Establishing Scientific Guidelines for Origins Instruction in Public Education


Two major challenges face creationists who wish to see the scientific content of creationism penetrate into educational circles and public school curricula.

The first task is to find the most efficient means of obtaining a hearing. Approaches will vary according to the organizational structure of each school district. An impressively growing number of creationists are exploring many avenues—editorials, personnel workshops, lectures, writing, etc.

But a second challenge is far more problematic: how does one achieve communicative dialog about the science involved in creationism when a good number of educators may not be willing to seriously discuss scientific issues? What if those evaluating curricula expansion insist instead upon debating the philosophical-religious overtones of a creationist explanation as an infringement of the separation of church and state? Deadlocks are then inevitable.

A teacher workshop in Baltimore County (Winter, 1978) stalemated at this precise juncture. Creationists were graciously allowed a 40-minute presentation, during which time comments were confined to scientific material. (Previous months were spent preparing supplemental written materials for take-home review after the workshop.) A teacher-panel with questions and answers followed that barely skimmed scientific issues. Most of that time was consumed with topics unrelated to a science workshop—a critique of Christian Heritage College, the religious dignity of evolutionists, the size of Noah's ark, textbook controversies, etc!

Many creationists have been disappointed by such a priori dismissal of creationism as a valid scientific model. Such unfortunate communication breakdowns show the imperative of developing clear guidelines by which groups can assess creationist material in a scientific manner. Initially, certain philosophical tenets must be thought through, before scientific material is even introduced. If at all possible, it would be well if the following suggested criteria, formulated into a ballot, were voted upon by educators BEFORE any scientific data is presented for evaluation:

A vote of "no" indicates that our group will not use such an argument as grounds for rejecting either evolution or creation as suitable curricula material, provided that either origins model can meet the scientific requirements we will collectively establish. A vote of "yes" means such logic may be used as we evaluate the scientific content of our origins curricula.

YES       NO       1. Is evolutionary theory a teaching that is strictly a matter of science, with no other influence on the philosophical or religious beliefs of others?

2. Should the religious views of evolutionists, or the uses to which evolutionary theory has been employed politically, philosophically, or religously…
YES       NO       a) dictate its suitability for public education, or
YES       NO       b) determine its scientific validity?
YES       NO       3. Does evolutionary theory have empirical proof for all its postulates?
YES       NO       4. Should scientific creation be rejected for curricula on the grounds of one or more of the first four questions just cited (inserting "creation" for "evolution")?
YES       NO       5. Do the approaches catalogued in Table I constitute scientific arguments that should be resorted to in evaluating any model of origins as a valid science, model?
YES       NO       6. Should evolutionary theory be taught in classrooms as the only correct view, without giving scientific material for any other view?
YES       NO       7. Does the rational approach involved in the scientific method rule out any hypothesis concerning origins before the evidence amassed to support that hypothesis has been heard?
YES       NO       8. Do both evolutionary and creationist views allow for belief in God or other religious interferences?
YES       NO       9. The main evolutionary hypothesis (based on observable natural phenomena to be supported by class room data is that natural laws, acting mechanistically through time, have produced the variety of organisms we see.
YES       NO       10. Does this evolutionary hypothesis have philosophical religious inferences?
YES       NO       11. The main creationist hypothesis (raised on observable natural phenomena) to be supported by classroom data is design … pre-programmed pattern.
YES       NO       12. Does this creationist hypothesis have philosophical religious inferences?
YES       NO       13. The hypothesis of design can be inferred from empirical evidence, not just religious writings (e.g., ecological interdependence, mathematical probabilities of cell assemblage, synchronization of chemical activities within a cell, etc.). (This question should be explored further as scientific guidelines are set.)
YES       NO       14. Many evolutionist educators believe in God, or have other philosophical beliefs regarding the nature of the world, but avoid state-church conflicts by limiting their teaching to empirical evidence.
YES       NO       15. If you answered #14 "yes" is it parallel logic to grant that those of creationist persuasion could maintain church-state separation in the same manner as an evolutionist teacher might, so long as they teach both views of origins and limit their approach to empirical evidence?

