Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“A Step Forward in Ohio” first appeared in the January/February 2003 issue of Touchstone.
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A Step Forward in Ohio
In mid-October, a panel of the Ohio State School Board voted unanimously to adopt a new science teaching standard that allows teachers to inform students of evidence against the theory of evolution as well as for it. The standard defines “science” as the search for ever more adequate explanations of our world, rather than explanations that consider natural causes only. Teachers will presumably no longer be subject to dismissal for informing students about the grounds on which the ubiquitous peppered moth example has been severely criticized, or for saying that the impressive illustrations of vertebrate embryo similarities in their textbooks are inaccurate, taken from drawings by a nineteenth-century German Darwinian who was a little too eager to convince his countrymen that the theory was true.
This vote is a significant breakthrough in a major state towards official recognition that there is a scientific as well as a public controversy over the theory of evolution, and that the contested issues ought to be taught rather than suppressed. After having fought fiercely against the new standards, some Darwinists are now putting the best face on their loss by describing the outcome as a compromise, or even a victory for evolution, since it requires that the subject be taught. Other Darwinists are outraged that the state is recognizing that there is a controversy, and threaten to go to court to attack the “teach the controversy” approach as unconstitutional. Even creationists have mixed reactions. Some are negative, either because they think that the Genesis time scale is all-important or because they understandably don’t trust the public schools to teach the subject fairly regardless of what the standards say.
I toured northern Ohio just after the decision, speaking to large, enthusiastic church crowds, and even leading a three-hour seminar for the area’s ministers. I was trying to wake up well-meaning people to exactly what is at stake. Darwinism is only superficially about biology, I explained, and is culturally important because it implies that man created an imaginary God rather than that God created man. That implication explains why the media pundits throw a tantrum whenever they hear that the theory of evolution is being challenged, and that is why creation is not an issue that ministers can afford to delegate to scientists. It is futile to try to teach Christian morality if you do not also teach people why they should believe, in spite of what the most prominent spokesmen for evolutionary science are saying and writing, that God is real rather than a gradually vanishing product of the pre-modern imagination.
I count the Ohio decision as a victory for the fact of divine creation and for intellectual integrity, but not because I expect science teaching in Ohio schools to change significantly as a direct result. In these state conflicts, I am pursuing a strategy of “consciousness-raising,” much like that employed by feminists to transform their movement from a laughingstock in the 1960s to an unstoppable force in the 1970s.
People who are being oppressed by unjust rules or dishonest intellectual conventions often do not realize it, either because their understanding is superficial or because they fatalistically assume that their condition is just “the way things have always been” and hence unchangeable. Change happens when they begin to understand that what is being done to them is outrageous and that the oppressive rules and conventions could be different if enough people combined in a determined effort to change them.
Considered in isolation, the Ohio decision is no more than a step towards teaching evolution as a controversial subject rather than a doctrine that everyone is expected to believe without question. I see the possibility, however, that this first small victory in a major state may be a sign that the tide of battle is at last turning. The greatest advantage the Darwinists have had is one that other materialists have exploited before them. It is the aura of inevitability, the sense that they embody a science that is predestined to roll over all opposition. People who have been indoctrinated in a modernist mindset no longer believe in the final victory of Christ. They believe that every knee shall bend and every tongue confess that science always advances.
Recently, a prominent Darwinist compared people like me to the Japanese soldier who was discovered hiding on a Philippine island many years after World War II had ended, believing that the war was still on and that Japan might yet stage a comeback. Darwinists do not say that they will win control of the culture someday. They say that they won that control in 1925 after the Scopes trial, as dramatized in Inherit the Wind, and that some people just haven’t heard the news. Their celebration may be premature. If that Japanese soldier had appeared in 1960 with an army and had won even a small victory over the Americans, the history books would have to be rewritten.
The decisive turn of events is occurring not in public school curricula, but in the minds and writings of those who know the evidence and have some independence of mind. Darwinists know they are losing evidence, not gaining it, and that they are also losing public support. They are desperately trying to postpone admitting, for example, that peppered moths do not rest on tree trunks and that natural selection does not produce increases in genetic information. They are also getting practice in explaining away defeats rather than just in crowing over victories.
Once something starts to go wrong, an overconfident blusterer can find himself in trouble very quickly. For now, the Darwinists still dominate, but they are very worried, and they show it by their constantly shifting defensive tactics, ridiculing Christians one day and then proclaiming the harmony of religion and science the next. Those who love truth need only summon their courage to stand up to the bluff, and resolve to follow the evidence rather than the fashion. The ultimate triumph of He Who Is the Truth is assured, not the ultimate triumph of scientific materialism. You can count on it.
Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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