Georgia Southern University has a history professor teaching creationism. This is absurd; no serious academic in any discipline should be misinforming students about the state of knowledge today. That Emerson McMullen is in a history, rather than biology, department, is no excuse at all — I should think that we ought to defer to a significant degree to our colleagues’ expertise, so McMullen ought to be paying attention to what more knowledgeable people are saying, and striving to give his students better representation of what we actually know.
What he’s doing is the equivalent of me using a cell biology lecture to preach holocaust denial at my students. It’s not only factually wrong, but it’s a misuse of class time. Really, I don’t teach atheism, for instance, in any of my classes, because that’s not what my responsibilities in that class entail. Similarly, I don’t rant about Republicans, MRAs, goofy alien conspiracy theories, or how beautiful squid are, even when my opinions on those subjects are totally correct, because, as I’m supposed to do this afternoon, I’m lecturing on cell cycle regulation. Does Dr McMullen have so little interest or knowledge about the subjects assigned to his class that he can’t even focus on them for an hour?
There are good reasons to teach creationism in a history class — just as there are good reasons to teach about holocaust denial in a history class. These things happened and are happening. I can point to Ron Numbers as an excellent example of how to properly teach the history of religious thought in a secular and fact based way, and it’s also easy to see that he has a lot of expertise in the history of the subject.
But this McMullen character knows nothing about the biology.
For example, one essay question asked students toDiscuss the pros and cons of Darwin’s idea of evolution,and McMullen’s suggested reply was,Darwin had no proof of evolution, only of adaptation (basically, change within a being’s genetic code). There was (and is) no solid evidence for descent from a common ancestor, and for the multitude of predicted transitional forms from one species to another.
That’s a fine question, especially for a history class — I’ve asked similar questions on exams in my introductory biology and genetics classes (which do have a significant historical component). The biggest, most obvious flaw in Darwin’s theory, which he recognized and struggled with, was that he had no theory of inheritance at first, and later came up with an incorrect hypothesis. So it’s really bizarre to come up with the claim that the guy with no theory of genetics could “only” explain “change within a being’s genetic code”. He had no knowledge of genetics, but one thing he did have was evidence for common descent, and also for transitional forms!
I would have expected a history professor to bring up historical issues: the conflict between evolution and blending inheritance, brought up by Fleeming Jenkin; the dead-end of recapitulation theory, and how Haeckel led developmental biologists into a reaction against evolution; the eclipse of Darwinism, the doldrums the field fell into until the discovery of a useful theory of inheritance revitalized it. I could easily write pages of stuff about the problems with Darwin’s theory.
Of course, I could also write pages of stuff off the top of my head about how Mendelian genetics answered most of the problems (Not all! We’re still wrestling with that.)
But McMullen’s answer tells me that he really isn’t competent to be teaching that material, and that he’s just parroting modern creationist nonsense. I would hope that GSU would recognize that they’ve got a serious problem and correct it.