As is well known, proponents of creationism loudly contend that their doctrine is surely scientific, not religious, and therefore nothing should stand in the way of its being included in public school science curricula. This claim naturally presents us with a tangle of several legal issues, not the least of which is the danger of mandating by law that any specific view be taught. One thinks immediately of the canonization of Lysenko in the Soviet Union, and one can well imagine what would happen if racist fanatics succeeded in having the views of Shockley or Jenson forcibly included in genetics courses. Creationists, it seems, are oblivious to such dangers—or at least we may be charitable enough to suppose so.
But an issue that is in some ways more interesting is that of church-state separation. Would the mandated teaching of creationism constitute the promotion of a religious doctrine by the government, something forbidden by the U.S. constitution? Yes, it would. And this may be seen most clearly by comparing "scientific creationism" to the Marharishi Mahesh Yogi's transcendental mediation. The latter was briefly offered for credit in public high schools until fundamentalist Christians blew the whistle on the religious nature of this supposed "science of creative intelligence." The parallels between scientific creationism and the science of creative intelligence are both surprising and revealing and therefore will be explored in detail in this article.
Maharishi ("Great Seer") Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru in the Vedanta tradition, set out in 1959 to bring a simplified version of "transcendental deep mediation" to the samsara-soaked West. The origins of the practice were clearly in the monistic Hinduism of Shankara, wherein the goal of religion—of human existence itself—is to pass beyond the illusion (maya) of diversity and so to realize one's identity with Brahman, the impersonal absolute, conceived as the eternal essence preceding all existence. This fact is nowhere more clearly seen than in the
Maharishi's own commentary on the first six chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, the key text of Vedanta Hinduism. When the guru founded an organization to spread his faith in America, there was no doubt as to its religious nature. It was called the Spiritual Regeneration Movement Foundation. A certificate of incorporation, written in 1961, made no bones about the fact that "this corporation is a religious one" (article eleven).
During the years 1967 and 1968, Maharishi and his lieutenants reluctantly decided that their movement had met with little success. Few Americans had seen the light. So a change in tactics was deemed necessary. Given the American people's infatuation with science and the American government's disinclination to abet religious propaganda, the course of action seemed clear. Transcendental meditation would die as a religion and rise again (or be "reincarnated") as a science.
In actuality, no substantial change was envisioned. For Krishna characterizes reincarnation in the Bhagavad Gita, "As leaving aside worn-out garments/A man [merely] takes other, new ones" (11:22). Maharishi's rationale was that, if one were going to cast his pearls before swine, he ought to disguise the pearls as something the swine could appreciate. "Not in the name of God-realization can we call a man to meditate in the world today, but in the name of enjoying the world better, sleeping well at night, being wide awake during the day" (Maharishi, Meditations of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, p. 168, and in Bjornstad, p. 22). Isn't this a little dishonest? Rest easy, it is only a bit of "heavenly deception." In his commentary on the Gita, Maharishi explained that, "if the enlightened man wants to bless one who is ignorant, he should meet him on the level of his ignorance and try to lift him up from there by giving him the key to transcending [it], so that he may gain bliss-consciousness and experience the Reality of life. He should not tell him about the level of the realized, because it would only confuse him" (Maharishi as quoted in Patton, p. 55). Theory became practice. Vail Hamilton, a former TM instructor, recalls the organization's strategy:
An ordinary person, doing an eight-to-five job, who never thought about anything of a philosophical or religious nature, might be put off by hearing about higher states of consciousness, like God-consciousness, but he would understand it at the level of relaxing, getting rid of the cigarette habit, things like that. So then, you get a person into it then, so that their stress can start getting released, and then, eventually, they will be able to accept the idea of going on to higher states. ("TM Behind Close Doors," Right On, November 1975, p. 12).
