In all the world’s rich panoply of religious and spiritual pursuits, there’s nothing quite so inspiring as watching people desperately tie their entire view of the moral universe to an idea that’s obviously wrong. Creationism is a particularly entertaining variant on an age-old theme. (Remember when Galileo was excommunicated for the ludicrous idea that the Earth goes ’round the sun and not the other way around?)
Creationism is pretty much summed up in the first sentence of this article. Creationists like to call their belief system “creation science” and would like to have it taught in school alongside the theory of evolution.
Now, it’s certainly possible that some God or other created the world in seven 24-hour days. Any sentence that contains the word “God” is pretty much wide open to debate. But is it science?
Oh, wait, that sounded like a rhetorical question. It actually has an answer. No, it’s not science. It’s religion. Nothing wrong with religion, lots of people have it. Often very smart and well-educated people.
But beliefs based solely on the text of the Bible aren’t science. Science is the “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.” There is no scientific test which will show that Adam and Eve existed. At least, not according to the commonly accepted definition of science. However, if creationism is about anything, it’s about language.
The original notion of evolution dates back to the ancient Greeks, but early thinking on the subject was crushed by the Church of Rome. By the 17th century, however, the Protestant revolution and the whole Galileo fiasco had given the public reason to think that the Vatican was not necessarily the best source for scientific information.
Nevertheless, the idea that people had somehow evolved from a lower life form was abhorrent to most people, right up through the Victorian era. “Man” (and specifically the white male) was considered the highest possible form of life on earth, elevated above all others.
When Charles Darwin came along in the middle of the 19th century, all hell broke loose. Although Darwin outlined a progression of primitive man through modern man, the average joe looked at his chart and made the immediate mental leap that men essentially came from monkeys. The Victorians were not amused.
The theory of evolution quickly gained traction in scientific circles, but the common man held out for a lot longer. As it does with virtually all issues of any importance in the world, the United States responded to the controversy with litigation.
The state of Tennessee passed a law in 1925 banning schools from teaching any theory of human origin that conflicted with the Biblical account. A biology teacher named John Scopes defied the ban and was brought up on charges. A legal battle of historic proportions resulted, as Clarence Darrow stepped up as attorney for the defense; William Jennings Bryan came to the assistance of the state.
The “Scopes monkey trial” wrapped up with Darrow calling Bryan and staging a virtual debate over the issue of evolution vs. creation under the guise of cross-examination. It would have been great television, had there been television at the time.
DARROW: I will read it to you from the Bible: "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." Do you think that is why the serpent is compelled to crawl upon its belly? BRYAN: I believe that.
DARROW: Have you any idea how the snake went before that time?
BRYAN: No, sir.
DARROW: Do you know whether he walked on his tail or not?
BRYAN: No, sir. I have no way to know. (Laughter in audience).
DARROW: Now, you refer to the cloud that was put in heaven after the flood, the rainbow. Do you believe in that?
BRYAN: Read it.
DARROW: All right, Mr. Bryan, I will read it for you.
BRYAN: Your Honor, I think I can shorten this testimony. The only purpose Mr. Darrow has is to slur at the Bible, but I will answer his question. I will answer it all at once, and I have no objection in the world, I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in a God, is trying to use a court in Tennessee...
DARROW: I object to that.
BRYAN: (...) to slur at it, and while it will require time, I am willing to take it.
DARROW: I object to your statement. I am exempting you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.
The bad publicity that came out of the trial left other states unenthusiastic about mandating creationism in the schools, but that didn’t stop Protestant fundamentalists from rallying around the issue for the next 80 years.
Weirdly, although the whole issue had stemmed from an overly literal intepretation of the Bible, the second wave of creationists began madly embellishing the Biblical accounts of early man in an effort to get around some of the more undeniable evidence, such as dinosaur fossils.
The dwindling pool of modern creationists now tries to paint a picture of a Fred Flintstone-style Garden of Eden in which cheerful velociraptors traipse around with Adam and Eve like oversized puppies. According to these revisionist-literalists, pretty much any reference to a generic animal in the Bible is inclusive of dinosaurs.
The modern crop of creationists is often perceived as a bunch of harmless cranks, like Jerry Falwell and the Attorney General of the United States. Sure, harmless! They run wacky organizations like the “Institute for Creation Research” and the “Center for Scientific Creation,” which contain arguments like “Evolutionists raise several objections. Some say, ‘Even though evidence may imply a sudden creation, creation is supernatural, not natural, and cannot be entertained as a scientific explanation'” and “Teaching scientific evidence for creation has always been legal in public schools. Nevertheless, many teachers wonder how to do this.”
If you’re thinking that you don’t know a lot of evolutionists who say evidence implies a sudden creation, or teachers who are wondering how to teach said evidence, welcome to the club. But then, it takes a special kind of thinking to keep ancient anachronisms alive and kicking.
A special kind of thinking of the sort perpetuated by the aforementioned Attorney General John Ashcroft, who launched a Justice Department investigation of a Texas professor for demanding that future medical students truthfully tell their opinions about the origins of human life before he would agree to write recommendation letters for them. But hey, who wouldn’t want a doctor that believes women can be extracted from your ribs?