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Stewart reports: "There are six bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution before state legislatures this year: two each in New Hampshire and Missouri, one each in Indiana and Oklahoma. And it's only February."

British scientist and naturalist Charles Darwin. (photo: Corbis)
British scientist and naturalist Charles Darwin. (photo: Corbis)

The New Anti-Science Assault on US Schools

By Katherine Stewart, Guardian UK

12 February 12


In a disturbing trend, anti-evolution campaigners are combining with climate change deniers to undermine public education

ou might have thought it was all over after the 2005 decision by the US district court of Middle Pennsylvania (pdf), which ruled in the case of the Dover Area schools that teaching intelligent design is unconstitutional. You might have guessed that they wouldn't come back after the 1987 US supreme court decision in Edwards v Aguillard, which deemed the teaching of creationism in Louisiana schools unconstitutional. Or maybe you figured that the opponents of evolution had their Waterloo in the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial in Tennessee.

They are back. There are six bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution before state legislatures this year: two each in New Hampshire and Missouri, one each in Indiana and Oklahoma. And it's only February.

For the most part, the authors of these bills are singing a song we've heard before. Jerry Bergevin, the Republican sponsor of one of the New Hampshire bills, says of evolution that "It's a worldview and it's godless." He blames the teaching of evolution for Nazism and Columbine. Josh Brecheen, the sponsor of the Oklahoma bill, wants to stop the teaching of "the religion of evolution." These legislators, and their colleagues in Missouri and Indiana, trot out the hoary line that evolution is "just a theory" and that real science means saying that every point of view is just as good as any other.

Most of these bills aren't likely to get anywhere. The Indiana bill, which specifically proposes the teaching of "creation science", so obviously falls foul of the supreme court's 1987 ruling that it's hard to imagine it getting out of committee. The same could be said for the Missouri bill, which calls for the "equal treatment" of "biological evolution and biological intelligent design".

Still, it's worth asking: why is this happening now? Well, in part, it's just that anti-evolution bills are an indicator of the theological temperature in state houses, and there is no question that the temperature has been rising. New Hampshire, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Missouri turned deeper shades of red in the 2010 elections, as did the US Congress.

But there are a couple of new twists that make this same-old story more interesting than usual. One has to do with the temperature in a less metaphorical sense. The Oklahoma bill isn't properly speaking just an "anti-evolution" bill; it is just as opposed to the "theory" of "global warming". A bill pending in Tennessee likewise targets "global warming" alongside "biological evolution". These and other bills aim their rhetoric at "scientific controversies" in plural, and one of the New Hampshire bills does not even bother to specify which controversies it has in mind.

The convergence here is, to some degree, cultural. It just so happens that the people who don't like evolution are often the same ones who don't want to hear about climate change. It is also the case that the rhetoric of the two struggles is remarkably similar - everything is a "theory", and we should "teach the controversy". But we also cannot overlook the fact is that there is a lot more money at stake in the climate science debate than in the evolution wars. Match those resources with the passions aroused by evolution, and we may have a new force to be reckoned with in the classroom.

The other significant twist has to do with the fact that the new anti-evolution - make that anti-science - bills are emerging in the context of the most vigorous assault on public education in recent history. In Oklahoma, for example, while Senator Brecheen fights the forces of evolution and materialism, the funding for schools is being cut, educational attainments are falling, and conservative leaders are agitating for school voucher systems, which, in the name of "choice", would divert money from public schools to private schools - many of them religious. The sponsor of Indiana's anti-science bill, Dennis Kruse, who happens to be chairman of the Senate education committee, is also fighting the two battles at once.

The Heartland Institute - which has received funding in the past from oil companies and is a leading source of climate science skepticism - also lobbies strongly for school vouchers and other forms of "school transformation" that are broadly aimed at undermining the current public school system. The Discovery Institute - a leading voice for intelligent design - has indicated its support of exactly the same "school reform" initiatives.

