Genetics and Genesis: The New Biology Textbooks that Include Creationism
Let's take a trip back in time to 1933. The Scopes trial is already history. The Moral Majority and television evangelism are not yet on the horizon. And a high school student, opening a standard biology text by Macmillan, can read:
Charles Darwin's Origins of Species has replaced the concept of special creation with the theory of organic evolution. At the present time, biologists accept evolution as a fact but are actively engaged in efforts to discover how it
has taken place.
There is no hue and cry, no complaints about the alleged lack of evidence for evolution, even though gene splitting is far off and DNA has not been discovered. Letters of protest do not pour into the newspapers. Boards of education do not patiently listen to committees of objectors demanding "equal time" to reply to "the religion of evolutionary humanism" in the public schools.
Today, nearly half a century after the above textbook summation of evolution, and others like it, went unchallenged, a new crop of textbooks is on the market. A paragraph from one of them begs citation:
Darwin asked some interesting questions and set forth a thought-provoking hypothesis about which people are seeking new clues in the light of modern science.
Better not name what that "thought-provoking hypothesis" was. Today's writers now play it safe. The "book-watchers" are watching! The 1973 index in Biology: Living Systems (Charles Merrill) gave seventeen lines of page references under evolution. By 1979 the subject was indexed in just three lines.
In some of the texts, "Darwin" is left out, too, particularly those of the past decade. Biology: Patterns in Environment (1972) and Biology: Patterns in Living Things (1976), both in the Harcourt Brace series, are two examples. In another,
Concepts in Science (1970, second edition), only George, the son of Charles Darwin, is mentioned. But in the third edition, the dilemma has been solved by eliminating the name Darwin entirely. (The equivalent would be a physics text which neglected Faraday, Rutherford, or Einstein or an astronomy book that skipped Copernicus.)
And as evolution slips away, creationism slips in. Though sometimes handled in an apologetic way, special creation now has a place among photosynthesis, metabolism, and symbiosis in the new breed of public school texts produced by major secular publishers. Much of this is done by indirection. "Why do you think many people believe that the earth and its life must have been created by a divine creator?" asks a California text. "Egyptians attributed the original creation to the god, Nun," the book adds. "In Babylon, it was believed the god Marduk created heaven and earth from the body of an evil dragon-goddess. Some American Indians thought that the sun-coyote created earth." No doubt this is interesting, but is it biology?
In Biology: The Science of Life (Houghton Mifflin, 1980), the text writer discovered a book written in 1849 by Scottish quarryman and popular writer Hugh Miller, who thought that, after successive divine creations, as of the reptiles and mammals, "the world we inhabit took beginning. And then creation ceased." On a later page in this text, the writer tells us that "in the Christian tradition the special creator is God," but "special creation appears to be an untestable explanation or hypothesis. The subject matter in this book is limited to what can be known by using the method of learning called scientific inquiry. From that point of view, special creation is an explanation that is neither right nor wrong. It is scientificaly untestable, so far as we know."
Among the leading publishers interviewed by Bioscience in 1979, one said that in his company's text "evolution runs like a thread throughout, but is mentioned specifically only in the last chapter." This is where creationism is also noted. It is regarded as a "theory" opposing evolution, but "just briefly enough to be discarded as unverifiable and therefore beyond the scope of the textbook's area." This publisher added that the final chapter is most likely to be ignored by teachers anyway, as it wouldn't come until near the end of the term.
"We don't advocate the idea of scientific creationism," says Lois Arnold, senior science editor at Prentice Hall, "but we felt we had to represent other points of view." A text writer who wants to remain anonymous admits, "Creationism has no place in biology books, but, after all, we are in the business of selling textbooks."
All this has confounded specialists in the life sciences who have been updating biology books, as through the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, ever since science teaching in this country became the object of scrutiny (after Sputnik in 1957). They feel the big publishers are doing them in.
"With the exception of a few publishers," reads the summary of a survey of
the new books by a curriculum committee, "others seem to have accommodated
to the situation either by eliminating what they regard as contentious material, soft-peddling or reducing their evolutionary coverage, or introducing nonscien
tific theological materials as science in the hopes of placating the anti-evolutionists.
The creationist ferment comes at a time when the near $1-billion-a-year textbook industry has its problems. As one industry observer states:
Enrollments in high school biology have been high as students who do take science tend to take that subject rather than physics and chemistry. As a result nearly every publisher in the field has come out with a new text, and the competition is fierce
Some publishers will take every opportunity to eliminate any material that might mitigate against sales. Textbooks are getting to be too expensive to produce and market to foster any but winners. And the era of the independent publisher is coming to a close. Most firms now are part of conglomerates. Holt and Saunders, for example, belongs to CBS, and Charles Merrill is a part of the Bell and Howell empire. E. P. Dutton, already the property of a holding company, is up for sale after 127 years. Others have simply pulled out of school publishing entirely to get into other publishing interests.
