Let’s talk about freedom and education for a moment.
Today’s Austin American-Statesman includes an advance story about this week’s Texas State Board of Education public hearing and preliminary vote on proposed new science curriculum standards for public schools. Board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, trots out the now-familiar talking points of the board’s creationists: teaching students “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution is about “academic freedom” and allowing students to ask questions.
What a crock.
This debate isn’t about protecting students’ freedom to ask questions. Asking questions is how they learn. No one suggests stifling that freedom. Rather, this debate is about whether the board will force publishers to include phony arguments (“weaknesses”) against evolution in new biology textbooks submitted for board approval in 2011. The board’s creationists have said they will use the “strengths and weaknesses” language currently in the standards to do just that. They tried to do so in 2003, but they lacked the votes to carry the day. Now they run the board.
Search around on “the Google” to learn about their phony “weaknesses” of evolution, such as claims about gaps in the fossil record, polystrate fossils and “Piltdown man” (one of Mr. Mercer’s favorites). If your research is complete, you’ll learn how scientists have knocked down all of those arguments. But that doesn’t matter to the board’s creationists. They keep recycling the same nonsense anti-evolution crackpots write in countless Internet screeds and propaganda pamphlets or that we might read in chain e-mail spam. You can listen to the audio archive of the state board’s November 19 public hearing for some samples.
Each of those phony arguments is a lie calculated to do one thing: call into question the validity of evolution. And that leads us to another lie — that the attacks on evolution have nothing to do with religion. In truth, creationists’ religious beliefs are the reasons for their phony attacks on evolution.
The board’s creationists believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, which suggests that God created the earth and all life in six days just a few thousand years ago. That belief leaves no room for science and evolution of the wondrous diversity of life over billions of years. Yet the belief in a “young earth” is hardly shared by all people of faith, certainly not by Roman Catholics and many mainline Protestants.
So as we said at the top, let’s talk freedom and education for a moment. The debate before the State Board of Education isn’t about freedom for students to ask questions or for teachers to answer them truthfully. It’s about fundamentalists misusing public school science classes to promote their own religious beliefs over everybody else’s. It’s about handicapping our kids with a 19th-century education in their 21st-century science classrooms. It’s about whether we’ll be hearing more nonsense about “Piltdown man” all over again when biology textbooks are up for adoption in 2011.