line: “Scientific Creationism” ISN’T!

  11. Posted April 1, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Frank may or may not be right about this particular case; but if someone could prove that these dopes know that Creationism is a scam yet still promote it, it would justify punishment. Sure, it’s a vague crime, but these are the same jokers who deny climate change. Right now “only” a few dozen people have died and lost their homes in severe storms. But just wait, if and when the s*** hits the fan, millions of people will be out for blood. If we could prove the science deniers knew the dangers, especially politicians and oil companies, we could make the case for criminal charges.

    Not so sure it would work as well for Creationism.

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