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Creating a Divine Mess

Intelligent design tries to pass as science — again

By Steven Carter Novotni · September 28th, 2011 · News
It was never close to becoming an Ohio version of Inherit the Wind, but a recent effort to bring a creationism class to public school students in Springboro has been quietly dropped after it received widespread criticism and a threatened lawsuit by the ACLU.

Springboro School Board member Kelly Kohls, who also leads the Warren County Tea Party, began a vocal push for the new class in late July. She made appearances on local TV stations and spoke to The Dayton Daily News on Aug. 1 about her concerns that America was “eliminating God from our public lives” and how it’s important to recognize creationism as a valid theory. 

But the effort came to a screeching halt after Springboro schools received a letter from the ACLU’s Ohio chapter on Aug. 4 that advised the board about the legal quagmire they were about to enter if the class was implemented.

Mike Brickner, an ACLU of Ohio spokesman, told CityBeat that his office received a call from Springboro Superintendent Gene Lolli within days of sending the letter, to say that the issue wouldn’t be pursued. 

Now no one at Springboro schools wants to discuss the matter. Neither Lolli nor school board members responded to CityBeat’s interview requests.

(Kohls, who poses as a fiscal conservative, later told the Daily News that parents should have the choice of using state vouchers to send their children to other schools if they want to learn about creationism and intelligent design.)

Creationism is the belief that humans were created by God in their present form and didn’t evolve from other species of animals. Generally, the concept is tied to the biblical account in Genesis, making it distinctly Judeo-Christian in origin and outlook, and states the Earth is a mere 10,000 years old — not 4.54 billion years old, which is the accepted view in mainstream science.

Although public opinion has been divided on the teaching of creationism, according to most polls, U.S. courts repeatedly have ruled that the First Amendment forbids the teaching of religion in public schools.

“I think what the other side tried to claim was that there are some pseudo-scientists out there who try and say it actually is a scientific theory, which really, all credible scientists have shut down,” Brickner says.

“Then they would say that it is not sectarian, that you don’t have to believe in the Judeo-Christian god to subscribe to ‘intelligent design.’ But we would say it is still a way to get religion in the door in our classrooms.”

It’s difficult to tell whether attempts like this one are increasing, says Josh Rosenau, programs and policy director of The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a not-for-profit organization that works to defend and promote evolution education in public schools.

“If they make a lot of noise about it, it makes the papers, then we find out about it,” Rosenau says.

“Another district may be doing it silently or a reporter may not be covering the school board meeting that day and, all of a sudden, a policy gets passed and no one really knows about it. Or an individual teacher could decide to teach creationism and as long as no one complains, nothing happens about it.”

Reported incidents of creationism finding its way into public classrooms are distributed fairly evenly across the nation, Rosenau says, but polls indicate it’s occurring more often along the Bible Belt and in rural areas. And an anonymous, 2008 Pennsylvania State University survey of high school biology teachers around the nation found that a full 13 percent champion offering creationism in the classroom.

The last major legal challenge testing the waters for creationist thought in schools occurred in Dover, Pa., in 2005. A group of parents sued the school district after they found out that the book Of Pandas and People, which advocates for intelligent design, had been introduced into the curriculum a year earlier.

A conservative U.S. District Court judge ruled against the district, and the school board members who led the push for intelligent design were all defeated in the next election.

Rebranding creationism as intelligent design, Rosenau says, is an intentional attempt by creationists to find a more palatable way to teach it in public schools. The history of the movement is a political one, marked by “workarounds” — when one attempt is shot down in court, creationists try again with something new.

In 2003, schools in Texas drew up new standards for science text books. 

“There was a line that said that students should learn the strengths and weaknesses of scientific models,” Rosenau says. “When it came time for textbook adoption in 2003, the only theory they wanted to talk about having strengths and weaknesses was evolution.”

Dr. John Silvius taught biology for more than three decades at Cedarville University, a fundamentalist Christian campus near Yellow Springs, Ohio, about 65 miles north of Cincinnati. Silvius taught evolution alongside creationism, helping his students understand why evolution is incorrect and why intelligent design makes sense. Silvius is a “young Earth” creationist who believes the Earth only is about 10,000 years old.

“My argument is from a presuppositional philosophy,” Silvius says. “My presupposition for what I call truth is I’m going to allow a revelational input into that to combine with what I observe in nature. In nature, the problem is this huge jump from inanimate matter to complex, living forms. Could that have come about by undirected natural causes? And maybe it could have, but no one has demonstrated that.”

Silvius references the creationist standard of the watch found on the beach, that its existence implies a watchmaker. But he doesn’t rely on this.

“The argument is not between God and evolution, but on what can matter do?” he says. “The question has to come up in the classroom, ‘How did we get here?’ ”

Silvius speaks thoughtfully, outlining what to some people might sound like a well-structured argument. And, if you’re coming to the debate with the same presupposition as he does, it makes a lot of sense. Moreover, at a privately funded university like Cedarville, it’s perfectly appropriate. 

The problem with this, as with any creationist education, is that it must start with a religious presupposition that’s in conflict with the foundations of the scientific method. This is why teaching creationism is wildly inappropriate in public schools. Brickman offered that sometimes creationism is packaged as a broad study of creation stories across cultures.

“But they’re not pushing for this to be taught, they’re pushing for a Judeo-Christian belief to be taught,” Brickman says. “You can’t include a non-scientific ideology in a science classroom.”



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