[The following appeared on the editorial page of the LA Times of 8/17/93, and is reproduce
[The following appeared on the editorial page of the LA Times of
8/17/93, and is reproduced without permission.]
CAN 80% OF US BE DEAD WRONG?
By Phillip E. Johnson
Those wicked fundamentalists on the Vista school board in San Diego
County are at it again! This time they've passed a resolution
allowing discussion of divine creation in social studies and English
classes, such discussion being banned by law from science classes.
Worse still, they want to permit "exploration and dialogue" concerning
scientific evidence that challenges prevailing scientific theories, and
they think that students should not be required to believe any theory
presented in the curriculum.
In short, the Vista board has endorsed non-coercion of belief and
freedom of discussion about alternative answers to the big questions
of life. That sounds like liberal education to me, and even the
spokeswoman for the State Board of Education agreed that the policy is
lawful if in practice it fosters discussion of all religious
viewpoints. Nevertheless, the Los Angeles Times story said without
qualification that the board's policy is "in defiance of California
educational guidelines" and that the ACLU immediately threatened
lawsuits. What's going on here?
The creation/evolution dispute [sic] is one of the most pervasively
misunderstood issues in our culture wars, largely because so many
powerful persons in education and the media have a vested ideological
interest in keeping the public confused. When science educators today
teach that "evolution is a fact," they do not mean merely that the
Earth is very old and that life developed gradually from simple to
more complex forms. Evolution in science education means naturalistic
evolution -- that only purposeless [sic] material forces like random
mutation and natural selection were involved in biological creation.
That means that "evolution" as taught in science classes
contradicts not just the Genesis story; it denies [sic] that god had
anything whatsoever to do with out existence. Evolution guided by god
for the purpose of producing human beings is not really "evolution" as
contemporary educators use the term. Evolution to them means what the
preeminent neo-Darwinian authority George Gaylord Simpson said: "Man
is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have
him in mind."
Evolution in that sense is a very controversial doctrine. Polls
show that more than 80% of Americans believe either in a sudden
creation by god or in god-guided evolution. Only about 9% accept what
is considered to be the scientific meaning of the term: a completely
purposeless material process in which god played no part. In a
profound sense, all of the 80%-plus are creationists, because the
important issue is not whether god chose a sudden or gradual method.
The issue is whether god created us at all, or whether we are products
of a mindless process that cares nothing about what we do.
Of course, 80% of Americans could [is] be dead wrong. In the
majority's favor, however, is the fact that naturalistic evolution
is based primarily on philosophy rather than on scientific observation.
[False.] Science is defined today as the working out of naturalistic
explanations for phenomena, and the most plausible naturalistic
explanation is awarded the status of "scientific knowledge." Any
supernatural influence upon the natural world, including god-guided
evolution, is ruled out from the start.
Also out is the possibility that science does not know how complex
organs like wings and eyes and brains could be created without the
participation of a creator. Although direct evidence that mutation
and selection have the required creative power is lacking, science
presumes the adequacy of the Darwinian mechanism until a better
naturalistic alternative is found. That no naturalistic mechanism for
making complex organs exists is philosophically unacceptable, and so
this very realistic possibility may not even be discussed.
The so-called creationists in Vista and elsewhere who want to
challenge the reigning dogmas of evolution are not necessarily
Christian fundamentalists. Some are, but many others see the conflict
as involving two sets of fundamentalists, one set being the Darwinists
who control the science curriculum.
The Darwinist [sic] fundamentalists [sic] also control the science
departments in many universities, and in some cases biology professors
have been forbidden to tell students that there is any reason to doubt
the claim that mindless material processes could and did create the
wonders of biology. This claim is based not on proof, however, but on a
philosophically loaded definition of science. Evolutionary biologists
may like to assume that god played no role in creation, but why should
everyone else be required to assume it?
So the question is not whether fundamentalists should be allowed to
foist some dogma upon other people, but whether students may hear
well-founded objections to misleading presentations of evolution that
slight the difficulties. Let evolution be taught in the schools, of
course. But let the problems with the Darwinian theory be honestly
acknowledged, and let students be taught how to tell the difference
between what biologists know by observation and what they fervently
believe because it fits their philosophy. Teaching the difference
between philosophy and science isn't creationism; it's good critical
[Phillip E. Johnson, professor of law at UC Berkeley, is the
author of "Darwin on Trial" (1991), a revised version of
which is due this fall from IntraVarsity Press.]
