We don’t often feature much atheist-themed fiction on this site, but Kyla Bennett has written a really captivating novel that readers of this site might enjoy. It’s called No Worse Sin (Harvard Square Editions, 2015):
In the excerpt below, protagonist Laena Foster has an awkward moment in her biology class, which happens to be taught by her father, but her new classmate Cree attempts to make things right:
“Dr. Foster?” Tiffany Barnett had her hand raised, flailing it in the air. Laena groaned, she thought only to herself. But a sound must have escaped from her lips, because Cree glanced over at her, one eyebrow raised in question. Tiffany was not the brightest bulb on the porch, and she constantly interrupted teachers with stupid questions. Laena could anticipate what Tiffany was going to say, right down to the valley girl inflection, the last syllable of each sentence ending on a higher note, turning everything into a question. Tiffany had made it very clear in previous classes that she was a creationist, and evolution remained a problem for her.
“My father? He says I don’t have to listen to this crap?” The class laughed, and Tiffany glanced around angrily, her shiny blond hair swinging. The laughter died down. “I mean, evolution is just a theory, right? And me and my family, well, we don’t believe in it, see? So my dad says I should be excused?”
“Actually, Tiffany, you do have to listen. You are right about one thing, though. Evolution is a theory, just like… gravity.” As he said this, Dr. Foster dropped his copy of the thick biology text on the floor, where it landed with a startling thwack. The class jumped, then laughed uncomfortably. “As you all know, it is called the ‘theory of gravity.’” The laughter increased, and the tension in the room abruptly eased.
Tiffany shook her head, talking over the giggles and chuckles. “No, Dr. Foster. My father says a theory is something that hasn’t been proven? And if it’s not proven, then what’s it doing being taught in bio?” Tiffany smiled, looking quite smug with her reasoning. She began to twirl a strand of her long straight hair around her finger.
Cree slunk down in his seat, his brow creased in annoyance.
“You raise a very good point, Tiffany. Let’s talk about the word ‘theory.’ Can someone tell me the difference between a scientific theory and a philosophical theory?” Dr. Foster asked, trying to be patient, but his voice belied his frustration.
Cree raised his hand quickly. “Cree?” Dr. Foster said, nodding in his direction. He looked relieved that someone wanted to take a stab at responding to Tiffany’s question.
“A scientific theory is not really a theory at all, Dr. Foster. It is more like a… law. A scientific theory explains things that scientists have actually seen and observed. And evolution has been confirmed — over and over again.” Cree spoke firmly. “The term ‘theory’ is really not accurate when we speak about evolution, at least when most people…” Cree shot an irate glance at Tiffany, “… view theories as something that remain to be proven. In science, the term was actually abandoned….” He trailed off.
Dr. Foster, who had been nodding encouragingly, frowned slightly at Cree’s last word. “Abandoned?”
“I mean, should be abandoned, sir,” Cree modified. “It is too confusing… to certain people.” Cree threw another look at Tiffany, who stared at him blankly.
“I don’t get it Dr. Foster,” she said, shaking her head. “A theory is something that still needs to be proven, like he said? The Bible says God created all the creatures, right? So evolution is just something that people, like, came up with that doesn’t make any sense?” Her valley girl cadence became more pronounced.
The class laughed again. Laena could tell that a lot of them agreed with Tiffany, and Laena flushed with embarrassment.
“A scientific theory is accepted to be true by the scientific community,” Cree said through gritted teeth. “Evolution has been proven, just like gravity.”
“Nuh-uhn,” Tiffany said, shaking her head. “What about the religious community? They believe…”
“Enough,” Dr. Foster said, firmly. He had come to the end of his rope. “This is a biology class, in a public high school. Last time I checked, the United States Supreme Court agreed that evolution should be taught in science class. There is no room here for creationism or intelligent design, or discussions about the beliefs of the religious community. After all, which religious community are we talking about? Judeo-Christian? Muslim? Buddhist? Tiffany, if you and your father have a problem with this, you can make an appointment to see me in order to discuss the matter. But I would like to warn you that this material will be on upcoming tests and quizzes, and you cannot graduate from this high school if you fail biology. Do you understand?”
Tiffany slammed her book shut and slumped in her chair, staring at Dr. Foster through narrowed, angry eyes. Laena closed her own eyes, wishing she were anywhere else but here. Her father had expressed concern over dinner last night that this would happen. Every year, he said, some student would challenge his attempts to teach evolution. And each year, he had to shut them down, often after a fight with the parents, the principal, and the school board.
Laena could feel Cree fuming beside her. There were other kids in the class disgusted with Tiffany as well. She could see Mike Watson, lab partners with Sophie, head in his hands, sandy hair mussed by his frustration. Sophie rolled her eyes, peeking at Mike to ensure that he saw her shared irritation of Tiffany. Sophie had been dying to snag Mike for several months now, and she flirted shamelessly. But the vast majority of students were open to what Tiffany said. Laena glanced over at Tiffany and saw that she was deliberately ignoring Laena’s father. She doodled in her notebook, as if there was no lesson being taught. Laena could imagine the conversation at Tiffany’s dinner table tonight. It would undoubtedly involve her father’s name and a lot of expletives. How very Christian.
No Worse Sin is available beginning today.