Magazine article Skeptic (Altadena, CA)

Creationism's Expanding Universe: Linguistics May Be Fundamentalism's Backdoor into the Public Education System

Magazine article Skeptic (Altadena, CA)

Creationism's Expanding Universe: Linguistics May Be Fundamentalism's Backdoor into the Public Education System

Article excerpt

IF ONE THING IS APPARENT FROM THE PAST quarter-century or so of skeptical investigation, it is that pseudoscience has an uncanny ability to infiltrate any domain of rational inquiry. Virtually every discipline from astronomy to zoology now has to contend with some loopy notion that masquerades as science. The most persistent infiltrators of all are the creationists. Their crusade to replace mainstream science with the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible has brought them into fields as diverse as geology, genetics, and physics. The creationists are also the biggest nuisance in that they have shown no compunction about trying to legislate ideas that have been defeated in the arena of scientific debate. Objective number one in this crusade is, of course, public education in America. Small wonder: that's where our future intellectuals will learn the foundations of science and its methods. Creationist assaults on education have been relentless, although so far the scientific community has been able to stave off most of them.

That could easily change, however. The creationists, ever resourceful, may have found a back door into the school system. They have expanded their agenda beyond the natural sciences and into areas that fall under the rubric of the humanities and social sciences. The largest creationist organizations--the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and Answers in Genesis (AiG)--are publishing tracts and articles on a wide range of subjects including anthropology, history, philosophy, psychology and linguistics. The ICR has made little effort to conceal its motives. "The creation versus evolution controversy is not just about biological evolution. It also includes Chemistry, Physics, Geology, real History, Anthropology, Archaeology, Paleontology, Paleoclimatology, Astronomy, Geophysics, etc." (1) What the ICR has in mind, in other words, is a shadow curriculum dedicated to presenting the fundamentalist vision on all fronts.

It is astonishing how many influential people think this is a good plan. Al Gore, who posed as our would-be Science President in the 2000 elections, went on record as saying that creationism should be taught in public schools "but not in science classes." (2) He suggested religious studies programs as an appropriate venue. New Mexico Board of Education Board president Flora Sanchez suggested social studies classes. Hawaii State Board of Education member Marylin Harris was quoted as saying "There's all kinds of areas you could put [creationism] into," including philosophy, comparative religions, or history. David Kennedy, the director of science education for the state superintendent of public instruction in Washington, agreed. Both the ACLU and the National Academy of Sciences have vehemently opposed creationism in science curricula but am ambivalent, on First Amendment grounds, about its introduction into those "other areas." (3) Perhaps this is seen as a compromise that will placate the fundamentalists into abandoning their efforts at establishing a beachhead in science classrooms. If so, Gore, Sanchez, Kennedy, Harris, and everyone else would do well to read what the creationists are writing in their new interdisciplinary literature.

A word of caution, however: this can be an unnerving, almost surreal experience. When they publish their "scientific" works, the creationists at least go to the trouble of creating a facade of sophistication. Their scientifically naive readers will be duly impressed with hifalutin' titles like M.A. Armitage's "Complex Life Cycles in Heterophyd Trematodes" or John Baumgardner's "Computer Modeling of the large-Scale Tectonics Associated with the Genesis Flood." (4) When they write in the humanities and social sciences, on the other hand, the creationist narrative is so vulgar that you suspect a hoax. You may find yourself thinking that this is not the work of creationists at all, but mischief on the part of some coven of secular humanists bent on embarrassing fundamentalism. …

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