Zimmerman, Michael. 'Keep guard up after evolution victory' BioScience 37 (9): 636,

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Zimmerman, Michael. "Keep guard up after evolution victory" BioScience 37 (9): 636, October l987. [This is a "Viewpoint" editorial, and is very nearly the first thing one sees on opening the October issue of BioScience. Zimmerman is Professor of Biology at Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, 44074, and is Editor of the Ohio Center for Science Education Newsletter.] While, as biologists and educators, we have great cause for rejoicing over the recent US Supreme Court decision in the Louisiana "equal treatment for 'creation science'" case, we must, nevertheless, be very careful. I am concerned that much of the scientific community will now treat the creation-evolution issue in the same way the issue was treated immediately following the Scopes trial in 1925. That is, the issue will be ignored. After witnessing the humiliation suffered by William Jennings Bryan at the hands of Clarence Darrow and H.L. Mencken, the scientific community assumed that their battle was won. However, the legacy of the Scopes trial was a diminution of evolutionary coverage in high school textbooks, reduction of classroom time devoted to evolution, and the passage of antievolution laws in various states. Evolutionist forces may have won the Scopes battle, but, by default, they lost virtually every battle waged in the ensuing 35 years. Unless we are vigilant, the recent Supreme Court victory for evolutionists could also turn sour. The actual decision in the Louisiana case was weaker than Judge William Overton's earlier ruling overturning a similar law in Arkansas. The Supreme Court ruling did not, in any way, outlaw the teaching of "creation science" in public school classrooms. Quite simply it ruled that, in the form taken by the Louisiana law, it is unconstitutional to demand equal time for this particular subject. "Creation science" can still be brought into science classrooms if and when teachers and administrators feel that it is appropriate. Numerous surveys have shown that teachers and administrators favor just this route. And, in fact, "creation science" is currently being taught in science courses throughout the country. Bill Keith, the state senator who introduced the Louisiana law, has stated quite clearly that the war is not over. The battleground in simply going to shift. Instead of fighting at the state and national level, creationists are expected to move to the local level, where they may put enormous pressure on individual teachers and school boards. Teachers and administrators are not only going to be under increased pressure to provide equal treatment for "creation science," but also to omit any topics that contain evolutionist perspective. Professional biologists and educators need to continue to be very active in the creation- evolution fight if the Supreme Court decision is to have a lasting, positive effect. First, we need to support elementary and secondary science teachers. Those teaching evolutionist topics must be encouraged, and those under pressure either to teach creationism or to omit evolution must be able to turn to us for help. Some state academies of science (e.g., Iowa and Ohio) have standing committees that are designed to mediate such disputes. We need to get involved with such committees, or work to form comparable groups. Second, the National Center for Science Education, the umbrella organization for local Committees of Correspondence on Evolution, must be supported. The NCSE (Box 9477, Berkeley, CA 94709) is fighting for improvements in science education. Local chapters have been quite successful in fighting fundamentalist inroads into the science curricula. Third, we must monitor public school textbooks. When poor books are used or proposed, members of the appropriate state or local committees must be informed. Pressure may also be applied directly to the publishing companies. Clearly, these activities are going to take time and effort; time and effort that could be spent on our own research. Let us learn from the mistakes after the Scope victory: another such victory might mark the end of meaningful evolution education in our public schools.


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank