17 February 2017

Can a Creationist Teach History? [2008]


[Originally posted 17 February 2008]
James Hanley at Uncommon Liberty writes:
And it’s not that I would ban creationists from the public universities—I don’t care if someone who believes in special creation teaches political philosophy, French literature, theater, art, exercise science, history, economics, etc. But not biology, because creationism isn’t scientific.
Okay, maybe theater or economics—but history? Me, I wouldn’t go there, since the philosophy of special creation is inherently anti-history in its formulation. History is based on hard evidence, not speculation made up out of whole cloth. Creationism, on the other hand, dismisses evidence that doesn’t fit its bizarre world-view. Creationists, for example, don’t buy into the (to their minds absurd) notion that human beings invented or discovered agriculture. Mankind was specially created to garden, and had agriculture forced upon him as a result of the Fall of Man. (I’ve had this argument before. More than once.) Hunting and gathering peoples aren’t cultures that haven’t taken up agriculture yet—they are cultures that have fallen from the natural state imposed by the creator. One of the historical consequences of this belief was the underestimate of the time it would take to transform hunters and gatherers to agriculturalists. Nineteenth century American policy dictated that native Americans convert instantly from a hunter-gatherer way of life—perceived as laziness—to one based on agriculture—perceived as godly industriousness. A utopian idealist named Meeker tried this notion out on the Utes in Colorado in the 1870s, and ended up dead as a result.
And this is one of the most basic facts of history. Creationists have strange notions about many other aspects of history—the development of language, the accomplishments of the Sumerians, the role of Babylon, the role of Egypt—in fact, they seem to have a distorted view of the entire history of the Near East. But what can you expect from a group that denies the validity of radio-carbon dating, of dendrochronology, and yet believes in a recent global flood? These guys aren’t playing the game of History any more than they are playing the game of Science, and have no business getting into the ring, or even suiting up for it.
Given this, it’s not surprising that Creationists tend to jump onto other popular historical bandwagons for which evidence is lacking—the Christian America myth for example, currently being enshrined in HR888, the Inflate Religious Pretensions Act. I’ve already mentioned Flood Geology, of course, but there are also Eurocentricism, the denigration of Islam, the conspiracy notions behind modern Asian history, and so on and so forth—none of which may be inherent in Creationism—but once you've agreed to voluntarily blind yourself in one area, it’s easy to extend it to others. If your eye offends you, pluck it out and all that, I suppose. Of course you won’t be able to see where you're going, and if you lead others you’re both going to end up in a pit, but that’s a small price to pay for being doctrinally correct.
Now I’m speaking here of YECs, of course—Young Earth Creationists, for those who aren’t hip to the current lingo. It really ought to be YUCs—Young Universe Creationists—but for some reason that hasn’t caught on. Old Universe Creationists are another matter. Some of them, anyway. I used to watch a cable-access show by an Old Universe Creationist—from his comments I believe he was an astronomer by trade—and on the whole I’d have confidence in his ability to teach astronomy at any rate. I don’t know about French Literature or exercise science, but I’d have more confidence in his ability to teach them than in the average YUC’s ability to teach anything whatsoever that depended upon his ability to evaluate evidence accurately. Sloppy thinking in one field carries over to another—or at least I’d have trouble believing that it doesn’t. Intellectual laziness in evaluating the evidence of astronomy, biology, geology, and history—all of which are key to being a card-carrying YUC—do not suggest a likelihood for intellectual rigor in political philosophy or economics. And willful blindness in one field easily carries over to another.
As for the Gonzales issue, well, anybody who thinks that denial of tenure is persecution is living in a fantasy world. Sorry, but denial of tenure is a fact of life in academia. Most of the time the reasons boil down to cold hard cash. An institution has to think long and hard before making the long-term commitment that tenure implies. My sympathies tend to be with the instructors in these cases, not surprisingly since my mother and step-father were both professors in institutions of higher learning. In Gonzalez’s case my sympathy is somewhat muted by the fact that he appears to have been spending too much time on outside interests instead of keeping his eye on the ball. The guy was working in a highly competitive field, and if he wasn’t bringing in the bacon, so to speak, then I’m not surprised his employer chose to let him go. Them are the breaks. As Superchicken used to observe, “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred.” If denial of tenure is persecution, then I’ve known a lot of victims, and many of them much more obviously qualified in their fields than Gonzalez appeared to be in his.

[By the way, James Hanley’s original post on the Gonzalez nonsense seems to me to put things in the right perspective. Denial of tenure is never fun; it would be lovely if every instructor in the world could find a permanent teaching position. But the dishonest campaign being run on his behalf is beneath contempt.]

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