Yesterday, whilst playing a diverting game of You Tube tag (you know: you find one video, then select another from that, and another from that, and so on — basically a great way of avoiding work), I happened upon this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYr7_buPmKo which was part of an American PBS documetary called “Evolution: What About God?”
I ended up watching the whole documentary and found it fair, balanced and objective on the whole. Yet by the end of it I was thoroughly depressed. The central theme was the pressure placed upon American schools by the Creationist movement to give equal billing to Creationism (a literal acceptance of the Biblical account of the Creation in Genesis) alongside evolution in science classes. It brought home to me just how deeply indoctrinated Conservative America is by Fundamentalist Christianity and how frightened they are of anything that would dare to challenge the orthodoxy. One parent wrote, of an attempt to teach her daughter evolution in the late 1960s: “I would rather my daughter died than she lost her faith.”
That was then and this is now, you might say. But the bare fact is that, still today, science teachers in America risk being tarred as liberal sinners should they dare to taint the minds of the children in their care with anything that might question what they have been told in churches and Sunday schools since early childhood. Here is the bullying face of religion: don’t ask questions; don’t think for yourselves; do as you’re told.
It was plain to see the difficulties this placed upon the teachers. At one college, Wheaton, they’re required to sign a pledge, agreeing to accept that all humans descend directly from Adam and Eve, before they are permitted to teach. How screwed up is that? I can only assume that a whole lot of science teachers have lied in their applications rather than leave children to the tender mercies of Creationists.
If it’s bad for the teachers, then how much worse is it for the children? How do you reconcile the facts of evolution with a literal interpretation of the Bible? For those who choose to challenge the orthodoxy, how alone and outcast must they feel? In one scene we see a lad who has dared to broaden his own thinking come up against the stone wall of his father’s intransigence. As the conversation develops it becomes clear that the father’s understanding of science would barely fill a post-it note with facts of any substance. How many children, in that circumstance, might feel compelled to toe the line of orthodoxy? To abandon their studies? To give up on science?
The poster boy for the modern face of the Creationists is an Australian, Ken Ham. His moments on film pontificating on science would be comedic were it not for the fact that he commands people’s attention (and their donations, too, one suspects). If you watch the documentary (and I urge you to do so, so that you can see why I felt moved to write this piece) I challenge you to find one single thing that he says that stands up to any rigorous scrutiny. As one of the exasperated teachers points out, science doesn’t work on the basis of wishing that something were so. It is a brutal world of evidence and peer review. If a theory does not stand up to scrutiny, it is abandoned in favour of something that better fits the facts.
Ken Ham, by contrast, cherry-picks facts to fit his beliefs. In the absence of facts he substitutes Scripture (the ultimate in self-referential, circular arguments). He is a master of the non-statement and the playground argument: my dad is bigger than your dad. Watching him in action I am reminded of Shakespeare’s lines in Macbeth: “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”
Here is a typical example of what I mean:
You see, people say “You have a particular interpretation of Genesis”
I don’t think so…I think I just read it. And what it says is what it means. Other people interpret it and they get into trouble. That’s the problem, I think. Now, I believe that God created in six literal days and I believe it’s important. In fact I believe it relates to the authority of Scripture and the Gospel.
Now, people say to me, “Well look. The point is, the word “day” can mean something other than an ordinary day.” And — you know what? — that’s true. I had a pastor once who said that the word “day” can mean something other than the ordinary day. And I said “That’s true, but it can also mean an ordinary day.” He said “That’s true, but it can also mean something other than an ordinary day.” And I said “That’s true, but it can also mean an ordinary day.” I said “Look, pastor, does the word “day” ever mean “day”? Can “day” mean day or doesn’t “day” mean day? And if “day” does mean day, when does “day” mean day? Could you give me an example of when “day” means day?”
There you have it. Would you want to see your children’s education safe in the hands of the author of that work of genius? Well millions of American parents would.
And that depresses me more than words can say.