Apr 12, 2010

a plea for reality

Knox County's School Board faces a challenge, and they need strength. A parent has complained about a passage in an honors biology text that describes the seven-day creation story as a myth. The passage covers the battle over teaching evolution that has transpired for decades throughout the United States, sometimes flaring up in Tennessee, Kansas or Texas. It is Tennessee's turn again.

Creation of the Earth in seven days is obviously mythical, but that does not mean it is false. It means it is poetic. We know the cooling of the crust took almost a billion years. We know plants have been around for two to four billion years, depending whether you count algae as plants. "Day" clearly means something different to God than it does to Earth dwellers, but if you admit the timing is mythical, you are left with a creation story that meshes surprisingly well with science. The few varieties of life named in Genesis appear in the fossil record in the order they appear in the Bible. Allow for poetry and you have reconciliation.

Unfortunately, men like Ken Zimmerman will spare no absurdity in choosing war over peace, so he has taken his own side's "teach the controversy" stance to the mat, declaring it inadequate. Creationists slipped into "intelligent design" costume in recent years to demand schools "teach the controversy." This is what the Farragut text does. Zimmerman wants the controversy tippy-toed around so his delicate feelings do not get bruised. "Myth" is more than he can bear, though Jesus bore death on a wooden cross for him.

I spoke with some friends who teach biology, thinking I could rally them to attend the next school board meeting, but I discovered that for them this issue is ongoing, part of their routine even when it is not in the news. They need the rest of us to attend the board meeting, not just to give the board courage and guidance, but so science teachers can know the community supports their efforts. Their job is to teach students about the natural world, not to navigate the minefield of fragile fundamentalist emotions.

At its next meeting, the Knox County School Board gets to choose whether to be politically correct or scientifically literate. Those who understand that creation did not happen in seven human days might want to keep May 5th open. Fundamentalists will be out in force for folly. Advocates for reality should show up too.

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