Weirding out on Creationism
Pollitt, Katha, Free Inquiry
My first thought upon hearing that the Kansas state education board had removed evolution from its mandatory curriculum was: Go ahead! Be like that! Handicap your kids for life. Let the "secular humanists" have all the good colleges and get all the good jobs. I know this was an unworthy thought--Darwin's demotion was a political maneuver by Christian conservative politicians, not a grassroots effort by Kansas parents, much less their unfortunate children--but there you are. As a rootless cosmopolitan, I get tired of being expected to pay homage to "the heartland" as the moral center of the universe.
And creationism, honestly! In 1999! All summer, serious newspapers have felt it necessary to publish casuistical Op-Eds by apologists for "creation science"--and the Old Testament is the only biology textbook you really need, these clever fellows forgot to add. What's going on? As Stephen Jay Gould pointed out in Time, in no other Western country is the teaching of evolution regarded as controversial. Throughout the world, one way or another, most Christian denominations have managed to reconcile belief in God with belief in the mechanisms of natural selection. A French or German or Scandinavian politician who called for students to entertain as a reasonable deduction from existing evidence the proposition that Earth is at most 10,000 years old would be bundled off to a mental hospital.
Creation science is religion, no matter what its apologists say; let's start from there. No one looking at the physical record would determine that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, that fossils represent the creatures drowned in Noah's Flood, and so on. The only way those notions would even occur to you is if you considered the Bible an unerring historical document--but why would you think that unless you accepted the Bible as divine revelation of factual truth? The Topeka Capital-Journal asserted that "creationism is as good a hypothesis as any." Because no human witnessed the beginning of life on Earth, one guess is as good as another. Of course, a great deal of science involves making inferences about phenomena no human has witnessed--the birth of stars, the interior of the sun, subatomic particles. And, as one wag asked in a letter to the New York Times, would creationists argue that the vast majority of crimes, which occur unwitnessed, should not be prosecuted?
As Theodore Schick, Jr., and Lewis Vaughn explain in their wonderful book How to Think About Weird Things, the theory of evolution fulfills all the scientific criteria of adequacy: It is falsifiable, it predicts, it leads to further discoveries, it is conservative, and it fits what we already know. That isn't to say a better theory might not come along someday, but it won't be creationism, which fails all those tests in spades. To call creationism science (or to call evolution religion, as National Review seemed to be doing when it recently said Darwinism and creationism are equally "fundamentalist") is to destroy the whole concept of science. After all, if the creationists are right, not just biology must go but also geology, archeology, astrophysics, physics; so must radiometric and carbon-14 dating. Indeed, creationists should be protesting every natural history museum in the country that uses public funds to promulgate the "secular humanist" doctrine of geological time. …