The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Backlash Against Creationist Nonsense

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 24, 2009

As some of you may know, two of the recent hot-spots in the United States concerning the evolution-creationist wars are Louisiana & Texas. Last year, Louisiana passed a so-called “academic freedom” law, and the State Board of Education of Texas is now attempting to allow creationist woo into textbook selection.

Briefly, the Louisiana “academic freedom” law would allow public school teachers to supplement the biology curriculum on evolution with materials that teach about the “flaws in the theory”. Basically, this is creationist-speak for allowing the schools in Louisiana to use the Discovery Institute’s anti-evolution book Explore Evolutionan excellent review of Explore Evolution can be found here. Note that creationists will say the purpose of encouraging teachers to use this textbook is not to promote creationism (which is clearly illegal) but to rather promote “critical thinking” about evolution, which is a sugar-coated way of saying propagate creationist lies about evolution in the hopes that students don’t trust or accept modern science. This and other “academic freedom” laws (there are many being proposed nationwide) are merely the latest attempt by creationists to get around the court rulings that have stymied them in the past. I suppose they’re taking the view that if they cannot build their views up due to a lack of scientific credibility, then it’s simply time to tear well-established & trustworthy science down. Nice, huh?

**Aside: To get the flavor for just how stupid these “academic freedom” laws really are, check out this hilarious website on extending these laws to their logical conclusion! :)

As for Texas, there have been some interesting developments in the evolution-creationism wars. For a long time, the State Board of Education in Texas has been run by creationists & religious conservatives hell-bent on either promoting creationism or dumbing-down evolution (and other content, scientific & historical) in the textbook selection process. This is really bad because, unlike the situation in Louisiana, this would have a direct effect on schools nationwide – that is because since Texas is such a huge textbook market, the big publishers will tailor their books to the whims of whatever standard Texas sets. So, if evolution & science is given short shrift in Texas textbooks, chances are that your kids will get worse science textbooks as a result. Thus, the fundamentalists & creationists in Texas have effectively been holding textbook selection hostage over the years through this process. And now there is another round of science textbook selection.

texas textbooks

As a result, there has been a huge battle over the science standards recently in Texas. The Board is not completely dominated by the conservative creationists, but it’s close, so there have been some hard fought political battles in the last few months. Fortunately, in the end of January there was a win for science education when the “strengths & weaknesses” language was stripped out of the standards. This language was part-and-parcel of the same old creationist nonsense misrepresenting evolutionary science, and the fact that it was removed is a plus – a big plus. However, at the same time, the chairman of the Board arbitrarily introduced a move to introduce language calling into question the central tenet of evolutionary theory – common descent (of which there is abundant evidence). Here’s a good summary of the situation from the NCSE.

So the fight in Texas still goes on, with the final Board vote on these standards, and subsequent consequences for nationwide textbook selection, taking place on March 25-27. Stay tuned for updates – I suggest any of the following organizations & websites…

Teach Them Science
Texas Citizens for Science
Texas Freedom Network
21st Century Science Coalition

So what is this much-deserved backlash of which the title of this post speaks? Well, it seems that the creationists may have over-reached in both Louisiana and Texas, because people are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.

In Louisiana, a state which is in poor economic shape even when times are good and one which is still recovering from the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina & Rita from 2005, there is a very real economic backlash against the creationists. As a direct result of Louisiana passing their “academic freedom” law, a major biology conference has decided to shun the state and take it’s business elsewhere. See the actual letter from the SCIB to Louisiana Gov. Jindal here – these are some highlights of that letter…

As President of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), I am writing to inform you of a recent decision by our Executive Committee. We will not hold the Society’s 2011 annual meeting in New Orleans even though the city has been a popular venue of us in the past, and we received a reasonable site and organization package for the meeting. The Executive Committee voted to hold the 2011 meeting in Salt Lake City in large pan because of legislation SB 561, which you signed into law in June 2008. It is the firm opinion of SICB’s leadership that this law undermines the integrity of science and science education in Louisiana. …

The SICB leadership could not support New Orleans as our meeting venue because of the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula. Utah, in contrast, passed a resolution that states that evolution is central to any science curriculum.