If you can't shut down the science, the new science-deniers appear to be saying, you should shut down the schools. It would be a shame if they succeeded in replacing the teaching of science with indoctrination. It would be worse if they were to close the public school house doors altogether. your social media marketing partner


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+32 # Jesus Follower 2012-02-12 17:18
To all "believers" who insist on denying scientific evidence: It is always fascinating to me how believers in an all-powerful Deity cannot believe that that Power could choose to create the universe by starting it and then backing off to watch what developed...kno wing of course the end from the beginning. Nor does it occur to them that perhaps a treatise on evolution would have been tough slogging for listeners, then readers, when the religious leaders/prophet s began to tell/write stuff down. Still is, obviously. A nice allegory does the trick wonderfully. But allegory is not factual, even it if be true in spirit. So the "literalists" should get over it. God is all-powerful? Therefore "S/He" can create the earth in however which way "S/He" chooses to do so. And haven't we been kept occupied with finding out just how amazing and wonderful it all is? And so why are we working so hard to destroy it by Fracking and Drilling and Blasting, not to mention blowing each other up, and otherwise Raping it into ruin as fast as we can? Get on with life and stop trying to make everyone over in YOUR image. Leave that to the Power (whatever you might call it) that you believe in. The lot of you are the reason I don't call myself "Christian".
+12 # scallywag 2012-02-13 03:48
"Get on with life and stop trying to make everyone over in YOUR image. Leave that to the Power (whatever you might call it) that you believe in."

I've been saying the same thing for years. There are two reasons these nutjobs shove their anitquarian ideology down everyone's throats:
1. They are not pro-life, they are pro-tellingpeop lewhattodo
2. The "God" they choose to believe in has a history of punishing the many for the sins of a few. The flood, the Medianites (God ordered all male Midianite children killed, 32000 virgins raped, and approximately 750,000 animals slaughtered because of one "heathen festival"), Sodom and Gomorrah, and so on. So, if these people believe these stories to be true, then they are justifiably afraid of a massacre of all peoples based on the actions of a few homosexuals, Muslims, and intelligent beings. I doubt they think about this rationale though. The hardly think at all.
+4 # Doubter 2012-02-13 15:43
"believers" are the reason things are so screwed up.
To believe what you are told is the path of least resistance and it never occurs to most people to think for themselves or even wonder why things are as they are - or even to wonder why THEY ARE at all.
The 'god of the gaps' did it, is all the answer they need.
+3 # Doubter 2012-02-13 17:06
"GOD" is just a word unless you can truly define what it means; but this is admittedly impossible.
If someone says: "God did this or that." I automatically hear: "I don't know what" did or caused this or that.
But then I only "know" that I (truly) know nothing.
+17 # Rick Levy 2012-02-12 19:32
There's more to the consequences of evolution denial than meets the eye.

See "Caution: Belief in Creationism May Be Hazardous to Your Health (and mine)"
+32 # BeaDeeBunker 2012-02-13 00:03
I wonder how high the roof is on the Oklahoma State House? Senator Brecheen should be taken up to that roof, held over the edge of that roof by his feet and asked a simple scientific question: "Mr. Senator, do you believe that gravity is just a theory, or proven science? If you are dropped from this roof will you plunge to the ground, accelerating to 32 feet per second squared, or will you float down to earth and be caught by an angle?"
After all Senator, gravity is just a theory, just like evolution. Sir, are you feeling lucky today...well, are you mister?
+20 # freeportguy 2012-02-13 00:05
Whatever bills they pass against climate change will still NOT stop it from happening... Those "Neville Chamberlains of environment" will wait until we need to wear masks before realizing that we DO have a problem...D'OH!

I wish those same people would deny themselves all things (medical, technological, etc.) arising from science. Fat chance...
+13 # DaveM 2012-02-13 00:29
It is odd that those who claim allegiance to an omnipotent, omniscient deity could be so arrogant as to presume to know how their Creator accomplished Creation.

Has anyone else ever noticed that in all faiths, "God" (or equivalent) is subtle and mysterious, able to be perceived only by the priesthood, while the "devil" (or equivalent) is always intelligent, obvious, and clever? Not to mention that the evil one is always around the next corner in the form of popular music lyrics, playing cards, dancing, and science textbooks, just waiting for you to lay out a hand of solitaire and condemn yourself to hell. Once again the priesthood "knows" this, while everyone else must simply take it on faith. Anyone can see the work of pure evil in Auschwitz, but no....the true devil is warbling this week's jiggle hit over the airwaves in the form of a soon to be forgotten pop tart.

