I have become a big fan of Religion Dispatches in just a matter of weeks.
Today, I read an article reporting that yet another piece of legislation has come around in the state legislatures – this time, in Tennessee. This bill – “Strengths and Weaknesses” would,
require teachers to be helped “to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.” It also says that teachers may not be prohibited from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”
Those “controversial” theories would include, “Biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
Ah, yes. Scopes returns.
Well, not in full. Scopes was about a teacher who violated the law by teaching evolution. Now, the law may make it permissible to teach countering theories that aren’t already found in the textbooks as critiques of the prevailing science.
Now, this isn’t really a bad piece of legislation. It actually seems redundant because I would expect any good teacher to offer various explanations to understanding areas of each field. However, I would expect that the various explanations are grounded in the research coming out of the particular field, and not coming from a religious book.
This legislation isn’t unique either. Remember Kansas and their attempt to allow every high school student the freedom to reply that the answer to any question was, “God did it?” (That has since been repealed).
The issue at hand is priority, and to some sense, devotion.
Apparently, some folks believe that for God to be true, “God’s Word” (the bible) has to be true, and sometimes, that every single piece of life throughout the entire world has to reflect that. This does bring up a good question, which is Do we who are religious place our hope and trust in a book that tells us about God or God, Godself? But that is for another time.
So when information or events unfold in a way that conflicts with what MUST remain true, it is a threat – not only to our understanding of the way the world is supposed to be, but to God. So evolution is a threat to the the book of Genesis and, consequently, God. Global warming is a threat to the book of Genesis, The story of Noah and the Ark, and God’s promise that God would never flood the earth again. (Thank you, Rep. John Shimkus)
Now, these views are not mandated by necessity of faith, but by a perspective of faith where the truth of the Divine is based upon the truth of written word. But, as many of us know, “truth” does not necessarily have to equal “fact” when it comes to religion and faith. However, when it comes to science, I would like the two to be as close as possible!
A quick look at the book of Genesis reveals the very likely possibility that the authors of the text (not God) did not see this to be Truth, but a story that explained truths about God and humanity.
First, the atmosphere is not surrounded by water (unless you believe that all of that NASA is a government conspiracy to test your faith) as is depicted in Genesis 1.6 “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”
Second, there are TWO creation stories. The first (the seven days) goes from 1.1-2.4a; the second (Adam and Eve) goes from 2:4b to 3.24. Playing out the second story with Adam and then Eve, then Cain and Abel, then just Cain, then he gets together with someone, yet we presume this is not Eve, so??? There were other people? If scripture is infallible, and if we know how reproduction works, then there is a question here, perhaps a problem.
Third, with the account of Noah and the Ark, is a very similar story that pre-dates (if you believe in all of that scientific/historical dating) Genesis called, Epic of Gilgamesh.
So… perhaps it’s not to reveal facts about how the world was created or a promise that guarantees security even in the face of our careless exploitation of the earth and its resources?
Perhaps the stories in Genesis are to reveal more truths about God and humanity as understood in that particular time: God was seen as a creator, walked amongst creation at one time, and as one that cared deeply about justice and how people treated each other (only to then go and kill those who didn’t treat others well to teach them that its wrong).
The greatest irony, of course, is that as Dominic Crossan suggested about fundamentalists – they seek to uphold the bible, and in effect, are undermining it by viewing it as something it is not. The bible is not a science book; it is not a history book; it’s even a pretty poor book when it comes to guiding people in their intimate relationships; but it does offer a rich account of a sacred presence and its relation to humanity. And if we maintain a view that the bible is a historical account, and if we make the bible into a series of true-false questions, then we will likely miss the many ways that God indeed walks among us, because we have only been looking for God in the past or on paper.
Perhaps what we need is an education policy that includes religious education and for these courses to be taught by those who have studied religion (please make my degrees useful!) and then to allow a “Strengths and Weaknesses” legislation that would allow for a free discussion of the religious texts with scientific theories and historical accounts of events. Perhaps with such an interconnection of religion, worldviews, science, and history, we could better come to understand the religious texts for what they were meant to be, and a better understanding of what they were not.