Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Calling creationism a Biblical myth...

Here is a news story from Fox News making rounds: A father in Tennessee is upset that the science textbook used in his kids' schools refers to creationism as a Biblical myth. Even if someone takes offense to this characterization, I can imagine having a good conversation about the use and meaning of the word myth, or about alternative possibilities, etc. However, and as expected, the anchors here do no such thing and simply egg him on (the father here still seems to be the most reasonable person of the three). Here is the video:

Looking at this situation, here are some quick thoughts:

a) Why be offended by the word "myth"? Yes, sometimes in common language, myth gives the impression of being a lie or a misconception. But technically, myth is a broader term and can encompass social and cultural values within it. In this context, calling something a myth does not really diminish the value (we are not talking about scientific accuracy here). I like the definition of myth provided by Elizabeth Vandiver as "traditional stories a society tells itself that encode or represent the world-view, beliefs, principles, and often fears of that society".

Would this father be less offended if the word myth is replaced by "story"? I don't know.

b) I don't know what was the motivation to include the mention of Creationism in this science textbook. It is quite possible the authors wanted to diffuse the tension by mentioning the origin story in the Judeo-Christian (and also Islamic) tradition - and their use of the word "myth" backfired. May be it is better to keep any mention of creationism out of science classroom.

c) It seems that we are talking literally about the creation story here. If we were talking about "scientific creationism", the idea that the world was created in the last 10,000 years and that this claim comes from geological evidence, then perhaps "pseudoscience" would be a better suited term than either myth or a story (in reality, "nonsense" would be far more appropriate)

I'm sure that Fox News will keep us up to date about this non-story.


foxpoint11 said...

I find that most news channels often report a story just to see if the public reacts.If the public does, it means that the channel can fill air time with non stories for a few more days.News is a business and they need to fill air time to make money.If this flies, you can bet CNN,MSNBC and Al Jazeera will pick it up.


Tom Rees said...

The key cultural reality check is whether it's OK to refer to other people's creation stories as myths. It that's OK, then this is just a case of special pleading on behalf of the culturally dominant mythology.