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Topic: The Evolution Of Creationism - PART II
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
The Evolution Of Creationism - PART II
Posted: Feb 2, 2005 2:20 PM
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From Rethinking Schools, Winter, 1997/98, Volume 12, Number 2, See
On the Rise

"It certainly looks as though it's on the rise," says Eugenie Scott,
executive director of the National Center for Science Education,
which advocates the teaching of evolution and opposes allowing
creationism in schools. "I think the increase can be largely
attributed to religious conservatives getting elected to school
boards," she says. "It only takes one or two creationists on a school
board to generate significant controversy, especially if the science
curriculum undergoes periodic review."

Religious right groups like the Christian Coalition and Citizens for
Excellence in Education have pushed hard to get right-wing Christians
elected to local school boards in recent years. That's because
school-board elections often elicit jaw-droppingly low voter turnout,
making it easier for a small but motivated faction to elect its
hand-picked candidate. School boards are also attractive to
right-wingers because board members have -- or at least appear to
have -- tremendous influence over what can and can't be taught in a
community's schools.

Right-wing political activists also got a tremendous boost in 1994,
when an electorate disenchanted with Bill Clinton voted an
unprecedented number of Republicans into state-level and local
offices. The legislatures in many states slid rightward literally
overnight. Today, right-wing lawmakers are carrying out attacks on
public education on numerous fronts, with an eye toward pushing a
fundamentalist political agenda -- regardless of the wishes of most
parents, teachers, and educators -- and eroding the separation of
church and state that has long been the hallmark of public schools.
In addition to creationism, major battles are being waged around the
country on such issues as school prayer, school-sponsored religious
activity, so-called "parental-rights initiatives," sex education, and
vouchers. Carole Shields, president of People for the American Way,
has called these attacks on public education "one element of the
Right's attack on the fundamental institutions and values of American
society. In attacking the schools, the Right is taking aim at the
fundamental notion of opportunity for all. ... What better way to
deny real opportunity could be devised than to hamper the
institutions that furnish children with an education?"

Examples of creationists trying to use their political might to foist
their religious beliefs on public schools include:

* In Vista, California in 1992, voters elected a school board member
who was also an accountant for the Institute for Creation Research.
After the district's teachers rejected his suggestion to use the
creationist book "Of Pandas and People" as a science textbook (see
the related article for more on this book), he began advocating that
teachers teach "weaknesses in evolution" whenever evolution was
taught. Eventually, the board member and two others who had
consistently voted with him on such issues were recalled.

* In Alabama in 1995, the state school board voted 6-1 in favor of a
inserting a disclaimer into biology textbooks. Written by the
right-wing Eagle Forum, it reads in part: "This textbook discusses
evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a
scientific explanation for the origin of living things. ... No one
was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any
statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not
fact." According to People for the American Way, Alabama Governor Fob
James, who is president of the state school board, urged the board to
accept the motion, saying: "If one wanted to know something about the
origin of life you might want to look at Genesis and you can get the
whole story, period." James also used his discretionary funds to
purchase and send more than 900 copies of "Darwin on Trial," a
creationist book, to all biology teachers in the state.

* In Hall County, Georgia in 1996, the school board adopted a
resolution directing the textbook and curriculum committee to include
materials in the science curriculum that explain and discuss
creationism. The board rescinded this resolution after the state
attorney general warned that this would be unconstitutional.

* In Tennessee in 1996, the Senate and House education committees
both approved a bill that would have allowed schools to fire any
teacher who presented evolution as a fact. A Senate amendment
"defined" evolution as an "unproven belief that random, undirected
forces produced a world of living things." Debate over the bill
continued for months, despite an opinion issued by the state attorney
general saying that the bill was unconstitutional. It was finally
voted down by the Legislature.

