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Today is Wednesday, October 18, 2017 at 04:01 AM.



n 1987, when the Supreme Court found that "creation science" is in fact religion and could not be taught in public schools, Antonin Scalia wrote in a dissenting opinion that people were "entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools." These words provided the new tactic for a vocal minority of religious fundamentalists, who up until the court ruling were able to insist that "creationism" was science. The method is to require teachers in the name of scientific fairness to give equal time to the evidence against evolution. This is apparently so effective that new life has been breathed into the anti-evolution movement yet again. If the story repeats itself as it seems to on a regular basis, some states' legislatures will approve pro-creationist legislation and then the higher courts will strike it down. The issue has been moved for various votes in Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, and Ohio with variable success.

The innumerable facts of evolution cannot be negated, so what is the threat? Currently, children and young adults all across America are being denied a quality science education for at least two reasons. The first
results from the intimidation that elementary, middle, high school, and even some college teachers face by the threat of harassment from the vocal minority. It is easier to teach any one of a thousand other issues in science than to confront an irate parent who has been convinced that to learn the facts of evolution is equivalent to questioning the existence of God. Such an impassioned and well-intentioned parent becomes a formidable adversary to a science teacher when they are equipped with a fundamentalist handbook that allows them to use highly technical language describing aspects of the second law of thermodynamicst (for example) and demand that the teacher account for the existence of life in any way other than through the work of a deity. It is easy to understand why one might find another subject to teach instead of the single, most unifying principle in all of biology.

The second way children are denied a quality science education relates to the Scalia opinion, which comes from either a lack of understanding of the nature of science or from a hidden agenda. Many teachers (as a result of historical weakness in science education) cannot seem to embrace the concept that Pope John Paul II put into words only several weeks ago, that "consideration of the method used in diverse orders of knowledge allows for the concordance of two points of view which seem irreconcilable." Elaborating on the two points of view, he states that "the sciences of observation describe and measure with ever greater precision the multiple manifestations of life . . . while theology extracts . . . the final meaning according to the Creator's designs." Scientific creationists immediately attacked the Pope, claiming that he is not a scientist.

On the bright side, there are some benefits associated with this remarkable debate. It raises many interesting academic issues. Scientists, theologians, and philosophers have a ready foil for speaking and teaching to lay audiences about the nature of science and religion, which in general they agree are not in conflict. On the darker side, however, is the realization that the debate would not be occurring except for the embarrassing state of literacy, especially science literacy, that exists in our country. The academic debate does not seem to be worth the intimidation of teachers and the continued subjugation of the minds of children. For example, the Alabama Board of Education required this year that when school opened, every biology textbook must carry a paste-in warning stating that evolution is a controversial theory that shouldn't be considered fact, and in Draffenville, Kentucky, the pages of a science textbook that deal with evolution have been glued together.