Return to Myth?  

By Will Baker

 

In 1925, the so-called "Scopes Monkey Trial" took place in Tennessee. As you may recall, John Scopes was the biology teacher who was convicted and fined $100 for teaching evolution in his classroom--the Tennessee Supreme Court subsequently overturned his conviction. At the time, the trial created quite a national sensation. William Jennings Bryan argued for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow defended Mr. Scopes. Their arguments centered on what to teach children regarding the origins of life. Mr. Bryan’s position was that the story of creation, as explained in the Bible, which was widely taught in many classrooms of the day, was the only legitimate explanation. And in teaching evolution, Mr. Scopes was not following the mandated curriculum and was therefore breaking the law. Mr. Darrow on the other hand, took the position of Charles Darwin, who, in his book, "The Origin of the Species," said that man evolved over time, most probably from primates. Mr. Darrow argued that Darwin’s theory was supported by scientific evidence. Therefore, it was highly inappropriate to prosecute the teacher for presenting the information to his students.

Mr. Bryan was a "Creationist," and Mr. Darrow was an "Evolutionist." Evolutionists believe that the world is billions of years old and that life forms developed over the span of millions of years. Creationists, on the other hand, believe that the Earth and most life forms came into being roughly 6,000 years ago, as told in the Bible’s Book of Genesis.

Since that trial the sciences have continued to make progress. Accepted theories are now in place not only explaining the origins of man, as demonstrated by the fossil record, but also of the universe itself-the so-called "Big Bang" theory, or hybrid versions of it have achieved pretty much world wide acceptance within the scientific community.

Why then, I must ask, fully seventy-five years after this matter was first addressed and then subsequently settled in favor of Evolutionism, is the issue still being debated? In fact, more than mere debate is occurring. In Kansas, the State Board of Education has revised their state’s science standards, in effect, de-emphasizing evolution and making no mention of the "Big Bang" theory at all. In my opinion this is no mere triviality. These standards are utilized to develop statewide student science tests. And this trend, which to me seems very troubling, is not exclusive to Kansas. Activities are currently underway in over a dozen states, ranging from efforts to remove evolution from tests and science standards, to re-writing the textbooks themselves.

What’s the big deal, you might ask? Well it seems to me that, a nation such at ours, that seems to be concerned with improving the quality of the education, which it provides to its children, should also be concerned with providing correct information to the children. Our country has many museums filled with old bones that represent the "fossil record." And with modern scientific techniques such as carbon dating, we can reasonably calculate the age of some of these bones to be millions of years old. This minor fact flies squarely in the face of Creationism, which in my opinion is little more than a myth, albeit, a beautiful one.

But what exactly is a myth, and why do we feel compelled to believe in them? By definition, "a myth is any fictitious story or unscientific account, ostensibly with a historical basis, which serves to explain some phenomenon of nature." The preceeding tells us what a myth is, but again, why do we believe in them? Well, I believe that in addition to "basic needs" such as food and shelter, we also have the need to understand the workings of the natural world. Throughout history we find examples of folks asking basic questions such as: who are we, and where did the world come from. And up until about six hundred years prior to the birth of Christ, folks found their answers to these questions in the form of myths. Myths explained everything for these folks, from how the world was created, to how it rains and why the seasons change. But their myths provided more than just explanations to these ignorant people. By acting out rituals and ceremonies associated with these myths, they thought that they were able to exert some control over their living situations. For example, during time of prolonged drought, I can imagine how folks would conduct ceremonies associated with a particular myth in an effort to bring the needed rains.

But beginning with the Natural Philosophers of ancient Greece, these myths began to be questioned. By the way, a by-product of this process, which has continued to this very day, was the development of the sciences, and mathematics. This whole process of philosophical, scientific and mathematical development has been going on now for over three thousand years. And the cumulative body of knowledge, which we now have at our disposal, owes its very existence to this fact.

Based on conversations that I have had with many folks from other countries, it seems to me that the rest of the world may view our country as being somewhat "uptight" and puritanical. And I believe that this might be the very reason why Creationism vs. Evolutionism is currently being debated here. Many good people, who hold deep religious convictions, view the situation as an either/or proposition: believe in evolutionism at the risk of being or appearing unfaithful to one’s religion. But why does it have to be a mutually exclusive situation? Well, many folks take the Bible as the literal word of God. And the Bible says that the world is only about 6,000 years old. And if they admit that the Bible was wrong in that respect, then there is the uncomfortable implication that there may be other inaccuracies as well. It appears that these folks are confronted with quite a personal dilemma: on the one hand they have the Bible, but on the other hand they have, in every major city, a museum, containing million year old bones. I wish these folks well as they attempt to resolve this situation for themselves. However I also wish that they were not attempting to make their problem, my problem by foisting their preposterous views on the educational community.

This whole matter could be considered quite silly where it not for the fact that we are dealing with the education of our children. Our country needs scientists, mathematicians and philosophers in order to retain our place among the advanced countries of the world. Imagine high schools turning forth graduates who have no clear notion of how the universe was created other than creation myths taught to them in school. The thought makes me cringe. But I have to remain optimistic in my hope that folks, especially our elected officials responsible for crafting educational standards, will come to their senses. And if we want to teach a Twenty-first Century version of Creationism to our children, I have no problem with it…just make sure that the course is entitled Modern Mythology. But then I strongly recommend that the students should be taken on a field trip to their local museum of natural history. And perhaps some of the school board members referenced above might benefit by accompanying them.

 

 (Essay Collection)