Sabotaging Science: Creationist Strategies in the '90's

Strategy 2: Shifting Rhetoric

In 1987, Paul MacKinney, chairman of the Midwest Creation Fellowship, predicted that in the wake of the Supreme Court decision barring “equal time” for creationism, the movement would need to change its public relations and legal strategy in order to portray themselves as victims of discrimination.39

He was right. Creationist proponents appropriate such immensely appealing concepts as freedom of speech, tolerance for diversity, individual choice, and opposition to censorship. “Pandas stalked by censors” declaimed Phyllis Schlafly upon the failure of the text to receive a “fair” hearing by Alabama’s textbook committee.40 “Those who oppose censorship are not as zealous for free speech as they say. Sexual perversity, gory violence—anything goes—except if you question one of their most cherished beliefs: evolution,” criticized James Dobson’s Focus on the Family magazine on the “blacklist[ing]” of creationist scientists.41 Concerned Women for America chairwoman Beverly LaHaye rejoiced that the Kansas Board vote was “a return to freedom, federalism, and fairness in Kansas’ public schools,” praised the return of free thought, and noted that “Historically, it has been the totalitarian societies that suppressed such activities in schools.”42 Such charges ignore the fact that students can and do learn about creationism in appropriate classes, such as comparative religion or history courses, where they learn about the beliefs of different religious groups.

“Anti-censorship” language also made its way into the Kansas science standards. In the introduction, the Board first deleted language addressing the need for teachers to treat student beliefs with respect. It likewise deleted recommendations that, should a student bring up an issue outside the realm of science, the teacher should “encourage the student to discuss the question further with his or her family and clergy.” After deleting the entire paragraph relating to Kansas state statutes’ protection of students’ religious freedom, the Board inserted: “No evidence or analysis of evidence that contradicts a current science theory should be censored.”43

Pro-creationist Board president Linda Holloway clearly understood the implication of this revision when she told a national Religious Right magazine that the inserted statement would free teachers to address the many objections to evolutionary theory, and thereby made all the trouble worthwhile. “I’d fall on my sword over this issue,” she told Citizen, Focus on the Family’s magazine, “I wasn’t going to let evolution become the central focus of science in Kansas.”44

The appeals not to censor “alternative theories” of creation were enormously successful in Kansas. Creationists argue: Why not present both, and let the student decide? On the face of it, this seems fair and eminently reasonable. Yet in substance, the proposal is no different than having a math teacher walk into class and write on the board 2+2=4 next to 2+2=5, and telling the class to decide. Ironically, this is the relativistic approach for which conservatives have traditionally attacked liberals.

These calls for “fairness” in science may sound appealing but they are bad science: evolution is in fact the only scientific theory regarding the origin and modification of species. There is ongoing debate within the scientific community as to how evolution occurs, but virtually no question that it occurs.45 “Alternative theories” like intelligent design posit an intelligent hand in creation that is not subject to observation and experimentation and are therefore not scientific by definition. Exposure to inaccurate information is not a measure of freedom of thought. The National Academy of Sciences sums up the potential detriment to students’ learning in the following way:

“[T]o reintroduce it [Creationism] into the public schools at this time as an element of science teaching would be akin to requiring the teaching of Ptolemaic astronomy or pre-Columbian geography...In rejecting evidence for the great age of the universe, [C]reationists are in conflict with data from astronomy, astrophysics, nuclear physics, geology, geochemistry and geophysics” as well as evidence provided by “paleontology, comparative anatomy, biogeography, embryology, biochemistry, [and] molecular genetics.” “Incorporating the teaching of such doctrines into a science curriculum stifles the development of critical thinking patterns in the developing mind and seriously compromises the best interests of public education. [emphasis added]”46

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