Pennsylvania school swears it doesn’t teach creationism; the FFRF warns them anyway

In April, reader Hempenstein called my attention to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporting the paper’s survey of 106 Pennsylvania high-school science teachers. The disturbing result was that more than 32% of the teachers adhered to some form of creationism. A national survey by Penn State researchers also showed that between 17% and 21% of high-school teachers in the U.S. actually introduce creationism into the science classroom.

Naturally, because I’m a radical evolutionary atheist (and a member of the Darwin Lobby), I wrote an outraged post on this site highlighting the Post-Gazette poll, one feature of which was pretty disturbing. I quote from my post:

One of the surveyed teachers made the mistake of admitting publicly, using his name, that he actually teaches creationism in his classroom. To wit (my emphasis):

Sometimes students honestly look me in the eye and ask what do I think? I tell them that I personally hold the Bible as the source of truth,” said Joe Sohmer, who teaches chemistry at the Altoona Area High School. The topic arises, he said, when he teaches radiocarbon dating, with that method often concluding archeological finds to be older than 10,000 years, which he says is the Bible-based age of Earth. “I tell them that I don’t think [radiocarbon dating] is as valid as the textbook says it is, noting other scientific problems with the dating method.”

‘Kids ask all kinds of personal questions and that’s one I don’t shy away from,” he said. “It doesn’t in any way disrupt the educational process. I’m entitled to my beliefs as much as the evolutionist is.” [JAC: yeah, but he's not entitled to foist them as science on credulous high-school students!]

Mr. Sohmer responded to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette questionnaire distributed this spring to school teachers statewide, and he agreed to discuss his teaching philosophy. He said school officials are comfortable with his methods.

I reported this article to the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), which sent a letter to the Altoona superintendent of schools (see here for their letter).  And the FFRF just received their reply, which denies the whole thing:

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Well, this response seems a bit dubious in light of Sohmer’s claim that “I tell them that I don’t think [radiocarbon dating] is as valid as the textbook says it is, noting other scientific problems with the dating method.” “Them” implies “more than one student”, and in fact more than a private conversation.  Second, Sohmer said that school officials are comfortable with his methods.”  That implies that his “methods” aren’t exactly imparting straight science to the students.

But since the school denies any creationism, and no student has come forth to complain, this issue is at an end.  Clearly, though, that the Altoona school district knows it’s being watched, and that any incursion of creationism in science class, even by Mr. Sohmer (who should be ashamed of teaching superstition to even a single student), is unacceptable.

At any rate, the FFRF, has just sent a four-page letter to every school-district superintendent in Pennsylvania; you can download their letter here. That will certainly get their attention, and, unlike Ball State University, I doubt that even Larry Moran or P. Z. Myers could argue that high school teachers have the “academic freedom” to teach creationism in science class.

Do think about joining the FFRF (which you can do here). It’s only $40 per year, and, unlike some other secular organizations, the FFRF is down in the trenches every day fighting legal battles to support the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

65 Comments

  1. Cliff Melick
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    I am a member of FFRF, and because “the FFRF is down in the trenches every day fighting legal battles to support the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution” is the precise reason I chose to support them.

    • gbjames
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Yes.

    • Dave
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      Me too. They are a great organization.

    • Richard Olson
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      FFRF is an organization that maintains maximum sunlight on its activities/finances. One knows exactly how and why every contributed cent is spent, and anyone is able to determine that all the organization’s activities are scrupulously lawful. Overhead is for reasonable salaries and other operating expenses only. All the rest is for grueling tasks opposed by a disproportionately outsized adversary bent on imposing its ideological will via majority demographics — mob rule.

      As we see by a seemingly endless list of reported events, this ubiquitous USA opposition group (not to say like-minded people don’t form groups in many other countries) includes (far too) many individuals who fervently believe their ends justify otherwise unconscionable means, resulting in actions that cross their own self-professed lines of moral absolutes (personal intellectual dishonesty mostly, in the form of awkward & tortured dissembling sprinkled all too often with straightforward lies; but violence to punish/silence/intimidate is, demonstrably, far from unknown).