The 2009 SICB meeting that just closed in Boston brought over 1850 scientists and graduate students to the city for five days. Biological scientists and graduate students from around the world met to share the latest research within the broad interests of integrative and comparative biology. As you might imagine, a professional meeting with nearly 2000 participants can contribute to the economic engine of any community.

Ouch. Looks to me like Gov. Jindal and his buddies in the fundamentalist Christian creationist camp have screwed the people of the state of Louisiana out of a much needed economic boost in these hard times. It is also worth noting that there are other scientific & educational organizations that could be considering boycotts of Louisiana. Hopefully the leaders of Louisiana will get the message, but I’m not holding my breath.

Now, the backlash against the creationists in Texas is taking a more political form. It seems that two Texas legislators – state Senator Rodney Ellis and Representative Patrick Rose – have proposed legislation that would open up the Texas State Board of Education to greater transparency & scrutiny. The purpose of their legislation is to “to place the board under periodic review by the Sunset Advisory Commission and hold them accountable for their performance, just as we do the Texas Education Agency and other state agencies.”

This is because for a very long time the Board has been able to push its creationist nonsense behind closed doors away from the full scrutiny of the public. Despite all of their moaning & wailing about the desire for “open and honest discussion” on these issues – which is actually creationist-speak for “Let us push our woo unchallenged” – creationist activists are among the biggest hypocrites in that they will actively shut down discussion when it suits them. Specifically, the legislation proposed by Ellis and Rose is necessary because, in their words…

The decisions of the SBOE not only impact millions of young lives on a daily basis, but impact the economic progress of our state as well.

For these reasons and many others, the public has a right to full disclosure and oversight.

The board has escaped such scrutiny for far too long. The disregard for educators, instructional experts and scientists can’t continue. It’s time to take a closer look at the operations and policies of the State Board of Education.

Our state, and especially our kids, deserve better.

It’ll be very interesting to see just how far this legislation gets. If it passes – great! If it is shut down, then once again it will become obvious to everyone that when it comes to free inquiry & open debate, the creationists talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk. Either way, it is a win for science & education, in my opinion.

As a way of thanking Ellis and Rose for their courage in taking the creationists on in Texas, there is now an online petition expressing support for their work. Please consider taking a few moments to read the petition, sign it, and then pass it on to others.

So, in closing, while the battle against creationist anti-science is long & ongoing, I think the forces of reason are, slowly but surely, winning the fight. But it is only because people like us, you and me, are getting informed & getting involved. Let that be a lesson to you.

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13 Responses to “Backlash Against Creationist Nonsense”

  1. i mean im all for science. and all. but dont you think that people should be educated. in all areas of creation/evolution theories.

    evolution is just a theory. i mean its accepted as a truth but its only a theory. there was once a theory that the earth was flat…remember? people need to challange theories or else they will never be proven to be truth, and we will never advance as a species on this earth.

    • mattusmaximus said

      arsonisttagger said:

      i mean im all for science. and all. but dont you think that people should be educated. in all areas of creation/evolution theories.

      Good question, and the answer is yes and no. The context of the subject matter is important. For example, teaching about ideas of various forms of creationism (of which there are many kinds, not just a literalist interpretation of the Christian Bible) would be appropriate in the context of a religious studies or philosophy classroom. In fact, my own school does this, and I have no problem with it.

      It is when creationists argue that their non-scientific ideas be given the status of science and taught alongside (or in place of) evolution in science class that it’s a big problem.

      As for the assertion that we should “teach all theories”, should we teach astrology in astronomy class? How about Transcendental Meditation (a group who believes you can levitate just by meditating really hard) in physics classes when gravity is discussed? What about adding some Scientology to psychology classes to balance them out? While we’re at it, as we teach about the Periodic Table in chemistry class, we should give equal time to the ancient Greek notion of air-earth-fire-water, shouldn’t we? And in math class we can teach kids that 2+2=5 since that is an alternative point of view. Wouldn’t it only be fair to include these other ideas? I think not, for obvious reasons – if you’re going to open that door, you’d better be prepared to walk through it.

      arsonisttagger said:

      evolution is just a theory. i mean its accepted as a truth but its only a theory. there was once a theory that the earth was flat…remember? people need to challange theories or else they will never be proven to be truth, and we will never advance as a species on this earth.

