Does this look familiar?

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Up until about three years ago, I had never even heard of creationism or intelligent design. I thought that, for as long as I could remember, evolution had been agreed upon as the way in which life on earth came to exist in its present form. I was wrong, and at my first introduction to creationism I dove into the literature of groups like Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research to find out why they believed what they did. I didn't agree with them, but at least it was interesting.

It didn't take long for me to get bored, and the more I learn about the history of creationism, the more tedious the arguments get. Creationists deal in hand-me-down arguments that have been around since American fundamentalist revival of the 1920's, if not before, and the refusal of creationists to learn more about the ideas they argue so vociferously against is frustrating.**

Indeed, the interesting bit is not so much the time-worn arguments of creationists, but the context in which they are presented. Today we hear a lot about "academic freedom bills" and other legislation that seek to inject religious beliefs into science classrooms. Some even go as far as saying that if the majority of taxpayers are creationists, then they should have what they want taught in schools, end of story. This is hardly a new tactic. Have a look at this little blurb from the magazine Liberty published as part of the 1925 article "Evolution, Christianity, and the State";

Why Bar Evolution From State Schools?

Because the parent, not the State, is responsible for the child's religious training.

Because evolution, speaking as it does concerning creation and the Creator, the miracles of the Bible, and the philosophy of life, is properly classed with religions.

Because State schools have no right to teach religion of any kind.

Because teaching religion in any sort in State schools is a step toward the union of church and state.

Because the evolutionist has no more right to ask the State schools to teach his religion than the Christian Fundamentalist has to ask the State to teach his belief. Toward all religions civil law should take a neutral attitude.

Because debarring evolution from the public school does not infringe in any way upon the right of evolutionists to think, speak, and write upon this subject as they choose, so long as they do not use State funds, secured by taxation, with which to do it.

(The issue also contains several other articles dealing with the Scopes Trial. Also see this 1922 article from Science about anti-evolution pamphlets and the Kentucky anti-evolution law.)

The tactic of making evolution a religion is still prevalent today, but presently it is an argument to get religion into schools via creationism and intelligent design. In 1925 creationism may not have been actively taught in the classroom, but there was an understanding that it was THE explanation for the origin of all life, especially us, and many people tried to crush educational standards that would threaten that. In attempts to frame their argument as one of fairness, creationists tried to make evolution into a religion. The problem was that such a faith didn't exist and was entirely the manufactured bogeyman of fundamentalists.

The argument that evolution is a religion fails, of course, because evolution is not actively concerned with "the miracles of the Bible, and the philosophy of life." What we know about evolution and sciences integral to it (like geology) certainly refute the narrow reading of Genesis some people desperately cling to, but it was not born as a rival religion or philosophy. It has profound implications for religion, certainly, but it is not some half-baked alternate worldview divorced from actual evidence.

Creationists like Ken Ham love to tell children to raise their hands and science class and ask their teachers "Were you there?" when evolution comes up, jumping in with the reply "I know someone who was... God." Such a response provides no answers, and even God said, in the book of Job (12:8), "Speak to the Earth, and it shall teach thee." Naturalists, regardless of religious belief, have been letting the earth speak to them for hundreds of years, and evolution explains much of what we have learned. We may not have been around millions of years ago, but the rocks, bones, and even bits of DNA tramissted through innumerable generations to living organisms were there, and all of that ancient evidence is vital to understanding life's splendid riddle.

**[I learned this early on when I met Paul Veit, the self-appointed "Dino Pastor" from Maine at Millington Baptist Church in New Jersey in October of 2006. I was attending a non-demoninational service hosted at that church at the time, and when I found out about Veit's travelling show I wrote to the senior pastor about my objection to it. I didn't receive much of a reply, but I went to see Veit's presentation anyway.

I assume the organizers recognized or figured out who I was, as after the error-ridden lecture I was invited out to dinner with Veit, former CRS president Wayne Frair, and a few others. Prior to leaving for the meal, I was talking to Veit about some fossil news, particularly signs of tuberculosis found in mastodons and an announcement that two new as-then-unnamed dinosaurs were found. All he did was grumble about how evolutionists will make up just about anything, and didn't seem the least bit interested about the news. I could only wonder how someone who claimed to be so interested in paleontology could be so incurious.

The next day, during Veit's lecture delivered to a packed Sunday service (during which he identified ichthyosaurs as fish, among other things), I found out why the senior pastor was reluctant to do anything about Veit. Beyond the fact that the pastor probably agreed with him, Veit had been a former member of the church and a friend of the pastor. A special "love offing" was taken up to help the "Dino Pastor" further his ministry. Apparently Veit is still touring the country, but for me, seeing his program one was more than enough. What is truly sad, though, is that Veit has apparently (according to his website) obtained the rights to excavate dinosaur tracks from Massachusetts. Because of this, the tracks become effectively lost to science and I sincerely doubt that information about them has been properly recorded should any paleontologist want to study them.]

[Illustration: William Jennings Bryan, consel to the prosecution at the 1925 Scopes trial, from Liberty magazine.]

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As the infidel's favourite book of the Bible says,

1:9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

1:10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

1:11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

Or, in a more modern translation,

All tingz has DO NOT WANT, more den werdz sez. Lolrus never sez "enuf bucket, kthnx" or kitteh sez "dats good, enuff cheezburger." Has happen? Gunna be agin. Nuthing new undur teh sunz. Kitteh can not sez "OMFGZ sumthing new!" is jus REPOST!. New kittahz 4gitz old kittahz, new kittahz 4gitd bai even newer kittahz.

