Behind the Kavanaugh nomination battle lie crucial issues of science, sex, and biblical interpretation
The headlines may be all about the frenzied political furore over the next Supreme Court Justice, but the backstory runs far deeper. The pivotal question, of course, is how the original founding documents should be interpreted—strictly or dynamically? Should judicial decisions be guided by the original intent of the Framers, or by an evolving understanding of how their words ought to be translated for a changing American culture?
By no coincidence, the question of judicial interpretation is precisely mirrored in how the Bible ought to be interpreted, particularly the opening chapters of Genesis. Should the Creation narrative be understood as a natural reading would indicate, taking the words at face value; or rather by some dynamic theological approach informed by modern scientific knowledge?
Commenting on the historicity of Adam and Eve, British theologian N.T. Wright warns against a commonsense reading of the Creation narrative in Genesis. Rather than being a factual, historical account of how God created the universe, the Creation narrative, says Wright, is meant to teach us about how God has made the earth his temple.
Astutely avoiding any definitive acceptance of an historical Adam and Eve, Wright carefully nuances his words to say that “something like a primal pair getting it wrong did happen,” but reading Genesis as a clunky, historical account robs it of its mythological power.
Why all the glib, theological mumbo-jumbo flying in the face of the most natural reading of Genesis? Simple. By whatever artful means, Genesis must somehow be interpreted in such a way as to accommodate Wright’s acceptance of “evolutionary creation”—the idea touted by a growing chorus of Evangelical and Catholic scholars that God created humankind through the gradual process of Darwinian-style evolution accepted by the scientific community.
This tortured transformation of the Genesis text is eerily reminiscent of how the majority in Roe v. Wade blithely adopted a constitutionally-suspect “right of privacy” as the basis for legalizing abortion. For those who desire an unwarranted outcome, whether in law or in theology, the controlling text is only a pesky speed-bump, not a barrier.
Much could be said about the oxymoronic, cake-and-eat-it-too notion of “evolutionary creation.” Of immediate concern for political observers, however, is an intriguing connection which Wright makes between religion and politics. Wright warns against what he perceives to be a uniquely-American linkage between a strict-creationist interpretation of Genesis and various political issues—as if to delegitimize a commonsense interpretation by sheer force of association with conservative political causes, specifically including abortion and gun laws.
While lumping permissive gun laws with a literal interpretation of Genesis is a real stretch (not unlike Obama’s infamous slam against conservatives who “cling to guns or religion”), Wright is on safer ground linking traditional creationists with moral issues, like abortion, that have political implications.
Yet, if you took a survey of political progressives who support abortion and oppose gun rights, would they most likely be creationists or evolutionists? Even the “origins” divide between Democrats and Republicans is telling. While large numbers of Republicans accept human origins via evolution, you can be sure that a far higher percentage of Democrats would reject divine Creation in any form.
At base, the culture wars are not about raw politics, as such, but about worldview paradigms, the most crucial fork in the road being the seminal question of origins.
Ironically, rights-obsessed progressives who demand an endless list of human and animal rights fail to see the disconnect when they insist that only Evolution be taught in the classroom. Of one thing we can be sure: neither natural selection nor, more certainly, survival of the fittest could possibly provide a moral foundation for “rights” of any kind, life or choice included.
Whether it be interpreting the Constitution or the Bible, neither strict constructionists nor advocates for more fluid applications are likely to win the argument on theory alone. Which is why facts become so important.
If in fact we humans are the product of microbe-to-man Evolution, then a plain, commonsense reading of Genesis makes little sense; and Constitutional arguments supporting the right to life lose much of their gravitas. But if in actual scientific fact humankind is not the product of microbe-to-man Evolution, then evolutionary creationists have no reason for their theologically-innovative interpretations subtly crafted to shoehorn evolution theory into the Genesis narrative; and pro-life concerns are legitimate, natural outcomes of strict Constitutional interpretation.
So, what are the facts of the matter? Before you hastily assume that the scientific community couldn’t possibly be wrong in their acceptance of microbe-to-man Evolution, you might at least consider an argument that Evolution is fatally flawed on its own terms, having nothing to do with any interpretation of the Creation narrative in Genesis.
Putting it as succinctly as possible, natural selection could not possibly have provided a gradual, haphazard evolutionary bridge between asexual replication (mitosis) and male/female sexual reproduction (meiosis), without which bridge the popularized, politicized, and now even theologized Evolution narrative is a non-starter. Nor could natural selection have provided simultaneous, on-time delivery of the first compatible pair of each of millions of sexually-unique species, precluding any possibility of Evolution’s bedrock theory of common descent.
Think that proposition through carefully, and you’ll understand why the battle over the next Supreme Court Justice is so consequential.
Ironically, the good news for political progressives is that even the most conservative Justices would not likely overturn decisions ensuring exclusive classroom access for the teaching of Evolution. Why, in particular, should a Catholic Justice take issue with either current scientific consensus or Pope Francis himself, who has been the most outspoken among the last three Popes in bestowing the Church’s blessing on evolutionary origins? Until the bad science of microbe-to-man Evolution is seen for what it is (and that day will come!), Roe v. Wade might conceivably be overturned on strict-constructionist grounds, but the philosophical basis for freely taking sacred life in the womb will remain undisturbed.
F. LaGard Smith, former Professor of Law at Pepperdine University and compiler and narrator of The Daily Bible (NIV in chronological order), is the author of over thirty books, the most recent being Darwin’s Secret Sex Problem: Exposing Evolution’s Fatal Flaw—The Origin of Sex.