Creationism and politics don’t mix

Recently there have been several reports of political candidates and officials expressing views on creationism, and of creationism being mixed with other political issues:

  1. Gabi Avital, chief scientist of Israel’s Education Ministry, was fired in October 2010 after reiterating his position that evolution is “just a theory” and should be taught alongside creationism: “[T]he conditions [for life on earth] were not accidental. [Charles] Darwin was a great scientist, but he took his theory in dangerous directions, and we need to teach the flaws of that theory, too.” [Jones2010]
  2. Bill Brady, candidate for Illinois governor, recently declared that he would not stand in the way of teaching creationism: My knowledge and my faith leads me to believe in both evolution and creationism. … I believe God created the earth, and it evolved. … I believe local school districts should establish the curriculum when it comes to those things.” [McKinney2010]
  3. A bill recently introduced into the Kentucky legislature would encourage teachers to discuss “advantages and disadvantages” of scientific theories, specifically including “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning” [Kaufman2010].
  4. Christine O’Donnell, currently a candidate for U.S. Senate in Delaware, stated in 1996 her belief that “the world began as the Bible in Genesis says, that God created the Earth in six days, six 24-hour periods.” She then discussed evolution [Schwarz2010]:

    [E]volution is a theory and it’s exactly that. There is not enough evidence, consistent evidence to make it as fact, and I say that because for theory to become a fact, it needs to consistently have the same results after it goes through a series of tests. The tests that they put — that they use to support evolution do not have consistent results. … [T]hey use carbon dating, as an example, to prove that something was millions of years old. Well, we have the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens and the carbon dating test that they used then would have to then prove that these were hundreds of millions of years younger, when what happened was they had the exact same results on the fossils and canyons that they did the tests on that were supposedly 100 millions of years old. And it’s the kind of inconsistent tests like this that they’re basing their ‘facts’ on.

As has been explained in detail in articles on this website (see, e.g., Creationism and Intelligent design), the consensus of the vast majority of professional biologists, geologists and other researchers in the general area of evolutionary theory is that creationism (the notion that the earth and all of its living organisms were created in toto within the past 10,000 years) and intelligent design (the notion that life on earth is too complex to have arisen by natural processes and must have been “designed” by a intelligent entity) are deeply flawed from a scientific point of view. For the most part, these movements do not propose crisp, testable scientific hypotheses but instead devote most of their energies to picking faults with conventional science. And the objections that they have raised are themselves deeply flawed and do not pose any significant threat to the established theories.

But beyond these issues is the fundamental question of whether it is wise to “debate” either scientific or religious issues in the political arena, or whether sectarian religious notions such as creationism and intelligent design should be taught in public schools.

With regards to science, it should be very clear that the political arena is most certainly NOT an appropriate forum to debate scientific issues. There is a proper forum for such issues, one that has been established for centuries and is an essential part of what is properly known as modern science. This forum is most assuredly not lectures, blogs, twitters, do-it-yourself websites, newspaper columns, Fox TV News, or state, provincial or national legislative bodies. Instead the proper forum for scientific debate is the system of peer-reviewed scientific journals and conferences sponsored by major scientific societies. If one of these issues is “debated” in any other setting, the discussion is decidedly “bush league” and not worth taking seriously as scientific debate. See SMR blog article for further discussion.

With regards to religion, it should also be clear that the political arena and public schools are not an appropriate arena to “debate” religious issues. For example, U.S. courts have repeatedly ruled that creationism and intelligent design are religious tenets and not science (see Court cases). Thus it is utterly inappropriate to teach these topics as science in public schools (although courts still permit the mention of these topics as part of a balanced treatment of numerous modern religious movements and issues).

But in any event, why sully religion by dragging it into the dirt and muck of modern politics?

Recall that Jesus, when asked whether Jews should pay taxes to Rome, replied, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” [Matt. 22:21]. Similar advice could be offered here: “Render unto science the things which are scientific; and unto religion the things that are religious.” In other words, those of fundamentalist religious backgrounds need to grant questions of the natural world, such as when and how the earth and its organisms arose, to the field of scientific research, and stop insisting that the Bible was written to be a technically precise scientific textbook (it wasn’t). And those of secular backgrounds need to grant questions of the ultimate meaning of life and the moral conduct of human lives to the world of religion, and stop insisting that science can displace religion, art, music, literature and philosophy (it can’t).

  • References

    1. Ryan Jones, “Israeli educator fired after pushing creationism,” Israel Today Magazine, 5 Oct 2010, available at Online article.
    2. Leslie Kaufman, “Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets,” New York Times, 3 Mar 2010, available at Online article.
    3. [McKinney2010] David McKinney, “Brady OK with schools opting to teach creationism,” Chicago Sun-Times, 5 Oct 2010, available at Online article.
    4. [Schwarz2010] Gabriella Schwarz, “O’Donnell questioned evolution,” CNN Politics, 16 Sep 2010, available at Online article.
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