As creationist campaigners push to have their teachings feature in science textbooks, Dónal Ó Catháin asks if this really is the best idea
Social conservatives in Texas have recently campaigned for the theory of creationism to be included in high school science textbooks, side by side with Darwinian evolution. They argue that students should be provided with every possible explanation for how the world came to be how it is, and leave it to students to make up their own minds.
Texas is the second most populated state in the US and as such, what goes on in Texas has a considerable influence on what goes on in America as a whole. The Lone Star State has long been known for its large conservative demographic; in the last Presidential Election, the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, garnered over 57% of the Texan vote.
The Republican Party of Texas has recently stood against same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. A lot of the Party’s views on social issues are aligned with those of the Church.
A Gallup poll reported that non-Republican voters are twice as likely to view evolution in a non-theistic (i.e. the lack of belief in a deity) fashion than Republican voters. There is a 25% drop in the percentage of people who hold creationist beliefs with no more than a high-school education, to those who hold these beliefs after obtaining a post-graduate education.
However, scientists are up in arms about the planned inclusion. In their minds, the theory of creationism, or intelligent design, has no scientific merit, and therefore deserves no place in a science textbook.
One scientific association, The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which is the biggest general scientific society in the world serving the interest of hundreds of scientific groups and 10 million individuals have stated, “The lack of scientific warrant for so-called ‘intelligent design theory’ makes it improper to include as a part of science education.”
In spite of widespread opposition on the scientific front, panels of reviewers for the proposed new textbooks are in favour of creationism being added to these biology books. There is a little controversy in the sense that four panellists, out of a group of 12, who were engaged in the ultimate review round have expressed creationist beliefs in the past according to the Huffington Post. This may be a concern as regards to giving an impartial review on the matter in hand.
The reviewers on these panels are citizens who are nominated; they need not have a background in science. Certain panellists, who were critical of evolution, as well as climate change, are active in organisations which are explicitly anti-evolution.
At the public hearing on this heated topic, former State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, who had campaigned in the past for it to be obligatory that both the strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution be taught in science classes, was among the first people to give a testimony.
The Dallas News reported that he beseeched the board to accept the biology books as “a final blow to the teaching of evolution in Texas schools”, adding that the books contain “unsubstantiated” supporting material for evolution.
“The evidence for evolution in these books is incredibly weak. And if there is no evidence, there is no evolution,” said McLeroy, a Republican from College Station. “Young creationist students will be able to sit there and say: ‘Is this all the evidence they have for evolution? Well, maybe God didn’t use evolution.’”
The new biology textbooks, which are being adopted, will be approved for the next eight years at least. The inclusion or exclusion of the touchy material will not merely impact on Texan children, but will have repercussions for all of America.
Texas, due to its massive population, has one of the largest public school systems in America. Therefore, publishing companies are well-served by tuning their textbooks for the Texan market and rolling out the same books nationwide.
The Texas Freedom Network (TFN) noted that in 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Edwards vs. Aguillard that teaching creationism in public school science classrooms is unconstitutional. A cornerstone in the US Constitution, making up part of the First Amendment, is the separation of Church and State.
It states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Seeing as these textbooks are being introduced in the public school network, this is concern for the state.
It is hard for creationism to gain acknowledgement as a valid scientific theory and is more so a religious belief of creationists. In order for the theory of creationism to gain acceptance in these books, the notion that life, the Earth, and the universe are the creation of a supernatural being would have to be argued to have scientific plausibility.
All in all, this is a matter of science vs. religion. The scientific merit of religious beliefs must be properly evaluated and a decision will be made based on this discussion. Watch this space.