Monday, March 17, 2003

Creationist Mendacity One of the vilest organizations in American politics today is Focus on the Family, a Christian group that spends its time lobbying against gay rights, abortion, and the separation of church and state. Its leader is James Dobson, an eloquent snake-oil salesman who has the ear of CNN's Larry King and FoxNews' Hannity and Colmes. (Both are venues in which Dobsom is given large amounts of time to spout his hateful nonsense, without fear of being interrupted by an inquisitive host or another guest. This in our allegedly liberal media).

FOF also has a bee in its bonnet about evolution, and they devote a considerable amount of time towards efforts to inject some form of creationism into public-school science classrooms. The cover story of the current issue of their magazine "Citizen" is entitled Loosening Darwin's Grip and describes recent efforts in Cobb County, Georgia and the state of Ohio to have creationism placed in the standards.

Two Defeats for Creationism Proponents of intelligent-design theory (ID) initially wanted to have the standards require the teaching of ID in any science classroom where evolution is also being discussed. Once it became clear that this was a non-starter, they scaled back their ambitions to including vague changes in the language instead. For example, they wanted the definition of science changed to potentially allow supernatural explanations to be permissable in scientific discourse, or they wanted the standards to require "teaching the controversy" over evolution. "Teach the controversy" is a creationist euphemism for aloowing ID into the classrooms; that the controversy is entirely manufactured by a small group of religious demagogues does not seem to bother them.

Curiously, the old science standards in Ohio made no reference to evolution at all. The result of all of this ID agitation is that the new standards include quite a lot of evolution, and this is the only theory students will be tested on in state exams. The school board explicitly rejected ID, by including a statement that said, "The intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of Intelligent Design." The only nod to ID was a vague statement to explain ways in which scientists critically analyze evolutionary theory, a point that was never at issue.

But in creationist fantasy-land it is a trivial matter to spin such total defeat into victory. The "Citizen" article makes the claim that "Altogether, 20,000 people contacted the state board, urging it to allow classrooms to 'teach the controversy'. That swayed the state board, which voted in December to adopt a teach-the-controversy policy." Actually, this is precisely what the school board did not mandate.

The sitaution in Cobb County, GA was much the same. ID proponents wanted a major change in educational policy to allow the teaching of ID. What they got was a strong statement in support of evolution and an explicit rejection of ID.

The "Citizen" article contains much else that is dishonest or misleading, and I will report on that in a subsequent post. More information on these subjects can be found at the National Center for Science Education or Ohio Citizens for Science.


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