The "enemy" of blind faith is reason. That can only be regarded as evil by those who seek to control others through a faith-based carrot and stick. Reason gave us the architecture and tools to put up a church...blind faith bombs or burns churches because they have the "wrong" symbol on them or because the "wrong" people attend. If you want an airplane invented, designed, built, or operated safely, you'll have to look to reason. If you want one flown into a building, only blind faith will do.
+5 # vertglnt 2012-02-13 19:44
Of course they know "how their Creator accomplished Creation" - the Bible tells us how (Genesis. The Bible is the word of God. Would God lie to us?

The enemy of blind faith is not reason, but science, a combination of reason and empiricism. Reason alone is insufficient.
However, if ever used, it would certainly destroy the blind beliefs that are largely self-contradict ory.

+10 # futhark 2012-02-13 00:33
The root of the problem is that so many people, including many science teachers, do not know what "science" is. I had two BAs with science majors and had taught sciences in high school for 15 years before I took a summer course entitled "Evolution and the Nature of Science", in which I learned the parameters that define the endeavor called "science".

Science is the discipline that seeks an understanding of the natural world through careful observation, experimentation , and logical reasoning. It is based on three unprovable assumptions:

1) All natural phenomena have natural causes. Invoking the supernatural automatically puts one's activities and conclusions outside of science.

2) Explanations, called theories, must be testable to determine if they can be considered valid. If they are not testable, no confidence can be placed in them.

3) The simplest explanation that is consistent with all the facts and observations is the most likely to be useful (notice I never said that it was "true"). This is one version of a philosophical principle known as "Occam's Razor".

Also, scientists seek understanding and a recognition of patterns in nature that allow predictions to be made. They are not seeking absolute "truth", recognizing that their conclusions are always limited by their available data and their imaginations and deductive reasoning powers.

I had 29 symbols left, but was told my comment was "too long".
+6 # vertglnt 2012-02-13 19:49
It is exactly this description of science which should be taught as part of an introductory course in high schools. It actually belong to a part of philosophy called "epistomology", or "theory of knowledge". In Europe, philosophy is a required subject at the high school level (lycëe in France).
I can't imagine that this would ever be allowed here in the BSA (Benighted States of America).

+2 # bluepilgrim 2012-02-14 01:36
Sort of an aside, but there is an excellent site to learn about this sort of stuff. One page more immediately relevent is
+2 # Progressive Patriot 2012-02-14 04:58
Maybe it should be taught in Sunday School ... in the first grade.
+4 # Progressive Patriot 2012-02-14 04:57
"Careful observation" ... doesn't that take time? We can't have people sitting around being "lazy" while they watch the world evolve. Scientists must be lazy people, so we have to teach creationism, that came out of a book written by humans who _weren't_ observing the natural world.
+11 # Regina 2012-02-13 00:40
They need to study the saga of the ancient king who went to his kingdom's coast and ordered the tide to stop. They should try it themselves. Meanwhile, it took the self-designated authority in the Vatican several hundred years to concede that Galileo was correct claiming that the earth revolved around the sun, not vice versa. But that was only a theory.......
+5 # vertglnt 2012-02-13 20:00
This was king Canute, a slavic-scandina vian king who reigned in Britain around 1030, not long before the Norman conquest. As such, he was hardly "ancient". that said, Regina, your comment is spot on.

+2 # futhark 2012-02-15 03:55
Never use the pejorative "only" to describe a scientific theory. A good theory with predictive power is the highest order product of the scientific enterprise. It is unfortunate that the same work is used in the vernacular to denote what a scientist would refer to as a hypothesis, an untested explanation.
+15 # Alexis Fecteau 2012-02-13 01:15
The US is the laughing stock of all of "God's creation"! Pathetic.
+8 # scallywag 2012-02-13 03:37
"Belief" has nothing to do with evolution. It is a scientific theory. You either accept the increasingly substantial evidence supporting it or you offer evidence to disprove it. Go ahead acolytes of archaic tyranny, try to disprove evolution.
+1 # futhark 2012-02-13 10:46
"Proof" also has nothing to do with scientific theories. Proof implies absolute, 100% confidence in some proposition or idea. Theories can never be "proved" because to do so we would need to know that we have collected all the possible data bearing on the issue and have confidence that no one would be able to formulate a better explanation.

