Thursday, January 20, 2005

Creationism in the Classroom:

Kevin Drum thinks that creationism and its theory of intelligent design should not be taught in public schools:

Intelligent Design is so clearly a thinly veiled version of creationism that it's forbidden too. Darwinism, however, is simply science. School districts are free to stop teaching science if they want, but if they do teach it, they have to teach Darwinism just as much as they have to teach Newtonian mechanics, Boyle's law, and the theory of relativity.

I'm not much for debating evolution--or anything scientific, for that matter--but the problem with Drum's argument is that it trades on an ambiguous reading of what modern evolutionary theory actually posits.

First, there is the claim that life began with simple single-celled organisms that have slowly (or sometimes rapidly) changed over time and become increasingly complex. So far, so good. The biblical account of creation in Genesis 1, told "after the manner of a popular poet" (as the early church father Jerome put it), says as much when it speaks of God as gradually bringing order to creation over the course of six days, beginning with light (Day 1), the firmament or heavens (Day 2), the earth and vegetation (Day 3), the seasons (Day 4), ocean life and birds (Day 5), and land life and man (Day 6). Indeed, the Genesis account describes God as saying, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures," (e.g., 1:24) , a description that uses the passive voice and therefore is not inconsistent with evolution even under a literal reading.

But then evolutionary theory goes on to claim that these changes must be explained as resulting from “random” heritable genetic mutations. As Phillip Johnson has noted, however:

It is the alleged absence of divine intervention throughout the history of life—the strict materialism of the orthodox theory—that explains why a great many people, only some of whom are biblical fundamentalists, think that Darwinian evolution (beyond the micro level) is basically materialistic philosophy disguised as scientific fact.

In other words, it may well be that evolution is blind, the result of chance and luck rather than an Intelligent Designer. But even if this is true, this is not the sort of thing we can learn by studying a fossil or putting a cell under a microscope. Not, that is, unless we have some reason to suppose an Intelligent Designer would have placed a "Made by YHWH" tag on his creations.

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