The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for February 24th, 2009

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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