Proofs only apply to Platonic hypothetical universes of the mind, such as exists in mathematics. Science applies to the natural world in which we really exist.

Theories can be shown to be stronger or weaker, depending on their predictive power, but never "disproved".
+4 # Rick Levy 2012-02-13 20:53
That's why I don't "believe" in the theory of evolution. Natural selection exists whether I want it to or not.
+12 # 666 2012-02-13 06:22
dont forget this assault is much broader than the article's limited scope. recent legislative bills (in at least colorado & florida) have tried to outlaw the socratic method of teaching...

"education" in this country is rapidly becoming (more of) an example of orwellian doublespeak.

keep'em ignorant, under control, and enslaved, while rape, pillage & loot in the name of god.

Simon de montfort had a solution for this shit in the early 1200s which is about where these people belong...
+5 # Texgotham 2012-02-13 08:04
Maybe God spoke to Charles Darwin, too.
+3 # Texgotham 2012-02-13 08:40
How do we know that God didn't speak to Charles Darwin?
+7 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-02-13 09:54
War is Peace! Hate is Love! Ignorance is Science! Madness is Sanity! 1984 is long past!
+4 # reiverpacific 2012-02-13 11:06
The most honest and far-seeing scientists are finding that Theoretical Physics, Astrophysics and Spirituality "may" be coming together in a way that is far beyond my college-level mathematics abilities but admit to not knowing everything.
And Einstein stated that his formulae and research were heading towards "Knowing the mind of God"
and String-theory is based on musical function.
I once met an old guy -"Howard" for reference, a retired worker in a shake mill who is probably gone now, in a small town in Oregon who was a mathematical genius and wrote a book on the "spiritual connectedness of prime numbers", admitting that he only got it published because it was unique and the publishers were baffled but sympathetic.
He went into it a bit with me personally and lost me in ten minutes (I have two degrees, one with quite a bit of math required) but brought music -especially rhythm, into the mix and let me borrow a copy of the book -one of the few- for a while and it all came out to require a lot of work* but made perfect sense in the overall picture, which is the only way I could get it -but it was undoubtedly a work of genius.
* Trouble is, in terms of the subject-matter of this article, the last thing that these people want is "work" or curiosity to become wiser in the most holistic sense where common-sense, rational thought and spirituality are benign bedfellows, as "666" rightly points out, in their medievalist dictatorial aspirations!
+7 # Glen 2012-02-13 11:12
Evolution is not a theory. The methods by which it occurs are theories. Much may be observed when studying adaptation, for instance. It occurs in a back yard. The mechanism by which it is occurring is what we strive to understand.

The scientific method may be applied to many aspects of our lives, not just science.
+5 # lilpat126 2012-02-13 12:30
As you watch your children growing and becoming more aware of their surrounding you don't think of them as "evolving"? I did and as middle-age persons they are still evolving. And as a Senior Citizen so am I. I rejoice in my evolution. Everyday I grow into a more complex person who has taken much from nature, other people, and yes, from others peoples ideas of religion.
I reject most of that because I have grown to the point where I cannot take what they say as "gospel". It has been written by man starting 200 years after the death of Christ. Which to me it was legend, or campfire talk. Then it has been translated numerous times. Since not all languages have the same word for something the next best word ( in the mind of the translator) was substituted. Then changes were ordered by various Popes and my favorite the King James "Version". The most revered by the right wing. It is a VERSION that King James ordered. No where is it said it was the actual writings of the past. In fact people who have gone and translated the Bible from ancient writing found that they are nothing like what is pedaled today. But then as the old saying goes "Ignorance is bliss". But, then most of the people who believe all of it as gospel are not happy people. The principles of the Bible are good, Too bad people don't take then and try to change for the good instead of emphasizing the negative side
+4 # futhark 2012-02-13 14:08
Historically, the term "evolution" was first used in the sense that modern biologists would use the term "development": the changes an individual organism undergoes with the passage of time. Darwin only use the term "evolve" on the last page in the Origin of Species, I suspect trying to draw an analogy between changes in species over generations and changes in individuals over time.

Evolutionary change of the individual or of a species is a survival imperative, for without adaptive change, no organism (or species) could survive the many challenges encountered in life.
+3 # lark3650 2012-02-14 14:48
Science leads one to question, think and develop reasoning is essential for our children to learn to reason and think for themselves.

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