So, P.Z. Myers is livid over the relevant powers-that-be in Queensland, Australia adding a section on creationism (well, maybe) to the curriculum in Ancient History classes:
Look at this: they’ve explicitly added creationism to the public school curriculum in Queensland, Australia. That’s just nuts.
They’re even doing it in an entirely bogus way — they’re teaching it as a controversy in history classes.”
Well, I remember way back when I was in high school, and I took the Ancient History class (it was mandatory, but I probably would have done it anyway) and one of the first sections in the textbook and so one of the first things we covered was — normally enough — origins of the world. The textbook outlined at least the creationist and evolution story, and the teacher — as he always did — created a formal debate over creationism and evolution. Four students on each side. I was on the creationist side, with two people who were openly religious, another who was religious but not openly. Me? I’m just weird, and tend to champion the underdog. The “thermodynamics” argument was raised, and I argued against a literal interpretation of Genesis — an early accomodationist-like position, I suppose — which drew a bit of attention (much to the chagrin of one of the people on my side [grin]). At the end, the teacher took a poll of the class to see who had won the debate. Now, I grew up in a Polish area in a high school that was something like 90% Catholic (it was a public high school, though) and where there wouldn’t have been all that many atheists … and the vast majority of the class voted that evolution had won the debate.
And as far as I know it never came up in any of the biology classes, although since I hate biology I didn’t take it past the grade 11 course. Actually, to be honest, I didn’t take any OAC science classes … not because I disliked science, but because I needed the three mathematics courses, one English, and the Computer Science for my chosen program of study (the Computers wasn’t required, but I figured I should), wanted to take the Writer’s Craft, and I think I needed Geography or History. There was no room for science in my OAC year. However, in university when given the choice between business or science, I took Astrophysics.
Anyway, to return to the topic after than minor digression, we also covered Noah’s Ark — with textbook arguments that highlighted the big problems with the Ark at a practical level — and had a full-class debate on Sparta versus Athens. The most interesting thing about that is that a few girls in the class had decided to side with Athens because they thought it treated women fairly well … and then after finding out how Athens actually did treat women converted to the Spartan side.
So, it looks like it’s been tried, and doesn’t seem to have any really negative consequences — even in really religious areas — and in fact seems to highlight the real scientific data. So I fail to see what’s wrong with this. In some sense, it is a controversy, and something that can be usefully discussed. Myers seems to be just offended that they’re talking about creationism at all, and he does go a bit far in his condemnations of that:
“It’s clear that they’re just trampling on history as a back door to get pseudoscience into the curriculum. I keep telling people, these creationists are cunning — the science side of the debate has gotten hardened by repeated attacks, and is usually better prepared to resist the foolishness, so they switch targets and catch history or philosophy off guard. Every academic discipline is subject to this corruption.”
Yeah, because it’s not like there’s any field that might like to talk about it, and, say, talk about what myths were around and what was said about the past, in the past. It’s a shame that there isn’t a field that talks about that. Say, a field that talks about ancient history, and the origins and myths of that time, leading up in some sense to what we know about today. Oh, wait, there is: it’s called Ancient History.
This is a dangerous line of argumentation, and I hope that what I’m talking about now really is just a slippery slope argument. But what I see here is Myers essentially passing judgement on how Ancient History should talk about it and if they should reference an alternative and ancient view of the origin of the world and humans because he’s afraid that it might bleed into science. But science doesn’t get to dictate to other fields how they should approach a topic. Add in that this is probably harmless (and might be part of the curriculum in Ontario already), and there’s not much of a worry here.
Now, Myers does have the right to question what they’re doing as any person does, so here’s what he thinks they should teach:
“There is some relevant history that could be taught, such as that from Ron Numbers’ book, The Creationists, which explains how ideas about creationism changed over the years, talks about the major figures in the creationist movement, and describes how creationism itself has changed historically…but I doubt that the people who are backing this want the subject addressed seriously as a series of events in the last 100 years.”
Well, certainly not in Ancient History class, and outside of that class I’m not sure how relevant this is to anyone. Surely we have much more interesting movements to study than creationism.
Ultimately, I don’t see the harm in this, and I also wonder if Australians see the debate the same way as Americans do. I think that even if they did a good critical discussion of it would be a good thing, and it does seem like something that would be interesting and relevant to Ancient History classes, whether people currently believe it or not. And especially if people do.
Yes, it does have to be done carefully, for both sides. But that shouldn’t stop people from talking about it.
So, if Myers has some good reasons why it should be excluded other than “It’s creationism”, I’m all ears. Otherwise, my personal history disagrees with him and I thus think he’s completely wrong about this.