Carl Weinberg’s Red Dynamite: Creationism, Culture Wars, and Anticommunism in America (Cornell University Press, 2021) promises to be an explosive book exposing creationism as a tool of Christian fundamentalists to attack communism (as well as other progressive moral causes, especially sexual immorality). Unfortunately for Weinberg, a historian at Indiana University, his charge failed to detonate. The primary reason for this is that he majors in the minors.
Weinberg takes a historically accurate claim — that many creationists over the years blamed communism on evolution — and then blows it way out of proportion by intimating that the reason creationists reject evolution is because they feel threatened by its communist implications.
To be sure, with meticulous detail he documents the ways that many creationists (most of them young-earth creationists, though he never really defines the terms “creationism” or “creationists”) since the 1920s have insisted that communism is one of the evil fruits of evolutionary theory. At times he admits that anti-communism only takes up a very small portion of the creationist books he analyzes, many of which contain far more about science and religion than about morality or politics. Nonetheless, Weinberg argues in his book, “The controversy over evolutionary science has never been primarily about science or religion, in a narrow sense, but about morality and power.” (21) I’m sorry, Weinberg, but the controversy is far more about science and religion than it is about morality.
Weinberg is correct to claim that morality is important to creationists and that many have blamed Darwinism for producing immorality and communism. In his zeal to connect the historical dots between creationism and anti-communism, however, Weinberg blithely ignores or dismisses the creationists’ many statements that use scientific or religious arguments for their position, which are far more frequent than their arguments about communism or morality. Apparently Weinberg just cannot fathom that scientific or religious views could be the real motivating factors behind their creationist outlook. For him, it must all be political. The way Weinberg depicts things, creationism is just a bourgeois tool in the class struggle and serves as a justification for the oppressive capitalist system.
Explaining a Key Mystery?
Weinberg is also not wrong to point out that most creationists are anti-communists, and some have linked Darwinism to communism. The former point is rather obvious, since communism is atheistic. The latter point is one that communists themselves (including Marx and Engels) have emphasized, as Weinberg admits. However, in the Introduction he argues that this creationist linking of Darwinism and communism helps explain a key mystery: “Why has creationism persisted into the twenty-first century in the most scientifically advanced country in the world?” (13) Weinberg’s “explanation” is balderdash. He is so laser-focused on all the times that creationists blame evolution for communism that he ignores the many, many other reasons — many of them much more influential and substantial — that motivate creationists to reject evolution. Contra Weinberg, creationists did not embrace creationism because of its association with anti-communism.
Stay tuned for a subsequent post in which I will discuss further problems with Weinberg’s position.