Evolution in Fiction - August 2006
by Do-While Jones

Michener’s Space

After nearly a quarter of a century, it is a good time to re-examine James Michener’s observations about the interactions between science, religion, and politics.

In 1982, James Michener published an excellent novel about the lives of some fictional scientists, astronauts, and politicians. Except for a few real people, including Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, and Werner von Braun, the characters are Michener’s creations, allowing him to examine the United States space program from various points of view. He begins with the capture of German rocket scientists in the closing days of World War II, and takes us right up to 1982.

Since I lived through that period of time, and was personally involved in the space program to a small degree in my work, and had far too much involvement with the politics of science in the later part of that period of time, it brought back many memories to me. Michener accurately captured the spirit of the time. As I was re-reading it on an airplane, remembering what I was feeling 37 years ago when man first walked on the moon, I sadly realized that the 20-something kid sitting next to me didn’t have any of those memories. Space should be required reading in high school.

Having said that, we must point out that, in the closing chapters of the book, where he brings in the impact of creationism on science, he does not present the creationist point of view accurately. He does, however, accurately present how the creationist point of view was widely misunderstood in the 1980’s. His creationist character, Strabismus, is a charlatan who has given up selling bogus college degrees and UFO pamphlets to become a TV evangelist because there is more money in religion than science. Although creationists are likely to be offended by his characterization of them, it is important for creationists to see themselves through critical eyes.

The primary reason for bringing up this novel is that Michener so excellently captures the irrational fears of evolutionists. Here is the context for this excerpt. There is a German rocket scientist, Dieter, and his wife, who were captured at the end of the war. They were brought to the United States to help the Americans beat the Russians into space. They have very traditional German values, including an exceptionally high regard for science education. They have a grandson who was born in the United States, and they want him to have the best science education possible. Dieter is talking to Rachel, the wife of an American scientist, asking for advice.

“The problem is this. Magnus [their son] lives here in Huntsville, and young Werner—named after Von Braun, as you might guess—well, the boy’s old enough for serious studies now and Magnus thinks we must send him to Germany for his education. So do I and Liesl. What’s your opinion? …

“Why? For a very good reason, Rachel. There’s a fierce movement in Alabama to stop the teaching of evolution, geology, everything in science. A minister named Strabismus is leading a crusade and all decent teaching must stop. I think no boy of promise should be denied access to the full range of science. How could Von Braun have invented the rocket if—”

She [Rachel] broke in: “Dieter, send your grandson to Germany immediately. If America insists on retreating to the dark ages, we may have to educate our brightest children in China and Germany. Sneak them out to discover the real world, then sneak them back in to keep learning alive.” 1

This is the scare tactic still used by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Center for Science Education today. Michener goes on to develop the idea that “man can absorb only so much abstract science, after which he reverts to a kind of childhood simplicity in which he rejects everything.” 2 Allegedly, creationists are really just simple people who are incapable of living in a modern scientific world, so they stick their heads in the sand and pretend science doesn’t exist. Evolution is just the beginning. If creationists have their way, all science will be removed from the public school curriculum.

That’s not an accurate view of what creationists believe, but it is an accurate view of what the AAAS and NCSE say that creationists believe.

Presumably, when Rachel interrupted Dieter he was about to say, “How could Von Braun have invented the rocket if he had been a Christian and believed that creationist nonsense?” But if the fictional Dieter Kolff really had worked with Von Braun on the V2 rocket and stayed in touch with him when both came to America, he would have known that Von Braun was a Lutheran who wrote a letter to the California State Board of Education on September 14, 1972, urging the teaching of creation in the public schools! 3

Later, Stanley joins the conversation.

“Dieter, I think Rachel gave bad advice. I see no reason to send your son to Germany. America is a free republic and its citizens are allowed to do any crazy thing they want. Like trying to rescind geology.”

“How do we refute such nonsense?”

“With data. With logic. With new developments. We protect science with science. Just as we protect faith with faith.”

“But they are starting to pass laws, Stanley. Our Werner will not be allowed to learn the truth.”

“They pass laws, and then we knock them out, and they aren’t laws any longer. I have great faith in this nation.” 4

The irony is that the situation is reversed today. It is the evolutionists who are using the legal system to censor the truth, and the creationists who are refuting nonsense with data and logic.

Michener makes a keen observation about control of textbooks. The creationist character says,

“You’ve lost your battle, Dr. Mott. And we’ve won. Regardless of how the referendum goes next month in Fremont—I mean, even if your forces of evil do revoke our law forbidding evolution—we’ve won the battle. Why? Because our people dominate the committees that select schoolbooks for California and Texas, and what the big states do, the little ones have to follow. Atheistic science is being driven right out of our textbooks. Soon you won’t dare show a fossil or dinosaur, and you won’t be able to preach your atheistic evolution. So what does it matter what a state like New Mexico does? The corrupt New York publishers must print their books for sale in California and Texas, and that means they have to print them according to what we say. Your kind of science is dead in these two states, which automatically makes it dead in New Mexico and Vermont, too.5

What appears in textbooks isn’t determined by science. It is determined by politics and market forces. Michener was right about that. What Michener didn’t see was the home school revolt against the political censorship of the science curriculum, and the resulting market for creationist science books.

Michener was wrong when he thought that creationist science books would not mention dinosaurs and fossils. By 1982, creationists had generally rejected the silly idea that fossils were put in the rocks by God at creation just to test the faith of Christians, but Michener apparently didn’t know that.

Science books written by evolutionists and creationists generally contain the same facts. The difference is that the evolutionists give evolutionary interpretations of the facts as if they are unquestionably true, but creationist books give the evolutionary interpretations, plus the scientific difficulties with those evolutionary interpretations, plus other interpretations. Evolutionists argue that it is “confusing” to present both sides of the issue. We feel that students who have learned from creationist science books have an advantage over students who have only heard the limited evolutionary interpretations.

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Footnotes:

1 Michener, Space, 1982, page 734 (Ev-)
2 ibid. page 774
3 Lamont, 21 Great Scientists Who Believed the Bible, pages 250-251 (Cr+)
4 Michener, Space, 1982, page 735
5 ibid. page 757