I sympathize with US scientists who are frustrated with the level of ignorance in our country regarding Evolution. However, they need to be aware that Evangelical preachers and conservatives are not their only problem. A number of liberals, particularly secular professors and teachers, are contributing to the problem with their presentation of ancient history.
I was dumbfounded when one of my favorite professors presented Genesis in a lecture about Bronze Age Mesopotamia. The paper topic assignment for the lecture was to compare the creation stories in Genesis and the Babylonian Enuma Elish. I was so shocked by the lecture and assignment that I scheduled a conference with the professor. I took issue with the presentation of Genesis because it did not address the most obvious difference between the two creation stories: Enuma Elish was written about 1400 BCE and one recent critical analysis of Genesis dates the book to the 1st century BCE. Even the most extreme maximalists date the composition of Genesis to the Persian period, about 500-400 BCE. Although some claim that the Old Testament corpus was first compiled during the reign of Hezekiah (7th century BCE) everyone agrees that the books were edited well through the Hellenistic Period.
I was really surprised that this issue of time was omitted from the discussion of Genesis because the same professor addressed dating as the central issue about the Iliad in another course. In that course, the Iliad was discussed in relation to archaeological material, art styles, and discussed the basics of interpreting primary sources. Both of the courses I took with that professor were lower division courses which satisfied critical thinking requirements. Lower division history, archaeology, and art history courses satisfy critical thinking requirements primarily because they address issues about time. In all the fields relevant to ancient history, dating material is the most fundamental exercise for developing critical thinking skills. The first rule of historical research is to “know thy author” by answering when, where, who, what, and why about primary sources. “When” is the most important question because it is essential for answering the other four questions. In Archaeology, the first lesson is about dating an archaeological layer. The greatest value of Art History is that dating artistic styles helps date archaeological layers. So, leaving the time issue out of a discussion of Genesis in comparison to Enuma Elish was a major omission.
When I questioned the professor, the answer was very disappointing. The professor said that the issue of time was not discussed because religious objectors disrupted the class. The course was not only geared towards the dumbest kid class; but, to the most religious. Only the most fundamentalist religious believer would object to dating Genesis to the Persian Period. Most mainstream Christians and Jews accept the maximalist dating of the Bible. This professor was not only unwilling to discuss my preferred dating to the Hellenistic-Roman periods; but, not even the maximalist view.
Professors in fields relevant to ancient history are in tough shape in the US. Many universities now only want to hire part-time adjunct professors. Even those who land a full time position are not paid very well. Degrees in these fields are almost synonymous with unemployment. Most professors simply cannot afford to be labeled controversial or discriminating against religious believers. Add to this that most people who pursue degrees relevant specifically to the history of Israel usually are religious and/or Zionist. It is because of those dynamics that the maximalist dating of the Old Testament is the most accepted in the US and the minimalist dating is more accepted in Europe.
A terrible thing happens when the issue of time is avoided in the comparison between the Enuma Elish and Genesis. Without the time factor, the explanation of the differences between the two stories becomes racist and overtly religious. Without time, Enuma Elish is the product of a Babylonian polytheist and the Genesis author becomes a monotheistic Jew. These descriptions become associated with static ethnic identities which lend credence to Christian and Jewish notions that the Bible is a superior book. The dynamic qualities of cultural evolution are lost and the Bible appears as an anomaly in cultural landscape of West Asia. Never mind that monotheism was a widespread theory during the Hellenistic period, when Genesis was most likely written. Never mind that Enuma Elish was not really a creation story, as much as it described the rise of the Storm God to the head of the Babylonian pantheon, when chariot warfare technology was spreading across West Asia. Never mind that West Asians only began to develop ethnic identities during the Persian period and racism is a recent development in human culture. Never mind, because the racist description makes religious people happy.
Scientists: your problem with Genesis is not merely that Creationists are out to destroy Evolutionary science. Down the hall from the science department, the humanities department is refusing to teach students critical thinking skills.
Diana Agorio is the author of Sex Rites: the Origins of Christianity, available on Amazon.