Over the weekend, I stumbled upon an interesting article in America magazine, a publication of the Roman Catholic order of Jesuits, about creationism.

The article’s author, the Rev. Eric Sundrup, associate editor of America, traveled to Kentucky to visit Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in person. Sundrup met with some staff members of Ham’s ministry Answers in Genesis and had cordial conversations with them about their views.

Sundrup begins with an obvious observation: “The museum isn’t here for scientific reasons, even though it presents itself that way.”

I’ve had the same thought many times, and it begs a question: If it’s not for science, why is the museum there?

In Sundrup’s view, the Creation Museum is anchored primarily not in bad science but in bad theology. It’s also an artifact of the culture wars.

This last point is important. Leaders of the Religious Right and their followers have a tendency to blame what they see as our country’s decline on one incident. For some, it was the Supreme Court’s 1962 decision removing mandatory, coercive forms of prayer from public schools. Other pin it on the rise of feminism or even the growing power of the federal government during the New Deal.

But others name a different culprit: evolution. In their view, this supposedly “godless” scientific principle spawned all manner of malfeasance.  If it can be toppled, all of that other bad stuff will fall with – at least so goes the Religious Right’s theory.

Undermining evolution is a long running Religious Right crusade. In 1983, Tim LaHaye penned a book called The Battle for Public Schools. It’s pretty much a standard Religious Right tome full of half-baked arguments and wild conjecture, and it contains a telling illustration of a tree, the trunk of which is labeled “Secular Humanism,” an all-purpose LaHaye bogeyman. Alongside it on the trunk appear words like “evolution,” “atheism” and “socialist world view.”

Branches and leaves on the tree are labeled “Sex Education,” “Liberal Social Workers,” “Homosexuality,” “Abortion,” “Promiscuity,” “Federal Aid to Education,” “Global Education,” “Amorality” and others. The implication is clear: This tree houses a lot of things that the Religious Right perceives to be bad. And while evolution is not one of the roots of the tree – its roots are non-Christian religions and beliefs such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Humanism, Taoism and something called “Babylonianism” – the trunk, the real meat of the tree, contains its most nefarious concepts. 


Tim LaHaye's tree of unpleasant things.

Tim LaHaye's tree of unpleasant things.

Thus, the Religious Right’s attack on evolution isn’t just an attempt to undermine science. It’s an assault on pretty much every feature of modern life the Religious Right does not like – LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, skepticism of organized religion, open inquiry, progressive politics, secular public education, liberal religion, etc.

Sundrup puts it well when he writes: “Mr. Ham’s motivations for founding the museum and its parent organization clearly grew out of the culture wars. Answers in Genesis argues for the inerrancy of the Bible and specifically for a literal interpretation of Genesis because they think this provides them a strong footing in public discussions. And that, I think, is exactly how this group of Christians got lost. They are trying to win moral and theological debates with what look like scientific arguments.”

Non-believers and some liberal believers might take issue with a few of Sundrup’s assertions about the interplay between religion and science, but his larger point is very valuable: The Religious Right isn’t attempting to overturn just Darwinian evolution; this movement is gunning for basically the last 60 years of progress.

Bear that in mind the next time you hear a Religious Right leader assailing evolution. It may look like Charles Darwin is the target, but he’s just the beginning.  

P.S. Americans United has defended the teaching of evolution in public schools against Religious Right attacks for decades. You can help. Learn how to get involved here.