(Author’s Note: Under the heading and title above, the following editorial appeared in the Asheville Citizen Times, May 11, 1986, p. 2D.)
Supreme Court justices must wince at some of the silly issues they are asked to decide. Fatuous matters, though, sometimes hold serious questions of law.
Thus it is with “creationism,” and the attempt by a small number of people to get this set of beliefs included in the curriculum of public schools.
People who prefer to interpret the Bible literally who insist that the creation story in Genesis is not a parable but a word-for-word description of how the world actually began – are discomfited by what has been learned in the physical sciences since the 1820S. Knowledge that the universe and the Earth are billions of years old, and that life on this planet evolved over eons of time, somehow threatens their faith. Rather than adjust their understanding of Genesis to accommodate modern knowledge, they deny the reality of that knowledge.
Most people of religious faith, and certainly the vast majority of Christians, long since have come to accept science and to incorporate it into their understanding of God. If some people wish not to, that is their right. The trouble comes when they attempt to force their beliefs on everyone else.
Bible literalists first tried to get evolution stricken from school textbooks. Arkansas even passed a law to the effect in 1968. It was nullified by the Supreme Court.
Unable to get the teaching of evolution outlawed, the literalists decided to do the next best thing: get their beliefs taught alongside evolution.
From this evolved (if you’ll pardon the expression) something called “creation science” – and the claim by literalists that creationism is just as scientific and valid as any other understanding of how the Earth began.
They have pressed this claim upon the Louisiana Legislature and a few other states. Louisiana gave in and passed what is titled the “Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act.” It requires that creationist beliefs be taught in the state’s public schools whenever evolution is taught.
The law says it’s OK to teach neither, but if schools want to teach evolution, they also must teach creationism. (Apparently Louisiana lawmakers don’t mind if their students are denied modern learning; they simply want to innoculate students against it should they be exposed to it.)
Federal district and appellate courts have ruled that the law violates the establishment clause. The Supreme Court probably will do the same, because the law clearly is an attempt to get a religious doctrine taught in public schools in the guise of science.
Creationists say that “creation-science” is not based on religious belief. That claim is false on its face. Creationism comes from Genesis, and a particular interpretation of Genesis. It attempts to show that the events in Genesis (including Noah’s flood) happened exactly as described.
Creationists say their ideas are scientific. They even refer to their beliefs as “The Creation Theory.”
A theory does not science make. You can theorize the Earth is flat, but that doesn’t mean the idea is scientific.
If you set out to prove the Earth is flat, you find that all the evidence points to the contrary. The same thing happens when you try to prove Earth is only 6,000 years old and that all its sediments, rocks, fossils, mountain ranges and river valleys have formed since them.
That’s why creationists never present any evidence for creationism. They don’t have any, so they spend their time trying to pick holes in evolution. They pore over the research and writings of scientists, and point to the questioning and re-examination that goes on as indication of the supposed intellectual weakness of evolution.
Science is not static. Knowledge advances all the time, and as new information comes along it is analyzed, studied and rigorously debated. The fact of evolution was established long ago, but the processes of evolution – how it happened and why – are matters of intense study and debate. Creationists seem not to understand this. They seize upon every subsidiary question posed, every dispute among scientists as to the details and pieces of evolution, and present it as the Grand Flaw that disproves the entire concept.
It’s odd. Creationists accuse scientists of being dogmatic, but they use the non-dogmatism of science as evidence that scientific knowledge is false.
Everything we see in nature contradicts creationism. If some people wish to close their eyes to the world for the sake of preserving a particular religious belief, they are free to do so. But they should not insist that the rest of us follow them into the darkness.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 13, p. 400
July 3, 1986