Anti-evolution crusader Phillip Johnson, dedicated his 1997 book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, to "Roberta and Howard, who understood 'the wedge' because they love the Truth."
The mysterious reference is apparently a note of thanks to Howard F. Ahmanson Jr. and his wife Roberta, a wealthy and secretive Orange County, Calif., couple who have generously funded the anti-evolution movement and other right-wing causes that advance their fundamentalist Christian outlook.
Howard Ahmanson, however, is no ordinary fat-cat. The savings and loan heir has maintained a long-time relationship with Christian Reconstructionism, an extreme faction of the Religious Right that seeks to replace American democracy with a harsh fundamentalist theocracy.
Reconstructionists believe conservative Christians should take "dominion" over American society. Under their version of "biblical law," the death penalty would be required for over a dozen categories of offenders, including adulterers, homosexuals, witches, incorrigible children and those who spread "false" religions. They regard the teaching of evolution as part of a "war against Genesis."
Ahmanson served for over two decades on the board of directors of the Chalcedon Foundation, Rousas J. Rushdoony's Reconstructionist think tank that serves as the intellectual center of the movement. Ahmanson has also generously supported the Foundation's work.
As for Ahmanson's interests in opposing evolution, his relationship with leaders such as Johnson raises a series of questions about how the movement to "defeat" evolution is paid for and what the larger agenda might be.
There is little doubt that the Ahmansons have the resources to help finance anti-evolution efforts. The family's wealth grew exponentially during the 1950s and '60s when Howard Ahmanson Sr, made billions in the savings and loan industry. After his death, his estate was divided between his son Howard F. Ahmanson and the Ahmanson Foundation, which had $663 million in assets at the end of 1996. (H.F. Ahmanson & Co., the parent company of Home Savings of America, had over $47 billion in assets in 1997.)
With a vast fortune in hand, the Ahmansons are playing an active role in ensuring the anti-evolution movement's success.
According to Reason magazine, promotional materials from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute acknowledge that the Ahmanson family donated $1.5 million to the Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture for a research and publicity program to "unseat not just Darwinism but also Darwinism's cultural legacy." In fact, the August 1999 issue of the Discovery Institute's Journal recognizes an Ahmanson outfit for providing the Center's start-up funds.
With such high-powered assistance, the Center has quickly become a leading anti-evolution organization. The center's senior fellows include some of the highest profile advocates of "Intelligent Design" creationism, including David Berlinski, William Dembski and Michael Behe. Johnson himself is listed among the center's two official advisors.
Additionally, Roberta Green Ahmanson provided the funding for Dembski to appear at her alma mater, Calvin College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan, to promote his approach to attacking evolution. Although he claims to be interested only in the scientific "evidence" against evolution, Dembski's appearance was listed as part of the college's "Seminars in Christian Scholarship."
Funding from the Ahmansons is not always obvious. For example, the Fieldstead Institute is an extension of the Ahmanson empire, which frequently provides financial support for creationist causes. Dembski's appearance at Calvin was sponsored by a group called Fieldstead and Company. (Both appear to derive their name from Howard's middle name, Fieldstead.)
Ahmanson has also taken an interest in providing money for other political causes, including support for voucher subsidies for religious schools and opposition to gay rights and pornography. In the January/February 1997 issue of Religion & Liberty, published by the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, he argued that the Bible opposes minimum wage laws.
Ahmanson's opposition to evolution remains part of his larger agenda of establishing a fundamentalist "Christian nation." In the coming years, as different groups and personalities step into the anti-evolution fray, Ahmanson's role bears watching.