Recently, the Indiana State Senate approved the teaching of ‘creationism’ in Indiana classrooms. The move has brought well deserved mockery and scorn on the upper chamber of a legislature positively full of unthinking rubes. (This affliction shows no partiality; I still cannot understand how 48 House Democrats look among themselves and say “Pat Bauer – he speaks* for us.”)
The debate and publicity surrounding this debacle has focused on a couple of words – words which are sadly misused and in need of redeeming.
Fundamentalists and others who promote biblicism should not have a monopoly on the word ‘creation.’ The debate is not ‘creation vs. evolution’ for a great many people who accept evolution by natural selection as scientific fact are also able (and enthusiastic!) to speak of the natural world as ‘creation’ and worship God as the Creator. Instead, the debate is between differing ways of reading Scripture. While learning about the various ways people have read and understood sacred texts is well and good, school kids shouldn’t be learning biblical hermeneutics in biology class. Nor should they be told that hermeneutics is a form of biology.
The other bit of etymology that has me slightly bent out of shape involves the word Theory. I have a theory that people who use this word incorrectly didn’t graduate from high school. My theory and the Theory of Evolution are not same. Strange as it may seem, words can have several meanings. Every time the [non] issue of creation vs. evolution comes up, supporters of a literal reading of Genesis insist that evolution is “just a theory” (how many times I heard that insipid phrase from the pulpit!) in the same sense that half-way through an Agatha Cristie murder mystery, I have a theory that the butler did it.
The Theory of Evolution is not a guess or even an educated guess. It is a systematic framework connecting and explaining a range of scientific observations.
Of course, one could turn the speculative hunch ‘the butler did it’ into a framework from which to understand a work.
To demonstrate, let’s look at Downton Abbey. My favorite character in this fancy soap opera is undoubtedly Carson, the butler. Under the Butler Theory, every suspicious death in the show (there have been two) is the work of Carson. (Warning: This example might break down rather quickly.) Carson has a motive to kill both Mr. Pamuk (protect Lady Mary, with whom Carson is particularly close) and Mrs. Bates (to help save his right-hand man, Bates, the valet). Trying to understand the actions of Carson and others in light of Carson-as-murderer is difficult [which means that the Butler Theory is deeply flawed] but perhaps an amusing mental game to play.
I say all this in the spirit of goodwill. And maybe exasperation. I have a real soft spot for biblical literalists and stridently conservative Christians. I was once one of them. But being a conservative Christian or holding to a particular heremuetic is no excuse for poor logic, nor for monopolizing the important theological reality of Creation.