Creationism and the Godless Boogeyman
The creationists on the Texas State Board of Education were only partially successful in their efforts to impose "teaching the controversy" of evolution on the state's science standards (see The New York Times, Split Outcome in Texas Battle on Teaching of Evolution [may require registration]). They were, however, highly successful in demonstrating their religious bigotry.
One Board member, Ken Mercer, said he was praying for fellow members whose acceptance of evolution he blames on the influence of "atheists and secular humanists," as if such people are the bad seeds, a dark movement set on corrupting all things American. But the fact is, "atheist" and "humanist" are, like "Christian" or "Jew," the chosen identities of millions of Americans: soldiers, teachers, engineers, doctors, parents, politicians, and - yes - Texans.
Mercer is correct that atheists and humanists support public schools offering a world class science education to all students, and evolutionary theory is integral to such an education. Yet Mercer's aim is not to change the secular mind, but rather to shame religious Americans, like many on the Board of Education, into rejecting good science by linking it to an alleged conspiracy. He might as well have accused his colleagues of paling around with terrorists.
It is the chairman of the State Board of Education, Don McLeroy, however, whose bigotry and downright paranoia about secular thought have been most evident. In an Austin American-Statesman commentary, McLeroy recently railed against "evolutionists," "academia's far-left" and "secular elite opinion-makers." He wrote that, in his efforts to amend the Texas science curriculum, he was enlisting in the "culture wars" over evolution.
The author of Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences' Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They're Descended from Reptiles uses an enthusiastic endorsement from McLeroy to promote his self-published tome. This book not only attempts to smear evolutionary scientists as atheists, it calls parents who support evolution education monsters and pastors who accept it morons. Again, the target is not so much those whose souls the author thinks are already lost; the goal is intimidating religious citizens who know the difference between bible school and science class, the difference between a "sinister scheme" and a solid education.
"If the person holds disfavored religious beliefs, he is supposed to be discounted and ignored." So writes John West, a Senior Fellow at the creationism-promoting Discovery Institute. But West isn't talking about atheists or humanists. In fact, in this quote from an essay he wrote in the wake of the Texas decision, he claims to be characterizing the strategy of "evolution activists" to silence evolution critics by labeling them as religious. Playing the role of victim is familiar territory to the religious right, and squealing about freedoms threatened by the secular left is a handy way to distract the public from creationists' inability to compete in serious scientific debate.
Enough with the phony culture wars! There is no sinister scheme, no secular conspiracy, no underground atheist movement intent on indoctrinating America's youth with some evolutionist ideology. There are merely scientists doing what they do best: using reproducible evidence to formulate theories that advance knowledge and improve the human condition. Public servants who seek to share that knowledge through education should be thanked, not shunned.
There is, however, a well-documented movement to roll back science and introduce biblical teaching into public schools in not only the natural sciences but sexuality education and history. But just as we do not have Old Order Amish beliefs driving our transportation policy, Scientologists directing our mental health programs, and Pentecostal faith healers developing cancer treatment therapies, the creationist movement cannot be allowed to steer public school science education. Creationists claim a monopoly on truth and yet creationism and its latest marketing ploy, intelligent design, lack endorsement by a single major association of science professionals. The creationists’ tactic to vilify anyone who dares point this out suffered a setback in Texas. Let’s hope there are more such setbacks to come.