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Monday, February 16, 2009

United Church of Canada celebrates Darwin - en route to oblivion

In the most recent edition of the Canadian Science Writers' Association's ScienceLink (Vol 28, No. 4, 2008) there is an interesting piece by Graeme Stemp-Morlock on the decision by the United Church Observer , the leading United Church-related magazine, to co-sponsor the Royal Ontario Museum's "Evolution Revolution" exhibit ($15,000 cash and $35,000 advertising):
If a small operation like ours was able to stand up without fear and proudly support this exhibit then we thought it would draw attention to the fact that huge corporations much bigger than ours were afraid to," said David Wilson, editor of the United Church Observer. "We were trying to say 'you don't need to be afraid.'"
(Note: I have not so far been able to find Stemp-Morlock's ScienceLink article online.)

I suspect that Darwin's racism was a factor in corporate disinterest. What if someone started quoting key relevant passages from Darwin's Descent of Man? Like that black people are closer to gorillas than white people are? Not prevaricating or explaining them away, just quoting what the old toff actually said - and honestly believed?

In the early Nineties, there was an enormous, career-limiting uproar at the Museum - including daily demos - around allegations of racism in connection with an exhibit from Africa. I don't imagine anyone wants more of that.

In any event, editor Wilson opines thusly:
I got the sense that evolution challenges religious dogma but not religion
I found myself musing on how the theory evokes the inherent beauty of a creation that is constantly and eternally evolving.
Wilson says that creation is "eternally" evolving, it is likely a slip of the tongue. That would be a non-theistic vision of life which is at odds with conventional science (which holds that the universe has a beginning and an end). He adds,
There is nothing in the Darwin exhibit that threatens or diminishes religion or people of faith.
which is interesting because Toronto columnist and literary lion Robert Fulford got the exact opposite impression:
In the 1860s, when the world was first compelled to deal with him, his theory was terrifying, world-shaking, religion-threatening. It still raises furious controversy.
Who's right? Well, they're both right, really. There is nothing specifically Christian or even theistic about "the inherent beauty of a creation that is constantly and eternally evolving," and the idea that Wilson expresses is more commonly used to construct a case for atheism. Which raises the question: What is the point of a church-related magazine getting involved? According to Stemp-Morlock, the staff was worried about "creationist chill."

Revealingly, Drew Halfnight writes this,
Though it may not have the profile or scope here that it has in the U.S., the tension between a Bible-based understanding of the origins of life and the science of evolution evidently does not stop at the border. That positions are not as clearly (or stridently) articulated in Canada as they are in the U.S. may only reflect our national distaste for confrontation.
Hey, wait a minute! If there is tension between a "Bible-based understanding of the origins of life" and "the science of evolution," how can it be that "There is nothing in the Darwin exhibit that threatens or diminishes religion or people of faith"? Something's not quite right here.

Now, with respect to politics, the 2007 Canadian Decima poll that Halfnight frets about in his article is pretty easy to interpret and explains the matter clearly:
In a trend that ... departs very much from the American scene, the people who intend to vote Liberal were much more likely than those who intended to vote either Conservative or NDP (leftist) to choose a "theistic" option - God either created humans or guided the process. Only 22% of Liberals thought God had nothing to do with it, but 31% of Conservatives thought that, as did 31% of leftist voters.

This is quite different from the United States, where most Republicans "doubt evolution" but most Democrats do not.
In short, for various cultural reasons, in Canada, 1) beliefs about origins are not determined along politically partisan lines, as they are in the United States, and therefore, 2) it is not in a politician's interests to sponsor the controversy (because as many votes could be lost as gained). That is the most likely reason that origins questions are not publicly controversial here.

Decima, I regret to say, did not ask about people's religious affiliations, which might have shed some light. Perhaps they will next time.

Meanwhile, will anyone be surprised to learn that the United Church of Canada's numbers have been tanking faster than a stone in the swimming pool? As one minister David Ewart writes,
In 2005, our Membership is 1.77% of the Canadian population. If this trend continues unchanged, we will be at 0.0% of the Canadian population by the year 2022.

Our reported Membership for 2005 was 573,000 a decline of 46% [from the high point in 1965].

Compared to where we thought we’d thought be in the 1960’s, we are missing 1,200,000 members. Or, to put it another way, our congregations should have 3 times more members and attendance than we currently have.
No surprise there, if we go by this incident. It suggests that the United Church has ceased to have a worldview that would characterize a church.

Actually, if they took Church out of its name, they might have more luck, because then they could Unite around whatever they actually believe in (like "the inherent beauty of a creation that is constantly and eternally evolving")?

See also: "Recent polls relevant to the intelligent design controversy."

And "A science writer explains her interest in the intelligent design controversy to other science writers"

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