Wesley Roberts, an ecology and environmental sciences teacher in
Nashville, got himself -- and his students -- involved in the
struggle to kill the Tennessee bill. He attended several sessions of
the Legislature during the debates, sometimes bringing students from
his school with him. "I think they (the students) were smart enough
to realize that their teachers were about to be censored," he says,
"and regardless of their position on creation and evolution, they did
not like that at all." The students "definitely had an impact on the
debate," he says. "The media were all over them, interviewing them.
They loved getting sound bites from angry kids and plastering them
all over TV and the newspaper."

While the rejection of the bill was "a real victory," Roberts says,
it will take much more to really pave the way for evolution to be
taught in Tennessee. Many teachers, mindful of all the ill will
focused on evolution for so long, "won't even mention it in class,"
he says. Even students in his advanced-placement environmental
science class "have very rarely had any instruction in evolution." In
fact, in a class Roberts teaches at a nearby college, "I always ask
my students how much instruction they've had in evolution, and it's
always the case that if they've had it, they went to a private school
or they're from the North," he says.

This "chilling effect" stifles teachers all across the country, North
as well as South. Even when creationists seem to lose a struggle, as
in Tennessee, the controversy they generate can leave teachers wary
to so much as mention evolution to their students. "There's a
tendency for teachers to be noncombative," says Scott of the National
Center for Science Education. "Generally teachers are not looking for
a fight. ... If they perceive that a subject is going to get them in
trouble, they may very well decide to just steer clear."

The Evolution of Creationism

Despite suffering some political and judicial setbacks,
anti-evolutionists are not about to give up applying that pressure.
Leaders of the creationist movement have been industrious and
relatively skillful about repackaging and reintroducing their beliefs.

Take, for example, the creationists' response to the 1987 U.S.
Supreme Court decision, known as Edwards v. Aguillar, which struck
down the Louisiana law requiring teachers to give equal time to
"creation science" whenever they taught evolution. The late Justice
William Brennan, writing the majority opinion, made it clear that
"creation science" wasn't science at all, but an endorsement of
faith-based religious belief. He also rejected the idea that the
Louisiana law was promoting "a basic concept of fairness" by
requiring that both evolution and creation science be taught.
"Instead," he wrote, "this Act has the distinctly different purpose
of discrediting evolution by counter-balancing its teaching at every
turn with the teaching of creationism."

Brennan delivered a powerful rhetorical blow against
anti-evolutionists. But deep in his 3,800-word opinion, creationists
found a single sentence that gave them something they could build on.
Brennan had written: "Teaching a variety of scientific theories about
the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with
the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science
instruction." And in the dissenting opinion by Justice Antonin
Scalia, they found another useful phrase: "The people of Louisiana,
including those who are Christian fundamentalists, are quite
entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence
there may be against evolution presented in their schools ..."

These two statements set the stage for the two most current versions
of creationism: the so-called "theory of intelligent design" and the
efforts to inject "scientific evidence against evolution" into school
curricula. Both are perhaps best exemplified by the creationist
pseudo-textbook "Of Pandas and People." Similar reasoning lurks
behind the many efforts to slap disclaimers on science textbooks,
reminding students that evolution is "only a theory" and not fact.
This is a serious misuse of the scientific meaning of "theory,"
making it sound like a synonym for "guess" or "hunch." In fact,
according to the National Association of Biology Teachers, "a
(scientific) theory is not a guess or an approximation, but an
extensive explanation developed from well-documented, reproducible
sets of experimentally derived data from repeated observations of
natural processes." In other words, just because the theory of
evolution is subject to continued testing and examination in light of
new evidence doesn't make it untrue.

The reasons behind such attacks on evolution are obvious, according
to a statement written by Rob Boston, a spokesman for the group
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "They're
shifting their attacks by trying to water down the teaching of
evolution--put doubts in children's minds. They figure that if they
can't get creationism taught in public schools, then the next best
thing is to take the instruction about evolution and undercut it."
Leon Lynn is an education journalist in Milwaukee.
Jerry P. Becker
Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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