Secular humanists on the real planet of the apes
By MICHAEL LIND - SALON.COM
Added: Tue, 23 Aug 2011 22:41:27 UTC
By delicious coincidence, the new movie "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" was showing in theaters nationwide, even as two contenders for the Republican presidential nomination debated whether it is a fact or a theory that humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons descend from a common ancestor. On Thursday, Aug. 18, Jon Huntsman tweeted: "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." On the same day, campaigning in New Hampshire, Texas Gov. Rick Perry described evolution as "a theory that's out there" and one that's "got some gaps in it."
How times have changed. During his successful campaign for the presidency in 1912, Woodrow Wilson, Ph.D., the former president of Princeton University, was asked whether he believed in evolution. He replied, "that of course like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised." Theodore Roosevelt, his predecessor in the White House, wrote in "My Life as a Naturalist" about his childhood reading: "Thank Heaven, I sat at the feet of Darwin and Huxley."
The rise of creationist Protestant fundamentalism in America has been paralleled by the decay of liberal Protestantism, which supplied much of the moral energy for the progressive movement, the New Deal and the civil rights movement. For the most part, the liberal Protestant churches are losing members, not to more conservative denominations, but to a growing minority of the unchurched. Some are self-described atheists or agnostics while others profess a vague belief in God.
The religious vacuum to the left of center in the U.S. and Britain, where liberal Protestantism has undergone a similar collapse, has been filled with three new creeds. The first is radical environmentalism, which is best understood as a kind of nature-worshipping pantheism. The second is the "new atheism," with champions like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. The militantly anticlerical tone of the new atheism is not particularly new; it differs little from that espoused from the 1960s to '80s by the late Madalyn Murray O’Hare of the American Atheists Association.
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