Part Four: Polemics and Personages
Present here first is an editorial essay criticizing attempts to avoid the consideration of the Bible in schools and to restrain schoolroom discussion of various hypotheses of natural history. The second piece sketches a method for examining the relations of state education to religious teachings. The author is generally concerned that the words "to teach" should mean "to educate" or at least "to consider" rather than meaning "to advocate" and "to indoctrinate."
Sometimes when you see how winners behave, you sympathize with the losers. I have been feeling that way about the Arkansas trial on teaching creation. The state's lawmakers, in that mixed mood of cordiality and cunning not foreign to our fifty-two bicameral bodies, decreed that creation science should be taught alongside evolutionary science in the schools of the State. This, my experience as political scientist told me, was a bit daffy to begin with - and probably unconstitutional.
But now experts have paraded before the court. The lawyers have had their say. The media and the intellectual establishment have rooted against the enactment. The skeleton of the ancient Tennessee monkey trial has been dangled before our eyes. The creationists have been humiliated in one more contest. The prestigious scientists are back in their academic locker rooms receiving congratulations. A few fans, carried away by remote analogies, say that we will have to tolerate Reaganism awhile longer, but at least not that bit about God building the world in a week. The expert testimony against the law may have been misleading, however, as to the current posture of science respecting biological change. Walter Sullivan (NYT Dec. 27) has deftly indicated the short-fall of truth: that theories of evolution now also include theories of genesis in outer space or in transferences from cosmic bodies; that evidence of transitional types or "missing links" in evolution is today scarcely richer than in Charles Darwin's time; and that, in some quarters, jumps in evolution are considered probable. In this last case, we go back to catastrophic and saltation theories of the past century and to theories of a directing inherent intelligence from this century.
Professor Stephen Gould of Harvard University was a witness in the Arkansas trial. Although unfriendly to the creationists, he has himself devised a saltatory argument, based partly upon increasing evidence that catastrophes have brought about both the extermination and birth (one dare not say "creation") of species; this he calls the theory of "Punctuated equilibrium." I favor the term "quantavolution" and find myself, in consequence, sometimes in the company of Biblical literalists and creationists; they are, it goes without saying, as intelligent and effective as their non-literalist scientific counterparts.
Gould, like most educated people, is committed to very long ages of evolution. To him and to them, the very thought of Biblical literalism, with its collapsing of time into a few thousand years, is red flag to the bull. Here again, Sullivan has delicately hinted of the possible vulnerability of measures of time. Very little time may have been needed for evolution itself.
Quantavolution could have been a prompt, highly creative business under certain catastrophic conditions, as, for instance, in great cyclonic chemical factories fashioned from a bombardment of heavy meteoroids. This would leave thousands of unchanging species hanging around "unnecessarily" for millions of years between quantavolutions. "In other words," writes geologist Derek Ager, "the history of any one part of the earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror." A number of empirical scientists and philosophers can be cited to these points. A few of them go far beyond Agar and are severely critical of long-term time scales. So, is the majority of scientists telling the majority of the State legislature: Your majority cannot vote against our majority? I trust that this is not the case. No. They must be trying to say, but awkwardly, that the name of God should not be bandied about in the classroom, first because to do so is unconstitutional, and second because discussions of God raise tempers unduly and go on interminably to the detriment of empirical studies.
But, giving the legislators the benefit of the doubt (which is good law), they too may have had such in mind. They may want taught in the schools something that they think is creation science, meaning those forms and findings of scientific work that do not exclude peremptorily the account of cosmic and human origins accepted by the majority of their constituents. Besides, they may argue that young people would learn their biology lessons better if they had more than one model of genesis put to them. Furthermore, they may believe it harmful for students to hear one story in class and a second story at home or church, or perhaps nowhere; such compartmentalization can only contribute to the madness produced by our complex, contradictory, pluralistic, and confusing culture.
In the end, not much will have happened by virtue of the Arkansas creation trial and we shall go on in the schizoid style of our culture. This is too bad. Discussions of contrasting theories of the origins of life are educational. There might have been an opening here to brighten up the drab and dispirited classrooms of some of our schools.
(The following memorandum was prepared in May, 1982 for the American Enterprise Institute of Public Policy Research, Washington, DC. It outlines a research and public policy project recommended for the issue that, in a cursory way, is addressed in the article above.)
The issue is presently raised of opening educational offerings in public schools to theories that can accommodate certain widespread religious beliefs. The theories deal with cosmogony, a basic question for both religion and sciences: what brought about the universe that humankind experiences? The answers are several and conflicting; public consensus is absent. Hence, the issue belongs in the eternally important category: the accommodation of nonconsensus views on basic matters under a Constitutional consensus. In salient ways, the question resembles others once or now experienced: Can a Constitution govern a nation half-slave and half-free? A nation half-socialist and half capitalist? A people one-third living from governmental work, a third on welfare, an a third on independently derived in come? One-half at war and one-half at peace? Of two or more languages; different religions; different world views?
As the final product of the research, a report may be visualized in four parts: A historical-philosophical section; a scientific section; a legal section; and a pragmatic policy section.
The first describes the problems of maintaining essential constitutional consensus in regimes split by diametrically opposing ideological factors, stressing the age-long tug-of-war between religious and secular interests, leading up to and through the U. S. Constitution, down to this moment. It focuses especially upon the educational system as the prize of the various protagonists. It defines the present issues as centered upon the demand of certain religious parties, having translated their religious authority into secular convictions governed by the rules of science to impose consideration of the new "creation science" upon the teachers of elementary and secondary school pupils.
