Creationism in the Science Curriculum?
[The document, which is an expanded version of a shorter essay, is in the public domain and may be used, in whole or in part, without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged. Released January 2001. Revised slightly December 2002]
This essay is an attempt to clarify the ongoing public debates over Creation Science, disputes frequently (or even characteristically) notable for the logical confusion, arguing at cross purposes, and generally shoddy thinking (often laced with vitriol) which they seem to encourage from participants in all camps. Much of this confusion undoubtedly stems from deliberate obfuscation, rhetorical skullduggery, and chop logic which partisans of all views use to advance their opinions over issues in which a great deal more than the immediate claims are involved. But much of the confusion emerges also from the endemic imprecision in the terminology and a genuine failure to understand some basic principles of reasonable argument, especially scientific argument.
The central debate itself is frequently misrepresented as a conflict about whether Darwin’s account of evolution or the Biblical account of creation is true—a question which is impossible to answer once and for all, depending, as it does, on the criteria we establish for recognizing truth. In fact, however, the usual forum in which the argument takes place concerns itself with a much more specific question with immediate social consequences: Should Creation Science be taught in the science classes of our schools as a regular part of the science curriculum (given, as it were, equal time with Darwinian theories)?
This essay focuses upon the latter question and proposes the following answer: No, Creationism or Creation Science should not be taught in the science curriculum, not because it isn’t true but because it isn’t science. This answer, one should note, leaves open the question of whether or not the Biblical account of creation should be taught elsewhere in the school curriculum.
In the process of outlining an argument for the above answer, this paper hopes to establish, as I say, some clarity, so that those who do not agree with the conclusions will at least take away from the paper a clearer understanding of the problem and of some of the ways in which debates on this issue are routinely sabotaged.
The first essential step in framing any contribution to the debate (or in understanding other people’s positions) is to understand clearly what they mean by the key terms (imprecision is often rampant here). So, by way of clarifying the rest of this essay, let me define as explicitly as I can what I mean by the words fundamental to the arguments.
Evolution in its root biological sense means simply the development of forms of animal and plant life out of forms significantly different from them (e.g., birds from reptiles, human beings from higher apes). It makes no claims about how this process occurs. This simple definition refers only to the event (however it occurs). Hence (as I shall point out) one can be an evolutionist (i.e., believe in evolution) without being a Darwinian (history provides many examples of such people). To understand what follows in this paper, readers should not immediately conflate the two terms evolution and Darwinism (as is routinely done, especially by scientists): the two terms define separate things.
The doctrine opposite to evolution is called Fixity of Species. It maintains that species (animal and plant types) are fixed, stable, and permanent. There may be some variation from one individual to another within the same species (an obvious fact), and some species are clearly quite similar to others (e.g., dogs and wolves). But under this doctrine, species arise independently of one another. Again, this doctrine carries with it no single explanation of how these species arose—except that they arose independently of each other and have not changed.
In between these two there are a number of intermediate positions, what I call Limited Evolution, the claim that some species arise out of species closely related to them, but that such a form of speciation is limited. So, for example, different species of fish may have developed by evolution out of one or more common fish ancestors. However, Limited Evolution would deny the possibility of evolution from one major group to another (e.g., from fish to reptiles).
Creationism, as used in this essay (and generally), refers to the belief that the development of species, the variety of plants and animals, occurred as described in the Book of Genesis, as a special creation by God. Hence, Creationism holds to the doctrine of Fixity of Species (no evolution) and accounts for the variety of life by invoking separate divine acts of creation. Those Creationists who hold to the literal truth of the Genesis account (especially to the order and time of the stages of creation) are often called Fundamentalists. Various other Creationists maintain the truth of the Genesis account but read that account allegorically (e.g., each day in the Genesis account is not really a day but a stage of creation lasting a very long time). Creation Science (a term frequently used interchangeably with Creationism) refers to a faith in Creationism, together with a claim that this belief has scientific status and hence should be seen as a scientific alternative to modern evolutionary theories. Thus, it is possible to be a Creationist (i.e., believe in the Genesis account) without being a Creation Scientist (i.e., without claiming scientific status for that account).
