10 December 1999

Creation Science 'education' in the US

by Kate Melville

As a science publication we make no bones about promoting science and science education. We understand that some, indeed a growing number of people feel uncertain about the benefits of science as we enter the 21st century. This is amply clear from the debate about genetically modified foods and the fractured nature of the debate about global warming.

Yet we feel strongly that science is very poorly understood and that science will never have the funds to do much to change many of the misconceptions about the positive role it has played in human history.

One outpost of this debate that we wish to look at is the emerging American movement that is trying to weaken science education in schools. This is somewhat of an ongoing saga, that has continued since the Scope's 'Monkey Trial' in the 1920's (you may even remember the film starring Spencer Tracey)?

Unfortunately this often-acrimonious debate has taken a new twist with a academic new movement advocating change in the science curriculum.

Robert Pennock has written a new book directly challenge the academic creationists. His book, Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, , dissects the creationist movement and then tries to debunks their claims that creationism deserves a place in the curriculum as "science."

Much of the book looks at the work of Phillip Johnson, an influential creationist and a professor at Berkeley. Penncock argues that Johnson (and others) is trying to undermine evolution by attacking its philosophical foundations. Penncock says, "For the first time, a group of creationists is based in academic institutions. This provides the movement with an appearance of credibility that it never before had."

This is not an argument without reach consequences for the advancement of science. Only recently the Kansas State Board of Education revised the state's science standards so they no longer include the teaching of evolution, plate tectonics, the big bang, and other scientific findings. Unfortunately states, including Oklahoma, Kentucky and Illinois are now looking to follow Kansas' lead.

Many creationists are endeavoring to equal time for the teaching of creationism by positioning it as a -creation science (sometimes described disingenuously as 'intelligent design theory'). In an education system seemingly obsessed by testing and standards some states have taken a less intellectual approach and simply deleted evolution and earth science from the curricula, effectively eliminating evolution from the curriculum.

Pennock's philosophy can probably be summed up as the need to keep private religious beliefs separate from public scientific knowledge.

This is not a new debate and will doubtless roll on well into the next millennia. Few debates seem to engender such passion and our editorial position is that we wish schools had enough time and money to teach both concepts. But the fact is they don't and even if they did it would be hard to reconcile these two different philosophies. Perhaps that's the answer, teach philosophy first and then let students decide what they want to learn?