A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Creationism and the public schools, part IV

Yesterday, Potosi MO superintendent Randy Davis invited a speaker from Answers in Genesis, an anti-evolutionism group based out of Kentucky, to address high school and middle school students in their science classes.
Riddle said in an interview that his presentation, entitled "Fascinating Facts About Origins," will focus on such things as "the laws of thermodynamics," and ask such questions as, "How could a protein originate by itself? Is that possible?"

He said one of his goals was to encourage science students "to think about the different ways things could have happened."

Randy Davis, superintendent for the Potosi R-III School District, said Riddle's background as a trained mathematician and former public high school teacher with a graduate degree in education helped convince the district that he was an appropriate guest for the science classes.

He said he was not worried that Riddle's talks would bring religion into public classrooms or serve as another touchstone in the debate about creationism versus evolution in public schools.

"We reviewed the presentation with our science teachers, and this has been presented at other school districts," Davis said. "This is simply a factual discussion of science…. It is not religion-based."

Bill Mayberry, a biology teacher at Potosi High School and chairman of the science department, would not comment.

Riddle characterized the extent of his public school presentations as "not very many."

"We don't get invited in very often," he said.

Asked why Potosi chose not to bring in a scientist unaffiliated with the creationist movement, Davis said Riddle was giving talks at local churches Sunday, and his presence in the area was a factor in the district's decision. Potosi is about 75 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Answers in Genesis, perhaps the nation's biggest creationist organization, is building a 50,000-square-foot, $25 million Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati, that is scheduled to open next year. Creationists believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and have calculated Earth to be about 6,000 years old. Traditional science has pegged Earth's age at about 4.5 billion years.

Also informative today was an editiorial in the St. Louis-Post-Dispatch, the major newspaper closest to Potosi, entitled, ”Origin of the Specious.”

The website for Answers in Genesis, linked above, is very interesting, offering questions for contemplation such as “Is interracial marriage biblical?” and “Where did Cain find his wife?” The website also claims that Darwin and his proponents espoused female inferiority—a belief that I hardly think one could merely pin on Darwinists, as my memories of my mother dragging me to a church that did not allow women to speak or lead prayers in public come flooding back to me. The group also warns people away from being “theistic evolutionists," or believing in God and evolution simultaneously, warning that the price may be “too much to bear,” and arguing:
Jesus treated Genesis as though it actually happened, so that settles it. We may not be able to master a lot of complex arguments against theistic evolution, but even a child can grasp this one. Among those who claim to be Christians, Jesus' own treatment of Genesis closes the question.

I was not aware that Jesus mentioned the creation story as described in Genesis. But, hey, I’m just a theistic evolutionist. And actually, I studied the Bible in my public school English classes. Twice.

Yes, that’s right. In both my freshman and senior years of high school, the Old Testament was a subject of study, and no, I did not also study McGuffey’s Reader, nor did I come over on the Mayflower. I am talking late 1970s and early 1980s here, smarty-pants.

Anyway, the lady who taught it the first time had a religious axe to grind, and continuously tried to make sure that none of us were going to Hell on her watch—including the Jewish kid in the third row who had not accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. During this unit, our spelling tests consisted of memorizing and correctly spelling the names of all the books of the Bible. Fun. Amos was easy, but Deuteronomy was a killer for some of my friends. Asking Mrs. Falwell* the “Who did Cain marry?” question resulted in a severely unpleasant reaction, like we were trying to be snarky when all we were doing was asking a question.

The second teacher who covered this material, Mrs. Verdad*, taught the Bible as literature—which was, of course, the stated purpose of the course both times. She introduced us to the poetry of the Psalms as interpreted in several translations and compared the female characters in the Old Testament to those in the other great religious texts of the world.

The point is, it is certainly possible to address religion in a public school setting, as long as one avoids interjecting one’s own personal beliefs into the mix and one avoids telling kids what to believe. I’m just not too sure bringing in someone from Answers in Genesis to our science classrooms is the right tack, since their stated purpose is to tell people what to believe and to undermine the teaching of science.

*- Names changed to protect the people involved


At 5/9/06, 2:17 PM, Anonymous MellowOut said...

Theistic Evolutionist

I like the sound of that. Never knew my beliefs actually had a title.

At 5/9/06, 2:46 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Ha-- me neither....

At 5/9/06, 6:06 PM, Anonymous Magistra said...

I too have studied religion with Mrs. Falwell, only I had her for World Religions (aka what those poor misguided people believe). Fortunately, I took Scripture Studies from Mr. Verdad. This was at a Catholic HS, where bias may be more expected, but still not as effective as honest exploration.

