Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Evolution and me: a personal story (part 1)

Part 1: The infusion of creationism

I was never taught evolution in school. Not once in my school career did I read the word 'evolution' in a textbook; not once did I hear it formally mentioned in any Biology lesson. Although it was taught in a few South African schools during the 1980s and 1990s, evolution did not feature in the official syllabus. After all, within apartheid's Christian National Education system, religiously controversial topics were often ignored.

But the creation account in Genesis, although not taught in Biology, was covered in Bible Study classes that were compulsory for all students at the time. It was also widely accepted by many of the teachers who taught me; I grew up in a relatively conservative town, and most of my teachers held conservative views. I still remember our Grade 7 Geography teacher telling us that the theory of continental drift could not be true because it contradicted Genesis. So as a child I believed in the seven day creation account, simply because that's the only account that I was ever exposed to.

The only time I remember evolution being discussed in school was during a Grade 12 Biology lesson in which the teacher declared her belief that microevolution occurred, but that macroevolution was impossible. She also went on to say that Darwin, on his deathbed, had whispered, with his last breath, that his theory was wrong and had been a mistake (this myth is known as the Lady Hope Story).

And we believed her. After all, she was an excellent teacher, and despite her stand regarding evolution, she encouraged me, and many other students, to excel in Biology as a subject. I'm grateful to her because she sparked my initial interest in the life sciences. As I think back now to that day in class, I find it a pity, for if she believed differently she would have done a sterling job at teaching the fundamentals of natural selection.

So I knew very little about evolution. All that I believed was some truth and plenty of myth: that Charles Darwin was the one who proposed the idea, that he said that we had descended from apes (another common myth), and as a result God could not exist. Evolution as a subject was seldom discussed, and as a result opinions were based largely on hearsay. As a result, evolution was grossly misunderstood.

And as with any subject that is not well understood and seldom talked about, evolution often induced fear in many people. Evolution, within the context of the particular environment I grew up in, was seen as a threat, an attempt to discredit the church and God.

And I was soon to become a victim of this fear . . .

Next post: The first sparks of realisation
Return to the table of contents for
Evolution and Me


Skywirelynx said...

Kevin, I'm looking forward to reading your story as it unfolds. Part 1 sounds a lot like my own part 1, in New Hampshire, USA 25 years ago.

I admire you for taking the time and effort of your stated documentary intent. I haven't decided yet to take the time to write out my own reasons; this takes more time and effort and discipline than I currently have the desire to commit in light of other demands on my time.

I have linked your blog to mine, which is quite new.


Steve Hayes said...

Interesting how different things can be growing up in the same country.

I have no idea when I first heard about evolution. Perhaps it was when my atheist father read me bedtime stories from his biology text books at the age of 4 or 5 -- stories about sea urchins and liver flukes, which back then I called "nunu flukes".

But I went to a church school (rather than a Christian National Education one). Biology wasn't taught as a subject, but we did discuss evolution in "Scripture" and geography lessons, which were taught by evangelical Christian teachers. I don't remember any of them dissing it, though, or saying that it was contrary to scripture.

They encouraged discussion on it and debate in the school debating club.

Just more evidence that Christian National Education was neither Christian, not national, nor education.

Anonymous said...


Even though I firmly believe in the historical, biblical account of creation, I appreciate much of what you had to share in this post. It has not been to the advantage of creationists to simply promote any rumor or untested "fact" that may advance their cause (such as the "Lady Hope" account). Unproven "jabs" such as this on either side of the debate is intellectually distasteful, and I believe it has largely contributed to the commonly-held perception that creationists are scientifically ignorant. Thanks for pointing out some bad practices that, in my view, need to be stopped.


Kevin Parry said...

Hi John!

Thank you for your comment, and welcome to my blog!

Steve Hayes wrote:
Just more evidence that Christian National Education was neither Christian, not national, nor education.

I totally second that. I often think that the sole aim of the white education system during apartheid was not to nurture good citizens, but to ‘train’ white students to defend the apartheid system, through thought or through deed (e.g., to fight on the border). Only recently I've realised how twisted that educational system was, and how much damage it has caused.

Phil wrote
It has not been to the advantage of creationists to simply promote any rumor or untested "fact" that may advance their cause

Good comment, Phil. But creationists are not the only ones who sometimes spread rumour and myth to advance their cause. Some evolutionists are also guilty (much myth surrounds the famous 1860 debate between Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce, for example).