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Why don’t we do this?

The UK has officially prohibited teaching creationism in all government funded schools.

The government released a new set of funding agreements last week including clauses which specifically prohibit pseudoscience.

"The parties acknowledge that clauses 2.43 and 2.44 of the Funding Agreement [which preclude the teaching of pseudoscience and require the teaching of evolution] apply to all academies. They explicitly require that pupils are taught about the theory of evolution, and prevent academy trusts from teaching ‘creationism’ as scientific fact," one clause reads.

The funding agreement defines creationism as "any doctrine or theory which holds that natural biological processes cannot account for the history, diversity, and complexity of life on earth and therefore rejects the scientific theory of evolution," and goes on to note that this idea is rejected not only by the scientific community but most mainstream churches as well.

"It does not accord with the scientific consensus or the very large body of established scientific evidence; nor does it accurately and consistently employ the scientific method, and as such it should not be presented to pupils at the Academy as a scientific theory," the agreement states.

That got me thinking. Here in the US, legislatures are constantly debating creationist bills, all usually the same old ‘strengths and weaknesses’ boilerplate, and the good guys are reduced to playing defense (often successfully, fortunately). Conservatives and creationists are really good at being aggressive in pushing stupid ideas forward.

So where’s our offense?

Why doesn’t someone (hey, NCSE, what you doin’ today?) take the language of the UK resolution, adapt it to have a more American flavor, and get friendly state politicians to propose it? Many politicians, proposing it many times, just like the game the creationists play. It may not get passed the first time through, but persistence works, and having a clear statement of principle can be a great rallying cry.

And don’t tell me you don’t want to antagonize the electorate. That’s timidity that gets us nowhere. Have you ever noticed that the idiots on the right say incredibly stupid stuff all the time, and they still manage to advance their agenda? So why be shy about saying something intelligent?

Comments

  1. borax says

    As someone who lives in a state that is doing its damnedest to siphon public school funds for charter schools, I say yes, we should do this.

  2. darkfatherofalllies says

    As much as I would love this to happen, I’m not sure how it would be done through legal channels in the US. I’m no expert on legal matters, but is there a precedent for a court saying something CANNOT be taught? I know the Scopes trial allowed evolution to be taught, but it wasn’t banning anything either.

    Sincerely,
    The Dark Father of All Lies

  3. David Wilford says

    Given the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the U.S. has already ruled that teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional. So any additional law forbidding said teaching would be redundant.

  4. borax says

    @3 Every time a public school district tries to teach creationism and it makes its way to the courts, the district is ruled against. This is already the rule of law. It would be nice if this was codified without a thousand and one lawsuits.

  5. David Wilford says

    @5:

    I’d rather not have the theory of evolution enforced by the Thought Police, thank you very much. Next thing you know, there would be a Spanish Inquisition…

  6. Sastra says

    It would feed their persecution complex of course — but everything feeds their persecution complex (Happy Holidays!) so that’s not much of an objection. Make it into a general stance. I think a prohibition against teaching pseudoscience might not only reign in creationism, but alt med too.

    That, however, would likely lead to a debate we will lose, even though we’d be right. Being right is an advantage (the only real advantage, given enough time) but it’s not enough for short term politics.

  7. darkfatherofalllies says

    @6:

    What a delightfully irrational comparison. The courts aren’t saying you aren’t allowed to believe in Creationism, they’re not saying you can’t teach your kids creationism, they aren’t saying your preachers can’t preach creationism.

    All they’re saying is that it cannot be taught in a SCIENCE class because it’s nowhere near meeting the definitions and requirements of a scientific theory.

  8. rhebel says

    Unfortunately, Kitzmiller doesn’t technically apply to the entire country. On a related note, word is that WI will not adopt the NGSS unless evolution is taken out of the science standards and made a philosophy standard. The stupid burns.

  9. David Wilford says

    rhebel @ 12:

    Wisconsin’s current science instruction standards already strongly affirm the importance of the theory of evolution, so I’m not sure what hay is being made with regard to the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), other than it’s what Republicans do.

  10. Kevin Kehres says

    @12: But Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) does apply to the entire country.

    Teaching creationism in public schools is UnConstitutional.

  11. Jackie the wacky says

    David Wilford,

    It is not “thought police” to regulate what is taught in school. We do it all the time. Evolution denial should be considered no different from Holocaust denial, alchemy, or the phantasmagoria theory of perception. Teaching creationism is lying to students and doing them a huge disservice. Schools don’t exist to make fundamentalists feel better about telling their kids to believe in ancient fables instead of facts. If you want to deny your kids a basic education, then send them to a religious school or homeschool them. Our taxes should not go toward helping you snow your kids.

    My kids have been in private school, public school and homeschool. I’m all about educational freedom. That does not mean I don’t think a government institution has a responsibility to provide students with a factual standardized education. If you prefer religious propaganda, go for it. Just keep it out of public schools.