With emphasis on the bottom line becoming more pronounced, more accommodation with special interests will be reached. Textbooks then will no longer reflect the state of the discipline, but, like television, will pander to those who make the most noise.
However, there are dissenters in the trade. "Once you have done that [put creationism in a text) you have let the cat out of the bag," says one of these. "In fact, if I found such a reference in a competitor's book, I'd make sure everyone knew about it."
But such references are not now difficult to find. One specialist in the study
of biology texts, who has reviewed a score of them, says, "This has made the Institute for Creation Research unnecessary. It plays right into the hands of the anti-evolutionists. "
Eugene Wheetley, editorial vice-president of Scott, Foresman, warns that the creationist campaign reaches into other disciplines besides biology "and over the total grade level spectrum." Since some creationist leaders see the very structure of modern society threatened by "Darwinism," it is not surprising that one of these, scrutinizing modern literature, objects to the intrusion of "survival of the fittest," which he senses in Jack London's Call of the Wild, and the reference to historical geology in James Mitchener's Centennial (because it implies a vast age for the earth).
There will be further litigation, Wheetley believes, "if the recent ruling in California is any indication," referring to Segraves v. California, in which the court held that the teaching of evolution did not violate the rights of fundamentalist
children, but also upheld the state "guidelines" which, in effect, caution publishers to watch their language in dealing with evolution.
And California, accounting for about 10 percent of the national textbook market, is closely watched by the publishers. A rejection of a book in that state can influence buying elsewhere. In this sense, an MIT-Cornell sponsored survey ventured that California has an influence on science education across the country, as the publishing of texts to fit regional preferences is uneconomical.
Creationists in general are quite obviously cheered by these recent developments. John N. Moore, a "born again" professor of natural science at Michigan State University and a founder of the Creation Research Society, called the attention of a citizen's group to the appearance of the new texts, naming among these Biology: An Inquiry into the Nature of Life (Allyn and Bacon).
The Allyn and Bacon text pairs creation concepts with those of evolution in adjoining columns. One reads: "Creationists say ... the theory of evolution need not be accepted simply because most scientists support it," but "evolutionists say . . . agreed. Evolution should be accepted only as long as the evidence supports it." The several approaches to evolution inquiry are then cited, and the column ends with "Creationists say . . . evolutionists deny the creative power of God," and "evolutionists say . . . the hand of God is just as evident in evolution extending over billions of years as in creation occurring in an instant or a few days."
Stanley Weinberg, the author of that text, who has been active in opposing creationist attempts to have legislatures pass laws that would enforce equal teaching of creationism with evolution, said that Professsor Moore did him a disservice by describing his text as taking up creationism without describing the method of treatment. "I do indeed teach about creationism," Weinberg said, "but I do not support it. Creationism should be taught because it is an important part of the history of biology and it is a topic of growing political importance. It would be well if students got some information on it in school rather than exclusively from creationist propagandists. Further, the creationists are fully entitled to criticize evolution theory."
Other texts named by Professor Moore as being in use were The World of Biology by P. W. Davis and E. P. Solomon (McGraw Hill) and The Science of Evolution by W. D. Stansfield (Macmillan), this latter being for college students.
Moore, who teaches a mix of creation and evolution principles, has a special interest in the appearance of the new texts, as he is coeditor of a creationist biology book which caused controversy in Texas and Indiana. In 1975, this book, Biology: A Search for Order in Complexity (published by Zondervan, a fundamentalist publishing house), was chosen as one of seven officially approved biology texts by the Indiana state textbook commission. In two of Indiana's districts, it was the only ninth-grade biology text available to students.
But an Indiana court later barred the book for use in public schools in that
state on the grounds that it was sectarian-based. In Dallas, Texas, a committee of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy opposed it there and, in a compromise, got it relegated to library use as a reference work. Still, by the time of the Indiana court decision in 1977, Moore's book had already been approved by state commissions in Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Oregon. This book is still being pushed by the Institute for Creation Research.
That the general controversy continues to rage is indicated by the plethora of recent battles that have taken place all across the country since the end of 1980. But curriculum specialists and school administrators view the few successes of the creationists, as in Arkansas, to be due to lack of awareness on the part of teachers' groups and regional science academies. "They were," says an observer, "asleep at the switch when the 'equal time' bill was railroad, ed through the legislature. Such regional developments may not represent the sentiment of the nation at large. The publishers have made their big investment in the gamble. it remains to be seen if they misjudged the national consensus by reviving the old arguments that were rather well relegated to their respective spheres of human thought—religion and science—in the nineteenth century.