What is the history of “Antievolution”?

Credit: Corbis/Getty

Perhaps nobody wants to be an “Anti.” In the American abortion debates, both sides typically self-identify as “Pro-” (Choice or Life) and debase their opponents as being “anti” something-else; anti-abortion, anti-life, anti-women. People, organizations, and statements may be described as Anti-Islamic, Anti-Family, Anti-Semitic, Anti-EU, Anti-LGBT; those descriptors are most often used critically.

We seem to live in an anti-anti era, and as a historian, it’s important to be highly sensitive to “actors’ categories” describing and classifying ideas and issues in ways people themselves used. This is why some historians of “science” and “religion” have argued against using those terms to describe human activity in the ancient world, or in non-Western cultures. At the same time, respecting actors’ categories does not mean giving historical figures license to define their own legacy. Hindsight and context allows historians to observe the larger trends that individuals are part of, even when people at the time couldn’t see them. Continue reading What is the history of “Antievolution”?

What’s in a name? Does Darwin hinder the acceptance of evolution?

Copyright: Charis Tsevis, TIME Inc. 2009. Licensed under the Creative Commons scheme for Non Commercial Use.

For nearly 35 years, Gallup has polled Americans regarding their views on human evolution using a polling question that gives respondents three options to choose from regarding human origins. Surprisingly, the results of the survey question remained relatively steady over time. Since 1982, the percentage of Americans that believe God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years has remained relatively stable at just over 40%. Continue reading What’s in a name? Does Darwin hinder the acceptance of evolution?

Darwin Day: Celebrating Without Deifying

Today, Friday February 12th 2016, is the 207th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Celebrated around the world as ‘Darwin Day’, events across 6 continents from Tel-Aviv to Tokyo will commemorate the English naturalist’s work, explore his legacy, and discuss the current state of affairs in the field of Evolutionary Biology and beyond. Whilst the majority of those attending lectures or participating in events today may do so to simply learn more about Darwin’s work, it is an opportune time to consider more deeply ‘why Darwin?’ Why not Newton, Einstein or Turing Day? Further, are we naïve to presume that such commemorative days are purely about celebrating history and science? Is what on the surface seems like a secular celebration of a historical scientific figure, in danger of alienating those with religious beliefs, and deifying one figure above all others? Continue reading Darwin Day: Celebrating Without Deifying

Un-Natural Selection: Evolutionary Concepts in Horror Cinema

Evolution doesn’t seem scary.  It is the processes of change in heritable traits of biological entities over successive generations, which give rise to biological diversity between and within organisms. This isn’t something likely to make you cower behind your popcorn box at the multiplex. However, the horror genre has frequently borrowed from science to create cinematic nightmares and evolutionary concepts provide a rich source of raw materials. In this piece I outline four key themes in horror cinema:  ‘super-evolved monsters’, ‘abomination’, ‘devolution’ and ‘monstrous mutation’ all of which are informed by evolutionary science, and along the way I’ll suggest a few films for your Halloween viewing pleasure.

Like the harbinger of doom in any good slasher movie I must offer some warnings. Firstly, horror films frequently misrepresent the reality of evolutionary science; the underlying themes are influenced by evolution, but no film discussed is scientifically accurate. Secondly, this isn’t an exhaustive review; I’d welcome you to consider these themes in relation to your own horror favourites. Thirdly, some of the hyperlinks link to scenes of a graphic nature. And lastly, there may be spoilers ahead. You have been warned! Continue reading Un-Natural Selection: Evolutionary Concepts in Horror Cinema

Edward Burnett Tylor and the Evolution of Religion

Public Domain - published online by the British Library

Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917) may not be a household name today, but during the second half of the nineteenth century the Victorian anthropologist and scientific naturalist was a figurehead for anthropology throughout the British Empire. At his seventy-fifth birthday in 1907, his former student and friend Andrew Lang (1844-1912) argued that ‘he who would vary from Mr. Tylor’s ideas must do so in fear and trembling (as the present writer knows from experience)’ (Lang, 1907, p.1).  Continue reading Edward Burnett Tylor and the Evolution of Religion

What’s behind “no”? Why survey respondents might reject evolution

By Elisa Järnefelt

If a person answers in a survey that they do not accept evolution, it sounds like the simplest and clearest thing. Surely, we can conclude that the person turns their back on evolutionary science as a relevant approach to assess the natural world and thinks that no organisms evolve. Or can we? What if, when answering a question about evolution, the person was not really thinking about evolutionary science, science or even nature? In this territory of ‘Something Else’, what could “no” then mean?

Continue reading What’s behind “no”? Why survey respondents might reject evolution

How dinosaurs became the darlings of creationists

"Creation Museum 10" by Anthony5429 - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_Museum_10.png#/media/File:Creation_Museum_10.png

At our Forum on Science and Religion held at the end of May as part of a workshop at York University, Toronto, Professor Ron L. Numbers of the University of Wisconsin gave a keynote lecture titled, “Conflict Denied: How Once-Suspect Evidence of Evolution Came to Support the Biblical Narrative.” In the lecture Professor Numbers, the author of many works on the history of creationism in the US, told the story of how dinosaurs became the darlings of creationists, confounding the expectations of evolutionists and anti-evolutionists alike. Continue reading How dinosaurs became the darlings of creationists