Father Wants Biology Textbook Banned because it Refers to Creationism as Myth April 11, 2010

Father Wants Biology Textbook Banned because it Refers to Creationism as Myth

When I was in seventh and eighth grades, I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee and attended Farragut Middle School. I *loved* it there and was eager to start life at Farragut High School. But my family moved to Chicago the week before high school started. I’ve mentioned before that that move was what initially got me questioning the existence of a god in the first place.

I clearly missed out on all the fun.

Kurt Zimmerman is the father of a Farragut High School student and he’s offended because the Honors Biology textbook they use (“Asking About Life”) has the following passage:

“Creationism: the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God in 7 days.”

Here’s the full context of the quotation, from a slightly different edition of the book, in a section about the Scopes trial:

In the 1970s and 1980s, antievolutionists in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana passed identical bills calling for “equal time” for teaching evolution and creationism, the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God in six days. But a court ruled that the “equal time” bill was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state… Creationists argued that the account given in the Bible’s book of Genesis was the basis for “creation science.” But creation “science” is not science.

Of course, that’s completely accurate. And the definition of “myth” isn’t derogatory, either. It means something that “describe[s] a traditional or legendary story with or without a natural explanation.”

The school board’s reviewers agreed:

One reviewer’s first impression of creationism’s definition was similar to Zimmermann’s in that “the authors must be offensively biased against this Christian view of the world,” the reviewer wrote.

“Upon further investigation, however, I quickly realized there is more than one definition of the word ‘myth.’ In this case the word is used appropriately to describe a traditional or legendary story… with or without a natural explanation,” the [school board] reviewer wrote.

Good for the reviewers for getting it right.

Whatever Creationism is, it’s not science. Educated people know it’s pure fiction. And Zimmerman’s son would do well to do his own research on the subject so he realizes his father doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

I am really surprised this is taking place in Farragut. Of all the things to criticize in that community, lack of religious fervor is not one of them.

The same school made news over a decade ago because they wouldn’t allow the Indigo Girls to play a free concert at the school. Administrators claimed it was because of the content of a particular song lyric, but students I knew at the time said it was really because the Indigo Girls were lesbians.) Whatever the reason, the school is bent toward a conservative mindset. Another friend of mine took one of those “Bible as literature” classes there and told me the line between “as literature” and “this is absolutely true” was crossed repeatedly.

In any case, you can understand why I was surprised to read about the Biology textbook story.

For now, the motion to take a second look at the textbook has been postponed.

I hope they make the right decision and keep the book. Let the kids get an actual education.


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  • Alan E.

    I love how FN shows parts of the paperwork that Zimmerman filled out to “prove” that he went through the bureaucratic process that everyone can do. OOO look he signed his name to the papers in 2009. How scandalous!

  • GM

    lolz at 3:12, “…I’m not smart enough to pick that stuff up…”

    Presumably “that stuff” is a high school biology textbook. That inspires such great confidence in his ability to weigh in on the scientific grounding of different theories…*sigh*

  • bLaKouT

    This is why a State Sponsored Education System (SSES) is such a problem.

    While there is much evidence to support the Theory of Evolution and the only evidence of Creationism is a 3000yr old book that, despite containing many confirmed facts, is of questionable veracity overall, each is a “theory” and therefore a ‘belief system’.
    The SSES finds itself in a position of either choosing one belief system over another, or making everything ‘equal’ and teaching both. Since one belief system is considered a ‘Religion’ and the other a ‘Science’, the idea inherent in our societal foundation of separating ‘Church’ and ‘State’ creates an insoluble dilemma.

    In a Privately Sponsored Education System (PSES), there would be different schools able to teach to their own belief system, whether it be God/Creationism or Evolution/Pastafarianism or whatever. Parents could choose their poison.

    I also find it interesting that, while Christians say they are prepared for persecution for their beliefs, when that persecution becomes real, they invariably turn to the law to require everyone not only to stop persecuting them, but to bend to their beliefs.

    Abandon State Sponsored Indoctrination in any belief system, and allow all to be educated to their own tastes. Just because you may have a ‘right’ to an education, (and I’m not sure that you do…), does not mean one need be supplied to you. Only that it cannot be *denied* to you.

  • ML

    I guess none of these children in this school are going to be doctors or scientists. You can’t be one and still believe in creation as portrayed in the bible.