[There is also an editorial from Michael Gotlieb which presents the
opposing view. It is entitled "The Bible Is Not a Science Textbook."
Gotlieb is the rabbi of Temple Judea in Vista, CA.]
If 80% of the population believes something is silly, it remains
silly! The truth does not lend itself to majority vote. Johnson
also fails to note the fact that evolution in no way states that
there is no god; something that has been repeatedly pointed out
to him. And wasn't his "80%" demonstrated to be a lie? -- david rice
Organization: Fulcrum Communications
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Ian G Batten)
The great thing about America is that a large part of the population are
apparently keen to replace science and engineering with religious dogma.
And they are succeeding.
For those other countries such as Germany, and France, and especially
those on the Pacific rim, this is a marvellous opportunity. The more
bright, enquiring American minds that you can stultify with Biblical
literalism, the more educators you can concern with creationism instead
of the real business at hand, the weaker your industrial base will
The real work of science won't stop in America. But the general
engineering and scientific knowledge of the workforce will decline.
It happened in Britain, with the class system's view of science and
engineering being of less value than Latin and Greek, and look what
happened to our Industrial base.
Welcome to the thrid world, America.
[The following appeared on the LA Times Opinion page directly under
Phillip Johnson's editorial about creationism. Due to an overwhelming
number of requests, I am reproducing the following without permission.]
THE BIBLE IS NOT A SCIENCE TEXTBOOK
By Michael Gotlieb
There are some who believe that when God created the world, He also
created fossils in order to test man's faith in Scripture. Those same
people believe that the universe literally was created in six days.
The debate over this is raging again in Vista, where the Board of
Education has ordered teachers to discuss creationism as an
alternative to the evolution theory.
As a rabbi, I have no intellectual sympathy for two of creationism's
basic tenets: that the Bible must be read "literally," and that it
holds scientific truths. We Jews brought this wondrous book into
the world, and while that does not give us a monopoly on its
understanding, let it be clear: the Bible is not a science text.
I do believe that the Bible is divinely inspired. But in six years
of graduate study in rabbinical school, not once was I taught to take
it literally. In the words of the Tamud, "The Bible speaks in the
language of humanity." As a Jew, I marvel at our ancient text
precisely because it speaks to me today. The power of the Bible is
its honest portrayal of humanity and its ability to give insight to
our lives, to add purpose and meaning and comfort. It can become a
handbook to life itself. Taken literally, it becomes sterile,
The belief that one can learn science from the Bible is worrisome.
Such a belief hurts good religion by evoking intellectual contempt for
it. Outside of a few religious groups, does anyone truly believe that
the universe was created in 144 hours, or that fossils are some
There are two accounts of creation in the Bible (Genesis 1:1-31 and
2:4-25). The first account is compatible with the theory of evolution:
After all else was created, God created humans; we become the crowning
glory of God's work. The second account begins with the creation of
man and woman, everything else following suit. In either case, what
is conveyed is the religious belief that we were put on this planet by
God. All who ever lived share the same creator.
Was the world created in six days? Jews never understood the
creation story to mean six 24-hour days. The Psalmist said it best:
"For in Your sight [God's] a thousand years are like a day to us"
(Psalm 90:4). Moreover, days as we know them were not created until
the so-called fourth day mentioned in the Bible. What is important is
that the world had a beginning, that the world is not ageless, which
was the belief held by the ancient Greeks.
To their credit, the creationists understand that the Bible teaches
two things about which science has nothing to say: how to live, and
why life came about. Science is basically value-free. One cannot
learn right from wrong in chemistry; biology does not teach us to
prefer kindness. Science cannot answer the why of life: Why do we
If we really are the products of random forces over an infinite
period of time, whence do we derive ultimate value to our lives? Why
are we any more valuable than a dog or a spider? Because we came
later in the evolutionary scale? Realistically, is that a substitute
for the biblical belief that human beings are created in God's image?
Science ought to be taught in a science class, not theology.
Religiously concerned parents who send their children to the public
schools need to remind them that science does not hold the answer to
all of life's problems. If anything comes out of the debate between
those who advocate either creationism or evolution, let it be that.
For issues of theological concern, the world has a guide, undervalued
perhaps, often misinterpreted. It has been around for almost as long
as we Jews have been. It is one of the Jews' greatest gifts to
humanity -- the Bible.
[Michael Gotlieb is the rabbi at Temple Judea in Vista, CA.]
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank