Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Truth and Consequences

Addressing the controversy over Intelligent Design, Creationism, and Natural Selection, Adam Holden, head of Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy,• a nondenominational Jewish day school in Overland Park, Kansas says, “We work very, very hard not to have a conversation where students say, ‘Is this the truth?’ and we say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ because the minute we do that we alienate some of the students and parents in the school.”

God forbid we should alienate people with the truth! Better we should teach our kids lies in order to keep their parents' checks coming!

This may be good politics, but it is bad pedagogy. Education should be rooted in free inquiry in hopes that such investigation will lead to truth. But if inquiry is structured so as to leave vital questions artificially open to doubt, then this isn’t free inquiry at all, but imposed dumbness.

There are of course, things we cannot know for certain, but evolution isn’t one of them. And that is the reason we have to work so “very, very hard” to make it appear that doubting evolution is a legitimate intellectual stance. It isn’t.

But I don’t want to defend evolution. It needs no defense. Reality is reality and if we choose not to live in it, those who choose otherwise will simply dominate and eventually eradicate us. Survival of the fittest and all that Darwinian nonsense. If you really want to insure the survival of a civilization, American or Jewish, stop lying to your kids in science class.

No, I want to defend religion. A religion that insists on denying the facts of science is doomed. The reason people stopped believing in Zeus was that the story that supported him could not withstand the things people knew to be true about life. When the story crumbles, gods die. The only way to perpetuate your religion is to continually reinvent its story. This is the work of midrash in Judaism— new stories cleverly tacked on to older stories that realign the older story with new facts.

We don’t need biblical literalists denying the Age of the Dinosaur; we need biblical creatives who can fit T-Rex into the story. The history of Judaism is the creative retelling of old stories. This is how the rabbis invented the Sinaitic origins of their totally self-serving and wondrously innovative Oral Law. This is how Isaac Luria gave us his kabbalistic cosmology of God’s contraction and the Breaking of the Vessels. They made it up, God bless them! Innovation not imitation is the key. Creating new stories not syndicating old ones is at the root of cultural survival.

It may be, however, that science has out run our religious creativity. If this is true no amount of pedagogical waffling will save us; Yaweh is going the way of Odin. But we don’t know this yet. So please, stop telling our kids that evolution isn’t certain, and start challenging them to rewrite Genesis so that evolution is part of the story.

• This is the actual name of the school. Hyman Brand is a well-respected brand of academy that, despite its name, is open to both boys and girls, and does not compete with Foreskin Brand academies, which are boys-only educational institutions.

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