Chapter 7: Creation Science—a Public Issue
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Repression in the Classroom
I thought about my earlier encounters in the university classroom. There is evidence which suggests that it may
be worse now for religiously oriented university students than it was in my day. To illustrate, I refer to a letter
published in the October 1982 issue of Physics Today, the national news magazine of the American
Institute of Physics. This letter was written by an accomplished physicist who is not a creationist. It should
open the eyes of everyone who advocates basic human rights and academic freedom for those who hold minority
After reading a spate of virulently anti-creationist articles and letters in your publication, I decided that
something less virulent and more thoughtful should be said.
As we might all easily agree, it isn't very scientific to make assumptions dogmatically and then accept only
evidence in favor of these assumptions. It is the practice of this precept that separates the unbelievers from the
believers, sheep from goats, and so forth. Most of us, history says, [p. 95] will test as goats. Therefore, a word
of caution: How much do we actually know (other than that it has something to do with someone's religion)
about this set of ideas we are calling "creationism"? I shall confess that I know next to nothing. Will any of the
noisemakers out there also confess?
I do know what we do not know about creation: almost everything. Science, like religion, is not a physical
thing itself, but a non-material set of ideas. It is an ideology and is not exempt from the scrutiny to which we
subject other ideologies. Science, if it is to progress, must be fed the fuel of inspired
thinking—brainstorming, if you will. Religion has generally been the repository of things we felt must be
true, in some sense knew were true because we existed ourselves, but which we could not demonstrate
rationally or understand. Sometimes the inspiration that sparks great scientific progress has been religious.
Other times a dogmatically held religious concept has stifled the development of the very inspiration that it may
have been meant to provide. The point is that we have never been very good judges of this and, as scientists
living in an age that has history books telling of both atheistic Nazis who purported to worship science, and
Spanish Inquisitors, who purported to be doing God's will, that we be a bit more humble and lower our
We have several things to gain by lowering our voices. One is the possibility that paying attention to some
radically different ideas, however wacky, may suggest to us an insight into science that we do not expect. For
instance, we do not have a thoroughly rational, tested hypothesis about the origin of our species. Indeed, we
haven't even been able to agree upon a biological classification system for primates. Somewhere buried in the
creationist arguments may be the right question, one that we have been ignoring because it wasn't proper to
consider it! The second thing we have to gain is our decency and humanity. I have myself sat in class after
class in the sciences and humanities in which any idea remotely religious was belittled, attacked, and shouted
down in the most unscientific and emotionally cruel way. I have seen young students raised according to
fundamentalist doctrine treated like loathsome alley cats, emotionally torn apart, and I never thought that this
sort of treatment was any better than the treatment that religious prelates, who held authority, gave Galileo.
Why scream about the inhumanity of nuclear war if you are also willing to force people of fundamentalist faiths
to attend public schools in which their most cherished beliefs will be systematically held up to ridicule and the
young children with it? These people are mostly too poor for private schools to be an alternative. The state
tries to prevent them from teaching their children at home rather than sending them to school. What choices do
they have? Would you call it freedom? Do you call it fair?
Is it really a terrible thing for a textbook to mention that, aside from the Darwin theory of evolution,
there have existed other ideas, many of them religious in nature? Would that not open the mind of students
rather than close them to scientific possibilities? Wouldn't it make the fundamentalist student feel a little more
welcome and better equip him to take an unbiased view of evolution?
Well now, I've asked a lot of questions and I do not know the answers. I would far prefer to hear physicists
discussing such questions than loudly attacking straw men and expressing a Chicken Little attitude that the
educational sky is falling because a few creationists want to be heard. (Lane 1982, 15—italics mine)
Repressive treatment of religious students would not be surprising under a totalitarian, atheistic regime. But
most readers of this book may be surprised to learn that this kind of religious persecution exists here in America.
This letter reveals a side of the story which the ACLU did not tell at the Arkansas trial. The ACLU's opposition to
Act 590 was a direct attempt to preserve the exclusive teaching of evolution in public schools. This letter reveals,
however, some of the abuses of this arrangement: students who express doubts about the "facts" of evolution are
under a potential threat of retribution just for asking questions. This is not academic freedom for all the students.
Real academic freedom should provide opportunity for the whole truth about creation and evolution to be
made known to the students.
This belief, based on my earlier university experiences, became an increasingly strong motivation for me to
testify at the trial. A number of well-qualified scientists had already accepted the State's invitation to testify for
creation science. Possibly I could assist in their efforts to have the evidences for creation examined more
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