American Atheist  -  July-Aug 2009




By James A. Haught

Millions of American schoolchildren visit the Smithsonian's natural history museum in Washington, where they see elaborate scientific displays about biological evolution that has been occurring for hundreds of millions of years on Earth.  The exhibits show that dinosaurs existed for 160 million hears, a thousand times longer than humans.  The earliest fossils in the Smithsonian are stromatolites, domes of hardened minerals formed nearly three billion years ago when blue-green algae trapped particles in shallow water.

Yet these same children return to local school systems where evolution can be taboo, and some fundamentalist officials repeatedly try to force science teachers to assert that the planet was created recently, as described in Genesis.

Time after time, courts scuttle attempts to insert scripture into science courses, but the effort always revives.  It recently resurfaced in Texas, where some state leaders wanted high school biology courses wanted high school biology classes to debate “strengths and weaknesses” of different explanations of Earth’s existence -- a way to bring God into science discussion.  The Washington Post commented:

“Those are supportive buzzwords for people who doubt evolution and want creationism taught in the classroom…. The force behind restoring the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ language, which was stripped from the science standards in January after two debates, is Don McLeroy.  He’s the chairman of the State Board of Education.  He is also a ‘young earth creationist’ who believes that Earth was created by God no more than 10,000 years ago.  Never mind plenty of scientific evidence that the planet has been around for a few billion years.”

Four years ago, a federal judge in Pennsylvania declared that teaching “Intelligent Design” in public schools violates America’s separation of church and state because ID is merely a disguise for divine creation.  Nonetheless, evangelical legislators in various states, mostly in the Deep South or less-educated rural regions, still introduce bills requiring science teachers to allow “critical analysis” or a “full range of scientific views,” to turn classrooms into religious forums.  Louisiana recently passed an “academic freedom” law to let fundamentalist teachers preach their church beliefs in class.

In a showdown, the Texas board failed to require “strengths and weaknesses” debate, but fundamentalist members managed to insert other language designed to turn science classes into theological battlegrounds.  Meanwhile, some evangelical Florida legislators introduced a bill to spur similar religious quarrels when evolution is taught.

Heaven help us.  Ever since the famed Scopes Monkey Trial in the 1920s, attempts to sabotage science instruction haven’t ceased.  I agree with the Post, which concluded:

“Texans, like everyone else, are free to believe what they want, but in science class, they should teach science.”