Creation, Evolution and Schools

 

The classic creation/evolution debate seems to have considerable staying power, though over the years it expresses itself in new ways.  There is, however, an added dimension to the current dispute, which unfortunately, is not always clearly separated from the debate over evolution versus creation. (I am using “creation” to cover a range of approaches, including creation science and Intelligent Design. I personally accept theistic evolution, which attempts to combine the theories of creation and evolution.) In this article, I wish to limit my comments to the oft-neglected aspect of this debate – the teaching of evolution versus creation in our schools.

Throughout the U.S. and Canada, attempts have been made to challenge the general pattern of science instruction in our schools, where the theory of evolution is presently given almost exclusive attention, and where it is taught as scientific fact. In response to this established approach, attempts have been made in various states to pass laws requiring that “equal time” be given to the teaching of evolution and “creation science.” These laws, however, are themselves being challenged in the courts by those opposed to any kind of creation theory.

For example, a few years ago some devout members of the school board in Dover PA wanted to have a disclaimer read out to all ninth-grade students in schools at the beginning of their biology classes.  The disclaimer would say that Darwin’s theory is “not a fact” and has inexplicable “gaps,” and would direct them to a book about intelligent design. Eleven parents took the board to court, and on Dec. 20, 2005, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, sided with these parents.  He said, among other things, that the disclaimer “presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forgo scientific inquiry in the public-school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere.”           

 A central component of Judge Jones’s objection to the teaching of creation or intelligent design in the classroom has to do with its alleged non-scientific status.  Creation is understood to be a religious theory and so is thought to be inappropriate for a public school classroom. But, what exactly is a religious theory, and how does it really differ from a scientific theory? It is generally assumed that religion and science are very different from each other. But there are an impressive number of anthropologists, philosophers, and scientists who argue that religion and science are to some extent similar in aims, methods, and criteria used to evaluate the claims made.

 Both science and religion try to explain or make sense of that which we observe around us. Both move beyond experience and make assumptions about the metaphysical nature of reality. The claims of both are ultimately tested in the crucible of experience. A careful consideration of the nature of scientific and religious theories will show that it is very difficult to draw a sharp distinction or separation between the two areas. That is why logical positivism in philosophy is now “stone dead,” as one writer puts it.

 Thus, although I have some reservations about the Creation Science Research Center of San Diego, and the Creation Science Association of Canada, I am sympathetic with their approach of trying to justify the theory of creation scientifically. The teachings of the Bible do have scientific implications, and therefore can, at least in part be tested scientifically. Thus also my sympathies with Intelligent Design.

 I would suggest that the exclusion of creation or ID from the classroom on the grounds that it is a religious and not a scientific theory can be dismissed as another one of the many prejudices of a society committed to the religion of secularism.

 It can further be argued that the distinction between religion and science is not even relevant to the question as to whether the theory of creation should be taught in our schools. Our schools are, or at least should be, concerned about truth, or the search for truth, wherever it is found. The key question, therefore, is not whether creation is a religious theory, but whether or not it is true.

 Considered from this vantage point, the argument for excluding creation in our schools is again unsound. Let us grant that creation theory (or ID) cannot be conclusively established, and that there is an element of faith involved in accepting this theory. But, this also applies to evolution. Both theories cannot be finally established as “scientific fact,” whatever that might mean. Both theories begin and end with a leap of faith.

 The generally accepted aim of education is to promote rationality. Where there is not general agreement as to what is true, where there are theories competing for acceptance, whether in history, social studies, or science, the way to promote rationality is to present evidence for both sides, and to let students rationally weigh the evidence. The approach is not, or at least should not be to prejudge the truth, but to cultivate rationality in trying to arrive at truth. Thus, students should be exposed to any significant contenders for truth, in all areas of study. Creation theory is a significant contender for truth in explaining our origins. Therefore, it should be taught in our schools, and all children should be allowed to weigh the evidence for and against this theory.

 (This blog is adapted from an article that first appeared in “A Christian Mind” column, in the Mennonite Brethren Herald, Jan. 15, 1982.)

 

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