Sabotaging Science: Creationist Strategies in the '90's

Strategy 1: Creationism as Science

Where creationists once promoted creationism as a religious imperative, supporters now package their beliefs as “better science.” Since 1968, when the Supreme Court in Epperson v. Arkansas struck down an Arkansas law prohibiting the teaching of evolution on the grounds that the state cannot tailor its curriculum to a particular religious doctrine, creationists have adapted their methods and rhetoric to suit the climate. Epperson gave rise to “creation science” to evade charges of religious teaching, as well as to attempts to legislate “balanced treatment” of creationism in science classes.26 “Balanced treatment” too was struck down by the Supreme Court, in Edwards v. Aguillard. The Court ruled an “equal time” law unconstitutional on the grounds that it “advances a religious doctrine by requiring either the banishment of the theory of evolution from public school classrooms or the presentation of a religious viewpoint that rejects evolution in its entirety.”27

However, the Court also stated that teaching “a variety of scientific theories about the origin of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction,” opening the door to the newest “intelligent design” argument.28

This most current and sophisticated permutation avoids all reference to God and creationism, seeking to justify creationism through science. However, intelligent design rests on the assumption of an unnamed “intelligent designer” who created the world and can be inferred through the complexity of living organisms. Because a scientific theory must be based on observation and experimentation in the natural world, and since the existence of an intelligent designer is a matter of faith that cannot be proven or disproven, “intelligent design” theory is by definition not a scientific theory.29 It is this language that Kansas State Board member Abrams attempted to inject into the standards.

Of Pandas and People is the signature textbook for “intelligent design” proponents and perhaps the most successful example of this strategy. Subject to fierce debate since publication in 1989 by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics in Richardson, Texas, Pandas argues that earth’s complexity can only be explained by the existence of an “intelligent agent.” According to Pandas’ introduction,

“Walking along a beach you may be impressed by the regular patterns of ripples in the sand. The scene may be artistic but it isn’t likely that you would look around for an artist who might be responsible. A natural cause, you rightly conclude. But if you come across words unmistakably reading ‘John loves Mary’ etched into the sand, you would know that no wave action was responsible for that. Nor would you be likely to imagine that, given enough time, grains of sand would spontaneously organize themselves so uniquely. Rather, you would look around for an intelligent cause: John…perhaps even Mary.”30
Pandas’ assertions include the idea that messages encoded in DNA were the result of an intelligent cause and that an intelligent designer shaped clay into living organisms.31 Pandas also rejects the concept of homology (the study of structural similarities in different species to detect evidence of common ancestry). According to Pandas, body parts are pre-designed, interchangeable units that can be plugged into biological “circuits” (species): “Like a car engine, biological systems can only work after they have been assembled by someone who knows what the final result will be.”32

Pandas’ proponents deny that the text promotes creationism by another name. But a glowing book review by the creationist organization Answers in Genesis makes Pandas’ intent plain: to inject “creationists’ interpretations” into public schools:

“Intended for textbook use in public schools, this superbly written book has no Biblical content, yet contains creationists’ interpretations for classic evidences usually found in standard textbooks supporting evolution. Junior high and above will appreciate easy-to-follow explanations/arguments for intelligent refutation of evolution theory. Beautifully illustrated, thoroughly researched!”33
Further undermining proponents’ claims is the candid statement of Pandas co-author Percival Davis, professor of life science at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida, on his purpose in writing the text: “Of course my motives were religious. There’s no question about it.”34 The Southern Baptist Convention recently affirmed Davis’ view, rejoicing that “intelligent design theory” is a “wedge” to get religion back into science, and then into the schools.35

An equally disturbing example of “religion-free” anti-evolutionary material aimed at public school students entitled Evolution: Fact or Belief? is also lauded by Answers in Genesis:

“A powerful, no-holds barred video presentation addressing misguided evolutionary interpretation of geology. Easy-to-absorb graphics for lasting impact. Perfect for “creation evangelism.” No religious content; can be used in public schools.”36
No religious content, yet perfect for “creation evangelism” in public schools.

Of Pandas and People is currently being reviewed for inclusion in the curriculum in Pratt, Kansas. The proponent is a biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, who contends that the book is “pure science” and that those who oppose its use are using religion as a means of censorship. He is opposed by such members of the community as Rev. Larry A. Carver, vicar for Episcopal churches in Pratt and several other towns, who believes that most people would interpret Pandas’ “intelligent designer” as God, which would promote religion in science class in violation of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.37 Pratt is not alone in this debate; the Foundation for Thought and Ethics claims that this book is being used in all 50 states and around the world.38

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