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New Round of Attacks on Evolution -
creationism as "academic freedom" or
"science education"

In a number of state legislatures (e.g. Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Michigan) and state boards of education (e.g. Kansas, Texas), a new round of attacks on teaching evolution are in the works. In Louisiana, both houses of the legislature passed SB 733, and Governor Bobby Jindal, in opposition to widespread calls for a veto, signed it into law on June 25, 2008. This new onslaught of creationism/intelligent design is, at least in part, a response to the legal drubbing “intelligent design” got in the Pennsylvania v. Kitzmiller legal case in 2005, when Federal Judge Jones ruled that intelligent design creationism had nothing to do with science but was a way for religion to be smuggled into the classroom, and should not be allowed in public school science classes.

The Louisiana law is modeled on a template from the Discovery Institute, the nerve center of the intelligent design version of creationism. The heart of it is the latest misleading argument from the intelligent design forces – that scientists and teachers who raise so-called “scientific” criticisms of evolution are intimidated, unfairly denied tenure, and otherwise retaliated against. This strategy, central to Ben Stein’s movie, Expelled, frames the issue as one of “academic freedom,” claiming dissent from Darwinism is not allowed in the scientific community or classroom (for more on Expelled see http://defendscience.com/ds_commentary7.html ). This faulty logic claims that all ideas should be treated equally in the science classroom – evolution, backed by 150 years of scientific testing, should be taught in biology classes, but so should “competing” scientific ideas. The argument, neatly sidestepping the fact that these so-called scientific ideas are religion-based non-scientific “theories,” raises “freedom of speech” and “academic freedom” as straw men. The Louisiana law, known as the Science Education Act, applies this same anti-science approach to global warming and stem cell research, as well.


At bottom, this is an assault on science and the effort to understand the world. Pro-creationist Texas Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy put it bluntly when he declared that the battle is between “two systems of science. . . . You’ve got a creationist system and a naturalist system.” That anyone could claim that a “creationist system” is in any way science clearly illustrates the seriousness of this assault.


This fight in the state legislatures is just one key part of the larger picture. One telling glimpse into what is happening “on the ground” came out recently in the story of John Freshwater, middle school science teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. On June 20, 2008 the Board of Education in Mt. Vernon voted 5 to 0 to fire Freshwater. He had stubbornly attacked evolution and taught creationism in his classes, in opposition to local standards; stubbornly continued to promote fundamentalist Christianity in his classes, despite being told to stop by administrators; and had burned crosses into the arms of some of his students using an electrical device used to ionize gases. The mark of the cross in some cases caused significant pain and lasted for a number of weeks.


There had been complaints against Freshwater for teaching creationism and promoting Christianity for at least 11 years (although apparently marking students with the cross started relatively recently). Why did this kind of thing go on for 11 years? And why did Freshwater think he could get away with all of this? It is telling that the complaint against Freshwater for burning a cross into one student’s arm was presented to the school board anonymously – the parents were concerned that in the atmosphere in the school and the town, publicly opposing this would at a minimum create problems for the student and the family. It also seems that Freshwater had backing from the school administration for most of this time.


Mt. Vernon is in central Ohio. It isn’t the Bible belt (though these days it seems the Bible belt has spread across the country), which only underscores how serious the situation is and the urgent need to defend science.


Additional resources:

Barbara Forrest provides a summary of "The Discovery Institute, the LA Family Forum, and the 'LA Science Education Act'"

See the Louisiana Coalition for Science for an analysis of SB733 here and a summary of the Discovery Institute’s involvement here.

See Café Philos for a summary of Mt. Vernon, Ohio events.

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