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2+2=5? Why South Carolina's Creationism Compromise Doesn't Add Up

Carrie Ellen Sager,
PFRB Legal Fellow,
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August 11, 2014

Politicians in South Carolina don’t have a great track record with science. Earlier this year, creationists in the state legislature tried to derail an 8-year-old girl’s request to make the woolly mammoth the state fossil. They demanded the resolution also declare that the wooly mammoth was “created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field.”

The creationists ultimately lost that battle, but not before South Carolina was subjected to weeks of embarrassing media coverage.

Then, in June, when it was time to adopt new science education standards, a state senator pushed to require students to “[c]onstruct scientific arguments that seem to support and scientific arguments that seem to discredit Darwinian Natural Selection.”

The assignment would have been unusually short since there are no legitimate scientific arguments that discredit evolution, or “Darwinian Natural Selection,” as creationists are fond of calling it. Within the scientific community, there is no debate about the validity of evolution any more than there is a debate about the validity of gravity. Fortunately, the proposed amendment failed.

Never quitters, South Carolina creationists are at it again.

On Wednesday, the state board of education is set to consider a “compromise” amendment to the science standards. The proposed amendment is essentially an evolution disclaimer that would require schools to teach that evolution “is continually open to and subject to experimental and observational testing” and that “all theories may change as new scientific information is obtained.”

This may not sound like a big deal – scientific theories, unlike creationism, are constantly being revised as we acquire new information – but singling out evolution for this disclaimer is actually part of a long creationist tradition of portraying evolution as “only a theory” – i.e. unreliable and not fact. After the Supreme Court ruled that schools couldn’t teach creationism, creationists turned to attacking evolution instead. If students reject evolution, the creationist logic says, the only alternative is creationism.

The thing is, in science there’s no such thing as “only a theory.” Unlike the popular definition of theory – a guess or conjecture – scientific theories are well-supported explanations for parts of the natural world. And evolution is a cornerstone of science, undisputed by any legitimate biologist. That’s why the ACLU has written a letter to the South Carolina Board of Education urging it to reject this effort to inject religion into the science curriculum by falsely undermining evolution.

Spreading misinformation isn’t a compromise, it’s a capitulation, and students in South Carolina deserve better. If a group of people wanted to teach 2+2=6, we wouldn’t compromise by teaching that 2+2=5. Undermining evolution by denying its validity will leave South Carolina students ill-prepared for college and for scientific careers. And, more importantly, it violates the First Amendment.

There can be no compromise when it comes to enforcing our constitutional rights. The Board must reject this amendment.

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