      FFRF is feared and loathed by religious Exceptionalists, traditional fundies, and many other conservative christians when it acts to uphold the Establishment Clause. It is hated by many as virulently as critical thinking, contraception, and abortion. Go to their site and read some of the correspondence they receive.

      • Richard Olson
        Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        Curses! Forgot to subscribe.

      • gbjames
        Posted July 27, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        There is a nice YouTube channel devoted to FFRF crank mail. Enjoy…

        • gbjames
          Posted July 27, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

          (oops… I didn’t think it would post it that way. But enjoy anyway!)

          • Matt G
            Posted July 27, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

            That was quite a trip! God is going to be washing some mouths out for sure!

      • Lauryn Anna
        Posted July 29, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        “FFRF is feared and loathed by religious Exceptionalists, traditional fundies, and many other conservative christians when it acts to uphold the Establishment Clause. It is hated by many as virulently as critical thinking, contraception, and abortion.”

        I love you. FFRF is constantly called a Hate Group with the same disgusting agenda as the Westboro Baptist Church. That is a misrepresentation of the facts and mission of the Foundation. Most people who hate FFRF for random articles don’t actually read the article in full and more often than not know little of law in this country.

    • Posted July 28, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      I’m also a proud member of the FFRF.

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    It does at least sound like the school questioned the teacher & since the two stories do not jive he either did some fudging to cover up his bad behaviour or his questionnaire to the paper was exaggerated. Since his disclosure unfolded in a questionnaire, I tend to believe the former.

    Either way, it couldn’t have been pleasant for the teacher to be asked about his actions and that will hopefully deter him from committing any future indiscretions.

    I like that the FFRF sent to a reminder letter to all the school districts so they are on notice now as well!

  3. Posted July 27, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    I teach biology and microbiology in Kansas and run into creationism regularly. I’d say every class I’ve taught has at 1-4 creationists in it and probably several more who consider that to be a valid position, but aren’t as convinced.
    I fear Jerry would consider my methods to be … well, I can’t actually say what he would think, but let’s just say he might look on them unfavorably. But I do use a soft touch when approaching these (inevitable) conversations.
    I fear that forceful language will simply make my students shut down and dismiss me rather than listen and perhaps consider my arguments over time.

    I make sure to tackle the topic head-on by using Shubin’s YIF as a reading companion and making evolution by natural selection a centerpiece of biology, but I do try very hard to make my conversations inclusive saying the religion addresses different questions than science. That said, I also affirm that the age of the Earth and how organisms evolve over time are within the bounds of scientific and out of bounds of religious questioning.
    I often worry about my students and the kind of education they have received up until the time I see them. Kansas remains a breeding ground for creationists with many students being home-schooled and many science teachers being ill-equipped to handle discussions of creationism raised by their students.

    Anyway, I just wanted to chime in because I live in one of those areas where creationism is taught regularly. When I was on the East coast, I never would have believed it possible.

    • Posted July 27, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with a softly-softly approach to persuasion in such a setting, however:

      I do try very hard to make my conversations inclusive saying the religion addresses different questions than science.

      Isn’t that trying a bit too hard? I don’t see any question as out-of-bounds for science.

      • gbjames
        Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

        I agree with Coel. The whole “different questions” notion is fraught with trouble. It might ease you out of a conversation with religious zealots but it isn’t really true.

      • Sastra
        Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        Well, technically speaking religion does address different questions than science. The main one seems to be “How can I believe in really implausible things and become pig-headed about it by dishonestly framing it all as a humble search for truth?”

        Science really can’t help you out there.

        I suppose one need not be explicit about this particular interpretation of “religion addresses different questions than science.” It can be subtly implied, though.

