Can Massachusetts Ban Creationism?

Or maybe the more important question is this: Will this bill work? Its goal is to keep “science denialism” out of the Massachusetts curriculum. I’m all for it, but I don’t think it will actually do the job.

AIG camp

They may be kooky, but radical creationists are also “age-appropriate.”

Here’s what we know: According to the National Center for Science Education and the Lowell Sun, a bill before the state legislature would ban climate-change denialism, anti-vaxxism, and creationism from the state’s curriculum. The bill’s sponsor said that his goal was to prohibit teaching that climate-change denialism deserves equal consideration to climate-change science.

As one supporter put it,

The fact that there are many people who believe and insist the earth is flat — enough to fill a whole cruise ship, it turns out — or that vaccines are deadly or who believe evolution is not real and that climate change is not taking place and that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doesn’t matter is all evidence that science education needs to be strengthened and kept understandable against those who would deliberately sew [sic] confusion.

As always, the devil will be in the details. The mechanism of this bill would be to insist on only “peer-reviewed” and “age-appropriate” materials in science classes.

And there’s the rub.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, radical young-earth creationists are not simply science “denialists.” They do not pooh-pooh peer-reviewed research or age-appropriate materials. The radical group Answers In Genesis, for example, operates its own clunky “peer-reviewed” research journal.

aig peer reviewed

If “peer-reviewed” is the rule, they can follow it…

And whether you love them or hate them, the fundamentalist creationist missionaries at AIG produce plenty of “age-appropriate” materials. They are always trying to convince and convert America’s children to their Flintstones-level science. It might not be good science, but there’s no doubt that it is “age-appropriate.”

I support Massachusetts’s efforts to keep their public-school science classrooms secular. I agree that we should not teach zombie science or other forms of theologically motivated science in public schools. Unfortunately, however, I don’t think this bill will do the trick.

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another big week. Rough weather outside and culture-war storms on the interwebs. Here are a few of the biggest stories that caught our ILYBYGTH attention:

Queen Betsy proposes federal support for tax-credit scholarships, at AP.

Trump announces plans to force universities to welcome conservative speakers, at IHE.

When it comes to the evangelical vote, geography matters, at RIP.Geography of GOP evangelicalism

What happened with the Methodists? Board meeting votes against allowing full LGBTQ recognition.

Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning, or queer. We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal.

And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up.”

Meanwhile, Trump also threatened to sue his colleges if they released his grades or SAT scores, at IHE.

What is going on in Florida? A new batch of bills hopes to restrict science teaching, at NCSE.

Creationists: Have You Stopped Beating Your Wives?

Sometimes, it’s all in the way you phrase the question. Newish poll results from the Pewsters underscore the fact: Americans aren’t really sure what to think about creation and evolution. It all depends on how you ask.

Here’s what we know: The folks at Pew Research Center experimented with different ways to ask respondents about evolution and creationism. As they discovered,

our estimate of the share of Americans who reject evolution and express a creationist view drops considerably (from 31% to 18% of U.S. adults) when respondents are immediately given the opportunity to say God played a role in human evolution. [Emphasis in original.]

Pew evolution questionsOther pollsters have come to similar conclusions. As the National Science Board found, what people say about evolution can change wildly when the questions are worded differently. In 2012, NSB asked two different sets of questions. When they asked people if “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” a small majority (52%) said no.

But when NSB asked if “according to the theory of evolution,” humans evolved from other species, a much larger group (72%) said yes. In a way, those responses make perfect sense. Lots of people might know that mainstream scientists agree about evolution, but still not think evolution really happened.

Other poll results, though, get weirder. A decade ago, George Bishop looked at poll numbers and came up with some flatly contradictory results. For example, it seems some people—a lot of people—agree that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago (69%). However, because 40% of respondents also think that dinosaurs lived at the same time as humans, there seems to be some impossible crossovers going on.

What do Americans really think about evolution and creationism? Depends on how you ask the question. By and large, people don’t care too much about it and they certainly don’t care about intellectual consistency. And that’s not a jab at creationists alone—people who say they accept evolution often can’t explain its basic ideas. (Don’t believe it? Check out this study or this one.)

One thing seems likely: Those of us who want more and better evolution education should be encouraged by the fact that the number of intentional, hard-core, consistent radical creationists is nowhere near as high as we are sometimes told.

Think Creationists Are Dumb?

To be fair, SOME creationists might just be ignorant. As I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, though, there is more than enough ignorance to go around when it comes to evolution and creationism.

Jesus on a dinosaur.jpg 1

Why do creationists put Jesus on a dinosaur? Short answer: They don’t.

