Evolution is the linchpin of modern biology. Young people who don’t understand it are missing out on an entire range of educational and career opportunities. Certain professional fields can be closed off to them.
Despite this, some public schools in America do all they can to avoid teaching evolution. Thanks to constant pressure from the Religious Right, many public schools are battlegrounds in a culture war that does great damage to our nation’s scientific credibility as creationists work overtime to slip their ideas into the curriculum.
Federal courts have been clear: Creationism is theology grounded in a literal reading of the Bible, not science. It has no place in public school science classes, and inserting it into the schools is unconstitutional.
But despite a string of courtroom defeats, the creationists will not be stopped. They keep repackaging their ideas and trying again. Ironically, their strategies seem to evolve.
Here is a roundup of the latest ploys creationists are using to replace sound science with biblical fundamentalism.
1. Pretending to teach kids “critical thinking” skills: A spate of bills appeared in states this year that purported to help guide public school teachers in helping students apply “critical thinking” to select “controversies.” Not surprisingly, the controversies singled out always included evolution.
2. Lumping it in with other controversies: Arizona lawmakers this year deliberated a bill that identified a series of “controversial” subjects and signaled them out for special classroom treatment. These included “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
3. Calling it academic freedom: Academic freedom is an important concept at colleges and universities. It has not been extended to public secondary schools because those institutions teach impressionable youngsters. Thus, school officials and democratically elected boards have the power to rein in teachers who start acting like preachers or who stray too far from the accepted curriculum.
A common creationist ruse is to assert that teachers have the right, under academic freedom, to introduce material that undercuts evolution. They do not. Over the years, several public school teachers have made this argument in court. All have failed.
4. Urging teachers to “go rogue”: Even though there is no academic freedom right to teach creationism, some public school teachers behave as if there is. They simply don’t teach evolution or teach it in such a way as to instill doubts in students’ minds.
5. Calling creationism something else. Back in the 1980s, “creation science” was all the rage among fundamentalists. They seemed to believe that all you had to do was tack the word “science” onto something and presto, it was science. (“Flat Earth Science,” anyone?)
That stunt failed when the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law mandating “balanced treatment” between evolution and creation science in 1987. The term “creationism” became more popular, even though it was the same old thing. When courts failed to fall for it, some advocates began using the term “the theory of abrupt appearance.”
Still others glommed on to “evidence against evolution.” Again, these name changes failed to fool anyone. It was the same old creationism in a new dress.
Most recently, “intelligent design” has become all the rage. Sometimes known by the acronym ID, intelligent design tries to cover up some of the more outlandish claims of standard creationism (6,000-year-old Earth, dinosaurs and humans living at the same time, Noah’s Ark was real, etc.) and instead posits that humans and other life forms are so complex that they must have been designed by some intelligent force. If this force just happens to be the Christian god, then so be it.