        • gbjames
          Posted July 27, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

          Actually, I think science has quite a bit to offer about the nature of delusion and deception.

          • Sastra
            Posted July 27, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

            All science can do is explain self-deception, though. It doesn’t actively encourage it like religion does — answering the above question “How can I believe…?” in a helpful, instructive spirit instead of with a cautionary, killjoy attitude. So take that, science!

            • Posted July 27, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

              Hmm, not so sure, if you supply the desire (How can I believe?) science can indeed tell you how to fulfill it. Science wouldn’t have a “killjoy” attitude to it, it wouldn’t have any attitude to it.

              • Sastra
                Posted July 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                The science of faith? Heh.

                Well then let’s just say that the question “How can I believe in really implausible things and become pig-headed about it by dishonestly framing it all as a humble search for truth?” does not itself partake of the scientific approach — regardless of whether one decides to approach the answer as scientifically as possible.

    • Matt G
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

      Maybe the FFRF should focus on Kansas and similar states. I think you are far more likely to encounter people who aren’t as willing to make up BS to cover their tracks (it’s all about standing up for Jesus, after all!). A clear-cut court case would serve as deterrent for other school boards, much like Kitzmiller vs. Dover.

    • Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

      I would caution you against saying even that much.

      If you’re including history of biology, creationism certainly deserves a mention — just as an astronomer would mention astrology and a chemist alchemy.

      But, aside from that, for the love of all that’s unholy, don’t bring up the subject yourself. And, if your students do, you really don’t need to say more than that creationism is a religious doctrine and something as unsuited for a biology class as transubstantiation for a chemistry class — and that students who wish to know more about creationism should take the matter up with their preferred religious advisers.

      If they offer specific objections, deal with those head-on in exactly the same way you would any other lack of understanding or confusion. If a student doesn’t understand how the eye could possibly evolve without intelligent oversight, queue up either Darwin’s own treatment of it or Richard’s excellent Christmas Lecture demonstration or your own variation on the theme.

      But please, please, please don’t go down the NCSE path of preaching a particular form of theology that says that Jesus and Darwin are (or could be) best friends. Don’t even hint at it by saying things such as, “Many Christians find no conflict between Evolution and Genesis.” Unless it’s a religious studies or sociology or current events class, don’t go there at all — just teach the science and refer them to their religious advisers if they want the religious perspective. Refuse to get drawn into a debate on the subject, just as an astronomer in the classroom would (hopefully) refuse to get drawn into a debate on the merits of astrology.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted July 27, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for all the followup discussion.
        Ben, I think you bring up some particularly good issues, i.e. teaching science as history (which I do in many ways, such as how questions about abiogenesis, cell theory and germ theory changed our approach to infectious disease and how medicine is approached). I don’t think I have ever brought up ideas of creation myself, but I have discussed how ideas about the origin of man have had opposition (I compare it to questions about the position of the Earth in space).

        I don’t go soft on scientific critique at all. Anything my students bring up is on the table, so long as the questions can be addressed through (at least ‘thought’) experiments. What I do mean about my ‘soft touch’ is that I would love to use Jerry’s book in my class, or perhaps one of Dawkins’, but I have to admit that I don’t because I think some of my students would find, ‘Why Evolution is True’ to be an offensive title and I would rather that the kind of people who take offense to that enroll in my class than not because of my required reading list.

        (To add fuel to the fire, I require Paul Offit’s ‘Vaccinated’ as reading for microbiology – I get a lot of the same folks who find evolution objectionable also arguing for a vaccine-autism connection)

        • Posted July 27, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          Opps – I forgot to ask… how common is it for other instructors to encounter creationist students? (I never encountered this before moving to Kansas)

          • Matt G
            Posted July 27, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

            I teach science at a Christian school. When religion (or politics) comes up, I remind the kids that this is science class, and we only talk about that which can be supported with evidence. When students ask about my personal beliefs, I tell them it is none of their business.

