Eugenie Scott's picture

John D. Morris, Evolutionary Creationist

So I’m browsing in the August 9 issue of The Week, and see an article “Legal rights for apes”. Interesting topic. We share 95+% of our genes with chimps and gorillas, and the behavioral differences between us and them seem all quantitative: we are distinct from them only in having more complex social organization, more of a sense of justice, more empathy, more reciprocity, more facility in communication, more expressions of compassion, and so on. They feel pain levels equivalent to ours (we have central nervous systems that are very similar), so even if apes are not little persons, they clearly should not deliberately be subjected to either physical or emotional pain. Whether one does or does not support “rights” for apes depends on how “rights” are defined. So, yes, an interesting topic.

Reading on, I came across the obligatory (and appropriate) journalistic balance of citing the opinions of people both for and against legal rights for apes—including John D. Morris. Now, that’s a familiar name in these parts: John D. Morris is the son of Henry M. Morris, founder and first president of the Institute for Creation Research. John succeeded Henry as president in 1996 as his father reached his declining years (the elder Morris died in 2006). John was quoted in The Week as saying “No ape has any awareness of right or wrong. If a loose chimp steals a picnic basket in the park, does he go to jail?” Well, there actually is research showing at least a rudimentary understanding of right and wrong, so once again creationists don’t get it, science-wise. But what really caught my eye was the descriptor of John D. Morris, “an evolutionary creationist”.

Say what? I suspect when that issue gets to ICR, palpitations will abound. I suspect the writer of the story heard “creation scientist” and transposed that to “evolutionary creationist”, but trust me on this one, none of the people at the ICR consider themselves evolutionists in any form. As it happens, there is such a thing as an “evolutionary creationist” (Google it, if you’re interested) and adherents are indeed evolutionists, though of a theologically-conservative bent. Evolutionary creationism is a term invented (I think) by former young-Earther Denis Lamoureux to express his version of theistic evolution. Many evangelicals who accept evolution prefer evolutionary creationist to theistic evolutionist because they believe it leaves more room for God than traditional Christian theistic evolution, which itself has many variants.

But this is most definitely not something that John Morris would embrace.