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Anti-Darwinists Are Relentless in Their Agenda,
Despite Court Rulings
South Carolina Board of Education rejects push
to include debate about evolution.
The National Law Journal
October 13, 2014
n June, the South Carolina Board of Education declined to endorse an amendment to the state's science standards that would have assigned students the task of constructing scientific arguments to support and scientific arguments to discredit Darwin's principle of natural selection. The board's decision to decline an endorsement was good news, since no serious case can be made against the validity of evolution.
Last month, the board rejected "compromise" language on the same issue. The proposed text said evolution is continually open to observational and experimental testing. It further stated that "theories may change as new scientific information is obtained." Again, the board displayed welcome fortitude.
The singling out of evolution among scientific theories buys in to the notion that it is somehow more suspect than gravity, say, or photosynthesis. To paraphrase the American Civil Liberties Union, this split-the-baby approach makes about as much sense as proposing that 2 + 2 = 5 to placate believers that 2 + 2 = 6.
The antievolution movement, which seeks to insinuate into the classroom instruction in the Biblical account of the origins of man, has suffered many losses in the courts and, quite often, before administrative bodies. Yet nonetheless, it rears up, Hydra-headed, refusing to accept defeat — or enlightenment.
The U.S. Supreme Court dealt so-called creationists a definitive blow to their efforts to supplant Darwin with Genesis when, in 1968, Epperson v. Arkansas overturned, on establishment grounds, a state law banning the teaching of evolution in public schools. Since then, creationists have shifted tactics, touting their "theory" as scientific and advocating that it be given an equal place in the biology curriculum. However, in 1978, the justices rejected this sleight-of-hand. In Edwards v. Aguillard, they struck down, as a facial violation of the First Amendment, a Louisiana statute requiring "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science" because it had no clear secular purpose.
Undaunted, anti-Darwinians increasingly avoided the use of terms with the word "creation." Instead, they came up with pseudoscientific attacks on supposed gaps in the evidence supporting evolution, the "theory of abrupt appearance" and the nomenclature "intelligent design" (I.D.) as an all-purpose label for their approach. The latter posits that the universe is so complex, it must have had a purposeful architect. Its advocates urge that it can be taught in public schools so long as God is not identified as the creator. But a leading decision, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, skewered this tactic in 2005. Opining that "I.D. is nothing less than the progeny of creationism … and not a scientific theory," a U.S. district judge in Pennsylvania found that an I.D.-based curriculum violates the establishment clause. Significantly, he also held unconstitutional an evolution-focused disclaimer like the one rejected in South Carolina.
Deeply Held Views
Confronted by these negative rulings, why do the right-wing religious continue to press their cause? For one thing, their views are very deeply held. The most fervent regard Darwin as a form of Anti-Christ and evolution as a battlefield in the war of God against Satan. Showing the same disregard for proof as is evinced by "creation science," they blame instruction in the origin of species for multifold ills, such as drugs and violence in the schools and increases in pregnancies and teen dropouts. In reality, their contentiousness causes very real harms: a tendency to avoid all teaching of how humankind came to be and a cross-contamination of other hot-button topics like sex education.
The result is a dumbing down of the curriculum. As one creationist proponent said, "I say put all the guesses on the table and let the kids decide for themselves which ones they believe." This false equivalence not only defies the Edwards decision, it also ignores the distinction between a true "guess" and a proven theory.
Second, anti-Darwinists can point to, and take comfort from, a lot of general support for their views. A May 2014 Gallup poll reported that 42 percent of respondents believed that God created human beings in their present form within the past 10,000 years; an additional 31 percent thought that humans had evolved but that God had guided the process. Many would agree with William Jennings Bryan's pronouncement in "The Menace of Darwinism": "It is better to trust in the Rock of Ages than to know the age of rocks."
Third, anti-Darwinists profit from the fact that public education responds chiefly to local pressures and is regulated mainly by state, not federal, bodies. Voting within school boards and in elections for their members can easily perpetuate — especially in rural, conservative areas — a lowest common-denominator "democracy" of ignorance and bias.
Appropriating the other side's mantras, advocates of equal time for Genesis rest their claims on the Constitution: They argue that banning their views from the classroom abridges their rights to free exercise, free speech, academic freedom and determination of their children's upbringing. Dubbing evolution itself a religion, they even invoke the establishment clause!
Happily, the courts have rarely been led astray by such nonsense. Yet ordinary citizens should remain alert to forestall incursions into their own schools of faith masquerading as biology.