      I agree that evolutionary theory should be challenged, as should all theories in science. And this is exactly what has been happening in the scientific community for 150+ years since Darwin proposed evolution via natural selection & common descent. And over all that time, during test after test, the basic premises of his theory have been found to be sound – to my knowledge, there has not yet been a single experiment or observation which has refuted evolutionary theory. There have been new things learned about biology, such as genetics, biochemistry, and so on, which have added to the body of scientific knowledge concerning life and its development, but nothing which has undone evolution.

      Hell, if a biologist were to ever find solid, repeatable experimental evidence which could refute the core premises of evolutionary theory, they would deservedly receive a Nobel Prize. But that hasn’t happened yet, because no such refutation of evolution has been presented.

  2. [...] Title: Backlash Against Creationist Nonsense « The Skeptical Teacher [...]

  3. jfx said

    Arsonisttagger:

    I recommend a book called “Only A Theory” by Ken Miller.

    In science, the word theory means something different than the way we use the word in ordinary casual conversation.

    For example, in science, gravity is also “only a theory”.

    Also, the theory of relativity. And so on, and so on.

    It is precisely because evolution has been challenged as a theory so thoroughly over many decades that it has gained overwhelming consensus in the SCIENTIFIC community. In the scientific community, evolution began as an idea with very little support. Over time, that changed, dramatically.

    But, outside the scientific community, many people don’t know the facts and won’t bother doing the heavy reading, lest their precious convictions be challenged.

    Good luck.

  4. haha i believe both. i believe in evolution and i believe in the presence of a god. im not as educated as you yougs may be.
    i know what i know. but i wouldve like to learn about religion is school that way i could understand diversities and differences in regions ive never been too. like the middle ast and jerusalem maybe that would end prejudice in our country towards other people.

    though i do study them now.

  5. Craig said

    Hey Matt – glad to have found your blog!

    I totally agree with your arguments against the idea of “teaching all theories,” and I don’t think that creationism should be taught in a public school science class either. In my mind, both creationism and evolution are worldviews, and the debate between them belongs to philosophy. The science class should focus on the evidences only, without a philosophic presupposition. This is where I believe evolution has failed to lift itself into the category of established science.

    Accepted scientific principles can be observed, demonstrated, or at the very least, argued mathematically. Gravity we can see – we can repeat it – we can calculate it and predict it’s reoccurrence. It is the same for the laws of thermodynamics, atomic theory, etc. We can construct carefully designed experiments to observe each phenomenon in action and in many cases, isolate it. As you say, “there has not yet been a single experiment or observation which has refuted evolutionary theory.” Has there been one yet that supported it?

    To my knowledge, in the 150+ years of study that you cite, evolution has never been observed in action (other than variations within a species). Major mutations- the kind that would be required to classify a new species are never passed on to future generations, if the organism survives the deformity at all. The natural selection model has not been observed and cannot be calculated. All our evidence is limited to shadows of the past, assumptions, and guesswork (For example, why do we assume a pile of bones all came from the same animal if we weren’t there to see it die?)

    I know you pride yourself on being a skeptic (I generally consider myself one as well), so why aren’t you the least bit skeptical of the lack of real scientific method behind the study of evolution?

    Take care-
    Craig

    • mattusmaximus said

      Craig said:

      I totally agree with your arguments against the idea of “teaching all theories,” and I don’t think that creationism should be taught in a public school science class either. In my mind, both creationism and evolution are worldviews, and the debate between them belongs to philosophy. The science class should focus on the evidences only, without a philosophic presupposition. This is where I believe evolution has failed to lift itself into the category of established science.

