Call Me, New York Times

Did you see it yet?

All of us who follow creation/evolution debates have likely read by now the “Room for Debate” essays in the New York Times the other day.

The jumping-off point, it seems, was Virginia Heffernan’s recent claim that she is a creationist.  The editors asked contributors, “Is it really so controversial to believe in biblical creationism?”

Each essay is short and pithy.  Certainly worth your time.  They include fourteen cents altogether, two each from an evangelical physicist, a liberal theologian, an evangelical apologist, a Muslim pundit, a political scientist, a law professor, and a theologian/environmentalist.  All in all, an interesting and idiosyncratic collection of opinions on the subject.

But here’s my beef: Where is education in all these voices?

Other scribblers, I’m sure, will ask other questions.  For example, where is atheism?  Or any sort of strong argument that it is, indeed, a big problem to believe in biblical creationism?

The editors would not have had to work hard to find a good atheist to contribute.  Even outside the big names such as Jerry Coyne or PZ Myers, plenty of articulate atheists could have offered a strong opinion about the dangers of believing in biblical creationism.

More directly relevant to readers of ILYBYGTH, where is the voice of education?

IMHO, the issue of “biblical creationism” would not be nearly as controversial if Americans did not have to decide what to teach in our public schools.

As Professor Giberson noted in his piece, “The brouhaha about ‘biblical creation’ is really a proxy war about the reality of meaning in the world.”

Well put.  But that proxy war is fought primarily in boards of education, in classrooms and PTA meetings, in state textbook meetings, and in thousands of other school-related battlefields.  The evolution/creation controversy is not primarily an issue simply of scientific or theological disagreement about epistemology and ontology.  There are plenty of other issues on which people do not agree that have not had the tumultuous career of the creation/evolution debates.

In short, the brouhaha over reality of meaning is only a brouhaha because we need to decide on what sorts of meanings we will teach our children.

It would have helped this discussion enormously, I believe, if someone had pointed this out; if at least one contributor made education his or her primary intellectual interest.  I’m not only saying this because I wish the NYT had called me.  Though I do work for peanuts.

In the bigger picture, leaving an “education” voice out of a creation/evolution debate has long been a problem for those of us trying to understand the issue.  Too often, creation/evolution is framed as an issue of science and religion.  Science and religion only.  As if the truth of life’s origins remained the primary source of controversy.

That makes it difficult to understand the real issues.  As thoughtful scholars such as Randy Moore, Lee Meadows, Michael Berkman & Eric Plutzer, and David Long have pointed out, creation/evolution is not only about “the reality of meaning in the world.”  The rubber hits the road in this culture-war issue with individual students, in specific classrooms, day after day, decade after decade.

Unless we recognize the importance of the way creation/evolution plays out in such real-life environments, we will not move forward.

So, for the record, the next time any editor wants to corral a herd of scholars to comment on creation/evolution issues, please be sure to include someone with a primary interest in evolution.

It doesn’t have to be me.  But I’m always available.

I will also talk about creation/evolution at Labor Day cookouts, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, awkward crowded elevator rides, or any other event.  Just call me!


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  1. Hahaha! Your enthusiasm for this topic is sort of adorable sometimes.

    I do agree with you; making the creation/evolution debate solely about the scientific/religious merits of one theory or the other leaves out a very important element in the debate. After all, in education, the powers-that-be strive to offer a curriculum that is “correct”. But, much more than that, they must also offer a curriculum that is appropriate, current, palatable, and non-discriminatory. Where we draw THOSE lines is often the greater debate than what is generally considered correct. For example, a standardized test that includes fill-in-the-blank exercises might be approved for use because the answers are considered relevant and correct based on modern grammar. However, the very nature of these exercises is artificially discriminatory towards non-native English speakers, resulting in poor test scores from students who may understand grammar perfectly well. As such, the “correctness” of the test is not in question, but rather, whether it is appropriate to use the methods given. I imagine that a HUGE amount of important discussion could be gleaned from asking the questions like “how big of a following does one idea need before we include it in curriculum? Do we present these other early-earth narratives as equal alternatives to mainstream science? Should students be exposed to them based on the theory’s own merits, or simply based on the fact that the idea is prevalent in society?” These sorts of questions also overlap into discussions of whether children should be taught world-religions classes, how we present our history curricula, how (or if) we discuss controversial topics in the classroom, etc. I’d also love to hear more about these things.

    • Thanks, Anna, I’ll take “sort of adorable” over “sort of creepy” any day.
      As you say, talking about creation/evolution as if it is ONLY an issue of religion or science misses some important truths. Our public schools in the United States have long been terrible at teaching children about any sort of controversial issue. We might compare our public schools to a sort of national Thanksgiving dinner. We all know the sensitive spots, so in schools we try to avoid them in order to get through the day. This goes beyond the usual red flags of evolution, sex ed, and prayer and Bibles.
      An experienced high-school teacher told me the other day that our Great State of New York has long tended to short coverage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on state history tests. Why? Because it is too difficult to pinpoint the “right” answers in those cases. Should the USA have dropped the bombs? Instead of pushing for better and more thorough history teaching, the Powers That Be have agreed to sweep the issue under the rug.
      With creation/evolution, no one is allowed to sweep anything under the rug, since intense support exists for both more evolution and less. But this is not just a scientific or religious question. It is, first and foremost, an educational one.

      • Agreed. I think framing it as solely a science/religion question is empowering to both sides. On the Creationist side, it validates the discussion because they can continue bringing forth evidence and attempting to prove that the theory cannot be killed. If one of their supports is knocked down by evidence, they will always find a new one. The religious side of it, within their own communities, also gives them the option of pressuring and threatening believers to support Creationism in schools or else God will be driven from schools (leading to anything and everything bad).

        On the flip-side of that coin, the scientific community would rather be dismissive of creationists and beat at them with evidence rather than confronting the educational issues. Yes, the theory may be wrong, but how do we handle that when it has such a strong following in society? Do we try to ignore it or do we discuss it? I don’t have the answer there, but I think it needs to be debated!

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