The political red-meat of creationism revealed
By Carl R. Weinberg
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
I have a confession to make. For the last nine years, as I taught my LAMP L416 senior seminar, “The Meat We Eat,” I generally kept quiet about the main topic of my research and writing. Turns out, I am not primarily a meatologist (though I am an enthusiastic carnivore). Rather, I have been researching and writing Red Dynamite: Creationism, Culture Wars, and Anticommunism in America, which comes out this October (and can be pre-ordered now!) Thanks to a grant from IU, the book will be published by Cornell University Press both as a paperback and as an open-access volume you can download for free.
Here’s the short version: You have probably heard that conservative Christians tend to dislike the ideas of Charles Darwin and his successors. In his On the Origin of Species (1859), Darwin presented the idea of natural selection to explain how humans and all living species could have developed naturally from a common ancestor. Darwin rendered a creator God unnecessary for explaining the world’s stunning biological diversity.
LAMP faculty member Carl Weinberg.
Today, creationists most commonly (and somewhat self-contradictorily) argue that evolution is “bad science” and evolutionary ideas undermine religious faith by contradicting the Book of Genesis. My research indicates that for many decades, however, the most powerful weapon in the creationist rhetorical arsenal was the claim that if you teach young people they are descended from animals, they will act like animals. My book focuses on a subset of this argument by looking at ways creationists tied “animalistic” behavior to communists and socialists, whom they accused of conspiring to promote violent behavior and sexual immorality. (Creationist geologist George McCready Price called this lethal combination “Red Dynamite,” hence the book’s title.)
Although I reject conspiracy theorizing, there was a grain of truth in creationist contentions. Modern communist founders Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the Russian Bolshevik leaders Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, and early American socialists and communists all embraced the cause of evolutionary science. (For more details on my findings, see blog posts here, here, and here.)
Many of my former students may now suddenly recognize that there were some pretty big hints of my secret research interest threaded through “The Meat we Eat.” My seminar incorporates a range of evolutionary themes: Did humans evolve to eat meat? What makes us different (if anything) from non-human animals? What are the evolutionary origins of the modern pig? Why did Upton Sinclair call his great muckraking novel of the meat industry The Jungle? (Hint: survival of the fittest).
Students also learn about the role communists played in building strong, interracial meatpacking labor unions in the 1930s and 1940s, especially in Chicago, Illinois, and Austin, Minnesota (home of Hormel). Those union pioneers were big proponents of social evolution—they believed working people could change society in ways that made life more humane for all. That contention lies at the heart of the continuing controversy over evolution today.
So, the secret is out. I look forward to the conversations my book may help to spark. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students in Professor Weinberg's spring 2017 The Meat We Eat course visit JBS Swift in Osgood, Indiana. They posed for a photo with "Bacon the Pig."