      Everything you wrote here is good, except for the claim that evolution isn’t science. Evolution is most definitely science, because it can be, and has been, tested. There is a wealth of information available on the various hypotheses by which evolutionary theory has been tested over the last 150+ years. Here’s a good place to start…

      29+ Evidences for Macroevolution

      That link outlines a large number of proposed tests of evolution, as well as the observations & experiments which carried out those tests. And, as I stated earlier, all of this observational/experimental evidence is in favor of evolution.

      Think about it this way, if evolutionary science were not valid, then how is it we can use it so effectively to create modern vaccines & antibiotics? Here’s more on this particular point…

      Practical Uses of Evolutionary Theory

      Craig said:

      Accepted scientific principles can be observed, demonstrated, or at the very least, argued mathematically. Gravity we can see – we can repeat it – we can calculate it and predict it’s reoccurrence. It is the same for the laws of thermodynamics, atomic theory, etc. We can construct carefully designed experiments to observe each phenomenon in action and in many cases, isolate it. As you say, “there has not yet been a single experiment or observation which has refuted evolutionary theory.” Has there been one yet that supported it?

      Yup. Many more than one. See the link above for info on that.

      Craig said:

      To my knowledge, in the 150+ years of study that you cite, evolution has never been observed in action (other than variations within a species). Major mutations- the kind that would be required to classify a new species are never passed on to future generations, if the organism survives the deformity at all.

      What you speak of is called “speciation”. This is a common criticism of evolution opponents, but they are wrong. Speciation has, in fact, been observed…

      Observed Instances of Speciation

      Craig said:

      The natural selection model has not been observed and cannot be calculated. All our evidence is limited to shadows of the past, assumptions, and guesswork (For example, why do we assume a pile of bones all came from the same animal if we weren’t there to see it die?)

      Well, to apply that same logic, then we would have to say that we cannot trust any forensic evidence brought to trial in a murder case, either. After all, no one was there to witness the murder, so how can we say what exactly happened, right? I think you see the trouble with that kind of argument.

      Craig said:

      I know you pride yourself on being a skeptic (I generally consider myself one as well), so why aren’t you the least bit skeptical of the lack of real scientific method behind the study of evolution?

      Like I mentioned above, if you take the time to actually study up and see that evolution is scientific (it can be tested and has been tested) as well as all of the evidence in favor of evolution, I think most objective observers will come to the same conclusion as me. However, those wed to an anti-evolutionary ideology will likely dismiss all of this out of hand, without ever looking into it for real, because it doesn’t fit within their worldview.

      Just as creationists try to dress up their ideas as “science” by calling it such, some so-called “skeptics” attempt to distort the meaning of critical thinking by erroneously presenting the information about evolution.

  6. Craig said

    Wow! Talk about throwing the book at someone! How can I respond to all of that at once? I am in the process of reading this, and I am tempted to give you my thoughts so far, but to be fair, I will wait until I have finished. I’ll have to get back to you on this…

    In the meantime, I’d like to mention that I think your forensics analogy is very good, but I would say that you have misapplied it to my arguments. I am ignorant of the history of forensics investigations, but I would hope that not many cases are decided based on this type of evidence alone. Forensic study is certainly crucial, but the conclusions it can draw on its own are limited. For example, forensics could determine the time and method of death and maybe some information (like fingerprints) about persons present at the time. However, without additional information (like a fingerprint database) this evidence cannot generate a list of suspects and would never be able to determine motive, opportunity, etc. A lot of personal information about the perpetrator and their relationship to the victim is also needed to solidify a case. It’s this type of specific evidence regarding surrounding circumstances that is missing when studying something that may have happened millions of years ago – and it is also this type of information that answers the all important “why?”

    • mattusmaximus said

      Craig said:

      In the meantime, I’d like to mention that I think your forensics analogy is very good, but I would say that you have misapplied it to my arguments. I am ignorant of the history of forensics investigations, but I would hope that not many cases are decided based on this type of evidence alone.

      Forensic evidence is often the best kind of evidence there is – much better than eye-witness testimony, which is notoriously unreliable.

