Creationism: Don’t Use the “C-Word”

When I read Bruce Chapman’s American Spectator column yesterday, in which the president of the Discovery Institute back pedaled from a Louisiana creationism mishap he helped spawn, I thought of this: When Danger Reared its Ugly Head He Bravely Turned his Tail and Fled

Once again, after pushing for anti-evolution language that opens the door to teaching creationism, the good fellows at the Discovery Institute bravely turned around and ran away from the local creationist-talking school board members who want to champion their cause.

Because the DI’s first rule about creationism? Don’t talk about creationism.

In this case, the Livingston Parish School District, in a discussion regarding the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which Discovery Institute helped write, wanted to know when they could start teaching kids creationism in science class. Board members asked a staff committee to research the possibility for the 2011-2012 school year.

The discussion came up during a report on the pupil progression plan for the 2010-11 school year, delivered by Jan Benton, director of curriculum. Benton said that under provisions of the Science Education Act enacted last year by the Louisiana Legislature, schools can present what she termed “critical thinking and creationism” in science classes. Board Member David Tate quickly responded: “We let them teach evolution to our children, but I think all of us sitting up here on this School Board believe in creationism. Why can’t we get someone with religious beliefs to teach creationism?” (See my previous posts here and here.)

In lobbying for LSEA, the Discovery Institute had worked closely with the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative Christian organization that directly championed the teaching of creationism as recently as 2004. (Read how Louisiana Coalition for Science’s Barbara Forrest connects the dots here.) However, because of that pesky First Amendment, which prohibits using public school biology class as a pulpit, creationism is never specifically mentioned in the LSEA. Instead, LSEA relies on code language to attack the teaching of evolution and other subjects that Christian fundamentalists hate because it contradicts their narrow religious worldview – reality be damned.

The language that was inserted into the LSEA, which the Livingston school district properly understood to mean it could teach creationism, says that the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education must “allow and assist” school boards “to create and foster an environment” in public schools that “promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” In addition to state-approved textbooks, teachers “may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”

In his column, Chapman disingenuously writes:

Tate’s fulminations are not characteristic of the educators and legislators who passed the new Louisiana law, but you can be sure that the Darwinist opponents of the law will try to make them sound representative. The same thing happened in Dover, Pennsylvania, in 2005 when school board members decided to grab onto the phrase (not the reality) of “intelligent design” to promote religious doctrine. The board members, as in Livingston, Louisiana, were as ignorant of the limits of the scientific case against strict Darwinism as they were of the content of intelligent design theory. The scientists and political scientists at Discovery Institute—colleagues of mine—who actually know something about intelligent design, tried to dissuade them, but to no avail. The Dover board members did not believe that a court could stop them. But a central Pennsylvania federal judge, John E. Jones, did stop them.

It’s interesting that Chapman brings up Dover. Discovery initially encouraged Dover board members. It provided them with videos touting intelligent design, which board members required science teachers to watch. But when board members wanted to pursue intelligent design, DI backed up, instead urging the watered-down “teach the controversy.” But just as in the case of Livingston, Dover board members correctly interpreted that code language like “intelligent design” and “teach the controversy” were merely other ways of saying “creationism.” And after the board members’ remarks about creationism became too widely reported to ignore, the Discovery Institute tried to distance itself from the case and ran away.