Just over 155 years ago, Charles Darwin first published his theory of evolution through natural selection, which has become a foundation stone for modern society’s understanding of our origins and biology in general.
Over time, Darwin’s landmark theory has become accepted by scientists as irrefutable fact, but you might not know it by sitting in on some high school science classes.
In public schools across the country, some teachers continue to argue for the legitimacy of creationist theories — that humanity and our planet were intelligently “created” by some higher being — and attempt to instill doubts about evolution.
Teaching creationism in a public school — in a non-religious studies setting — may not only contribute to the spread of scientifically unproven information, but it may also hurt the students themselves according to the National Academy of Sciences which said, “Given the importance of science in all aspects of modern life, the science curriculum should not be undermined with nonscientific material.
Teaching creationist ideas in science classes confuses what constitutes science and what does not. It compromises the objectives of public education and the goal of a high-quality science education.”
Despite this, here are three ways creationism and intelligent design continue to make their way into public school classrooms:
1. Critics emphasise that evolution is a “theory” that can be critiqued and questioned
Texas lawmakers made headlines in 2009 when they debated the state’s science curriculum standards, which then included the infamous “strengths and weaknesses” phrasing to describe how to evaluate scientific hypotheses and theories. Many science educators believed that this phrase opened the door for teachers to bring up completing “theories,” such as creationism.
The revised standard now reads that “all sides of scientific evidence” should be considered when examining “scientific explanations,” a wording change that is still upsetting education advocates.
According to a report from the Texas Freedom Network, “History suggests that promoters of intelligent design/creationism — and their allies on the Texas State Board of Education — will view the currently adopted language of TEKS (3)(A) ‘to examine all sides of scientific evidence’ as an opportunity to introduce non-scientific materials into classrooms.”
2. “Bible Classes” become a way to introduce creationism and criticise evolution
A separate report this year from the TFN examined Bible classes in public schools, finding that many of the courses spread creationism under the guise of academic discussions of the Bible.
One school district’s Bible class featured an “Origins of the Earth Presentation,” which encouraged students to categorize interpretations of Genesis as either a “Biblical Perspective” or a “Secular Perspective.” This assignment, according to the report, suggests “that anyone who doesn’t embrace a creationist reading of Genesis is ‘secular.'”
Additionally, two school districts hosted presentations that argued that the Earth was only 6,000-years-old.
3. Some teachers take matters into their own hands and directly tell students what they think
In April, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an investigation into creationism in Pennsylvania public schools that included a survey of science teacher’s beliefs. While teachers were allowed to choose more than one response, more than 30% indicated that they believed in either creationism or intelligent design.
One chemistry teacher told the Post-Gazette, “Sometimes students honestly look me in the eye and ask what do I think? I tell them that I personally hold the Bible as the source of truth … It doesn’t in any way disrupt the educational process. I’m entitled to my beliefs as much as the evolutionist is.”
He said this comes up most often when he teachers radiocarbon dating, a technique that validates archaeological finds older than 10,000 years — which the chemistry teacher says is the age of Earth according to the Bible. “I tell them that I don’t think [radiocarbon dating] is as valid as the textbook says it is, noting other scientific problems with the dating method,” he said.
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