commentary (2007-10)

If creationists are correct, there is no science

A Matter of Faith

by Barry Henderson

There are admittedly some examples of legislation introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly that have challenged the theory of evolution. At the very least, the worst of our legislators' initiatives seem to indicate that man hasn't evolved very far.

The latest and lamest legislative foray into the actual subject of evolution is a resolution proposed by Raymond Finney, the Republican senator from Maryville.

Senate Resolution 17, submitted in Finney's name, would ask the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education to report to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2008 on whether the "Universe and all that is within it, including human beings, [was] created through purposeful, intelligent design by a Supreme Being, that is a Creator?"

The resolution goes on to spell out that it "does not ask that the Creator be given a name. To name the Creator is a matter of faith. The question simply asks whether the Universe has been created or has merely happened by random, unplanned and purposeless occurrences."

It further asks that "the latest advances in multiple scientific disciplines... be considered."

In that case, it ought to be an easy question to answer, but it won't be. It has plagued Tennessee's lawmakers for more than 80 years. The Legislature adopted a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the state's schools in 1925. That law remained on the books until 1967 despite the fact that teacher John Scopes' conviction in the infamous Dayton, Tenn. "monkey trial" was overturned by the state Supreme Court in 1927.

Evolution theory has come a long way since then. Creationism is right where it's been for centuries. It's taught where it can be taught and where its teaching is shielded under the First Amendment's establishment of religious freedom, in churches and homes and other private--not public--institutions where science is yet to prevail and faith and its practices are protected.

If the idea behind creationism is correct, there is no science, and mankind hasn't existed for millions of years and adapted gradually to its surroundings on Earth, in spite of all the evidence in terms of bone structure, skin pigmentation and organ development that has been unearthed in the recent past.

Sen. Finney should know better. He's a retired medical doctor, who had to study the science that he now wants to renounce in favor of a myth that should be patently unbelievable on its face. The Genesis story was a way for a primitive people to explain their existence, and they did. The Bible is a beautifully written book, in its King James Version. It's filled with legends and parables, advice and admonitions that have had an inordinate impact on what is still a distinct minority of the world's peoples. It ought not be taken literally in its entirety by anyone alive and educated in this century.

Even so, Sen. Finney wants the commissioner of education to explain if the theory of evolution, which is evolving in its own right, is valid. The ultimate question the senator wants answered is "why creationism [is] not taught as an alternative concept, explanation or theory, along with the theory of evolution, in Tennessee schools."

That's a little like asking why the flat-earth concept isn't taught along with what we know about the nature of the world, but Sen. Finney seems adamant about creationism, which is a religious, rather than scientific, belief.

As such, the education commissioner shouldn't have to answer such a resolution's request at all. It should not have been asked. It's unconstitutional at the state and federal level in this country.

The Tennessee Constitution's Article 1, Sec. 4, declares: "That no political or religious test, other than an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and of this State, shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state."

That proscription against any religious test in Tennessee tracks similar language in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. It's there so that religious beliefs do not become entangled in the practice of government and so that no religious precepts become the basis for government's exercise. Public education is one of the greatest of those exercises.

Sen. Finney believes that a Supreme Being created the Universe and everything that's in it, he says. Fine, but if he believes that his request of the education commissioner isn't a religious test, he must not believe in constitutional law or the separation of church and state.

If he persists in his advocacy of this legislative folly and a majority of his Senate colleagues join with him in adopting it, Senate Resolution 17 ought to be restyled "The Blind Faith Restoration Resolution of 2007."