At 5/9/06, 6:23 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Oooh, but did you get the "Gospel according to Kenneth Hagin" version of the Old Testament? That was extra special. I started wearing a big crucifix just to make her eye goggle, because you know ultra-fundamentalists don't believe in crucifixes.

But I taught in a Catholic school for two years, so, yes, I can imagine what THAT'S like from bitter experience. You have my profoundest sympathy, magistra.

At 5/9/06, 6:41 PM, Blogger Janet said...

I work in a public school, but it's largely Hispanic and almost everyone is religious. There's not even an issue whether or not we can celebrate holidays in school like other schools have. But at the same time, when my parents ask me religious questions, it's very hard to answer them in a caring but practical matter.

At 5/9/06, 8:01 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

I work with a very devout Muslim from the ME who was shocked to learn that I, a Christian, don't have a problem with evolution.

I told him that if you are going to insist on interpreting the scriptures literally, you have to look at them in the context of the people who wrote them down. They could only write in terms of what they knew. How was God going to explain evolution to the writer of Genesis? Could he have talked about bacteria, or DNA? And why, when the point was simply that God made everything you see in nature and he likes his creation. Turns out the part about "and God saw that it was good" is not in Islam, and I think that's sad, and possibly even explains some things.

At 5/9/06, 8:04 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

Also: "How could a protein originate by itself? Is that possible?"

If the biology teacher was honest with his students, he would say that evolution only works on living organisms and has nothing to say about proteins originating, and that in fact the origin of life is very far from nailed down in science. The primordial soup we all learned about is only a wild guess.

At 5/9/06, 8:08 PM, Blogger Amerloc said...

I'm gonna eliminate the snark and just say that recently released evidence shows that the Big Bang happened really, really fast, which, to my mind, poses a Really, Really Interesting Question about the "laws of thermodynamics."

Of course, the fact that the guy's name is Riddle also scratches my belly.

Would any of you be interested in joining a "Movement Against Totally Bizarre Letter Combinations As Verifiers" class-action kinda thingy? I have to type "zjvuezxp" to post this. Now I realize that folk have to type similarily ridiculous randomnous to comment at my site, but really...

At 5/9/06, 8:11 PM, Blogger Amerloc said...

Yes, I really meant to type "randomnous" instead of "randomness." It's a canine thing.

At least this time, in the world of random letter combinataions, I only got five: "xrwfw."

At 5/9/06, 8:21 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Janet, what do you get asked about?

Laura--But see, this guy has a MATH degree, so let the bad science begin (no put down to math teachers intended, just to math teachers who abandon LOGIC as antithetical to faith...).

You know, I never thought about Islam and creationism before-- must go thumb throught the first few suras again, will get back to you....

amerloc, I'd be with ya, but for the fact that before I turned word verification on, I got all KINDS of SpamBot weirdness-- and one still got through last week....

At 5/9/06, 9:37 PM, Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Interesting....have there been any outcries from parents about the visit? If you have read a few of my posts you know that I constantly battle myself between fact (as we currently know them) and what I hold as religious faith. I tend to fall in that murky middle of not wanting to commit too much to either side. Cop out...probably but I'm still learning and testing my thoughts. Interesting subject....

At 5/10/06, 1:58 PM, Anonymous MellowOut said...

My biggest problem with the majority of people who want creationism taught in schools is that they only want the Christian creationism taught. They would FLIP if someone mentioned teaching the Islamic creation story to students.

At 5/10/06, 7:40 PM, Blogger kontan said...

I really enjoy the Answers in Genesis site.

Religion can certainly be addressed in the public schools w/o forcing belief on the students. I teach in the public school system. Last year I had the enjoyment of teaching Biblical Studies. (Not required for students, but a great extra). Really it was just a study of the ancient Middle East during Biblical times. Loved teaching it and I think my students enjoyed it as well.

When I have the pleasure of teaching World History I spend several weeks doing a religion study. We compare/contrast various religions around the world. The students really get into it.

At 5/11/06, 4:55 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

mellowout-- Now, teaching any OTHER creation story would be as bad as teaching evolution, since you know any one else's story has to be WRONG, you know...

kotan, I taught about world religions for years. And it certainly can be done. I explained about certain Buddhist beliefs yesterday when discussing the picture of the Vietnamese monk immolating himself during the War. But carefully.... and without a religious agenda, please.

At 5/12/06, 7:25 PM, Blogger Smithie said...

I teach world history. It is my opinion that you can't have an understanding many of the "issues" between some civilizations without understansding (at least a little) about the basics of the world's religions. I agree with you Ms.C "No religious agenda" and the kids would rather engage the material without one anyway. I think it's a little refreshing for them to leave the dogma (great movie) behind.


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