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HOME > PAST ISSUE > March-April 1998 > Article Detail

FEATURE ARTICLE

Creationism's Geologic Time Scale

Should the scientific community continue to fight rear-guard skirmishes with creationists, or insist that "young-earthers" defend their model in toto?

Donald Wise

Conclusions

Only now is the scientific community coming to recognize that although battles in the last decade to keep creationist pseudo-science out of public-school science classrooms may have been won in the courts, the war itself is in serious danger of being lost in the court of public opinion. L. Kraus (1996) may have made the best statement in a New York Times Op-Ed piece: "The increasingly blatant nature of the nonsense uttered with impunity in public discourse is chilling. Our democratic society is imperiled as much by this as any other single threat, regardless of whether the origins of the nonsense are religious fanaticism, simple ignorance or personal gain."

The creationist strategy has been to portray this debate as a choice between their cartoon of science or their particular brand of religion. As scientists, we must emphasize repeatedly that the argument against creationism is not against religion as such but rather against a fringe group's attempt to force the Bible into the public schools in the guise of a science textbook.

Creationists have always picked here and there at science trying to discredit the whole by casting doubt on some small piece, largely by misrepresenting the facts before scientifically unsophisticated audiences. Science has fallen into a trap by trying to argue about these individual pieces without forcing creationists to defend their "scientific" worldview. This has been particularly unfortunate in debates about biological evolution, in which scientific arguments fall prey to common public aversions to "monkey ancestors" and to the ease of confusing the public with complex and unfamiliar biologic processes.

The rock record may be a much easier point of attack. It offers a fairly straightforward outline of events and rates of change generally familiar to most Americans. The total creationist view of earth history should be exposed in full detail, and its proponents should be forced to defend it in public debate. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary levels of proof. The time has come to stop fighting defensive skirmishes and to start challenging creationists to defend in toto what they call science—humorous absurdities and all.

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