Whose creationism shall we teach?

By JEFFREY DeYOE , Pastor, Trinity


Originally published in Daytona Beach (FL) News-Journal on 4 Dec 2004

In the Navajo creation story, the people are given the name, Dine, which means, "Holy Earth People." As the story goes, the Dine emerged from the First World into "The Glittering World" (our world), in the form of First Man and First Woman.

First Man was made in the east from the meeting of black and white clouds. First Woman was made in the west from the joining of yellow and blue clouds.

The Dine people grew and developed in the safe boundaries marked by the four sacred mountains, where they sang the Blessing Song, built their hogans, and established Dine life on their holy ground. In the meantime, the deities, known as the "Holy People" went about the business of setting the stars in the sky. They lay them out in an orderly way, but the coyote, known as a trickster, grew impatient waiting for the task to be completed, seized a corner of the blanket on which the stars were lying and flung them into the sky. After this came the creation of the four original clans of the Dine.

For those who are so adamant about teaching creationism in our schools, whose creationism shall we teach?

In the fourth and fifth tablets of the Enuma Elish, which is the ancient Babylonian creation epic, Marduk, a relative newcomer in the pantheon of Babylonian gods, went to battle against Tiamat, the great mother god. Marduk slew Tiamat and used half of Tiamat's corpse to create the covering of the heavens and the other to create the structure of the firmament and the deep. In the heavenly canope Marduk made stations for the great gods and fixed the stars of the sky. Marduk then ordained the year, setting within it 12 months and their days and made Jupiter (Napir in the story) their boundary. Marduk fixed the zenith and caused the moon god to shine forth, entrusting to him the realm of night. And Marduk declared to him: At the beginning of the month, when thou shinest upon the land, thou commandest the horns to determine six days, and on the seventh day to divide the crown. Marduk then set a throne in heaven and declared that from his blood and bone he would create man to inhabit the Earth.

What is notable here is the fact the Enuma Elish predates the creation story of Genesis 1, which contains important and essential components of this Babylonian epic including the separation of the heavens from the firmament as well as the Biblical formula of six days plus one day, established long before there was an identified chosen people to worship God on shabat. In the Babylonian epic, the designation of the seventh day as sacred is marked by being the day of the crown.

Once again, for those who are so adamant about teaching creationism in our schools, whose creationism shall we teach?

In the history of American Christianity, one of its chief characteristics throughout the 18th, 19th, 20th, and now, 21st centuries has been a nagging, pervasive tradition of anti-intellectualism. This is a uniquely American religious phenomenon marked by the outright rejection of Enlightenment principles at least in the religious context of the new world. The Protestant Reformation in Europe brought an end to the stranglehold on knowledge and authority by the Roman Catholic Church leading up to the 16th century. On the heels of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, the European church came out of the dark ages of human knowing. But this was a very unique historical moment in the sense that the church in Europe, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, began a process by which the masses would become literate and educated. It was a long, slow and at times painful process, and yet a historical path that was not to be reversed.

Until now. Singlehandedly, biblically literalist Christians are causing entire school districts to launch themselves into intellectual darkness, not by content, but by approach. The irony is that these proponents of "creation science" or "intelligent design," or whatever misleading label they are using this year, ignore and/or deny the ancient roots of their own creation story. It is blasphemous for them to even suggest that there was an ancient forerunner of their precious mythology. It is even blasphemous, in their estimation, to refer to their particular version of sacred story as "mythology."

Unfortunately, this simply reveals the lack of understanding concerning the gift and power of myth in human community. Myth is the vehicle through which transcendent truth is communicated and understood by finite beings with finite language and understanding. As a Christian believer, I am thankful for the depth, beauty and power of myth in my spiritual life.

American society today is a very literalistic culture. Anything written down in black and white is considered the literal truth, especially when the label "sacred text" is attached to it. The sad part of this is that the literal word conveys spiritual and transcendent truth very poorly, while the language of myth can take us to the very heart of God.

I have no objection to school districts offering elective comparative courses in which the Genesis creation story is presented as the sacred story of a people along with a good cross section of the sacred creation stories of diverse cultures, ranging from Native American, or any nativist mythology to the mythologies of the great Eastern religions.

We should not allow any of these mythologies, however, to masquerade as science, especially in our school districts, that are at least partly entrusted with the task of preparing young people to attend colleges and universities that correctly and responsibly do not permit religious storytelling to be confused with hard science. What is remarkable about these stories, however, is that when compared to each other they are qualitatively very similar. They reflect the greatest hopes and fears of the people who tell them and hold them sacred, and across all geographical, cultural and religious boundaries we discover that the human race shares these same hopes and fears. Nothing could be more unifying than this, if only we could allow that to happen.