Sabotaging Science: Creationist Strategies in the '90's

A report by People For the American Way Foundation


The Kansas Board of Education’s recent decision to remove evolution from the state science standards has once again brought the debate about creationism into the national spotlight. Yet the Board’s decision is not an isolated incident. For example, Kentucky recently deleted the word “evolution” from its new state science guidelines, substituting the words “change over time” during a last-minute editing session. As in Kansas, the change was done over the objection of educators and scientists involved in the process of drafting the state standards.1 The Illinois State Board of Education made a similar substitution in 1997.2 And most recently, Oklahoma joined Alabama in requiring a disclaimer on biology textbooks.3 Bills pending before the state legislatures in Georgia and Ohio would require teachers to present evidence inconsistent with evolution whenever teaching the topic. School boards in Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska have tried to remove evolution from the state standards or modify its teaching in the past few years.4 Faced with personal attack and sometimes the loss of livelihood, teachers are increasingly reluctant to teach this fundamental scientific principle.

The debate is not new. Brought to the national consciousness in 1925 by the famous “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee which pitted two great orators, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, against each other, the teaching of evolution has been accompanied by court battles, school board clashes, and textbook censorship throughout the century.

More recent are the increasingly sophisticated strategies that creationists use in an effort to inject their ideas into public school science curricula. These strategies rely more on presenting evolution and creationism as two equally plausible, although competing scientific theories that should be included in the curriculum rather than on banning evolution outright. They also reflect the Right’s successes at the local and state school board level, enabling pressure to be applied not just from outside the system but from within it as well. Religious Right organizations such as the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, Citizens for Excellence in Education, American Family Association, Rev. D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministry, “Christian think-tanks” like the Foundation for Thought and Ethics and the Institute for Creationism Research, and Religious Right litigation groups as the Rutherford Institute and Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, keep debate alive and use their media outlets to push these strategies.

Because the Kansas incident brought to fruition some of these strategies, this paper will first examine that event, then discuss creationists’ developing strategies and arguments, as well as some of the groups advancing the creationist cause.

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