Creationism In The Classroom

Life is a cup of tea: How should evolution be taught in schools? This being America, judges will decide. (The Economist, $)

This kind of thing burns me up. Creationism / ID is not science because it’s not refutable and therefore belongs in a philosophy class. The proponents of ID are trying to polish a turd: you can spit on it, use some polish and a buffing rag, and it’ll still be a turd. Furthermore the proponents are appealing directly to ignorance: simply because we don’t know every last detail of how the universe was created, or how man evolved, the gaps must be God.

They might even be right, but it doesn’t mean it belongs in a science class because ID lacks evidence, it isn’t testable / falsifiable / refutable and is therefore in no way science. It’s based on what we don’t know rather than on what we do know.

HALF of all Americans either don’t know or don’t believe that living creatures evolved. And now a Pennsylvania school board is trying to keep its pupils ignorant. It is the kind of story about America that makes secular Europeans chortle smugly before turning to the horoscope page. Yet it is more complex than it appears.

In Harrisburg a trial began last week that many are comparing to the Scopes “monkey” trial of 1925, when a Tennessee teacher was prosecuted for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Now the gag is on the other mouth. In 1987 the Supreme Court ruled that teaching creationism in public-school science classes was an unconstitutional blurring of church and state. But those who think Darwinism unGodly have fought back.


The school board’s defence is that intelligent design is science, not religion. It is a new theory, which holds that present-day organisms are too complex to have evolved by the accumulation of random mutations, and must have been shaped by some intelligent entity. Unlike old-style creationism, it does not explicitly mention God. It also accepts that the earth is billions of years old and uses more sophisticated arguments to poke holes in Darwinism.

Almost all biologists, however, think it is bunk. Kenneth Miller, the author of a popular biology textbook and the plaintiffs’ first witness, said that, to his knowledge, every major American scientific organisation with a view on the subject supported the theory of evolution and dismissed the notion of intelligent design. As for “Of Pandas and People”, he pronounced that the book was “inaccurate and downright false in every section”.

The plaintiffs have carefully called expert witnesses who believe not only in the separation of church and state but also in God. Mr Miller is a practising Roman Catholic. So is John Haught, a theology professor who testified on September 30th that life is like a cup of tea.

To illustrate the difference between scientific and religious “levels of understanding”, Mr Haught asked a simple question. What causes a kettle to boil? One could answer, he said, that it is the rapid vibration of water molecules. Or that it is because one has asked one’s spouse to switch on the stove. Or that it is “because I want a cup of tea.” None of these explanations conflicts with the others. In the same way, belief in evolution is compatible with religious faith: an omnipotent God could have created a universe in which life subsequently evolved.

It makes no sense, argued the professor, to confuse the study of molecular movements by bringing in the “I want tea” explanation. That, he argued, is what the proponents of intelligent design are trying to do when they seek to air their theory—which he called “appalling theologyӉ€”in science classes.

Darwinism has enemies mostly because it is not compatible with a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. Intelligent designers deny that this is why they attack it, but this week the court was told by one critic that the authors of “Of Pandas and People” had culled explicitly creationist language from early drafts after the Supreme Court barred creationism from science classes.

In the Dover case, intelligent design appears to have found unusually clueless champions. If the plaintiffs’ testimony is accurate, members of the school board made no effort until recently to hide their religious agenda. For years, they expressed pious horror at the idea of apes evolving into men and tried to make science teachers teach old-fashioned creationism. (The board members in question deny, or claim not to remember, having made remarks along these lines at public meetings.)

There’s one way to have a positive outcome from this: if the ID people insist on having it taught, it could open the door for actual philosophy classes in high school, which would be useful with or without ID.

Cross-posted from Insults Unpunished.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , ,
Robert Prather
About Robert Prather
Robert Prather contributed over 80 posts to OTB between October 2005 and July 2013. He previously blogged at the now defunct Insults Unpunished. Follow him on Twitter @RobPrather.


  1. ken says:

    Any idiot who votes Republican deserves to have their children taught creationism instead of science.

  2. DL says:

    The scientists want the world to accept their creationism theories on faith, because they can’t prove through scientific methodology that God didn’t create the world.

    The creationists can’t prove that God did create the world, but they need to accept all truth whether scientific or biblical, as their God can’t deny scientific truth either.

    In short, neither side can prove their case and both ask us to accept their positions on faith.

    Science needs to leave open the possibility that a God may have created the world (through evolution?) and creationists need to leave open that possibility also.

    The problem is that science can’t measure God, therefore, can’t prove (nor disprove), but they need not reject that the possibility that a creative God exists. He’s just outside of their area of expertese.

    My Doctor can’t see my conscience, but it certainly exists.

  3. DL,

    There’s nothing about evolution that precludes a Creator. Science is based on what is proven, even if it is incomplete. Hypotheses are put forward and tested using evidence. That’s what distinguishes evolution from ID.

    That’s the argument here: one is science, the other is not. One is appropriate for teaching in science classes, the other is not.

  4. bruce says:

    Read the transcripts for the case. It is beautiful.

    The ACLU lawyers are wiping the floor with the ID folks. I’m sorry, I really don’t mean to be nasty but ID is serious ignorance. I just read a headline that said “Finally science admits evolution is just a theory”. Idiots. Education would fix their religion problem.

  5. bruce says:


  6. bruce says:

    Maybe all those creationists should take biology

  7. secular European says:

    yep.. sorry we are all having a good chuckle at your expense.. Thanks!

  8. Enjoy your horoscope!

  9. Garrison Whitt says:

    Before I go ahead and finish writing, I will state that I’m 15 years old and in high school. Go ahead and discount what I say – yeah, I’m just a kid. So?

    Evolution is a load of malarkey its a whole lot of hogwash being used by the idiots who come up with the rediclous idea that we came from apes and all they got to show for it is a few dumb bone fragments a few fossels and a crack-pot theory

    You oviously don’t know what the theory of evolution is, and how it relates to the evolution of humans. Listen carefully, I’ll only say this once. HUMANS DID NOT EVOLVE FROM APES. The evolution of humans is thought to be an example of divergent evolution – that means apes and humans split from a common ancestor.

    I just read a headline that said “Finally science admits evolution is just a theory”. Idiots.

    Idiots indeed. Who needs to admit that the “Theory of evolution” is “just” a theory? There is no “just” in theorys. Gravity is a theory. Do you believe in gravity? Or is the earth just flat?

  10. bruce says:

    Google “the next to the Last pope”

    Christians. Sheesh!