Reports of the National Center for Science Education

Tracking Those Incredible Creationists

I have studied creationists for a quarter of a century, but it still amazes me to read John Morris's recent claims in the newsletter of the Institute for Creation Research ("Cracks are widening in evolution's dam!" Acts and Facts 2002 May; 31 [5]) that evolution "has enjoyed total control" of the public schools for decades; that "students who object [to evolution] are often humiliated before their classmates and persecuted at grade time"; that evolution "gives a low view of human life"; that "naturalistic" evolution should be opposed and that evolution is (necessarily) "a religion".

Perhaps evolution has enjoyed total control in cartoons, movies, park displays, newspapers, National Geographic and other natural history magazines, and museums, but not in the public schools! We know that most public school teachers are very timid about teaching anything substantive about evolution. We know that about 25% of high school science teachers do not even accept the scientific validity of evolution. We know that almost all public high school graduates do not know the first thing about the mechanisms of evolution or the evidence for it, or even that evolution has nothing to say about the existence or nonexistence of a deity.

And regarding the "humiliation" of creationist students in the public schools, the instances must be few and far between. What public school teacher would risk his or her job doing that? And what constitutes "humiliation" in Morris's eyes? Does "persecution" mean more than that students who refuse to learn evolution fail their exams in the same way they would if they refused to learn the Pythagorean Theorem?

As for evolution's giving a "low" view of human life, the opposite is generally true. When evolution is presented or implied at all, it is likely to have a distinct ladder-of-life tone - and of course humans are portrayed in that view as being at the very top of that ladder. In the relatively few classrooms in which evolution is taught the way it is understood by the scientific community, the position of humans is presented as neither low nor high, only recent. The popular media may suggest that evolution says that we cannot help being immoral and unethical, but does Morris know of any documented cases of public school teachers - except creationists, of course - who teach that evolution mandates immoral behavior?

Finally, the distinction between philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism seems to have gone completely over Morris's head (though he is certainly not alone here). How can a discipline that confines itself to natural material things have anything to say about a deity? Sadly, some of evolution's most noted promoters themselves have not quite come to this understanding yet. As Ken Miller points out in his Finding Darwin's God (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), these promoters contribute to keeping the creation/evolution controversy alive - at the very least by agreeing with Morris that evolution can and does disprove the existence of God. Morris should be arguing against Richard Dawkins and others who claim that evolution disproves God. The Morrises should support the people and organizations who, like NCSE, see that the natural sciences can never prove or disprove the existence of God.

It would be nice if the Morrises were only concerned about Christians' losing their faith in God as a result of overzealous claims made by some influential evolutionists. But such an enlightened quest for mutual respect between science and religion is not in the nature of the ICR. The battle that the ICR is waging is to promote a specific religious point of view that finds moderate and tolerant interpretations of Scripture as objectionable as the inappropriate religious claims made in the name of science. For the ICR, "compromise" is a dirty word.

By William Thwaites
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.