The term Darwinism (again, as used in this essay) refers to a theory developed by Charles Darwin and much modified by modern biologists which endorses evolution and which provides an account of how evolution occurs (through Natural Selection and other mechanisms). The key element of Darwinism that separates it from other evolutionary theories is this: Darwinian theory maintains that at the heart of the mechanism of evolution lies a random mechanical process, without any intelligent sense of purpose (more about that later). These random variations in animals and plants will sometimes provide the individual plant or animal an advantage which will enable it to compete better and to reproduce more successfully than other members of its species. Over time such cumulative advantageous variations will bring about significant changes which will lead to the creation of a new species out of the old one.
Finally, a crucial term in this debate is the word science. Without going into a long discussion of this complex issue, while at the same time acknowledging that a precise definition of science is a contentious question, let me propose that science is a way of explaining natural phenomena with physical models and theories which generate predictions which can be tested publicly and repeatedly by observation (please note here the emphasis on observing the results of the predictions, not on observing the actual process upon which the prediction is based). Such models and theories must be physical (e.g., matter in motion, forces, collisions, physical reactions) and rational (preferably mathematical). As soon as one appeals to non-natural forces, magic, metaphysical factors, some inexplicable change in the regular working of the laws of physics, divine intervention, and so on, one is ceasing to be a scientist. (For a much fuller discussion of some basic principles of science please consult the following link Understanding Science).
THE STRONG CASE FOR EVOLUTION
On the basis of the above definitions, it is possible to make a very strong case for the scientific validity of evolution. Consider the following facts, all of which have been confirmed overwhelmingly by the established processes of science:
1. There is enormous variety in the plant and animal kingdoms. Some species of plants and animals have much more complex organic structures than other species.
2. All living things must come from at least one living parent (i.e., life does not arise spontaneously out of non-life).
3. The simplest forms of plant and animal life were on earth long before the more complex forms (as confirmed by the geological succession of fossils).
If (please note this word) the above statements are scientifically valid, then there is no reasonable conclusion one can reach other than the obvious one: the complex forms of life must have somehow arisen from the less complex forms of life. In other words, the complex animals evolved out of the less complex animals (which are no longer very much like them). To refuse to accept this conclusion is unreasonable and unscientific. One is at liberty to refuse to accept the conclusion, of course, but not to claim that that is a rational scientific procedure.
Of course, if one of the above claims is wrong, then this strong case for evolution collapses immediately. So the challenge to those who would dismiss the validity of evolution (as defined in this essay) as a scientific theory is clear: Which of those three claims is false? The first one is self-evidently true. The second has never been falsified (except in fiction like Frankenstein). And the third has been repeatedly confirmed every time anyone observes the succession of fossils in the geological record (e.g., the layers of the Grand Canyon or any other fossilized strata available for inspection).
It makes no difference to this case to raise some question about the origin of life (the First Cause argument which indicates that if we trace the chain of mechanical causes back in time we logically require a non-mechanical starting point, something beyond scientific explanation). That sort of explanation for the origin of the process lies outside of science (which is why scientists are not interested in it) and, in any case, it has nothing to do with the continuing development of life once established on earth (to cite an example I have used elsewhere, raising such origin-of-life objections is rather like debating the origin of steel in an argument about how a car works).
One popular answer to the case for evolution sketched out above proposed by anti-evolutionists is the argument that geological features like the Grand Canyon were created by divine intervention in a matter of days, so that we have no right to infer that the fossils in the higher layers were not also created at the same time as those in the lower layers. That, of course, may be true, but such a claim, which appeals to miraculous metaphysical intervention or some unspecified physical process (in violation of the known laws of physics) rather than to known physical processes, is not scientific.
Dealing with the strong case for evolution with an appeal to Limited Evolution (as defined above) runs into the same difficulties. To concede evolution within major groups, like, say, fish, may account for material evidence in the fossil record. But to deny evolution from one group to the next (say, from fish to reptiles) leaves open the question: Where then did the reptiles come from? To affirm that they were specially created by God after the fish is, once again, an appeal to non-scientific reasons which generate no predictions.
