Note: Text in brackets, “[ ],” was added after the original version was published to further clarify my thoughts.
I assumed in my last post that more people would understand what I meant when I said that Bible classes and Creationism do not belong in public schools. But, as the comments I’ve received on that post are demonstrating, people seem to misunderstanding what I meant. So, the purpose of this post is to provide some clarification and more clearly define some essential terminology.
To refresh your memory, my last post, “Bible Classes, Creationism Do Not Belong in Public Schools. Period.” concerned my belief that 1) the Bible should not be taught in public schools and 2) discussions about intelligent design/Creationism do not belong in the public school science classroom. It should be pointed out that the American judicial system has for the past several decades also held these positions to be true, most recently in the ruling for Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Incidentally, the presiding judge in that case was appointed to the federal court circuit by former President George W. Bush, one of the darlings of the social conservative movement.
Before we go any further, let’s define some terminology that will help clarify the points I’m attempting to convey. Bear in mind, this list isn’t exhaustive and different people will likely provide different definitions, especially since beliefs on cosmogony tend to exist on a spectrum. Even so, this will suffice for my purposes here.
- Creationism – a label encompassing a vast number of beliefs claiming, more or less, that the physical universe and life were created by a god. As this term applies to the modern controversy over evolution in the United States, it typically refers to a belief that the Abrahamic God (YHWH) created the heavens and the Earth. Contrary to what may be a common misconception, the term Creationism by itself does not imply a belief in a particular geologic timeline or sequence of events, merely that a deity is responsible for the existence of the cosmos. Intelligent design (ID) is another term for Creationism and was invented to make it more scientifically palatable.
- Young Earth Creationism (YEC) – as a sub-belief of Creationism, YEC is typically a belief positing that God created the heavens and the Earth in a literal period of six days roughly 6000 years ago (the more “liberally-minded” among them might concede 60,000). It is usually informed by a faulty literal and chronological interpretation of the first and second chapters of Genesis and other passages from the Old Testament. YEC has virtually no support among serious scientists and little to no supporting evidence in the geologic record.
- Old Earth Creationism (OEC) – also called “theistic evolution,” this is a form of Creationism usually holding that God created the universe and, ultimately, human life in a way that doesn’t contradict the evidence in the geologic record. From a practical standpoint, it holds that evolution was a God-instituted and God-directed process that, over the more than 4 billion years the Earth has existed, eventually resulted in the modern biosphere. Unlike it’s delusional counterpart YEC, theistic evolution does have support among the modern scientific community, notably from Dr. Francis Collins, the current director of the National Institutes of Health, the mastermind of the Human Genome Project (which demonstrated that the original human population numbered around 10,000, not 2), and head of BioLogos.
- Evolution – a term that encompasses multiple theories collectively referring to well-supported scientific evidence that suggests life evolves via natural selection both intraspecies (i.e., within a particular species; microevolution) and–most controversially for some Christians–interspecies (i.e., from one species into another; macroevolution). It holds that human beings share a common ancestor with modern primates and are, by extension, members of the primate family themselves. Some Creationists like to point to the current existence of chimps and other primates as evidence evolution is a farce; Stephen Wise, the sponsor of a Florida law that would allow teachers to “critique” evolution, once rhetorically asked a Florida radio host, “Why do we still have apes if we came from them?” The question is a genetic fallacy: human beings didn’t come from apes; we share a common ancestor.
Assertion 1: Classes with the Bible as their sole or primary text are inappropriate for public schools.
As public institutions that cater to the American public at large, if public schools were to require students who are Hindu, Muslim, atheist, or who belong to some other religion to learn the Bible (or learn about the Bible’s impact on Western civilization independent of other literature that has had a similar impact), that would be a violation of their constitutional right to freedom of religion.
Some argue that making these courses elective negates this concern; nevertheless, that setup would still be government favoring one religion over another [by virtue of the fact that only one religion would be presented. The courts have typically held that when schools allow one religion to be represented, then they must allow all, which is the logic behind allowing school-sanctioned Christian groups to form. This logic doesn’t extend to course curricula, however. Justifying the existence of a Bible- or Christian-only class by saying one of another religion could be formed anytime doesn’t work since students can’t organize classes the way they can clubs; furthermore, classes and clubs are different constructs serving different purposes. If schools can’t afford to have specific classes for each major religion, then they can have one for all of them and remain inside constitutional bounds.]
