Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Letter to Great Britain

Dear Great Britain,

Thanks to my friend Paul Garner, I have been quite interested to read of the new "Teach evolution, not creationism!" campaign, detailed at its website. I was especially fascinated to read the short position statement of the campaign, which reads in part:
The current government guidance that creationism and 'intelligent design' should not be taught in school science should be made statutory and enforceable. It also needs to be made comprehensive so that it is clear that any portrayal of creationism and 'intelligent design' as science (whether it takes place in science lessons or not) is unacceptable.
As a Christian, creationist, and science professor at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, I find this position extremely ironic. You see, the state of Tennessee tried to enforceably legislate orthodoxy in curriculum some 85 years ago. The Butler Act stated
That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.
Now, I realize that the subject being enforced is precisely the opposite of what this new UK campaign is proposing, but you have to admit that the concept is eerily similar. What makes the new campaign special, though, is this idea that you can outlaw creationism "whether it takes place in science lessons or not." I wonder how you plan to enforce that? How will you decide if someone has violated the law/policy? Will they be entitled to some kind of trial? Because here in Dayton, when one of our teachers (John Scopes) "violated" the Butler Act, we had a trial that worked out REALLY well for us. We got a huge amount of publicity from the trial, and famous people like William Jennings Bryan came to visit. It was pretty exciting.

If this new law/policy is to be enforceable, you will need to specify the consequences for violating it. The Butler Act provided for a monetary fine, but I could imagine that you could take away teaching licences for repeat offenders. And for really ornery creationists, you should just take them out and burn them at the stake. Because that worked out really well when the Inquisition tried it. In fact, you could create a position to oversee enforcement of this law/policy, and you could call it the "Grand Inquisitor" just so everybody knows not to mess with that person.

Seriously though, are you kidding me with this? You really want to pass some kind of law or policy to guard against "dangerous heresy," just like misguided religious zealots have been doing for centuries? Seriously? You're really that hypocritical? It staggers the imagination.

Not only is this new policy preposterous, but it's also unnecessary. Over here in your former colonies, we've had an amazingly active and well-funded creationist movement for more than fifty years now. Each year, the top creationist organizations rake in millions of dollars in donations and produce enormous quantities of material promoting the creationist message. You would think with all that support, public opinion would be gradually swaying to support the creationist position, but that's not at all what's happening. The Gallup organization has been polling Americans about their views on human origins for 30 years now, covering much of the most influential years of creationist activism. Here's the question they ask:
Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings -- [ROTATE 1-3/3-1: 1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, 2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process, 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so]?
The results of their surveys are extremely interesting. Despite millions of dollars for promotion and lots of publicity, the creationist movement seems to have had little to no impact on American opinion. In 1982, 44% of the respondents said that God created humans in their present form, but in 2011, only 40% selected the same response. In contrast, those who identified with response 2, human evolution without God at all, grew from just 9% of respondents in 1982 to 16% in 2011. It seems to me that the American creationist movement has had almost no influence on public opinion, and despite their best efforts, atheism has experienced significant growth.

So what exactly are you afraid of? Great Britain has had an active creationist movement for far longer than the US. The oldest creationist organization in the world is the British "Creation Science Movement," founded as the Evolution Protest Movement in 1932. You've had speakers promoting creationism in your country for just as long as we've had them here in the States. But now Truth in Science sends out some antievolution material to teachers, and suddenly you want to institute some kind of thought police to enforce orthodoxy? Talk about overreacting.

One final piece of advice: One thing that we religious "zealots" have learned is that efforts to stamp out ideas almost pretty much guarantee the spread of those same ideas. Even parents know this. A great way to get your teenager involved in some unsavory activity is to make a big, hysterical show of forbidding it. There's no fruit sweeter than forbidden fruit.

Now I realize you're probably just writing me off as a creationist crackpot, but that would be unfortunate. I am well-known for my vocal dissatisfaction with creationist and antievolutionist distortions of science. I am just as concerned as you are about materials that give students incorrect information about evolution and science. But I also know that passing laws and punishing people is a remarkably idiotic way to address the problem. Unless you really do want to create a society with an Orwellian Big Brother overseeing people's thoughts.

Sincerely,

Todd Charles Wood

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.