If you perused some of the headlines coming out of Slate the past couple weeks, you’ll find that, not only are Texas schools teaching creationism , schools all over the country are teaching creationism , and — even as we speak — lawmakers in South Dakota and elsewhere are introducing legislation that will let their schools teach creationism.
Such news leads me to one of two conclusions: Either the proponents of teaching creationism — a viewpoint I thought it was ruled unconstitutional to teach by the Supreme Court in 1987 — have been very busy lately, or what passes for “creationism” in the eyes of the mainstream media these days has become pretty fuzzy.
I lean toward the latter.
Look, I’m a writer and a journalist, too. I get it. I understand the desire for a sexy, emotionally heavy word that “seems” to describe the given topic and will — of course — generates millions of clicks from the churning, polarized body politic that powers the Interwebs.
But this willy-nilly misapplication of the terms “creationist” and “creationism” simply has got to stop, and here’s why.
First of all, these terms are incredibly imprecise. What is a creationist? A perfectly reasonable definition, I think, is "a person who believes the universe has a creator." But here’s the problem.
I think science is awesome. If you ask me how old I think the earth is, I will say “approximately 4.54 billion years.” If you ask me if I think all life on this planet shares common ancestry, having descended through a process of evolution driven by natural selection and other material mechanisms, I will say, “No doubt.”
Not only that, but I run a blog that strongly advocates for the acceptance of evolution among Christians like myself, and strongly opposes intelligent design, young-earth creationism, old-earth creationism, special creationism, gap creationism, scientific creationism, and so on and so forth.
What’s more, I believe evolution should be taught in all schools — public, private, Christian, and otherwise — as an extremely well-evidenced, powerfully predictive and overwhelmingly successful theory.
And yet, I believe the universe has a creator. So, by the completely straightforward definition of “creationist” I used above, it would appear that someone like me is a flaming, full-blown, anti-science creationist.
Does that seem like a fair and accurate description to you? Of course it doesn’t.
Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin. According to Zack Kopplin’s recent (and, in my opinion, laudable) investigative piece on the curriculum of Texas charter schools, “creationist” could be defined as “a person who believes the fossil record is 'sketchy' and evolution is a 'dogma' and 'unproved theory.'"
Those are just a few of the teachings Kopplin allegedly uncovered in the Responsive Education Solutions charter system’s biology workbooks. I agree that such claims are unscientific nonsense, and may even violate the Constitution. But I have to ask the obvious question: What does any of it have to do with the Bible’s teachings on creation? And if the answer is “nothing” (which it is, by the way), then why describe these beliefs as "creationism?"
Intentionally or not, the haphazard misuse of such a loaded word foments anti-religious sentiment and further entrenches the faith vs. science paradigm. I offer a simple alternative, one that is already used frequently by such organizations as the National Center for Science Education: “anti-evolutionist.”
I know, I know. It’s more of a mouthful, it’s not as sexy, and it’s got that dreaded hyphen that looks terrible in headlines. But, just maybe, it’s more important to use a term that is accurate, and targets only the people who hold the beliefs in question (rather than, you know, people like me, who hold basically the opposite beliefs).
I think that’s probably worth sacrificing a few clicks. Don’t you?
Tyler Francke is a print journalist and freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest. He is the founder and lead contributor of God of Evolution — a blog promoting the harmony of biblical Christianity and mainstream science — and author of Reoriented, a novel due to be released in 2014 by TouchPoint Press.
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