A Young-Earth Creationist Fieldtrip: An Example of Cultic Religious Indoctrination and NOT Learning
Kevin R. Henke, Ph.D.
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Most science instructors recognize that fieldtrips and museum visits provide useful contributions to the learning experience. Young-Earth creationist (YEC) Steve Deckard and his colleagues at the 'Institute' for Creation 'Research' (ICR) also advocate fieldtrips. However, religious indoctrination is a critical part of their trips. Deckard et al. state:
'Since the natural mind is "always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Timothy 3:7) hands-on, minds-on learning is incomplete. The authors believe that coming to the knowledge of the truth involves a third component which we will call "hearts-on"...[references omitted]'
As an example of their approach to 'learning', Deckard et al. describe an ICR fieldtrip to the Torrey Pines State Reserve in California, USA. They further describe the 'theme' of the ICR fieldtrip:
'The ICR scientific creationist tenets containing elements related to the concepts to be presented during the field trip were selected as the starting point and unifying theme for planning the field trip...[references omitted] These were incorporated into the field trip manual.'
'The Torrey Pine was used to illustrate tenet number seven which states that life has "somehow been impaired since the completion of creation, so that imperfections in structure, disease, aging, extinctions, and other such phenomena are the result of 'negative' changes in properties and processes occurring in an originally perfect created order." Imperfections were shown by observing the Torrey Pine in various states of decay.'
Deckard et al. also discuss how observations on the fieldtrip were used to reinforce ICR doctrines:
'Students noted many signs of massive bark beetle damage and wind destruction and discussed a Scriptural analogy related to their spiritual walk. The analogy compared healthy Torrey Pines to a Christian's spiritual life. Torrey Pines have the ability to expel bark beetles as long as they can produce adequate pressure in their sap. Drought conditions over a period of time hinder their ability to defend themselves against the onslaught of enemy beetles. Like the pine tree, Christians remain spiritually healthy when they are nourished by the source of living water (Jesus Christ) but become vulnerable to attack by the enemy when in a spiritual drought.'
Certainly, the human imagination is able to derive all kinds of ideas from ordinary observations. But, are these 'lessons' real and are the analogies appropriate? The great naturalists of the past, including Darwin, made observations of nature and looked for natural explanations for the observations. This is good science. In contrast, ICR personnel take their dogma (the ICR tenets) into the field and selectively look for natural phenomena to defend, amplify and justify it. This is dogmatism at its worst. Nature is so diverse that it can be twisted by the human imagination to support any religious or political doctrine. For example, the cycle of the seasons could be used to promote reincarnation. Destructive hurricanes and other severe storms might be used to validate the existence of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. Droughts might illustrate that the rain god is absent minded and forgot to water the plants. The 'religious' illustrations are infinite and flexible. However, there's not a shred of evidence indicating that subjectively reading religious doctrines into nature makes the doctrines real.
When observing the geology of the park, the ICR participants made the following 'observations':
'During observation of the sedimentary rock layers, a geologic structure called an unconformity was observed. The red pebbly Linda Vista formation lies on top of the Torrey Sandstone with evidence of an erosional surface in between. The standard evolutionary theory is that the Linda Vista was laid down in Early Pleistocene while the Torrey Sandstone is said to be a 40-45 million-year-old Eocene deposit. Thus evolutionists are committed to approximately 40 million years of time being represented by this boundary. The question was asked whether there is evidence at this strata boundary suggesting such a long period of time.'
Interestingly, in this essay, Deckard et al. never answer this question and they never state whether the Linda Vista Formation and the Torrey Sandstone are 'Flood' or 'post-Flood' deposits. Doesn't it occur to YECs that the process of erosion, which produces unconformities, can destroy or prevent the deposition of most of the Tertiary record and still leave a fairly flat surface for the Linda Vista Formation to be deposited on?
YECs often accuse science instructors of using fieldtrips to 'indoctrinate' students into 'evolution.' However, if the chemical, fossil and petrographic evidence testifies to an ancient Earth, why should students be encouraged to reject it? Indeed, early 19th century naturalists knew the Bible, observed nature and most of them honestly recognized that the literal interpretations of Genesis made no sense (Young, 1982, chapters 3-4). On a personal note, I went on a number of fieldtrips to the Canadian Precambrian Shield of Ontario as a geology graduate student. I saw coarse-grained plutons that extended for kilometers. I saw countless layers of lava beds that had been turned on their sides to resemble endless rows of books. I touched gabbros that had obviously formed through a series of distinct injections. I saw ancient sediments that had later been metamorphosed, sometimes by at least two separate events. Supposedly, the YEC god zapped all of these rocks into place during a 'Creation Week' that occurred about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. However, my personal observations of these rocks and their obviously long and complex histories convinced me that young Earth creationism was totally bogus. How could all of these huge plutonic rocks form, cool, uplift, weather, produce sediments, and have those sediments metamorphosed to gneisses in even 20,000 years? During these fieldtrips, my evangelical Christian geology instructor didn't mention his views of Genesis and he didn't have to. The rocks clearly 'spoke' for themselves.
CONCLUSIONSFieldtrips are important in allowing students to have 'hands-on' observations of nature. They also allow students to apply their science classroom experiences to what they see. However, rather than indoctrinating students into any political or religious dogma, science fieldtrip guides should concentrate on science. If students want to derive their own religious and other subjective 'hearts-on learning experiences' from what they see, they can do that on their own without indoctrination from others.
Young, D.A., 1982, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, Zondervan, Grand Rapids.