Science and the Language War: Why the Metaphors of Evolution Undermine the Message

By Phillip T. Stephens.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Article: Electronic Free Download

Scientists and thinkers conversant with the language of science often find themselves baffled by the intransigence of religious conservatives over accepted scientific theory. The heart of this cultural battleground centers around the challenge to the theory of evolution and its proper place in public school curricula. Too often public commentary tries to reduce this intransigence to ignorance or superstition. Scientists and their supporters fail to understand that metaphors of intention and design are deeply embedded in the theory of evolution—including metaphors such as “mechanism” and “selection.” The use of these metaphors undermines attempts to remove teleology from the language of science even when scientists try to explain their use is metaphoric. Nor can those metaphors be removed from the theoretical lexicon without impoverishing the language of science. So long as design metaphors remain essential to scientific explanation, those theories will fail to convince religious conservatives and force science to compete for public attention with creationism and theoretical chimeras such as intelligent design.

Keywords: Metaphor, Metaphoric Thinking, Scientific Theory, Education, Public Policy, Design, Intention, Teleology

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp.97-106. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 483.178KB).

Phillip T. Stephens

Retired, Austin, TX, USA

Phillip T. Stephens has degrees in writing, design and philosophy and taught writing, creative writing and visual design for thirty years. His book Poems, Parables and Prayers for the 3rd Millennium (Plain View Press) was written to a dress the cultural and religious conflicts that led to the attacks of 9/11 and the bitter divisions that followed.