      Craig said:

      Forensic study is certainly crucial, but the conclusions it can draw on its own are limited. For example, forensics could determine the time and method of death and maybe some information (like fingerprints) about persons present at the time. However, without additional information (like a fingerprint database) this evidence cannot generate a list of suspects and would never be able to determine motive, opportunity, etc.

      Imagine an analogy between fingerprints and the fossil record, and you’re starting to get there.

      Craig said:

      A lot of personal information about the perpetrator and their relationship to the victim is also needed to solidify a case. It’s this type of specific evidence regarding surrounding circumstances that is missing when studying something that may have happened millions of years ago – and it is also this type of information that answers the all important “why?”

      If you want to get into the “why” question, I think you’re moving beyond science into philosophy & theology.

  7. Craig said

    That didn’t sound right. Let me clarify – I did in fact read all of your post before responding. It is the 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution that I will have to get back to you on…

    • mattusmaximus said

      Craig said:

      That didn’t sound right. Let me clarify – I did in fact read all of your post before responding. It is the 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution that I will have to get back to you on…

      Take your time. It is a huge amount of information – it took me the better part of an entire summer to go through most of the material at that link. And I still don’t think I have really dug too deeply into it, only enough to satisfy myself (being a non-biologist).

  8. Craig said

    Matt said:

    If you want to get into the “why” question, I think you’re moving beyond science into philosophy & theology.

    Exactly – which goes back to my original point – this should be a philosophical discussion. I apologize for wandering in my original post into comments that may have been perceived as incendiary. Thank you for bringing me back to point.

    Historically, the real strength of science has been its objectivity – a scientist is someone who seeks the truth, examines the data and makes only the conclusions that can be supported beyond doubt. If there are multiple plausible explanations, the experiment is inconclusive. Unfortunately, it seems that more and more these days we feel pressured to draw conclusions prematurely, because we are passionate about “proving” our worldviews (or more often “disproving” someone else’s worldview) with science, which we believe is the only road to absolute certainty.

    I see this mistake (allowing philosophy to bring us to premature conclusions) being made on both sides of the evolution/creation debate (myself included); and every time it is, we become incensed, our arguments grow increasingly vitriolic, and we become even more determined to prove that the other side not only wrong, but inferior. The more embittered the discussion gets, the more our eyes and ears close to objectivity, the more our pride takes over, and the less likely we are to discover truth. (This reminds me of a button I used to have when I was in grade school that read “People who think they know it all really annoy those of us who do.”) Pride is perhaps a bigger barrier to science than ignorance.

    My point is that there is plenty of room in the scientific world for opposing philosophies. I would reject the notion that one must be an atheist to be a scientist (I’m not saying that you have suggested this, but the idea does seem to have some popularity). To me science is man’s method of explaining how the universe
    works – philosophy and theology are his way of explaining why. Answering one question (or part of it) does not answer the other, nor does it limit the other to only one possibility.

    Sorry for being long-winded. I’m not trying to start my own blog here. :) And I hope you have not already dismissed me as a kook – I would much rather be considered a friend to you. (I believe I failed at this years ago, when I had much more opportunity)

    God bless you, Matt,

    Craig (Bitterling)

    • mattusmaximus said

      Craig said:

      My point is that there is plenty of room in the scientific world for opposing philosophies. I would reject the notion that one must be an atheist to be a scientist (I’m not saying that you have suggested this, but the idea does seem to have some popularity). To me science is man’s method of explaining how the universe works – philosophy and theology are his way of explaining why. Answering one question (or part of it) does not answer the other, nor does it limit the other to only one possibility.

      This is a very good point. A perfect example of competing philosophies finding common ground in science is illustrated by looking at two famous evolutionary biologists – Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian; and Richard Dawkins, an outspoken atheist. Both men are experts in evolutionary science, advocate strongly for it, and correctly call out intelligent design as a pseudoscience which has no place in the science curriculum. Where they differ is on their own personal philosophical outlooks, and that’s fine. Here’s a great article about their scientific agreements & philosophical disagreements — http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1555132-1,00.html

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