            • BillyJoe
              Posted July 27, 2013 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

              That sounds like a winning strategy.
              (A better strategy than lying and saying that religion and science deal with different questions)

        • Posted July 27, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

          I’m not sure what to suggest as far as using Jerry’s book. Perhaps sneak it by as “supplemental reading” rather than a required text?

          Personally, I’d just put it in the Ws in the main list of texts. Students who need the class for credit will take it regardless. Those who would get offended likely would avoid the class regardless and / or drop out early on — and many of them won’t have the patience to read to the bottom of the alphabet when perusing the list of books before they get to the bookstore, anyway.

          And you can always tell them that WEIT honestly presents the strengths and weaknesses of the Theory, and that they would be well advised to be thoroughly cognizant of both. Of course — as with all sciences — the weaknesses come in the form of error bars, and they’re damned narrow in this case, but still….

          b&

    • ladyatheist
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      You are a hero! :-D

  4. Posted July 27, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Who us? No, it can’t be. Even if teachers admit they teach Creationism, they really don’t mean it. They have misspoken and FFRF has misunderstood. Be assured that it never happened, but if it did, it won’t happen again.

    I’m sick of such apologies, as above.

  5. michaeljefisher
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    “…radial evolutionary atheist”

    Ease up on the French fries? :)

    • Gordon Hill
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      …’radial’ which is modern as opposed to ‘belted’ which is old fashioned… ;-)

  6. Gordon Hill
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    Even when a school district avoids creationism in the classroom, teachers bring their beliefs into class. Some unwittingly. It’s an issue worth following with a travel spot.

  7. Sastra
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    I suspect that any explicit lying on this issue is being muddled up with the usual confusion which results when you get into what people mean when they invoke “faith” as a method of investigation, confirmation, and attitude.

    If you believe something “on faith” or because of your faith this means that it’s admittedly not objective. Neither science nor reason can completely support it … or touch it. The signal goes out: this belief is so personal and heartfelt that it’s immune to public criticism. Telling people — students — what your faith tells you to believe is thus a private little admission, like letting them know you don’t really care for Hemingway or were bad at sports when you were a kid. Not part of the curriculum, in other words.

    Except that the one thing you can be certain of is what you know by faith. Those are the facts which are the truest of all truths — and no, faith is not blind. There’s plenty of good evidence. After all, reality hangs together into a unified whole. It would be pretty incredible if there were different truths which contradicted each other, wouldn’t it? It’s the job of the person of faith to figure out how it all fits…. and to do it any way you can.

    And spread it around.

    My guess is that the school heard the teacher out and accepted his reassurance that whenever he brought up his personal, private creationist sympathies it was of course a small little aside, reinforced with the humble admission that no, no, this is faith and not science. And because there’s nothing wrong and everything right about giving some reasons for what you believe, factual evidence then gets mixed up with wishful thinking and turns creationism into an alternate point of view which is perfectly acceptable to the reasonable person.

    But it’s “only” faith — the most powerful way of knowing on earth. So let’s forget that now and get back to science and remember what the answer on the test is supposed to be. Watch me separate church from state.

  8. Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    The district attorney’s letter is good in all aspects save the most important.

    Clearly, simply reminding faculty at an annual meeting is woefully inadequate when it comes to correcting such egregious unprofessionalism as the survey revealed. What is instead called for are independent audits and evaluations, with significant disciplinary actions taken against those teachers found to be in violation.

    I would personally suggest removing said teachers from science instruction until after such time as they have satisfactorily completed suitable post-secondary remedial science education and demonstrated a thorough and comfortable familiarity with the subjects they are supposed to be teaching.

