Proposed Historical Paper: “The Battle over Cosmology in Recent America: Intelligent Designers, Science Communicators, and the Home Schooling Movement”

I will be participating in an historical workshop at the University of Manchester on the intersection of “Science, Religion, and Entertainment Media” in June 2014.  I am proposing the following paper. Comments are welcome.

“The Battle over Cosmology in Recent America: Intelligent Designers, Science Communicators, and the Home Schooling Movement”

Since at least the Copernican revolution beginning in the sixteenth century cosmological issues have been hotly contested between the various types of knowledge—especially scientific and religious knowledge—but in the latter half of the twentieth century in the U.S. divergences over beliefs about cosmology have intersected in ways not perceived earlier. Much of this is the result of efforts to foist “young Earth creationism” on all scientific knowledge regardless of religious ideals, secular emphases, or scientific training and expertise.

Not a little of this is related directly to cosmology. The National Air and Space Museum receives several complaints each week over our discussion of the Big Bang such as this one from several years ago: “There is a disservice you’re committing by making this ‘collision theory’ out as ‘the way’ the universe, the earth and the moon were created. It is only a theory as is the extinction of the dinosaurs and evolution of birds on earth. Either make it more clear that this is only a theory or introduce another theory such as ‘Creation’ and let the visitor leave educated in truth and not in theory.”

Such ideas have been promulgated rather haphazardly in the past, but in the last thirty years the efforts have been more organized, sophisticated in both packaging and communication, and increasingly aimed at educational systems. Where public school systems have been much in the news, the home schooling movement has quietly been educating a generation of children in theories concerning cosmology, young Earth creationism, explanations of biblical miracles, etc., using a range of textbooks, DVDs, speakers, guided visits to museums, and other processes.

This presentation will focus on science communication concerning cosmology, especially the Big Bang and the age of the universe (the subject I know best), and the assault on scientific theory through the home school movement and restructured and specialized museum experiences (such as the Creation Museum in Kentucky).

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6 Responses to Proposed Historical Paper: “The Battle over Cosmology in Recent America: Intelligent Designers, Science Communicators, and the Home Schooling Movement”

  1. This is an excellent topic given the current kulturkampf occurring over the dissemination of evidence-based science in our country. We are paying the price for this willful faith-based ignorance as our children are being indoctrinated with Creationism/ID propaganda. I live in Louisiana where the far-right Fundamentalist Christians have political power. Governor Jindal and our legislature have worked to divert funding from public schools via vouchers to private, religious schools. These religious schools teach faith-based myths while denigrating and dismissing evidence-based science. Our state has also worked to insert Creationism into public school classrooms using the misleading “teach the controversy” tactic or by claiming that Evolution is only a theory showing how ignorant they are about what the term means in science. Our Constitutional Republic requires that the citizens be informed about the issues facing our country. The Christian Creationism/YEC/Dominionist movement is an assault on science and reason in dealing with reality. There was a time when church and state were united and it was known as The Dark Ages. I look forward to reading this paper!


  2. Michael says:

    I have always made a distinction between science (evolution), Creationism (strict bible) and Intelligent Design. The complexity issue and things like the human brain, the lack of transitionatory fossil evidence, evolution not having the ability to see into the future to decide what to evolve next for a working biological animal, and the answer as to where the instruction in DNA comes from etc., still has me leaning to Intelligent Design through an evolution-type process.


  3. Dan Lester says:

    As an astrophysicist (and an agnostic as well) let me just say that what you accept as your cosmology depends what you want out of it. A cosmology exists to serve a purpose. If you want your cosmology to represent your personal view and faith, then a 6000 year old universe might work for you. If you want cosmology to represent the physical world, it probably won’t. Now, that sounds like a straightforward choice. Why would the physical world not represent “truth”? But to many it isn’t a straightforward choice. Look at it this way. One’s faith and beliefs probably have a far greater impact on ones life than whether humans descended from primates, or whether inflation ruled the universe in it’s first billionth-billionth-billionth-billionth of a second. So to many, “truth” and “reality” is represented wholly by your commitment to it, and its impact on your life. There is nothing wrong with a myth, as long as it isn’t taken to represent the physical world. I suspect the creationism and young Earth believers don’t give a flying fig about the physical world, as a scientist would define it.

