Should Hawai’i be worried about creationists?

Of course! They’re lurking everywhere, scheming to get onto school boards and wreak havoc. I recently heard from a few people at the University of Hawaii who were shocked to see some of the responses of school board candidates there to the question, “Should public schools teach intelligent design?”—they gave answers like this:

  • Henry W. Hoeft, Jr. says Intelligent Design creationism “Should be taught side-by-side with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and students can decide which view to accept”.

  • Brian Kessler says “Voters should decide by referendum”.

There’s a simple answer to this problem: don’t vote for them. Get out and campaign against them, or better yet, pick a slate of pro-science candidates and campaign for them. That shouldn’t be too difficult, since several of the candidates on that list were unambiguous in saying some version of “no.”

Even if they get elected (and it’s amazing how these clueless ninnies do manage to get elected, even in sharp and progressive school districts), at least you know what they stand for, and while it will be an ongoing pain in the butt, at least you’ve got a target to fight.

I’m a little more concerned about the stealth candidates. Some gave awfully fuzzy answers for what should be a simple question, such as Paul Vierling, who says “Parents, families and community are the best teachers for any belief system.” That’s politicianese for “I’m going to give a vague answer that you can interpret any way you want.” Who knows, he may be a great advocate for science, but he’s also a master of evasion. And then there all the candidates who didn’t bother to answer the question—where do they stand? Press them on it.

One other thing that is useful to do is to take the Hawaiian science standards, roll them up, and whack the bad candidates on the nose with them…or at least, show them the standards, and ask if they are going to support those. Here are the most recent science standards for Hawaii that mention evolution:

Content Standards 6-8 9-12


Students examine
evidence for the evolution of life on earth and
assess the arguments
for natural selection as
a scientific explanation
of biological evolution.

In other words,evolution
is a series of changes, some
gradual and some sporadic,
that accounts for the present
form and function of organisms
in natural systems. Fossil
records of ancient life forms
and striking molecular similarities among diverse organisms
provide evidence for natural
selection and its evolutionary

For example,continual
evolution of human pathogens
is posing a serious health problem. Many strains of bacteria
have become increasingly
resistant to once-effective antibiotics because natural selection
has favored resistant strains.

  • Describe and explain how living things have
    changed over geologic time by using fossils
    and other evidence.
  • Explain how small differences between
    parents and offspring can accumulate in
    successive generations so those descendants
    are different from their ancestors.
  • Relate how changes in the environment can
    affect the survival of individual organisms
    and entire species.
  • Explain and elaborate how molecular and
    anatomical evidences substantiate the
    anatomical evidence for evolution (i.e.,
    provides additional detail about the sequence
    in which various lines of descendants
    branched off from one another).
  • Evaluate the Theory of Natural Selection as
    a mechanism for change over time.
  • Explain the basic idea of biological

It’s the job of the school board to support teachers in their efforts to meet the official standards required by the Hawai’i Department of Education. A candidate who refuses to abide by those standards, who thinks he or she is better than the committees of educators and scientists who met to determine what the most important issues to communicate to students are, ought not to even be considered for the school board. At least they ought to be asked whether they are going to defy the state standards committee.

You know, one thing I wish we could do for all prospective school board members is give them a comprehensive test to see if they are well enough educated to understand the state standards…and if they failed, they’d be disqualified from running. If school board members were all as smart as we expect our high school graduates to be, a lot of these problems with creationists undermining education would be reduced.


  1. says

    I love the idea of testing school board candidates. Test them on all the standards. Test every member of congress, both state and federal, and if they fail, they don’t get to vote on education issues, and, as per NCLB, if they fail repeatedly, they lose their funding, ie., their pay.

  2. says

    We should test all politicians on that stuff. Why is our country being run by people as smart as fourth-grader? There’s just no excuse for it.

    I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised that Hawaii is having a problem with creationists. I thought that they had very little Christian influence. I guess there are crazy fundies everywhere.

  3. says

    I don’t think Hawai’i has a particular problem with creationists — at least not yet. That a few crank candidates endorse creationist ideas is not cause for panic, it’s cause to vote against them.

    It’s much worse in the bible belt. While Hawai’i looks fairly sensible to me, I think it’s a good sign that alarm bells go off in people’s heads when these few kooks show up. Out here in the midwest, too often these people are treated as mainstream.

  4. MReap says

    I volunteer my time to help out the anti-creationist folks in Hawaii. I have time in, oh say, December, January and February .

    You’re supposed to get a freeze tonight, PZ. I refuse to turn on my heater in September.

  5. says

    Common misconceptions about Hawaii abound here. There are plenty of born-agains in Hawaii, there are churches everywhere, and the wealthiest crystal cathedrals dominate.

    Consider the social networking power of churches, now put it on an island. The educational and economic disparity adds both desperation and elitism to the mix. Finally, those who do possess liberal attitudes are a little too laid back to get into those battles, often more concerned about environmental and humanitarian issues.

    There is a lot of money floating around Hawaii, and it didn’t bubble up from the ground with the islands, it comes with haulies (white folk), and so the crusade continues.

  6. George says

    The new kid-empowering education paradigm:

    “Kids, Theory A and theory B contradict each other. You decide which one is true.”

    On the multiple choice science test:

    a) Earth is 6,000 years ago.
    b) Earth was formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago.

    Correct answer: a or b.

  7. says

    tom is exactly right. Christianity is a live and very strong in Hawaii. It’s just counter-balanced by a relatively robust Buddhist community. But the balance probably won’t stay, with the constant influx of immigrants from the very-Catholic Phillipines.

    For that matter, one of the biggest churches in the islands is New Hope Christian Fellowship, which is a bit touchy-feely in its emphasis but underneath that is a very hardcore Foursquare Pentacostal congregation. My dad was a member later in his life, so I ended up going along with him a few times. You’d never think there was “little Christian influence” in Hawaii seeing their Easter service, which fills up the University of Hawaii’s stadium…

    That said, Hawaii is emphatically not the Bible belt. Like PZ said, the fact that creationists candidates are popping up there isn’t a sign of an inevitable slide but rather a sign that we need to do more work getting the word out about what these people really want to push on our kids. Frankly, Hawaii’s public school system is screwed up enough that they don’t need creationists to muck things up any more. It’s just too bad that I registered in Massachusetts starting in 2004, so I can’t vote against the IDiots. My mom still votes there, though, so you’d better believe she’s getting a call from me this evening. ;)

  8. Great White Wonder says

    As I recall, the mega-asshole Gordon Mullins III (or whatever the hell his name was) who used to post 1000 word essays attacking evolutionary biology over at The Evangelical Outpost lived in Hawaii.

    He must be lovin’ it.

  9. Molly, NYC says

    Why is our country being run by people as smart as fourth-grader?

    Why are you insulting fourth-graders?

  10. complex_field says

    A comprehensive exam would be great. Too bad it smacks of the Jim Crow era literacy tests.