SENATE BILL No. 89 in Indiana reads, in full,
The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.
Because of the strength of the US-based Evangelical Christian missionary movement around the world, raising up Creationists in every country, and because of Creationist ideas in other religious traditions, particularly Islam, this is an issue that we have to take up in science textbooks, and also to varying degrees in political science, history, civics, comparative religion, and social studies generally. I live in Indiana, and I am getting myself right into the middle of this issue via Twitter, Facebook, letters to the editor, my other WordPress blog, and elsewhere.
Previous experience in Indiana is that the courts will firmly reject any attempt to teach “Creation Science” as science, but that it can be taught as Social Studies or Comparative Religion. I talked with Bill Jensen, Director of Secondary Education for the Bartholomew County School Corporation, today about his previous experience with such a class, the last time the Fundies tried this in Indiana, in 2004. He told me that the students, including the children of anti-Creationists, initially liked the course, and found it quite challenging to learn about religions that they were not otherwise exposed to, but when that Fundamentalist surge faded, so did interest in the class. (We actually have significant Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist populations here in the heartland, but not a lot of social integration.) I plan to get the materials for that course, if possible, and add them to the Replacing Textbooks program if their licenses permit.
I have suggested that Creationist proponents of “Creation Science”, “Intelligent Design”, and “Teaching the Controversy” should be careful what they wish for. Do they really want their children to learn that Hindus believe in an infinite sequence of creations, each by a different god? Do they want their children to learn Buddhism, which holds that there was an infinite sequence of worlds due to the working out of cause and effect, none of them created by a god? Jewish Kabbalah, which holds that this is the ninth creation? Daoism–”The One is the mother of the ten thousand things. The Dao is the mother of the One”? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? Scientology? The Church of the Subgenius? “Liberal” Christianity? Voudou? Santeria? Obeah? Mayan religion? Neopaganism? Wicca?
How about Voltaire? “I have only ever had one prayer, a short one. It is this: Oh, God, please make our enemies entirely ridiculous. God granted it.”
I have amused myself from time to time by working out how much science one has to reject in order to be a Creationist. It is not just evolution, or as they call it, “Darwinism”, as though it were merely another religion with no scientific support of its own. To begin with, evolution is a fact, or rather many billions, even trillions of known facts about such matters as comparing DNA among every species on Earth. Darwin did not invent the idea of evolution, which was already in the air (as scientists put it) in the early 19 century. What he contributed were mechanisms of evolution, namely Natural Selection and Sexual Selection working on the (at that time) unknown genetic material, and the marshaling of a vast array of evidence to support those mechanisms, starting from the known successes of artificial selection among plant and animal breeders.
It is a great shame that Darwin never opened the paper on genetics that he received in the mail from Gregor Mendel, because Mendel’s statistical approach to genetics, and the detailed results of that approach, were precisely the kind of support Darwin was looking for. But eventually genetics caught on, and after that molecular biology. Today we can say that nothing in biology makes any sense without the unifying ideas of evolution and natural selection.
I will pass over these triumphs of modern genetics, molecular biology, and other studies that have supported the ideas of Natural Selection and Sexual Selection in the last 150 years. You can read about them in all sorts of materials, such as the book Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. I prefer to return to the previous question: How much science does one have to disbelieve in order to be a Creationist?
- Essentially all of biology; that is a given. According to their hypothesis, one must believe that all species were created in essentially their modern forms approximately 6,000 years ago, except for all fossil species that went extinct and were fossilized during and after Noah’s Flood. Then there is the problem of the distribution of species since the supposed Flood, including populations spread across the tropics in both Africa and South America, but not known in the area where Noah supposedly lived and built his ark.
- All of geology having to do with the age of sedimentary layers laid down ever hundreds of millions of years; together with all evidence of the age of volcanic deposits and of asteroid and comet impacts, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so forth. Notably, this includes the iridium-enriched, calcium-deficient thousand-year K-T boundary layer that may be associated with the extinction of the dinosaurs, but that was definitely a result of the Chicxulub asteroid impact.
- Plate tectonics, including seafloor spreading, mountain-building, the origins of earthquakes, and so on.
- Ice ages, that is, recurrent glaciation at intervals of thousands of years, radically transforming landscapes by moving materials hundreds, even thousands of miles. We can date glacial ice cores using the isotopic composition of air trapped in tiny bubbles.
- The fossilization process, which almost always requires geologic time to leach out organic materials and deposit rock in their place. Preserved skin, bones, wood, and such from 6,000 years ago are, with very rare exceptions, just skin, bones, wood, and such. Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old body found in the Ötzal Alps, for example.
