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Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”? PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Matt Lowry   

The JREF is proud to announce a new series on randi.org featuring articles by skeptical teachers exploring critical thinking in the classroom, using the investigation of the paranormal, fringe science, and pseudoscience to teach methods of science and reason. We welcome feedback, discussion, and further suggestions from educators and parents in the comments section. If you would like to be involved in this project, please contact Bob Blaskiewicz.

 

Many readers of this blog are no doubt, like me, a bit disappointed (though not entirely surprised) that a creationist-friendly law protecting so-called “academic freedom” of teachers is now on the books in Tennessee. The “Monkey Law”, as has been labeled in honor of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial from 1925 , would seek to encourage teachers in the state's public schools to present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of topics that arouse "debate and disputation" such as "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

Indeed, as the National Center for Science Education notes:

"Maybe it has a no-religion clause," the Tennessean characterized the law's critics as arguing, "but it gives a wink to teachers looking to promote their beliefs in the classroom — a move that would launch costly lawsuits that history shows school districts tend to lose." Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told the newspaper that her group is in touch with concerned parents across the state, "waiting for one to report First Amendment violations teachers could make under the mistaken notion that they now have full protection."

A very similar law promoting this somewhat Orwellian notion of academic freedom was enacted in Louisiana in 2008. Of course, anyone who has followed the creationist movement for any amount of time sees quite clearly what is going on here: after their high-profile defeat in the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial in 2005, where they tried to push for explicitly including creationism (under the re-labeling of “intelligent design”), creationists are now falling back on an old, but tried and true, tactic – attacking and attempting to weaken the teaching of evolution. [Aside: Note that when I mention “creationists” I am referring to the usual, fundamentalist Christian variety so common in the United States, the young-earth variety. This is quite important, for reasons you’ll see later.]

My guess is that the thinking from the creationists is probably along these lines: we have these children in our churches where we can teach them the “truth”, so all we need to do is discourage the schools from teaching evolution. By keeping these children ignorant of evolution (and science in general), the creationists win by default; hence the language in the “Monkey Law” emphasizing the teaching of the non-existent “scientific weaknesses” of evolution. This is basically code telling the creationists to make up whatever fiction they wish about evolution and teach these straw man notions in public school science classes. And by doing so, the creationists then automatically steer the students in the direction of non-scientific alternative explanations.

Speaking of non-scientific alternatives, let us note that the new Tennessee law also makes specific references to the science of global warming and human cloning, both increasingly hot-button issues for social and religious conservatives in the United States. But, interestingly, the language is more open-ended and doesn’t stop explicitly at those topics; in fact, the language states that "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of topics that arouse "debate and disputation". Note that the law doesn’t specify among whom these topics can arouse debate and disputation. And I think it is on this point that the Tennessee lawmakers may end up getting hoisted by their own petard. I’m not referring to the inevitable lawsuits which will come along once some teacher starts to teach creationism explicitly (lawsuits which the state will, in all likelihood, lose). Rather, I am referring to the potential lawsuits that other wacky and non-scientific ideas are not being taught in Tennessee public school science classes.

Allow me to reference a humorous, yet very instructive, story about the failure of a creationist-friendly bill in Indiana a few months ago in order to make my point more clearly. This bill was originally intended as a way of promoting creationism explicitly, stating: “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.”

However, soon after it was introduced in the Indiana state senate, a very clever and forward-thinking lawmaker successfully amended the bill to read as follows: “The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.” [emphasis added]

Once this language was accepted into the text of the bill, and once the formerly supportive lawmakers fully understood the implications, the bill was dropped like a hot potato and scuttled. That’s because these lawmakers, in their zeal to garner votes from creationist-friendly constituencies in an election year, realized that the amended language would open up the classroom door to ideas of creationism different from the usual young-earth variety favored by fundamentalist Christians. Rather than truly go down the road of teaching all views, which would inevitably arouse the wrath of the creationists, these lawmakers saw the handwriting on the wall and wisely dropped the bill. Of course, this fiasco puts on full display the hypocrisy of the creationist movement: hide behind the language of “fairness”, “academic freedom”, and (my favorite) “teaching all views” and then push one non-scientific alternative exclusively.

