My Creationist-Separationist Dilemma

How do you reconcile a public school system, a separationist view of church and state, and creationism?

Clifford Goldstein, editor of Shabbat Shalom, has written many articles on religious liberty issues.

I believe in a literal creation accomplished in six 24-hour days, about 6,000 years ago. I believe in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Noah's ark, the talking snakethe whole story just as Moses wrote it, literally.

I also believe in the First Amendment, literally. When it says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," I believe it means just thatthe government has no business establishing, advancing, or subsidizing religious belief.

Now for the dilemma: How can I reconcile my belief in creationism with the court decisions that have declared the teaching of creation science in public schools unconstitutional? While I rejoice that the courts are keeping Jefferson's wall of separation high by forbidding religious indoctrination in public school, I cringe at the specter of evolutionwith all its speculations, leaps of faith, and unproven premisesbeing pawned off as the truth.

I haven't always been a creationistI used to be an evolutionist. My earliest recollection of evolutionary tendencies goes back to the fifth grade, in which, under the tutelage of Mrs. Catleet, I learned math, English, social studies, history, geography, and evolution. I still remember the different ages of the earthArcheozoic, Proterozoic, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Cenozoicright off the top of my head.

In the eighth grade Mrs. Rubin taught me about Charles Darwin, the H.M.S. Beagle, and the Galapagos Islands. Her charts delineated how one species changed into another and then into an other over billions of years. First she would show a single-celled creature, followed by a protoplasmic blob, then a jellyfish, then a frog, followed by a dog, a monkey, a primate (either Pithecanthropus erectus, Ramapithecus, or good old Neanderthal man usually hairy, needing a shave, and holding a spear), and then Homo sapiens.

It all seemed so clear, so plain, so simple. No intelligent, educated, sensible person believed otherwise. And just as the class would laugh at the ancient myth that life spawned from inorganic matterthat a pile of dirty rags, for instance, could "spontaneously generate" mice and maggotswe laughed at those who didn't believe in evolution.

Mrs. Catleet and Mrs. Rubin didn't tell me, though, that the probability of even the least complex forms of life originating on the earth by natural processes is considered extremely remote, virtually a statistical impossibility.

They neglected to mention that Nobel laureate Francis Crickof Watson and Crick fame and certainly not a creationistsaid that the probabilities of life originating on the earth by chance are as remote as those of "a billion monkeys, on a billion typewriters, ever typing correctly even one sonnet of Shakespeare's during the present lifetime of the universe."

Neither Mrs. Rubin nor Mrs. Catleet told us that the fossil records are so sparse that reconstructing the evolution of man through them is, as one anthropologist put it, like "reconstructing the plot of War and Peace with 13 randomly selected pages."

They did not read to us these words: "To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree." Nor did they tell us that it was Charles Darwin who wrote them.

They never said that the key to the evolutionary theorythe life forms that link the specieshas never been found. This problem is so important that evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould devised his "punctuated equilibrium" hypothesisthe belief that instead of occurring in a slow, gradual process, evolutionary change came in relatively quick jumps and spurtsto help explain why no transitional forms exist.

They never told us about the problems in dating systemsthat, for instance, freshly killed seals were dated as 1,300 years old; nor did they tell us that genetic mutations (one of the supposed methods of evolutionary change) are almost always detrimental to the species; nor that. . .

The point is that I reject evolution for a number of reasons. Primarily, I reject it because I am a creationist. But I must admit that I am a creationist because of my religious views—not because of creation science.

Rather than being a slow, gradual, Darwinian process, my transformation from evolutionist to creationist was more like Gould's "punctuated equilibrium." It happened quickly. I had an experience with the Lord and accepted the Bible as the Word of God. Unlike some, I found Genesis as compatible with Origin of the Species as Meir Kahane is with Muammar Khaddafi. Because I believed Genesis as it reads, I became a creationist. Later, as I read creation-science literature, I saw the scientific evidence for creation. But my belief in creation is based on faith, not sciencethough science has strengthened that faith.

So what do I do now that the Supreme Court, in a 7 to 1 decision, has thrown out the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution- Science in Public School Instruction" that the Louisiana state legislature passed overwhelmingly?

Unlike our esteemed Supreme Court chief justice, who fantasizes that the framers of our Constitution wanted only to prevent the "designation of any church as a 'national one,'  "I read the First Amendment as a bulwark against government attempts to promote and advance any specific religious belief. The framers knew that when government promotes religion, oppression follows. They wanted to keep the church out of the state and the state out of the church, because they knew that when the state promotes a religious belief, no matter how benign, that belief has behind it the coercive power of the governmentand the framers didn't want our nation coercing anyone regarding religion. "What has been the effect of coercion?" asked Thomas Jefferson. "To make one half of the world fools, and the other half hypocrites."