But, as already anticipated, a new flavor was not all the guru wanted for his product. New marketing methods were sought as well: "It seems for the present, that this transcendental deep meditation should be made available to the peoples through the agencies of government. It is not the time when any effort to
perpetuate a new and useful ideology without the help of governments can succeed" (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Transcendental Mediation, p. 300, and in Patton, p. 54). Transcendental Meditation got that help in 1975 when it was offered for credit in the public school systems of Dade County, Florida, Louisville, Kentucky, Eastchester, New York, Hartford, Connecticut, San Lorenzo, California, and Essex County, New Jersey. By this time, a new charter had eliminated references to the organization's religious aims, and the name was changed to the "World Plan Executive Council."
About the same time, Christian creationists opposing evolution changed their tactics in an analogous manner. The turning point seems to have been a 1975 decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, declaring unconstitutional a Tennessee law mandating that textbooks include the discussion of Genesis alongside evolution. To require a discussion of the Bible in this way was seen as tantamount to state promotion of religion. Henceforth, fundamentalists sought "equal time" not for religious but for scientific creationism. Creationist leader Henry M. Morris reveals the logic underlying this cosmetic change in terms paralleling point-for-point those of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: "The Bible account of creation can be taught in the public schools only if the scientific aspects of creationism are taught, keeping the Bible and religion out of it altogether" (Morris, p. 4). Morris, like Maharishi, covets the aid of the government, for he envisions "political or legislative efforts to require creationist teaching ..." (p. 1). So, in both the case of TM and fundamentalism, we have witnessed a surface metamorphosis of avowed religion into alleged science. The first became the "science of creative intelligence"; while the second took the alias of "scientific creationism." Of the first Maharishi claims, "It is not religious"; of the second, Morris contends, "Creation is just as much a science as is evolution."
How did each group try to support its claim to be purely scientific and not religious? First, there were attempts to provide scientific documentation for each belief system. TM cited various studies tending to confirm that meditators experienced reduced breath rates, a decrease in blood lactate, and increased alpha and beta brain waves. However, such claims were problematical. For one thing, they could never lend credence to the basic claim that in the meditative state one made contact with the "field of creative intelligence," since this field allegedly underlies all particularized existence and therefore by definition could never be tested. So the verifiable part was, at most, the relaxation technique. On one level this very fact might be seen as vindicating the claim that TM was a simple technique and not a religion. Yet the fact remained that TM was never offered without indoctrination into the metaphysics of "creative intelligence" or participation in a
Sanskrit ritual invoking various gods and devas. So some tests might indicate at least that the relaxation technique of TM produces concrete results. "But the beneficial changes attributed to TM are not universally accepted by scientists. Some researchers have been unable to replicate certain findings, while others argue over the interpretation of results" (Montgomery, p. 64). In particular, the studies were flawed by the possibility of self-fulfilling prophecy—or the placebo effect. Neurophysiologist Peter Fenwick warns: "All these studies need to be looked upon with reservations. Few include adequate control groups, and none that I am aware of have yet used a blind control procedure where neither subject nor observer is aware of the treatment given or the aims of the experiment" (Fenwick as quoted in Haddon, p. 7). Such "blind control procedures" were especially unlikely since many or most of these experiments were conducted by the TM organization or by meditators. This is rather like the American Tobacco Industry producing statistics about the safety of smoking. In neither case could the results be dismissed out of hand, but we are entitled to be on our guard.
We are no less suspicious of some of the scientific documentation offered by creationists. The evidence will be naturally of a different kind, creation not being a repeatable process. Most often creationists appeal to fossils and the like. Both their investigative procedures and their interpretations are questionable. Michigan State's Donald Weinshank checked into several field research projects conducted by the Institute for Creation Research and announced that "not one of these came even close to observing the accepted standards of the scientific method" (Weinshank as quoted in Zuidema, p. 5). Also troubling is the propensity of creationists to make a great deal of soon-discredited "freak phenomena"—a la Erich von Daniken. For instance, creationists pointed with glee to a set of human footprints (from their size, apparently belonging to the Incredible Hulk) found beside dinosaur tracks in the Paluxy River Basin in Texas. Kelly Segraves, instigator of a recent California anti-evolution suit, contended that this find must compel scientists to revise completely their views as to the order of the appearance of life (Segraves, p. 17). Instead, perhaps Segraves will be compelled to revise his propaganda in light of the recent admission by area residents that the humanoid prints were chiseled beside genuine fossils as a tourist attraction (Zuidema, p. 5).