But, beyond showing the creationists’ hypocrisy, it also shows how laws like those in Louisiana and Tennessee can potentially be countered: call the creationists’ bluff by holding them to the “academic freedom” and “teach all views” ideas implied in their own laws.

For example, conceivably, one could file lawsuits against Louisiana and Tennessee schools for not teaching the “debate and disputation” that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the creator of the universe. Why not a lawsuit when the schools refuse to teach the atheistic version of “intelligent design” as outlined by the Raelian cult, where the creator of humanity is an advanced alien race instead of God? Not to mention, might we see lawsuits based upon the exclusion of Islamic notions of creationism? Beyond evolution and creationism, could we even see lawsuits when the notion of the Four Element Model – invoking earth, air, fire, and water – is excluded from chemistry classes? What about when the Transcendental Meditationists’ view (basically, to them there’s no such thing as gravity) is turned down in physics classes? When astrology comes knocking on the door in astronomy and earth science classes, will it be turned away, risking another lawsuit? I think you get the idea.

Were this sort of silliness to come to pass, no doubt it would cause innumerable headaches for both the public school systems and legislatures in Louisiana and Tennessee, partly because of the sheer embarrassment of the circus it would create and the arousal of the creationists’ fury that their views, and theirs alone, are not the only alternative being pushed.

In fact, it just might cause so many headaches for the lawmakers that they could end up rescinding their so-called “academic freedom” laws altogether, going back to the old days where evolution and other scientifically accepted ideas were exclusively taught in public school science classes, while creationism and similar notions were taught in philosophy or comparative religion classes.

 

Matt Lowry is a high school & college physics professor with a strong interest in promoting science education, skepticism and critical thinking among his students and the population in general. Towards these ends, he works with the JREF on their educational advisory board, and he also works with a number of grassroots skeptical, pro-science groups. In what little spare time he has, he blogs on these and related subjects at The Skeptical Teacher.

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And...
written by garyg, June 06, 2012
A requirement to teach the Theory of Evolution in Sunday schools could be added.
Wait, wouldn't that be a violation of the separation of church and state? But don't SOME people deny there such separation is required?
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interesting lowly rated comment, Lowly rated comment [Show]
Or...
written by garyg, June 06, 2012
Simply require that all "weaknesses" in the Theory of Evolution be passed on by qualified personnel (e.g. scientists)
or perhaps require that the "weaknesses" in Creationism (sorry, Intelligent Design!) be pointed out (either by atheists or, if theolgians are
demanded, let them be from competing world views)
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written by overlord624, June 06, 2012
I am all for exposing children to the different beliefs regarding creationism and letting them see for themselves that EVERY belief system, even evolution

Evolution is NOT a belief system. You can believe the science behind it but you can also do it yourself and verify it's consistent. Evolutionary theory does not require you to believe anything at any point.

Ask the students how life can spring from non-life

Living versus non-living is a fallacy. The only consistent distinction I've heard of is the belief of an invisible form of existence which controls the organic life form. If you want us to argue over this then you better prove the distinction is not entirely arbitary or metaphysical, because, afik, nobody has done so yet.

Also let them seriously ponder the absurdity of how this massive complex universe was the result of a cosmic explosion.

Entropy. Any state subjected to randomized decay can convert into a new state. It's much the same way as wind and water can convert boring old rocks into amazing scenaries. Oh, wait, I get it, god made those the way they are, didn't he? *chuckle*

What exactly did the big bang explode INTO?

And by asking that you admit you don't know the first thing about the big bang theory.
The big bang was not an explosion. And we have a very good idea what appeared out of it. But you wouldn't know since you are just spewing nonsense you don't understand.
But more importantly, how does any of this relate to evolution?

