Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Creationism, Evolution and Education

Both evolution and creationism should be taught in schools. There, I said it. It might be the most surprising thing you ever hear me say. Creationism and evolution should both be taught in schools, but they should be taught in different classes (and hopefully on different days to avoid confusion). They are an equally important part of education, but they are as different as carrots and apples (even forbidden apples).

Creationism is not an alternative theory to evolution. Creationism is to evolution as a flat-earth is to the heliocentric solar system. Creationism is to evolution as demons causing disease is to germ theory. Creationism is to evolution as the cabbage patch theory is to sexual reproduction. Teaching creationism in a science class is little different to teaching Spanish in a French class.

Creationism is mythology, and not a scientific theory. Evolution should be part of a science class. Creationism should be part of a history class. Genesis should be studied as an example of the way ancient people made sense of their world. Creationism should be taught as an example of the way cultures take myth, poetry and story and often turn them into literal truth. The science class should outline evolutionary theory as the universally accepted scientific theory of the origins of human life.

It’s important to still teach creationism (as myth) because so many westerners grow up with a form of 7 day creation at home and in Sunday school classes. Its part of western folklore. Young people need to come to terms with their cultural heritage.

Hopefully this way, we might avoid so much of the unnecessary tug-o-war between science and religion. It’s no wonder that so many kids grow up conflicted about science and religion. When creationism is taught as an alternative to evolution, it’s like a “gloves off” boxing match to the death. In one corner, evolution brings an assortment of fossils and ancient tools to the match. In the other corner, creationism has just one tool…. an ancient book, and a very limited interpretation of that book. When the Bible is used as a weapon, it hurts. Believe me. But ultimately, Bible bashing only reveals defensiveness and fear.

There need be no fear on either side, if evolution and creationism are taught in different classes. I celebrate both. I fear neither.

My sermon on Sunday celebrated Darwin’s birthday and looked at the relationship between science and religion. I was pleased to outline a number of ways that we can embrace both evolution and the God of our many understandings, without compromising our intellect or tradition.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree - Creationism is part of humanity's rich historical heritage. Every culture has a creation story; revered and passed down through the generations. None are taught in Science class, nor should they be.

Raymond said...

I am a math teacher in Minnesota. I absolutely believe that Creationism should be taught in a social studies or history curriculum. I further believe that the traditions and beliefs of all of the major axial religions should be taught. Religion is arguably the major way that historically cultures make sense of the world. I believe that a well-educated citizen (and I know that is not necessarily what politicians think schools should be about) needs a broad understanding of the beliefs, myths and world-views of cultures based on different sets of religious beliefs.

Obviously this is controversial because you have to draw a line somewhere. What traditions should be studied? What traditions have such a small number of adherents as to not be worthy of study? How does instruction go from a dispassionate discussion of facts to preaching, etc?

Anonymous said...

Ian, I just found your site. Strangely, I have been a huge fan of St. Matthews in the City for several years - a fan from afar since I'm in Ontario, Canada and I stumbled on your site by trying to follow a link from Coast to Coast AM that has a guest by your name on its show tonight. Kind of makes me think, "hmmm".
The point - I'm an Anglican Minister who loves science and I probably read more on it than I do the Bible. I have no problem accepting both disciplines (science as 'information technology' and the Bible as a kind of 'spiritual technology') as presenting wonderful and rich stories that compliment and enrich our continuing story.
When I was a hospital chaplain in Interfaith Spiritual Care they stripped the chapel of all religious symbols so as not to offend. I argued, without success, that we should, rather than strip the chapel bare and stark, include religious symbols from all religions to celebrate the diversity of our story. I see science and religion in the same light - together they can sing, apart, they moan.

Beth said...

I completed the 10th grade at a tiny school in Massachusetts, in which I took a course that was supposed to be a History course, but was actually something like world religions and philosophy. It was an amazing course, where we read and discussed native American myths, the bible, the republic, etc... and I often wish everyone had been exposed to these ideas at some point in their education. I think one of the best things we learned in that class was tolerance- we discussed and shared ideas freely and without judgment (due to a great instructor), and got to think for ourselves. I guess I'd go one step further to say that in a course like this it would be good to introduce the idea that we are human and while we think our science is sound, it isn't infallible or complete... there is more that we don't know and may never know, and relishing in the wonder of those mysteries is part of learning as well.