Besides the adducing of questionable evidence, both the science of creative intelligence and scientific creationism seek to reinfo, , rce their scientific, even secular, status by the manipulation of language. Both have issued textbooks which outline clearly religious belief systems, yet hope to hide their religious nature by substituting various nomenclature for "God." The TM textbook used in public schools described the "field of creative intelligence" as being omnipresent, as being the source and goal of all existence, the guide and sustainer of the universe, pure love, truth, and justice, unlimited in power, the source of being, and so on. Instead of "God" or "brahman," of which the preceding are all unmistakably divine attributes, the textbook makes them mere "qualities" of "creative intelligence."
Yet even this apparently innocuous jargon is a Vedic designation of God. He is "the impulse of creative intelligence responsible for the whole manifest universe" (Rig-Veda I.164.39 in Patton, p. 53).
The same sort of sleight-of-hand is present in both the standard and public school editions of the creationist textbooks written by Henry Morris and Duane T. Gish. The latter edition removes some overtly religious references and omits God in favor of generic terms such as designer. Divine creation may become special creation. One can almost hear the biblical cock crowing in the background. In short, it would seem that both movements, in order to gain access to public schools for propaganda purposes, sought to disguise their religious nature using the strategy of "covering their tracks." The meditator or the creationist presents his belief system, whereupon the observer responds, "Say, wait a minute. This is religion!" The other merely replies, "Oh, no it's not. We'd never try that! Rest assured, this is science." The hope is that the skeptic will be satisfied that his fears have been allayed and that he will go on to accept what is offered, ignoring the taste because the label has been changed.
In the case of the science of creative intelligence, the ploy did not finally succeed. When fundamentalists protested what amounted to the teaching of Hinduism in the public schools, the court examined TM's claims not to be religious and found them wanting. While this could mean intentional subterfuge on the part of the Maharishi's organization, the New Jersey Supreme Court found no need to make such an implication. But it did claim to know better than the meditators themselves whether or not their practice was in fact religious. For no matter how sincere the meditators' conviction in this regard, the Court ruled that the facts spoke for themselves.
In so ruling, Judge Meanor appealed to the 1970 decision, Welsh vs. United States, 398 U.S. 333. This case involved the 1965 decision in United States vs. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, in which Seeger claimed conscientious objector status on the grounds that, though his moral opposition to war did not entail theistic beliefs, he felt that his convictions were nevertheless religious in nature. The court agreed, ruling that the legal definition of religion need not involve theism. In 1970 Welsh contended for conscientious objector status on the basis of moral beliefs similar to Seeger's, yet he denied that they were religious beliefs. Could not other heartfelt convictions besides religious faith entitle one to exemption? The court ruled that Welsh's beliefs were in fact religious in the eyes of the state, despite Welsh's own subjective evaluation of them as nonreligious. Similarly, Judge Meanor decided that the belief by meditators that TM was secular does not make it nonreligious. The science of creative intelligence is not considered secular science
by the courts, and it is no longer taught in the public schools.
The relevance of the precedent thus established is obvious. No matter how strenuously and sincerely scientific creationists maintain the nonreligious character of their "model," the facts speak for themselves. And, on the analogy with Judge Meanor's decision, it is the facts and not their subjective evaluation by the creationists themselves that must finally decide the issue. The teaching of creationism in public schools would constitute a violation of the U.S. Constitution as the promotion of religion under government auspices. We may hope that fundamentalists who have demonstrated their zeal for church-state separation in the case of TM will continue to see the wisdom of such separation in the case of creationism. Granted, faithfulness to our common American heritage will seem more costly in this case, since it is their own belief that is concerned, but freedom of religion in America has always depended on exchanging privilege for one's own sect for the security of never being disadvantaged in favor of someone else's.
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Pierce, Kenneth M. March 16, 1981. "Putting Darwin Back in the Dock." Time, pp. 80-82.
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