    So the problem isn’t mythology, creation, or young-Earth hypotheses. The problem is when those things, which constitute to believers a form of “truth” are confused with the physical world. It is counterproductive to argue “truth” or “reality” with these folks since the words mean different things to them. Now, it is both sad and somewhat perverted when “creation scientists” try to use the language of science to justify those myths as representing the physical world. You can’t argue with them, because their God can make things look however he wants them to look. Denial of their world view is tantamount to denying their God, and that’s simply not admissible.

    So those who adhere to an evidence-based picture of the physical universe ought to spend less time denigrating those myths as falsehoods and unrealities, and more time just educating the public about how the physical world reveals itself. But the main hurdle is that the physical world can reveal much of itself without a God, and that can be pretty upsetting. The problem is learning how to compartmentalize your view of “reality”, and accept different “truths” for different purposes. I’d like to believe that what we as scientists consider mythological truths would just disappear, but they simply aren’t going to do so by telling them that they ought to.


  4. John says:


    I am glad you’re taking this up. As a classically-trained scientist, an active “hardshell” Southern Baptist (with many dear friends involved in home-school initiatives), and a political liberal, I am often exposed various camps in the “science v. creation myth” discussion. It has occurred to me that there is a particular Bible story, which is quite relevant to this issue but which is rarely cited. This scriptural passage makes the point that, the more we humans build upon reason in our effort to understand our origins and empower ourselves (as opposed to being empowered by God), the further we will be from getting there. We will instead fall all over ourselves and fail to accomplish much at all. Much of the acrimony in the debate seems to me to arise from partisans in the debate experiencing exactly what the Bible records in this story. The citation to point is Genesis 11:1-9, the story of the Tower of Babel.


    • Michael says:

      by v.m. consolo
      There was a young man who wanted to find God. Pondering that God was in the heavens he proceeded to build a tower to reach Him. He consulted scientists and builders for his design.
      He worked day and night building his tower, only stopping to eat and rest. As his tower reached a great height he climbed to the top and called out “God, God, Where Are You?” Not receiving an answer he continued to build his tower higher and higher, stopping periodically to call for God to answer him.
      The young man’s search for God was done at great sacrifice to himself and to his family and friends. For the singleness of his task caused him to withdraw from normal social and family interactions. The young man was so sure of what he was doing that he actually felt others should be helping him and joining him in his labor of building the tower.
      Much time passed and the young man’s tower was so high that the top of it could not be seen by the people below. The young man became very weary from his labor and from the calling for God from the top of his tower.
      Finally the young man decided to complete his tower upon reaching its next level. The young man climbed to the top of his tower and with every strength of his being yelled, “God, God, Where Are You?
      And God answered…HERE!
      “Where? Where?”… the young man replied, looking up.
      And God answered…Down here among the people.

      Individuals build many types of towers to find God, or a different reality. Some take drugs, achieve academic heights, others seek power, and some immerse themselves in religious doctrine, rites, and customs. Any of these taken to an extreme will alienate and cause a person to withdraw from the main stream of where the people are.
      The reality of our current existence encompasses physical, social, and spiritual elements. To fulfill the measure of our current creation we must learn to function within all these basic environments somewhat equally. We should not become so obsessed with one element of any single aspect of these environments that it causes us to isolate and limit us from experiencing the true purpose of our current reality.
      There is no question that we are functioning on a physical plane in this reality. I am sure there are existences in our past or future which are based on a more spiritual plane, but, that is there and not here and now.
      It is assumed by some that God lives and functions strictly on a spiritual plane and that He wants us to try and live on that plane while we are in this physical plane. Who says so? Certainly there are stresses involved in trying to live outside our natures.
      I like the well known passage of Ecclesiastes 3:1-5..

      “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose
      under the heaven…a time to be born…a time to die…a time to
      cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together…a time to
      embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…”

      We do have the ability to recognize eternal truths of past and future realities. Having this knowledge does not mean that we have to try and live it in our current reality. To do so could cause us to function “out of season” and to “embrace” that which we should “refrain from embracing”.
      The purpose of our current reality is to experience physical life, to learn through joy and sorrow, and how to give service to others. It is not our purpose to isolate ourselves by building scientific or spiritual towers away from the people…or away from our current reality.


  5. I think that the problem on debating religious and scientific cosmology in the USA is rooted is not science policy problem itself, I mean the key is the debate in the arena of the political system. Traditionally the american political institutions have been de jure build on religious arguments, but the facto policies used to be pragmatic and secular. Nowadays however, after 11/09, there has been a turn in the conservative political discourse related not only with fear but also with the retourn of a conservative religious discourse, this will impact several policies like criminal definitions, education, and indeed science and space policy. BR. Joel


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