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Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Posted: January 21, 2011 05:31 PM

Send in the Creationist Clowns and Watch Science Education Suffer


The circus is coming back to town! I hope everyone is ready for the spectacle that is certain to ensue. And I hope everyone is ready for the expenses that this particular circus is guaranteed to incur.

The host will (again) be the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) as it continues its assault on science education across the state of Texas. Two years ago, despite outrage expressed by the country's scientific community and over the express wishes of educational experts, the SBOE rewrote the state's science guidelines to make them particularly friendly to creationism. In March the SBOE will begin the process of approving the textbooks to be used in implementing the new guidelines. Because Texas is such a large market for textbooks, publishers across the country ensure that their offerings will be acceptable to the SBOE. Thus the SBOE's actions directly impact science education everywhere.

And the fun has already begun! Amid the dozens of publishers that notified the SBOE of their intent to submit scientific material for review is one that should raise serious concerns for anyone who cares about science literacy. Similarly, those who believe in religious pluralism, that students should not be indoctrinated in any particular religion, should also be alarmed. The publisher is the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), and its track record is as clear as it is biased.

FTE is the publisher of the notorious intelligent design (ID) text Of Pandas and People at the center of the Dover, Penn., trial in 2005 in which Judge John E. Jones, III ruled that teaching intelligent design was unconstitutional.

To this day, FTE continues to make the outrageous claim that there are no religious overtones to either ID in general or Of Pandas and People in particular. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.

As the trial so well documented, FTE simply took creation science, a subject the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard ruled could not be taught in public schools due to its unconstitutional promotion of religion, dressed it up in fancy new clothes and called it intelligent design. Judge Jones was brutal in his assessment of the book and of FTE in his ruling:

As Plaintiffs meticulously and effectively presented to the Court, Pandas went through many drafts, several of which were complete prior to and some after the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards, which held that the Constitution forbids teaching creationism as science. By comparing the pre and post Edwards drafts of Pandas, three astonishing points emerge: (1) the definition for creation science in early drafts is identical to the definition for ID; (2) cognates of the word creation (creationism and creationist), which appeared approximately 150 times were deliberatively and systematically replaced with the phrase ID; and (3) the changes occurred shortly after the Supreme Court held that creation science is religious and cannot be taught in public school science classes in Edwards. This word substitution is telling, significant and reveals that a purposeful change of words was effected without any corresponding change in content, which directly refutes FTE's argument that by merely disregarding the words "creation" and "creationism," FTE expressly rejected creationism in Pandas.

Some of the data presented by Barbara Forrest to demonstrate the transmogrification of creationism into intelligent design is every bit as humorous as it is sad. By comparing different drafts of the book, obtained via subpoenas issued in the Dover case, she found examples of "evolutionary" change.

As Judge Jones pointed out, in an attempt to "fix" the book to make it compatible with the Supreme Court ruling, word substitutions were employed. However, at times the substitutions were done so poorly that "fossils" of the original forms remained. Consider two versions of the book. The first, the creationist version, reads as follows:

The basic metabolic pathways (reaction chains) of nearly all organisms are the same. Is this because of common descent from an ancestor, or because only these pathways (and their variations) can sustain life? Evolutionists think the former is correct, creationists accept the latter view. Creationists reason...

The second, the ID version, reads as follows:

The basic metabolic pathways (reaction chains) of nearly all organisms are the same. Is this because of common descent from an ancestor, or because only these pathways (and their variations) can sustain life? Evolutionists think the former is correct, cdesign proponentsists accept the latter view. Design proponents reason...

"Cdesign proponentsists" is obviously a perfect example of a transitional form between the original "creationists" and the latter "design proponents." It is also a perfect example of what Judge Jones meant when he referred to "a purposeful change of words was effected without any corresponding change in content."

FTE has also tried to cover up its actual intent in a very similar fashion. Judge Jones noted, for example, that FTE's articles of incorporation with the IRS describe itself as a "religious, Christian organization." As late as 2002, FTE described its mission on IRS tax returns as "promoting and publishing textbooks presenting a Christian perspective of academic studies." None of this is to be found on FTE's web site today. Instead, it dons fancier clothes: "The purpose of FTE is to restore the freedom to know to young people, especially in matters of worldview, morality, and conscience, and to return the right of informed consent to families in the education of their children."

While this rhetoric isn't likely to fool anyone, an alliance between FTE and the SBOE is likely to do great damage to science education. And, the lawsuit that is certain to be generated, is likely to drain the coffers in a state that is already reeling from a massive budget deficit.

Years ago, when I took my older son to the circus for the very first time, for some reason, it was the clowns that scared him the most. Having watched the Texas State Board of Education in action in the past and recognizing where the current script is likely to take us, I have begun to appreciate just how frightening clowns can be.

 
 
 

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