THE ANTI-EVOLUTIONIST’S MOST COMMON RESPONSE
In practice, and for understandable reasons, those hostile to evolution rarely tackle the above case directly (by seeking to disprove one of the three claims upon which it rests). Instead they focus almost all their energies into pointing out potential and real difficulties in Darwinian theory. Anyone who consults the many Internet pages devoted to advancing Creation Science will quickly enough realize that the major thrust of almost every article is not an attempt to establish the scientific truth of Genesis or to challenge the strong case for evolution (made above), but to direct our attention to limitations in Darwinian theory.
Now, many of these limitations may be substantial, but calling attention to them in this way does little to advance the cause of Creationism (except among those who are already persuaded or who do not attend to the logical deficiencies of the basic argument). Let me outline why such attacks (though often rhetorically effective) are logically unpersuasive.
Firstly, any perceived deficiency in Darwinian theory does no harm whatsoever to the case for evolution outlined above. That case would be equally strong if no one had ever heard of Darwinian theory (which is an attempt, not to prove the validity of evolutionary theory, but to account for how evolution proceeds). Even if there were absolutely compelling evidence that Darwinian theory was totally wrong about the mechanisms of the evolutionary process, the case for evolution would remain as strong as ever. If one wants to discredit the very concept of evolution, then calling particular issues in Darwinian theory to account is a gigantic red herring.
Secondly, discrediting Darwinian theory as an explanation for the evolutionary process provides no special support for any other rival theory of species, certainly not for Creationism. The idea that it does is a clear case of a basic logical flaw called False Dilemma. And this logical flaw is the most frequent rhetorical ploy used by Creation Scientists to advance their theories. Their case goes something like this:
1. There are only two possible explanations for the development of species, the Genesis account and the Darwinian account.
2. But there are many, many difficulties with the Darwinian account.
3. Therefore the Genesis account must be correct (or preferable or equally deserving of attention in our schools).
The flaw here is obvious. The first claim is manifestly false, since there are literally hundreds of narrative accounts of how species came to be formed. Virtually every culture has developed its own, and within science itself there have been competing theories. Discarding or discrediting any particular one does not especially privilege any of the others (just as, if we have twenty equally good suspects in a murder case, proving that one of them could not have done the crime doesn’t enable us to state conclusively that a particular one of the remaining nineteen did).
THE NATURE OF SCIENTIFIC CLAIMS AND DISAGREEMENTS ABOUT THOSE CLAIMS
In addition to the logical problems mentioned above, a good deal of Creation Science’s case against Darwinian theory exploits (sometimes very skillfully) a general ignorance about the nature of scientific enquiry. In the process, those attacking Darwin not only reveal their failure (deliberate or otherwise) to understand what science is (or how science is carried out) but also unwittingly invoke principles which would sink their own preferred theory in a minute.
For instance, the case is often made that since evolution cannot be observed in action, it is therefore not a valid scientific theory, for all scientific theories (so it is alleged) have to be confirmed by direct observation of the process under investigation. Of course, this is not the case. Many scientific hypothetical models simply cannot be observed directly (e.g., molecular interactions, expansion at the edge of the universe, and so on). The essence of many scientific procedures is making predictions based on a hypothetical model of a physical phenomenon (without having direct observational evidence of the reality which that model is designed to explain) and then testing the prediction. What characterizes such a process as scientific is that the prediction can be repeatedly and publicly checked by anyone in some quantifiable manner. Most of the work of science consists of carrying out such tests of predictions and then confirming aspects of the theoretical model or discovering errors, anomalies, inconsistencies, and so on.
By that procedure, evolution is clearly scientific, since every detailed study of fossilized strata is, in effect, a test of the theory. If someone were to locate a complex life form in the very oldest rock levels, evolutionary theory would be in difficulty, since such a finding would flatly contradict its predictions. The fact that such an observation has never occurred provides some of the best evidence for the validity of the theory.
One of the gravest scientific objections to the Creation Scientist’s account of the creation of species is precisely this point. Not only can the story of how God created the world and everything in it never be observed (in that respect it is even more deficient than the theory of evolution), but the Genesis narrative generates virtually no testable predictions, other than one which has been so repeatedly falsified that it has no scientific validity whatsoever (namely, that if all the species were formed at the same time, we should find all types at all levels of the fossilized strata).
In the same way, pointing out difficulties with Darwinian theory does not automatically discredit the theory. Scientists themselves argue all the time about details of the theory—there are rival interpretations for all sorts of things within it (like the rate of change, the importance of natural selection in comparison with other agents of change, like genetic drift, the lack of intermediate types, the lengths of time involved, and so on).
Creation Scientists who spend so much time pointing out problems with Darwinian theory sometimes seem to assume that if a scientific theory cannot explain everything to everyone’s satisfaction, if some of the predictions of the theory are questionable, if anomalies exist, then the total theory must be incorrect. But that is not how science proceeds. Scientific theories of any interest always contain problems which scientists argue about. They may accept the basic assumptions of the theory but disagree about many of the details and discuss essential adjustments to the basic model. Nowhere is that more true today than among biologists—almost all of whom accept Darwinian theory as the basic explanatory framework but who have often very fierce disputes about particular details and problems within that framework.
In fact, once a theory ceases to generate these sorts of arguments, once all the details get worked out to everyone’s complete satisfaction, then scientists tend to lose interest in the theory (for it presents no interesting problems to investigate). That area of scientific enquiry is then handed over in its entirety to the technicians, and the scientists move on to more problematic areas.
In addition, even if there are natural phenomena which a theory cannot explain fully or which apparently contradict what that theory predicts, often the theory will be retained for its explanatory value in other areas. Newton’s theories do not hold, for example, at the level of atomic particles. But that does not mean we discard his theories in those areas where they are still valid. When we send men and women out into space, we still use Newton’s equations.
It may be worth remembering that in Darwin’s own day there were three major scientific objections to his theory. The first was the lack of transitional types, fossils intermediate between species. The second was Darwin’s theory of inheritance (the concept of “blending” of material from the two parents made Darwin’s theory mathematically impossible). And the third was the estimated age of the earth (according to the most eminent physicists the decreasing heat of the earth indicated that it could not possibly be old enough for Darwin’s theory to be correct). The second two objections were taken care of by future discoveries (Mendelian genetics and nuclear fusion), and the first objection has been partially dealt with by the discovery of thousands of transitional types (even if the number is not enough to satisfy everyone). Those who like to argue that Darwin’s theory is scientifically impossible might like to consider the history of these first serious objections.
The point is that no one can deny that Darwinian theory generates problems, has difficulty answering many objections, and cannot account for certain observations (at least not yet). To point these things out is a valuable reminder of some important scientific questions still urgently requiring answers and might well be a useful challenge to some science teachers to curb their frequently reductive confidence. The greatest contribution Creation scientists make to the ongoing arguments is to call attention repeatedly to these problems and to give a jolt to the complacent assumptions of many science teachers. However, such issues do not necessarily disqualify the theory—and they certainly add nothing to make Creationism more credible as a scientific theory.
Some Creationists concede that Genesis is not a literal account of the creation of species but an allegorical depiction of the stages through which life appeared on earth under the creative hand of God. The sequence, so the claim goes, corresponds more or less with the fossil evidence. We simply have to read the days of Genesis as much more extensive time periods. There is no evolution of one species into another. God simply created all the species at different times.
Such an argumentative move naturally destroys the fundamentalists’ position (that Genesis is a literal account) and permits us to see the succession of animal and plant types as a gradual matter over many millions of years (as the scientific evidence indicates), rather than as one creative act. But the tactic does nothing to improve the scientific status of creationism, since it still requires an appeal to non-physical divine interventions as an explanatory cause and does nothing to encourage the formation of precisely testable predictions.
Adjusting a theoretical framework to account for the facts is a standard practice in science, but a theory is not infinitely adjustable. If the Genesis account can be allegorized and re-allegorized to fit whatever science turns up (by appealing to the miraculous powers of God), then the theory is scientifically empty, because inventive allegory can account for anything (a standard criticism of Marxist and Freudian theories as unscientific).
Allegorizing Genesis provides no help in arriving a material, physical (i.e., scientific) explanation for new discoveries (a standard requirement for any scientific theory). If some new species is discovered, all Genesis has to offer by way of an explanation is that God created it in that place at that time for His own purposes. From a scientific point of view, such an explanation is empty of significant content (i.e., it offers nothing by way of a scientific explanation and generates no predictions to test). Evolution, by contrast, encourages us to trace (or construct) a narrative history of material change which links this new species with other known species, thus providing a material explanation for its existence, which becomes the basis for certain predictions which we can test with our observations.
THE ARGUMENT FROM INTELLIGENT DESIGN
One of the oldest, most persistent, and most interesting arguments raised by Creation Scientists against Darwinian theory is the so-called Design Argument or, to use its modern name, the Argument from Intelligent Design. Simply put, this claim states that the enormous complexity of some organs (the human eye is a favorite example) simply could not have arisen as the result of a large number of small random changes, each one selected for its survival advantage (What would be the use, for example, of one percent of the eye?). Allied to this objection is the potentially damaging claim that expecting small random mutations to produce something as complex as an eye by chance, even given a long length of time, is statistically impossible (rather like expecting monkeys trained to hit typewriter keys to produce a line from Shakespeare).
The existence of very complex organs like the eye and the fact that many organic structures are a complex interlocking of different systems of nerves, bones, muscles, blood vessels, and so on (in which a significant random change in any one element would affect the entire organism for the worse) have led people (including many biologists) to infer the existence of a divine designer, a supreme intelligence, God, who created such marvelous organs. How else are we to account for such astonishingly complicated design of such a well-functioning organ? And from the effective functioning of such organs one might further infer (and many thinkers have inferred) the benevolence of God, who designs such structures for the assistance of His created beings.
The Design Argument is a very important concept both in the History of Science and in the present arguments because it enables the person who invokes it to link scientific fact (like the structure of the eye) with divine presence (God as the supreme designer). In fact, this argument was for a long time one of the most persuasive ways devoutly religious men, like Robert Boyle or Isaac Newton, urged that the study of science was a great service to religion. At the level of common sense, too, the Argument from Intelligent Design sounds plausible, especially if we undertake to understand the full complexity of an organic system in an animal. It is hard to accept that that could have been produced by a series of random changes, no matter how much time is involved.
One might note here, in passing, that those making the monkeys-with-typewriters analogy in order to stress how improbable any evolution based on random changes must be always omit the key factor in Darwinian theory, namely that certain random variations confer advantages which are passed on and that those without such advantages or with deleterious variations die out. It’s true a room of two thousand monkeys hitting typewriter keys at random would take an infinitely long time to type out, say, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” But if hitting (by chance) the combination “To” as the first two letters (and there’s a high probability that that would soon occur) confers an advantage which is retained by being passed on, so that gradually the monkeys all start that way, and if the selection process continues through the remaining letters and spaces, the length of time required for one of them to complete that line of Shakespeare is drastically reduced.
The Design Argument, however, is not logically compelling simply because (as Immanuel Kant pointed out over two hundred years ago), one cannot conclude anything firm about non-physical beings (like God) on the basis of physical evidence. This would be (to use a trivial modern example) rather like making firm conclusions about a stranger’s character on the basis of the numbers in his credit card. Even if we have trouble accepting the fact that random changes (even with a process of selection in place) could produce something like the human eye, the complexity of that structure is not a sufficient reason for making firm conclusions about metaphysical things.
That said, one has to concede that many scientific activities routinely lead some people to religious or spiritual insight. It’s probably no accident that many great modern physicists have had profoundly mystical or religious sensibilities and have seen in the wonderfully eloquent and complex designs revealed by their scientific investigations encouragements for a leap of faith. But such mystical experience requires that leap of faith—it does not arise logically and compellingly out of the scientific design, nor is its validity logically confirmed by the existence of such design.