I recently made a short version of this case at UConn’s Humility and Conviction in Public Life blog. If we want to make any real progress in our continuing battle over creationism, we can at least start by acknowledging a few of these obvious truths.

Agree? Disagree? Click on over to H&CiPL to check it out.

Want to Teach Evolution? Ditch THIS Baggage!

It was never going to be easy. But if we want to do a better job of teaching evolutionary theory in America’s public schools, there is a simple, easy, and obvious step that we should start with. For a long time now, evolution mavens and science pundits have blithely adopted a missionary zeal. It’s not at all necessary and it makes teaching evolutionary theory much more difficult. This week, we notice another example of this awkward tradition.

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Do students see God at work? Or not? We don’t need to care!

The recent whoopsie comes from Michael Dixon, director of the London’s National History Museum. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are aware, Dr. Dixon and I are generally in agreement about the nature of science and of science’s role in a healthy democratic society. We agree that public schools ought to teach evolutionary theory and only evolutionary theory in science classes.

In a recent editorial, though, Dr. Dixon repeated the old mistake, the missionary supposition that has hindered evolution education for no good reason.

In his article, Dr. Dixon wisely pointed out the creeping dangers of anti-evolution teaching. In Israel, Turkey, and India, Dixon notes, the political power of religious extremists has led to woeful watering-downs of evolutionary theory in schools. Dixon asks,

So how should we respond to overt or insidious attempts to undermine this vital scientific concept?

He offers three good answers and one bad one. As he puts it,

We must – of course – teach it in schools as the core part of any science curriculum. And we must speak up to defend scientific evidence and rational debate. But more than these things, we must inspire children with the sheer wonder and variety of nature, and ignite their curiosity in the world around them.

Teach evolution in schools? Yes!

Speak up to defend scientific evidence and rational debate? Yes!

Ignite children’s curiosity in the world around them? Yes, yes, yes!

But should those of us who want to teach more and better evolutionary theory “inspire children with the sheer wonder and variety of nature”? Sorry, but no.

Of course, it is not a bad thing to inspire children, but these days, phrases like this are packed with unnecessary and unhelpful religious importance. If we want to teach evolution in creationist nations, we need to get over our tendency to over-reach our true educational goals.

There is nothing religious about evolutionary theory. In spite of what so many radical young-earth creationists say, evolutionary theory does not function as a kind of crypto-religion for secular people like me. Children can earn a thorough knowledge about evolutionary theory and a deep understanding of its premises whatever their religious beliefs.

Phrases like Dixon’s, however, echo an old religious zeal among some exponents of evolutionary theory. There has long been an unhelpful tendency among science pundits to pooh-pooh religious thinking, to assume that people need to pick between their religious beliefs and their knowledge of mainstream evolutionary theory.

For example, in the first edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species, Darwin exulted in the religious implications of his theory of natural selection. Did it make for a bleak and loveless universe, as critics charged? No, Darwin argued. Once we really understood it,

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one.

In later editions, Darwin made that statement more creationism-friendly, but Darwin’s followers did not. Fast-forward a hundred years, and we see the same sort of irrelevant speculation by science pundits. In the 1960s, for instance, one of America’s leading evolution propagators was George Gaylord Simpson. In his book This View of Life (1964), Professor Simpson went out of his way to bash religious belief. Instead of understanding the universe with “reality and reason,” Simpson lamented, instead “higher superstitions [were] celebrated weekly in every hamlet of the United States.”

These days, the unnecessary and unhelpful tie between atheism and evolutionary theory has been preached most famously by Richard Dawkins. As Professor Dawkins wrote in his book The God Delusion (2006), the goal of evolution educators is to free people from the travails of religious belief. As Dawkins wrote,

a proper understanding of the magnificence of the real world, while never becoming a religion, can fill the inspirational role that religion has historically—and inadequately—usurped.

Like Dr. Dixon’s, the assumption here is that evolutionary theory can perform the vital task of inspiring us, of making us grasp the infinitude of reality and our own humble place within it. I don’t get invited to their parties, but I would guess that people like Dr. Dixon, Dr. Dawkins, Dr. Simpson, and Dr. Darwin himself believe that young people need to be inspired by evolutionary theory in this sense.

They don’t, and the sooner we can separate out the good goal of promoting real science from the bad goal of interfering with private religious belief, the better off we’ll be.

Penn Puzzles

Can anyone REALLY teach students how to know and understand something without believing it? That’s one of the questions that sharp students brought up yesterday at the University of Pennsylvania.penn gse logo better

Some context: I headed down to Philadelphia yesterday to talk about evolution, creationism, and the goals of public education. My friend and hero Jon Zimmerman had asked his class to read Teaching Evolution in a Creation Nation.

