Street Corner Soapbox: The Teaching of Creationism in Pennsylvania

Categories:      Opinion    News & Politics
Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 at 7:51 AM

In a recent guest editorial for the Erie Times-News, member of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, Barbara Forrest, warned that religious conservatives were working to bring creationism back to Pennsylvania schools.

“With intelligent design exposed as creationism in court,” she wrote, speaking of a landmark decision in which intelligent design – the belief that an intelligent creator best explains the composition of the universe – was found to be a form of religious indoctrination, not science, "the Discovery Institute now conceals its true aims behind the sanitized code language of ‘academic freedom’ legislation, seeking to undermine the teaching of evolution under the guise of ‘critical thinking.’”

Forrest refers specifically to a bill sponsored by state House Representative Stephen Bloom of North Middleton Township, the text of which sounds innocuous enough. The state, says the bill, will be obligated to help teachers present a curriculum around "scientific controversies,” and allow teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.”

In an interview with Harrisburg’s paper, The Patriot-News, Bloom defended his bill from critics. “Teachers are intimidated to the point where they can’t even bring up criticisms in the classroom,” he said. “To me, that’s not good science.”

But, of course, the bill is anything but innocuous, and does not in any way promote “good science.”

Start with this fact: A considerable percentage of Pennsylvania high-school teachers are creationists. A national survey found that 13 percent of 900 polled science teachers believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, and a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette survey found that nearly 20 percent of polled Pennsylvania science teachers believe in creationism.

These are the beneficiaries of Bloom’s “academic freedom,” not Pennsylvania students or science. Bloom’s bill would enable these teachers to wander off the Pennsylvania science curriculum and teach their beliefs, which are bad science.

And that’s the important thing in this debate. Evolution, climate change, and other “controversial” scientific theories are created in the intellectual lab of the scientific method – the idea that understanding should derive from measurable, empirical evidence. That practice is the central goal of science education. Those theories labeled “controversial” are so only if you view them through the lens of political ideology or fundamentalist religious belief – not science.

“A politically-motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics,” wrote PopularScience.com’s online content director, Suzanne LaBarre, on her site’s decision to remove comments sections from all future articles. “Everything from evolution to the origins of climate change is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to ‘debate’ on television.”

The idea that science should be subjected to a kind of “fairness” – which is essentially what Representative Bloom’s “academic freedom” bill is asking – is dead wrong. You can’t balance scientific consensus with popular opinion, scientific theory with religious belief, fact with fiction.

Teaching creationism, questioning scientific theories with questionable rhetorical fallacies, promoting pseudo-scientific “theories,” promoting belief over science – that’s not science. That’s political and religious indoctrination, and has no place in our schools’ science classrooms.

Jay Stevens can be contacted at Jay@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @Snevets_Yaj. 

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