If educators are willing to try a ballot approach, the above questions may clear up erroneous concepts that exist in the minds of a policy-making group concerning which many creationists may not be aware. If the evaluators agree to use the ballot approach, the next decision is to set rules that qualify any origins view as a scientific model. The following three guidelines seem logically applicable. The same general principles could also be used to solidify the evolutionary model as a science model:

I. CAN THE CHIEF CREATIONIST HYPOTHESIS—DESIGN (pre-programmed pattern) BE INFERRED FROM EMPIRICAL DATA WITHOUT REFERENCE TO RELIGIOUS WRITINGS? (The complexities involved in the origin of a single cell must be thoroughly discussed.)

II. CAN THIS DESIGN HYPOTHESIS INCORPORATE THE MAJOR KNOWN EMPIRICAL DATA USED BY EVOLUTIONISTS AND CREATIONISTS INTO A COHERENT SYSTEM? (Scientifically demonstrable facts — empirical evidence — must be separated from ideas that may have logical supporting evidence, depending on one's interpretation. If, for example, the creationist hypothesis were to deny that fossils are arranged in depositional sequences in many instances, it would be ignoring obvious, empirical evidence. However, uniformity of process rates and dating methods must be shown to admit varied interpretations and conflicting data. They do not fall into the category of hard-core scientific proof.)

III. CAN THESE DATA (including the need for local or more widespread catastrophism to interpret the fossil record) BE DRAWN FROM THE VISIBLE WORLD, AND NOT FROM RELIGIOUS WRITINGS?

Those who believe that the catastrophism of the creationist model can only be inferred from the Genesis flood account should bear in mind that:

  1. Almost all fossils are buried in sedimentary strata.
  2. The process of fossilization requires some form of catastrophism in most cases: i.e., quick burial (often of whole herds) in aqueous sediment or volcanic outpourings, to prevent destruction of remains by decay.
  3. A scientific attempt is made to explain worldwide climate changes and glaciation. Such drastic changes, documented by geologic history, cannot be adequately accounted for by local catastrophic events, and thus the model postulates larger-scaled events.
  4. A scientific hypothesis of catastrophism seems needed to explain anomalous fossils and "out-of-order" geologic layers of thousands of square miles, where physical evidence for over-thrusting is lacking.
  5. An examination of the geologic column shows earmarks of fixed life forms without transitional forms, and catastrophic annihilation.

No one should assume that agreement upon the logical sequences of the first ballot will be easily achieved, and that further discussion of evidence related to the three scientific assessment guidelines will always be objective dialog. If educators will consent to use the ballot approach, however, it will help objectivity on both sides.

Educators should remember at all times that science is a communications system. Scientific "facts" are not in themselves magic wands to settle issues. "Facts" are perceived by each listener through his own sets of educational experiences, interpretive systems, biases, skepticism, and motivational stance. Motivation is extremely crucial; when all has been argued and set forth, the educator may simply yawn and reply, "So ... who cares?"

Such varied interpretive equipment is brought into an arena of almost endless scientific arguments for or against either view. Complicating the situation even further, deep religious-philosophical world-life beliefs are operating in each individual. Misunderstandings and skepticism are not surprising! (See Table 1)

If, however, a solid majority vote on the proposed ballots can be achieved, the stage is at least set for better communication. The creationist's task is then to carefully confine his workshop or petitionary material to the three scientific assessment guidelines. The first ballot can be used as a sort of parliamentary reference point if discussion strays from the science of origins into sociological opinions about origins.

Since the Scopes trial, origins in public education has been riddled with communication barriers. Hopefully the approach just set forth could minimize the unfortunate tactics of the past — innuendo, mud-slinging, ridicule. Perhaps the use of such parliamentary scientific rules could stimulate personal scientific growth through more dispassionate investigation into diverse scientific views.

