Usually, summer is a quiet time for state legislatures, so it was a chance to take a breath from the evolution denialism that many states were trying to force on some of the public schools. Of course, anti-Constitution forces won in Tennessee, continued to make fools of themselves in Louisiana, and failed to gain traction elsewhere, but it’s an ongoing battle.
Unfortunately, new activities in Missouri and Kentucky might attempt to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which explicitly prohibits state and Federal governments from showing any preference toward any religion, which includes creationism. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has reported that Missouri voters approved, by an 83-17 margin, a constitutional amendment (pdf) that adds a provision “that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.” According to NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau, the change is worrisome from the point of view of science education, because “those words give students the legal right to skip assignments related to evolution if the subject matter conflicts with their beliefs, Rosenau says.”
Just to be clear, “evolution” itself is not mentioned directly or even in some sort of code word in the ballot proposal, nor in the legislature’s discussion of the proposal. The New York Times (August 6, 2012) editorialized that the proposal “would allow students who believe in creationism, for example, to opt out of assignments on evolution.” The process of teaching science in public schools should be to provide the skills of critical thinking, which includes the Fact of Evolution, not to be able to ignore it blindly. If children want to learn creationism, a religious belief with absolutely no evidence supporting it, then teach it along with other religious beliefs in church or at home. Leave real science for schools.
According to NCSE’s executive director, Eugenie C. Scott,
It’s a recipe for disaster. With the new amendment in place, Missouri’s biology teachers are bound to receive a flurry of requests — or demands — for students to be excused from learning about evolution. And that’s going to create trouble, since nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
NCSE has also reported that Kentucky state senator are expressing concern about the existence of evolution in the state science curriculum and standardized science testing. Lexington Herald-Leader (August 14, 2012) stated that, “Several GOP lawmakers questioned new proposed student standards and tests that delve deeply into biological evolution during a Monday meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Education. In an exchange with officials from ACT, the company that prepares Kentucky’s new state testing program, those lawmakers discussed whether evolution was a fact and whether the biblical account of creationism also should be taught in Kentucky classrooms.”
State senator David Givens (R-District 9) told the Herald-Leader, “I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution.”
Another state representative, Ben Waite (R-District 10), actually denies evolution directly by stating, “the theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science — Darwin made it up. My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.” Is Waite serious? Of course he is.
But Vincent Cassone, chair of the University of Kentucky’s biology department, told the Herald-Leader, “The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research. … There is more evidence for evolution than there is for the theory of gravity, than the idea that things are made up of atoms, or Einstein’s theory of relativity. It is the finest scientific theory ever devised.”
And let’s never forget the quote by Theodosius Dobzhansky that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” That’s biology, medicine, genetics, agriculture, psychology, everything living. Evolution is based on mountains of evidence that has withstood the bright lights of criticism and and self-analysis for over 100 years. Creationism cannot withstand a minute’s worth of analysis. Well, there’s not any evidence, so how can there be any criticism, but you get the point.
If Kentucky or Missouri want to create world class scientists, physicians, and researchers, they need children who graduate from high school with broad background in critical thinking and a complete knowledge of evolution. Evolution is a scientific fact, and to deny it, denies the proper scientific education of children.