    In the mean time, they’re welcome to teach any non-science classes they’re otherwise qualified to teach. But there’s no more place in the science classroom for a teacher who doesn’t understand Evolution than there is for an algebra teacher who doesn’t understand the Quadratic Equation or a trigonometry teacher who doesn’t understand the Pythagorean Theorem or an English teacher who rejects the concept of verbs or an history teacher who thinks the Holocaust never happened or a gym teacher who thinks watching an exciting movie constitutes aerobic exercise.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • BillyJoe
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      “or a gym teacher who thinks watching an exciting movie constitutes aerobic exercise”

      Hey?

  9. Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    The religious will believe almost anything, as long as it is unrelated to science, but even they find Mormonism hard to believe.

    • gbjames
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Barring Mormons, presumably.

  10. Hempenstein
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Happy to have been a link in the chain that started this!

    At least I can report that both my kids graduated from the same public highschool outside Pittsburgh, and neither got a whiff of creationism in their school.

    And while mentioning my daughter, you might enjoy her comment last night on FB, in re this “Pray-in” - that she expects it’ll be “like watching a child pretend to talk to Elmo on a Fisher-Price telephone.”

    • ladyatheist
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      hahahaha good one!

  11. Jim Thomerson
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    In Historical Geology class, 1956, we got a lecture on radioactive dating, with a discussion of what can go wrong. My introductory ecology course had a large dose of mistakes one can make in measuring ecological paramaters. I’ve junior authored two DNA bsed phyogeny papers with different DNA workers. In both cases, I received a boring lecture about what can go wrong in DNA studies. Experts in an area being clear about possible imperfections in their work is quite different from a layman arguing from religious faith, however.

    I have taught a junior level evolution course a number of times. I devoted one lecture to creationism, presenting evidence that it is religious belief, not science. This course is required of our Biology Secondary Education students. I think they will likely encounter creationist thought as they do their teaching jobs. So I wanted them to understand my point of view on the subject, and be prepared to deal with it.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

      “radioactive dating”

      I don’t mind a bit of excitement and intrigue, maybe even a little danger, but radioactive dating?

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted July 28, 2013 at 3:07 am | Permalink

        Don’t you just love the warm, fuzzy glow it gives you?

  12. ladyatheist
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    When they questioned the teacher, did they check to be sure his fingers weren’t crossed?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Ha ha!

  13. Thanny
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I actually find it credible that the teacher really only discussed it once with a single student outside of the normal class period.

    People in general like to generalize their own behavior from single events. For example, if you once stood up to a bully, you’re very likely to say that you’re the type of person who stands up to bullies – you don’t take their guff as a matter of principle.

    The “sometimes students” and “I tell them” phrases strike me as plausible instances of the same phenomenon. He once had a student ask, and he once responded. From that, he extrapolates his own personal philosophy on all similar interactions.

    Maybe he’s lying, but it just seems more likely to me that he was exaggerating his own principles (or what he thinks are principles – we would call them a lack thereof), until it got him too close to hot water.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      I will give you plausibility, but there is really no way to know what happened on the evidence presented so far.

  14. madscientist
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    A chemist who poo-poos radiocarbon dating? That reminds me of the old joke “those who can do; those who can’t teach”. I wonder what the guy thinks of thorium-uranium dating which doesn’t need as rigorous a date calibration as carbon dating and which dates much older objects (500KY), or the lead-uranium dating performed with the SHRIMP instrument (>4GY). Even radiocarbon dating can reliably give you dates to ~50KY; without calibration you simply have a larger error in the estimate buy the ages are still greater than anything deduced from the silly bible.

  15. richardwkc
    Posted July 27, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Re letter from FFRF to the Altoona superintendent; the word ‘compatible’ in the sentence: ‘Such a practice alienates those who practice other religious faiths, those who are nonreligious, and those who believe that science and religion are compatible’ [last page, first paragraph] – is incorrect and should be ‘incompatible.’

    • cyan
      Posted July 28, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      No, it is correct as written. A creationist finds science and religion incompatible, therefore a creationist teacher espousing his views during classtime would alienate those who find science and religion compatible.

