This week, there was a debate of Biblical proportions. Actually the debate wasn't as grandiose as the controversy surrounding the question, “Should Bill Nye participate in a debate with Ken Ham?” (Also known as the “Ham on Nye” debate.) Since the debate has already happened, that question is moot.
It is no secret that the Fundamentalists, religious as well as political, have a skill of framing issues to their advantage. I think most of them would even admit to it and then smirk in a self-congratulatory way. Just as pollsters can shape a “survey” by the language of the questions, extremists shape a discussion by framing the tag line. In this case, the tag line became “Darwinism vs Creationism”. The problem here is that the issue doesn’t involve “Darwinism”. I’m not even sure as there is such a thing as “Darwinism”. There is Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. etc. But these are all religions. There is no religion called “Darwinism”.
There is a saying that “If you ask the wrong questions, you never have to worry about the answers.” And that is true in this case. If you frame the questions and the issue in terms of Darwinism vs Creationism, the extremists don’t have to worry. Actually instead of “Darwinism”, it would be more accurate to pit “Science vs Creationism”. There have been so many scientific methods of discovery since Darwin that cannot be put into “Darwinism”. We should not be quoting Darwin to try to push the point. With carbon dating, DNA, Genomes, fMRIs, etc. Darwin himself would be talking a different language today. We should not put him in a box and insist that everything he said back then is just as true as today. We should not be saying that Darwin wouldn’t have evolved his idea of evolution over this time of great discoveries.
But the issue is still wrong even if it becomes “Science vs Creationism”. This is because Science deals with knowledge based on what is True and Not True. Creationism deals with the story of Creation and so deals with Truth – of which there may be many. So the issue becomes “Should (or Could) Creationism be presented as Science as if it were True?” This is proper framing.
As Humanist, there is no problem with teaching Creationism as a myth, or as ancient literature. Just as there is no problem with teaching the story of Pandora’s Box and extracting some Truth from that story. But we wouldn’t even consider teaching the Roman, or Greek, or Norse, or Hindu myths as Science. And so another important question, properly framed is “What is the difference between the Creation myth and the myth of Pandora’s Box?”
This is framing the issue that puts the responsibility onto the Fundamental extremists rather than the Scientists.
It’s interesting to note the difference between the acceptance of evolution in the US versus other countries. In Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden, acceptance of evolution topped 80%. Only about 40% accept it in the US. In this study, the only country lower than the US was Turkey. Fifteen countries were ahead of the US. The reason is because of the impact of the extreme Fundamentalists in our society.
Even after the Supreme Court has ruled that Intelligent Design cannot be taught as Science, there have been creeps of Creationism into the school curriculum. Louisiana has a law, the Louisiana Science Education Act, (a misnomer if there ever was one) which allows teachers to bring in unregulated supplemental material to “critique” evolution. Zack Kopplin, in The Guardian, quotes Senator Ben Nevers, who sponsored the bill, “scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin’s theory.” (Notice the framing of “Darwin’s theory” rather than “Science”.) Copycat bills have snuck into other States such as Tennessee. Already, in four States in this year, 2014, there have been bills that promote creationism or attack evolution – Virginia, Oklahoma, Missouri, and South Dakota. And of course Texas is doing a re-writing of history and science to present the extremists’ side.
As Humanists, we need to be aware of these creeps (double entendre intended) and make sure that this does not happen in our State or School District. According to the same Guardian report, 13% of schools across the country have biology teachers who are not teaching evolution but are teaching creationism instead. And perhaps worse, another 60% are avoiding both to avoid problems.
I’m sure that this debate didn’t change anyone’s mind on the issue. Debates seldom do. And this was a debate, not a dialogue. They were not trying to learn from each other (or have others learn). So neither Ham nor Nye “won” the debate.” However, according to a Christianity Today poll, 92% of the Christianity Today respondents felt that Bill Nye “won”. If nothing else, Nye has lit a torch to shine a light and show the believers in Science how great the problem of non-critical thinking is in our present society and especially in our schools.
I would like to ask this question: As someone who does not have any kids in my local school, who should I call to find out what is being taught in my local school? How should I phrase my questions? Is there transparency in our school systems which will allow an outsider to peer in to see what is being taught? Comments would be appreciated.