As usual, readers were generally more interested in the philosophical arguments of my co-author Harvey Siegel than with my historical chapters about evolution education. Is it really possible, students wondered, to teach students to know evolutionary theory in a deep way, to understand it, without insisting that they believe it?

Harvey and I make the case that it is, but as yesterday’s lively seminar proved, it is a difficult distinction to imagine in many cases.

For example, think about the reverse. What if a public-school history teacher wanted to teach students that American history should be understood as the triumph of “JudeoChristian” values? What if the teacher assured secular parents that he was not trying to force students to “believe” in any particular religious values, but only to “know” and “understand” the importance of Christianity in the forming of United States government and society?

Or consider the challenge for any person—especially a young person—of separating out her desire to please an authority figure from her personal religious beliefs. Is it really practical to tell teachers that they don’t want to influence students’ religious beliefs? That teachers should somehow be able to separate out such closely related concepts?

Most challenging, we considered yesterday other sorts of student belief that teachers DID want to challenge. What if a student in history class, for example, argued that her racist beliefs were acceptable, because they were her personal beliefs? Could a teacher really not challenge them?

I think a teacher not only can, but must. And I think a teacher can do that without therefore insisting that he must challenge every student belief with which he disagrees. As Harvey and I argued in TECN, and as I’m elaborating in my new book about creationism, even though such real-world challenges are intense, it is still vital to clarify our goals and our mission when it comes to creationism and evolution education.

Should the Scientists Say It?

Okay, so you know about the ongoing frouforole in Arizona over its new science standards. Recent developments in the case leave us wondering: How should scientists make their case? Why wouldn’t they make it in the strongest way possible?

dobzhansky quotation

…here’s the most famous Dobzhansky line:

In case you’ve been napping, here’s a quick update: The political landscape in Arizona has led to some woeful watering down of the state’s science standards. Concerned scientists have weighed in, pleading with the state board of education to reject the shoddy new standards.

In their letter, the American Institute of Biological Sciences warns,

The proposed standards fail to properly address important aspects of evolution science and remove climate change science from the high school curricula.

Right on. Thanks to AIBS for weighing in. There’s no doubt that Arizona should maintain high-quality science standards.

This morning, though, we have to ask a question. To back up their point, AIBS offers two compelling reasons, but they leave out an obvious third one. Why?

I don’t think it’s because AIBS chose to stick only with science, their area of expertise. After all, one of their main points is economic. If Arizona wrecks its science standards, it will be shooting its economy in the foot. As AIBS puts is,

Arizona has made important investments in its universities. This has enabled companies throughout the state to hire skilled graduates who can leverage the knowledge generated by scientific research to create new products and expand existing markets. Importantly, in coming years, a growing number of jobs will require scientific expertise, even when those jobs do not require a college degree. Thus, it is important that science be properly taught to all students and at all grade levels.

According to the Arizona Commerce Authority, “Bioscience and health care in Arizona are thriving industries, treating patients and conducting groundbreaking research that will change the world. Arizona research institutions, industries and clinical care facilities collaborate in unique ways to create new products and improve care and outcomes.” The Authority reports on its website that bioscience and health care industries generate $21.4 billion in annual earnings for the state, and in 2015 were responsible for about 320,000 jobs in Arizona. Arizona will jeopardize its prior investments and future economic opportunities if it waters down science standards by eliminating essential scientific concepts and fields of study to placate political interests.

Exactly true. The economic knock-on effects of clamping down on mainstream science and science education will be huge. But that’s not the only reason AIBS gives for keeping good science standards.

As they argue, good education itself demands it. All of us should insist on the best for our kids, including the absolute best science education.

They cite the famous words of leading scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky,

“nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Dobzhansky offered these words decades ago, but they still ring true. Evolution is required to understand biology . . .

So far, so good. AIBS is 100% correct. Good science education is good in itself, and to be good it must include real evolutionary science. It’s also good for practical reasons, such as booming economic benefits.

But why, oh why, did AIBS leave out the other, screamingly obvious, part of their argument?

Dobzhansky meme creationisst

…Why not use the second-most famous Dobhansky quotation, too?

They could easily have added that evolutionary science does not deserve its reputation as an attack on religion. They could have simply added that Dr. Dobzhansky himself identified as “a creationist and an evolutionist.”

Why would AIBS do so? Consider their audience. If they want to stick to the science, fine. But clearly they don’t. They use economic arguments to speak to all Arizonans. Why not use the obvious religious argument as well? Why not point out that lots and lots (and lots) of creationists have absolutely no religious problem with real evolutionary theory?

