A Creationist Responds

I read with great interest the Opinion pieces in which the "danger"

By | January 26, 1987

I read with great interest the Opinion pieces in which the "danger" of creationism was discussed by several able scientists (The Scientist, November 17, 1986, pp. 10-11). Unfortunately, none of these authors offered any help in resolving the controversy. Name calling, of which both sides are amply guilty, will do nothing to solve the dilemma facing our public school system. If I may be so bold, allow me to present the concerns that those of us who are biblical literalists have about the teaching of evolution in our public schools and to offer some possible solutions.

First, let me state my views. I believe the Bible to be the inerrant, infallible word of God. More important, I believe it to be the only source of inerrant "truth." Thus, I accept all other proposed "truth" (whether scientific or philosophic) only if agrees or does not conflict with the Bible.

The book of Genesis teaches a six-day creation. I believe it speaks literally on this point, as substantiated in Exodus. Thus, I believe the Earth, as we know it, was created in six literal days. The book of Genesis also indicates clearly that the creation of man was distinct from that of animals. Specifically, man (and only man) was created in the image of God. Furthermore, Genesis indicates that animals were to reproduce only "after their kind." Therefore, I reject the claim of genealogical connection because it conflicts with the word of God.

Some may think this to be a view steeped in "mysticism" and a flagrant denial of "facts," but in a pluralistic society it is a view I am free to hold. I accept and defend the freedom of others to hold the opposing view. The question is who has the right to control which view my child is taught in a public school classroom? This is not as simple a question as proponents on both sides would have us believe. I have the freedom to teach my child at home as a biblical literalist. Others, of course, have the right to teach their children the opposite view.

The difficulty arises when both children are in the same classroom. Whose view should be taught? Evolutionists would argue that the "scientific" view should be the only one taught, since it preserves the separation of church and state. Many creationists argue that in fairness to them, creationism should receive "equal time." In my view, neither of these views is acceptable.

Stephen Jay Gould is correct when he implies that inherent in the belief in creationism is the belief in a Supreme Being. To teach creationism would be to promote the belief in a Supreme Being, which obviously is the advancement of religion, and would violate the rights of parents who want to raise their children as atheists.

It is equally a violation of parental rights to teach evolution to the children of biblical literalists. Religion deals with the origin and destiny of man. Evolution deals with the origin of man and, thus, implies certain things about his destiny. Therefore, regardless of the source of the theory of evolution, it crosses the realm of science and enters into the realm of religion and philosophy. In particular, it is inherently antagonistic to the belief of Biblical literalists.

To teach my child the principles of evolution as fact is to tell him that the Bible is a lie, and infringes upon my freedom to practice and teach to my children my religious beliefs. No matter how small a minority I may be, the Bill of Rights protects my rights as much as it does those of an evolutionist.

Teach Neither View

I argue that neither view should be taught in public primary and secondary schools. The state obligates parents to send their children to school, and thus the state is obligated in turn to see that this legal constraint does not interfere with other rights I may hold. The obvious exception to this is when the protection of my rights would result in harm to society in general.

Some would argue that not teaching evolution in public school science classes would lead to serious societal harm. In these pages, Murray Gell-Mann says that in such a case "...graduates may be ill-equipped to deal with the problems of health, agriculture, industrial production, environmental quality and national defense, and our republic is in grave danger." Such an argument has absolutely no basis in reality. To state that belief in evolution is a necessary prerequisite to being a productive scientist ignores the scientists who are biblical literalists working in academia, industry and government around the world. Society has benefited from the contributions of biblical literalists for centuries, and every indication is that such contributions will continue, even in science.

I appeal to my evolutionist fellow citizens to allow me and other creationists to continue to practice our religion freely by not requiring my child to be taught evolution in public school. It might be argued that to stop teaching evolution would violate the rights of evolutionists. While I don't agree with that conclusion, there are other ways in which both sets of rights can be preserved. For example, the children of creationists could be excused during those portions of the class where evolution is taught and given an alternative assignment elsewhere. This is commonly done already for sex education classes in public schools.

Some evolutionists ask "Why should we accommodate these Christians when we are in the majority? Our view will win out." It amazes me how many scientists who vocally defend the rights of people in other countries could not care less about the rights of a minority group in their own country. Aren't our rights as important as those of people in other countries?

Halting the Exodus

Finally, I would ask evolutionists to consider whether public schools can afford the mass exodus of the children of biblical literalists. Parents unable to find a school willing to accommodate their religious beliefs—indeed, protect their religious rights—are choosing to send their children to private schools. Christian schools are opening every year to meet the demand. The teaching of evolution is a major reason for this trend.

Before one cheers this exodus, its effect on the school system ought to be carefully considered. This drain of students and of their parent's contributions can only harm the system. In addition, as the percentage of students in private schools rises, the support for a school voucher system increases.

It is imperative that both sides of the controversy sit down and develop mutually acceptable policies—a process that will take compromise on both sides. Unless they are willing to write off the educational contributions of biblical literalists, evolutionists must be willing to accept ways of accommodating the religious beliefs and protecting the religious freedom of biblical literalists. The time to act is now, before the exodus from the public schools is irreversible.

Svensson is assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences
at Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202.

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