Teaching Creationism in Kansas: what would happen if we actually taught the biblical creation story in the science classroom?
I grew up in Kansas, on the edge of the plains outside Kansas City; where I attended public schools. Although I ended up pursuing a very different field of study, Hebrew Bible scholarship, I have fond memories of my high school science classes, especially the weird science experiments we performed. Recently, I learned to my embarrassment, Kansas has deleted the teaching of evolution--- the modern scientific understanding of the origins of life--- from in the public school curriculum. The Bible thumpers in Kansas have decided, in their wisdom, that if the courts won't let you teach the Bible in science class, then you can't teach science either.
I would like to perform another weird science experiment ---a thought experiment--- (this was Albert Einstein's favorite kind of science). Let us imagine that the biblical account of the origins of life was taught in a high school science class. what would such a lesson be like? Let us further imagine that the biblical account of the origins of life was not taught by a fundamentalist minister, but by a modern biblical scholar.
Let's listen in on the class:
"Today, class, we are learning about the origins of life. As you know, there are two different accounts of the origins of life in Genesis--- the Priestly (P) account in Genesis 1:1-2:3 and the Yahwist (J) account in Genesis 2:4-24. According to the P account, life began on the fifth day of creation, when God created sea creatures and birds. On the following day, the sixth day of creation, God created land animals. Now; class, why were sea creatures and birds created on one day and land animals not created until the following day?"
(Murmurs and shuffling among the students, until one shy student gives the right answer.)
"That's right, Ashley. The creatures of the sea and sky are created on the fifth day as part of the twofold literary structure of the creation account. Each of the things created during the first three days of creation are mirrored, and in a sense completed, by the things created on the last three days of creation. The creation of light on Day 1 is completed by the creation of the sun, moon and stars on Day 4. The creation of the firmament to separate the waters above the sky from the waters below on Day 2 is completed by the creation of sea creatures to inhabit the waters below and the creation of birds to inhabit the sky on Day 5. And the creation of vegetation on earth on Day 3 is completed on Day 6 by the creation of land creatures to live on the earth and eat the vegetation.
By perceiving this beautiful and balanced literary structure, we can understand why the origins of life are presented as they are, with sea and sky creatures on Day 5 and land creatures on Day 6. Any questions?"
(More murmurs and shuffling. Finally, Billy asks a question.)
"Yes, Billy, we know that birds are descended from reptiles, so birds cannot have been created before land creatures. But you're talking about science, which is not allowed in science class. Let's return to the Bible."
*******---------*******-------******** A Parallel Creation: Genesis 1:1-2:3 Day 1 Day 4 light sun, moon, and stars Day 2 Day 5 firmament sea creatures separating and earth/heaven birds waters Day 3 Day 6 dry land animals and and plants human beings *******---------*******-------********"What did you say, Ashley? Don't mumble. Oh yes, in Genesis 2:4-24 Adam is created first, then animals, then Eve. That's a different order, with its own internal logic. You see, in this second version, known as the "J" story, Yahweh makes Adam first, then feels sorry that the man will be lonely. So Yahweh creates the animals to be his companions. That plan doesn't entirely work, since no true companion is found among the animals. Yahweh then has another idea--- the creation of woman, whom Adam later names Eve. She becomes the true companion for Adam. So in this account, Adam is created first, Eve is created last, and the animals are created in between. This isn't such an organized and symmetrical account; rather, Yahweh seems to have one idea and then another. The origins of life are, in this story, a kind of divine improvisation. And then Adam and Eve get into a patch of trouble, spurred on by an inquisitive and clever animal, the snake. But that is tomorrow's lesson. Class dismissed."
Will we see this lesson plan in the Kansas science classes of tomorrow? I doubt it. But it is a thought experiment worth pondering. I know that such a class would have spiced up my old high school--- the principal would certainly have flipped his lid.
Because, you see, it's dangerous to mix the Bible with science.
Editorial, BIBLE REVIEW, FEBRUARY 2OOO