Wednesday, December 03, 2008

How to Teach Genesis by "Fabulously Observant"

David Benkof of Fabulously Observant over at the Jerusalem Post has some intriguing ideas about how to teach Genesis in the classroom and makes some pithy observations along the way, the first being:

Not very helpfully, Christian conservatives in America have responded to the US Supreme Court rulings against creationism by promoting a fake scientific doctrine ("intelligent design") that even they don't believe in - or it would be taught, instead of creationism, in the schools their children attend.

This is one of those points that is so glaringly obvious that nobody has thought of it up to now. Hat tip, Mr. Benkof. Come to think of it, I can't think of any of my fundamentalist Christian friends who say "Oh, no, we don't teach recent earth creationism but we do teach intelligent design." This is why ID occupies that nether region belonging to those that have eschewed the young earth interpretation and those who cannot wrap their heads around evolution, although Michael Behe seems to have made his peace with it. A small group, indeed. He continues:

School districts that want to fix the imbalance in which only some parents have their views represented in the curriculum can declare, for example, that the origin of man should not be taught at all except in specially designed, interdisciplinary units for 4th, 8th, and 12th graders. During these units, students will study age-appropriate scientific, literary, anthropological, philosophical, and religious ideas about the origin of the universe, the nature of life, and where human beings come from. Subjects studied may include: the ideas of Charles Darwin, creation myths of the Maya, Lakota, Yoruba, and Norse peoples, the Genesis story and its literary and religious echoes through the centuries, the evidence for species change, and controversial aspects of the theory of evolution.

While I like the idea, in principle, advocates of science will be quick to point out that evolutionary principles that apply to other species also apply to humans and that the evolution of humans is an extension of primate evolution in general, which began in the Eocene period. How would this be treated? It would be hard to do so without conflating the purposes for which each kind of literature was written. Darwin wrote The Origin of Species to propose a scientifically testable method of explaining biodiversity and palaeobiodiversity, while most creation myths are not meant to convey scientific truth but rather religious truth. BTW, "myth" in this sense is, as WordNet defines it: "a traditional story accepted as history; serves to explain the world view of a people."

Interestingly, he writes:

Doubtless, the forces on the secular Left who have had a monopoly on how the origin of man is taught in public schools for nearly a generation will never cooperate without a fight. They think their ideas are objectively true. But secularism is a minority in America, and its rivals think their own ideas are just as true.

Science is what it is. If the data leads you a particular direction, you go there. You don't vote on whether or not you should because it might offend someone's sensibilities. If evolution can be shown to happen and that it has occurred in the past and that it extends to humans, then it should be taught in science class. It is not a matter of objectivity. Science explains how things work. Nothing more, nothing less.


  1. My preferred method of teaching anything is through private schools. The real reason atheists and creationists hate each other over this is that both want to use the state apparatus to teach their own doctrines. Rare is the atheist who really cares what Christians teach their kids in their own private schools. And rare is the creationist who cares that there are private schools out there teaching a fully materialistic worldview. It's when they start trying to teach each other's kids that things get heated.

    But as far as actually moving to a universally private schooling system, I realize that I'm a hopeless idealist.

  2. I am a firm believer in the separation of state and school but, like you, am a hopeless idealist. As far as what atheists think of Christian teaching, Richard Dawkins has been fairly public about his belief that children who are taught a Christian world view are being subjected to abuse by their parents here. This sort of thing would have been unheard of even a decade ago but now he evidently feels he can make that claim openly without fear of recrimination.