After all theories have been thoroughly discussed

The theory of evolution is a theory. The theistic views of origin of life are not.

they will see that mainstream creationism is not a ridiculous as atheists insist

Funny you say atheists, because plenty of religious people, including mainstream Christian leadership, accept evolution.
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written by xxi_centuryboy, June 06, 2012
So, if I just made any old crap up about how creatures on Earth got to be the way they are, they would have to teach it? Like when Homer Simpson sneezed on a dinosaur and changed the fate of the world, that would have to be taught. That would be so awesome. Why bother teaching anything, just start the class with, whatever the hell you think happened, that must be right. Next question.
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written by Willy K, June 06, 2012
You just can't reason with some folks. smilies/cry.gif

From the CBS comedy "The Big Bang Theory"

Quote from the episode The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation

Sheldon (to his mom): But, evolution is not opinion, it's a fact!
Sheldon's mom: And that is your opinion!
Sheldon (to Leonard, Howard and Raj): I forgive you, let's go home.
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@xxi_centuryboy, Lowly rated comment [Show]
Same ol Same ol
written by xxi_centuryboy, June 07, 2012
"At the end of the day, there are only two options...." If you are wrong, then I must be right. That good science. Talk about talking down to people. Either a supernatural unprovable all powerful genie, god, dwarf, wizard, alien, (fill in your favorite supernatural creature here) created life (not the universe, that has nothing to do with evolution, classic mistake and that can be forgiven, but it is tiring to have to repeat it over and over and over and over and over again to creationists.)or maybe there is an explanation that we can test if not today then in the future. And I would have to see the data on the 90%, considering the Catholic Church (so far) has no problem with Evolution. And I say "Evolution" not "Cosmology". And you are somewhat correct that Evolution is a belief system, based on facts, that changes with new data. Darwin was wrong on many points, but you got to start somewhere. Darwin isn't a religion, evolution isn't a religion, it is a science that changes all the time. Religion is an end that forces the questions to fit the book. I think this should be discussed, but in a Mythology class or Philosophy class. Not Science, because it ain't. LOL have a great day, unless you have to rest from being too tuckered out from creating the Universe.
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written by GrahamZ, June 07, 2012
@Davis
I have no problem teaching Intelligent Design as it is part of culture in the US (not so much elsewhere) so long as it is not part of the science curriculum, just as I have no problem with Greek or Roman or Norse mythology being taught as well. The problem I have is taking one idea that actually has evidence behind it, and putting it on equal ground with another idea that doesn't even have enough evidence to be considered a theory. That's not science and it has no place in a science classroom. I.D. is an idea created by people that would not know what the scientific method is if it flashed them midday on a well-lit street corner. Scientific theories MUST be based on evidence, not on faith. If there is no evidence then there is no reason to believe that they are true -- they have a believability equal to any other idea for which there is no evidence (eg. that the world was created yesterday by an autistic garden slug during a hallucination, and all our memories from before yesterday are false). You can't prove that it's false because any evidence would be based on false memories. It's the same problem you have when arguing that everything was created by Odin or Yawheh or Krishnah -- it's not something you can have a scientific discussion about, so it has no place being taught in a science classroom.
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written by Caller X, June 07, 2012
It was too much trouble to proofread the title of the article?
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@Davis
written by Caller X, June 07, 2012
Ask the students how life can spring from non-life (in other words let them figure it out for themselves that evolutionists believe that at some point in time spontaneous generation occurred.) Also let them seriously ponder the absurdity of how this massive complex universe was the result of a cosmic explosion. What was before the alleged big bang? What exactly did the big bang explode INTO? After all theories have been thoroughly discussed they will see that mainstream creationism is not a ridiculous as atheists insist. Bring it on, Matt. We call YOUR bluff.