  12. busterggi says

    Because teaching reality is persecuting Christians. That and gutless &/or crazy politicians.

  13. screechymonkey says

    darkfatherofallies @3″

    know the Scopes trial allowed evolution to be taught, but it wasn’t banning anything either.

    Actually, it did neither. People remember the Scopes trial as a “victory” for science, but it was only so in a political or public relations sense, not because it created any actual relevant legal precedent even in Tennessee.

    Scopes was convicted by the trial court of violating the Butler Act (the state law forbidding the teaching of evolution), and fined $100.

    On appeal, the Supreme Court of Tennessee rejected all of Scopes’ substantive arguments, including an Establishment Clause claim, but it reversed the conviction on the grounds that the Tennessee Constitution required fines of more than $50 to be imposed by a jury rather than a judge. The court then recommended that the prosecution not re-file the case, and the Attorney General followed that advice. But the Butler Act remained enforceable until it was repealed in the mid-60s, just prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Epperson v. Arkansas that such bans were unconstitutional.

    As Kevin Kehres noted @14, the U.S. Supreme Court later held that teaching creationism as science is unconstitutional.

    But contra David Wilford @4, a federal law analogous to the U.K. bill would not be “redundant,” at least not if it was tied to the funding mechanism. Right now, at least as a practical matter, if a public school is teaching creationism, you have to find a student and parent willing to stand up and become a pariah by challenging it in court And typically the best-case scenario is that an injunction or court decree is entered saying “don’t do it again,” and maybe the school board has to fork out some or all of the ACLU or whoever’s attorney’s fees. It’s a decent deterrent, but not a great one, and there’s plenty of school boards trustees who are willing to take their chances with that process. Or at least ones who are willing to look the other way while individual creationist teachers do their thing.

    But if a federal statute empowered the Department of Education to strip funding from school districts* or states, that’s a powerful remedy that would strike terror in the hearts of many school boards. Even the threat of doing so would be enough to bring many into line. Of course, that would require an administration willing to go to bat against the religious right, which is almost as unlikely as getting such legislation through Congress.

    *– I don’t know much about how federal funding of education works, so it may not be possible for the feds to de-fund on a district-by-district level. But if they can ding grants to a state proportionately, that might give some states an incentive to police their more conservative districts.

  14. twas brillig (stevem) says

    [blowing my own horn, now] I alerted PZ to this story (via email). I added on my own futile thoughts. Maybe we should take a cue from the UK and let the Religiots teach creationism; as a separate class, as a Religion class, and keep it out of Science class, where evolution is taught. But then, 1)Teaching Religion in public schools is unConstitutional. Period. 2) Which religion, with Creationism, is to be taught? We have so many. 3) All the Religiots will assert that theirs is the ONLY Religion; all others are faux-religions and cannot be taught. So, even trying to be “accommodationary”: we’ll still get f~~ked. And (3) will just feed their persecution complex. So, whatever the choice: no joy. I’d like to think we can just tell the Religiots to look at UK, “UK is also declaring Creationism to be NOT Science.” I know that won’t work, to our benefit, the Religiots will just twist it around to their “persecution”.

  15. David Wilford says

    Jackie @ 15:

    Oh, no, I don’t think having educational standards is akin to the “thought police”, and apologies to all for that previous comment.

  16. says

    I don’t think stooping to their level is going to help. In fact, it would lend itself to becoming part of the a Creationism narrative that it is a serious science that is being intentionally silenced.

    It is just a waste of time to make a specific law that science teachers need to teach science and not mythology. Imagine a series of laws like “the Zeus theory of lightning is not to be taught as science” or “the giant catfish Namazu theory of Earthquakes is not scientific”. It would just be never-ending.

  17. Rich Woods says

    @twas brillig #18:

    I’d like to think we can just tell the Religiots to look at UK, “UK is also declaring Creationism to be NOT Science.” I know that won’t work, to our benefit, the Religiots will just twist it around to their “persecution”.

    And in any case they’d just dismiss us as a bunch of foreign liberal communist fascists who have been brainwashed by Darwin and who exploit his every word to make more money for ourselves and worship him by sticking his face on all our £10 notes.

  18. Rich Woods says

    @John Ottenhof #20:

    Myself, I’ve always favoured the afanc theory of flooding. It explains so much.

  19. HolyPinkUnicorn says

    I wish we could have nice things too.

    Like creationism-free science classes and politicians who don’t bend over backwards to win over fundamentalists (or at least their votes). Or something different from what we get at the national level, where we end up with teach-to-the-test boondoggles like No Child Left Behind, or even at the state level where education boards try to adapt textbooks with ideas too stupid and unbelievable for even The Onion.

    Even crazier, we have a constitution amended to prevent any “law respecting an establishment of religion,” yet the UK has a queen who is both head of state and the church (though not government). Seems like something is backwards.

