Looking back to my childhood, Texas in the late 1950’s and 1960’s seems downright progressive compared to Kansas, Louisiana, and other hotbeds of modern creationism. It’s not that Genesis wasn’t taught in the Baptist Sunday school I attended, but I don’t remember anyone teaching it as literal fact.
Likewise in school, where I already knew about Charles Darwin and natural selection before a classmate in ninth-grade biology brought the teacher a tract claiming that the archerfish disproves evolution. One wall of my bedroom was aquariums, and I had even kept an archerfish for a while. Encountering someone so ignorant of nature as to not see what to me were obvious relationships among living things was deeply disturbing.
Over time, I encountered more and more creationists, from my best friend in 12th grade (“fossils are just funny-shaped rocks made by the Devil”) to university classmates who tried to evangelize during Comparative Anatomy labs. Still, it’s difficult for me to understand how, in the 21st century, we are fighting escalating battles to keep religion – and willful ignorance – out of science classrooms.
As an environmental educator and lifelong outdoor enthusiast, I have to wonder if the rise in creationism and denial of evolution over the last few decades is related to “nature deficit disorder.” I had the privilege of growing up with both domestic and wild animals in the house and spending time outdoors birding, fishing, chasing lizards, and collecting fossils, all of which contributed to my understanding of the relationships among living things. Surely if we could give more children opportunities to experience nature first hand, many more might learn to think for themselves and come to appreciate that all organisms are members of our extended family.
To that end, I propose that each of us honor Charles Darwin’s memory by taking a child out into nature, to experience the exuberant diversity and interconnectedness of life. Let’s call it Project Sandwalk, after the “thinking path” behind Darwin’s home.