The difference is scientists say "we don't know" and they are right. "Ccreationists" say "we do know" and they are not right.
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@Caller X
written by Davis, June 08, 2012
I can safely say I am not one of those creationists who say "we DO know". In fact, I dont think most of us are saying anything different than what atheists say. We all have the same evidence to study and each one must make a decision that we feel is more viable. You seem to believe that the universe ultimately came from nothing, or that the universe is etermal. I believe that there can be no natural explanation for the creation of the universe and that its creator is eternal.
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one more time....
written by xxi_centuryboy, June 08, 2012
One more time. "Creator" based origins follow an untestable hypothesis. A Theory concerning the origin of the Universe is not Evolution, beginning of the universe falls under the auspices of the science of Cosmology. Go back to a real school to learn science before you open your mouth. If I want to hear about mythologies that can't be and never will be tested, I will read any number of bibles, books, parchments, pamphlets, crazy ministers shouting at students on campus around the country. If I want to learn about Cosmology, Evolution, Germ Theory, Astronomy, Biology, Geology, Math etc etc etc etc etc etc etc, I will need to learn scientific theory, conduct tests, and examine evidence, change my views, be open to new data so on and so forth. If I just want to say 'sure, this book was written by God, so it must be right' all I need to do is shut off my brain and let the questions fit the answers. That's why it is not a science. And once again, this is an article about Evolution not Cosmology. I don't mean this in a condescending way, but you are showing your ignorance about science in general and evolution specifically. Please educate yourself soon. There are still some public schools that teach evidence based science, perhaps checking in to one of those will help. A 2000 year old book that has tuckered out gods chilling on the weekend, (but are still somehow beyond time), gods having sex with virgins, giants and angels having sex with people, ravenous bears eating children for teasing a grumpy old bald guy, fathers ready to slaughter their kids at a moments notice, etc and ad nauseam is no basis for a science. It just isn't. It is a story to explain things that people in the Bronze Age could not understand using science. It just is.
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@ xxi_centuryboy
written by Davis, June 08, 2012
You need to take a big fat chill pill. I am very aware of "Evolution not Cosmology". Due to the confines of a comment section you cant go in depth on such issues. I am merely combining evolution/cosmology because they are so inter-twined. Of course creationism is an untestable hypothesis. But if you can provide any hypothesis that IS testable, I and a bunch of other creationists would be very interested in hearing it.
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chilling with the pilling on the seventh eternal day
written by xxi_centuryboy, June 08, 2012
"I am merely combining evolution/cosmology because I don't really understand the differences and the enormous amount of work, study, science and data there is to support them, so I allow myself to talk out of my ..." They aren't alike whatsoever and barely intertwined only in the sense they are two sciences. So just mash them together. Whoop t do. Marcelo Berman isn't about to be teaching Evolution anytime soon, and Richard Dawkins ain't no physicist. And try this one for starters "The rate at which a feather falls and a bowling ball falls is the same because the acceleration of the two objects is the same." Or "Prayers help people heal faster". Those should keep you busy for a while.

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@Davis
written by Caller X, June 09, 2012
You seem to believe that the universe ultimately came from nothing, or that the universe is etermal. I believe that there can be no natural explanation for the creation of the universe and that its creator is eternal.


You seem to be wrong. I don't believe either of those two things. Please don't stick things in my mouth unless they are attached to a hot girl with loose morals, or are popsicles; preferably both. Especially don't put words in my mouth.

I believe that there can be no natural explanation for the creation of the universe and that its creator is eternal.


How did the creator get there? "I believe" is not an argument. How is saying "I believe something cannot exist" different from saying "I know something does not exist"? I'll tell you how, because you will likely get it wrong. You say you "believe" something because you know that you don't know it, and you don't want to admit that you don't know it, because that would admit that there's a possibility that you're wrong. You are using "believe" to say you "know" through a backdoor and you're hoping no one will challenge you on it.

Try this exercise:

Can you know something that isn't true?

Can you believe something that isn't true?
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The Soft Gang-Rape of the Lowly Rated Comment
written by Caller X, June 10, 2012
Please stop raping people you don't agree with with the Lowly Rated Comment.

It makes you look like pussies.
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written by Caller X, June 11, 2012
Or Creationists.
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