The second section inquires how far the various natural and social sciences have gone, if indeed they have so moved, in approaching the areas dominated by "creation science." The points d'appui appear to be on the suddenness of creation and the role of natural catastrophes in bringing about the changed state of the world. At the least it seems that a growing body of science, which is nonreligious, is occupying common ground with creation science on these three matters. The trend, moreover, is manifest in practically every field of science.
The third section introduces the rationale by which opponents of the adamancy of conventional public education (who are in turn backed by the claims of a great majority of scientists and their organizations) seek to ensure equal status for their views under the U. S. Constitution. An intensive examination of the case thus far argued and adjudicated will be supplemented by an examination of cases pending.
The last section will discuss the views of the public, the politicians, and the educators on the values implicated in the contests. It will project the consequences of the possible legal outcomes. It will finally attempt a reconciliation of the views of the parties in a public policy that, if it may not be entirely satisfactory, would satisfy constitutional requirements and improve what is in the last analysis the goal of all concerned, the mental and moral development of the young by way of the educational system.
I. What attitudes do the public and its leaders hold on the cosmogonical issue in public education, and how intensely? Who is active on it?
II. What are the young around the country hearing, reading and learning now that relates to the issue?
III. Scientific freedom. Essentially all matters can be publicly discussed in philosophy and science. Instances of opposition from governments, from private groups that include scientific and educational establishments?
IV. Matters permitted (or disallowed) for discussion in schools
1. "Whatever the teacher can get away with" (like the policeman on the beat)
2. What the school (educational) authorities prescribe and permita) Free schools
b) Conventional schools
c) Conventional (trade) schools
d) Morally defined schools (religious)
3. What the political authorities prescribe and allow the school authorities to discuss.
4. What the publics prescribe and allow the political authorities to prescribe and allow.
5. What the Constitution prescribes and allows to the foregoing.
6. What the courts determine to be what the Constitution prescribes and allow to the foregoing.
V. What positions may be advocated in public? Practically any. What is disallowed? (e. g. the overthrow of government by violence).
VI. What may be advocated in public schools? Describe and document
1. Systematically (in the curriculum), e. g. darwinism.
2. Personally (e. g. deism, sexism)
3. Unconsciously (e. g. class and race prejudice)
VII. Limitations on teaching as affected by competence and relevance. Problems of preserving a boundary between discussion and advocacy. Might such an impracticality justify a curricular limitation?
VIII. Distinctions of fact, propositions, theories, general theories, general philosophy, world-views.
IX. The Topics of Natural and Religious History: The logic of their handling in science and religion (as distinguished in VIII. above). Common sub-topics:
1. Origins or genesis. involvement of the Divine and of First or Early causes.
2. The Time-table of the World, of Natural and Human History.
3. The occurrence and scale of catastrophism (e. g. "Deluge")
X. Astronomy and Astrophysics
A. Conventional rhetoric: "Big Bang," 5 billion years, gravitation, etc.
B. Deviations approaching certain religions: intelligent life, short duration, unstable Sun, etc.
XI. Geology and geophysics (Earth sciences)
A. Conventional rhetoric: gradualism, landscape evolution, etc.
B. Deviations: catastrophism, recency, etc. XII. Biology
A. Darwinian, neo-darwinian, mutation, natural selection, gradualism, etc.
B. Macro-evolution, inherent design of change, quantavolution, catastrophe-induced change, recency.
XIII. Anthropology and Sociology
A. Long history of descent from primates, gradualism in evolution of culture, religion wholly culture dependent, etc.
B. Culture is religion-dependent, short history, unknown descent.
A. Ethological view (" man is one of the smartest animals"), etc.
B. Uniqueness of man; man creates his perceived world, etc.
XV. Summary: Norms of science and deviations therefrom (unconventional logic and history).
XVI. Norms, and deviations therefrom, within and among religions and in the population.
What can be advocated as scientifically factual and theoretical.
What can be discussed under religion but not in science. What parts of views of certain religions cannot be handled as science.
XVIII. A review of the law on separation of church and state, as related to the cosmogonical issue.
XIX. A scenario of what the constitutional law "could have been" under the same constitutional provisions but with different "public winds blowing." What future scenarios are conceivable?
XX. The analysis of McLean vs Arkansas and related cases on the cosmogonical issue.
XXI. The extent to which the Constitution can be said to demand solely a secular and scientific approach.
XXII. The extent to which the Constitution can be said to delegate the definition of secular and scientific theory and "truth" to school boards, legislatures, scientific bodies, and judges.
XXIII. The extent to which the secular and scientific approach is presently prescribed and in fact controlled and pursued in the public schools.
XXIV. The extent to which the secular and scientific approach, if "properly and logically" provided in public education, satisfies the logic, needs, and demands of religious groups.
XXV. Whether religious views (considered as authoritative but unverified fact statements and other rhetorical positions ranging up to world views) can be justified in education generally, and especially in the public schools.
XXVI. Whether cosmogonical material, as presented in public schools, should be assigned to the social sciences, biology, the natural sciences, or in a special combination or department.
XXVII. The educated child, presumably the goal of everyone concerned with the cosmogonical issue. What the pupil should be concerned with factually and morally. How morality and moral teachings permeate all education in different forms and what the effects of excluding the divine may be.