Of course, the basic principles of the Argument from Intelligent Design do not specially privilege the Genesis account of the creation of species. For the Design Argument can easily be reconciled with evolution. All we have to do is see God as the force guiding evolution according to His purposes (which He may or may not have made known to us). In that sense, evolution is quite compatible with Theism—a faith in God. One might even go to the extent of arguing that the randomness in Darwinism—the perceived lack of any intelligent design—is simply apparent, a function of our human inability to know God’s purposes (or a convenient model we adopt for its explanatory value).
However, at that point one is no longer being a scientist, since the moment one moves from the world of physical models, predictions, observable testing, and so on, into the realm of God’s purposes one is moving outside of science, which explicitly confines itself to a way of understanding the physical realm in terms of physical processes and which, therefore, by definition, has nothing to reveal to us about God.
RECONCILING SCIENCE AND RELIGION
The above paragraphs have been stressing the key point in this paper: a faith in God is based upon a belief in non-physical or metaphysical powers as a causative force in natural phenomena; whereas, science limits itself to explanations of physical events in terms of natural physical processes. Hence, it would seem, the two forms of understanding the world and our place in it are fundamentally incompatible.
Does this mean that there is no way we can reconcile science and religion or Darwinian biology with Creationism? The short answer is no and yes. No, because, as mentioned above, the two forms of explanation are radically different in what counts as a valid reason. Yes, because there are different ways in which we might arrive at a shared understanding of both science and religion as complementary forms of knowledge.
For example, it is possible to adopt the view that the privileged explanation is, indeed, the account in Genesis, that that account is, as it were, the truth and, at the same time, to accept science as a useful or interesting thought experiment, something that provides a different account which we pursue, not because it is true, but because it serves some human purpose (satisfying our imaginations, helping us to deal with certain problems in life, solving practical problems, making money, and so on).
Here the analogy of a game might help. Obviously I can be a devout Fundamentalist and a soccer player. When I play soccer, certain rules define my activities, tell me what I can and cannot do, and evaluate my success (the rule book and traditions of the game are my authority for how to proceed). And I can use this game in all sorts of ways—for exercise, recreation, or (if I am very good) profit. But at no time do I mistake soccer for the truth: it is a game I play for various reasons. If the game demands that I do something which violates my faith (e.g., play on Sunday), then I know where my priority lies.
This stance towards science is logically consistent and, indeed, quite common among prominent scientists who were also devout Christians like Copernicus (who was Catholic monk), Descartes, and countless others who presented their materialistic hypotheses as interesting and useful thought experiments, not as the truth of things.
By an extension of the same form of thinking, I could accept the randomness at the heart of Darwinian theory (the source of so much difficulty for anyone who wants life driven and shaped by a sense of creative purpose) as either an interesting hypothesis or as a temporary appearance, something which does not correspond with the truth of things, but which is something the human mind in its limited condition must accept in order to construct a useful historical understanding of nature.
Alternatively, of course, someone who wishes to reconcile Darwinian science and religious belief might want to subsume the religious belief under Darwinian theory and explain it away as a survival mechanism. Since a religious faith (one could argue) is a great asset in the struggle for life (giving hope in hard times, enabling a person to survive where another might fail), then the refusal to accept the atheistic implications of Darwinian theory is perfectly understandable in terms of that theory (especially if we accept that something like a predisposition to religious belief is a heritable trait). There is thus a plausible Darwinian explanation for the widespread refusal to accept Darwinian theory. While such a stance would hardly (one would think) encourage the scientist to a religious frame of mind, it might well make him more tolerant of religious belief and less inclined to the sort of frustrated irritation and ridicule which hard-core Darwinists sometimes manifest in the face of Creationism.
In either case, however, the separation between religion and science is clear. We can give one precedence over the other, or we can see them as two separate aspects of the way we know the world, but we cannot identify them as comparable activities, because as ways of knowing they focus on different areas of experience and proceed by different rules. To assert this is not to declare one method superior to the other as a way of understanding our experience or to assess one or the other as closer to the truth of things (whatever that means exactly).