  • Bias against Christianity? Unfortunately for Christians, it appears that reality is biased against Christianity.

  • Tony

    I think it’
    s important to not be biased against Christians. American Christians only wield about 85% of the wealth and power in the country, they need all the help they can get!

  • JJ

    Okay, how many times did they ask him some variation of “And you were upset about this and wanted to do something about it, didn’t you?”

    This whole segment reeked of self-congratulatory statements and “Ooh, look! See! He’s an American hero!”

    Ugh.

  • Claudia

    Well if his son is in honors biology, there’s at least some hope that the terrible ignorance of science will not pass on to the next generation.

    To be absolutely fair though, creationism should refer to the belief that life was brought into being by the intervention of a deity, there being different creation myths for different religions.

    Its not just Christians, though they are the crushing majority of creationists in the US of course. In fact if I were magically in charge of textbooks I’d put creationism in them. In literature I think it would be a great topic to look at various creation myths from different religions. Include the Christian mythology, but teach it as one more in a list that includes all sorts of myths from current and past religions. Its interesting and it could give a nice dose of perspective to students.

  • Jeff B.

    Faux News is at it again. Did they actually ask any questions or just feed this blow hard answers.

  • Tuco

    As a scientist, I am offended that The Bible doesn’t refer to evolution, and I want it banned! Can I go on Fox News, too?

    ML: People CAN, in fact, be scientists and believe in the Biblical creation story, at least as long as it doesn’t affect the quality of the scientific research they produce. Fortunately, it is extremely rare for a scientist to believe in a literal interpretation of The Bible; those who do are typically of the creation “science” (what an oxymoron) ilk, and have zero credibility in the scientific community.

    People can also be doctors and have a literal interpretation of the Biblical creation myth, and/or disbelieve in evolution – which is truly alarming. I have an advanced degree in biology with several scientific publications, and attended medical school (briefly) I can attest to this, and it is frightening. Medical training is not scientifically rigorous in the same way as advanced training in the sciences, which (I think) contributes to people going through medical school with such absurd ideas.

    As for Kurt Zimmerman, well, he’s just an idiot. This is typical Christian fundie bullshit: Trying to suppress any idea that they find threatening, or even contrary to their narrow views. If they were truly secure in their faith, they wouldn’t be concerned one whit with anything like this.

    “You are never dedicated to something that you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”
    – Robert Pirsig

  • Vene

    blakout, you’re a twit. Our society has a responsibility to teach facts, not demonstratable falsehoods. The reason for this is that an educated populace is one of the most important factors for building a strong society. By letting people choose what is “real” you encourage them to go for falsehoods and fallacies and the resulting adults become a burden on the society.

  • Revyloution

    It’s a shame that they have to waste space in the textbook and class time addressing this ‘controversy’. If the anti-evolutionists weren’t constantly trying to remove evolution from textbooks, then there would be no reason to waste time on rebuttals to it. A pox upon their heads.

    bLaKouT, there is one real problem with abandoning SSES. The US is already seriously divided along cultural lines, if children start being sent to schools that enforce those lines, the division in our country will only get worse. Public schools are a place where children learn tolerance. They are forced to sit next to kids that have different religions, ethnicitys, and politics. They are required to listen to teachers with a myriad of different views. Some of them even have to go to their Prom and have lesbians attend. If we allow our society to be segregated, it will be to our detriment.

    Another problem with private only school systems is small communities. Imagine being the only atheist family in a town that has only 1 elementary school (that was me). If both parents work, then the only option for the kids education would be religious indoctrination.

    Public schools have their faults, but they are necessary if we want an integrated society.

  • Miko

    blakout:

    Just because you may have a ‘right’ to an education, (and I’m not sure that you do…), does not mean one need be supplied to you. Only that it cannot be *denied* to you.

    No, if you had a right to an education, it would mean that someone would be required to supply it to you. You’re thinking of having a right to pursue an education. It’s similar to how the Declaration asserts that we have the right to pursue happiness: we can try out best to be happy, but we don’t get to sue anyone about it if we’re unsuccessful.

