5X5 Episode 103

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5X5 Episode 103
Creationism
15th February 2012

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5X5 102 5X5 104
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
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Creationism[edit]

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.


S: This is the SGU 5X5 and on this episode we're talking about teaching creationism versus evolution in the public school system. This has been an ongoing controversy ever since the introduction of evolutionary theory, specifically Darwin's publication of On the Origin of Species. At first the controversy was over the teaching of evolution, 'cos that was the new kid on the block, that was the new idea, and in fact when science teachers started teaching evolution, there was a movement in the beginning of the 20th century to ban the teaching of evolution. That resulted in a Tennessee law essentially banning the teaching of evolution in public schools, which then resulted in the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial" which not many people realize was a failure in that John Scopes was found guilty but the judgement was thrown out on a technicality and therefore the lawsuit never had its intended effect of challenging the law in the higher courts. But it did succeed in making the teaching of evolution more controversial and essentially a generation of Americans were not taught evolution.

R: And there's a generation of children who are in danger of not being taught evolution due to continued pressure from creationists on the public school system. Over the years their tactics have been getting more and more subtle. They went from trying to stop evolution from being taught in school, to asking that their quote unquote theory be taught in school: creationism. Creationism eventually became "intelligent design". Intelligent design was thrown out and now they're trying even sneakier tactics of adjusting the language in standards testing and basically trying to wedge in their philosophy into science classes in any way that they can.

S. That's right Rebecca, and specifically to put it in the legal precedent terms, there was Epperson v. Arkansas in 1968, in which the Supreme Court decided that laws prohibiting the teaching of evolution was a violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, the so-called "Establishment Clause" which prohibits any state from passing a law which advances a religion or inhibits a religion. And therefore the purpose of the law, they determined, was to advance a religious belief, and therefore that established– that violated the establishment clause. That was followed by Edwards v. Aguillard, and this was in the state of Louisiana. This was a challenge to a law not banning the teaching of evolution, but the requirement for equal time for alternate theories of origin. The Supreme Court also said that was unconstitutional, specifically because the purpose of it was to promote a religious belief. This led to also in addition to the Lemon v. Kurtzman case, the so-called Lemon test – or the Lemon rule – in which the Supreme Court said there were three features that any law must have that deals with these types of issues in order to not violate the establishment clause. First, it must have a specific secular purpose, there must be some secular purpose to the law. Second, the primary or principle effect must be one that does not advance or inhibit religion. And the third is that the statute does not result in excessive entanglement between the government and religion. So if you violate any one of those three principles, then according to the Supreme Court precedent then you violate the establishment clause and that's also when the teaching of intelligent design was challenged. In the Kitzmiller v. Dover case just a few years ago, it was those principles that were brought to bear and essentially the decision was that intelligent design is creationism and is for the purpose of promoting a religions belief and therefore it violates the Lemon rule.

E: But despite all that history this does not stop at all the creationists from trying to get their agenda fulfilled. And of course the recent news article coming out of Indiana shows it again in which they're trying, legislators are trying to get creationism taught in the science classes in the schools of Indiana. The author of a particular bill, and he's Senator Dennis Kruse, introduced this bill but there was a procedural move that ultimately killed the bill and Dennis Kruse was very disappointed that it didn't even get a hearing. He said schools should get back to teaching a subject he says was accepted as belief for most of human history. Apparently Dennis Kruse is not familiar with the argument from antiquity. Which we talk–`

S: Logical fallacy, yeah.

E: Yeah, that logical fallacy we talk so much about on this show and the Skeptics' Guide.

S: I'll also point out just with that specific law, that bill I should say, that I think the new bit there, the new strategy that the creationists were trying out was that the bill specifically called for the teaching of not just Christian creationism but other religious views of origin as well. As if that was going to give them cover. As if the… I guess the goal there was to argue that "well, since we're requiring the teaching of many different creation stories, we're not advancing one particular religion." But honestly that is not gonna fly. And I think one of the things that really killed this bill was the argument that this is only going to result in a very expensive legal case for the state that they are going to lose. You know, clearly based upon the legal precedents that have been established.

B: Yeah, that's a good angle, Steve. I looked into some of that a little bit and usually people don't consider, you know of course there's the fact that this is science and they're trying to teach religion in a science class and the establishment clause and all that stuff that you mentioned, but according to the National Center for Science Education's website, just something as simple as this for example in comparison to the Kitzmiller v. Dover, the school board paid over a million dollars in legal fees and this, you know, for a proposal that certainly would be smacked down at some point and declared unconstitutional like so many of these other examples that have come forth over the years. It just seems so naive that they think that this would get through. But what the scary thing about it is, they refine their tactics more and more and I'm just afraid at some point in the future they're gonna word it just right and in just such a way that it will pass and then who knows what's gonna happen then.

J: So groups like the National Center for Science Education and Genie Scott are actually making some headway in educating the public on what's actually happening out there. The fight that the creationists are putting up against those that want evolution taught in schools. They've had many successes over the past few years. You should read more about them to find out how you can help.

S: Yeah but of course their successes are treading water, in other words keeping the creationists from making incursions into the science classroom. So they're doing their job when there's essentially no news. When you don't hear about what's going on, that means they've been doing what they should be doing. But yeah, we do need a group to be vigilant because the creationists seem to be tireless and inventive and well-funded in promoting their anti-science agenda.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.


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