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2012 Archives

Letters: On religious conservatives' view of history


The following letter by SMU Anthropology Professor Ron Wetherington is from the January 7, 2012, edition of The Economist and concerns a story it published titled "Religion in America: The faith (and doubts) of our fathers." Wetherington is the author of Readings in the History of Evolutionary Theory.

January 13, 2012

SIR – It is true that religious conservatives see history as a “sacred narrative”, but the interest of these revisionists is not history. It is instead a much broader attempt to realign facts to comport with ideology. This attempt threads its way into all aspects of public education in Texas. In 2009 the battle at the board of education was school science. As one of six appointed experts chosen to evaluate proposed revisions drafted by teams of science teachers, I found myself in a constant fight to preserve scientific accuracy in a heated debate about the teaching of evolution.
The objections to evolution, it turned out, had little to do with the science behind the theory, but were instead focused on the incompatibility of evolutionary and biblical narratives. Since law forbids the teaching of creationism (intelligent design) in schools, the opponents of evolution, like the opponents of standard American history, resorted to attempts to reinterpret the evidence and the arguments, respectively, in order to challenge the validity of the former and rationality of the latter.
Fortunately for good science, the Democrats and moderate Republicans on the board largely forestalled that effort, and the resulting standards retained, for the most part, scientific integrity. But it is a constant battle in Texas, as elsewhere in a country with a rising evangelical fervour that favours ideology over reality whenever the two conflict. To paraphrase a favourite saying, all narratives are true; some of them actually happened.
Ronald Wetherington
Centre for Teaching Excellence
Southern Methodist University