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The Real Message of Creationism

5 minute read
Charles Krauthammer

When the Kansas Board of Education voted recently to eliminate evolution from the state science curriculum, the sophisticates had quite a yuk. One editorial cartoon had an ape reclining in a tree telling his mate, “We are descended from the Kansas School Board.” The decision has been widely derided as a sign of resurgent Middle American obscurantism, a throwback to the Scopes “monkey trial.”

Well, to begin with, the Scopes trial is not the great fable the rather fictional Inherit the Wind made it out to be. The instigators of the trial were not bluenosed know-nothings wanting to persecute some poor teacher for teaching evolution. They were officials of the American Civil Liberties Union so eager for a test case to overturn a new Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution that they promised to pay the expenses of the prosecution! The A.C.L.U. advertised for a volunteer and found one John Scopes, football coach and science teacher, willing to take the rap. He later said he was not sure whether he’d ever even taught any evolution.

Son of Scopes is not quite what it seems either. The twist in the modern saga is the injection of creationism as the scientific alternative to evolution. So, let’s be plain. Creationism, which presents Genesis as literally and historically true, is not science. It is faith crudely disguised as science.

It is not science because it violates the central scientific canon that a theory must, at least in principle, be disprovable. Creationism is not. Any evidence that might be brought–fossil, geological, astronomical–to contradict the idea that the universe is no more than 6,000 years old is simply explained away as false clues deliberately created by God at the very beginning.

Why? To test our faith? To make fools of modern science? This is hardly even good religion. God may be mysterious, but he is certainly not malicious. And who but a malicious deity would have peppered the universe with endless phony artifacts designed to confound human reason?

Creationism has no part in the serious curriculum of any serious country. Still, I see no reason why biblical creation could not to be taught in the schools–not as science, of course, but for its mythic grandeur and moral dimensions. If we can assign the Iliad and the Odyssey, we certainly ought to be able to assign Genesis.

But can we? There’s the rub. It is very risky to assign Genesis today. The A.C.L.U. might sue. Ever since the Supreme Court decision of 1963 barring prayer from the public schools, any attempt to import not just prayer but biblical studies, religious tenets and the like into the schools is liable to end up in court.

That is why the Kansas school board decision on evolution is so significant. Not because Kansas is the beginning of a creationist wave–as science, creationism is too fundamentally frivolous and evolution too intellectually powerful–but because the Kansas decision is an important cultural indicator.

It represents the reaction of people of faith to the fact that all legitimate expressions of that faith in their children’s public schooling are blocked by the new secular ethos. In a society in which it is unconstitutional to post the Ten Commandments in school, creationism is a back door to religion, brought in under the guise–the absurd yet constitutionally permitted guise–of science.

This pedagogic sleight of hand, by the way, did not originate with religious folk. Secularists have for years been using biology instruction as a back door for inculcating their values. A sex-ed class on the proper placement of a condom is more than instruction in reproductive mechanics. It is a seminar–unacknowledged and tacit but nonetheless powerful–on permissible sexual mores.

Religion–invaluable in America’s founding, forming and flowering–deserves a place in the schools. Indeed, it had that place for almost 200 years. A healthy country would teach its children evolution and the Ten Commandments. The reason that Kansas is going to have precisely the opposite–the worst of both worlds–is not because Kansans are primitives, but because a religious people has tried to bring the fruits of faith, the teachings and higher values of religion, into the schools and been stymied.

The result is a kind of perverse Law of Conservation of Faith. Block all teaching of religious ideas? O.K., we’ll sneak them in through biology.

This is nutty. It has kids looking for God in all the wrong places. For the purposes of a pluralist society, the Bible is not about fact. It is about values. If we were a bit more tolerant about allowing the teaching of biblical values as ethics, we’d find far less pressure for the teaching of biblical fables as science.

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