Let me get this out of the way immediately: The Earth is more than 4 billion years old. Evolution is real and is the basis for all modern understanding of biology. Climate change is happening, and humans are causing it.
These fundamental scientific truths are agreed upon by the vast, overwhelming majority of scientists who study those particular fields, because of the vast, overwhelming evidence in those particular fields supporting them. It’s important that we teach this to young students, as well as how to understand what constitutes real evidence as opposed to ideological zealotry.
If you live in Texas, however, that necessity is under a real threat.
It has been for a long time; in 2007 Gov. Rick Perry appointed Don McLeroy, a young-Earth creationist, to head the state Board of Education (BoE), setting up a situation where education in Texas suffered mightily. In 2009 the state science standards were weakened, with clearly Biblically based beliefs behind the effort. In 2010 the BoE approved revisionist history in the textbooks (including apologetics for Joseph McCarthy, in case you were wondering just how ridiculous this stuff gets). In 2011 Texas creationists tried to get religious supplemental materials inserted into classes but lost. It goes on and on, and all the while they’ve been picking away at science and reality.
And now we’re entering a new round. Earlier this year, the BoE sent out letters to “experts” asking to help them evaluate the high school biology textbooks being considered for use.
You can guess where this is going.
Several of the “experts” were creationists, and they met recently to give their opinions. Several statements given by them have been made public, and well, wow:
I understand the National Academy of Science's [sic] strong support of the theory of evolution. At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that ‘creation science’ based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.
Ah yes, the “it’s only a theory” gambit, which is essentially a shortcut to show you how ignorant of science the person is who utters it. Evolution isn’t just a guess. It really is the basis of understanding for nearly all modern biology.
And by the way, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution makes it clear that you cannot teach creation “science” in public schools. There have been many, many court cases about that, and they tend to fall on the side of reality. Teaching religion as fact in public schools is a big no-no.
Another reviewer said this:
Text neglects to tell students that no transitional fossils have been discovered. The fossil record can be interpreted in other ways than evolutionary with equal justification. Text should ask students to analyze and compare alternative theories.
Actually, transitional fossils have been found. Lots of them. In fact, since evolution is a continuous process, all fossils are transition fossils. And no, there is no “equal justification” to describe fossils in the way this reviewer clearly means. That would be using religion, and again you can’t teach that in public schools.
And I’m all for teaching alternative theories, as long as they are evidence-based and backed by solid observations and rigorous methodology. I don’t think creationism fits into that category.
If you need to add to these bang-your-head-against-your-desk quotations, Americans United and Mother Jones have more (and the Mother Jones article has a quote about climate-change denial by a reviewer that’s no better). If you read them, don’t say I didn't warn you.
Shockingly, as Mother Jones points out, few of the reviewers who were critical of evolution and climate change had any scientific credentials.
I’ll admit, I use snark when writing about this topic, but it’s actually very serious. Texas has one of the largest population of school kids in the country, and because of that they can actually drive the use of textbooks in the other states. It might be natural to mock the Texas BoE about this, but their inability to understand how the Universe really is can have a national impact.
And, of course, the children of today are the voting public of tomorrow. If we don’t break this cycle of willful ignorance, it may never stop on its own. The Texas Freedom Network reports the textbooks are actually pretty good as is, and the publishers have resisted the political pressure to change the content. But this isn’t over yet. Texas Freedom Network is sponsoring a rally in Austin to show support for science on Tuesday, the day the BoE will have a public hearing about the textbooks.
If you live in the Austin area, I urge you to support Texas Freedom Network and attend the hearing. Write your local school board members. And you should also support the magnificent people at the National Center for Science Education, whose very purpose is to fight this sort of anti-intellectualism. They have a great page with advice for those of you in Texas.
These creationists will not rest in their fight to tear down science. We cannot rest in our support of it.
Note: Happily, the citizens of Kentucky elected a governor with a great deal more sense than Perry. Gov. Steven Beshear overrode an attempt by anti-science legislators in his state to block solid science standards, and Kentucky now joins several other states in having excellent standards for their students.* Well done, Beshear! And tip o' the beaker to Eugenie Scott for the news.
Correction, Sept. 12, 2013: This post originally misspelled Kentucky Gov. Steven Beshear's last name.