Is teaching creationism only being fair to the children?
- Is teaching creationism only being fair to the children?
by Todd Greene (2/28/2008)
In regarding to teaching creationism in public school science classes,
when creationists say things like, "It's only fair (to the children)
to teach both theories," what they really mean is that since they
don't like the science, because it contradicts their religious
beliefs, they want to teach their religious beliefs to children. "It's
only fair to teach both viewpoints."
There are two serious problems with this. One is a category problem,
and the other is a serious legal problem.
The category problem has to do with the fact that in science classes
you're supposed to be teaching... well, uh, SCIENCE.
Creationism isn't science. When creationists use the term "both
theories," they're using a false comparison based on a semantic
ambiguity of two different meanings of the word "theory." Look up
"theory" in the dictionary.
A *scientific* theory is "A set of statements or principles devised to
explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been
repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make
predictions about natural phenomena" (American Heritage Dictionary,
4th Ed.). Creationism is only a "theory" in the sense of "An
assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture,"
and a faith-based conjecture, at that. These two meanings are almost
the opposite of one another. The first is based on extensive
scientific examination and testing. The second is basically an initial
hypothesis, or just a guess.
These are not the same thing at all. There is no comparison. The
scientific theory of evolution has been repeatedly tested,
experimentally refined and verified by scientific research, and is
fruitfully used to guide further scientific investigation. The
"theory" (i.e., the religious doctrines) of creationism is none of
these things. It's religious doctrine believed on faith.
Religious doctrine is not science. Anti-evolution rhetoric based on
religious belief is not science. Pseudoscience claims, motivated by
religious belief, and used to pretend creationism is scientific, are
Thus, to teach children "both theories" is to seriously confuse them,
even fundamentally mislead them, about science. It is not at all fair
to children to tell them, "We're going to teach you about science,"
and then teach them sectarian religious concepts as if they are
science, or teach them false claims about science based on religious
motivations and call it science. When something isn't science, we
shouldn't be misleading children by pretending it's science.
Creationism doesn't belong in science classes because it isn't
science. Attacks against evolution based on creationist beliefs don't
belong in science classes because they aren't science.
The legal problem has to do with the Establishment Clause of the First
Amendment of the Constitution. In numerous court cases it has been
determined quite consistently that the idea of teaching creationism as
if it's science in public schools is a violation of the First
Amendment. (Because it's sectarian religious belief, not science.)
In particular, in the 2005 case in Pennsylvania (Kitzmiller v. Dover
Area School District), it was determined that the current popular form
of creationism called "intelligent design" is simply another tactic of
the creationist strategy of trying to get religious beliefs into
public school science classes by falsely pretending that sectarian
religious beliefs are science. (The case didn't determine anything we
didn't already know about this creationist tactic, it's just that the
case is an example of arriving at the same conclusion through a formal
legal process.) Again, this is a violation of the First Amendment.
Creationist opposition to the teaching of evolution in public school
science classes is simply one major skirmish of a culture war going on
in the United States between people with conservative religious
beliefs and everyone else. We are where we are at now as the result of
our history, and in this case it's the result of religious traditions
in the United States that have opposed evolution and other areas of
science for over a hundred years. The current threads of
anti-evolution thought began with the backlash against the promotion
of science education that started in the late 1950s, most notably from
the movement started by the young earth creationist Henry M. Morris.
The young earth creationists virtually singled-handedly created the
idea of a "scientific creationism," by generating a significant body
of literature misrepresenting and distorting science, filled with
false "scientific" information.
To this very day we are still dealing with the false "facts" and
fallacious arguments that young earth creationists put out in the
1960s and 1970s, still dealing with the fallout of a whole generation
(almost two now) of conservative religious people brought up being
taught all these false claims about science that are actually not
scientific at all. In discussions with creationists that are about
specific areas of science, the problem is not what creationists know,
but what they think they know that just ain't so. Creationists will
often say that their disagreement with scientists isn't about the
facts, but about the interpretation of the facts. Yet in actual
discussions with creationists, when dealing with the specific details
about specific areas of science, we find that creationists dispute the
facts all the time. (Most often they're simply unaware of the facts,
but when you bring them to their attention they deliberately ignore them.)
The solution to this particular skirmish in the culture war is to meet
it head on. The reason the problem has become as extensive as it is
right now is precisely because in the past when people with certain
religious beliefs attacked science, we've had the general social
tendency to "turn the other cheek" and give space to them - out of a
misplaced respect for religious belief. If people want to believe
things on the basis of faith, and they do this privately, more power
to them. But when people speak out publicly, attacking science, using
pseudoscientific claims that are factually wrong and using arguments
that are logically fallacious, the need to be confronted head on just
as publicly, specifically addressing their erroneous claims and
explaining why they are wrong. They should not be given undue respect
for publicly proclaiming manifestly false claims about science just
because their false claims are motivated by religious belief.
It's because those who came before us did not meet creationists head
on as openly, forthrightly, and explicitly as should have been done,
that the problem has festered and grown so that we have the even worse
problems we're having now. So now it's up to us to deal with it, and
now we know we cannot shy away from this because we see what shying
away from the problem in the past has led to. If we do not meet these
creationists head on, and deal with them with all the forthright
critical scrutiny they deserve, they really will sabotage science
education in this country, as has been their objective for almost 50
And that's the only thing that's fair to the children of this country.