In The God of Monkey Science: People of Faith in a Modern Scientific World (Eerdmans, Oct.) author Janet Kellogg Ray (Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? The Bible and Modern Science and the Trouble of Making It All Fit) explores why some contemporary evangelicals have become science deniers who refuse to take Covid-19 vaccines or accept the reality of catastrophic climate change. Ray, an evangelical herself and a science teacher, sees a revival of the battle lines drawn between science and faith in 1925 when politician and Presbyterian elder William Jennings Bryan and celebrity lawyer Clarence Darrow faced off at the Scopes Monkey trial, over the legality of teaching evolution.
Many evangelicals opposed Covid vaccines. Were evangelicals anti-vaxxers before the pandemic?
As a rule, evangelicals accepted modern science. We wanted the life that 21st-century science and technology gave us. While there were pockets, here and there, of anti-vaccine evangelicals, it wasn't a huge issue. It wasn't being preached from the pulpit, and you didn't see churches shutting down to protest vaccination requirements or any other kind of public health issue. For the most part, as far as health was concerned, evangelicals pretty much went with what modern science had to offer.
What changed? Why have many evangelicals become science deniers now?
In this book, I reviewed Bryan's three arguments against evolution during the Scopes trial. He said that evolution is not supported by science, that evolution undermines morality and religion, and that a fair society wouldn't allow something like evolution to be taught in school. What we saw with the pandemic, and see with evangelical denial of climate science, is this same pattern —that "pandemic and climate science" are not really science, it's all a conspiracy. The scientists aren't really scientists, they're bureaucrats, who, as with evolution, were undermining morality and religion. We saw this in the pandemic, with churches resisting closing and saying, we're going to obey God rather than men, and not shut down our churches, asking, "Why are you so afraid of a virus ? Is your faith not in God?"
What do you hope your book will achieve?
If we can understand that evolution is not something to be afraid of, and if we can examine all of the arguments that have been thrown against evolution, maybe people can see that we've been conditioned to make the same arguments against the pandemic, against global warming that Bryan made. Maybe I can make a difference in reversing that. Reversing that would help keep young people in the church, who'd been taught that believing in evolution is a one-way ticket to atheism. But research has shown the opposite — that antagonism to science is a major reason for leaving the faith.
How could your views make a difference?
I've spoken with families where the children were troubled that their faith required them to jettison modern science. It was encouraging to me to see the looks on their faces from speaking with someone from their own faith tradition, who could look them right in the eye and say, 'No, I accept evolution, I accept ancient Earth. The Bible doesn't speak to those things. The Bible tells me other things about how I should treat people, live my life, etc., about how I relate to God. But it doesn't talk to me about modern science.'