In studying the creationist movement about ten years ago I learned about one of the more irritating tactics, in which they’d train elementary students to pepper science teachers with inane questions like, ‘were you there!?‘ and not sit down until the teacher capitulated or changed the subject. Our class even had the opportunity to spend a long afternoon debating with a hotheaded representative from Eagle Ministries in Co. Springs, a group whose mission is to brainwash college-bound parochial school kids in order to prevent ‘modern ideas’ like evolution and women’s lib from getting through.
An Australian named Ken Ham has apparently decided to take that strategy and bump it up a notch:
WAYNE, N.J. — Evangelist Ken Ham smiled at the 2,300 elementary students packed into pews, their faces rapt. With dinosaur puppets and silly cartoons, he was training them to reject much of geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology as a sinister tangle of lies.
“Boys and girls,” Ham said. If a teacher so much as mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, “you put your hand up and you say, ‘Excuse me, were you there?’ Can you remember that?”
“Sometimes people will answer, ‘No, but you weren’t there either,’ ” Ham told them. “Then you say, ‘No, I wasn’t, but I know someone who was, and I have his book about the history of the world.’ ” He waved his Bible in the air.
For any teachers reading this, the easy answer to that question is to ask what the kid would do if somebody killed a family member. Would he or she just give up? After all, they weren’t there. Use forensic science as a teaching tool for the scientific method in general.
From the same article, some hope:
Hundreds of pastors will preach a different message Sunday, in honor of Charles Darwin’s 197th birthday. In a national campaign, they will tell congregations that it’s possible to be a Christian and accept evolution.
Ham considers that treason. When pastors dismiss the creation account as a fable, he says, they give their flock license to disregard the Bible’s moral teachings as well. He shows his audiences a graphic that places the theory of evolution at the root of all social ills: abortion, divorce, racism, gay marriage, store clerks who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Damn straight it’s treason. Kids will have a hard time holding the line if equally-faithful friends don’t see science as a threat. Good news, then, that the latest Pope has unequivocally come out in favor of modern science, although to many evangelists Catholicism is one small step removed from paganism. Ham, of course, took the same line as religious fundametalists the world over. Anything less doctrinaire than his medieval viewpoint might as well be worshipping an ovoid streambed pebble.
Ham’s obviously a tool, but he represents a powerful constituency:
Bills that would allow or require science teachers to mention alternatives to evolution have been introduced in Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah. State boards of education in Kansas and Ohio adopted guidelines that single out evolution for critique. The governor of Kentucky used his State of the Commonwealth address to encourage public schools to teach alternative theories of man’s origins.
A national conference for science teachers in the spring will focus on helping them respond to creationists’ challenges. In an informal survey, the National Science Teachers Assn. found that nearly a third of its members felt pressured to play down evolution.
Ham’s dream is to increase that pressure.
Speaking of organized, don’t miss this account of how the religious right took on the religious left and won.