The Hidden Agenda of Creation Science
By Tal Liron
Prof. Stephen Jay Gould's lecture in Johnson Chapel on Sept. 12 was both

fascinating and informative. President Gerety's words of praise in his introduction were entirely justified. Gould's clarity and consistency in combating ignorance is widely appreciated by intellectuals and laymen alike. In this lecture, however, he succeeded in missing the point entirely.

He argued, with convincing evidence informed by his personal experience, that the ongoing newsworthiness of creation science, with its attributed fiascos and embarrassments, is not really the remnant of a struggle between the realms of religion and science. That particular struggle, claims Gould, is dead and buried. Intellectuals coming from both science and religion have long ago realized that these two realms do not overlap, and thus do not interfere with each other. In practice, they are fully compatible. Gould warns us that by patting ourselves on the back whenever we "win" another victory against creationism, of rational thought over religious fundamentalism, we are obscuring the real agenda. That is, we are losing.

So, what is creationism's "real" goal? According to Gould, it is to change the American political agenda. Specifically, creation science was invented in order to bring religion into the educational system through a back door. Evolution became the target, says Gould, almost arbitrarily: Malicious misinterpretations of Darwin, apparent in the aftermath of World War I, made evolution seem an especially harmful product of science, and fighting it was consequently as worthy a cause as any. We took the bait, and by reenacting Darwin's triumph over and over again, producing such myths as the Scopes trial in the process, we are simply treading water.

At the same time, fundamentalist minorities succeed in controlling the school textbook industry, where evolutionism is being downplayed to cut production costs. Why print

separate pro-evolution and pro-creationism editions when you can just print one ("neutral" to pro-creationist demands) that can sell everywhere? By us missing the hidden agenda, our system of education suffers, and ignorance prevails.

This is a patronizing and marginalizing treatment of fundamentalism, and I sympathize with the one student who got up and told Gould that he felt insulted, but had difficulty expressing why. Gould portrays creation science as clumsy and arbitrary, and attributes its success to our blindness to its agenda. If he had given some more credit to the movement, he would have looked more seriously into the motivations for choosing Darwin as its target. Did creation scientists really not know that the battle was already lost?

Gould, as an eloquent and successful publicist of evolution, correctly recognizes the revolution in human identity that follows Darwin. He does not, however, credit fundamentalists with the same recognition. Instead, he enjoys ridiculing their ignorance, and gets angry at their cynical use of misinformation. But if, for a moment, we treat creation scientists as adults, we discover a different hidden agenda. Its crusade is ideological, and its mission is the very salvation of human dignity.

We live in a time where meaning is reduced to mere information, and the products of science are turned to as cure-alls for everything from energy shortage to education (computers in every classroom!) and even social stratification (everyone is equal on the Internet!). We ask where we fit in this, and are told that we are citizens in a global community; that we should buy this new improved detergent because movie stars do; and that we can choose any nickname we want in the chat room (unless it's already taken). We have rightfully lost our place in the center of the universe, but can't seem to deal with the alternative. Yes, we are our own gods now, but in what image have we created ourselves? Can our imaginary cousins in the UFOs help us? Should we boost our self-worth by lowering the worth of foreigners and homosexuals? Are we only good for working and buying stuff?

Human identity has never been in a more serious crisis. Creation science's crusade, even if terribly misguided and misleading, is pointing directly at the center of the storm. Darwin may have won an important battle, but he was also participating in another war over what it means to be human. So, we are descended from proto-apes. Just like apes. What does that say about us? What does that say about our way of life?

That war is still going strong. Gould is correct that it is not science vs. religion, whatever that may mean (or ever meant). The participants in this war are you and I, and the prize is the core of our identity. Will MIT decide it? Al Gore? America Online? The Pope? Gould is correct in pointing out that political games represent an obvious dimension of this war, but it's surely not a minority issue. It's not about warning stickers on textbooks, but about the core of our being. By reducing it to a minority political issue, albeit with important consequences, he is, perhaps unintentionally, insulting us all.

I'm not defending creation science at all. There is no justification for spreading ignorance and misinformation, and Gould deserves our gratitude and admiration for so skillfully pushing the darkness to the margins of society. However, Gould's warning about the

dangers of fundamentalism's victory in the classroom seems almost trivial compared to fundamentalism's warning about the dangers of losing our sense of self-worth. How could he afford to ignore it? How could we? Many of us, in fact, don't ignore it.

After the lecture, a number of thoughtful and sensitive students questioned Prof. Gould about meaning and science, respectfully asking him to take a deeper look into what creation science is saying. Gould brushed them off. He's a scientist. Science is not about finding meaning. If you want meaning, you should go somewhere else. I agree, we most definitely should.

But where should we go?

Tal Liron is a member of the Class of 2003.

Issue 03, Submitted 2000-09-19 14:19:34