One of the main Flemish newspapers, De Morgen, in its editions of July 30th and 31st, 2007, brought a newsitem about the Dutch Evangelical television channel (EO = Evangelische Omroep) and its attitude towards evolution theory. A researcher in evolutionary biology at the University of Utrecht, Gerdien de Jong (who refers, for more details, to the blog: Darwin’s Missing Link), has shown that the EO systematically removed all references to evolution theory from David Attenborough’s BBC series The Life of Mammals. From what I understand, the BBC has not and will not reacted to this. Since its beginnings in 1977, the EO has consistently fought against evolution theory in favour of the creationist belief that God created the world in 6 days. Dutch television channels receive their licences and their timeslots proportionately to the number of members. As the Dutch evangelical and orthodox-reformed protestants , who constitute EO membership, are very well organized, the EO obtains far larger slots than would be reasonable in proportion to the real number of such protestants in overall Dutch society. Moreover, the EO seems to be the only channel presenting nature programmes on Dutch television, the consequence is that the Dutch population will not really be informed on evolution theory through television media.
This is the information I gleaned from the newspaper articles. It leads me to two thoughts. First of all, that the debate on creationism and evolution theories is also very much alive in the Netherlands. This comes as a bit of a surprise to me – mainly because I am convinced that Dutch theological reflection amongst the large christian population is not so polarized. I think that most roman catholics and protestants in the Netherlands are perfectly capable to conceive of evolution theory in the framework of creation theology: is it not possible that the Creator created the universe precisely as an evolutionary process? Of course, this means that biblical texts as the creation narratives in Genesis cannot be taken as a minute by minute description of some events, but that attention should be paid to their literary creativity and genres. This does not – and I am convinced this is sound theology – diminish their value or trustworthiness.
I would be willing, however, to enter into this complex theological debate, because creationist and fundamentalists have, of course, their reasons to think what they think and defend. I would share their concern about those views that claim to rely on sciences to consider religion and faith as forgeries or mere evolutionary phenomena. Unfortunately, in my opinion, they are as unnuanced and polemical as the people they want to oppose. The polarisation that ensues does not allow to really understand science and religion. This is a crucial debate in our societies and in our world, particularly at a moment when scientists have to bring us some very worrying news, such as about the environmental crisis in which we are caught, while the necessary real life changes will only take place if they are also promoted by the world religions.
A second thought came to me, a concern about how this important debate is in fact held. I feel very uneasy with the EO self imposed censorship that leads to withholding from the Dutch public important scientific theories and results and creating a suspicious attitude with regard to science in general. Of course, I also feel uneasy, when on the “basis” of sciences there arises a systematic refusal to speak about religion and God. But, even if and when that is the case, that does not represent a sufficient reason to impose self censorship from the part of religious convictions.
I do hope that in the near future we will prove capable to move into the debate in an adult and constructive way. There is too much at stake at this moment of our history.