Creationism, With New Name, Is Taught in Schools

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
May 7, 2001 12:00 am

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TACOMA, WA — The debate over the teaching of creationism in public schools is raging across the country, but proponents of creationism have given it a new name — intelligent design — the Tacoma News Tribune reported.

According to the News Tribune, many teachers of intelligent design deny that they are teaching creationism but say that they believe students should be exposed to ideas other than evolution that explain human existence.

Intelligent design postulates that life is not the consequence of events as explained by Darwin, but that it is the work of an intelligent designer.

Intelligent design proponents stop short of calling the intelligent designer God — at least when they’re talking in a public school classroom. But they say life is far too complex to have evolved without help.

“I have always taught evolution,” said Roger DeHart, a high school biology teacher who has been on the faculty of Burlington-Edison High School for 14 years. “That has never been a question for me.” About 10 years ago, he began presenting intelligent design materials in his classroom, including excerpts from a pro-intelligent design textbook titled “Of Pandas and People.”

“I never thought it was illegal, or that I was doing it behind anybody’s back,” DeHart said. “I never dreamed I’d be on the front of a national newspaper.” What propelled DeHart onto the pages of the Los Angeles Times, among other publications, is the fact that in 1997, one of DeHart’s students and the student’s parents enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

The student and the ACLU asserted that teaching intelligent design — even without an explicit mention of God — is tantamount to teaching religion.

They say intelligent design is not grounded in sound science but is the equivalent of teaching creationism, something the United States Supreme Court has already said has no place in science class.

“What happens is that it (creationism) keeps getting renamed by its adherents,” said Doug Honig, public education director for the Washington ACLU. “They are basically disguising it because of the Court decisions.”

DeHart’s school district eventually told him to stop what he was doing and required him to submit materials he planned to use in his class to a committee. So far, the committee has turned down DeHart’s requests to bring supplemental materials into class.

The ACLU hasn’t filed a lawsuit against the district or DeHart, preferring to resolve the situation outside the courtroom.

The argument has divided the small community. In 1999, a group calling itself the Burlington-Edison Committee for Science Education took out an ad in the local newspaper, the Skagit Valley Herald, asking that the school board put a halt to the teaching of intelligent design. Both DeHart’s supporters and detractors have filled the Herald’s columns with letters to the editor.

The ACLU’s Honig says that “violating the separation of church and state is not a matter of academic freedom.”

Washington state’s recently adopted academic standards mandate that students learn biological evolution, including how fossil records show patterns of change in organisms over time, how biological evolution accounts for species diversity, adaptation, natural selection and other concepts.

David Kennedy, the director of science education for the state superintendent of public instruction, said the consensus of science educators is that intelligent design isn’t science.

“We don’t object if it’s taught in a social studies class,” he said. “But if it’s in science, they’re testing the system.”

Still, he acknowledges the state has little in the way of authority when it comes to disciplining science teachers who stray.

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, calls intelligent design the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge school of science education. We know what they’re saying is God.”

She said intelligent design boils down to saying that evolution didn’t happen. And that point of view, she said, is not the consensus among scientists but is a theological argument.

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