Red Hen Creationism

I’ll bet we don’t agree about this one. As you’re sick of hearing by now, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was politely kicked out of a DC-area restaurant. Sanders complained about the fundamental incivility of her political foes. Whatever we think about defenestrating Sanders, we need to consider the implications of this dust-up for our creation/evolution discussions.

sarah-sanders-tweet-red-hen

Kicked out for Trumpism…

You’ve likely read them all by now: Progressive types have argued that it was okay to be rude to Sanders, because Sanders was personally responsible for defending a horrific, hateful public policy. Conservative pundits call this episode an “appalling” example of the totalitarian mindset of the left. My favorite analysis came from someone I don’t usually agree with who laments the dangerous situation we are all in.

What does any of this have to do with creationism?

Like Sanders, a lot of creationists feel “kicked out” of public schools. They insist that schools teaching mainstream evolutionary science without any creationist science are not welcome places for their creationist kids.

So here’s the question: Do creationists have a right to feel welcome in public schools?

The ILYBYBTH answer: Yes, absolutely. But there’s a ‘but.’ As savvy creationists should want just as much as the rest of us, public schools need to avoid teaching any religious ideas in a devotional way. That is, public schools need to teach kids about religion, but they should never preach any particular religion.

Creationists have never been ejected from public schools. What WAS ejected—and very properly—was the idea that any religiously inspired science should have an equal voice in science classes.

As I’m arguing in my new book, the biggest disagreement in our continuing creation/evolution battles is not actually about creation or evolution. Rather, the problem is a breakdown of trust. If we hope to teach mainstream science in a way that welcomes all people to our public schools, we need to be much clearer about the things that we do and don’t disagree about.

For example, we should all agree on this: All creationists are always welcome in public schools. If they feel otherwise, we need to fix that. But creationism itself is not welcome, at least not as part of the official curriculum. If anyone feels otherwise, we need to fix that, too.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Jesus on dinosaurs, teachers on strike…it was another busy week here at ILYBYGTH International. Here are a few stories that caught our eye. Thanks to everyone who sent in stories and tips…

“Jesus Rode a Dinosaur:” Christian conference seeks to help youth pastors do a better job talking about science, at RNS. HT: GB.

jesus rode a dinosaur

Where your Templeton money is going…

Could it work? Arne Duncan calls for a school boycott to change gun laws. At TP.

The wrong answer to school shootings: Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick at CNN.

The latest on teacher strikes:

President Carter gently mocks Trump at Liberty commencement, at RNS.

Proof: AZ changed science standards to make room for creationism, at 12NEWS.

Science missionaries confront hostile creationist locals, at BioLogos.

Christian college administrators tend to censor student newspapers, at IHE.

Why do conservatives hate public schools? One conservative’s argument at AP.

The Right Recipe for Science Missionaries

Thoughtful exposition? Or bacon ‘n’ eggs? Rick Potts is trying to spread the word about evolutionary science to America’s creationists. Is he taking the best approach?

As described in the Smithsonian Magazine, Potts hopes his traveling exhibition can reach those “rural, religious, remote” places that the Smithsonian “deemed ‘challenging’—places where the researchers suspected that evolution might still be a contentious subject.”

ephratastatue

Too much for some…

To this observer, Potts seems to be on the right track. I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism that the problem is not knowledge but something else. No amount of yelling or state standards will puncture resistance to mainstream evolutionary science. Rick Potts seems to agree. As the Smithsonian article describes,

Potts was going for something more subtle: Not conversion, but conversation.

“Our goal is to lower the temperature,” he says.

Could it work? One disgusted local from Ephrata, Pennsylvania felt offended from the get-go. She was freaked out by a statue of a naked early-human mother and baby at the entrance to the library hosting the exhibit. As she put it,

Library abortions would probably be more offensive . . . but that would probably be it.

If even this most diplomatic attempt at spreading the word about evolution is too much for some creationists, then are all attempts to converse with creationists doomed to failure? Are some people and some communities so firmly set against mainstream science that even a friendly, caring outreach project like this is too much?

Writing for BioLogos, Brad Kramer points out the obvious problem and suggests a difficult solution. As he explains, no matter how big the smiles were, the science missionaries were still obviously missionaries. And nothing is easier to resist for religious people than sermons from another religion.

So is there no hope? The problem is bigger than science, bigger than religion. The root of the difficulty is TRUST. What can be done? As Kramer argues, the answer isn’t very attractive for those of us who want quick solutions. Kramer suggests bacon and eggs:

If all Rick Potts had done in Ephrata was spend a month eating breakfast with people at local diners, introducing himself as an evolutionary scientist, and explaining that he doesn’t hate Christians, an enormous amount of good would have been accomplished.