      • richardwkc
        Posted July 28, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

        Tks for your response. Let’s evaluate: let’s say we have two groups, creationists and non-creationists. Maybe I am wrong in saying this, but my understanding is that creationists think science and religion are compatible and that’s one reason they are not averse to teaching creationism in a science class. We can assume non-creationists as those who are adamant that science and creationism are completely distinct from each other, like a pear and an orange.
        Now let’s review the relative paragraph from FFRF’s letter:
        “Finally, even if a science teacher believes in creationism, he or she represents the interests of a much more diverse population within your district. It is wildly inappropriate for the beliefs of one school of religious thought to be pushed on a captive audience of public school students. Such a practice alienates those who practice other religious faiths, those who are nonreligious, and those who believe that science and religion are compatible. Any teacher who feels passionately about the merits of creationism is free to teach that viewpoint to his/her own children or to ask that it be taught in his/her church. The public at large need not be involved.”

        The second sentence, I think, is clear in saying that beliefs of religious thought should not be taught to public school students; why? The answer is that these students may be of different faiths, that some of them may be nonreligious and that some others may have the belief that “that science and religion are compatible.”

        The people who think science and religion are compatible are not non-creationists. So if a teacher teaches creationism – considered a religious belief – students who embrace science and creationism as being compatible would not feel alienated. Students who would feel alienated would be those who are non-creationists.

        We are talking about the teaching of beliefs of one school of religious thought to a diversity of public school students.

        • gbjames
          Posted July 28, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

          “my understanding is that creationists think science and religion are compatible and that’s one reason they are not averse to teaching creationism in a science class”

          I think you confuse what creationists think and what creationists say for political purposes. They are interested in discrediting the scientific explanation of the past. Any notion of compatibility is limited to push their religious view. They are not advocating for compatibility.

          • richardwkc
            Posted July 28, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

            Tks, gbjames.

            I beginning to see the picture.

            • richardwkc
              Posted July 28, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

              Corrigendum: I am beginning …

  16. Posted July 28, 2013 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    Sohmer sounds like he was caught in a pious “humble-brag”. It is cute when the Liars for Jesus are caught out being arrogant. I’m sure there are more than a few fellow believers at the good teacher’s church that will point to this event as proof to modern-day Christian persecution.

  17. Posted July 28, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    When my classmates at Benton Area High School in Columbia County pledged allegiance every morning in class, it was’…one nation, under god…’ (which I wasn’t allowed to recite, given that my mother was a staunch JW cult member at the time).

    Can’t possibly imagine how anyone would suspect any American school of teaching creationism via stealth…

  18. Posted July 28, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on A man and his brain and commented:
    Always on high alert!

  19. Posted July 28, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Jerry,

    According to the poll you quoted, about 20% of high school science teachers in Pennsylvania teach creationism. We also know from other polls that most high school students never get an adequate exposure to evolution.

    So how’s that Establishment Clause thingy working out for you and FFRF down in the trenches?

    Looking objectively from the outside, it doesn’t look like that strategy is working in spite of “victories” like Dover. Maybe threatening people with lawsuits isn’t the best way to change their minds?

    • gbjames
      Posted July 28, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, who needs that old Constitution thingy?

    • Posted July 28, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Larry,

      You’re a scientist, so you’re familiar with the notion of a “control.” How do you know that more students wouldn’t be exposed to creationism without things like the Dover case? I’m pretty sure they would learn even more creationism, since school districts wouldn’t be afraid to be sued. What would stop any teacher from teaching creationism?, for I’m sure there are lots who believe it but are afraid to teach it.

      But surely you’re not suggesting that we should stop all legislation like Kitzmiller v Dover, Epperson v. Arkansas, and McLean v Arkansas. Those are the only laws that prevent fulminating creationism in the U.S.

      Or would you prefer that the ACLU, the FFRF, and the scientists who testify in such do nothing instead? I can’t believe you’d hold such a bizarre position. “Yeah, let’s do nothing through the courts–that will ensure the death of creationism in schools.” That is, as the Germans say, Wahnsinn.