But it is to assert that the two activities do not belong together under the same descriptive label unique to one of them, any more that we can assert that two different games, say, soccer and tennis, can both be adequately described either as soccer or tennis. Soccer has rules; to be a soccer player is to follow those rules. Ditto for tennis. Someone who demands the right to bring a tennis racquet onto the soccer pitch and to hit a tennis ball into the soccer goal in order to score would be missing the point of the game—just as someone who demands the right in a tennis match to kick or head the ball over the net would be missing the point of the tennis game. The demand of Creation Scientists to teach Genesis in science classes is no different. Why should something which is not science be taught in a science class?
A NOTE ON DEISM
One apparent contradiction to the remarks in the paragraphs immediately above is a position commonly called Deism. This asserts, in brief, that God established the world, but did so on scientific principles, so that, in following science we are uncovering God’s logic or, in a more popular formulation “reading the mind of God.” Such a stance reconciles religion and science by making God the supreme scientist, who created the world to run on the basis of scientific laws and who does not interfere with the workings of His creation by some unexpected non-scientific interventions.
The Deistic position was very popular among enlightened thinkers in the eighteenth century (and remains so in some quarters today), because it enables people to profess a sincere belief in God and yet also promote the development of science as an important enquiry into the truth of things. For the Deist there is no conflict between science and religion because (as I mentioned) science is the way God works.
Deism, for all its popularity, has often been harshly condemned by orthodox Christians for two main reasons. First, it sets up an authority higher than Scripture, since, for the Deist, where science contradicts scripture (as in accounts of the earth’s development), the scriptures are wrong. Second, this stance imposes some restraints on God. If He is a scientist and operates within the boundaries of scientific reason, then He is not free to do whatever He wants (i.e., act in irrational ways to interfere with natural processes). Hence, orthodox Christians have traditionally ranked Deism among the doctrines heretical to Christian belief.
Those who promote the scientific credibility of Creationism might want to ponder this last objection for a moment. If God operates as a scientist (i.e., if Creationism is scientific), then He is under some restraint, the rules of scientific reasoning. That seems somewhat contradictory if He is also an omnipotent, totally free presence. Those who wish to promote the scientific value of Creationism may well be, ironically enough, limiting a faith in God’s power.
On the other hand, if God is free to operate exactly has He chooses, often for inscrutable reasons, then His actions cannot be understood scientifically. If He is sometimes a scientist and sometimes not, how are we to sort out which hat He is wearing on at any particular moment?
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
None of the above argument seeks to establish any relative evaluation of the truth or the value of the Creationist account or the Darwinian account of the origin of species, or make any claim about the importance of having the Genesis account of creation included in or barred from the school curriculum. From the start, as I explained in the Introduction, the point has been to insist that Creationism does not belong in the science curriculum (any more than German strong verbs belong in French class).
I can think of all sorts of reasons why it might be really important for school students to have a more than passing acquaintance with the Book of Genesis and with some of the more obvious points of argument within Darwinian theory. But the former belongs in some non-scientific class (Comparative Religion, Great Books), not as an essential part of the treatment of the latter in science class. And the latter can be taken care of (and should be taken care of) within the context of the scientific debates about Darwinism.
If the aim of Creationists is to encourage a wider and closer familiarity with the Biblical accounts of creation in our schools, one wonders why they keep tilting at the windmill of the science curriculum. Why try to sell the Genesis account as science when it so obviously is not—when many people find it valuable precisely because it is not science? Why not try to persuade people by focusing on what the Genesis account really is: a fascinating and enormously important cultural story, which for many stands at the centre of their religious understanding of the world?
Perhaps the answer to these questions has something to do with the fact that our public school system bars the teaching of religious doctrines, so that if Genesis is to get into the curriculum anywhere it will have to be disguised and smuggled into the science curriculum. But that tactic will never work, so long as we insist (reasonably enough) that the science curriculum should concern itself with science and nothing else.