For decades there has been a quiet war against the teaching of evolution in American science classes, fueled largely by conservative Christians who think the theory is heretical and flawed. Ever since the 1987 Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard, teaching creationism alongside evolution in a federally-funded science class has been outlawed. The justices ruled that “creation science” is an inherently Christian religious construct and would violate the Establishment Clause. Since then, Christian activists have sought to find a loophole, most notoriously with the theory of “Intelligent Design,” which was also exposed as an inherently religious invention. The past twenty years has been littered with lawmakers, school boards, advocacy groups, and concerned parents fighting this still-contentious issue out. Now, the latest flashpoint in this battle is in Tennessee, where a bill requiring schools to “teach the controversy” of evolution and global warming has passed the Republican-controlled state House and Senate, and awaits the signature of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
“The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy . . . The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.”
The idea of “teaching the controversy” originates with a campaign by the Discovery Institute, and was seen as a way to undermine support for evolution by recasting it as merely a popular idea among a set of scientists, emphasizing and misapplying the word “theory” so as to place other creationist-backed theories on equal ground. This was the seeming “loophole” of Edwards v. Aguillard, that “scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories” could be taught. But as the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial showed, these alternate theories don’t stand up to rigorous peer review, and often ignores mountains of published evidence undermining their claims. The simple fact is that “Intelligent Design” is a pseudo-scientific cloak over the old (Christian) creation science.
This bill, poised to be a law, is doubly bad for followers of Pagan, indigenous, and earth-centered religions. It not only seeks to insert explicitly Christian notions of creation and the origins of life into science classes, exposing non-Christian children to misinformation on the government’s dime, but it also seeks to undermine basic knowledge of increasingly dire issues like global warming. If signed, the law would open the door to hucksters who believe environmentalism is a “green dragon” that promotes Pagan religion (though a lot of opposition to climate change science is far more cynical). This is just another aspect of us being caught in another faith’s crisis, watching largely powerless as Christianity wars with itself over how to approach the origins of life or climate science.
Once, years ago, I joked about the ramifications of “teaching the controversy.”
I think that since Bush has taken this brave step, all reasonable theories should be heard in public schools! Having said that, I demand that the TRUE answer to the beginning of all things be taught in schools. Because everyone knows that Danu the divine waters of heaven fell to the lifeless rock we now call earth and from her all life sprang including the first sacred oak who when conjoined with the sacred waters dropped two acorns that grew to become Dagda “The Good God” and Brigid “The Exalted One” who brought order to the land and built the first cities.
Oh and in fairness to our Asatru brothers and sisters we will also teach that the great cow Audumla licked away the ice to reveal the first gods who slayed the giant Ymir and created the earth, mountains, oceans, sky and trees from his dead body.
Finally, we should also teach the Faery creation story as recounted in Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance” in which The Goddess apon seeing her own reflection created a companion from this reflection and made love to her which created a song from which all things sprung. This reflection then seperated from The Goddess eventually becomes masculine and the first God.
This of course is just the beginning! I have a more “scientific” version called “Polytheistic Design” that posits multiple intelligent designers, and “Matrifocal Design” which will settle the question of exactly what the gender of this intelligent designer was. Thanks again President Bush!
But as the poet Morrissey said, “the joke isn’t funny anymore.” While scoring a rhetorical point or two once might have been a fun idea, we now stare down inaction at rapid climate and weather changes, and are forced to re-fight battles waged at the beginning of the 20th century (also in Tennessee). For those of us who see the planet itself as sacred, we commit a blasphemy every day we waste re-litigating the Enlightenment. If Christians want religion in schools, it should be in a comparative religion class, a place I would happily endorse “teaching the controversy” by demanding the inclusion of Pagan faiths. It seems clear that once given enough power, conservative Christians work tirelessly to roll back our secular, pluralistic, advances, endangering all that minority faiths have worked for. Teaching the controversy is all about teaching Christianity, all you have to do is ask for the name of the Intelligent Designer to be sure.