Teaching creation science

But what about creation science in public schools? Does teaching that involve coercion? Can it be taught as science and not as creation?

Opponents claim that the term creation science is a misnomerthat it is not really science to begin with. Carl Sagan describes it as "a small bunch of people putting out thinly disguised biblical literalism ... in a package disguised as science."

I know that pigeonholing creation science in this way is not really fair or accurate. I know that good scientific evidence exists for the abrupt appearance of life forms, a universal flood, and so forth. And yet creation science itself, no matter how scientific, necessitates the concept of a Creator, just as Christianity inherently implies a belief in Jesus, salvation, and the cross. Postulating a Creator inevitably implies a religious belief, and no public school should be promoting a religious belief.

But though creation science implies a Creator, teaching it does not necessarily entail promoting faith in Him any more than claiming to be a Christian entails proselytizing. Could creation science be taught like a class in American religious history, which, though it involves the study of Christianity and many of its elements, such as Jesus, salvation, and the cross, does not advance these beliefs as religious dogma?

For me, a literal creationist and a strict separationist, the real question is not Is creation science a science? Nor is it Can creation science be taught without promoting a religion? The real question is Would creation science be taught correctly, or would it be used to promote religious beliefs at government expense?

The creation science controversy has arisen at an inopportune time for creationists. The nation has been invaded by swarms of anti-First Amendment marines who want the government to subsidize religion, or even to promote it in public school, and they have been conjuring up various ways and means to storm the wall that has been checking their advance.

The Supreme Court saw the Louisiana bill as such an assault. Wendell Bird, the attorney for the state, argued that the law was secular in intent and was to ensure academic freedom. But Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., speaking for the majority, said that they found no evidence to support that claim. Calling the bill a sham, he said that it violated any pretense of fairness by tilting toward creationism.

It was, he said, a religiously motivated attempt to suppress evolution and replace it with the "viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind." Asserting that as such, it was a thinly veiled effort to require religious instruction in public schools, Brennan said that the law "violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment because it seeks to employ the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose."

The Court's decision didn't prohibit anyone from teaching creation, provided the aim was to give comprehensive instruction about scientific theories and not to promote a sectarian position.

Considering the current militancy of many fundamentalists regarding the use of public schools to promote their beliefs, the Court was most likely correct in declaring the bill unconstitutional. The Louisiana law probably was used to promulgate a fundamentalist religious be lief, even if that wasn't its original intent.

The problem, then, is balance. The chances of a pro-creationist teacher giving a fair presentation of evolution (or vice versa) are not good. Can you imagine Jerry Falwell standing before a class of fifth graders, pointing to a picture of a protoplasmic critter and saying "Man was created in the image of a jellyfish"?

When it comes to teaching origins in our public schools, the problem is not creation science versus evolution. Rather it is the extremists on both sides. My teachers did not present evolution as a theory, but as a fact as well established as a law of thermodynamics. They didn't tell us of all the problems, the conflicting theories within evolutionary circles, or of the infighting among evolutionists themselves. Mrs. Catleet's and Mrs. Rubin's presentations were as dogmatic as a Jimmy Swaggart sermon on Sunday morning.

"It is reasonable to suppose," wrote Irving Kristol in the New York Times (Sept. 30, 1986), "that if evolution were taught more cautiously, as a conglomerate idea consisting of conflicting hypotheses rather than as an unchallengeable certainty, it would be far less controversial. As things stand now, the religious fundamentalists are not far off the mark when they assert that evolution, as generally taught, has an unwarranted antireligious edge to it."

And no doubt a creationist could be just as dogmatic in his presentation.

Currently, evolution is taught as an established fact when in reality it is only a theory. The alternative is teaching creation science in public schools, but doing so could violate the First Amendment. What we need is a balanced presentation of both, but who can provide that for us? A Norman Lear would be as unbalanced as a Pat Robertson. Of course, we could always try a theistic evolutionist, one who says he believes in both Genesis and Darwin, but the kids who take that class will need a class in logic when they're through.

We could avoid teaching them any thing about origins, or maybe we could have special classes after school hours in which they could study either science they wantedthough if the creation science class were on school property, the ACLU would sue, unless they were in Alabama, where the evolutionists would be convicted of violating the establishment clause by promoting the religion of secular humanism, at least until it was overturned by the Supreme Court, but now with Scalia and Kennedy on the court. . .

As I said, I am in a dilemma!

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Clifford Goldstein, editor of Shabbat Shalom, has written many articles on religious liberty issues.

July 1989

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