As soon as news broke last Friday that Senator John McCain had chosen the relatively unknown governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate, a media scramble began to find out more about her. In the brief period since then, one of the most concerning things to come to light about someone who holds public office and aspires to higher office is her belief that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes. As Palin has put it, “let kids debate both sides.” This is a regurgitation of the right wing’s “teach the debate” campaign. On the face of it, it sounds sort of benign, doesn’t it? Give kids more information, let them decide? What could be wrong with that?
Well, one big thing — evolution is science, and creationism is religious belief. There is no scientific debate over evolution, and one simply cannot “debate” the validity of religious belief. Indeed, because creationism is religious belief, the Supreme Court has held that states cannot require it to be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
The right wing’s “teach the debate” campaign is nothing more than their latest effort to undermine evolution, thereby sabotaging the teaching of sound science in our public schools. Having failed in their efforts to ban the teaching of evolution entirely, the right has shifted its strategy by attempting to suggest there is legitimate scientific evidence “questioning” evolution, when there isn’t. (The other part of this strategy is to pretend that religion is science, by calling creationism “intelligent design.”)
The campaign against evolution is not a scientific movement or an educational movement. It is a political campaign being waged by people who think their religious beliefs should be taught as science in our public school classrooms. It’s not good science, good education, or good policy.
Does this mean that students can’t learn about creationism in public schools? Of course not. As part of a sound education, students should be taught about religion and learn about the beliefs of different faith groups, including beliefs about the origin of the universe and the development of human beings. And there are certainly suitable courses, such as World Religions, where such teaching can take place.
But science courses are not among them. Evolution and creationism occupy two separate and independent spheres, and have no place together in science classes. It’s our responsibility to prepare our young people as best we can to succeed in the increasingly competitive global economy of the 21st century. To that end, students need and deserve a quality science education.