It’s been a while since my last Terry Pratchett reference, so I feel the need to get back on track. In the “Science of Discworld” books, Terry Pratchett, Jack Cohen, and Ian Stewart put a forward a concept they call “lies to children.” Basically, these are simplified stories we tell – and not just to children – when we want to begin to explain something, but feel that our audience doesn’t have the background information necessary to understand the “full” story. These can be anything from “the stork brought you” to “Columbus wanted to prove that the Earth was round” to “atoms look like little solar systems” to “evolution is the survival of the fittest.”
These little white lies have their function, and some of them actually push us on to further study, driving us along a path that leads to better and better answers. Sometimes, though, we never get beyond the “lies to children” stage, and sometimes there’s somebody with a vested interest in making sure nobody ever does.
Take history, for example. My son is going into eleventh grade next year in Westport, Connecticut, a town with a pretty good school system. No student graduates from Staples High School without getting a pretty solid dose of evolution with natural selection. There are plenty of AP classes, eckcetra (as Granny Weatherwax would say), and on and on. But looking at the offerings in history, there are some places even Westport won’t go. Want to study American or European history? No problem. Anthropology? Sure. What if a student were interested in what was actually going on in biblical times, from an archaeological standpoint? Forget it. Not gonna happen.
No school system in this country will touch biblical archaeology with a 10-foot pole. Now, schools can’t cover everything, but some areas are just off limits. Especially those areas in which one of our major religions has been teaching a serious set of “lies to children.”
What in the old testament is corroborated by non-biblical sources? Parting of the Red Sea? The burning bush? The Babylonian exile? The history of the Kingdom’s of Israel and Judea? The list goes on. New Testament, too.
It’s not like that part of the world wasn’t interesting in those times. Cradle of civilization and all that, you know. Personally, I find the whole subject pretty fascinating, but not because I learned about it in school. I studied it on my own, much later.
I’ve been accused of making a big deal out of nothing in the past, and I can certainly see how I could be accused of that here. My problem is this: there’s a group of people who don’t want these things discussed outside of a religious setting, because they want to control how people think about them. Because of this, our public schools consider the very topic to be completely off limits. Many religionists would go ballistic if their historical ‘truths’ were examined in any way other than as revealed biblical knowledge – and at least the public schools aren’t teaching THAT stuff. So we all miss out on a big piece of history, and grow up into adults knowing only the lies for children.
I mean, if religions were so sure that they had the absolute truth, why would they be afraid to allow us to examine the real record? I know, I know, don’t get me started. But once again, inquiry and truth are the victims of small-minded fear, and this time it’s been done in such an insidious way that we hardly notice. Why can’t we pull that off for science?