- The parts of Quantum Mechanics that relate to half-lives of radioactive elements, which in turn have to do with determining the ages of organic materials within the last few thousand years (via carbon dating), terrestrial rocks up to about 3.8 billion years old, and asteroidal material even older than that. Since you can’t separate radioactive decay from the rest of Quantum Mechanics, that doesn’t leave much wiggle room for accepting the rest, except among people who don’t care about consistency or correctness.
- All of astronomy having to do with objects more than 6,000 light years distant, as determined by parallax measurements and other techniques, and almost all of astronomy within that distance. Although some Creationists claim to believe that distant objects are really where we see them, the fact is that light could not have gotten from there to here unless you break pretty much all of physics, starting with Clerk-Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory and Special Relativity, both of which set the speed of light to a constant. That seems to leave the Creationist God playing practical jokes on humanity, or even lying, by creating the light that we see as if it were emitted from stars and galaxies far, far away.
- All of astrophysics, dealing with stars ranging up to 13 billion years in age. To deny this is again to deny all of Quantum Mechanics, which tells us the rate at which stars can fuse hydrogen to helium, helium to carbon, and so on. We can fuse hydrogen to helium on a very small scale here on Earth, and it is extremely well measured and understood. In particular, we know how long it took to create all of the helium and heavier elements in the Sun, starting with the amount produced in the Big Bang.
- All of cosmology, starting from General Relativity and continuing into the expansion of the Universe, the Big Bang, and the observable Cosmic Background radiation, which tells us with considerable precision the age and composition of the Universe.
I could go on through chemistry, archeology, mathematics, logical fallacies, and more, but I think that the above points are sufficient for now. Further discrepancies in Creationism cannot really discredit it any further. In the somewhat humorous theory of the bakedness of scientific ideas (starting from the popular term, half-baked, and expounded in the book The Scientist Speculates: An Anthology of Partly-Baked Ideas), so-called “Scientific Creationism” turns out to have a negative bakedness value. In the words of physicist Wolfgang Pauli, it is “not even wrong”.
To me it is more interesting to inquire why people believe in Creationism. We do not have room for a thorough explanation of the attractiveness of Creationism to Biblical Fundamentalists. I will just note two points, although there are more.
- When Darwin published The Origin of Species, at the time of the Civil War, it was not possible to tell slaveowners and their supporters that they were descended from “monkeys”, a common term for Black Africans, still occasionally used as racist Dog Whistle code in the South. Much of the foundation of slavery as the South’s “Peculiar Institution” was the Southern Baptist theology which held that Black Africans were being punished with the Curse of Ham for a supposed transgression of one of Noah’s sons. This curse supposedly turned their skins dark, made them stupid, and made them even more morally unfit than their sinful ancestor. It was therefore only right for Whites to enslave and uplift them. In fact, it could be claimed, and it was claimed vociferously, that slaves were better off in slavery, and that it would be immoral to free them.
- Southern Baptist theology turns on the notion of literal Original Sin in the Garden of Eden, which must therefore be maintained as literal history. Paul wrote, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” (I Corinthians 15:14) Christ’s rising is to them the proof of God’s Second Covenant, for redemption of Original Sin, in this theology. It is thus entirely dependent on the historicity of Genesis. Those who deny Genesis, specifically Original Sin, are held to be incapable of Christian salvation and of morality of any kind, and indeed to be bent on the destruction of Christianity. Science is thus a conspiracy of wantonly evil liars and worse, led by the devil or the Antichrist, against all that is good, true, and necessary.
And the same for Global Warming and the rest. Once a fundamental branch of science is a conspiracy with the Powers of Darkness, any other part of science can be made out to be just as evil. (I’m not making any of this up.)
It is also important to note that Biblical Fundamentalism, including Biblical literalism and Creationism grew up gradually in the century following Darwin’s publications. But it was not until the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s that Young-Earth Creationism and Flood Geology became dominant. The essential work of modern Creationism, The Genesis Flood, appeared in 1961. Flood geology pretends to explain many of the points denied above as results of Noah’s Flood, including geological strata, the fossil record, and much more. However, it cannot reach the fundamental issues with Newtonian physics and astronomy, Special and General Relativity and cosmology, and Quantum Mechanics that I have noted.
Copernicus and Galileo were vindicated in Newton’s physics and astronomy in the 17th century, but it was not until the end of the 20th century that the Catholic Church fully rehabilitated Galileo. It has not made the same mistake with Darwin. But it has only been 150 years since Darwin told the Southern White Supremacists the truth about themselves, and it will take much longer for most of their descendants to forgive him.
Still, I am descended from slaveowners in the Carolinas, and I am quite proud of my Black African ancestry. I particularly like the genius who first turned the rock over and chipped the edge on both sides.
This, too, shall pass.