Things are heating up in Texas and not because of global warming. It’s the opposite: a fevered insistence among some anti-science zealots that the laws of nature do not apply in the Lone Star State. And even if they do, for God’s sake don’t tell the children.
The Texas Board of Education, whose members oversee the content of textbooks, has long been stacked with people who question evolution.
they’re focusing on biology textbooks. Even if evolution stays, the proponents of creationism will likely try to make evolution die a death of a thousand qualifications. Apparently, these zealots believe that children’s innocent minds shouldn’t be stained with the messy, often unwieldy process we call the scientific method. For children, keep it simple.
In the process, the textbooks would teach the students to ignore what they see and hear in the world around them. When you teach children to ignore what their senses tell them, you deprive them of the critical knowledge they need to make good decisions about their lives.
The word senseless implies what it does for a reason. In fact, the ancient Romans had a word for having been struck senseless. The word is stupidus, and its translation into English is pretty obvious.
Based on overwhelming evidence, scientists have concluded the Earth evolved over the past 4.5 billion years as the result of the Big Bang, which originally formed our universe about 14 billion years ago. They’ve also concluded that humans evolved from very simple organisms into highly complex ones. The Bible, read literally, says that the Earth was created about 6,000 years ago by the command of a supernatural God, who made the Earth look old as a test of faith.
According to the creationists, scripture trumps the evidence. Which of these explanations will get a thumbs-up from Texas? And why should those of us who live outside of Texas care?
To be fair, you can find lots of creationists in every state in the Union. And you can find lots of people in Texas who disagree with creationism and are doing their best to combat this scourge. Yet decisions made in Texas disproportionately affect children throughout our nation. Publishers accept the dictates of their largest markets, and most other states suffer the consequences.
This year, the consequences are yet again stacked in favor of the creationists’ God, who, according to watchdog groups, will have six more champions among the so-called expert textbook reviewers in Texas. In this context, creationism represents a rejection of everything else we know, including our experience of the world around us.
My own conviction is that we need to revise our understanding of God, as we have continued to revise our understanding of the natural world. Until about 500 years ago, people thought the Earth was at the center of the solar system. But Copernicus looked into the night sky and discovered otherwise. People didn’t respond to Copernicus by saying that if the earth isn’t the center of the solar system, then the solar system doesn’t exist. Likewise with God.
The traditional belief in a supernatural God is longstanding. Ironically, it has evolutionary origins, springing from our desire to understand the world in terms of cause and effect. If our ancestors saw something happen, they assumed that someone or something caused it. They surmised that the biggest possible effect, the universe, must have had a biggest possible cause, which they called God.
The evidence now suggests otherwise. But just because God isn’t supernatural doesn’t mean that the experience of God is a fantasy and religion is a farce. We need to leave behind the traditional and outdated view of God that requires us to ignore what we know. And we need to take everything we experience into account in order to discover a God we can believe in.
Despite all we know, we still have a need to understand where we belong and why. Our deep spiritual connection to everything that is present in our lives and world, as well as all that is past and all that is possible, constitutes the experience I call God. This revised understanding of God isn’t an optional aspect of life today; it’s necessary—not to explain everything we don’t know, but to make meaningful sense of everything we do know. As people who care about our country and our kids, we need to make sure our children are given every opportunity to do the same. Any other approach would be, well, stupid.
The Rev. Dr. Galen Guengerich is senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “God Revised: How Religion Must Evolve in a Scientific Age” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).