TABLE I

IDEOLOGICAL STALEMATES
IN THE ORIGINS DEBATE

1. ABUSE OF A THEORY

Creationist: "Evolution has been used to support many evils, such as Communism, Nazism, racism, etc,"

Evolutionist: "Creationists are divisive, and resort to name calling, quoting out of context, and other dubious tactics."
2 . A PRIORI ASSUMPTIONS

Creationist: "Evolution begins by the unproven assumption that a mechanistic view is the only approach that can be considered scientific. This fosters a Climate of freedom from religion by recognizing scientific respectability only for those who adopt a mechanistic view that leaves God out (even if one believes in God) in order to be ‘strictly scientific.'"

Evolutionist: Creationism expects me to believe that God had to make [or, the world was made] as creationists conceive it, rather than what my study of comparative morphology, fossils, etc. convinces me is true."
3. AUTHORITY

Creationist: "My church (or synagogue) teaches creation, so this must be the right view."

Evolutionist: "How many scientists do you know in major universities who support creationism?"
4. DOGMATISM

Creationist: Only creationism should be taught, as it is the true view. Evolution claims to be the only scientific view by defining 'scientific' as those who agree with evolutionary ideas."

Evolutionist: "Only evolution should he taught, as it is established fact. Creationism is not science; it’s religion."
5. FALSIFIABILITY

Creationist: "No evolutionist can prove lifeless matter became living, without aid of any Designer."

Evolutionist: "No creationist can prove a single act of direct creation occurred."
6. INSENSITIVITY TO BELIEFS AND VALUES OF OTHERS

Creationist: "Evolutionary theory is ridiculous."

Evolutionist: "It’s a waste of time for creationists to get so upset over a scientific theory that we spend so little time on in education anyway. The issue’s not that important."
7. MAJORITY FACTOR'S

Creationist: Most great scientific advances were at one time minority views.

Evolutionist: "The majority of scientists believe evolution."
8. MISTRUST AND MISREPRESENTATION

Creationist: "Evolutionists do not deal honestly with scientific facts."

Evolutionist: "No competent scientist takes any theory other than evolution seriously. Creationism represents a fringe minority threatened by a changing scientific world."
9. MOTIVES

Creationist: "The fact that so many major evolutionary writers emphasize the lack of purpose, dependence upon chance, and reliance upon evolution in providential ways, proves the unsuitability of the theory for public education, as it influences in atheistic or agnostic beliefs."

Evolutionist: "The fact that you see so many references in creationist publications proves that the Creationist Movement is only concerned with defending certain forms of religion. It has no scientific significance."
10. PAST HISTORY

Creationist: "Modern evolutionism is merely a sophisticated form of ancient Egyptian and Greek mythological evolutionary ideas."

Evolutionist: "Creationism is merely a revival of the old defunct catastrophism taught in pre-Darwinian days, and of former ideas about Genesis."
11. PRIORITIES

Creationist: (Probably in a parochial setting) "We teach only creation, because it is the true view."

Evolutionist: "We teach only evolution, since it is the true view."
12. RELIGIOUS STEREOTYPING

Creationist: "Most evolutionists are atheists."

Evolutionist: "Most creationists are fanatics."
13. RELIGIOUS VIEWS

Creationist: "Evolution presents a mechanistic, naturalistic view of man’s origin that conflicts with my belief that man was created in the image of God, and with the reasons Scripture assigns for suffering and death in the world."

Evolutionist: "Creation incorporates an unproven religious idea that should not be forced upon anyone. My view of religion does not require a fiat creation."
14. RIDICULE

Creationist: "The cow just magically grew a tail, and became a whale."

Evolutionist: "To hear a creationist tell it, everybody’s against him — the research of 100 years, and careful scientists are all wacky."
15. SECONDARY SCIENTIFIC ASSUMPTIONS

Creationist: "Evolutionists salvage their theory by unproven secondary assumptions."

Evolutionist: "Creationists salvage their theory by unproven secondary assumptions."

* The material in this article should not be regarded as an official policy or recommendation of ICR, but it represents an approach to school authorities that some have found helpful.

Cite this article: Judith Tarr Harding. 1981. Establishing Scientific Guidelines for Origins Instruction in Public Education. Acts & Facts. 10 (3).