Ah, creationists again, those embarrassing anachronisms who refuse to go away, keeping America from entering the 21st century and making us the object of ridicule and derision the world over. For sheer cheekiness, this "evolution is a religion" garbage takes the cake(and this is a group of people with a long history of inventive but preposterous arguments.) Our own argument is imperfect but accessible-the truth. We have to make sure we keep it out there, in education and society at large, or the cranks, as spurious as their arguments are, will triumph. Thanks, Raymond Minton.

By Raymond Minton (not verified) on 10 Dec 2008 #permalink

Ah, creationists again, those embarrassing anachronisms who refuse to go away, keeping America from entering the 21st century and making us the object of ridicule and derision the world over. For sheer cheekiness, this "evolution is a religion" garbage takes the cake(and this is a group of people with a long history of inventive but preposterous arguments.) Our own argument is imperfect but accessible-the truth. We have to make sure we keep it out there, in education and society at large, or the cranks, as spurious as their arguments are, will triumph. Thanks, Raymond Minton.

By Raymond Minton (not verified) on 10 Dec 2008 #permalink

How did you not hear about creationism until about three years ago? Were you just so focused on your own interests that the subject escaped your notice (if so, I'm envious)? How is that possible if your interests lay in biological sciences? I'm just baffled because, as I understood it, politicized creationism has been on the upsurge since the early 1980s and was certainly hard for me to avoid, but then I'm in the Bible Belt. I'm not meaning to suggest that you had blinders on or anything, no intimation of ignorance intended; it's just that creationists have been so aggressive in recent years that I'm curious how someone interested in biological sciences could not even have heard about it until 2005. I'm guessing that it's most likely because your mind was focused only on issues of substance so you didn't encounter it.

Dean; I actually didn't know much about evolution until three years ago, either. You could say I believed in it, but I'd say 95% of what I know about it I have learned in the past three years. (Keep in mind I'm only 25)

Creationism never came up during my elementary school education. It was never mentioned. I didn't hear a word about it during my first few years of college, either, and as I have recounted before, I first came across it when I was barred from teaching evolution to a 5th grade class I had been instructing as part as a communicating science course here at RU.

I wish I could say I was focused on other issues, but the truth is that it never really came up until recently. I was familiar with the idea that God created everything in six days, but I had never heard of anyone who actually believed that was still true. I have to say, though, that running into creationism gave me more motivation to learn about evolution, and it really focused my interest in paleontology and evolutionary science.

Lucky, lucky you.

We had stickers in every high-school biology book, pasted in by the Board of Education — the stickers which started off, "This book discusses evolution, a controversial theory proposed by some scientists. . ." My ninth-grade biology teacher was a basketball coach shanghaied into the job in order to get a warm body in front of the class, since otherwise they wouldn't have enough teachers to process all the kids who had to take the subject (it was a graduation requirement mandated by the state). He told us that he wouldn't spend any significant length of time on evolution because it was a controversial subject, not among scientists but among parents.

A biology class without evolution. Somewhere, in a faculty lounge of the great university in the sky, Dobzhansky is screaming.

We kids had plenty of arguments over the cafeteria table about evolution, science v. religion and all the rest. Yes, I was told that entropy made evolution impossible, that scientists had religious faith in their reason, and much in the same vein besides. I guess that's part of why I find it so easy to get sick of the whole thing: I ran into it early.

"Creationists like Ken Ham love to tell children to raise their hands and science class and ask their teachers "Were you there?" when evolution comes up"

Kent Hovind (I think it's him) doesn't realize what a great science education tool his favourite question can be, if handled correctly by the teacher. Of course, the answer shouldn't be "I wasn't". It should be that this is one thing that is great about science: it allows us to know what happened even when we couldn't possibly be there. If you find animal tracks in the forest, you know what they are, how much they weight, how big they are, etc. You can analyze the light of the stars, and you know what they're made of and how old they are. Same thing for very ancient events, because we have clues and tracks to analyze, just like a detective investigating a crime.

Science education is not only a catalogue of facts and ideas. Its about "how do we know what we know?". Of course, you can't go into to great a level of detail with schoolkids. But you can give them a hint... and make them want to know more.

By Christophe Thill (not verified) on 10 Dec 2008 #permalink

It didn't take long for me to get bored, and the more I learn about the history of creationism, the more tedious the arguments get.

I had the same reaction when I first started looking at creationism, about fourteen years ago. Like you, I was vaguely aware of evolution throughout my school years, and got rather more interested in it in college when I discovered The Great Dinosaur Revolution (as told by Bakker, Horner, and their fellow revolutionariess). But creationism? I thought it was on the way out, and that the McLean and Edwards decisions killed its last remnants. I was amazed to discover that people still believed it years afterward, and more amazed to find that they seemed to have solid evidence on their side.

But when I started buying some good reference books and really checking out the creationists' arguments, they all vanished into smoke. And when I found a few old creationist books, I discovered that those same smoky arguments were all the creationists had ever had. All the way back to Darwin's day. For that matter, even back before Darwin ever published anything. Even before he set out on HMS Beagle. A few naturalists were groping toward some form of evolutionary theory as early as 1800, and creationists were already in full cry against them. From that day to this, creationists have relied on two basic arguments -- the inerrancy of Scripture, and the lack of evidence for evolution -- and three basic tactics -- lying about the facts, disguising their religion as valid science, and when all else fails, sheer bullying and intimidation.

By wolfwalker (not verified) on 11 Dec 2008 #permalink