    Incidentally, we don’t have a right to an education, but we do have a right to pursue an education. Rights theory develops as a way of maintaining peaceful relations among people living together by asserting that all members of society agree not to take certain actions against each other, so all rights are of the form of negative obligations. A quick test is to imagine that you were magically transported to a desert island with no other people; if that causes you to lose a ‘right,’ then it isn’t really a right. (e.g., you still have freedom of speech on the island, so that’s a right; you no longer have the ability to force others to pay for your health care, so that isn’t a right.) By contrast, placing positive obligations on others for the sake of maintaining a peaceful society is called a ‘privilege.’ Privileges work in the opposite direction of rights, both in the sense that every privilege you are granted takes a right away from everyone else and in the sense that privileges can only exist within the context of society (whereas rights are universal outside of society and possibly restricted inside of it).

  • It’s scandalous that any school board would approve such a blatantly incorrect biology text book for educating the next generation of doctors, lawyers, and politicians. Everyone knows god took 6 days to create the world, exhausting his omnipotence and demanding a rest on the 7th.

  • Epistaxis

    If evolution’s a theory then creationism’s a myth.

  • muggle

    What a moron. He even admits it. They kept spoonfeeding him answers and he didn’t even pick up on them.

    He hasn’t a leg to stand on here but he’s too dumb to know it.

  • fritzy

    What a non-issue. I hope this case gets thrown out on it’s proverbial ear.

    My mother, a life long, devout Xtian, has always used the word “myth” and “mythology” to describe the stories of the Bible. Given the fact that it is oral tradition, myth is an appropriate desciptor. She even explained this to me when I was still a believer.

    Someone on this school board would do well to open up the OED, as well as invite a Biblical scholar to explain this to the (by his own admission) none to cerebral Mr. Zimmerman, so as to remove those twisted panties from his Xtian crotch.

  • Argh that was my point exactly when I first heard that father whinging – they were using more general myth definition. *rolls eyes*

  • I think it would be funny if a biology book author would purposefully dedicate the first paragraph of page 1 to the theory that “God did it” and then dedicate the rest of page one as well as pages 2-500 for the latest information obtained by applying the scientific method over the last 400 (or so) years.

    Perhaps that would placate the “creation scientists” and make this all a non-issue.

    I would, of course, hope that the SOL questions would come from concepts throughout the entire book.

  • Here is Zimmerman’s subtext (not that this is any surprise here):

    “The book writer says the Bible contains myths. I think the Bible is sorta literally true, but I don’t want to look like a dumbass Tennessee fundie asshole, so I’ll ignore the definitions of basic English words and object on completely groundless reasons.”

  • Anonymous

    Has anyone considered that the word ‘myth’ doesn’t necessarily mean something false? Myth just means that it has been held traditionally over time. Perhaps this guy doesn’t understand basic word definitions?

  • Captain Werewolf

    @Miko:
    The notion that all rights are necessarily negative rights is certainly a position you can take, and one that people like Richard Epstein strongly defend, but it’s a very narrow conception–and one that relies on an act/omission distinction that becomes untenable pretty quickly. I agree that, as a general baseline, it can be quite useful, but even the Bill of Rights contains assurances you would call (I admit I’m making a little but of an educated guess here) “positive rights” or “privileges.” For instance, you have a right to counsel, to a speedy trial, and to a jury. My point is that I don’t think it’s fair to say that, in a society (inside a polis), you only have those “rights” that you would have in a desert (outside of a polis).

  • Andrea

    I remember that story about the Indigo Girls and the high school concerts! They rented non-school halls and played the free concerts for the students anyway, because they are awesome. The line that was theoretically the reason for the banning, btw, was from Shame On You: “My friend Tanner, she says, you know, me and Jesus, we’re of the same heart. The only thing that keeps us distant is that I keep fuckin’ up.”

    Mmmm. Amy Ray. 🙂

  • WishinItWas

    I want every book that refers to The Odyssey as “mythology” to be challenged in the same manner. I happen to be offended most people think its just a story….

  • noah

    I don’t like this textbook either. It is highly pedagogically questionable to bring social/political history into a biology textbook.

  • Vene

    Noah, I disagree, and here’s why. History does matter to science, history is what shapes discoveries as well as the methodology behind them. And, with the disingenuous controversy over evolution, biologists need to act very strongly to show that creationism has nothing to do with science. The history of science is of much interest. It teaches students how the process has worked in the past and that what matters is not ideologues, but the actual data.

  • Nick

    It’s called “Honors Bio” for a reason….

  • Mountain Humanist

    No real comment here except to say I had no idea you lived in Farragut, Hemant. I grew up about 15 miles to the west in the tiny town of Kingston.