Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Creationists Evolve in Texas and U.S., Proving Darwin Factual Even If They’re Not

The Houston Chronicle had reports yesterday on two new strategies by creationists to make their fundamentalist anti-evolution teachings pass constitutional muster in public school science classes. Neither effort is unprecedented, but in the face of prior defeats the creationists have changed their tactics—proving evolution a fact of life, despite their claims to the contrary.

In one, a creationist school wants the state to authorize its proposed Master of Science degree in Science Education (MSE). The MSE is Texas’ certification of an individual’s competence to teach science in public schools. In April the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board denied the request by the Institute for Creation Research to offer the degree, on the grounds that the creationist content of the courses would not equip graduates to teach science in Texas public schools. Now the institute has appealed the board’s decision. That gives the independent Office of Administrative Hearings 180 days to hear the case. The institute plans to file a lawsuit against the state if the appeal does not reverse the board.

The other effort? Modify the criteria and content of the state’s science curriculum, which of course is what the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board relied on for its April decision. The creationists hope to convince the State Board of Education to re-interpret an existing rule that has never required mentioning creationism in a science class. The current rule requires teachers to present both the strengths and weaknesses of all scientific theories. The creationists would have the State Board of Education list the lack of ‘intelligent design’ as a weakness of evolution and require science teachers to address it in class.

Coincidentally, Alan Boyle, science editor at, noted yesterday that these changes in tactics are not exclusive to Texas. Ever since 2005, when a federal judge ruled that intelligent design was a religious concept that should not be taught in science classes, the creationists have sought new ways to force public school science teachers to indoctrinate students with fundamentalist objections to evolution. The latest trend paints creationism as an academic freedom issue, contending that science teachers should have the right to express any questions they have about evolution, including religious ones. Hopefully the boards which decide science curricula will find this approach as bogus as intelligent design. If not, another federal court should.

Because Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy is grounded so thoroughly on the organic evolution of reality, including thought and God, the creationists are unlikely to give it a second thought. The more clever among them might eventually figure out they could claim his support for intelligent design. The claim would ultimately prove bogus. But, forewarned is forearmed.

Chapter 3 of my doctoral dissertation explains why Whitehead holds that every instance of novelty involves purpose, and that nothing in the givenness of past provides an answer to the question “What next?” After lots and lots of tortured research and analysis, Whitehead concludes that the ‘initial aim’ of each novel occasion of experience can only derive from God. This would square quite remarkably with the creationists’ insistence that natural selection as described by Darwin in not sufficient to account for novelty in evolution (although it would not help fundamentalists with salvaging the temporal chronology of Genesis and other biblical creation accounts as factual).

But Whitehead would never countenance the intrusion of this analysis into the high school science curriculum—or probably even science courses at the college or graduate levels. Whitehead was writing cosmology and metaphysics. The proper place to teach and address such thought is philosophy and theology classes.

Those, of course, are not much in favor in public education at any level. But if the creationists want to become serious about getting their feet in that door, they might try shifting their emphasis to the propriety of offering philosophy or religion classes in public schools.

That too can be debated. But unlike theocratizing science classes, it is not an idea that must be foreclosed constitutionally from the start. And if it could pass constitutional muster, it would at least be putting philosophical discussion in the curriculum where it belongs.

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