Too Much Creation All Over Creation

Jun 24, 2011 by

The battles have been going on over this since the Scopes trials of the early 1930’s. The latest attempt to grease the wheels for creationism to be blatantly taught in Louisiana’s public schools alongside evolutionary theory in the form of HB580 has been voted down for now. But it is instructive to take a look at how our attempts at tolerance for any and all opinions and beliefs has been turned from a strength into a weakness in this case.

From an article, circa 1981, on then-new biology textbooks that included creationism:

Let’s take a trip back in time to 1933. The Scopes trial is already history. The Moral Majority and television evangelism are not yet on the horizon. And a high school student, opening a standard biology text by Macmillan, can read:

Charles Darwin’s Origins of Species has replaced the concept of special creation with the theory of organic evolution. At the present time, biologists accept evolution as a fact but are actively engaged in efforts to discover how it has taken place.

There is no hue and cry, no complaints about the alleged lack of evidence for evolution, even though gene splitting is far off and DNA has not been discovered. Letters of protest do not pour into the newspapers. Boards of education do not patiently listen to committees of objectors demanding “equal time” to reply to “the religion of evolutionary humanism” in the public schools.

Today, nearly half a century after the above textbook summation of evolution, and others like it, went unchallenged, a new crop of textbooks is on the market. A paragraph from one of them begs citation:

Darwin asked some interesting questions and set forth a thought-provoking hypothesis about which people are seeking new clues in the light of modern science.

Better not name what that “thought-provoking hypothesis” was. Today’s writers now play it safe. The “book-watchers” are watching! The 1973 index in Biology: Living Systems (Charles Merrill) gave seventeen lines of page references under evolution. By 1979 the subject was indexed in just three lines.

In some of the texts, “Darwin” is left out, too, particularly those of the past decade. Biology: Patterns in Environment (1972) and Biology: Patterns in Living Things (1976), both in the Harcourt Brace series, are two examples. In another, Concepts in Science (1970, second edition), only George, the son of Charles Darwin, is mentioned. But in the third edition, the dilemma has been solved by eliminating the name Darwin entirely. (The equivalent would be a physics text which neglected Faraday, Rutherford, or Einstein or an astronomy book that skipped Copernicus.)

And as evolution slips away, creationism slips in. Though sometimes handled in an apologetic way, special creation now has a place among photosynthesis, metabolism, and symbiosis in the new breed of public school texts produced by major secular publishers. Much of this is done by indirection. “Why do you think many people believe that the earth and its life must have been created by a divine creator?” asks a California text. “Egyptians attributed the original creation to the god, Nun,” the book adds. “In Babylon, it was believed the god Marduk created heaven and earth from the body of an evil dragon-goddess. Some American Indians thought that the sun-coyote created earth.” No doubt this is interesting, but is it biology?

…Among the leading publishers interviewed by Bioscience in 1979, one said that in his company’s text “evolution runs like a thread throughout, but is mentioned specifically only in the last chapter.” This is where creationism is also noted. It is regarded as a “theory” opposing evolution, but “just briefly enough to be discarded as unverifiable and therefore beyond the scope of the textbook’s area.” This publisher added that the final chapter is most likely to be ignored by teachers anyway, as it wouldn’t come until near the end of the term.

“We don’t advocate the idea of scientific creationism,” says Lois Arnold, senior science editor at Prentice Hall, “but we felt we had to represent other points of view.” A text writer who wants to remain anonymous admits, “Creationism has no place in biology books, but, after all, we are in the business of selling textbooks.”

For further reading on how the market for textbooks drives “tolerance” – well, mostly its lack thereof – I direct you to Diane Ravitch’s The Language Police, which, now more than ever, is still highly relevant.

In a world where teaching is increasingly being treated as a job in which to throw the largely inexperienced until they drop, the number of teachers who know better than to teach creationism side-by-side with evolution is already dwindling. Textbooks will be clung to not only as planning guides, but, increasingly, as instruction for the teachers as well as their students. The skirmish over HB580 is the tip of a huge mountainside of ignorance that threatens to tumble onto Louisiana public education much more than it already has. It is yet another symptom of the disease that ails education as a whole: that none of it is taken seriously as a profession, as an exercise in training young minds to think for themselves, as an expansion of our knowledge that would most certainly counter this sort of tyranny:

We are one species among millions, one flimsy twig in a forest. The whole history of the biological sciences has been confirmation and reconfirmation of this fact. Copernicus and Galileo took us from the center of the universe. Thousands of biologists still work to dethrone us from the seat we had long usurped at the head of the table of life. This is a planet of bats and rats, of sparrows, of beetles and ants, but mainly — to a first approximation — this is a planet of bacteria. One could call us an afterthought, if one granted that thought played a role in our stepping onto life’s stage, which I do not. I find this point of view exhilarating, like looking at a starry sky and imagining the impossible distances. There is grandeur in this insignificance. There is an imperative not to take more than our share.

Which is why the first sentence of Chapter Six in Biology: God’s Living Creation angered me so badly:

Man is the most magnificent part of God’s creation — far more complex in structure and design than the earth or any heavenly body.

Ignore the untruth in the subordinate clause for the moment. It is the first part that is so dangerous, seductive even to non-fundamentalists. The devotee of Teilhard’s noösphere, the extropian with his imagined Manifest Evolutionary Destiny, the well-intentioned Marxist with his inevitability of change, all fall to the same teleological demon, shackled to the Great Chain of Being. And once we set ourselves apart from the rest of “creation,” we begin to resent our ties to the earth. Of what importance is a snail, a rotifer, a tiger? We begin to imagine — and to implement — a world in which we are alone.

It is called hubris. It goeth before a fall, already in progress.


Related Posts


Share This