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Feb 11 2010

Creationists target the history curriculum

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

In my latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom, I suggest that following the resounding defeat for intelligent design creationism in the Dover trial in 2005, religious people seem to have run out of options in trying to insert religion into the public school science curriculum.

Having failed to subvert the science curriculum, religious people are now trying to include religion and an overtly partisan political viewpoint in the history curriculum, to include “recommendations that children be taught that there would be no United States if it had not been for God.”

One of the panel, David Barton, founder of a Christian heritage group called WallBuilders, argues that the curriculum should reflect the fact that the US Constitution was written with God in mind including that “there is a fixed moral law derived from God and nature”, that “there is a creator” and “government exists primarily to protect God-given rights to every individual”.

The flat assertions made by Barton of god’s existence and role are simply false. There is nothing in the US constitution that could even be remotely construed to mean what he says. While the drafters of the US constitution had diverse views on religion and the religious faith of some undoubtedly influenced their thinking, what is remarkable is that the US constitution is an explicitly godless one. There is not a single reference to god and the only reference to religion is a negative one that denies a role for religion. Article 6, section 3 states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

The response to this attempt by Barton to distort history by inventing reasons to insert god into the history curriculum exposes that weakness of the accommodationist approach to religion, in which people try to argue against such policies while not arguing against god itself. But once you concede that some vague idea of god makes sense to believe in, immediately the discussion becomes one of how and how much god was involved in US history, a discussion that can have no resolution because it involves theology and is thus devoid of any empirical content.

As an example of where this kind of woolly response gets you, an opponent of this new move by the creationists says that “I don’t think anyone disputes that faith played a role in our history” but that “it’s a stretch” to claim things like the above. A stretch? A stretch implies that there is some truth to the assertion, which is simply not the case. But accommodationists do not want to say this outright, even thought many accommodationists, especially those who belong to the Church of the Slacker God, don’t believe that god had any role in the history of the US either. This is because according to their view, god either does not exist or immediately retired after creating the universe in the big bang. But because of the political strategy they have adopted, they now have to struggle to find ways to say so without offending religious people.

The new/unapologetic atheists say quite simply: “Since there is no evidence for god’s existence, it is absurd to debate how much he was involved in anything at all. If you want to believe that he was, that’s fine. But you cannot impose your private beliefs onto everyone in the public sphere unless you have some evidence to justify that it is true.”

See how simple and logical that is?

POST SCRIPT: Defining gay and straight marriage
Cartoonist Mark Fiore illustrates the absurdity of trying to draw a distinction.

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