Sunday, November 21, 2004

Creeping Creationism

From the Nation:

Some days it feels like 1925--when William Jennings Bryan defended the merits of creationism in the Scopes Monkey trial--all over again.

I've written before about how the Right wants to dismantle the achievements of the 20th century--the New Deal, environmentalism, civil rights and civil liberties. But now rightwing social conservatives, our home-grown fundamentalists, are seeking to unravel the scaffolding of science and reason, and this battle deserves attention from humanists of all stripes. One of the most virulent expressions of the rightwing assault on modernity is the war against evolution being waged in America's classrooms and courtrooms, parks and civic institutions.

Slipping creationism into civic discussions picked up steam in the 1990s. That's when
Kansas issued new state science guidelines in which "evolution" was replaced with the phrase "change over time," and Illinois made a similar change.

In Oklahoma and Alabama, creationists inserted disclaimers into biology textbooks which cast doubt on evolution. In 1999, school boards in Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska tried to modify the teaching of evolution, in some cases trying to have it excised from the state standards.

Now, we're into the 21st century, Bush is in the White House for another four years, and creationists feel emboldened to impose their beliefs on secular America. From schools to parks, creationists are moving aggressively.

Click here for the rest.

Back when I was teaching high school in Texas, I got an email from one of my students who wanted to know what I thought about evolution. So I told him: evolution is a scientific fact. You don't have to agree with it, but understand that if you don't, you're up against the consensus of the scientific community. Even if you fall for all that nonsense that "evolution is just a theory, and cannot be proven in the same way we can demonstrate that sodium and chlorine become salt," you can't deny that humans and chimpanzees differ from each other by only 2% on a genetic level. That silly "theory" argument betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how science works: electricty, atoms, relativity, these are all theories as well, and if you start bashing evolution for being a theory, you might as well start bashing electricity, too. You can easily argue that evolution was God's divine plan (what the hell do scientists know about God's will?), but you're moving outside of the realm of science if you take the position that evolution didn't happen at all. Again, you don't have to believe me, but you must understand that this is what science says.

A few days later, I was called to the principal's office and questioned about my email. Straight up, I told him what I wrote--after all, it's the twenty first century; why should I feel nervous or guilty about defending science? I made sure to stress that I didn't tell the kid that he had to believe in evolution, just that he had to understand it in order to understand biology, to understand science. My principal told me to watch what I told my students. Apparently, his parents had gotten pretty angry. It is important to note that this student was eighteen years old at the time, a senior in the last couple of months of the school year, essentially an adult. I wasn't messing with some fourteen year-old's impressionable mind here; I was trying to have a scaled down intellectual discussion with a grown-up.

The point to this little rant is not that fundamentalists are lunatics, which is obvious. Rather, my point is to show just how far along this whole creationist thing has come: I was admonished by my boss for defending science even though I made a special effort to stress to my student that he didn't have to believe in evolution at all!!! For some reason, out of countless outrages perpetrated by the fundamentalists, creationism in the schools really gets under my skin. Maybe it's because attacking evolution is a direct attack on logic and rationality itself. I'm not sure, but these people just make my blood boil.