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Opinion

Creationists have gotten clever, but there's still no debate over evolution

Creationists and intelligent design proponents have gotten clever. Instead of pushing for creationism to be taught in science classes, they're merely asking that schools fairly present 'the scientific evidence' against evolution. The only problem? There isn't any.

By Steven Newton / January 19, 2011



Oakland, Calif.

As 2011 gets under way, those who care about the integrity of science education are bracing for the latest round of state legislation aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution in the public schools. Every year, a host of these bills are filed across the country. In 2008, one was passed in Louisiana, despite protests from scientists and educators. In Oklahoma, State Senator Josh Brecheen (R) has vowed to introduce a bill in the coming legislative session that requires schools to teach "all the facts" on the so-called fallacies of evolution.

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The tactics of creationists have evolved since 1925, when Tennessee’s Butler Act forbade the teaching of evolution, and high school biology teacher John Scopes was put on trial for doing so. (Creationists believe that God created the physical universe and all organisms according to the account in Genesis, denying the evolution of species.)

But creationists’ tactics have also evolved since 2005, when a federal court in Pennsylvania established that teaching intelligent design (ID) in public schools is unconstitutional. The judge in the case ruled, "ID is not science" and derives instead from "religious strategies that evolved from earlier forms of creationism." (Intelligent design holds that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.")

The favored strategy of intelligent design proponents and creationists now is to try to undermine the teaching of evolution by arguing that “evidence against evolution” should be taught, in order to foster a spirit of critical inquiry among students. Arguing that students ought to be exposed to an alleged scientific debate over evolution, intelligent design proponents call for a radical rewriting of textbooks and curricula.

ANOTHER VIEW: Religion doesn't belong in public schools, but debate over Darwinian evolution does

The new strategy is craftier – but just as bogus.

No debate on evolution

Despite the constant claims of creationists to the contrary, there simply is no debate among scientists about the validity of evolution. If you search research journals and attend scientific conferences, it becomes readily apparent that while there are controversies over the details of evolution, there is no controversy about the basic fact that living things have descended with modification from a common ancestry. Scientists argue how evolution happened, not whether evolution happened.

This doesn’t stop creationists from imagining they can conjure a debate by repeating the claim that there is evidence against evolution. Intelligent design advocates claim they aren’t asking public schools to teach creationism, just the “scientific debate over Darwinian evolution.” The problem, again, is that there is no debate to teach. The National Academy of Sciences, the nation’s most prestigious scientific organization, emphasizes, “There is no scientific controversy about the basic facts of evolution.”

If there were credible scientific evidence against evolution, scientists would be the first to discover it, the first to publish it in peer-reviewed journals, and the first to debate its validity and importance. After all, discovering credible scientific evidence against evolution would be a revolutionary accomplishment, worthy of a Nobel Prize. That’s why accusations from creationists and intelligent design advocates that scientists are conspiring to suppress evidence against evolution are, to put it mildly, silly.

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