Tom Jonard on Creationism in the Classroom

In the year 2002 the State of Ohio Board of Education reviewed its cirriculum guidelines for the teaching of science and proposed adding both the teaching of Evolution and of Intelligent Design (ID).

Ohio is both my home state and my native state and as well this is the 21st century so it is no little embarrassment to report this development.  And it is a correct statement to say that both Evolution and ID were propsed to be added to the state's standard as the previous one (dating from 1994) contained neither!  The 1994 standard avoids mention of teaching Evolution altogether and instead speaks of "change over time" -- sort of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for biology.

Some scientists and science teachers wanted to see this changed so that the children of Ohio can be encouraged to learn Evolution.  It is my understanding that the standard is in no way binding except that it may dictate what can be tested for on statewide competency tests which all students are required to pass.  Some members of the Board on the other hand wanted to see the presentation of ID in the same science classrooms and therefore propose including it in the standard.

To help it make up its collective mind the Board held an open panel discussion (on March 11) in which proponents of both sides were invited to discuss their viewpoints.  This in itself is an interesting tactic for deciding what to teach in a science classroom.  Instead of listening to its existing committee of science teachers and experts or polling a representative group of scientists two representative national activists from each side were invited to debate the issue.  This implies that the two are equivalent -- which at least in the eyes of science is not true.  It also raised attention on this hot issue to a national level.

In the event ID proponents proposed that ID not be adopted as a standard but as an option.  This may be little more than a tactic to move the battleground on this issue to a venue more friendly to ID, i.e., local school boards.

It seems to me that the following should be self-evident:

  • Creationism has no place in the science classroom.  It is not science as it is not refutable nor does it make predictions.  (This does not mean that students should not study it, just that this should be done in religion or philosophy class.)
  • Science cirriculums should be designed by scientists not politicians.  Science is not democracy.  The Law of Gravity does not need to be ratified by school board or legislature (though supposedly Indiana's did once consider a resolution to make pi = 3).
  • It also seems to me that while it claims to be merely a scientific alternative to Evolution Intelligent Design is in fact Creationism.  (Here's why.)

    Some advocates of Creationism express surprise at the reaction some of the rest of us have to their overtures to teach their ideas in our public schools  and what they perceive to be the close-mindedness of science to new ideas.  They should not.  This is serious business because it is about what we will teach all our children.

    Science is not closed to new ideas.  These are just not new ideas.  We've been around this circuit before and we thought we had decided to teach everyone science.  Once again science is not democracy but an objective way of thinking and finding things out.  It is democratic in that scientific knowledge is available to anyone equipped (especially by education) to understand it.  (Here's more about what science is.)

    It is not enough to as some have suggested, "teach both and let the students make up their own minds".  This would presuppose that both are equal in the eyes of science when they are not.  This might be an appropriate methodology in a social studies or humanities class (and suggests where in the cirriculum studying creationism really belongs) but is not sufficient in the science classroom.

    If we adults are confused about this it may be because science education as a whole is in crisis because boards of education, legislatures and parents will not let science teachers teach.  If a society wants to have the benefits of science and to prepare its children for a life in such a society it cannot think that we do this by teaching only what can be passed by vote.

    It is mildly annoying that Creationists wish to have another hearing simply because they have chosen to no longer call themselves "creationist" but now prefer to claim they are being "scientific".  It is more than annoying that adults in legislatures, school boards and even children's homes are confused by this tactic into believing that something substantive has changed or something new discovered.  What is needed in this case is some objective and analytical thinking to guide us through the confusing mental battle-ground that creationism has become as it struggles against science.

    There are many flavors of creationism and no one set of ideas that we can label Creationism with a capital "C" reliably.  Not only are there many flavors but creationism is an evolving idea!  (I don't know if creationism opposes its own evolution -- it's an interesting question.)  Whereas before the 1990's there was no "scientific" creationism, there is now and "Intelligent Design" is but one variant.  As courts and boards of education across the land threw out older attempts to introduce more overtly religious flavors of creationism into classrooms "scientific" creationism arose just in time to return creationism to the classroom under the guise of being "science" (which it is not).

    Though its advocates wish to wash themselves clean of any association with older, less intellectually palpable creationist ideas and even refute any claim to the name, thoughtful people should ask if a rose called by another name smells the same.

    On December 10, 2002 the State Board of Education met it's legislature imposed mandate to adopt a new science standard before the end of the year.  The adopted standard calls for the teaching of Evolution.  It also singles out Evolution among all scientific theories in calling for teaching " scientists continue to analyze aspects of [the] theory".  It also includes explicit comments that the standard "...does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design."  Some proponents of teaching Evolution find both troubling.  Some proponents of Intelligent Design called the standard a victory.

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    Created  March 23, 2002,