As per usual, the moment after I put down Jeff Rovin’s horrendous Fatalis, I decided that I would pick up Christopher Toumey’s God’s Own Scientists:Creationists in a Secular World. I figured that there would not be much in the book that I had not already heard, but it might give a fresh perspective on what individual creationists think when in studies/community together. As the beginning of Toumey’s book makes clear, while creationists try to employ a big-tent strategy they also have their own version of heretics that endorse beliefs like gap theory or old-earth models, so there is definitely a diversity of different beliefs within the larger field of Bible-based creationism.
I only was able to reach page 70 before I started to grow cross-eyed from fatigue, but I especially liked what Toumey writes about the American attitude towards science in that it fits a “trivial” model. The three perspectives Toumey mentions either 1) claim that revelation of the Bible and nature are parallel and complimentary ways to learn about God, 2) the secular model views the nature world in and of itself, requiring us to determine morality, and 3) the trivial model judges science only by what it can produce that is useful to us, and it much more shallow/symbolic in nature than the first two. As one of my professors once told me, science is not a belief system, yet that is what it has essentially become for many people regardless of their religious affiliation; science produces things we need and solves problems, but anything else doesn’t merit our attention. Test tubes, lab coats, microscopes, beakers, biohazard/radiation symbols, and even the structure of DNA are all symbols of science that just about anyone is familiar with, but outside of these symbols not many people are familiar with any actual research or how science proceeds as a way of understanding nature. I know I’ve mentioned it plenty of times in the past, but this reminds me of the “Who is a scientist?” exercise that I have carried out with 5th grade public schoolchildren; when asked to draw what a scientist looks like, it is always some variation on Dr. Frankenstein or Albert Einstein, an aging white male in a lab coat.
This shallow understanding of science is dangerous because it seems to work on the basis of trust or belief; we will trust the scientists to do what’s best for us, but if they make a mistake then they should not be trusted. This is exemplified (albeit in comic fashion) in a scene Mel Brooks’ film Young Frankenstein where the concerned townspeople get together to discuss what the young Dr. Fank-en-stein is doing. Says on irate villager “All those scientists–they’re all alike! They say they’re working for us, but what they really want is to rule the world!” I’ve even run into some people who are close to me who have a similar feeling about scientists; “Here I am busting my ass trying to make a living, but what are they contributing to society? Why should my tax money go to some scientist so they can study how some bug mates?” The P.C. term for this is “American Pragmatism,” but in reality it belies an overall ignorance of who scientists are and how they carry out their work, as well as an apathy towards learning more about nature if it is not economically profitable to do so. As another friend of mine said (re: creationism) “Why can’t everyone just live their lives and not think about this stuff?” I have run into so many people who say that evolution (and creationism’s opposition to it) is not important; why should we care? Of course, they’ll ally themselves with whatever side they’re most comfortable with if pushed, but they have little knowledge of the subject and aren’t very interested in learning anything more.
I will continue to share my thoughts on Toumey’s book as I work through it, but I think he’s right that the trivial science understanding in modern society has weakened science as a whole, making it possible for creationists to show up with credentials from secular universities, present themselves as scientists, and therefore gain some authority from a public that does not know the difference between actual scientific understanding and religious dogma espoused by a puzzlewit. While plenty of effort has been put into fighting creationists, how much effort has been put into providing our children (and adults) with a solid science education? We can keep fighting back and forth with creationists (and we should), but it will be an overall losing struggle for science if we don’t work even harder to better science education in public schools and elsewhere. Plenty of groups have signed papers vowing their dedication to teaching evolution, but what are those same associations doing to foster scientific understanding? If they merely put together a list or issued a statement, then their efforts are close to being worthless, just paying lip-service to the most important idea in biology without actually doing anything about it.
[Side Note: Both volumes of Walker’s Mammals of the World 6th Edition arrived, and I have set up a little bit of a system for myself. Every day I will read the entry for at least one mammal, starting from the 1st (Short-Nosed Echidna) and going all the way to the end. It will take a long time, and I may do more than one in a day, but this isn’t the kind of book that you read from cover to cover in a marathon, so I’ll probably get more out of it by learning it in bits than trying to fit it into my brain as a whole.]