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A Trojan Horse for Creationism
Posted on Mar 8, 2013
By Zack Kopplin
I watched in shock the summer before my sophomore year of high school as my home state, Louisiana, passed a law that opened the door for the teaching of creationism. I was sure Gov. Bobby Jindal, who majored in biology at Brown University, would veto it. He didn’t. Instead, on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Jindal called intelligent design creationism “the very best science.”
The misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act allows creationism to be sneaked into public school classrooms through “supplemental materials meant to critique” politically controversial theories such as evolution and climate change. Teachers are free from virtually any accountability over what they choose to introduce beyond the standard curriculum.
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was charged with implementing the act. Initially the board, which oversees all public schools in the state, drafted rules that said, “materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes.” Creationists went berserk and managed to get the board to scrap those rules.
The science education act is a crafty law. On its face it appears harmless; it never once mentions creationism or its offshoot, intelligent design. Instead, references to “critical thinking” and “academic freedom” are sprinkled throughout the wording and are used by the law’s defenders.
Everyone agrees that our students should learn how to think critically, but we don’t need a law to do that; teaching critical thinking is the nature of science classes. We don’t need to question evolution and climate change in high school classrooms because they are overwhelmingly supported by scientific evidence. A law is necessary only when one wants to quietly slide creationism and other pseudo-science into the classroom.
Supplemental materials that could be used under the Louisiana law include those that are blatantly creationist and those that raise doubts about evolution and urge students to explore intelligent design.
The science education act and similar pieces of creationism legislation have to be stealthy in order to dodge court rulings. Back in 1987, Louisiana’s first creationism law, the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science, was thrown out by the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard. This ruling made it unconstitutional to teach creationism in public schools.
Proponents of creationism were knocked on their heels after that ruling. How were they going to slip religion into public schools? A creationist think tank called the Discovery Institute was formed to find a way, and it invented intelligent design creationism.
In 2004 the Dover, Pa., school district amended its curriculum to say “students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design.” One year and a million dollars (for the defendants), later, federal Judge John Jones III ruled in Kitzmiller v. Dover that intelligent design “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents” and was thus unconstitutional.
Although proponents were no longer able to openly promote creationism in public schools, they still assaulted evolution. Their next tactic consisted of stealth creationism legislation including the Louisiana act. Creationists pretend they simply want to explore a legitimate scientific controversy, but in reality there is nothing to doubt or debate regarding the theory of evolution.
Despite the use of vague language, the agenda behind academic freedom laws is obvious. The Discovery Institute has a “model academic freedom statute on evolution” off which the Louisiana act and other stealth creationism laws are based. The powerful religious right group Louisiana Family Forum is the only notable backer of the science act in the state (its voter guides highlight the law as an issue). Ben Nevers, a Louisiana state senator and sponsor of the act, revealed its true purpose to the public. “They [the Louisiana Family Forum] believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin’s theory,” he explained. “… I feel the students should know there are weaknesses and strengths in both [evolution and creationism] scientific arguments.”
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