Over at Phi Beta Cons, David French discusses creationism, evolution, and related stuff about things. The occasion of his remarks is an interesting article detailing conflicts at Christian colleges "between those Christian biologists who...believe that God created the heavens and earth through evolutionary processes, those who believe in a six-24-hour-day creation and a 'young earth,' and those who fall somewhere in between." (Believe it or not, some Christian college professors can actually lose their jobs for teaching standard biology; I thought only intelligent design theorists suffered that sort of persecution.)
French's basic position is that religious schools are not obliged to hire professors who believe in evolution. Which is quite true. But somehow, he gets from there to here:
In many ways, the community of Christian schools represents a "marketplace of ideas" far more open than the parallel community of secular schools — where ideological orthodoxy is rigidly enforced not just within but among the institutions.Amen, brother! Christian schools are at liberty to teach that God created the cosmos in six days, or six years, or six millennia, or whatever: Thus do a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend. But secular schools are prejudiced in favor of dreary dogmas like descent with modification, and an earth that's older than 7,000 years. And where's the fun in that?
It sounds as though French would like to see colleges teach different versions of biology. Yale could focus on neo-Lamarckism, MIT on evo-devo, Patrick Henry on craniometry and psychometrics, and so forth. (As for community colleges, they can teach whatever theories are popular in their respective locales. After all, the customer is always right!)
I'm as committed to problematizing exclusivist metanarratives and delegitimating monologic desire as the next gink. And yet, I can't quite manage to take French's brand of cultural pluralism seriously. Although I don't know where he stands on ebonics, I remember that conservatives tended to be very upset by the idea that anyone would dream of teaching it. And I've read Phi Beta Cons regularly enough to know that its authors will often cast aspersions on a given college simply by noting that it offers a course in Latina/o studies or postcolonial literature.
Apparently, it'd be intellectually healthy for evolutionary biology to fracture into five thousand bickering splinter groups...but God forbid anyone should suggest that there's more to studying literature than defending the reputation of Teh World's Greatest Authors against the upstart claims of ethnic arrivistes. Certain fields need more orthodoxy, not less, and the folks at PBC know 'em when they see 'em.
Here's a theory you've probably never heard before. According to French, schools that teach young-earth creationism are still teaching students what they need to know about evolutionary biology, if only to reveal it as a snare and a delusion:
I would be surprised if the principles of evolutionary biology were not taught even at schools dominated by a "young Earth" viewpoint. Professors know evolutionary biology and students learn it. They may learn it from a critical standpoint, but they still learn it.If a teacher were to tell me, on the authority of Lord Kelvin, that airplanes can't fly because they're too heavy, I don't think I could say that I'd learned the basic principles of aviation. Putting that little detail aside, I'm sure French would be just as happy to apply this clever argument to, say, the Marxist critique of imperialism: Students may be learning about the Spanish-American War from a "critical standpoint," but they're still learning about it! And if David Horowitz doesn't like it, he's cordially invited to go fuck himself.
And another thing:
I hate the use of the term "literal" or "literalist" when describing those who believe the Bible is God's word. I have never in my entire life met any single person who believed there was no metaphor in the Bible. So, the actual debate within orthodox Christianity is not between "literalists" and others; it's between those who disagree over the meaning and intent of words, when both sides believe those are the words God intended to use.He's right, in the trivial sense that no one takes every word of the Bible literally. Most of the people who claim that the universe was really created in six days, and that Eve was really fashioned from Adam's rib, are still able to recognize suggestions like "go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor" as confoundingly polyvalent metaphors.
But he's wrong in the context of his own goddamn post, since the conflict he's discussing is not "within orthodox Christianity," but between scientists and young-earth creationists. And since the latter treat the Bible's account of Creation and the Flood as actual events whose traces are detectable by science, calling them "literalists" seems pretty reasonable. So there.
As for the strife at Christian colleges, we can only hope that it'll be resolved amicably once the Conservative Bible is wrested at last from the world of Ideal Forms.