[Published in: New York Times, June 7, 2008]
The Cons of Creationism
When it comes to science, creationists tend to struggle with reality. They believe, after all, that evolution by means of natural selection is false and that Earth is only a few thousand years old. They also believe that students who are taught a creationist view of biology — or who are taught to disregard the Darwinist view — are not being disadvantaged.
The Texas State Board of Education is again considering a science curriculum that teaches the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution, setting an example that several other states are likely to follow. This is code for teaching creationism.
It has the advantage of sounding more balanced than teaching “intelligent design,” which the courts have consistently banned from science classrooms. It has the disadvantage of being nonsense.
The chairman of the Texas board, a dentist named Don McLeroy, advocates the “strengths and weaknesses” approach, as does a near majority of the board. The system accommodates what Dr. McLeroy calls two systems of science, creationist and “naturalist.”
The trouble is, a creationist system of science is not science at all. It is faith. All science is “naturalist” to the extent that it tries to understand the laws of nature and the character of the universe on their own terms, without reference to a divine creator. Every student who hopes to understand the scientific reality of life will sooner or later need to accept the elegant truth of evolution as it has itself evolved since it was first postulated by Darwin. If the creationist view prevails in Texas, students interested in learning how science really works and what scientists really understand about life will first have to overcome the handicap of their own education.
Scientists are always probing the strengths and weakness of their hypotheses. That is the very nature of the enterprise. But evolution is no longer a hypothesis. It is a theory rigorously supported by abundant evidence. The weaknesses that creationists hope to teach as a way of refuting evolution are themselves antiquated, long since filed away as solved. The religious faith underlying creationism has a place, in church and social studies courses. Science belongs in science classrooms.