When I was teaching biology in the late ‘60s, I’m trying to picture what would have happened if a colleague came up to me and asked if I were teaching the biblical account of creation. It was after all a Catholic school.
I’m trying to think of what I would have replied if my job weren’t on the line. As tennis great John McEnroe liked to yell, “You can’t be serious. You want me to teach the story of Adam and Eve and the talking snake in a science class? How about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? You want me to tell the kids they jumped out of the oven and scared the crap out of that bossy, imperious King Nebuchadnezzar. You want me to tell the story with a straight face? Look, these are high school kids and passed the Santa Claus stage.
Don’t get mad, I tell myself 40 years later. Just try to explain cogently, calmly and convincingly why teaching creationism isn’t a good idea.
First of all, the Bible and creationism teaches that humans have a soul and have “dominion” over the Earth and all the animals and plants therein. Look what we did to the animals because of it. Humans are in a class by themselves, you might say. This was pretty sad news for the animals when some goat-herder or fisherman wrote this anthropocentric nonsense. We have dominion over the world, indeed—when writing on parchment was high-tech. We’re losing around 125 precious species every day and by mid-century more than half of all narrowly-endemic species will be lost. According to David Jablonski of the University of Chicago, an expert on extinction, by 2050 there will be no tigers nor lions, eagles nor elephants. Polar bears don’t have a chance. Unless there is a drastic change in consciousness, the Sixth Extinction will continue unabated. But this is the first unnatural extinction; the first five were caused by natural calamities, like extreme temperature changes or volcanism. Even the K/T event, which was caused by a rouge meteor, can be considered a natural event. In short, because of the Biblical idea of “dominion over the animals,” we are pushing the other life forms off the planet.
Even worse is the Biblical imperative, “Be fruitful and multiply,” mentioned many times in Genesis alone. Consider what people were talking about when they celebrated New Year’s Eve in 1909, a century ago. They had no idea of the suffering and hardship in store for humanity during the rest of the century. Two world wars, the Russian Revolution, the flu of 1918 (estimated to kill 50 to 100 million), Korea, genocide in Cambodia and Ruanda, Viet Nam and don’t forget AIDS. In 1909 the world population was 1.5 billion.
The cataclysm, catastrophe and holocaust of the entire century barely dented the human population growth curve.
Today the world population is 6.7 billion, well over a quadrupling of humanity. Not only that, the resources of the world have diminished correlatively. The Amazon rain forest is less than half of what it was in 1909. Ice in the Polar Caps is a small fraction of its turn-of-the-century mass. The same is true of fresh water and edible fish. There is left only a minuscule fraction of all wildlife.
So, because of the Bible, humans have been fruitful as can be, and at the same time natural resources are disappearing at a frightful rate. We even managed to nearly devastate the world’s great coral reefs. They were a source of wonder and celebration of life. Now the sight of corroding skeletons of the tiny anemone-like polyps, the building blocks of the reef and base of the food chain, is a horror to observe. If an ET from far outer space came and saw this, it would ask what monster could have done this: bleaching and acidification of the Mother Ocean (Tethys), the source of life. To Gaia, humans are the Frankenstein’s monster.
Ideology can do bad things to people. The good book teaches that faith is a good thing. But sometimes faith is a bad thing. In Mirror Reversal I define faith as letting yourself believe information on meager or no evidence. There was meager evidence that the German people were the superior race, for instance. They distinguished themselves historically only at an average level. Sure, they had Beethoven, Mozart and a few great painters, but in art the Germans made nothing near the contribution of the Italians and French. They had a few great scientists like Gregor Mendel and Werner Heisenberg, but they pale in importance to the history of science compared to the Englishman George Darwin and the Pole Nicolaus Copernicus.
It was faith in the words of their delusional leaders that brought the German people to the brink of destruction. Instead of asking, “We’re just uneducated, brute street fighters. How the hell are we the superior people?” Storm troopers beat up Jewish doctors, professors, writers and master craftsmen and obeyed mindlessly. The SS had faith.
The Bible encourages and engenders dichotomous thinking. It’s easy to order one’s life. Everything is good or bad, black or white, friend or foe, sinful or pleasing to God. It makes thinking easy, but in reality everything is a shade of grey.
Even the SS Einsatzgruppen, the action group, whose job it was to exterminate Jews, weren’t totally evil. They were average folk extracted from their daily lives by the draft. They were forced to obey. To a biology teacher the Prime Directive—self preservation and reproduction as much as possible—is the force of nature. The PD is why life abounds in all the planet’s niches and is the force behind biodiversity. In terms of the Prime Directive, the SS had faith in their leaders and many actually believed they were doing good—clearing the land of untermenchen and vermin so future generations of Nazis would have lebensraum and could execute their will over the rest of the world. In their own eyes, the soldiers of the Wehrmacht would be looked on as heroes by future generations. They were doing a nasty job that needed to be done. They weren’t all bad and they had faith. The rest of the people of Europe were either Aryan or not.
So what does it mean when President W. Bush declares, “you’re either with America or with the terrorists”? It means the president is probably controlled by Biblical thinking. When I first heard him say this, I feared this inept politician with good-or-evil thinking would lead the country into perpetual war.
Another reason we shouldn’t be teaching creationism is because belief in God cheats nature of its proper respect. The love and respect we owe nature are diverted to a plastic figurine. The condition of the planet confirms the point. If we loved nature which has given us so much beauty and wonderment, we couldn’t possibly have afflicted our home planet like a cancerous tumor. Suppose a religious leader orders, chop down those redwoods and we’ll build a church to praise God. “Hey, wait a minute, those trees give us oxygen we need to live. We share the same DNA; we’re related at the molecular level. I’d much rather look at those trees than a cross. And why are you all wearing those crucifixes? If Christ ever came back, that’s the last thing he’d want to see. It would be like showing JFK an automatic rifle. Woodsman, spare that tree.”
But by far the strongest reason not to teach creationism is because it spreads the endmeme. The endmeme once referred to as the millennial meme. Carriers believed the year 2000 was the end. Computers would break down. Mayhem would follow. In Mirror Reversal, I redefine the word to mean belief that Christ is coming with his Four Horsemen and a horde of irate angels to destroy the world and give the left behind sinners their just deserts. The endmeme resides in the human brain and is nothing but information: CHRIST IS COMING. CHRIST IS COMING. This idea puts all life—present and future—in certain danger. More than half the world’s population believes our precious planet will be destroyed in an inevitable apocalypse. Baptist minister, John Hagee, and probable presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, are absolutely certain that God will come in their lifetime.
If you insist on teaching creationism, as least do as Dan Dennett suggests. Teach that women were created from Adam’s rib—that’s fine. Just make sure you teach it along with other bizarre belief systems and let the students decide. For starters, may I suggest the religion of the Bushongo of the past southeast Congo? They believed that Bumba the Sky Father spewed out the Earth, moon and sun in the fashion of Hera creating the Milky Way. They believed in the beginning was the word and the word was Bumba.