Dinosaur Quizzes and Beleaguered Minorities

Have you seen it?  The dinosaur quiz below has been making the rounds lately.

dino quiz

Source: Answers in Genesis

This seems like a good chance for an ILYBYGTH gut check: What does this quiz tell us about creationism and American education?  For fans of evolution, this quiz confirms that creationism is a looming threat.  For young-earth creationists, though, this quiz and its public career tell us that Biblical creationists have become a righteous minority, besieged on all sides.

Here’s the story so far:  This quiz apparently came from a fourth-grade classroom at a private Christian school in South Carolina.  A parent posted it online when he found out to his dismay that his daughter had been learning this account of the origins of life.

What does this tell us about the state of American education?  Depending on your perspective, it can teach very different lessons.

For some commenters at r/atheism, this quiz serves as proof of the creeping power of Christian fundamentalism.  One poster noted, “They’re teaching these kids how to respond to people who spread the ‘evils of the world,’ in order to defend their faith.  It’s just very, very sad.”

Another agreed.  “This is just disgusting, my goodness,” he or she noted, concerning the fact that so many accredited schools in the United States teach this kind of science.  “I would really love to see a full on description of what is required to be taught to remain accredited, and then see if I could develop a program based around worship of FSM [i.e., the Flying Spaghetti Monster] that would meet those requirements.”

For young-earth creationist leader Ken Ham, however, the brouhaha over this quiz tells a very different lesson.  Ham complained that the backlash to this quiz proves that atheists have taken over America.  As he put it recently,

It seems that since the last presidential election, atheists have grown more confident about having something of a license to go after Christians. These secularists want to impose their anti-God religion on the culture. They are simply not content using legislatures and courts to protect the dogmatic teaching of their atheistic religion of evolution and millions of years in public schools. There is something else on their agenda: they are increasingly going after Christians and Christian institutions that teach God’s Word beginning in Genesis.

The danger, Ham and his colleague Mark Looy warned, should be readily apparent: “the atheists want your children. They are aggressively trying to demonize and marginalize Christians in their attempts to recruit your children for atheism or secularism.”

So who is the victim here?  Is it besieged Christians, defending their schools against dominant atheism?  Or is it science and reason, holding out in a last-ditch effort to save American education from Taliban-ism?

I’ll go out on a limb and try to define America’s educational consensus on this one.  The overwhelming majority of Americans agree, I’ll argue, that private schools can teach whatever they wish.  But there is one enormous exception: schools cannot teach doctrines that will cause harm to students or the wider society.

Obviously, this kicks the discussion back to the definition of “harm.”  We will all agree that teaching students how to rob liquor stores will ultimately be bad for both students and society.

But does teaching creationism constitute harm?  To anyone?  Here’s where tempers get heated.  I do not endorse young-earth creationism, but I believe the harm it does to students and society is far less than the harm that would be done if steps were taken to coerce schools to teach evolution.  Let schools teach young-earth creationism.  Try to persuade–not force–people to teach their children evolution instead.

Smart people disagree.  Some folks consider teaching young-earth creationism to be no harm at all.  Others, such as physicist Lawrence Krauss, consider teaching creationism to be a form of “child abuse.”   

Whichever side of this fence you fall on, this dinosaur quiz and the response it has generated can serve as a creationism quiz, a quick check of your attitudes toward this alternative science.  Does this sort of teaching harm students?  Does this sort of education harm society?

 

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7 Comments

  1. As someone who grew up hardline YEC and spent years “defending creationism from the atheists” but has since abandoned that model for actual science and theistic evolution, I don’t think that it’s harmful. There are some groups that are only indoctrinating their children in a fundamentalist way of understanding creation, but at that point, teaching creation is only an insignificant sliver of a larger problem.

    For me, the tools I developed in studying YEC only help me today. I have a lot of catching up to do, but I was taught to be skeptical and to seek real answers. Now that I can apply that to science, it’s only freed me.

    Reply
    • @ FI: Studying YEC taught you to be skeptical and to seek real answers? Pardon my ignorance, but a lot of secular folks like me tend to assume that teaching YEC means teaching dogmatically and authoritatively. Were you taught as a kid that you should be skeptical? About what? Not about the age of the earth, I assume?

      Reply
      • Those of us taught YEC were taught to mistrust and question the establishment. Of course we were also handed skewed facts (and occasionally ought right lies) to help us believe creationism was actually scientifically sound. But many of us have turned that skepticism and desire to get to the root of the facts (and the questioning of the motives of those handing out information) turned it right around into creationism.
        However I do wish I hadn’t been taught that the only way to be a christian is to believe in YEC, I think that damages children and makes them narrow minded…
        To the blogger , this was thought provoking. I’ve been on both sides of this but I was so mercilessly indoctrinated I have trouble, now that I’m out, still seeing their side.

  2. James Daniel

     /  May 3, 2013

    Great post. I absorbed a good deal of YEC through Christian radio, but was taught evolution in public school up to the AP Biology level. By the time I finished, I had the kind of cognitive dissonance that I suspect is common among scientifically-minded evangelicals. Evolution happened, but maybe Adam was created from scratch (or something along those lines). Even if there’s no evidence to support that.

    I majored in Biology at college, did an MA at a conservative seminary, and proceeded on to an M.Sc. The process made me a secularist, and increasingly bothered by the hawkers of YEC.

    You’re probably right that outlawing YEC (in private schools) would do more harm than good. But I’m also skeptical of our ability to persuade YECs to embrace modern evolutionary theory. YECs have something more important than scientific evidence — the Bible.

    Another angle to approach the question is to focus on the rights of the child. Do children have a right to a quality education? And can this ever trump the religious rights of the parents? I think the answer to both of those is “Yes”, but again, it has proven difficult to convince the public what nonsense YEC is.

    Is it harmful? Yes. It breeds either cognitive dissonance (it looks like things evolved, but they didn’t) or conspiratorial thinking (why are scientists distorting the evidence?), and raises children into an unhealthy factionalism.

    But I still don’t see an easy answer.

    Reply
  3. I think there is some harm in teaching creationism, at least in instances like the quiz above. For me, it is less about the bad information and more about the bad model of thinking and mistrust of science that it engenders. I don’t think it is a coincidence that many of the YECs I know are also Anti-Vaccine (though to be fair, it is somewhat common in the area I live).

    Reply
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