Monday, March 14, 2005

No Child Left Behind advocates teaching creationism?

Battle on Teaching Evolution Sharpens (

The No Child Left Behind Law contains a language that espouses the teaching of creationism in science classes [see update below for a partial correction]:
Some evolution opponents are trying to use Bush's No Child Left Behind law, saying it creates an opening for states to set new teaching standards. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a Christian who draws on Discovery Institute material, drafted language accompanying the law that said students should be exposed to 'the full range of scientific views that exist.'

'Anyone who expresses anything other than the dominant worldview is shunned and booted from the academy,' Santorum said in an interview. 'My reading of the science is there's a legitimate debate. My feeling is let the debate be had.'
In today's Orwellian world "full range of scientific views" is a codephrase for "intelligent design" which is a code phrase for "creationism".

If Bush and his ilk mandated a mandatory Yahweh- only religion class in public schools they'd at least win points for honesty. Alas, they're too cowardly for that.

I think I'll start advocating the teach of chiropractic theories as an alternative to traditional human physiology. There's at least as much "legitimate scientific debate" around chiropracty as there is around the fundamental value of natural selection. (ie. zero in both cases).

Update 3/15: Some more on the Santorum Amendment from an authoritative source discussing the assault on reason taking place in Kansas -- ground zero for the counter-enlightenment. The Santorum amendment was stripped from the NCLB final legislation but remains in the conference report. It is this tactic that's being repeated at every level of government. (Emphases mine, note the full range of Orwellian strategies and neologisms -- George is spinning now ...)
According to the Lawrence Journal-World, an antievolution resolution was introduced in the Kansas House of Representatives on February 15, 2005. The sponsor is Representative Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), who said that the proposed resolution, which is nonbinding, was meant to promote "objectivity in science education."

Although the full text of the bill is not yet available, the story reports that the resolution includes language recommending the teaching of "the full range of scientific views that exist." This language is derived directly from the "Santorum Amendment," which U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) attempted to insert into the federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. Phillip Johnson, a leading promoter of "intelligent design," wrote the amendment for Santorum. The Santorum Amendment was passed by the U.S. Senate but stripped from the bill by the House-Senate conference committee, and now only appears in modified form in the NCLB conference report. See NCSE's compilation on the Santorum Amendment for details.

Santorum language appeared in the 2003 Kansas legislative session in the form of Senate Bill 168. SB 168 encouraged curricula that helped students understand "the full range of scientific views that exist," and exempted educational staff from any penalties for deviating from state curriculum requirements. SB 168 further betrayed its creationist leanings when it explicitly singled out "origins science" for special treatment, requiring that "origins science" -- but not other science -- be taught "inclusively, objectively, and without religious, naturalistic or philosophic bias or assumption." The artificial distinction between "origins science" (sciences dealing with the past) and "operations science" (sciences dealing with the present) has been a running theme in creationist publications for decades.

On February 6, 2005, nine days before Pilcher-Cook introduced her antievolution resolution, an op-ed promoting the Santorum language appeared in the Kansas City Star. The opinion piece, written by Kansas City resident Vicki Palatas, was entitled "'Full range of scientific views' includes theory of a creator." Palatas wrote, "The report interpreting this legislation explains that on controversial issues like evolution, 'the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist.'" Palatas cited several talking points popular among intelligent design proponents, and concluded, "Intelligent design teaches the theory of a creator based on scientific observation and analysis, not the worship of one." In another opinion piece on January 2, 2005, Palatas explicitly grouped intelligent design with a laundry list of other conservative religious causes, decrying the failure of public schools to "allow teaching intelligent design as a theory of the creation of the universe." She concluded that governmental restraint in this and other matters amounted to "intolerance and maligning of our faith."
Passed by the Senate, but stripped in a committee?? Wow, American politics is interesting - especially considering that the House is famously conservative.

The National Center for Science Education essay is horrifying and fascinating. Note the contradictory themes of the creationists who can speak both "intolerance of faith" and a "theory of a creator". Or perhaps they are not so inconsistent -- for it is their faith that assures them that the "analysis of the creator" will give them the answer they expect. Historians of science might tell them that such analyses often give quite surprising answers. If we do develop methods to test for analyze "deities", Palatas and her ilk may yet regret their enthusiasms.

More practically, the lessons of the past few decades is that extremists are very, very persistent. They love the struggle itself. Rationalists fatigue, they move on, they have a life (yes, even I have a life -- actually, rather a lot of one). In our era the dominant extremists in America are right wing conservatives -- I think they'll win in Kansas. Science is going to take a serious beating for years to come.

Hmm. The enlightenment is beginnning to feel pretty anomalous. I need to consult a historian.

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