The level of distortion of science is becoming quite high. The game of
pushing a Christian agenda through public institutions is both terribly
disingenuous and yet front and center. President Bush is seemingly sincere
that his religious conversion and perspective is the right one. His
born-again experience is public knowledge, as is his policy of breaking the
barriers to religious influence in governmental programs. In Bush, the
evangelical political movement got just the partner it wanted in the Oval
Recently, speaking to his Texas constituency from the heart of the White
House, Bush stepped over the line by announcing his support of "intelligent
design" in the teaching of natural history. Said the president: "Both sides
ought to be properly taught ... so people can understand what the debate is
about." He added, "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be
exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."
The "intelligent design" Bush is talking about begins with the biblical
story of Genesis; it follows the particular story of the Christian biblical
creation, with its inherent and particular logic. The hop from the parent
concept of "creationism" to the concept-child named "intelligent design" is
short indeed. The president's public testimony as a born-again Christian,
following a long struggle with alcohol, is his foundational and
inspirational driver for deepening the fundamentalist message from the
The battle is an old one: religious conservatives, certain of their
beliefs, argue that the opposite of their certainty is simply secular
"relativism," which they portray as believing that all philosophies are
equally valid. The hard-edged pundits on the right blast this charge
constantly at the "wishy-washy" liberals. Since the established science of
evolution challenges directly the suppositions and time-frames of the
biblical story, it becomes the object of attack -- no matter how
irrational, anti-scientific and utterly foolish the argument.
Fundamentalism of any sort leads to absolutist thinking, a derailing of
public discourse in a democratic country. Now the argument -- completely
devoid of science and pretentious to the core -- comes from the president
of the most powerful country on Earth. This is a source of worry for anyone
in this country who can still appreciate empirical knowledge.
The president cannot be implying that we must explore "intelligent design"
as a search for the creative genesis in nature and biology. Nor, as
Shoshone Bannock columnist Mark Trahant pointed out recently, is he likely
talking about the many complex, philosophical and wonderfully compelling
Native creation stories, as recorded and retained in the tribal memories of
Philosophical debate on the nature of human existence is one thing; again,
there are many such stories from this hemisphere, many quite engaging and
actually more suitable to peoples and places here than one imported from
the far-away Middle East. It is quite another thing, as the president has
done, to propose that a quasi-religious evangelical theory be taught in
schools as a science on the same plane as evolution, which is a vast, tried
and true method completely interlaced within the biological and physical
No one can doubt that evolutionary science is complicated and at times
difficult to absorb, given its calculus of biological changes and
developments played out over vast stretches of time, but even this is part
of the method through which, with critical assessment, a field of study can
achieve answers to complex questions. It misinterprets the development of
science over more than a century to propose that "creationism" or so-called
"intelligent design," particularly if conceived from only one overwhelming
religion, is an alternative to evolutionary theory.
Again, Bush's roots in the religious, evangelical mind-set appear to
overarch the public reality of a democratic America. In 2004, across the
political spectrum, some 60 scientists, led by several Nobel laureates and
medical experts, requested that the present administration desist from
distorting scientific fact to arrive at "partisan political ends." This is
evident in a variety of issues relating to energy, the environment and
natural resources, where the administration is unrelenting in what Robert
F. Kennedy Jr. called a "campaign to suppress science that is arguably
unmatched in the Western world since the Inquisition."
Once, important Western Christian thinkers saw their biblical exegesis in
much broader terms. Not the literal but the broader, metaphorical
implications of the Bible were the proper approach to its study. Evolution
could fit then; it can make sense within the broader interpretations of
Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions and even as a millennial guide to
biological, geological or even historical fact-patterns.
In the context of creation stories, again, there are many from this
hemisphere that are quite compelling. Just the wonderful narrative that
names North America the great Turtle Island, from the eastern woodlands,
proposes that the first human being was actually a pregnant female who fell
from the Skyworld. The teachings of that story in the context of humans and
the natural world are worth considering in these ecologically treacherous
Indian Country Today Columnist John Mohawk this year published a succinctly
edited book, "Iroquois Creation Story: Myth of the Earthgrasper," which
inspires with its clarity from ancient America. In fact, the Iroquois
(Haudenosaunee) creation story is the living basis of the ceremonial cycles
in the long-houses of several reservations, source of origin and the truth
of existence for traditional Haudenosaunee. Yet, no one here is suggesting
that it be taught as "science" in the public schools.
Every Native culture across the hemisphere (and cultures from all over the
world) would be in its right to line up, then, each with its origin story
and each justifiably, as much as the Judeo-Christian Genesis, with its
right to believe that its story is the true way that human beings came into
Given the choice, we prefer the non-religious and secular space, such as
public schools guided by universally shared scientific values and methods.
Let each people have its religious approach and way of prayer. The other
approach is a slippery slope to dangerous manipulation and intolerance.
What little the various human cultures and societies have in common resides
in the life of science and its search for open-minded truth.