Monday, May 03, 2010


Dictionary Games

You may remember how Kurt Zimmerman, a creationist, touched off a cat-fight among atheists. Now the authors, Jennie Dusheck and Allan J. Tobin, of the book Zimmerman objected to because it described the Genesis creation story as a "myth" have written a letter to the Knox County Kentucky School Board:

Our textbook, Asking About Life, was designed for college students and is mainly used in colleges and universities. The word "myth" appears in a brief definition of the word "creationism" in the chapter opening. We introduce our first chapter on evolution with a legal history outlining the efforts of creationists to interfere with the teaching of evolutionary biology in public schools. The story starts, appropriately, with a description of the Scopes trial, in Dayton. We believe that students benefit from learning that this area of science has an exciting aspect to it that has historical, political, philosophical, and personal relevance.

In our two-page discussion, we show that, historically, one way of interfering with the teaching of evolutionary biology has been "equal time" laws that require science teachers to present creationism in science classrooms. But equal time laws have been repeatedly ruled unconstitutional. From the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that creation science cannot be taught in public schools because it is religion to a similar 2005 Dover decision, U.S. courts have repeatedly affirmed that creationism is religious doctrine, not science, and that schools cannot require teachers to present religion as an alternative to science.

If Mr. Zimmermann had written to us requesting a rewording in a future edition, we would certainly have responded civilly and sought to accommodate him. We don't feel the word "myth" is in any way an error, but it is not our intention to offend religious feeling.
While the authors are willing to play nice over mere descriptions, they aren't over substance:

At the same time, we will not try to conceal from students the reality that scientific fact often conflicts with religious doctrine. The Earth is billions of years old, not 6000 years, as argued by some Christians; American astronauts did land on the moon in 1969, contrary to some Krishna dogma; and the Earth is not supported by four elephants standing on the back of a tortoise (Hindu mythology).

The fact that organisms change over time and, specifically, that new species arise through the process of evolution is universally accepted by practicing biologists as both a fact and a powerful explanation for everything that happens in biology. In contrast, the Bible's two creation stories (Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 and Genesis 2:4 -2:25) may be viewed as metaphors, allegories, or the literal truth, depending on one's religious views. But neither is a scientific explanation of how new species form.
That, I think, is the right attitude. English is a wonderfully malleable language and there are many ways to say the same thing: myth, fable, legend, story, belief, etc. There's no particular reason to use a word that some may feel is insulting as long as the facts are not diluted.

Excellent letter. I can't see it making the likes of Mr Zimmerman happy.

Too bad the site referenced requires registration or I'd have said so there.
Somehow I don't think they were trying to make him feel happy. They were showing that Zimmerman was being an ass.
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