      I’m sorry to see that you’re extending your “let teachers teach whatever they want” stand from universities to secondary schools.

      • Larry Moran
        Posted July 28, 2013 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

        The reason why teaching creationism isn’t much of a problem in many other countries is because it’s bad science, not because it’s illegal.

        I think you should concetrate more on convincing school boards and teachers that creationism is nonsense rather than fighting a rear guard action through the courts. You are not going to change people’s minds by threatening them with a lawsuit. The problem will never be solved unless you convince people that creationism is wrong.

        One way to do that is to teach the controversy in school. But you can’t actually teach children why creationism is wrong because your primary strategy is to keep creationism out of schools because of some 225 year old piece of paper.

        Your strategy puts you on the defensive. You should be taking the fight to the trenches by attacking bad science and superstitiuos nonsense.

        • gbjames
          Posted July 29, 2013 at 4:19 am | Permalink

          Every lawsuit is an opportunity to convince people that creationism is nonsense. How does one “convince school boards” if one is unwilling to confront them for blatant illegality?

          I do marvel at your disregard for the Constitutional separation of religion and state. “Some 225 year old piece of paper”?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 29, 2013 at 5:20 am | Permalink

          I can’t believe you actually wrote the words, “teach the controversy”. You know there is no controversy and approaching the issue in this way just legitimizes creationism and further entrenches those who believe it.

          Educating the public is not lost on the FFRF — their letter details why creationism is not science and why evolution isn’t “just a theory”; however, what truly prevents the pollution of science classes with religion is the constitution. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that? I think stopping young minds from being subjected to this junk is the priority; working on changing societal attitudes can continue in the background but it takes a lot longer.

          As for the constitutional issue — violations against a constitution seems to me to be fairly serious because they violate what a society has deemed of utmost importance. I’m sure you’ll agree that the Federation of Law Societies of Canada are in the right as they examine applicable laws and the Charter of Rights in opposing the accreditation of the Christian,Trinity Western University which is clearly anti-gay.

        • johnpieret
          Posted July 29, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

          Larry, we have discussed this many times. It has been persuasively argued that the reason the US is so much more religious than other developed nations is because of our particular (even peculiar) constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. Freed from being associated with government (which most everyone hates at sometime or another) religion has prospered in the US. Like everything else, there are tradeoffs. Unlike you, Larry, I don’t pay taxes to support Catholic schools (though, to be fair, my government gives tax breaks to religious institutions … but so, I think, does Canada).

          More importantly, freedom of conscious is a real and important human right. While Canada has caught up to us and even surpassed us in many ways, our Constitution was an important advance in human government that we are loathe to abandon, which, ultimately, your are recommending we do. Thanks for the advice … but no thanks. We’ll muddle through, even if, in the case of science education, the mechanism can be clunky.

          A far more important way to reform our education system would be to wrest the control of ELHI education away from the tens of thousands of local school boards, which we have made a start on with the Common Core State Standards. We still have some constitutional problems with that, but it is a beginning.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 28, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      The lawsuits aren’t supposed to change people’s minds, they are supposed to stop them from filling other minds with crap. Who knows how many minds are saved from this junk when just one lawsuit is successful!

    • Notagod
      Posted July 28, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      If the christian was susceptible to reasoned requests they wouldn’t be teaching creationism as science. I really don’t understand what you are trying to promote. The christian is the aggressor, they have an agenda and they haven’t responded well to reasonable discussion. The only other alternative is to do nothing, is that your preferred solution? Just forget about it and allow the christian to spin us into the dark ages without any resistance? That may or may not be their explicitly spelled out plan depending on which one you talk to but regardless, that would be the result of where they are trying to drive society.

      Don’t you see a parallel between what the christian is working toward and the muslim dominated societies of the Middle East?


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