The Daily Pulse:

A Textbook Case

So with the Knox County school board scheduled to consider tonight an appeal from a Farragut parent about an honors biology textbook's treatment of Christian creationism, we thought we'd take a look at what the book actually says. The book, Asking About Life by Allan J. Tobin and Jennie Dusheck, is handily searchable via Google Books
A search for the word "creationism" gives five results, one of them an index listing. The other four are as follows:


On page G-7, in a glossary section, between "crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM)" and "Cro-Magnon," "creationism" is defined as "A religious belief that life was created very recently, as described in the Christian Bible."
On page 299, in a section discussing the history of Darwinism and the theory of evolution, one paragraph says, "In the 1970s and 1980s, antievolutionists in Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana passed identical bills calling for 'equal time' for teaching evolution and creationism, the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian god in six days." (This is the particular section that the Farragut dad, Kurt Zimmermann, has singled out as anti-Christian.) The paragraph goes on to note that the equal-time laws were ruled unconstitutional, and flatly states that "creation 'science' is not science." 
On page 302, in section with the subtitle, "How Old Is the Idea of Evolution?," one paragraph begins, "In large part, no one took evolution seriously because Christian beliefs incorporated Plato's essentialism. And essentialism, along with creationism, established a nearly unbreachable intellectual barrier to the idea of the evolution of species." (Zimmermann's complaint, itself a nice illustration of unbreachable intellectual barriers, makes no mention of the book's anti-Plato bias.) 
And section summary on page 322 reiterates that "The theory of evolution, or 'descent with modification,' contradicted creationism, the Bible's version of the story of creation, the philosophy of essentialism, and the Christian doctrine that the Earth was only 6,000 years old."
The school board seems likely to uphold the finding of a Farragut High School review committee, which said the book is "appropriate for an honors level biology course." But it could be interesting to see which if any board members signal sympathy to the creationist cause.
You can read the school system's whole file on the case, including Zimmermann's original complaint, right here.

Comments » 5

  • April 07, 2010
  • 11:09 AM
PhilnTenn writes:

Regardless of your belief or disbelief in evolution and/or creationism, the textbook is factually wrong in its description of "Creationism." The glossary item quoted defines it as:
"A religious belief that life was created very recently, as described in the Christian Bible."

...when the actual definition is:
"The belief, often religious in nature, that humanity, life, the Earth, and the universe are the creation of a supernatural agency."

Do you see the discrepancy here? The textbook states that creationism is only a religious belief, and that's not the case, AND that creationists only believe that life was created recently, and again that's not the case. There are both "Young Earth" and "Old Earth" creationists, just as there are believers in intelligent design who don't consider themselves particularly religious.

This is really a case of sloppy writing, of poorly researched scholarship, or allowing a personal bias to creep its way into a scholarly text, and I can't imagine anyone who cares about science would accept that kind of sloppiness in a basic high school textbook.

Take "religion" and "belief" out of this and it's easy to see that this is a poorly written definition, and by extension most likely a poorly written textbook.

  • April 07, 2010
  • 11:10 AM
PhilnTenn writes:

Regardless of your belief or disbelief in evolution and/or creationism, the textbook is factually wrong in its description of "Creationism." The glossary item quoted defines it as: "A religious belief that life was created very recently, as described in the Christian Bible."

...when the actual definition is: "The belief, often religious in nature, that humanity, life, the Earth, and the universe are the creation of a supernatural agency."

Do you see the discrepancy here? The textbook states that creationism is only a religious belief, and that's not the case, AND that creationists only believe that life was created recently, and again that's not the case. There are both "Young Earth" and "Old Earth" creationists, just as there are believers in intelligent design who don't consider themselves particularly religious.

This is really a case of sloppy writing, of poorly researched scholarship, or allowing a personal bias to creep its way into a scholarly text, and I can't imagine anyone who cares about science would accept that kind of sloppiness in a basic high school textbook.

Take "religion" and "belief" out of this and it's easy to see that this is a poorly written definition, and by extension most likely a poorly written textbook.

  • April 07, 2010
  • 11:54 AM
jfm writes:

Not looking to start a semantic fight, but I'm not sure how a belief in "supernatural agency" is not at some level "religious," even if it's not pegged to some particular faith. It's true that the textbook's treatment of creationism appears to be brief and relatively superficial--it is only interested in it from a historical and political standpoint--but I think part of the question here is how deeply you think an honors biology textbook should delve into all the varieties and permutations of creationism. Neither creationism nor any kind of intelligent design are part of the state science curriculum.

  • April 07, 2010
  • 5:01 PM
PhilnTenn writes:

jfm, that's a valid point. While I'm reasonably -- no, make that absolutely -- sure I don't want the state, our school educators, or a textbook to be responsbile for the religious inculcation of our students, I do believe that a fair and unbiased description of Creationism is called for. I also think it's interesting that the term used here is "creationism" rather than the more currently used and accepted phrase of "intelligent design," which seems to me to be (again) a less-biased descriptor of many people's belief in how the world came to be.

I might also counter that Richard Dawkins could be said to believe in a "supernatural agency," since he's on record (in an interview in Ben Stein's movie "Expelled") as saying that the building blocks of life were most likely planted here by an alien intelligence visiting from another solar system.

  • April 07, 2010
  • 10:42 PM
RickK writes:

Not to be picky, but Dawkins didn't say he believed life was planted here. He said that it was a possibility. He described a way it COULD have happened, and he was specifically trying to address a question about intelligent design. But he has also said that he believes life evolved naturally on Earth - that this is the most likely possibility.

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Remember personal info?



About This Blog


Metro Pulse staff members instantaneously commit their innermost thoughts to the Internet for your information and/or amusement.