Columnists > From the Publisher

The propaganda rolls on

American children are victims of a false kind of science

Issue: "Missionary hostages," Feb. 20, 1998

You may well already have seen the pyramid-shaped diagram reproduced below. If you're a reader of Time magazine, perhaps you saw it there in the January 19 issue. If you're a younger reader, you may also have seen it in Time for Kids, an educational mini-magazine that goes every week to 1.3 million children in schools and at home across the country. Or if you are younger still, you may have seen the diagram in Time for Kids, Primary Edition-although it may surprise you that the publishers of Time are throwing such complex material at first-grade students.

Wherever you saw it, you were being shamelessly propagandized. And so were the children who saw it in their classroom publications.

The chart purportedly spells out the effect of the "reintroduction" of wild gray wolves three years ago in Yellowstone National Park. "They've had a big effect on other animals and plants," the writers confidently announce. The swooping yellow arrows point to animals that are being killed by the wolves-something pronounced as "good" by the somehow omniscient park managers. The swooping red arrows point to animals and plants that are now supposedly thriving because of the chain of events set off by the arrival of 90 wolves.

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In authoritative science-book-style prose, the chart explains that since the wolves are killing off the coyotes, the rodent population is now growing enough to feed predators like owls and foxes. The wolves' destruction of moose and elk similarly leaves "leftovers" for scavenging bears, ravens, magpies, ermine, and carrion beetles. The absence of the elk helps the willow tree population-along with beavers who like to eat the willow trees.

Left unexplained are details like why it's better for squirrels to be eaten by foxes than by coyotes, or what the net willow tree population is after having been saved from the elk but eaten by the beavers. But apart from such minor gaps in an awesomely sweeping presentation, two major reservations should be noted. Both have to do with shameless pretense.

Time's editors are pretending first when they act as if it were scientifically possible to know with certainty all the "facts" presented here. Populations of wild animals, especially those with migratory habits, are not easy to track. But to pretend that the populations are not only known-but that the specific reasons for the shifts are also clearly identified-is to ignore all other environmental effects, such as weather, human interaction, forest fires, etc. Especially since it's been less than three years since the wolves arrived, it is far too early to claim with certainty most of the "facts" charted in the Time piece.

The second pretense builds on the first. It suggests (and especially so to impressionable children) that human beings can calculate with unusual precision the effects of their tinkering with nature. In other words, it suggests the kind of omniscience that really belongs only to God himself. That is what's most repugnant about the Time presentation.

Of course, we humans have not just the right, but a responsibility, to seek appropriate balance in a creation devastated by the Fall and by continuing human fallenness. But the Time chart is in fact a piece of pseudo-science, much like the propagandistic presentations used for the last couple of generations to bolster the "science" of evolution. "Facts" that have never been verified are offered in all the trappings of laboratory evidence. And the human capacity to oversee terribly complex processes in nature is vastly overstated.

Christian children need to be taught how to identify such slick put-ons. Christian adults also need to sharpen their own critical skills so they're alert when such smug falsity comes down the pike masquerading as truth. It's one more reason the publishers of WORLD also sponsor a series of publications for children which, like WORLD, start with theistic assumptions about everything-including wolves at Yellowstone. About 300,000 children read these God-centered papers every week. If you haven't seen copies, write me for sample copies.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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