So, in short, having the Christian Bible as a required text for a course would only be appropriate 1) in a sacred texts/world religions class where students learn about the holy books of various religions from a secular, objective point of view; or 2) in a class that examined literary influences on Western culture that included other literary works which have been similarly influential, such as Greek philosophy and Enlightenment ideology.
If parents want their kids to learn about the Bible from a Christian perspective, that’s what Sunday school is for. Since conservatives tend to be all about limited government, it seems that would be right up their alley. In any case, I don’t understand why Christians would advocate the Bible to be taught in public schools anyway. I mean, there’s only two things that could happen as a result of that and neither of them are good. Either some Christian teachers are going to end up evangelizing (which is illegal, since their salaries are funded by tax dollars) or some non-Christian teaches will go out of their way to attempt to destroy the Bible’s credibility. Granted, some might teach it from a neutral point of view, but to believe that will be the norm is fanciful.
One more point I’d like to make: I’ve noticed some conservatives attempting to interpret the First Amendment to mean only that the U.S. Congress can’t establish a state church but that the states are free to advocate and favor Christianity all they want. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant; believing this will actually fly in modern America is nothing short of a pipe dream.
Assertion 2: Intelligent design does not belong in the public school science classroom.
It was and continues to be my belief that public school science teachers who refuse to accurately teach their discipline should not be employed by the public school system. Now, I mean something very specific by this statement: I’m referring to teachers who elect to teach Young Earth Creationism in lieu of or alongside as equitable with the theory of evolution. As I’ve said, Young Earth Creationism has been thoroughly debunked by modern scientific research and enjoys virtually no support among serious scientists. It’s like continuing to argue that the Earth is flat (which, oddly enough, some people still do).
On a separate but related note, it is also inappropriate for science classes to include discussion of ID, predicated on the fact that any discussion of intelligent design is fundamentally and inescapably religious in nature and is not related to scientific study.
In a comment on my last post, someone mentioned the concept of irreducible complexity as a weakness to macroevolution and, ergo, a reason for teaching ID in the classroom. Even so, the most that proponents of the idea can hope to prove scientifically is that some form of irreducible complexity precludes the notion that life and the cosmos formed at random and without direction. As an attempt to assign meaning to irreducible complexity, ID is a part of a completely separate discipline from science; they’re linked, but not conjoined. The additional fact that ID’s advocates cannot realistically hope to prove the identity of that Intelligence further demonstrates it does not belong in an empirically-based biology or Earth science classroom. Otherwise, the end result will be, as Cara Santa Maria suggested in her blog piece for the Huffington Post, a lot of science teachers of different religious persuasions assigning whatever identity to that Intelligence they so please and all independent of the expectations associated with scientific research.
Someone naïvely suggested in a comment on the previous post that teachers should be allowed to discuss ID, but not talk about the identity of the intelligence. I hope this isn’t a widespread belief because it’s utterly farcical. Do people honestly expect science teachers in discussing ID to say, “The universe was created, but I’m not allowed to talk about by whom”?
This whole controversy is among the most annoying things in contemporary politics. It’s something that’s been almost completely manufactured by the religious right, particularly by politicians in conservative states wanting to pander to their Christian constituencies’ fears and–in a lot of cases–ignorance. I honestly don’t understand why some people refuse to accept as legitimate the veritable mountain of well-documented empirical evidence supporting evolutionary theory. Is it a faith thing? Are they afraid their belief in God will collapse if they accept evolution as legitimate? That makes no sense to me, as I’ve long-since accepted the scientific evidence and yet continue love the Lord with all my heart.
Not to be forgotten in all of this is the only really important question: does continually fanning the flames of this controversy do anything constructive to furthering Christ’s Kingdom on Earth? No, nothing, in my opinion; it only gives people reason to view the Church as an obstructionist force. The U.S. is a great place and I’m proud to live here; what I’m not proud of though is the way some elements of the Church act like spoiled children who’ve had the playground all to themselves for a long time and are now having to learn to share.
Accepting evolution isn’t abandoning a belief in Creation; it’s acknowledging that God is capable of doing things in far more complex ways than we tend to imagine. Accepting that the Bible shouldn’t be taught independent of other religious texts in public schools isn’t admitting defeat in some mostly-contrived and ill-conceived “culture war;” it’s acknowledging the growing demographic and religious diversity of the country we live in and allowing the public school system to effectively and equally serve the American people. And that’s about all there is to it.