12/24/2012 11:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Creationism Rears Its Ugly Head in Indiana, Then Gets a Makeover

It's unlikely that any of us will ever forget how exquisitely, in a speech in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 17, 2002, George W. Bush retold the centuries-old proverb: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

I bring this up because the latest political fiasco coming out of Indiana is, in many ways, reminiscent of his screw up.

Indiana Republican State Senator Dennis Kruse is attempting to fool us again, and apparently he is succeeding with some local newspaper reporters and editors. Last year Kruse introduced a bill that was as simple as it was crazy, as anti-intellectual as it was unconstitutional: "The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation." None of this stopped the Republican-controlled Senate from passing the bill and shipping it over to the Republican-controlled House. Happily, saner minds prevailed in that chamber and the bill died in committee.

Kruse isn't just any crazy Republican -- and he's at it again. No, he's the chair of the Senate's Education Committee. This year he's come up with a bill that he claims steers clear of creation science but which actually encourages the teaching of creationism. And in apparent recognition of the fantasyland in which he lives, he's opted to call his new motion "truth in education."

Here's how he's described what he's after: "I would refer to it as truth in education, so students could question what teachers are teaching them and try to make sure it's true what they're teaching."

Josh Youngkin, spokesperson for the Discovery Institute, a well-funded creationist organization advising Kruse, fleshes this insanity out even further. "It frees teachers to teach both sides of scientific controversies in an objective fashion. The teacher would not be barred from saying 'Let's look at both sides of the evidence and you guys can basically make a judgment.'"

Let me repeat the end of that quotation: "you guys can basically make a judgment." So, the new idea in science education from creationists is to let elementary, middle and high school students draw their own scientific conclusions. In Kruse's fantasyland, after a couple of minutes of instruction in biology, students would know as much as, or more than, their teachers and those who conducted the original scientific studies so these precocious students should be well positioned to "make a judgment" about the validity of scientific ideas.

Kruse's intent to use this bill to bring creationism into Indiana's public schools couldn't be clearer. Consider this paragraph from the Indianapolis Star:

Micah Clark, executive director of the conservative lobbying group American Family Association of Indiana, said Kruse's proposal promotes academic freedom. "That doesn't mean you have to talk about creation or intelligent design or anything like that," he said, but instead the legislation is meant to protect teachers if they discuss those issues.

But the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette has been fooled again. Their story on Kruse's new bill ran with the headline, "Creationism push scuttled."

The push wasn't scuttled, it was reshaped. It was cynically wrapped in the American flag, bedecked with apple pie and put out for the unwary as a gift. Kruse's bill, if enacted, would make a mockery of science education in Indiana. It would enable teachers to promote one religious world view above others and to do so at the expense of science.

There is an upside to all of this, however. I'm delighted, and frankly somewhat surprised, to say that many of Indiana's newspapers have not been fooled by these efforts. An editorial in the Lafayette Journal and Courier couldn't have been any clearer in its opposition: "Indiana schools don't need this sort of 'academic freedom.' And Indiana doesn't need another reason to look like the backwater hinterlands."

Back in Fort Wayne, the "other" newspaper, wasn't duped by Kruse. The headline chosen for the editorial in the News-Sentinel on the bill said it all: "Still trying to sneak religion in -- But it still doesn't belong in the same classroom as science."

Perhaps George W. Bush was right after all and some of us won't be fooled again.