CREATIONISM IS ON the march in America. In states from Alabama to Pennsylvania, supporters are attempting to restrict the teaching of evolution - and introduce their current favorite theory, Intelligent Design, into the classroom. Darwinian evolution, they say, cannot account for the complexity of life, which can only be explained with reference to some kind of creator. And such efforts may be having an effect. According to a Gallup survey released last November, only about a third of Americans believe that Darwin’s theory is well supported by the scientific evidence, while nearly half believe that humans were created in more or less their present form 10,000 years ago.
What accounts for this revival? Some observers point to the increasing political influence of the religious right. Others point to decades of well-funded creationist efforts to chip away at evolution’s stature, reducing it to just one in a range of competing theories. But Michael Ruse has a different explanation: He lays much of the blame at the feet of evolution’s most famous advocates.
Ruse, a philosopher of science at Florida State University, occupies a distinct position in the heated debates about evolution and creationism. He is both a staunch supporter of evolution and an ardent critic of scientists who he thinks have hurt the cause by habitually stepping outside the bounds of science into social theory. In his latest book, ”The Evolution-Creation Struggle,” published by Harvard University Press later this month, Ruse elaborates on a theme he has been developing in a career dating back to the 1960s: Evolution is controversial in large part, he theorizes, because its supporters have often presented it as the basis for self-sufficient philosophies of progress and materialism, which invariably wind up in competition with religion.