Some days it feels like 1925–when William Jennings Bryan defended the merits of creationism in the Scopes Monkey trial–all over again.
I’ve written before about how the Right wants to dismantle the achievements of the 20th century–the New Deal, environmentalism, civil rights and civil liberties. But now rightwing social conservatives, our home-grown fundamentalists, are seeking to unravel the scaffolding of science and reason, and this battle deserves attention from humanists of all stripes. One of the most virulent expressions of the rightwing assault on modernity is the war against evolution being waged in America’s classrooms and courtrooms, parks and civic institutions.
Slipping creationism into civic discussions picked up steam in the 1990s. That’s when Kansas issued new state science guidelines in which “evolution” was replaced with the phrase “change over time,” and Illinois made a similar change.
In Oklahoma and Alabama, creationists inserted disclaimers into biology textbooks which cast doubt on evolution. In 1999, school boards in Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska tried to modify the teaching of evolution, in some cases trying to have it excised from the state standards.
Now, we’re into the 21st century, Bush is in the White House for another four years, and creationists feel emboldened to impose their beliefs on secular America. From schools to parks, creationists are moving aggressively.
The New York Times recently reported that six stores in the Grand Canyon National Park are selling a book called Grand Canyon: A Different View. Its wild theory has no factual basis: God, argues the author, created the Grand Canyon in Noah’s flood and the flood was intended to destroy “the wickedness of man.”
The issue of whether this book should be on sale in park service stores is under review in the solicitor’s office of the US Interior Department. But Interior has been silent for almost a year now, in spite of a scientific consensus that hydrology, over millions of years, caused the Grand Canyon’s formation, not God’s hand. The government should stand on the side of science.
Meanwhile, in Cobb County, Georgia in 2002, the Board of Education unanimously approved the teaching of creationism in public schools. The decision, promised the school board, would provide students with “a balanced education.”
In Ohio, educators and parents are promoting the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools; proponents believe that a higher power created human life. And in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, a school board has just revised its science curriculum to permit creationist teachings in local classrooms. (The science curriculum “should not be totally inclusive of just one scientific theory,” declared Joni Burgin, the school district’s superintendent.)