Essay:Creationism in the Classroom

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For better or worse, one cannot overstate the role Christianity has played in American history and society. In spite of the official separation of church and state, “God” or “Creator” is referenced in many public and official documents. This deep-seated spirituality came with the Puritans and Conquistadors, and served as their motivation. Unfortunately, Christianity has brought along its own problems, which ever since the resurgence of social conservatism, have paraded around in the spotlight on numerous occasions. One of the more pervasive of these issues is the fundamentalist-backed idea of “Creation Science”. Several sects of fundamentalist Christians choose to interpret the Bible in the most literal, taken-at-face-value way possible. As the Bible is the infallible word of God (according to Christian doctrine), everything it says must be true. Various Christian scholars attempted to divine the age of the Earth based on biblical records before modern geology took hold in the scientific community. Based upon the ages of the patriarchs in various biblical families, most scholars arrived upon a creation date within a few years of 4,000 BC. Obviously, this conflicts with modern science, as well as current understanding of how the Earth came into being.

By itself then, Creationism is fairly benign: an offshoot of Christian fundamentalism posing as science. But when this pseudoscience attempts to propagate itself in places where it shouldn’t, namely in schools and in the media, the resulting consequences are quite dire. By effectively turning back the clock on 500 years of discovery and knowledge in many disciplines, Creationism threatens the scientific literacy of Americans and thus jeopardizes our place as a major power in the world. People on both sides of the Creationism-Science debate have attempted to compromise. One bill that was almost passed in South Carolina would’ve required that science instructors “teach the controversy” to their pupils. Mainstream Science would still be taught, but so would be Creationism. Pupils would be left to make up their own minds about which “version” of science they preferred. Such a proposal may contain the best intentions, but it misses the point of Science entirely: Opinions are not supposed to play any role. Science focuses upon logical conjecture based upon observable evidence and little else. As Creationism starts with all its conclusions and assumptions in place, and subsequently picks out evidence to support those conclusions, no compromise can be made. Creationism’s nature always has and always will prevent it from being a real scientific discipline.

The first and most pressing issue is how Creationism conflicts with the scientific method. In mainstream science, one starts by asking a question in response to notice something interesting or confusing about the world around him. If earlier knowledge is available on the subject, one will do research and gather that knowledge in order to form an effective hypothesis about what to expect. Once a hypothesis is formed, an experiment must be designed in order to test its validity. Only one variable is tested, and the experiment is run many times by any different people, to ensure accurate observations. Conclusions are reaped from the results of this experiment and used to either modify the hypothesis, or fully mature it into a theory. Creationists often attempt to decry evolution and geology with the phrase “It’s only a theory.” This communicates a significant misunderstanding of the scientific method. In most cases, a theory is as close to the truth (whatever that may be) as anyone has ever come. Theories are so called because they are falsifiable, i.e. they can be tested again and potentially disproven in the future. But since theories convey the scientific community’s best and most developed knowledge on a subject, they are extremely reliable. In some cases, a theory could be taken as fact, but remains a theory because science has not discovered all its nuances. For example: with current knowledge, we know that evolution absolutely and indisputably takes place. What makes it a theory is that we do not yet fully understand all the mechanisms by which evolution works. By the scientific method then, one can glean as much understanding of the universe as possible, without boxing oneself in by assumptions.

On the other hand, Creationism demonstrates almost total incompatibility with the scientific method, and its proponents will either downplay or ignore the Scientific Method entirely. In contrast to mainstream science, Creationism starts with all the conclusions in place, based upon a single text that no creationist dares argue with. According to the Bible, The world with all its aspects and features was created 6,000 years ago, along with the rest of the universe by an omnipotent, omniscient being. All this took place over the course of six days, with any woes or problems being explained by the biblical “fall of man”. The world was then totally engulfed in a flood around 2,500 BC, leaving only eight humans and two of every kind of animal alive. How did these refugees survive? By boarding and living on an ark creationists claim was made of wood, and was about the size of a small ocean liner. As the burden of proof rests upon the creationists, they’ve come up with no end of explanations for how all these events could’ve taken place. From “Hydroplate Theory” to “Baraminology”, it would seem that Creationism may have merit after all. But upon closer inspection, the whole façade of Creation Science falls apart. Having ignored the scientific method and making their conclusions first, creationists have convicted themselves of confirmation bias. All conclusions need evidence, so creationists cherry-pick and interpret certain pieces in a way that supports their statements, whilst ignoring or denying anything which doesn’t. Not only does confirmation bias weaken an argument should it encounter a competent antithesis, but it may misinform those who learn the argument for Creationism. A pupil would only be taught evidence for Creationism, as well as how to interpret it. Having not learned to think objectively then, this pupil will enter the world unprepared to function and utilize knowledge in a science-dependent world.

Methodical flaws aside, Creationism also fails completely in remaining objective. The anti-science crowd often rails about the “politicization” of the scientific community. While it is true that some scientific circles are guilty of being old men’s clubs, the objective nature of science prevents political agendas or ideologies from infiltrating it. The idea of peer-review entails many scientists in a particular discipline examining the work of a single scientist. Their combined knowledge and views will coalesce into an objective conclusion that minimizes errors and bias. Politics and ideologies are inevitably removed from the picture by the rational majority. On the other hand, Creationists view the Bible as a scientific and moral guide. Their arguments are all too often tied together with moralistic or political arguments from a far-right wing stance. Not only does this corrupt the almost nonexistent merit Creationism, it results in the merging of church and state through the education system. Additionally, Creationists only make themselves look like hypocrites when they create a straw-man of ideas or groups they don’t like, then practice the exact thing they claim to abhor.

Ultimately, it is likely to late to wipe out Creationism entirely. Too often a respectable scientist has fallen or the ploy of being challenged for a debate by a creationist. In the resulting debate (as with the recent Nye v. Ham discussion) the scientist often is bombarded by so many logical fallacies that he doesn’t know how to deal with them, and allows the creationist to claim victory and thus give the entire pseudoscience publicity it does not deserve in the slightest. The solution then, is a massive ramp-up of science education in the U.S. Various polls often show between 30% and 40% of people either not accepting evolution or not understanding it. Starting with a nationwide standardized science curriculum written by the National Academies only would enable students to have access to the best scientific knowledge in the world today. A second step would be to increase funding for science-themed government agencies such as NASA and the NIH. If people are exposed to as much real science as possible, it is likely they will reject Creationism for the lunacy it is. The ultimate result is a nation whose knowledge in science allows it to be the biggest player and force for advancement in the world.