There’s been a little spasm in a science classroom in South County, occasioned by the appearance of creationism in a class that is supposed to be devoted to matters that can be proved or disproved by evidence.
The reaction of the anti-superstition crowd was as expected.
While I agree with their general view that creationism is not science, I think they are going about things all wrong in their attempt to set things straight. There is a better way.
The background: An Arroyo Grande High School teacher named Brandon Pettenger allegedly brought creationism into his life science class. He said he wasn’t proselytizing. He was subjecting creationism to the scientific process, getting kids to think for themselves.
The furious knee jerk was depressingly predictable. Local atheists (there’s an odd phrase) rose in alarm. They wanted creationism out of the curriculum and some wanted Pettenger out of the school.
I agree that school teachers shouldn’t preach. Nevertheless, the atheists’ reaction in this context struck me as ill-advised. It reminded me of that old saw about the three monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”
The atheists clapped their hands firmly over their ears, squinched their eyes tightly shut, and compressed their lips until the color drained out. “Hear no creationism, see no creationism, speak no creationism.”
The problem with this, apart from its intolerance, is that it is naïve. You can’t just say, “Shoo, creationism! Beat it! Scram! Go away!” Creationism is here to stay as a cultural and political force, and there are better ways to deal with it than by trying to kill it.
The first step you have to take is to acknowledge what creationism is. It’s an effort to answer the first question and most important question facing sentient beings: Why am I here?
Over the millennia, countless cultures have come up with answers, each in its own way. Your own worldview is shaped by the time and place you entered the world.
Hereabouts the perspective is Christian, for the most part, with a pallid nod to Judaism and insincere assertions that all religions should be tolerated.
This perspective’s “spiritual leaders” range from Pat Robertson to the Pope. But they’re bound by culture and geography. If Robertson died tomorrow and were literally “born again”—reincarnated—in the Middle East, he’d bowing toward Mecca soon enough.
So, with that in mind, here is a better suggestion for handling creationism in the classroom. Instead of trying to squeeze it out, why not invite other belief systems to the discussion? And subject each of them to the scientific method.
After all, Pettenger said he wanted to show his students “both sides of the argument.” Let’s show them all the sides to the story.
You would, of course, talk about the densely populated religions, like Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. But why stop there?
On Tuesday you could talk about Zoroaster. On Wednesday, explore the Popol Vuh. On Thursday, pantheism. On Friday, how Bumba “vomited the world” into existence. And so on. Those belief systems—and hundreds of others—share this with creationism: They attempt to explain what the heck we’re doing here. Let’s subject them to scientific scrutiny.
I would introduce these various religious perspectives as well to local governments, whose little Christian prayer utterances at the start of public meetings have created the occasional mini-furor.
Instead of getting rid of the Christian prayer at city council and board of supervisors meetings, alternate the public invocations, Hinduism one week, then Buddhism, Islam, Shinto, Jainism, Taoism.
Not only would that eventually bring all the deities swooping down to the meeting to provide their respective benevolence, it would have entertainment value. Tell me you wouldn’t pay to see SLO County Supervisors Debbie Arnold, Bruce Gibson, and their peers begin a meeting by bowing to Mecca while chanting “la ilaha illa allah.”
But back to Pettenger’s classroom. I think he should engage his students in this endeavor. Everyone could learn a lot.
But will it actually happen? Will this reasonable proposal receive any follow-up?
You never know. But I’ve grown jaded over the years, and, to tell you the truth, I don’t think it has a prayer.
New Times contributor Bob Cuddy has an edgy view on life and lives in Arroyo Grande. Contact him through New Times Editor Camillia Lanham at firstname.lastname@example.org.