  20. Holms says

    Why doesn’t someone (hey, NCSE, what you doin’ today?) take the language of the UK resolution, adapt it to have a more American flavor, and get friendly state politicians to propose it? Many politicians, proposing it many times, just like the game the creationists play.

    I’m going with “because that would be political suicide” and therefore getting them to propose it in the fisrt place is going to be difficult. I really doubt this idea has simply never occurred to e.g. NCSE, give them some credit!

  21. Anri says

    From the OP:

    And don’t tell me you don’t want to antagonize the electorate. That’s timidity that gets us nowhere. Have you ever noticed that the idiots on the right say incredibly stupid stuff all the time, and they still manage to advance their agenda? So why be shy about saying something intelligent?

    To re-phrase: “Have you noticed that stupid sells? Why not say something smart, then?”

    It’s a self-answering question.

  22. Gregory Greenwood says

    And don’t tell me you don’t want to antagonize the electorate. That’s timidity that gets us nowhere. Have you ever noticed that the idiots on the right say incredibly stupid stuff all the time, and they still manage to advance their agenda? So why be shy about saying something intelligent?

    Unfortunately, stupidity is far more politically palletable than anything with any whiff of intelligence about it, mostly because it is less threatening to many people. Never underestimate the power or the prevalence of anti-intellectualism in society. The rightwing would just love to paint the left as full of elitist ‘intelektools’ who want to snatch not just the ordinary Joe (the Plumber)’s guns but his god as well. Que wailing about freeze peach and complaints that christians are being persecuted by ‘teh ebil gubbermint conspirassy’.

    As noted upthread, it would probably lead to a public debate that the American secularists and atheists couldn’t win due to the crushing weight of popular religious superstition. It would be an easy means for the Republicans to hose the Democrats at any election where they brought it up.

    The UK has officially prohibited teaching creationism in all government funded schools.

    Sooo… when the Republicans get back into power, how long do you think it will be before we can expect airstrikes and military intervention to end our heinous persecution of good god-botherers?

    And yes; that is a joke…

    Probably…

  23. says

    I disagree. I don’t think stupidity is at all appealing to the electorate. What they like is confidence, strong, simple statements, and positive assertions. Dunning-Krueger just makes it easy for the stupid to do that well, while smart people are just too conscious of complexities. There is no reason that smart policies can’t be presented with assertiveness, and I think the public might respond better than you assume.

  24. mrjonno says

    Even crazier, we have a constitution amended to prevent any “law respecting an establishment of religion,” yet the UK has a queen who is both head of state and the church (though not government). Seems like something is backwards.

    ————————–

    I actually thing that’s one of the reason religion is weak in the UK and strong in the US. With a state religion that has to cover everyone from the most ‘militant’ atheist through to most devout chrisitan it basically never takes a stance on anything as it knows to do so risks its archaic position

    In the US you have an unrestricted free market in religion, with selling hating being the biggest selling point, leading to some extremely nasty religions

  25. Gregory Greenwood says

    PZ @ 27;

    I disagree. I don’t think stupidity is at all appealing to the electorate. What they like is confidence, strong, simple statements, and positive assertions. Dunning-Krueger just makes it easy for the stupid to do that well, while smart people are just too conscious of complexities.

    A fair point, but prune away too many of the subtleties and complexities and an otherwise intelligent point can be easily warped toward some really socially regressive ends. As an example, there is some merit to arguments about the perils of religious radicalisation and many forms of extremism in many faiths including many strains of christianity. It is not all knee-jerk racism and ultranationalism, and yet once those ideas have gone through the political mangle what comes out is near 100% proof reactionary islamophobia. Then there is also the danger of people who merely think they are smart – look how lousy ‘movement atheism’ (not a favoured term of mine, but you get the idea) is with people who assume that, because they have seen through the not very convincing lie of god, they must possess some near clairvoyant clarity of vision denied mere mortals, and so a well placed to such things as mansplain why women supposedly aren’t good at maths or science, and why the white middle class and middle aged male dominated atheism of years past was a utopian ideal irredeemably corrupted by teh wimminz. Such runaway egos would only be bolstered be a political platform.

    There is no reason that smart policies can’t be presented with assertiveness, and I think the public might respond better than you assume.

    I honestly hope you are right. It is just that in the three ring circus of UK politics I have seen scant evidence of it. Rather, all of the major parties are homogenising into various flavours of rightwing ideology, with no credible progressive option even left in the running. This is not for lack of trying, so much as those who do attempt to set a meaningfully socially liberal agenda getting kicked in the teeth so often that they finally have little option than to give up.

    Wow – I really am a downer today, aren’t I?

  26. gc12847 says

    Not sure if anyone else has mentioned this but in the UK public/free school = private school, as in you have to pay. School where you don’t have to pay are called state schools. As far as I know, creationism was already banned in state schools, but now also in public/free schools (i.e. private schools) as well.

  27. gc12847 says

    Actually I’m not sure about “free schools” (I think there like charter school in America) but “public schools” are fee paying (i.e private).

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